The last few weeks have been busy. The nice kind of busy mostly; the travelling, catching friends for dinner, hiring wedding people kind of busy. In the space of a week, Chris and I ventured to highest Scotland for a wedding, visited Louth to house hunt and wedding plan, dine with friends and family, and then parted ways for respective Stag and Hen parties (same couple, due to marry next month) which would require me to car pool down to Derby for the weekend, and then finally take the train back home to Plymouth.
Did I mention we’re moving? We’re moving. It’s part of the previous blog about big changes. I meant to write a post. When I tried the words tripped over themselves. The emotions are hard, and turned chaotic on the page. I’m sorry.
Now, however, is the period that always precedes a move, particularly a big one, when life becomes the stressy, bittersweet kind of busy, and requires advanced planning, and phone-calls, and ‘goodbye – keep in touch’ conversations, all of which I’m bad at, particularly the last one.
Chris has a processing time much faster than mine; his ability to simply take information and transform it into practical plans and reasonable motives is astonishing. I’m less geared. I need a scheduled slot to allow for emotional unwinding. Before I move I start to see the ghostly visions of all the important aspects of my life which have happened on a particular chair, in a room, in a cafe, in the city. And I’ve lived in Plymouth for nearly ten years.
Did I mention we’re moving out of Plymouth? We’re moving out of Plymouth.
During my childhood, I became accustomed to picking up and moving on. Being a RAF brat will do that to you; we never set roots for very long. Even as a young child I needed emotional end space. ‘This is where I played with Barbie, goodbye place I played with Barbie’ ‘This is where the Christmas Tree was. Goodbye where the Christmas Tree was’. Somewhere in the back of my head, I have a briefcase filled with snapshots of places. I suppose it was to ensure that I would always be connected to them when they ‘belonged’ to me. Memories are fragile. I’ve lost some. I’ve kept a great deal. I’ve done this for places I have lived for years, and places I have lived for months. I thanked friend’s sofas when I was couch hopping during the bad break up phase. It makes it easier to leave.
Honestly, I’m uncertain as to why. I have always done it, and perhaps I always will.
Now I find myself having to collect these mental Polaroids for an entire city. A city I have shifted through for ten years, longer than I have anywhere, at any other time in my life. The prospect of beginning, and thus seeing through, the negotiations of leaving is daunting and unwanted. I wish for a magic button with which to bypass to the difficulty, and be, through no effort, at the next stage. In a house at our new destination, settled and accepting, building.
Life doesn’t come with magic buttons. They would do us no good in any case. Nothing would be learned or gained from such an easy experience. But the childish, afraid part of me wishes it could all be so simple, practically and emotionally.
The key to the above is that I am afraid.
I. Am. Afraid.
Of moving, of failing to know what to do and when, of not doing enough, of losing who I am in this city, this space, and failing to grow into anything in the new one. I’m afraid of being alone in a small town, just south of nowhere, and becoming lost.
Yes, of course, it’s exciting and an adventure, but adventures are often adventures because they’re unpredictable. And unpredictable is also terrifying. I’m sure Frodo had his reservations about taking the ring to Mt Doom. He wasn’t exactly skipping the whole way there. I am willing to bet, Frodo was wishing for a magic button. And he had Gandalf.
Fortunately, I have Chris who is a wizard in many ways with methodologies and keeping things moving. I even have a ring. Let’s hope orcs aren’t on the way.
‘You can never go home again’
It’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times before, but not something I ever took the time to truly consider. Growing up, I didn’t have a fixed home, so I didn’t really understand. I’m not sure when Plymouth became ‘home’. I’ve lived in many places throughout the city – seven in total – and so no individual spot has been the bases of my life, but the city itself has been the constant. I have come to know it intimately. But even in the decade I have been part of it, the city has been in a state of constant change.
Shops have closed, people have moved to other towns in other counties, and the building which used to house my little studio flat, the place where this very blog began, was demolished to make room for a more modern, taller establishment. My friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about having out-grown one of our old haunts, a shabby, quirky student favorite on the outskirts of the city centre where we once enjoyed pints of tea, greasy cheese based meals and monster size milkshakes. This was before we enjoyed a meal at another of our old favourites, which was redesigned some years ago when new ownership took over. There’s a blog post somewhere in the records where we are drinking tea there.
Everything is in a constant flux, shifting and altering with the stream of time. Nothing can ever be the same for very long. I’ve been present for all these changes, and in a sense I’ve been part of them. The girl who started this blog is not the same girl who writes it now. I got somewhat older, arguably wiser, I moved onward with the city. And now I am tasked with the step of moving away from it, knowing it will continue to bustle on.
The memories I have gathered here will join the box in my mind, they will be as they are, unchangeable, but the places they occurred will continue to be sold, occupied by others, closed, demolished, come under new management or become something else. It is the inevitability of all things, all places at all times. But the saying is right. I can never go home again. It won’t be be there anymore.
So, for a little while, I will be without a home, save my own skin. Then will begin the task of creating a new home. Before all that comes leaving, and endings, and changing of chapters. That’s another popular phrase – it’s not the end of the book, simply the beginning of a new chapter. But the pages have yet to be turned, the content unfolded, as yet unwritten. And soon, Plymouth will be a once upon a time – something I tell my children, show them perhaps on a holiday south to see the sea. ‘This is where I did this,’ I will say, ‘And that happened to me there. This was once a that.’ I’ll draw the Polaroids from the box and share them briefly, looking back on today now, when everything was so uncertain.
So, now commences the ending before the beginning; the final visits to favourite places, fond farewells to companions. Peering back in the rear-view mirror of a life passing out of time into memory.
For now I am simply afraid and excited about the adventure to come.
I’ve always favoured the idea that adventure begins at the edge of our comfort zones, but until now I didn’t know I could experience such a matter quite so literally.
Yesterday I was tired. Unusually so. I was in that mood which hits everyone at some point, eventually, where it feels like both your mind and your body are against you, and thus all you want to do is curl up in bed and sleep until you’re on talking terms again. Everything becomes an effort, and functioning on a basic human level is beyond means. Yet, somehow, due to having the status of ‘rational adult’ you have to continue to earn your way in life, and thus work your usual late night on Monday, anyway.
Needless to say, I didn’t relish the idea of fighting through until 20:00 before I could relax, and then spending the night in a strange bed so I wouldn’t have to walk the dark streets of Plymouth at stupid o’clock at night. In fact, I was all out dreading the idea of having to do so, because I knew, even digging deep into my patience and determination resources, I wasn’t going to last long. Sleep deprivation does not look good on me. Shameful as it is, I was actively searching for an exit clause. I’m not one for faking illness or lying my way out, but I was on the cusp of doing both. Morals were seemingly unimportant to my wake addled brain. After a lengthy argument with myself, I decided against it, and resided myself to my fate, trying to encourage myself all the while. Still, I did little to console myself. I didn’t want to do it and I had to, and all I could manage was to take my pills like a petulant child.
And then the Universe responded.
My usual late night work had been reduced to standard hours, and therefore I wouldn’t be required to stay the evening to avoid the goblins and murders* of late night walking. Hazaa!
You cannot imagine my relief. I let out a breath so long I was surprised I had any air left in me. Honestly, I don’t ,mind hard work, and it takes a lot to get me to that desperate level of reluctance, but I was that tired. Mostly I think it was the road-bear dream** which did it to me. Something in me had been on the cusp of snapping, and I really didn’t want to imagine what might happen when it did. And I knew it would if I had to work late.
I suspect the Universe knew it too – I’ve never been forced up against something I couldn’t handle, even when I believed otherwise. Given the sudden rescue, I knew I was right. Despite being grateful, I thought the Universe sort of owed me one, anyway, which is a terrible thing to express given the magnitude of knowledge it has, but hey, this was not one of my brightest moments, and the Universe must have known this too.
In any case, reprieved of my duty, I rejoiced in the feeling of only having to push through a few hours. I had a plan: get through, get home, eat, read, bath, read, sleep.
Foreshadowing: the universe doesn’t seem particularly interested in my plans.
I repeated it like a mantra or a really irritating pop song, all through the first phase. I gave it a tune, for goodness sake. With fewer clothes and better choreography, it could have hit a relatively high number in the charts. It fueled the remainder of my working day, and kept me rational. When able to leave, I just let all the exhaustion in, and dazedly followed the plan.
I cooked, ate, and relaxed. I took a long bath, shut down all electronics, and read until bull-clips could not keep my eyes open. All that was left was the final stage, the moment when I could just let go and rest.
The dark sanctuary of my bedroom loomed protectively around me. Warm and quiet, the chatter of my head ebbed away. No sheep were needed, no abstract ideas of possible dreaming. The haze of sleep was already upon me, night whispering it’s humble lullaby into my soul. No more was required of me, no less accepted. I was carried to the boarder of sleep and ready to pass into night’d realm…
And my phone rang.
I was blasted from my sanctity with all the force of a nuclear explosion. The sudden noise set my heart to racing, and I was on autopilot as I searched in the blackness for my phone, slammed around for a few minutes as light impeded my ability to slide the button and answer the call. My brain barely had time to begin processing before my boss was in my ear, desperate and guilty, trying to explain the sudden intrusion on my rest. I was like a deer in headlights, the deer was primordial ooze, and the headlights were a hysterical women needing to get to A&E. Fortunately, the words ’emergency’ and ‘hospital’ are often enough to kick my functioning mind into gear.
The problem was simple enough, someone needed relatively urgent medical care, and minors could not be left unattended. Therefore, someone had to drag themselves out of bed, dress, walk the ten minute gap to work, and stay with the children. As painful as it was, I didn’t really take issue with the ‘drag-self-from-bed’ part. The last part didn’t bother me so much either. Earlier it might have done. Now, I was just as tired, but necessity trumped exhaustion. There was no time to bemoan the circumstances. When life throws you lemons, put jeans over your pyjamas, quickly pack an overnight bag and head out into the cold, dark streets, I suppose.
It was no ones fault, it didn’t require anger, or even frustration, however, the Universe was not in my good books. Truth be told, I felt a little tricked. Lead me into the belief I would be granted clemency, then haul me from my comfort, and throw me at the horrifying prospect of walking alone at almost midnight. Reasons be damned. I get having courage at unexpected times and meeting your fears like an enemy at the gates, but come on. Talk about trail by fire, this was trail by blazing lava pit. Yet there was no circumnavigating the obstacle; no other solution or wiggle room for delay. It had to be done, and it had to be done then and there.
My comfort zone was rooted firmly at the front door to my building***, no I lie. My comfort zone was rooted firmly, at that point in time, in bed under a duvet safely bouncing around the land of dreams. Staring through that glass at the empty streets was enough to cause serious heart palpitations. I have a vast imagination, and it started to turn shadows into things hiding beyond the street-lights****. In the space of seconds I had already envisioned numerous ways I could be stabbed, mugged, attacked and killed in the witching hours. Trying to breath and rationlise it away, I came up with another plan. You know, because it worked so well the last time.
The plan was to walk fast. Beyond that my mind just went into overdrive. It wanted too many things from me. It asked too many questions which were liable to freeze me in a small spot somewhere until daylight. So, the plan was walk fast, focus on walking fast, and run like a mad women if you so much as glint something suspicious. Which I did twice, because of cats lurking in bushes. I’m not proud, people, but we all have our terror inducing situations. Mine is walking through the streets at night. I don’t mind being alone, and I am fond of the night, but don’t make me walk through a combination of these things.
I made my way through the quiet avenues on shaking legs, passing curtained windows, void of light. I placed one foot in front of the other, and whispered to myself. Every dark patch was either avoided or painstakingly investigated before entry. I clutched my phone in my pocket like a talisman of protection. One foot then another, mumbling mantras and yet completely ignoring the founding Buddhist teaching of being present. I was so far from my comfort zone, the boundary line was a dot to me (the Universe can be Chandler in this instance). Every moment felt like an eternity with the cold night pressing in on me.
About half-way through my journey, the gnawing terror in my gut started to subside simply through sheer exhaustion. I really think by that point I had panicked enough to drain my energy like water from a sink. I was using the rest walking so quickly my calves hurt. I wondered what the Universe wanted from me, in a teary, return of petulant child Alice kind of way, convinced I wouldn’t make it anyway, that something dreadful would happen to me. In that moment of defeated terror I don’t think Buddha himself could have talked me down to a rational viewpoint
Well, I’m not writing this from beyond the grave so clearly I was mistaken. Actually, something completely different and rather unexpected happened instead.
I was still on the watch for movement around me as I passed the school, when I caught sight of how the newly naked branches sat against the night sky. Stars glinted behind the prongs, as though caught in a cosmic spider web. At that point, I started imagining what cosmic spiders would look like. Do they spin webs between planets? Do they have eight thousand eyes, and do they eat cosmic flies? For that matter, what do cosmic flies look like? Or do they catch and eat the stars? I then recalled knowledge I had obtained about an insect’s size being directly related to the amount of oxygen in the air. So cosmic spiders would be really small, given the lack of oxygen in the air. Unless cosmic spiders grow in proportion to the amount of dark matter around them, then they would be gigantic.
This is what my head space does, people. It eats and feeds of random ideas. And thank the heavens it does.
By the time the cosmic spider train had pulled out of the station, I was on the final stretch and had the house in view. My stomach was still turning, but I could no longer hear the blood rushing through my ears. The outside light had been turned on. It was like finding the highlighted house in a video game, as the surrounding neighborhood was deep in sleep. With my target in view, I came back to the present a lot more. I relished the cool air on my warm cheeks, and the tranquility of being the only one awake, all the quiet and space, etc etc *****. I didn’t slow down for a moment, but given I was a shaking wreck two streets ago, I was actually doing much better.
Thus my adventure ended at midnight when I crawled into (not my, but none the less, a) bed and promptly crawled back to my comfort zone, which I had been longing for all day, and had never wanted to leave in the first place. Thus, as advertised, my adventure, however nerve-wracking, had begun at both my figurative and literal comfort zones.
In all honesty, if the Universe was trying to tell me something, I have absolutely no idea what it was. I have several theories, but I cannot peg it down, what I do know is that the excitement of having done it, beats the fear in having to do it. I actually looked forward to writing this post and telling you this story (hence the length) and recording it for posterity. Because, I think that’s how we figure out meanings really, by looking back and adding together. It’s like life is a really complicated mathematical problem. It takes time and effort to get pieces of necessary information to come to an accurate solution. I do know some of the equations can only be discovered if you go beyond what you know and are used to.
And if nothing else, going beyond often gets you a great story to tell. Emotions of a difficult or scary encounter with life fade over time, gifting you the ability to recite your tale, your adventure, to others who may benefit from it.
So, if the universe kicks you out of bed at stupid o’clock at night, just go with it. True, bad things might happen, but they might not.
*I exaggerate. I have no knowledge of murderers stalking in the shadows of suburban Plymouth. Jury is still out on the goblins.
** I was going to give this its own post, but the content is too brief. I had a dream I witnessed a teddy bear outside the window, possessed by evil. It started walking across the road with glowing eyes and dastardly intent. I closed the curtains but I knew he was coming. I woke with a start. I didn’t sleep again that night.
*** I live in a flat now. I moved during the summer of blog emptiness.
*****There’s a blog post about the night somewhere in my backlog.
October is here, and with it a month of anticipation for the day when monsters and demons and all things associated with the infamous bump-in-the-night, play on young minds. Horror is an old skill; humans have been experiencing fear since their conception, when our lesser evolved selves developed the art to prevent the shedding of our mortal coils. Evolution may have adapted how and why we feel terror, but the foundations of the emotion remain almost the same; mostly, stay away from things that will cause you harm, and maybe ultimately an obituary. Of course, nowadays, ‘things that cause us harm’ are far more complicated, and connected to matters such as social standing, ambitions, and relationships, as well as the old-hat, not dying paradigm. Horror fiction creates a safe space in which we can explore the most primal psychological aspects of ourselves, and thousands of hours a year are spent watching, playing, and reading stories meant to startle, terrify and confuse us, and oddly enough we seem to like it. Let’s delve into what horror is, and why, despite its negative emotional connotations, we seem to enjoy it so much.
Horror is about creating an emotional response; its about eliciting dread in an audience, causing some aspect of fear. Everyone knows fear, it’s a universal constant experienced by every conscious living thing on our planet. Drawing out these, otherwise unwanted, feelings is a psychological game; authors and storytellers actually have to trick us into a deeper sense of discomfort and uncertainty. Horror is about evoking atmosphere, shutting away familiar ideas that allow us as an audience to order the rational universe. Clever writers understand that dread comes from what we don’t know, rather than what we do. Back in the days when we understood very little about science and the capabilities of technology, for example, creative minds drummed up images of monsters crafted from the limbs of the dead, and potions that could twist personalities. Modern society dictates these things aren’t actually … well… possible, and that’s why stories such as Frankenstein and The Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde no longer cause the paralysing effect they once did. Today, most horror ether seeks to encroach on the still questionable land of the paranormal, or pulls on certainties like sociopathic murderers or wild beasts.
Fear has a history with humankind, as I previously mentioned, but so does our ability and, sometimes, our want to cause fear. Horror taps into our base instincts and darker urges. Part of the psychology of horror lies in understanding the primal fears that have anguished humanity since we lived in caves and clubbed dinosaurs. Mostly that things bigger than us are dangerous, but to things that are smaller or weaker than ourselves we’re the danger. Horror is a means of exploring the way we can justify our most bestial and brutal behaviours. In horror, villains have to be more interesting and developed than the heroes, because the villain is an expression of the most repulsive, yet enticing aspects of human nature. As such, horror has a cathartic facet, allowing an audience to witness things insurmountably larger than themselves and explore hopelessness, without being in any real danger. Everyone experiences these ideas differently, because fear has a personal touch.
The key to good horror remains lies in the fact it affects us all differently; great horror artisans have learned a universal truth: we will always scare ourselves far better than they can. Given the right triggers, we’ll shoot the fear gun before we even realise we’re holding it. Horror takes us into the unknown, on a dark and terrifying journey, which is somehow still fascinating. By breaking down our logical sense of otherwise comfortable environments horror makes us question our sense of placement, of humanities power and capacity. It gives us the right frame of mind, and lets our imaginations’ fill in the gaps it refuses to reveal, compelling our curiosity. Horror has to walk that line between fear and intrigue. It has to repel us, certainly, but not enough to dispel the natural human urge to know more. Knowledge is power; we’ve spent centuries curing phobia and superstition with understanding, and our weakness is in not knowing. Great horror can play that dichotomy to its advantage, pitting our primitive instincts to flee, against our evolved need to know more, even if that understanding makes things worse.
To summarise, I’ll quote Mr Dougless Winter:
‘Horror is that which cannot be made safe – evolving ever-changing – because it is about our relentless need to confront the unknown, the unknowable, and the emotion we experience when in its thrall.’
This month I’ll be exploring the many elements of horror, in what I proudly name HorrOctober, They’ll be book reviews, write-ups of things that scare me, and ‘essays’ (I use lightly) exploring why certain things scare us.