The Point

In which I go hunting

Pencil sketch of a cat with large amber eyes.

It used to reside in open plan offices that smelled faintly of yesterday’s soup. It used to curl up on keyboards and yawn at powerpoint presentations that were doomed to be made-viewed-discarded-made-viewed-discarded. And, once a month, it used to slink onto my bank statement and preen. 

The Point didn’t enjoy its unexpected uprooting. It disappeared for long months, presumably butting its head against the closed glass of sliding doors that no longer allowed entrance. It must have spent hours beneath familiar windows, now closed just too far to admit it. I’d hear grumbling yowls in the night, as it yearned for what was and bemoaned what is. 

And then one day, it finally wended its way back to me, with ears chewed until scalloped and with pale moons of bare skin along its flank, an inverse leopard. We started out slow: careful sniffs at a paint palette and a cautious paw batting a runaway sponge. Staring matches with spider plants, pressing close to a warm oven door, curling into loving arms. 

The Point and I, we’re figuring it out.

Heel drag

In which I attempt to summon motivation

There’s this thing I should be doing.

Well, several things to be exact. 

And they’re determinedly shifting back into sight whenever I sulkily swing my head in the opposite direction. 

They’ve been swelling with every hour that passes, from tiny tweeting companions to hulking feathered dinosaurs that send jerking fear into my stomach whenever they stomp into view. 

They hate being ignored. Hate all those other things I choose to look at instead, hate the way I airily dismiss their existence to other people, ‘This evening? That sounds lovely, I’ve got no plans at all.’

Eventually they’ll tire of the chase and they’ll move in for the kill, no longer allowing me to avoid. Black sweeps of wing will reach around me so there is nowhere for my eyeballs to flee.

Dealing with them is painful: every feather is sharply serrated and sticky and progress is slow. But they eventually shrink as I face them, rhino-sized to ostrich, to turkey, to chicken, to blackbird, to a sneezing puff of minute feathers drifting slowly to the ground. 

My horizon remains clear for all of five minutes. 

Then I hear tweeting behind me. 

Rattled

In which I remain a mystery

There’s a kneading in my chest, a drawing out, a punching in, a folding over. I’m not quite sure what the end result is meant to be (and I’m doubtful it’s worth all the commotion). My lungs are doing their best to press on despite the surrounding churn, thin breath in, thin breath out, a constant battle against diaphragm. 

Shoulders are corded tight, ratcheted two clicks past comfortable and tugging up toward my beleaguered neck. They too, appear to know something I don’t. 

It slithered in from somewhere, maybe alongside that dream last night with all that frantic dismemberment and panicked swipes of fingerprints. Maybe it came in as I drew away from the present and slid toward the past without shuffling my thoughts into order first. 

It’s refusing to answer questions in any case.

This feeling is the one that wants to consume everything in sight. Fill all bodily cavities until there is no room for churn or movement or tightness. There is only the sturdy counter press of repletion. 

It always passes, sliding out of my skin and into another’s without any pattern or cause. In the meantime, this mound of flesh I call ‘mine’ will continue to jitter and jolt its way onward, desires and motives entirely opaque.

Salve

In which I curl up in the love of strangers

I spent the past few days bathing in a pool of like minds.

(Also a lot of sweat.)

There’s an inordinate sense of comfort when everyone around you shares your values, when you can speak to a stranger without carefully excising all the bits of your self that might prove controversial.

In times like these, the warmth and friendliness of fellow humans smooth over the bruises that bloom daily in the wake of the morning news. The songs that break lips begin to burn away the helplessness coiled around hearts. Determination long dimmed stokes at the touch of new hands.

And in the real world, where strangers don’t talk to strangers, eyes dance to avoid another gaze, and another bruise marks my skin, I’ll recall that this stalwart silence does not mean that I am alone.

Poppies

In which there’s a price

Painkillers are saviours. With them, there’s a chance that things won’t escalate and I’ll get back to normal much sooner. With them, I’m less likely to do something stupid to make the pain go away. They’re an occasional safety net, a buffer that stops my brain from blowing its tolerance gauge.

But they also coat my brain in lethargy and sew my eyelids shut. They drain me of saliva and dangle me by the nape of my neck so my limbs hang heavy and helpless. My words come slow and cracked, and bruises bloom on my shins and shoulders.

Today, I think they’re here to collect.

Broadbrush

In which I use time

I grind up hours and daub them on canvas.

Ten o’clock is a carmine that has a mind of its own, eleven o’clock an aquamarine that I never quite mix enough of, twelve o’clock is a delicate pink with an unsuspectingly tenacious stain on my palette. 

Daylight momentarily resists, then crumbles under pressure and feathers the bottom of a milky jar. Time pours into a stained yoghurt tub, pours out, pours in, pours out.

There is barely a moment spared for eating, cleaning, or rolling sore shoulders: every second needs to be channelled into pigment. 

When the last of daylight has been scraped from the jar, the colours begin to warp. 

The colours of the night like to deceive. Ten o’clock is a deep purple that looks black under the electric lights, I know eleven o’clock to be a light limey green but I can only see yellow, twelve o’clock refuses to blend smoothly, chunks of burnt orange floating in a tangerine base.

The canvas sits and waits for time to dry upon its surface. I scrub minutes from my fingers, seconds from beneath my nails, and an unruly moment from its attempted escape onto my shirt. 

I discharge time from its monotonous polytone task, and release it to transform into other things.

Rush / Rash

In which I face the future

I feel this need to gobble things up. Consume them before they disappear from existence, seize them in a spasmodic clutch that crushes as much as it holds. 

Why the rush? 

I suppose the future feels empty in its uncertainty. The potential it holds seems like so much Fool’s Gold when compared to the sure gleam in the seam of the present. I seize the day, uncaring that my clumsy grasp might cause a hundred futures to wink out, wriggling threads extinguished without a second’s thought.

I get told to relax a lot. Chill out. Go with the flow. See what happens. It turns out that this doesn’t really have any effect on a mind outraged by the paucity of knowledge available when told to make decisions. 

And so I hold onto today like the Earth might turn its back on the Sun, refusing to bring it back around. I feel everything now, in case the future is a burnt out carcass hosting only maggots of misery. 

Sometimes my grip releases. Hands go slack and shaky with the fear that those terrible futures might mean that there’s no point in consuming or clutching. There’s no point in holding on.

On those days, when my brain coils tightly around itself and digs its jaws in deep, I need someone to slip their hand in mine and clutch me as though the Earth might spin no more. As though those future threads mean nothing compared to the need for a clumsy grasp today. 

And on those days I’ll realise I don’t have to rush alone.

Scatterbrain

In which I figure we’re all zombies

I’ve opted to donate my brain to the public. I slice away a wafer of grey each day, and post it for consumption, dissection and deliberation. Reassemble all those slices, and the shape of my thoughts starts to emerge – every normalcy and abnormality revealed.

People talk about the ‘courage’ it takes to paint the internet with the contents of your head, I suppose because there is a worry that others might take your weaknesses and wield them, or that others might view you to be less because of your revelations, or that you might discover that you’re unacceptably abnormal and a case for social exile. 

Mostly nobody’s all that special. There are millions of brain spatters across the web. Each slice sets off a bell in a similar slice of someone else’s brain – commonality results far more than rejection. 

I feel like most of us watch the world in the hope of finding others like us, people who make us feel a little less strange and alone. Some of us keep our brain firmly locked on the inside, lest it give away our less palatable selves. But that only serves to make us more afraid that nobody else is like us, we are alone in the universe with a bitter brain.

I find that sticking slices of brain on the web gives me an extra step of distance – I’m better able to look at myself and reflect on that complex lump of neurons. The shadow self that emerges looks different from my assumptions, visible in all its objective glory.


And so I keep on serving another slice. Bon appétit.

Tube rage

In which we meet a special specimen

The Tube rage swells with every screech of rails. 

He’s stood at the end of an aisle with a backpack the size of a 1990s television hanging loosely from his shoulders. He’s getting repeated glances from those nearby, presumably because their teeth are rattling from the sound of the bass vibrating from his incongruently tiny earphones. Or possibly because he sniffs every three minutes, with a lengthy snarfing sound that makes it seem entirely possible that the entire carriage might disappear into the damp recesses of his nostrils. It’s possibly due to his cold (or allergy, or drug habit).

He’s doused himself in enough aftershave that nail varnish on the hands near him is starting to bubble and peel. A spark could result in conflagration, tearing through the wavering field of scent that surrounds him like a boxy Christmas pudding.

He’s got both hands out to grip a span of three hand holds, butt swaying back and forth with every crash from his thudding accompaniment. His backpack has been ramming repeatedly into the man behind him, who has apologetically slid closer and closer to the seat in front whilst attempting not to thrust his own crotch into someone’s face. His gymnastics have not been enough to save him from those hip thrusts.

Maybe backpack guy’s got rubbish sight. It would explain the blank way he ran his eyes over the woman next to him who’s been trying to reach a hand hold but has been forced to stretch on tiptoe because he’s still holding on to the grip in front of her. She’s too polite to say anything, she just keeps on stumbling backward and forward while he keeps right on looking through her. 

He finally gets a seat, much to the relief of the guy behind him and the woman next to him. As their frowns fade to relief, backpack guy plants his bag on the floor and promptly flings his thighs out to the sides. His elbows follow suit. 

He gives an almighty snort-sniff of contentment. 

And begins to hum.

Baggage

In which I realise I’m not exempt

I fear I’ll be transmuted into a millstone – rough around the neck, with an interminable grind that erodes temper and tether. 

I’ll become sickly sweet, cloying and claggy even as the mouth gets rinsed again and again. 

I’ll be a duty, one to tick off each day with a plummeting stomach and stiffening shoulders.

I’ll be an unreachable thorn latched in a once smooth flank. A ball and chain without a lock. An albatross that was shot without understanding just how heavy it would feel once wrapped around the neck.

And mostly I fear that all the while, I will know. 

Heart to heart

In which I really appreciate the uncomplicated

It still puzzles me, what happened.

One moment, vague curiosity, the next?

Bolt from the blue, soul deep recognition, and cat noises.

It feels like we must have had some kind of tie in those former lives I don’t believe in – Sisters? Partners? One soul cleaved in two?

The harpoon that runs heart to heart feels ancient. 

There’s something wonderful about being able to love wholeheartedly without careful gauging of the other.

There is no watching the other person’s speed as we run toward each other, no careful dosing of affection in case the wrong message is given, no swallowed thoughts or stymied feelings. 

We’re a collision for the ages, stars plotted our meeting, bird guts had it writ large for centuries.

You’ve got those sharp edges I love, snarks spark under your skin, and that heart of yours glows incandescent.

You and me, we’re simple. 

It was about time that we met.

No cigar

In which memory stings

I’d never encountered anything that I couldn’t achieve so long as tried. 

So I tried.

I held smiles on lips that no longer worked, turned precognition to maximum to put things in place before they were needed, and tried to follow the rules spoken on a million forums (not too much, not too little, not too keen, not too distant, be less annoying, be less pathetic). 

I tried harder.

Helplessness began to claw its way up my throat over and over again, refusing to be swallowed back down. Wet footprints trod cheeks at first in darkness and then began to march in daylight. 

I tried harder.

My heart was rubbed raw with myriad microscopic failings. My ears began to ring with siren calls that drowned every scene with portents of failure. 

And when I finally cut myself loose, I still didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand that the problem was not one of effort but one of being:

I needed to not be me.

Stuck with me, as it were, I came to recognise the futility of trying.

And yet sometimes those sirens still whisper sweet nothings.

No matter how hard you try, you will never be enough.

Soft spot

In which I feel uncomfortable

I’ve got a real soft spot for you. 

(Get your mind out of the gutter.)

It’s the tenderness of a piglet’s belly, the nestle of warm sheets, the helpless puddling of ice cream in summer sun. 

It feels like I’ve only just realised how stabbable I am, how all these knotted organs are wrapped in flesh rather than the spined armour I always assumed I wore.

Like the Emperor’s new clothes, once I realised it wasn’t there, I was left naked and flinching at how easily a word could slip between a rib to puncture or nick. 

Fear wraps his arms around me, holding me immobilised as I see your words approach. But they slip over my skin, loosening the clutch of those bony fingers and soothing the bruises beneath. They glide over ribs with the softest of pads, slow and gentle until the tide of anxiety is reversed.

Fear returns the next day, and the next, and yet your words never sharpen with impatience. A disgusted part of me watches the floundering and shrieks for me to weave back the armoured illusion I once wore. 

But then I look at you.

And I think that soft spot might stay.

Out of my shell

In which I find a new home

I crawled into my first shell in childhood, a tiny whorl of cream that settled a comforting weight around my shoulders.

Likes reading, more slapdash than her brother, bit of a temper, proud, lies really well, perfectionist.

I outgrew that first shell in my teenage years and found myself a larger one, a cone splattered with brown.

Thoughtful, doesn’t like getting things wrong, good at big picture stuff, hates trying new things unless she knows she’ll be good at them. Good with other people but doesn’t always have the confidence to speak up. 

When I headed to university, I moved into a long pale spiral that gleamed inside.

Works well with others but needs her own space, will step up to lead if given a shove. Picks things up quickly, sees too many sides to successfully argue just one angle.

And so I moved as I changed, finding new homes whenever I outgrew the last.

I’ve been in my current shell for the last few years. It’s a gorgeous mottled green, fading to yellow at the tip. It fitted well, holding all that I am, all that I enjoy, and all that I was capable of. 

But now it hangs loose about me.

The person who chose this home saw the world differently, had different expectations, and had assumptions that can no longer come to pass. 

It is time to choose another shell.

There is a sadness in leaving one behind: I’m losing the familiar and the loyal, and moving into the unknown. But with change comes potential and possibility.

This new shell will contain my new self as it moves along a perpendicular path. It will be a shelter to life’s tides, a safe place to regroup and regrow. 

And one day it will feel like home.

Unbridled

In which I count the ways that I love you

She’s a no holds barred, shits ungiven, unbridled pillar of purest sass. 

She’s got more eye twinkles than a children’s poem, a laugh that’s seen you without your trousers, and a tongue that can choose to dice you or nice you.

Mountains cower at her command and slink off at the jab of a finger; chaos parts before her, scrabbling frantically to order at a single glance. 

She’s got a heart that gives and gives and gives, and she writes no return address on the back. 

Her love feels like the rise of the sun on cold skin, a warm pair of arms after years at sea.

She’s hidden in plain sight so only the luckiest can see her. 

I’m so glad I could.