Detox Days

After two excellent posts this month by Emily and Alex, I’m back, and for the first time in a while I actually have something worth saying. A week ago, without telling anyone, I entered into a temporary social media detox. I deactivated my Facebook account for three days, turned off all Messenger notifications and looked at Twitter and Instagram as little as possible. I started writing this post then, as I don’t consider this blog to be social media. After all, what you read here is largely all my own work, and as a lot of you will know by now, it’s been an invaluable outlet for my thoughts and feelings over the last five years, so it escaped the cut. I feel I really benefited from the break and, having now finished all my work for the second year of university (madness), I went into it with some new pastimes in mind.

I won’t lie to you, they did still mostly revolve around screen time or Spotify. I finished watching Normal People, searched for some new music I could listen to while concentrating, and even saw The Lego Movie 2 with Louis. Last night, I actually decided to get some use out of my Netflix (which I’m ashamed to say is neglected far too much), and watched one of the countless well-known films I’d never seen before. In this instance, it was the highly entertaining Ocean’s Eleven. Yes, none of these things abandoned technology completely, but I still felt calmer, like some kind of weight I couldn’t quite identify had been lifted. I was talking to Alex about this feeling just the other day, and how even though giving up social media entirely would disconnect me from too many people, I can definitely see why the idea is appealing to others. My little breather has exposed just how much of a difference focusing on yourself, even for a little bit, can make. I’ll certainly think about doing it again when I feel the need – and next time, I might aim for a week off instead of three days!

Mason

 

The Man At The Bus Stop

In our recent Creative Voice 2 classes, we’ve been using a variety of things as sources of inspiration. Last week it was dreams (the one time I desperately needed one, I didn’t have any, so I made something up instead), and the week before that we used old photographs. In the first week, we simply had to think of a person we knew or had encountered. There are many things I could have written about countless people I know, both good and bad, but I decided I’d pluck someone random out of thin air, and that’s how I came to write about the man at the bus stop. His story is a relatively simple one, but it isn’t something I’ll be forgetting in a hurry – it touched me and it might just touch you too.

In the autumn of 2016, when there was a 90-minute bus journey between me and my workplace at the time, I was shivering with my coat wrapped tightly around my body as I waited for the bus to arrive. It was nearing 7am and obviously still dark at that time of year, so you would be forgiven for thinking that I wouldn’t be up for talking – and I wasn’t, until the man beside me piped up. He was an elderly gentleman, and if I’m honest, he looked rather stereotypical complete with flat cap and walking stick. Even at the age of 85, though, he had lost none of his energy, and as we gradually established a conversation he exuded a great deal of warmth, particularly when he spoke about his wife.

I had noticed upon first seeing him that he had a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and he eventually told me that he was taking them to her. He’d been doing this, a four-hour round trip, six mornings a week for at least a couple of years, ever since she’d gone into a care home with dementia. He didn’t go on Sundays. They were his quiet days, which he spent alone in the house they shared – he never mentioned any children or grandchildren. I only ever knew him as a devoted husband, who told me about his wife with the kind of love I haven’t seen or heard anywhere since. He talked about their life together, what they’d done for a living, the places they’d travelled to, and what he did for her now she was in the home. He cooked for her, cleaned for her, made sure she always had clothes to wear – whatever it was, he’d help out. Apparently, she didn’t recognise him very often, but whenever there was a moment of lucidity, they could reminisce about some of their most precious moments together. Even though the woman he’d spent a lifetime with was ebbing away before his eyes, his enthusiasm for seeing her every day never seemed to waver once – I remember him telling me that despite everything, “she’s still my girl”. I couldn’t help but think that a lot of guys I knew could learn a thing or two from him.

These conversations continued for around three months, ending when the Christmas break arrived. When I started work again in January 2017, and arrived at the bus stop for my first day back, the man was nowhere to be seen. That didn’t seem like a good sign at all, since he had been so adamant about his determination to take the journey whenever he could. Then the bus pulled up, and the driver got out to help me aboard. “By the way”, he said, as he put the ramp down on the pavement, “the gentleman you’ve been speaking to wanted me to let you know his wife passed away over Christmas.”

My heart sank at that moment, as I know his will have done. We never even knew each other’s names, but I did feel like we’d established a nice little connection, and there was a definite dampener on the rest of that day for me. I haven’t seen the man anywhere since, and I don’t even know if he’s still with us. If he is, I hope he’s gotten to a place where he’s comfortable and content, and if he isn’t, I hope someone was there to show him love and support in the aftermath of his loss. It’s what he would have done for his wife, unquestionably and unconditionally. If you ask me, the man at the bus stop was the definition of true devotion.

Mason

Endless Miles

I’m writing this sat alone in the Learning Cafe, having just finished tinkering with one of my essays, due on Friday. There is almost total silence, save for the background hum of a generator an annoying high-pitched whine I can’t quite trace the source of. Despite my solitude, I am happy, since I have a Christmas meal at Lara’s flat with all of the gang to look forward to tomorrow, and I’ve just listened to the new Coldplay album, Everyday Life, which is simply brilliant. Once I’d taken my headphones off at the end, I started thinking about my own adapted set of Coldplay lyrics, which I’m working on for Composing Song Lyrics.  I had to take them into class earlier this week so they could be critiqued by everyone, which is always a nerve-wracking experience. Even though I know it’s highly unlikely, I always expect everything I write to be completely torn to shreds, so you can imagine my relief when the lyrics came back with only a few notes for improvement at this stage.

My version of ‘In My Place’, entitled ‘Endless Miles’, is an intentionally cliched love song. Since I greatly admire the original, I was worried about accidentally making a mockery of it with my own words, but I knew I wanted to include it in my portfolio – and that any other lyrics I wrote for it would probably be no better. We are, of course, discouraged from including cliches unintentionally, but as long as you can justify your use of them, anything goes. Cliches can help to make a song more relatable or accessible to a listener, and as you might expect, they can be beneficial when you want to parody something. I wasn’t trying to do that, but I still found some of my lyrical choices laughably cringeworthy! I include ‘Endless Miles’ here for what I hope will be your enjoyment – although I haven’t made any of the changes that have been suggested just yet. Listen to the original track as you read these lyrics, and decide for yourself how well they fit:

(Verse 1)

Endless miles, endless miles

I’ve driven looking for you

Following your trail

But in the end, in the end

I rounded the final bend

And I saw no more

 

(Chorus 1)

There, the last call to let you go

There, no footprints left in the snow

There, the curtain to end the show

I go

 

(Verse 2)

Coming home, coming home

No-one and nowhere to roam

No-one on the phone

Is this love? Is this love?

You’re dropping me down from above

Down into the rain

 

(Chorus 2)

Here, the next chapter of my life

Here, when will I be free of strife?

Here, you cut me just like a knife

A knife

 

Darling

Why? Why? Why?

Why did you have to go?

No, no

Why don’t you say you’ll stay?

Now, now

Come on and talk to me

Please, please

I’m here at home

 

(Verse 3)

Endless miles, endless miles

I’ve driven looking for you

Now we’ve reached the end

The end.

 

Mason

 

Steak And Chips

Henry sprayed himself with his strongest aftershave once again. A thick cloud rose up and he coughed as it filled his throat. In the mirror, he saw that his fringe had already collapsed under the weight of his hair gel. Great! Producing a toothpick, he began prodding about in his mouth. “Lettuce. Ham sandwich. Pringle,” he thought. They couldn’t afford to stay there.

He was convinced that something was sabotaging his date with Emily before he’d even been on it, and he was insecure enough already.  He and Emily would be having a meal; he was pretty confident about eating. But he didn’t know how to greet her, how to say goodbye, or what to talk about in between. “Do we kiss? Do I hold her hand? What are her interests?” He felt pressure from some anonymous force to be someone he wasn’t, and he desperately wanted to impress this girl naturally.

Unfortunately, Henry overthought every possible worst-case scenario. Last night, the latest in a long line of nightmares manifested themselves. He tossed and turned in bed as hazy images of spilling a drink on her dress, and kissing her with garlic breath, swirled in his mind. But as scary as those more trivial things seemed, there were other aspects of a potential new relationship that terrified him even more. He looked around at the paper strewn across his desk, and his overflowing bin. “What a shithole,” he thought to himself. “She’d hate this, wouldn’t she? What would her parents think? How fast would things move? Would she get bored of me?” He’d tried to fix his wonky hairdo, but there was only so much a careful comb could do. Accepting that it would probably collapse again soon, he took his keys and wallet and left his flat.

The short walk to the restaurant where Henry would be meeting Emily seemed to go on forever. Even as the town filled up with pubgoers in the twilight, he studied himself intently. He rubbed furiously at a stubborn stain on his shoe. Something he couldn’t identify that he tried and failed to rub off of his jeans. “Toothpaste? Mayonnaise?” All of the possible suspects entered his head. His eyes widened at another. “Bird poo?!”

He felt his shirt collar. It was wonky, so he promptly straightened it. He’d noticed himself sweating more now, and his hands were trembling. He quietly clenched a fist, just to confirm that he did indeed have increasingly clammy hands. He’d sniff his armpits again later on, even though he had already applied deodorant five times. Was that a spot he could feel on his nose…? Whatever it was, he removed his hand quickly, to avoid aggravating it.

“Get a grip,” Henry muttered. His friends had all told him that nerves before a first date were only natural. “It’s good to be nervous, it means that you care,” they would say. But Henry thought that being this nervous was borderline ridiculous. Surely all he had to do was be himself, and he’d be fine? Breathing in, then out again, he tried to relax his shoulders. The more Henry considered it, being himself seemed awfully cliched. He was neither outstanding nor awful, just average, and these days it seemed as though that wouldn’t cut it with anyone. There was so much pressure on so many people to look good and achieve great things in their lives. Life was presented like a race, in which nobody could afford to finish last – and as things stood, Henry was definitely finishing last. His mind flashed back to his modest room. He couldn’t help thinking that the odds were stacked against him, and his mindset didn’t improve when the restaurant appeared in the distance, modestly lit by the lamppost outside.

Henry thought about his bank balance as he patted his back pocket, just to ensure his wallet was in there. He couldn’t afford to splash the cash too much – his parents had always been very clear about the value of money. What would happen if he ordered something small? He could practically see the look of disgust on Emily’s face as a modest bowl of soup and a crusty roll faced up to rump steak and chips. “If I see her nose curl up,” he thought, “the ground may as well open up and swallow me whole.” He needn’t have worried.

With considerable trepidation, Henry slipped quietly through the door, and Emily watched as he approached. She was sat at a table surrounded by older couples who’d left the kids at home with the babysitter, and the last remnants of refracted daylight through the window almost formed an orange halo around her date. It made his skin and hair shine together; he was the physical embodiment of a deity and a dream, and she was totally at ease. All of a sudden, she wasn’t so worried about split ends or getting something stuck in her teeth. Even so, she fumbled in her bag, just to make sure the toothpicks were there.

Minutes earlier, Emily had been wiping the sweat from her brow in the toilets, such were her nerves. She had to laugh, because she’d been sweating when she first laid eyes on him as well, sitting in that university taster session.  The next time she met Henry, six months had passed, but the chemistry had been as magnetic as the attraction. She remembered having a drink outside, as the September sun made them squint and giggle as they discussed their hopes and fears. Just as she had been then, she found herself looking deep into his hazel eyes, hanging on his every word as he hung on hers. They may have been relatively new to each other, but conversation flowed like they had known one another for years. Some of those other couples looked over at them, fondly recalling the way things used to be when they were young. Who said romance was dead?

Oh, and they both got steak and chips.

Mason

What Can I Say About Christmas?

I have managed to publish a post here on each of the last two Christmas Eves, and I hope that they both managed to encapsulate the joy and excitement I feel each December in the eyes of those who read them. This is, after all, a truly magical time of year for which I am always hugely thankful. It has to be said, however, that such posts are getting harder to write – since I now risk sounding insincere – so when I came to think about what I was going to say this time, I was more than a little bit stuck. I eventually decided that it would probably be best for me to look at the festive period from a perspective that is even more personal than usual, as I can look back at the year leading up to it with a lot of pride.

Being one semester in to a three-year degree course, I have already seen, experienced and learned a lot – as I sit in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, I couldn’t be happier with how everything has gone. The work that I have done has given me good marks in return, I have bonded really well with Lara and a host of other friends, and I have lived independently without getting significantly poorer or fatter. In addition to those things, I have also been part of a winning quiz team – yes, it might have taken us eight weeks, but who couldn’t be proud of a result like that? Broadly speaking, I believe that all of the necessary tools are in place for the second semester to be just as successful – and that means the turkey can go down even better than it usually does this Christmas.

I can relax with the family knowing there is a lot to be pleased about, but I feel like none of it could have been truly achieved without the love, support and friendship that has been constantly shown to me. From the unwavering encouragement at home in Somerset to the broken lift heroics and general awesomeness of my friends in Winchester, there has been an abundance of warmth for which I am truly grateful. Long may it continue! I would like to thank everyone who has supported me so far, either in big ways or in smaller ones. Christmas allows us all to come together and take stock of who and what we have around us, while being immensely thankful for all of it. Rest assured that I couldn’t quite have gotten to this point without you. Now that I am here, I intend to enjoy every last moment of it, because it feels wonderful. I hope everyone has a Christmas that is as magical as mine!

Mason

My Life’s Mission

I am now home for Christmas, having successfully recorded my podcast (which you can listen to by clicking here, if you dare). The first semester is complete and I am free to relax, but university – particularly Publishing and Social Media – has left me with a rather pleasant parting gift, thanks to another magnificent writing prompt. In my seminar last week, we found the following question up on the board:

“You receive an email from an alien. What does it say?”

I started working on my answer there and then, but as I didn’t have the time to complete it immediately, I decided to save it for a blog post. Communication between the human race and extraterrestrial life is often depicted in fiction as being either blatantly hostile or somewhat ominous, so I wanted to try writing something that would be a little bit more heartwarming. It had to convince the recipient that this was an alien coming in absolute peace, as I felt that anything else wouldn’t quite be right at Christmas! I would like to show you my intergalactic email now. How do you think this message would make you feel?

“Hello,

You won’t know who I am, but I feel like we are meant to be. This email will take seconds to travel across the universe, but I have been searching for what seems like millennia. I told myself a long time ago that I wouldn’t rest until I found you. I don’t know what you’d call me, but I guess humans like to refer to us as “guardian angels”. We appear at birth knowing only love. It flows from every part of us and courses through our veins, dictating every action and emotion. From a young age, when our schooling begins, we are told that one day we will pick a face from a crowd – no matter how distant – and watch over them until the day they die without ever revealing ourselves. But when I saw you, I couldn’t resist. I had to reach out, so here I am, writing to you now.

I’ve seen you at your best, when you feel like you’re on top of the world, and at your worst, when you feel trapped, worthless and alone. I want you to know that you are none of those things, and you never will be. Yes, I know people have said the same one minute and been gone the next. Not me – you are my life’s mission. It pains me to admit that you and I may never see each other, and as things stand, this email is the closest I can get to showing you my true form. But, just like a lost loved one, I’ll never truly leave you. Anything out of the ordinary is me making myself known. That muffled banging you think you can hear from the pipes in the dead of night? That’s me. The figure you see for a second in the corner of your eye, before realising nobody is there? Me again. The funny coloured shapes that appear when you close your eye? Yep, you guessed it!

I know humans fear those things, because they can’t explain them, so I’m just letting you know that you needn’t be afraid of them. They’re not signs of danger or death, but a warming cup of tea when you desperately need one, or a hand that you know will be there to catch you when you fall. Look out for them – when you notice one, you’ll know hope, companionship and unwavering loyalty is nearby. You might think you can find us by looking up at the stars, but the truth is that we’re much closer than you could ever have imagined.

– Your Guardian Angel”.

Mason

 

 

 

A Question Of Sincerity

When our friends or family are going through troubling times, we automatically jump to be there to support them. We do everything we can to offer them a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on, day or night, whenever they might need it – and when we’re in a position to, we gladly allow them to take up said offer in an instant. But what happens when there is distance separating us from the person in need? Such an obstacle is more easily overcome for some of us than it is for others, so when we have no choice but to assist from afar, we often turn to social media to voice any concerns. Messages can be continuously swapped, and every one can be written with unbelievable sincerity, but the problem is that it can be difficult to accurately convey tone when they aren’t being spoken in person.

That, in turn, can lead to worries – at least on my part – that the gestures will be perceived as hollow and meaningless, even when they are exactly the opposite. I have a few friends facing difficulties at the moment, and without the option of being physically around to help them, I can do little else but use the aforementioned medium to be there instead. The paranoia that comes with the fear of seeming uncaring is bad enough when you’re talking privately with someone (being one of only two voices), but when you’re part of a group – as I am in the Creative Winch Buddies – you have to insert your words amongst everyone else’s. Everyone sends theirs with as much care and concern as the next person, but if mine come after they have all had their say, I worry that it looks like I’ve offered them out of obligation rather than anything more genuine. As I’ve thought about this more and more in recent weeks, this blog post serves as something of a promise, mainly to the friends I care about so deeply whenever they need support. Whether you are near or far away, and regardless of how said support might be expressed, it is always given from the very bottom of my heart – and nothing else but an abundance of love.

Mason