Tag Archives: Personal

That Time I Saw Bill Clinton In A Parking Garage

In the last post in this series I wrote about the kinds of opportunities on offer at an American campus. When I studied at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire my semester coincided with the 2012 presidential election. It was awesome to have Vice President Joe Biden come to campus and to attend his campaign speech for free. As the semester went on, the weather got more and more bitter and so too did the election.

On October 31st Bill Clinton was visiting Eau Claire to campaign for Barack Obama. How could I turn down the opportunity to see such an iconic figure? It was a Wednesday, and on every Wednesday I had my senior class- a 3 hour creative writing workshop. It was my favorite class with my favorite professor. As I walked down the hill to lower campus, I started to wonder if I could really be arsed to see Clinton. Back then I was extremely anxious about going to places and trying things without someone to do it with me, which sounds crazy when I had already come all the way to another country by myself and was doing just fine. Not only was I anxious, but I was a lazy son-of-a-gun to boot. I wondered if I would be able to motivate myself to walk downtown and see this speech all on my own. I didn’t like the idea that laziness and anxiety would get in the way of a chance to see a former President, and I continued this warring dialogue in my head as I approached Hibbard. It would be so easy to just say “ah, heck with it” and walk back to the warmth and comfort of the dorms, and resume binging Breaking Bad and eating pizza with Aaron. I wished he were here so we could go together.

I got into class, sat myself down, and a thought occurred to me. In my Making More Friends in the USA post I introduced my friend Calvin, who sat near me in that creative writing class. Only two days prior, he had asked if I wanted to get coffee on my birthday. I was busy chillin’ with Aaron, Zeke and Jimmy in Towers North at the time, but had promised him we would hang out. Calvin had a friend, a girl that sat with us, called…let’s call her Briony. As we unpacked our notepads and pens, she said, “Hey, isn’t Bill Clinton in town today?”

Class commenced as per usual, and when it ended it was late in the afternoon. Calvin looked at me and said, “So, how about that coffee? You busy?”

I said I was interested in going to see Clinton, and perhaps we could go together. He smiled and looked back at Briony and asked if she was interested. Swell!

We left the campus and headed toward Briony’s house where we planned to leave our bags. I remember being interested to see what a given student house looked like. We walked through big sylvan streets with little traffic. The houses all had large lawns. They were often made of white-painted wood and all had spacious porches which contained locked bicycles, inflated donuts for tubing the Chippewa River, hookah pipes, and the evidence of many a party; beer bottles and red solo cups strewn about the front steps and lining the porch railing. There were also dogs and families in some of the houses. A thick canopy covered every street, and everything was shadowed and sleepy. The front yards were adorned with whirligigs, flower patches, American flags, abandoned couches, empty lawn chairs, tricycles, and discarded stacks of cardboard.

We arrived at the house where Briony lived and it fascinated me. Briony and her roommate rented the upper half of the house, and so there was a stairway on the exterior of the building that took them up to their front door. I remember Briony apologizing for how messy her apartment was and it struck me as representing the carefree existence of student living. We found her roommate sitting cross-legged on the floor and the girl smiled up at us and said hi, promising to look after our bags.

“Just throw them on the floor anywhere you like,” she said, as Briony went into another room to fetch her jacket.

We started then towards downtown Eau Claire and the light was starting to leave the sky. It was at that point in the day when the streetlights are coming on and glow faintly amber against a sky the dullest shade of white. The speech was taking place at the Ramada Convention Center. By the time we arrived, the line was so big that it stretched around the whole block. We instantly grew apprehensive about whether we would make it.

I can be a pretty impatient person sometimes and one thing I’m not good at is simply standing still. I’ve always hated waiting in line, especially at airports and the like. As the day grew later and the line (“queue” in British English) trudged forward at the pace of a spilt flow of porridge, I began to realize just how naïve I was to the weather in Wisconsin. I’ve always had this tendency to put on less layers than I need out of a fear of being too hot. I hate being out and about with too many layers on and feeling sweaty, and back then I figured it was better to be too cold rather than too hot. Almost as soon as we got in line, I started complaining I was cold. I knew right away I had made a grave error. I was dressed in a thin, white vintage cabana shirt with black, office pants. I looked like I ought to be drinking Cubanitos in Havana or smoking outside a café in Sidi Bou Said. Aside from being about forty years out of date, I attracted all kinds of bemused stares at my lack of preparedness. With the kind of shirt I was wearing I was practically topless for all the protection it offered. To quote Joey from Friends: my nipples could cut glass.

Unable to control myself, I started shivering like crazy. Wisconsinites are polite and yet direct. They’re too polite to criticize my choice of clothing but nonetheless direct enough to ask where my jacket was. A woman in front of us couldn’t stand to hear my teeth chattering any longer, and said that while she didn’t have a spare sweater for me, she could offer me these little things that might warm my hands. Out of her handbag she produced these two things that looked like teabags.

“Rub them together in your hands. It’ll warm you up,” she said. “But whatever ya do, don’t open or tear them. That would be painful.”

The line snaked around these two massive buildings and we were stood there for an hour or more, with me cursing my stupidity the whole time. It was nice to hang out with Calvin and Briony some more, but I was starting to think I should have taken them up on their initial suggestion of coffee. I imagined we would have gone to a place in the campus student center Davies called The Cabin. I never actually went to The Cabin during my exchange, but I remember thinking of it as a nest of hipsters in flannel shirts and beanies, discussing Bon Iver over their Caribou Coffee. I was super-paranoid about being associated with hipsters back then. I’m not sure what my fear was exactly, but I avoided them like they were linked to Spanish Flu. But all my insecurities about being a closeted hipster went out the window when I was on the sidewalk that day feeling my crown jewels shrivel up into my body in a desperate attempt to preserve heat. At that moment The Cabin looked like the warmest, coziest place in the world.

This better be worth it, I thought to myself. We were so close to the convention center now. As we edged closer, coming off of the street and under the massive concrete parking garage attached to the side of the building, we began to talk excitedly about the comfy chairs and central heating ahead of us. It was fully dark by now. The stars were out and the hardy Wisconsinites breathed clouds of condensed water vapor. Then all of a sudden the line came to a stop and didn’t start moving again. A crowd began to form outside the hotel and a woman came along and announced that the seats were all full and that she was very sorry but could we kindly piss off.

An audible groan rang out and the crowd didn’t move. A barricade was erected to keep us from getting any closer and to make room for Clinton’s motorcade. We waited for the shiny black cars to arrive so that we might catch a glimpse of him. At worst we could brag at having seen one of his secret service agents. The only thing I remember from this part of the story is a crushing sense of disappointment. Finally, however, as if knowing that I had come all this way from Bristol, England, the woman returned and announced to the sizable crowd that Bill Clinton was going to come out and give a mini-speech to us, so that we didn’t go home with nothing. What an amazing fellow, I thought.

Then, sure enough, Bill Clinton’s motorcade turned up and he got out of the car. He looked exactly as he did on TV. His hair was brilliantly white though- whiter and thicker than Biden’s. He had a really distinctive look to him, I thought. Someone handed him a megaphone and he addressed the shivering crowd of Wisconsinites clad in green and yellow coats. It was quite a scene, I thought. Even though we didn’t get to see the actual campaign speech, this little spontaneous moment in the parking garage felt somehow more special. Everyone seemed to be wearing some form of Green Bay Packer attire, and we all felt touched by Clinton’s coming out to us in the cold.

The fact that I didn’t bring my camera felt like an even bigger mistake than my choice of clothes. Sometimes in today’s world of social media, it feels like if you don’t have a picture to mark an event, then it didn’t happen. So I don’t have a photo of my own to accompany this post. However, I did find this image online of Clinton speaking to us in the parking garage-if you look really hard you can even see half of my face, at the back of the crowd on the right of the image.

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Photo credit: Jeff McCabe, click here to see original image

When the speech was over everyone cheered and we hurried back to Briony’s house as quickly as we could. And so ends the memory and today’s blog post. Thanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this study abroad series, then consider giving me a Like or let me know what you think in the comments. Make sure to subscribe to keep yourself up to date, because I have plenty of stories left from that fall semester in 2012.

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Turning 25

Last weekend I turned 25. I enjoyed a nice, steady birthday where my family and I went to see Blade Runner 2049 and eat at one of our favorite Siamese restaurants. The movie was a masterpiece and the Gaeng Phed Ped Yang always hits the spot. At various points during the day, my friends and family asked me “So how does it feel to be 25?”

How does it feel? British humor dictated that I reply “You know, it’s an awful lot like when I was 24,” and I obliged the waiting faces a chuckle- but I wasn’t done. I did feel something. I was suddenly morbid. The last 25 years seemed so vast, and I feared that the next 25 would go by in a flash. At some point I’d wake up, 50 years old, and remark “Where did the time go?”

I was at the biological peak of my life, I told myself. I was finally here. When we’re young our bodies bail us out of bad habits, quickly replenishing cells with fresher ones for optimum efficiency, priming us for our sole purpose- which is the same for all life- procreation. And once we get past these mating years- whether we make the beast with two backs or not- we start slowly dying. Everything deteriorates gradually, cells are replenished slower until they’re not replenished at all, and you start doing things like spending your mortgage savings on a Harley with aggressively steep ape-hangers, or trying to explain to your wife that the reason the laptop is overrun with malware totally isn’t because you were streaming Girls Gone Wild from a less-than-reputable source.

It might sound a bit hysterical, but it wouldn’t be a birthday without an existential crisis wrapped up with a pretty bow on top. I’ve never really been good at birthdays. Something about turning 25 makes me feel like I’ve completed something, like I can look back on everything behind me as a single volume in the story of my life. It might seem that I was plagued with visions of the future, but to be honest most of that was the tickle of my subconscious. I spent most of my first week of being 25 looking backwards, at the past.

I was definitely better at birthdays when I was a kid. Back then I’d invite all my friends from school to go tobogganing or to play laser tag and we’d top it off with chicken nuggets or something. It was something loud and colorful, and I didn’t feel self-conscious or weird about the fact that it was all about me. Birthdays weren’t bad after that, but once my teenage years came around they were never the same. I became bashful, almost guilty, that there was a day where social custom dictated that people celebrate me. And the idea that I was expected by everyone to be happy made me anxious. I’m not exactly the best at being happy. The wild-eyed, theatrical rogue that was my child-self was dead. He didn’t make it past the age of eleven, sadly. He was skipping along as in a 1940s cartoon when an anvil fell from the sky and flattened him. The Michael that emerged, once he popped back into 3D and resumed his journey, had an altogether different look to him.

Teenage years were a mire of hormones and bullying and the search for identity. I was extremely self-conscious. I remember extended family members remarking how quiet I’d gotten all of a sudden, trying to pin-point the moment the little devil they knew had become an awkward, gangly recluse forever blushing and apologizing. Birthdays came every year and each day they seemed to reflect in some small way the person I was becoming- the same way the birthdays of my childhood were indicative of the little adventure-seeking, bright-eyed brat that I was. They were still fun, but now I didn’t make too much of a fuss. I enjoyed a low-key meal with a few friends, before giving up the idea of inviting people to an event altogether.

I was going to make this post one of those “Letter to My Younger Self” things where I’d address the kind of person I was at 15 years old and how I’ve changed in the last 10 years. But to be honest I’m not sure what I would say to the Michael of my school years. I suppose the thing to do would be to warn myself not to overreact, stay positive, yada yada, but that would just read like a catalogue of my teenage angst. I’m not sure I want to send 15-year old Mike a telegram saying “WATCH THE FUCK OUT” for this upcoming pitfall or that. Not to try and sound philosophical, but you kinda need pitfalls in life. There’s a bunch of things I regret, that’s for damn sure. Like most people I have memories that make me shudder like someone emptied a jar of cold piss down my neck, ones that I wish I could erase. I hate hurting or disappointing people. It sucks, but assuming you have some level of self-awareness you do learn from it.

What I’ve always ultimately been interested in is how best to navigate the social sphere. Call it what you want- coexistence, perhaps? Being able to understand others and communicate effectively is what it’s all about. That’s how you succeed- whether you’re building business relationships or personal ones. In my teenage years I’d watch other people at school float on by with effortless skill. I focused on small things- the priceless knowledge they had- how to walk, what to do with your hands, how to joke around, how to speak, when to speak. It was like everyone else had the answer sheet to a project and I’d inexplicably missed out.

I watched other people, less skilled, trying out personalities that weren’t entirely their own. I was never so brave, but when an unexpected situation came my way I often found myself saying something that didn’t feel quite so natural to me, trying out different walks, thinking to myself how best to look relaxed when sitting in class. The big one was how the hell to talk to girls. You’d see other guys making them laugh and wonder how on Earth they did it. But at the time I was far too ignorant to realize that girls were people too, and that behind their laughing eyes and self-assured smiles there was a human being experiencing all flavors of confusion, doubt and fear. But it’s from that very ignorance that empathy is learned. I’m still searching for answers to all the questions of my youth, but I don’t feel quite so hopeless now. Part of that has to do with the fact that I’ve realized all along that so many others, perhaps more than I ever thought possible, were asking the same questions.

Adelaide’s Story

I was wondering, as I went on my run this morning, how best to tackle this post. It’s been wet all week but it hasn’t rained. A thick and creamy mist has surrounded the valley in which I live and it’s been hard to tell where the mist ends and the colorless sky begins. It makes the sky seem lower, the horizon nearer. It’s left me with the dreamy quality of being at the bottom of the ocean, as though the sky might crack and I’d be washed away. Today, however, it’s been bright and cloudless. It’s cold, but the sky is blue. I figured the time was right. I made my usual turn where the edge of town is separated by a lonely road from the pastures of sheep, and thought to myself: this post shouldn’t be difficult to write at all. And yet it is. So I might as well start at the beginning.

When they found Adelaide, she was a nameless Border Collie living in the streets of some Mississippi town, barely a few months old. She was rescued and ended up in the Bay Area of Wisconsin where they hoped someone would take her in. And someone did. That someone was my long-suffering American roommate Aaron, who got Adelaide as a Christmas gift for his soon-to-be fiancée Anne-Marie. I didn’t meet the pupper until the summer of 2016 when the three of us got back from our travels in Europe.

It’s hard to talk about just how profoundly this dog has affected me. It might be something like “masculine pride”, or perhaps it’s a deeper issue I have with seeming weak. But I thought to myself on my walk this morning, what the hell kind of psychological issues do I have if I’m equating love with weakness? When I got the news last year that Adelaide had contracted Dirofilaria immitis, I was broken. Like so many vile entities in this world, the heartworm is spread by the bites of mosquitoes. More than likely it happened during her days as a street dog in the muggy bayous of Mississippi. But that wasn’t important. What I wanted to know was how we were going to take care of our girl.

For the better part of a year Adelaide (also known as “Pun’kin”, “Toots”, or simply “Addie”) has been on a strict regimen of heart medication to help kill the parasite. We had no idea how long the heartworm had been inside her, or how advanced the infection was, but we hoped against hope that the pills would save her. I was shocked by how depressed the news of her illness made me. I found it hard to justify why I was so withdrawn and humorless after the diagnosis. I had never experienced this kind of love, and for a few weeks I entered a kind of grief that touched every part of my behavior, drive and body language. In those days, I was still in recovery after a series of depressive “episodes”. I hadn’t found my rhythm yet. I was still searching for a reason to want to stay alive. And after Addie’s diagnosis I became consumed with morbid thoughts that the unthinkable might happen. I also worried that, if the medication was successful, would Addie still be the same afterwards?

The pills were only a part of what she went through. Her diet changed. She had to stay indoors more so she didn’t get too excited. She lost a ton of weight. She spent the majority of her time sleeping and resting. She couldn’t play like she used to. I went back to see Adelaide this year, desperate to get in as much time with her as possible in case something awful were to happen. I never conveyed this in so many words; I had to try and support her parents- my best friends- and manage my anxiety accordingly. By the time I returned to Texas, she was in the final stage of recovery. I was glad to see that Adelaide was still Toots. What I mean by that it is, she had retained the aspects of her personality that had earned those nicknames.

But who is Tootie and what makes her so special?

She’s an extremely active dog by nature. It’s not just that she’s got so much energy that makes her so lovable, but it’s that this energy is always channeled through excitement. She can jump as high as my chin. She loves squirrels and she loves the birds. When the neighborhood kids see her they tell us how she is the sweetest dog around, and she obligingly lets them pet her.

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She loves belly rubs. Baby girl will spread herself across your lap as you scratch her pinky underbelly and massage her floppy ears.

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This dog acts like it’s your birthday every time she sees you. When I wake up, she’s waiting outside my door and jumps up and down, and climbs up the side of my body for a scratch. When her mom comes home from work, she practically explodes with excitement, watching her out the window and sprinting around the house until Anne-Marie comes through the door.

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Addie Cakes loves unconditionally. If you are sad or sick she will curl up like a donut at your side and watch over you. She bestows little blessings in the form of doggie-kisses. She treats her dad like a climbing frame and it reminds me of a bear cub having drank a scavenged gallon of blackcurrant Fanta and jumping all over their weary papa bear getting him to play with her. She lets her mom dress her up in cutesy outfits and will dance with her in the evenings as she sings “A-meri-can pup”.

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When I came back, Addie was still the same. As the summer went on she became more and more active. Her recovery was finished but it would be several months before we knew if it had worked or not. We took her out to the dog parks of Houston and let her run free for the first time in months. She was growing happy and strong.

Eventually I returned to the United Kingdom. The time for her blood test approached and I could feel my anxiety ramping up. It’s been a difficult October for a variety of reasons. I’ve seen a real threat to my progress manifest in several simultaneous concerns, both emotional and creative. The looming test results made everything worse. I felt myself unconsciously preparing for grief. Now the tragedy of it all felt very real. The idea that our world could be turned on its head in a few days was a strange thing to process. I’m not sure I’ve really experienced anything like it.

Last night the results of Adelaide’s blood test came back.

She had tested Negative. The heartworm was gone. Take that you piece of Mosquito filth! Our little pup will now live a long and healthy life. What has been a difficult month (for a variety of reasons) is ending on a very positive note. It’s strange to think of this event as a kind of bifurcation. We were at a crossroads and thankfully we didn’t end up on a road that would have been extremely difficult and damaging. When you love someone deeply, they have a power over you. You are invested in everything they do; their misfortune becomes a devastating force to your own journey. It kind of reminds me of a post I wrote when I was in Greece on the nature of Philia, and how the happiness of your loved ones becomes your own happiness. The same is true with its opposite. Allowing yourself to love is a risk, but I’m sure one that many would argue is worth taking.

Bouncing Back

Today I let my legs do my thinking for me. I had a lot to work out on this morning’s walk and I wondered if my route was going to be long enough. Walking helps to clear my head but it’s only really the beginning of the day’s therapy; at some point you have to come back hit the day’s targets. This morning, tropical winds brought the dust and debris from the Iberian forest fires and obfuscated the sun’s wavelength of blue light. This caused the sun to rise a deep red, before going a sharp, neon orange- a perfect circle, and ultimately settling into an indistinct, shapeless and colorless blast. It’s beautiful, even though it comes from a place of suffering. The universe is a wholly ambivalent thing, but there is so much poetry in violent skies.

I tried not to look at the sun and pressed ahead. My legs felt weak and starved of proper use. They were reminding me that I hadn’t used them all weekend. I thought about how often I’ve been here- trying to restart my rhythm. Recently I’ve been waking up depressed, and when I have a bad start to the day it’s hard to turn it into something. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but for weeks now I’ve sensed the coiling tentacles of anxiety tighten their grip. I’ve felt immobilized. It’s been a while since I’ve had a panic attack, and 2017 has largely been a year of recovery. Hell, this blog wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t.

What’s been so frustrating recently is that this latest dark cloud has been so hard to shake off. I’ve come to terms with the fact that there will be good weeks and bad ones, but this most recent episode has proven a resilient obstacle to my progress. Life just seems so heavy. I’m cursed with regular headaches and I’m not advancing on any of my projects. It’s not the problem I had in 2015 and 2016, where I simply didn’t want to even attempt to help myself and struggled to find the most simple reason to get out of bed and try something. Now I have ambitions. I actually want to live. The problem I have right now is enacting those ambitions.

It’s been a bit of a turbulent month as far as my work goes. I’ve been unsatisfied with the pace of my progress, and I’ve tried a few times to shake things up. I know I’m not happy with the way things are. I’m angry at myself for my lack of willpower and my failure to really get going on these projects. However, as I reached the final third of my walk this morning, a thought occurred to me. My legs were indeed telling me something. My sense of physical weakness reflected what was going on inside. My legs taught me that the most important part of a vigorous, productive lifestyle is bouncing back. The quicker the better. I’m tired of building momentum from scratch. If I’m exercising every day, then my body adapts to the routine. A single activity- be it a morning’s walk or anything else- becomes easier when it’s in the context of an ongoing routine. And it’s the same with writing or anything else you’re trying to do. Whenever you are designing a productive schedule, be sure to include a failsafe. Going forward I’m going to try and do a better job of bouncing back. Life will inevitably get in the way and sometimes you’ll just run out of steam. The important thing- the most important thing in my opinion- is the swiftness of your response.

Thematically you can consider this post a kind of sequel to my essay Notes on Productivity & Procrastination, in which I list a few tricks to help get yourself out of a rut and start being creative and productive. But in all honestly, this is more a spiritual successor to my post on The Love of Friendship. I like to think of it as a journal entry that I share with you; something unplanned and unstructured- a “thought of the day”. I intend to release more of these whenever the mood strikes me; they’re going to be short, spontaneous posts that detail my journey.

Thanks for reading!

What Do Our Nightmares Reveal About Ourselves?

I’ve always been a troubled sleeper. For the first few years of my life I never slept through the night. I was a crying, difficult baby. And throughout my childhood and early teens I was tormented with sleepless nights and bad dreams. I was convinced that something awful would happen. When I was asleep I had nightmares of being abducted, and when I was awake my teeth chattered at the slightest creak in the floorboards. It’s a wonder I didn’t jump at the sound of my own terrified farts. My idea was that there was a bad man who would stealthily enter my room through my window and either murder me or carry me off. The fear was so intense I almost found religion. As a kid I attended a small, Anglican school, and I remember meeting with this extremely Christian woman and telling her that I was afraid of “murderers and especially burglars”. For some reason burglars were orders of magnitude worse, because the word itself sounded spooky. The lady told me that Jesus had my back and that every night I should tell myself I was wearing “God’s Armor” and that nothing could get through. Heck, I even tried it on the first night. But after saying it once I realized that God had even less likelihood of showing up at my bedside than the bogeyman I was so scared of. And even at the age of eleven I knew that muttering to myself like a boxcar hobo wasn’t going to help me reach the sweet, uninterrupted, dreamless sleep I had craved my whole life.

Now I’m twenty-four years old and I’ve just woken up from a little nightmare- my second of the week. But they are nothing like the kaleidoscopic, surrealist horrors of my childhood. And it got me thinking about the differences between the nightmares I have now, and the ones that plagued me as a child. As a kid my nightmares were like haunted mansion rides. I was being railroaded from one monstrosity to the next. My bad dreams then were horrifying in a visual way, whereas my bad dreams now are horrifying in a psychological way. Examples! As a kid I had a recurring nightmare about that scene in the 1951 movie Alice in Wonderland where those sentient playing cards start dancing around and Alice is lying face-down on the floor.

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It seemed like Alice was trapped in a nightmare herself. Everything around her was just evil and insane from my point of view, as though Lewis Carrol had deliberately constructed something to be as visually disturbing as possible. I felt like Alice in my dreams- trapped in a never-ending cycle of absolute madness. I remember actually realizing I was in a dream sometimes, and trying to wake myself up. I remember some dreaded murderer coming after me, and being so scared that all I could do was drop to the floor like Alice and keep my head down. It still sends a chill up my spine. Anyway, that’s why I never got into poker.

As a child, I remember asking my dad if grown-ups got nightmares too.

“Yeah, but not as often as children,” he answered. I was hoping that it was something that went away with age. I wanted it to end. I was shocked that someone like my dad could experience night terrors. As a kid my dad represented everything that was calm, strong, reassuring and logical. Everything about him seemed measured and pragmatic, like he knew everything and nothing surprised him.

“What do grown-ups get nightmares about?” I asked him.

“Usually it’s something like leaving a shop and realizing you bought the wrong sweater,” he answered.

So nightmares didn’t go away after all. They just got incredibly boring. I’m reminded of my dad’s words as I think about the nightmares I have had in 2017. There are three recurring bad dreams that I routinely go through, and have done for the past few years:

  1. Travel problems. Missing flights, getting on the wrong train, that sort of thing. Longtime readers of TumbleweedWrites will remember The Time I Got Bon-dangled by Border Patrol. I often suffer these very vivid dreams where I’m either racing through airports trying not to miss a flight to visit Aaron and Anne-Marie, or I’m in the UK with Aaron’s family and getting lost at train stations. What’s interesting is that I always wake up before any conclusion. I never actually miss the plane, but I dream everything up until that point.
  2. Going back to university. For a while now I’ve been having a recurring nightmare where I either decide to undertake a postgraduate degree in the USA or I have to relive my A-Levels but with my current mind and body. A-Levels are taken in the UK when you’re 17 and 18 as a qualification for university. Think of it as if Junior and Senior years of high school were broken off into their own thing. Anyway, in both scenarios I’m completely out of touch and I’ve lost the ability to study. I can’t concentrate and I skip classes out of fear and laziness.
  3. Losing our border collie pup. As many of you know, my American roommates have a little dog I’ve grown quite attached to. In recent months I’ve been having these strange dreams where I’m trusted with the dog for an indefinite period, and my roommates are mysteriously absent. Their presence is there but it’s faint. The nightmare usually has me losing the dog, or her vanishing into thin air, and my memory about how she disappeared becoming so warped that I question whether she existed in the first place. I’ve had further dreams about being trusted with other dogs- ones that don’t exist in real life- and similarly they disappear or go missing. They are always small puppies, no longer than my foot.

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If you compare these dreams to those of my childhood, the terror is quite different. All of them are about dread and doubt, and the threat is almost always my own mind. As a child, it was visual. An external threat- something or someone that wanted to do me in. Why certain things set me off is a mystery to me. As a kid I was mortified by that character in Spyro 2 that you have to follow- Agent Zero. Something about his blank face and unblinking, pit-like eyes made me think he was up to no good. It wasn’t just his haunting face, but the way he walked too. Like he had a dark secret to hide. In my mind he was undoubtedly a serial killer. The way Agent Zero would suddenly turn around and spot you caused me many a sleepless night.

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The other big one that freaked my balls off was the Pokemon Delibird. I’m not sure why exactly but that little bastard sent a current of terror through me like nothing else could. I loved Christmas as a kid, so the idea of something inhuman impersonating Father Christmas and presumably acting as his opposite, spreading violence and fear, really stuck with me.

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When I look back at Agent Zero, Delibird and the playing cards from Alice in Wonderland, I notice that they are all cartoons of a kind. They scared me, I think, the same way a clown might; they’re an imitation of life that just doesn’t look quite right. According to Steve Scholzman, M.D- an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical, clowns are scary to children because of pattern recognition.

“Pattern recognition allows to see when things are recognizable but off just enough to where you take caution. That’s why a little kid can recognize something as being a little bit dangerous without quite knowing why they know it’s dangerous. They recognize it as familiar but not quite the same as what they’re seeing.”

I’ll put a link to the article in which I read this below, in case you are interested in reading further. But is that not why I was so afraid of Delibird? It’s a distortion of what Santa should look like. Agent Zero and the playing cards are similarly corruptions of their accepted forms and the fact they’re so damn happy means you can’t know what they’re truly feeling. Delibird’s true intentions are hidden beneath his bright colors and unsettling, avian attempt at a smile.

What nightmares have dogged you for years? Let me know in the comments!

 

References

Why Are People Scared of Clowns?

Philia: My Thoughts on the Love of Friendship

I’ve been spending some time relaxing on the Greek island of Crete recently, and I’d be lying if I said my time spent exploring nearby Minoan ruins and getting my feet chewed up at the local fish spa hasn’t limited my ability to get some writing done. So I’ll leave you with a short piece about what’s been on my mind today. Hell, I’ll do better than that- I’ll open my damn heart to you. Greece is a romantic country. I’m not talking about the sexual kind of romance per se, although that’s certainly part of it. The people that populate these lands of olives and seashells and turquoise are an emotive, expressive bunch. They communicate in such a poetic way, weaving their hands in graceful gestures of innate rhythm, the cadence of their voices songlike and theatrical. The Greek language itself is a point of fascination for me; perhaps more so than its fine food and dancing, the ancient language of these islanders is so indicative of a culture that has persevered through thousands of years of outside oppression and occupation.

What I’m interested in most of all is love. It’s easy to mock the cliché of it all when taken at face value, but when you sit down and think of it, the concept of love and what it is and what it means is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the human experience. And at the end of the day, that’s the only thing worth talking about- the human heart in conflict with itself, as Faulkner put it. Every society that’s ever existed, every culture from the mountains of Peru to the frozen taiga of Irkutsk, has an idea of love and has tried to refine it through various means of creative expression. But it’s an elusive thing. Of course nothing is outside of the realm of science and it’s based in chemical reaction, but it’s such an overpowering, arresting phenomena that we can’t help but think of it in more lyrical and fanciful terms. It exists as much as an aspect of human biology as it does as an idea- and one that can be approached in many ways, over and over again throughout history.

I find that very compelling, the way science and art are intertwined, the way poets and musicians have tried to reduce the immensity of it into something sharp, simple and memorable down the millennia. The Greeks have six words for love. They communicate their concept of love in a way that’s entirely their own. The kind of love I’ve been thinking about today, in the breeze of salt-water that swoops off of the Aegean, is what the Greeks call Philia. This is the love that exists between friends and comrades. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this in my life, and it’s not a word I throw around lightly. To me, love has a pretty strict distinction from just liking or being friendly with someone. We all know people in our lives that we like, whose company we enjoy, but how many of these can we say we are in love with? It’s a word that people- especially men- are hesitant to use in the context of friendship. Perhaps it makes people uncomfortable. I think a lot of people think you can’t really express Philia, or that it isn’t really meant to be expressed; it simply exists and we should stop thinking about it and just exist in it. But to me it’s such a powerful, such an extraordinary sensation, that I can’t really call myself a writer and not discuss something that is so integral to my life.

I knew from the beginning that a post like this would run the risk of being so sappy it’ll leave my readers puking their lungs out all over their keyboards, but bear with me. To me, the difference between a friend I like and the experience of true Philia– a friend I love- has everything to do with what I think love is. For me, to love someone is to discover a part of yourself you never knew quite existed. When you miss someone, when you feel their absence as a literal ache, that is when a person is a part of you and when you know love exists. I think it works the same for friends, family and sexual partners in that regard. In my definition of it, it’s a great joiner. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced genuine love in the sexual sense; for sure I have liked girls and been driven to acting stupid because of that attraction, but as for deep, romantic love- no, that’s not yet emerged in my life with any clarity. I think if you have experienced any kind of love at all you can consider yourself lucky. I know I do, because of my experience of Philia.

I started thinking about all of this because of the book I was reading today. It triggered a memory from last year and gave me a fresh interpretation of love that I can’t get out of my head. I’ll post the extract for you below. I love how the character’s definition of love captures so well the way we perceive it and how it makes us feel.

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I’m going to respect the privacy of my personal life that must remain separate from my blog, but I will say that the passage above perfectly described the feelings I experienced a year ago in Barcelona when my two best friends got engaged. When a relationship is as strong and inspiring as that of my two friends, and when those in love with each other mean so much to you, the relationship itself takes on a larger meaning. In a way it feels as if on some level it belongs to all those who love them, and that we are partaking in some small way on their journey. I remember distinctly the sights and sounds and smells of Barcelona that day and it will forever be attached to what happened there between them. Like Greece and much of the Mediterranean, Catalonia is a romantic place full of romantic people. I might even go as far as to say that Barcelona is the most beautiful city I have ever been to. I am unable to see it as anything but the city of love. The soft glow of the lamps above the narrow, Gothic streets seem to scream romance. The experience of seeing each of your two best friends find such happiness in one another has been the most rewarding and profound sensation of my life. It’s worth writing about.

 

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