An essay on Hope

This post comes with a warning. This post may make you feel uneasy, annoyed or frustrated if you currently hate the world and everything in it. Like if you were expecting a pay-rise from that meeting with the boss, for example, but actually the meeting was about you integrating your job role so that, in actuality, your work-load doubled. So you can’t say that you haven’t been warned now, can you?

Considering a few things that are happening right now in my life which I won’t go in to here, today would seem like a strange day – the word surreal comes to mind – to write about hope. Yet that, conversely, is precisely where hope blossoms (yes. This kind of irritating optimism is why I gave you that warning…). Theoretically, whatever is going on, however difficult things may be, there is always hope. It’s just not always so easy to practice that theory and make choices which allow it to manifest. Especially when life as we know it is more in flux and transient than it ever has been. The Neanderthals dealt with the flux that was basic every-day survival, at a time pre-communication where learned knowledge must, surely, have been something of a mystical affair – something largely unrecorded, maybe even un-thought of. Not surprising when you’ve got bigger fish to fry, like making sure a hungry tiger doesn’t kill every surviving member of your family. Now, we deal with flux while navigating a swarming world of information – that’s without even taking into account misinformation – technological breakthroughs and ever-changing theories. All of which are recorded, argued, challenged and eventually bettered (except for things like the re-imagining of the Lion bar, which transpired to be a toxic, ultimately pointless and humiliating affair for the chocolate bar’s makers). We may lack much in common with our stone-wielding, shit-scared of the unknown buddies of early civilisation, but our challenges never diminish. Crap roads, pot-holes and if we should bother to vote or not. And psychological survival can be as hazardous as anything – just because cave-people never had to deal with the obsessive addictions of 2014, that doesn’t mean that we have it any easier. In particular when all of us outside North Korea are susceptible to unlimited choices that consume our lives, making following – and staying on – any kind of path a momentous achievement in itself. Go this way, you’re in trouble. Don’t go this way and you can always post about it on Facebook, where, if you’re not very careful, you may just find yourself believing all the hype. That everything is shit, from boilers to relationships. That, in fact, all hope is lost, so the best any of us can do is carry on as we are and not really give a shit.

Yet today, I was once again made very aware that there is and continues to be tremendous hope and love in the world. Just last week I, along with thousands of other people, read a story on the guardian which cemented this perception. Six years ago at Waterloo Bridge, a man called Neil Laybourn noticed someone ominously perched on the bad side of the edge. Rather than doing the easy thing, the thing which many would hold characteristic of Londoners who have forgotten what the individual in society actually is, Neil stopped and took direct action, speaking to the man, making a choice which was just as brave as it was stupid – from a wholly selfish point-of-view. The article, if you haven’t seen it, makes for compelling reading, and charts their meeting up recently, enabling the then-victim to convey his heartfelt thanks in person. Until someone stopped to tell him that there was hope and things could change, the guy on the bridge had no idea.

Earlier today I decided to go for a walk in a local nature reserve. And by local I am fortunate enough to be able to say Just down the road – it being a 10 minute walk. It is a true escape, far and yet so close. Upon arriving there, a guy, probably about my age, approached me with his dog and began to ask me if I knew the area very well. We soon got talking about various connected things. The free parking – this he struggled to comprehend – and the impressive and unique geographical features which make the reserve something of an anomaly in our flat landscape. It’s still the barest trace of a hill by any proud northerner’s standards, but when land around you is flat forever, you have to take what you can get.

The way the man approached me made me smile: his lack of reticence about simply striking-up a conversation with a total stranger, and his blatant lack of guard – something I could liken to western tourists we had met in Vietnam last year, who were so happy to be surrounded by others of similar mind-set that the tragic and so-called normal social rules of many large cities went totally out the window.

Walking around the reserve on this cold, very windy day, I thought about a few sporadic, largely unconnected things, in that floaty and relaxed manner that is, much of the time, too interrupted by daily activities to be really sustainable for long. I recalled Russell Brand’s article from the guardian, which I had read and pondered earlier in the morning, in-between client emails and pretending not to have a look at Facebook. Candid as usual and disarmingly honest, Brand’s piece was, in my opinion, more serious and notably more poignant than many that have gone before it. Speaking openly and without seeking approval is, of course, a thing in which he excels. But what I was not prepared for, this time, was the thoughts that would come out of reading the piece. Love him or hate him, the article is a striking piece of writing that, uncomfortably and unapologetically, conveys the grim realities of being held in the hopeless grasp of substance addiction. For me, it displayed tremendous hope. That, even when something as dark and harrowing as substance addiction refuses to let go, there are people and organisations who want to make people feel much better. There is something other, something huge, something worth the fight. Even if it feels like hell. And it takes courage to write like that.

Despite all this, the obvious truth is that I, just like you – just like everyone who has ever lived, I argue – often need to take my own medicine. It’s fine for me to say “We should all be hopeful”, but I am all too aware that throw-away comments like this – or worse, mantras or lectures as some might consider them – can be insulting to those people who are in a desperate situation. A situation which would seem more or less impossible to anyone experiencing it. People who genuinely feel like there is no way out, no way to make a change. At times like this, hope is not easy to come by, and it may not be offered. Particularly when someone exhibits only normal character traits and appears to largely be OK. Not everyone is lucky enough to have good friends that watch out for them. Who email or text or call when life really does feel like total shit. So I am grateful for having that. I have to be. I have friends. I have family. This is a privilege. I am employable and, if I vanished tomorrow, I know that people would question where I had gone, if I was OK, if I was coming back. It does not give me satisfaction to know that this is the case, but it does make me realise how very fortunate I am and how much of life is up to me to affect. To have arrived at this point in time and to know, with conviction, that hope is attainable to me.

On the way back from the nature reserve today I saw two young lovers, somewhere between youth and adulthood, the male awkwardly handing over some kind of badly-wrapped present – I empathized with him. I simply cannot wrap things. All this, viewed in just a second or two and nothing to do with me – a fleeting show of perfection. In a way, it was like a kind of gift. Their whole lives ahead of them, I wondered who they were and what their stories might be. Where they’d go and what they might do and achieve. I wondered if life was actually, for them, as good as their faces and obvious happiness seemed to make out.

There is hope in the world, even if you can’t wrap gifts. Really. There is hope in the world if you are depressed and life, slowly but surely, is becoming too great an ordeal to survive through. But you’re allowed to moan about things, and you must. Moan about things on Facebook or to friends and work them through in your mind – I don’t know any other way, and that’s something I won’t be apologising for. Something I can’t change. Realise the imperfections, and, possibly, the greater advantages of your situation will flourish and become more distinct. So obvious that hope is the only rational by-product. That, with a smile, you can turn someone’s life around or make them think that, actually, life can be good sometimes and is worth living every single day.






A nice surprise

As of my last post, I’ve written and published 156 unique pieces of content on my ever-growing homepage, and a further 50 or so more — I guess — around the rest of this site; every one has been a joy to create, and even the posts I decided not to publish (sometimes I write things but decide they’re not good enough, and that includes novels too…I have about 5 just sitting around which are more or less total crap) have been a crucial part of it, this learning process which will never stop and slowly unravel to reveal more and more. 156 posts shouldn’t be a landmark, really — it’s definitely an unorthodox number to celebrate on, not that I have ever let that affect me  — but the 100th post passed me by and it wasn’t until today, when the above notification showed up in my comment feed, that I realised how much I like blogging and how big a part it is of what I do, of who I am, of what I want to achieve, of where I want to go and what I have experienced (and yes, I know 50 likes isn’t actually that much over a number of years, but unlike on Facebook, my blog doesn’t actively ask you to like it I don’t think, which means these likes are more meaningful, I think, than the casual I’ll-just-press-it likes that can occur on Facebook. It’s easy to lose track of blog posts, I suppose — but then this doesn’t surprise me, and if you know me on a personal level then it will not surprise you either! Every so often I find a 5 or 10-pound-note in a jeans or jacket pocket and am just as amazed as a boy who is seeing his own erection for the very first time, so it makes sense that this ineptitude towards organisation should also seep into my writing life..

Here’s a list of why you, the reader, matter and why every click on my blog is important:

1) It spurs me on to produce more and do better: don’t get me wrong, I would write no matter what. Back when I first started seriously writing around 8 years ago, nobody read my work and I didn’t care (and when they did eventiually read my work they didn’t care, and I couldn’t blame them). I can remember thinking that the first frantic pages I had written were something akin to good; how laughable…paragraphs running together, sentences a garbled mix of wrong tense and incorrect grammar with terrible word usage that simply made no sense. Now it is no different (the feeling of creation, I mean. I’d like to think my grammar and paragraph structuring and word usage has improved somewhat noticeably, even if you don’t notice it, which, in fact, is the point, right?). Knowing that people are coming back to the blog to read my work makes me smile; it’s not because I need to know people like the work, though, and this is something that is very hard to explain to people who don’t create things themselves. It’s because writing doesn’t really finish its journey until it is consumed, I believe; until it is pulled apart and acknowledged on some level — as good, bad or heinous. Until that point it is merely a sketch of your thoughts inside your head. It is only once it escapes that it turns into a number of other things: inspiration, influence and a powerful tool which can shift and change the way we all perceive the world. Or some such bollocks.

2) Stats help me decipher what I am doing right and wrong: you could argue that statistics are meaningless, just numbers showing a random pattern — if it is a pattern, which is debatable, as stats fluctuate wildly from one day to the next, often making for more confusion than arguable evidence of anything — yet somewhere within them is an honest reflection of what parts of your writing offer greater insight, and what parts fall on deaf ears. I try not to pay too much attention to the stats and write what I want to write — what I enjoy — yet I still find myself analysing what people read the most and where the comments fall. Which is incredibly useful for the following reason…

Sonic: this image is a gate-way to cool ideas, you’ll see!

3) …Your comments, likes and clicks tell me where I need to improve, where my thought-processes have taken a tangent too far — I know I am prone to this, but I believe it is the necessity of an iniquisitive mind, which can only ever be a good thing — and where an idea works and doesn’t work. This can then be applied to my novels. When people read my debut novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book, they may not know it but they are reading a giant science-experiment born of the seeds of the ideas conceived on this blog. Without this blog, I highly doubt the book would have evolved into what it is today. I am proud of that novel. Writing it made me smile and laugh as much as writing some of the best of my blog posts, and when I read it back I am reminded, numorously, of the kindness of people. Friends and strangers who have played a part in the writing process of that piece of fiction and others, and kind words which made me continue with the book when often I found myself thinking Does anyone else care about this but me?

4) Writing is an inherently lonely, somewhat tragic — if allowed to be — and ultimately belligerent activity: first there is the feeling that, while writing, I could be doing something else — anything else, preferably with friends, far away from computers and internet connections — and then there is the feeling, while out and about and not writing, that I am missing out on something great and impossible to ignore. That I simply must start writing as soon as possible, less the ideas in my head run out never to return again and the life I have grown to love and cherish be taken away in one fell swoop. It is a race, a battle, a deep and never less than committed attempt to produce something perfect and release it into the world; to leave something behind and make an impact, however tiny. And you, dear reader, you make it all so much easier just by being there. Your support truly does matter and always will, regardless of the shape of the journey ahead. If you like, follow my blog and get a new post in your Inbox every time I write one. And now I think that’s enough of that.

5) You give me ideas: I read all the comments left on my blog and do my best to reply to them all in a timely manner. Comments are by no means critical to a blog’s long-term survival — in fact, they can be downright intimidating sometimes, especially when someone tells you that you are a terrible writer and your blog is utter shit — yet they can be and often are the seed of a chain of thought that turn into a point of interest at a later date. Writing may be a solitary activity, but the influence of writing is reading and prelimarily reading; the intake of ideas, thoughts, smells and sounds. The ideas and concepts of anyone but yourself, in other words: people who see the world you don’t see and allow you a precious insight into things which are, once learned, impossible to ignore. External influence is vital.

6) With every click, the Google ranking of this blog — as with all blogs — climbs gradually up the scale. On a personal level, I couldn’t give a shit, but on a more pragmatic level — and thanks to my freelance copywriter side which is constantly hunting for new business — this ranking is critical. It determines who sees my blog, who reads my work, and will ultimately dictate the size and shape and variety of my readership — of whether I live or die as a career-writer rather than someone who has to write about thrush just to make ends meet. The ranking, which is calculated by a top-secret Google formula, currently stands at 4 out of a possible 10; above average, and I’m happy with that right now. 8, 9 and 10 are more or less impossible to achieve, so a 4 is not too bad at all, it has to be said.

7) The last 6 years have been very, very hard at times (no need to read on if you know all about this already — it’s just more of the same and I would hate to bore you). First there was the pneumonia, blood-poisoning, acute dehydration and sleep paralysis that occurred in 2006 (as some will know, I went into hospital with suspected Meningitis and then found myself experiencing sleep paralysis; a state in which you can sense everything around you as you drift off into near-unconsciousness, but are paralysed and left sinking deeper and deeper into a state not unlike a coma) and then came the second episode in 2009 which almost lost me my legs for good, for a second time in several years, leading to years more of struggle which included various bouts of ME/CFS and all kinds of associated problems (no money, no work, zero motivation — distinctly unlike me). Blogging and writing, it saved me, it breathed the life back into my insular world. It got me through this time of despair and depression, and you, dear reader, you were a valuable part of that oh-so-crucial therapy. Without writing and the kind support of so many fantastic people, I honestly don’t know what I’d have done, so thank you! Thank you and goodbye for now.