Posted by: Kate | May 2, 2016

Uninspired – a short story

uninspired

Photo © Eygló Daða Karlsdóttir, 2015

The girl walks, her soul weary. The Village was the only place that she had ever wanted to call home, its people the only ones she had ever wanted to call family, but through several long years she had failed to become accepted there. She had given them everything that she thought that they might want, and they had taken it all from her with a polite smile, never showing the slightest concern as to who she was or what she might be doing there.

Their continued indifference has made it clear to her that she was neither wanted nor needed there, so she has given up. She has shut her heart to the ones who spurned her, and abandoned the village.

There is no going back.

She tells herself that there was nothing more that she could have done, and yet she cannot make herself believe it. If she had just held on, had spent a little more time there trying to find the secret ingredient that was needed to make them accept her enough to invite her to become one of them, to become part of The Village, perhaps she could have had everything that she had dreamed of, instead of…

Trying to let go of her failed vision hurts her more than the rejection that has led to it. She knows that she must keep moving — to shake off the feeling of failure, to find a new home, a new purpose — but she can see no inviting path in any direction away from that which her heart had most longed for, away from that which she has been denied. She plods along wherever her feet will take her, not seeing a thing around her; the darkness that has settled in her heart blinding her to all.

But one day she sees The Tree. The more she looks, the more it glows through the gloom. Its trunk seeming to pulse with light to the rhythm of her own heart. Its branches wave in the breeze as if beckoning her, and although she is far away from it she can hear its leaves whispering to her.

Come to me, girl, I offer you peace.

Come to me, girl, and find your release.

Come to me, girl, just follow my song,

Come closer, I’ll show you just where you belong.

She moves towards it.

The Magician looks on and shakes his head. He cannot just stand by and let this happen. He must arrange an intervention. He can see how difficult it is going to be to get through to her, but he must try. It is the least that he can do. He ponders his first move.

The girl feels as if she doesn’t belong, but only because she was looking for a sense of belonging in the wrong place, striving to fit in with the wrong people. She only needs to find the right tribe and she will fit in effortlessly, her role in the community obvious, their loyalty and affection towards her assured with a shared vision and purpose…

The Magician summons up a team of geese, and sends them flying over the girl’s head in a V-formation, honking to each other all the way.

The girl doesn’t see them.

The Magician thinks again. The girl has suffered from trying to be something other than what she is in order to fit in with others. The more she hides her real self, the more frustrated and bitter she becomes when her sacrifice does not result in acceptance from others. She has shrunk and grown hard as a way of protecting what is left of her. If she could just realise the beauty that that will follow if she has the courage to open herself up and express all that she is…

The Magician decides to grow an array of beautifully coloured flowers at her feet. Some tall and striking, others tiny and delicate, they bloom with each footfall, unfurling their subtle intricacy and delicate scent to her.

The girl remains oblivious.

The Magician strokes his chin. Perhaps, he thinks, he needs to remind her that everything in life is transitory, that this period of struggle that she is currently suffering through will be over soon enough. If she can just ride out the chaos and disappointment for a little while, it will eventually ease, ushering in a new phase of tranquility and contentment…

The Magician springs up a river beside the path that she walks. It morphs on occasion from its gently flowing state: as it meets and negotiates obstacles in its path, eddies, rapids, and small waterfalls appear then disappear.

The girl proceeds alongside it, unawares, her eyes set only on The Tree.

The girl’s weary gait and forlorn expression makes the Magician sad. He has made the world to be a playground, and life is for the playing. There is nothing that should be taken so seriously as to make a heart so dark and heavy as hers…

He sends out small forest animals to her, and they play and dance at her feet. Butterflies and dragonflies chase each other around her head. Birds whistle and warble in the trees while squirrels chirrup away in conversation with each other.

The girl does not notice them.

The Magician starts to worry. Nothing he has conjured so far seems able to avert her attention from the lure of that tree. Maybe it is its glow that captivates her so. Perhaps if he can help her to see that maintaining a lightness in her own heart will enable any source of light to be reflected from it back out into the world, illuminating the darkness around her wherever she goes…

The Magician makes the moon grow bigger and brighter than it has ever been.

The girl is blind to it, and all the light that reaches her continues to be swallowed up in the black hole that her heart has become. She continues onward, her hunger unsatiated.

The Magician becomes desperate. It seems that the girl is not open to receiving any kind of coded message. Deciding that a more direct approach is needed, he creates an angel and instructs it to hold the girl’s hand and gently counsel her.

The angel swoops down to the girl, falls in step alongside her, takes her hand and starts murmuring to her in a reassuring manner. It suggests to her that if she would only stop walking for a while, if she could just rest and be still enough to allow the pain and anger and helplessness to fill her up it would in time spill out, unburdening her, and giving her the space needed to let the magic of the world back into her heart again.

The girl does not see, hear, nor feel the angel’s presence.

The Magician is out of tricks. In one last act of love, he stands before the girl and spreads out his arms to enfold her in his embrace, intending to directly transplant some of his magic to her via the power of his touch.

The girl walks right through The Magician, her darkness so profound that it transforms him into cold, dead stone in its wake.

The angel vanishes from her side.

The moon shrinks and dims, before being blocked out entirely by an immense funnel of black clouds collecting overhead.

The animals retreat and take shelter in their burrows and nests.

The flowers turn inwards and wilt.

The sky lets loose a torrent of rain, filling the river so that it becomes swollen and raging.

A strong wind whips up and blows at the girl’s back, hastening her journey to her destination.

Moles dig frantically, turning the earth around The Tree into a giant mound that her feet climb unawares. As she reaches its trunk, vines stretch down to greet her, form into a noose and tighten around her neck.

The river bursts its banks. It floods the land, collapsing the molehill from under her feet.

The girl hangs, and the world falls dark and silent.

© Kate Chandler, 2015

Posted by: Kate | March 11, 2016

Listening

So today my 5-year-old says, “Can I say Hi to that lady?”, says hi to her then runs off to chase pigeons for 15 minutes while I end up listening to the lady talking about all the people she’s known that have died in the last twenty years and what sort of an effect it’s had on her. Admittedly, it felt a bit uncomfortable and was definitely inconvenient for me to listen, but it reminded me of the real reason why I always liked to work in the public sector: the nature of the actual work was never really important to me, but by gosh so many people need somebody — anybody — to listen to them, and so often I was that person just giving them an ear for a few minutes, with the always evident result of them walking away feeling a little lighter and/or a little more focussed.

It’s often the case that the ones who need to talk most are the ones that get listened to least, and need to unload on a stranger. Today, there was nothing my presence could achieve, but this lady’s thoughts were better out than in and my being there was a mechanism by which she could purge herself of them, even though she could probably see that my attention was only a third on her (a third being on my daughter, and the other third on the tasks I needed to do that she was delaying me from doing).

I think one good thing that religion has going for it that many of us agnostics/atheists overlook is the opportunity for its adherents to unload their personal burdens onto their God or his/her representative in the knowledge that they have valid reason to do so and the belief that they have truly been listened to. These days we are all so busy and there is so much information in the world to navigate that none of us ever has much time to listen to each other without it feeling a burden — just one more distraction from listening to our own selves and pursuing our own lines of thought and following our own roads — unless we are paid for it or we have created some firm bond with each other that indicates it’s okay to share these things with each other on a mutual basis.

And — whether consciously or somewhat unconsciously — I think we all realise this, so we often end up talking into the void, pretty much aware that no one is really listening, or just talking to ourselves, not wanting to be that burden on others, knowing that the best way in which we can value others is to give them as much possible space to be themselves and experience their own experiences rather than filling them up with our own experiences and take on the world, but not knowing how to feel connected to them without trying to communicate our own experience of life and compare it with theirs.

I got no answer to all of this, by the way — well, not much of one — just some end of week thoughts that I’m throwing out there into the social media void…

Posted by: Kate | February 7, 2016

Roads (short story by Kate Chandler)

Roads

Photo © Michael Marshall Smith, 2015

“Oh, I love this song!”

“That’s about the tenth time you’ve said that in an hour.”

“Well I love good music. And you have great taste in it.”

Tom smiled bashfully. In truth he had compiled the playlist solely to please Chloe, but she didn’t need to know that. He took a long glance over at her as she sang along to the song, and thought—not for the first time that day—about how one person can totally change the colour of your world, and about how lucky he was to have that person accompanying him this time on the semi-regular drive from Vancouver up to Whistler that he’d been doing since he left university the summer before.

As he was thinking these thoughts, he noticed a car parked in a layover off to the left, and a man standing next to it facing the road. On closer inspection, Tom saw that the man was holding a camera up to his eye, and he grinned to himself at the thought of his car driving into frame and photobombing the man’s picture. He set to wondering whether that picture would make it into any photo collection and, if so, whether anyone he knew—either now or in the past or future—would ever see it, never realising that it was him in the car, and what a special moment in his life the photographer had just captured. The photographer himself certainly wouldn’t have, and so would probably delete it.

Tom often got caught up wondering about stuff like this, about the vast web of chance and happenstance that surrounds and connects us all unawares. He knew from long experience that it didn’t do to let yourself go too far down the rabbit holes of connections and potentialities, though, lest you never return from them in order to take notice of the surface of things, which was where the real enjoyment was at. Especially in moments like these.

“You want to stop off at Shannon Falls?” he asked.

“Why not,” Chloe said. “Do the whole tourist thing. Haven’t been there for years. Have you?”

“I went for a hike up there not long ago, actually, to the top of the falls.”

“I didn’t even realise that there was a trail that went up there.”

“Sure there is. Stunning views. Maybe we could go together one day.”

“Maybe we could,” she smiled, giving him a look that made his heart leap.

He parked the car in the lot of the Provincial Park and, chatting idly, they strolled along the small trail beside the river to the viewpoint. When they got there a man had a camera set up on a tripod to take a photograph of the falls. They stood to one side of him, waiting for him to finish, but he shook his head and gestured for them to go ahead, so they walked right up to the barrier and gazed up at the waterfall. It thundered down at full flow from the Spring snow melt and recent rain, and Chloe commented on how it was really quite exhilarating to be able to get so close to the power of nature and how she didn’t seem to do it enough these days. Tom took the chance to further push the idea of a hike together in the future so she could see how great it felt to look down upon the falls from the top. By the time they got back to the car, they had agreed on a weekend to do so and Tom was feeling the most positive he had in months.

Further up the highway, he decided to take her to a little shack of a bar he knew for some appies and a beer. It was right on the river front near where it emptied out into Howe Sound, and was one of his favourite spots in the whole Sea-to-Sky area. Though he had kept it a secret getaway for himself for years, something told him that Chloe was going to be a special enough part of his life to make an exception for her. She seemed to love the place as much as he did, and they spent a happy hour there shooting the breeze and gazing out over the swollen Squamish river to the prettily frosted Tantalus mountains on the other side.

Chloe went to stand on the bank of the river to scan the sky for eagles while he stayed at their table finishing up his beer. As he looked on at her appreciatively, taking a snapshot in his head of her figure against the backdrop, he could have sworn he heard a camera shutter click. He quickly turned around and caught the eye of the man sat at the table behind him just as he was lowering his camera. He couldn’t be completely sure but he looked like the man with the tripod and camera that they had seen at Shannon Falls. Tom smiled wanly, just in case, but the man stared back at him with a blank expression and, feeling awkward, Tom quickly broke eye-contact. When he glanced back moments later, the man had his head in his phone, busily messaging or playing a game, and by the time Tom had looked at his watch to see how they were doing for time, flagged down a waitress and ordered two coffees, the man had gone.

After their coffees, Tom and Chloe took a walk down the path alongside the river and watched as some paddle boarders navigated the strong current. Chloe laughed as Tom had a little rant about what a ridiculous sport it was and how people should just figure out if they wanted to kayak or windsurf, and as she did so she caught his eye and held it and he knew that this was the moment he should kiss her. He smiled, tilted his head slightly and moved towards her, but seeing a loon touch down on the river over her shoulder he found himself babbling “Oh look! A loon! What’s he doing on the river?”

Chloe turned to look, and the moment broke. She spoke about how she loved loons, especially the sound of them calling to each other in the ocean at dawn throughout winter, but Tom barely heard her so thoroughly was he immersed in mentally enacting a series of violent attacks on his idiotic self. On coming out of this fog of self-recrimination, he happened to look up to the path above them, and saw the man from the bar pointing his camera in their direction and, feeling that something was a little out of sorts with this guy and needing to vent the frustration he’d been feeling at himself, Tom decided to confront him.

He left Chloe where she was and quickly scrambled up the steep bank to where the man had been, but when he got there he had vanished from sight. Rattled, but secretly quite relieved that a confrontation hadn’t occurred, Tom went to collect Chloe from the side of the river and they hopped back into the car and continued their drive up the highway in companionable silence, content to listen to the music and take in the scenery and the feeling of freedom that the open road instilled in them both.

The deer came out of nowhere, chased onto the highway by some hidden predator. Before he knew what he was doing, he’d swerved the car over to the southbound lane and hit a semi-trailer head-on. It felt as if each bone in his body were being crushed simultaneously by individual vices, but through the pain he managed to open his eyes and look over to Chloe’s seat. She wasn’t in it. He looked through the smashed and mangled windscreen and saw nothing in that direction but pieces of her clothes and a lot of blood.

The last thing he saw before passing out was the camera guy standing in the road, with the same blank expression, taking photos of the wreck and the scene of chaos beginning to unfold around him.

The church was packed out for the funeral. Even though he got there early, Tom found himself sitting towards the back with a bunch of Chloe’s colleagues rather than further to the front where he felt he deserved to be. He held several unwelcome pangs of envy back as he heard old friend after close friend after family member eulogising the girl who he had loved but only been allowed to have in his life so briefly. 

Towards the end of the service, they played Portishead’s Roads—one of Chloe’s favourite songs—and a lump arose in Tom’s throat as he realised that it was one of the last songs that he had put on his playlist for their little road trip, in the hope of eliciting conversation about their favourite sad songs. His eyes began to burn. His whole head seemed too hot. He needed some air. He looked behind him to see how clear a path there was to the exit, and saw the man with the camera taking pictures of the shrine at the altar and the congregation. Then he pointed the camera right at Tom.

Tom looked wildly about him, muttered his excuses and got up, tripping over and accidentally stabbing people’s legs with his crutches in his urgency to get to the back of the church. The camera guy had already gone by the time he got there, but as Tom pushed open the door to the outside he saw the man standing in the section of the graveyard reserved for crematory ashes. Tom went over to him, and saw that they were standing at the plaque where Chloe’s ashes were to be interred. The man’s face was leathery up close, and his expression was still blank, but Tom now saw something very familiar about him. He took a good look into the man’s eyes, and saw that they were his own. The man pressed something into Tom’s hand then disappeared.

Tom opened his hand, and saw that he was holding a memory card.

Suddenly, Tom was sitting in a bar in Vancouver, drinking with some colleagues, when an old friend approached his table, one arm held out to shake Tom’s hand, the other around Chloe, pushing her forward slightly as he introduced her. Realising he was back at the beginning, Tom exited out of the photo slideshow and ejected the memory card from his computer. With a small sigh, he twiddled the memory card between his fingers for a moment then tossed it into the side drawer in his desk, locking it with the tiny key he kept stashed in the cover of a cushion on his sofa. There was a knock at his study door and Shannon walked in with his afternoon cup of coffee, full of teenaged angst about the new girl at school and how the boy Shannon loved had already taken a liking to her.

Tom drank his coffee and listened politely, interjecting occasional fatherly platitudes about the nature of love and how things happen for good reason, never once believing a word he uttered, but all too aware that it wasn’t he who needed to continue to believe in the power of hope.

© Kate Chandler, 2015

 

 

Posted by: Kate | January 30, 2016

Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect

Imagine that you have no capacity for memory. You can’t remember the last thing you said or did. You constantly deal with events of the world instinctively only as they arise before you. You have no time to do anything else as everything is brand new and needs your full concentration to navigate. That is how true reality is – a constantly changing and intertwining kaleidoscope of new data and experience. What we conscious beings do is create safer, more limited, constructs of reality in which to live, holding onto particular memories and the habits built upon them, creating a sequential narrative of cause and effect that informs us of our personal identity, and then we put this subjective reality forth into the world and collaborate with other people’s subjective realities in order to co-create a workable consensual reality. 

But none of these constructions is the actual truth, and we can’t see the actual truth whilst our perspective remains within any one of them. But once we work our way out of them we’ve lost our familiar, comfortable, limited frame of reference and can’t comprehend what we’re perceiving – it’s all too busy, too loud, too much information to process, and what was assumed as real no longer seems or feels real. This can, of course, be highly disorienting and anxiety-producing, especially if you are attached to the people and things that you have ascribed significance to in your personal construct.

Psychopaths and sociopaths are not emotionally attached to any other person or particular frame of reference, and so they are able to manipulate reality as they see fit – using people as they would any other object to gain advantage in the construct they are currently inhabiting. Then when things are not going as planned, when they cannot manipulate the situation to their advantage, they can easily dissolve the construct and start afresh with a new one. That’s what con-men do: build up a believable narrative around themselves, get people to buy into it, charm people into providing them with what they want, then thy dissolve it all, move away and start again with a brand new narrative. And the people left behind can’t get the heads around the fact that none of it was ever more than temporarily real. But they’re just talented ad-men, selling hopes and dreams as a product, moving on and creating another brand when they’re no longer getting gains, or when they simply become bored of an incarnation.

I’m not psychopathic (I don’t think!) but I am interested in this ability to create and dissolve constructs at will. Rather than being a writer and creating characters and stories for them to live out, or being an actor and inhabiting different roles, you could create a whole different life or worldview for yourself just by re-interpreting the data that you have at your disposal, or by deliberately ignoring some information and allowing the rest until all your evidence is skewed towards one particular frame of reference, until it is internally logically tight and totally believable to you and convincing to others. I don’t need to read books to imagine other lives, instead I can use my skills of creation to construct and dissolve and then reconstruct several different versions of my own subjective reality and live them out internally as if they were real. Not multiple personalities at the same time, but perhaps a sequence of personalities that segue barely perceptibly from one to the next. Because all of them are just as true as each other, as they are all smaller truths encompassed by a transcendental, real Truth that one is not able to perceive in its entirety as an individual. 

I’m often not bothered about the continuity aspect of my life, so long as I can keep myself engaged and interested with it. Except when I’m stressed and then I try to hold on to something as I want someone or something to be sure about. Yet externally I apparently come across as quite consistent. This may be because I tend to make my external life about other people, rather than me. But if anyone pays me proper attention and asks me to talk at length about myself, and questions further my conclusions, all the inconsistencies in my head make it to the outside world and seem to make no sense, so that what feels genuine internally seems phony externally. Now that’s either because none (or very little) of what I think or feel is real, or because the process of externalising information forces me to pick one best-fit interpretation and state that as my current truth, even though it’s really one of many.

It may be disorienting to hold many, contradictory, constructs in one’s head and switch between them depending on mood, but it can be freeing. But free in a way that makes one mostly unfit to live a communal life, because consensual reality operates upon the basis of people being stable and co-operative and productive and USEFUL members of society. Whatever construct we live within in any one moment, we’ve got to make it appealing and valuable in some way to others if we want to externalise it in a socially acceptable way.

Inconsistency is not a trait that anyone else values, either personally or professionally. So, paradoxically, if we can’t force ourselves to live life in a box, one that happens to interlock nicely with all the other boxes, it becomes extremely difficult to live a communal life at all. And to most people, communal life IS life – if one can’t operate effectively in consensual reality one is deemed insane or a failure or a dropout, and may as well not exist as far as everyone else is concerned.

Posted by: Kate | January 18, 2016

To You, To Me

It may not feel like it at times, but you’ll be okay. You know that. You’re just in the process of unravelling your personal narrative from the fabric of your hitherto accepted reality. We humans happen to be damned good storytellers, so it’s bound to be uncomfortable and disconcerting. The real fun and challenge actually starts when you begin to re-write your story — when you get to narrate your way to happiness, or peace, or authenticity, or purpose, or meaning, or agency, or autonomy, or immortality, or whatever the heck is it that you think you might want.

It probably won’t be what you really want, but it’s a start.

“And that taught me you can’t have anything, you can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it – but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone.”  — F. Scott Fitzgerald

What do you think it is that you really want? “It” is probably so multifaceted and contradictory and elusive, probably even paradoxical, that it would surprise me if you even attempted to give an honest answer, other than “I don’t know.” But go on: try. Drop your guard for a few minutes and try to be really honest with yourself or, even better, attempt to tell someone outside of your own head. What do you like? What do you want? What do you need? What do you fear? What brings you joy? What brings you meaning? What is love? Is there anything worth pursuing beyond this earth? Is the pursuit of the esoteric or the metaphysical merely another distraction from living a more engaged life in the here and now, in the circumstances in which we all find ourselves enmeshed? Do we create, consume and live in constructs because the real world bores us, or scares us, or disappoints us, or takes up too much energy to engage with? Is it the only way we know how to survive?

Not the polished, mediated, edited, virtuous version of these answers — what we’re aiming for is the raw, honest messed-up human being version. Why don’t you want others to see that? Why would you rather hide your real nature, forcing others to project themselves and their ideas of who you are onto you? Why must you present to others as coherent if you’re not? How are you ever going to have the chance to become coherent if you never admit that you don’t already have it together?

Why do I do the same?

Sometimes, in trying to explain something deep and seemingly unknowable to someone else, we end up enlightening ourselves. That has been my experience with dialogue. Somebody important to me once told me that “I’m a great believer that dialogue is not always the way to best appreciate something, but that you get more from just reading, and then incorporating,” and I have taken that on board ever since, and have become more like it myself, but still — it seems to be in dialogue (and especially in written dialogue) that I most learn about the stories I tell myself about myself, about who and how I am, because on a general everyday level I really don’t care all that much about identity, both internally and while out-and-about and interacting with the world.

Apparently, I’m all about the rapport I can develop in concert with people — the strength of the bond, more than the nature of the bonded participants, the overall harmony rather than the individual melodies. It’s not that I have no interest in who the other is, and in who I am, just that it’s not hugely important one way or the other, so long as I know *which* way or other I am dealing with in the moment I am relating with them, in order to best empathise and harmonise. This is a fairly recent discovery, and I haven’t yet figured out what that means in the greater scheme of things.

Having said this, I conduct much of my dialogue with myself these days, via the medium of journalling, and my relationship with myself has strengthened and been bolstered as a result. Maybe my ego is so up itself now that it has deluded me into believing I have something of value to offer others on their journeys, when really I’m just telling myself what I need to hear for mine. I’d like to believe it’s both, but who knows. I’m putting this out there in case it’s the former.

But anyway, I’m listening.  Maybe I should just say that. Maybe that’s all anyone ever really needs to hear:

Dear You / Dear Me,

I am tuning in to your station, and listening to your broadcast.

Love,

Somebody

Posted by: Kate | January 1, 2016

The Other Side (short story)

 

A little tale of fresh perspective for the New Year…

Photo © Eygló Daða Karlsdóttir, 2015

Photo credit © Eygló Daða Karlsdóttir, 2015

Olivia was shattered: a particularly boring day at work had led to an uncharacteristically intense session at Fitness World. As she drove home, flushed and soaked with sweat (she was too self-conscious to shower and change in front of the goddesses who attended her gym), she caught a glimpse of her expression in the rear view mirror. What she saw there was empty of anything but catatonic stupor; there was nobody home.

She was startled enough to let some emotion creep to the surface, which she quickly cancelled out by turning on the radio and singing along to a Bon Jovi tune. She barely knew the song and certainly didn’t like it, but it did the job. She had discovered long ago that you can’t think when you’re singing a song that you are simultaneously learning the words to, and that it’s almost impossible to be blue when you’re belting out a tune at the top of your voice, especially if you are singing the chosen song deliberately out of tune in an attempt to convey your derision of it. Even though she knew there was nobody around to hear her, she didn’t want anyone thinking that she liked Bon Jovi.

As usual, there was no place for her to park outside of her house, so she had to park farther along the street, underneath the cherry blossom trees that were ripe to shed their delicate pink petals all over her recently washed white Toyota. She found it especially irksome when something that gave her great joy, and stirred her soul with its simple beauty, became a nuisance to her by its very nature. She would have much rather had a seagull — that pesky, noisy, evil breed of a bird — crap on the hood of her car than her beloved cherry blossom fall upon it. At least then when she was scrubbing it off she could curse at the culprit with a clear conscience.

She walked along the sidewalk to the entrance to her duplex and checked her mail box. Like anyone, she always hoped to find a letter from a friend or a long-lost relative lurking amid the junk mail, but the chance was very slim given that she hadn’t written a letter to anyone herself in the last five years. She sorted through the mail, keeping anything that looked vaguely interesting and discarding the rest, then made her way into the building.

She had bought herself a ready-made salmon linguine from the market for dinner, and so she put the package in the microwave to heat up. It was only when she came to stir it halfway through heating that she looked at it properly and make the observation that salmon linguine really shouldn’t have bits of bacon and leek in it and look so penne-ish. They had put the meal in the wrong packaging, the fools. It was too late to take it back — being that it was already half-cooked — and it tasted fine, and so she finished cooking it and began to eat it, but it hadn’t been what she’d wanted and she knew that the leeks would give her wind. It didn’t exactly ruin her day, but it didn’t help to make it any better, either.

“Happy birthday, Liv,” she muttered, raising an imaginary wine glass to toast herself with. She dared not open a bottle and fill a real glass, as she knew she wouldn’t be able to stop before the bottle had been finished. Drinking an entire bottle of wine on her own at home just for the sake of it was not a habit that she wanted to return to any time soon.

She took a hot shower, standing under the forceful spray thinking about nothing in particular until her skin started to crinkle. She had intended for it to prepare her for bed, but it actually woke her up instead. As she didn’t want to fill the apartment with the empty noise of reality TV and she wasn’t in the mood to concentrate on anything more challenging, she decided to go through the mail she’d brought in with her to see if there was anything worth looking at.

One quick flip through MEC’s Spring catalogue later, having ascertained that she couldn’t afford any of the gear that she might want therein, she picked up the white envelope lying next in the pile. It looked tatty and wasn’t sealed, and the front just had her first name scrawled upon it in ink, so it had evidently been posted by hand. 

Figuring it was a note from one of her neighbours, she opened the envelope and unfolded the piece of lined notepaper within. On it was a crude but sweet pencil drawing of a guy wearing a pair of green and red checkered trousers and a navy short-sleeved t-shirt, seen from behind seated on a small log amid a field full of wildflowers and mushrooms, staring out at a night sky dominated by the moon surrounded by stars and colourful swirls of light.

Olivia laughed in surprise, recognizing it immediately as a drawing she had given to Kurt, a good friend of hers back when they were teenagers. At the time, something about it had caught his imagination and he’d framed it, named the guy in it “Jake”, and imbued him with all the features and characteristics of his ideal man. She turned the paper over, and saw that on the back was written: “MEET ME AT DAWN. YOU KNOW WHERE.”

She furrowed her brow. She did not know where he could mean. They’d barely spoken in four years, and had drifted apart long before that. She didn’t know what would have possessed him to unearth this ancient treasure and send it to her out of the blue on her birthday, unless he’d just been thinking of her of late and had decided to involve her in a little mysterious adventure such as they’d enjoyed in the days of old before life got in the way.

The rest of the mail forgotten, she wandered through to her living room and fired up her laptop to check Facebook. Kurt wasn’t online, and from the looks of things hadn’t been all day, but his status update — posted that morning — simply said “Nuff Fluff.” Olivia smiled, understanding that it was a message to her, indicating that he wanted to meet her in the park where they used to get drunk and stoned and talk all night, the park where they had seen those two words graffitied at the bottom of a set of steps and puzzled over what they meant, in the summer before they had set off in different directions and everything had changed.

***

They had met under tragic circumstances when they were fourteen. Kurt’s eldest sister had gotten herself involved with the local drug scene and had run away from home after she was implicated in an assault and robbery. He had prayed that she would contact him somehow and let him know that she was safe, but she never did, and though he’d held out hope that this was because she knew that the police were in constant contact with their family and she didn’t want to chance it, in his gut he knew that something bad had befallen her. His suspicion was confirmed when a call came from the police up in Prince Rupert one morning a few weeks later to inform his parents that she and a friend had been found dead in an abandoned building they were squatting. It appeared that they had overdosed on a bad batch of heroin that had been doing the rounds of the northern part of the province.

Not long after he received the news, Olivia’s brother — a star athlete at school — had fallen down a tree well while out snowshoeing in the backcountry with a couple of friends. They hadn’t gone prepared with any gear and the tree well was so deep that they had been unable to pull him out or help him dig for sufficient air, and he’d suffocated before they could get a search and rescue crew to him.

They first became acquainted in the waiting room of the school counsellor one afternoon. At the time, Olivia was still struggling to accept the reality of the loss of her brother, while Kurt was stuck on tormenting himself with the idea that there was something that he could have done to save his sister. The bond made between them was instant and deep. It didn’t hurt that they had a mutual love of the paranormal, and their first year of friendship was filled with repeated attempts to contact their siblings on the other side via means of séances and ghost hunts and good old-fashioned prayers, rituals, incantations and spells.

Their parents believed that this was a morbid obsession, and thought that they were a bad influence on each other and were stopping each other from moving on, but Olivia and Kurt didn’t care. They never got anywhere close to finding what they had hoped to find, but as far as they were concerned the attempts served to help them make it through their respective grieving processes more quickly than they’d expected.

They grew out of their occult practices as they became interested in far more achievable pursuits and ambitions, but they never lost their fascination in the afterlife and their belief in parallel worlds, and would still talk of them during their time alone. They had even made sure that they were in possession of a detailed plan of action as to how one would attempt to contact and communicate with the other in the event of them dying and reaching the other side.

As time went on, Olivia felt the need to live up to her brother’s birthright in some way. Everyone had expected him to grow up to be a professional sportsman, though at the time of his death he hadn’t decided whether soccer or hockey was going to be his focus.  She had always been terrible at sports, but found that she did have a talent for public speaking, and she quickly became the President of the school’s Debating Society, competing and finding success in events nationwide and gaining popularity among her peers.

She developed a keen interest in politics along the way, and began to plan out a career in Local Government for herself. She graduated high school second best in her class and was offered a place at UVic. Victoria, not being too far from home but just far enough to encourage independence, and being home to the Parliament Buildings of British Columbia, was the perfect choice for her.

Kurt, meanwhile, had immersed himself heavily in gaming, and later taught himself to code, finding that he was very gifted at it. Though he never talked of it to Olivia, by the time he was seventeen it was obvious to her that he was involved in hacking or some other kind of crime, due to the large sums of money that he occasionally came into possession of. He used a lot of this money to buy weed and mushrooms (which she happily partook of), and occasionally LSD, mescaline and other psychedelics (which she did not).

He had a small set of friends with whom he enjoyed tripping his balls off, but in general he preferred to experiment by himself, taking copious notes and becoming quite the psychonaut. He kept most of this private, but would always report his major findings and experiences to Olivia.

Kurt was not at all interested in school, doing just enough to graduate. He wasn’t worried about his lack of traditional job prospects: he’d saved plenty of money and his plan was to bum around Europe and indulge in the party scene until that money ran out, then re-evaluate. He and Olivia spent one last summer together, getting completely off their nuts most nights so that it flashed by in a blur, then they had gone in their separate directions. Olivia went to UVic, and Kurt spent two years in Europe, dispatching occasional missives to Olivia to tell her of his various adventures, before moving to Brazil. It was at that point that she got heavily into her studies and work and completely lost track of him.

Five years later he had turned up on the doorstep of the townhouse that she had shared with a couple of work colleagues at the time, having tracked her down via her parents. It turned out that he had travelled around most of South America after his time in Brazil, and then had spent significant periods in Australia, Thailand, India and Alaska. He hadn’t found whatever it was that he was looking for in any of those places, and had grown bored of traveling, so he had returned home.

They had spent a wild couple of months catching up with each other’s lives and then, finding that they had nothing in common anymore except the past, slowly drifted apart again. The time between meetings grew to weeks, then months, and suddenly she realised that he had become somebody that she used to know — just another friend who she only ever heard anything of via social media.

***

Olivia’s alarm clock woke her up shortly before dawn. She rubbed her eyes and got out of bed immediately. She pulled on the clothes that she’d left lying on the chair by her bed, drank a glass of water, and then left the house and headed the few blocks to Douglas Park. It being early in Spring, the air had a chill to it, but felt and smelled wonderful and invigorated her to no end.

As she walked, the birds started up their dawn chorus, and her heart sang along with them. She promised herself that she would get up earlier from now on to appreciate this time of the morning, which had always felt mystical to her. Then she laughed at herself, realising that she’d never likely pull herself out of her usual routine of cozying up under her comfy duvet until it was absolutely necessary to get up.

She arrived at the park and saw a figure sitting on the steps in the centre of the park by the fountain. He seemed to be studying the ground but he looked up, saw her and waved at her. He was dressed in checkered trousers and a navy short-sleeved t-shirt. She laughed, impressed by the level of his attention to detail, and trotted over to him.

When she got up close to him, she reared back.  It wasn’t Kurt.

The man smiled at her. “Please don’t be scared, Liv,” he said.

He stood up, and held his hand out to her by way of greeting.

“I’m Jake. You know me, right?”

Olivia did not shake his hand, but neither did she turn and walk away. There was something comforting about the way he looked at her. She felt good in his presence, felt together in a way she had never before experienced. And she knew that he looked and sounded exactly like Kurt’s “Jake”. He had facial moles in exactly the right places and was even wearing the same aftershave as Kurt had favoured in his ideal man, for Chrissake. Her fear was overruled by her curiosity.

“You had better explain what is happening, and fast, or I’m out of here,” she told him.

“Okay, but will you sit down?”

Olivia perched herself on the edge of the fountain, facing him. He sat back down on the steps.

“The Other Side exists. I’m from there. Kurt is there right now — he finally found a way through, and he has sent me to tell you, because he knew that it would be the only way that he could make you believe him.”

Olivia did not want to ask the next question, but she had to.

“Is he dead?”

“Hell, no!” Jake smiled at her reassuringly. “He’s fine. More than fine. He’ll be here in a minute, don’t you worry. He just wanted to surprise you by sending me first.”

Olivia was bemused. She didn’t know what to think, but she knew how she felt: she felt like she would strangle Kurt when she saw him, for scaring her like this. A few seconds later she was shaking her head and laughing to herself. This was so like him, it’d just been so long since they’d hung out properly that she’d forgotten.

“Are you for real?’ she asked Jake.

“I’m for ideal,” he replied.

She looked at him questioningly. “I’m afraid I’m not quite following you.”

“The world I’m from is a world of ideals. Everything is perfect there, not real.”

Suddenly Kurt lolloped up behind Olivia. She turned and hit him in the chest, then hugged him, and then hit him again. She tried to say something, but found that there were no words available to her.

“See you later,” said Jake.

She turned in his direction just in time to watch him smile and then vanish.

Kurt looked at Olivia and snorted with laughter. “Oh, God, your face!”

He gently pushed her lower jaw back up to stop her mouth from hanging open, then held her by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes until she had gotten over her shock enough to be able to focus her attention on him.

“Walk with me,” he said, proffering his arm.

***

He took her to the edge of the park where a wall separated it from a neighbouring piece of land. Through the holes in a beautifully wrought black metal gate, she saw a large garden with  a natural pond in the centre, the grass around it dotted with wildflowers. He explained to her that he’d recently discovered that the dawn chorus was not just a random selection of birds trying to show themselves off to potential mates, nor were they members of the same flock letting each other know that they’d made it safely through the night and were ready to get up and at a new day.

The secret he’d found was that the dawn chorus is a carefully articulated code, and he had managed to decipher it. It was telling anyone who knew how to listen properly that the shroud that hides the real world from the ideal world, and vice versa, is thin enough to be breached during the time of the chorus being sung. It also tells one how to go about making the necessary breach.

“The real world and ideal world exist alongside each other, all the time. There is no Other Side, per se, rather it’s all the same side — we’re just hidden from each other by this shroud. It’s normally a little too thick for us to see through, and most of us are usually looking at things in the wrong way to be able to see the other world at the times when it is thin enough.”

He turned to face Olivia, to make sure she was concentrating on what he was saying.

“You have to learn to look in a new way, much like an artist does. Look at things as their essence, rather than the physical form they manifest in. Look at them as they are, rather than how you have learned to see them. There are certain places that can help show you this, that can give you a shortcut to learning to see in a different way. This garden is one of them. We need to go inside.”

He gave Olivia a foot up so she could clamber up the wall. When she dropped down the other side, she gasped audibly. She wasn’t seeing the garden as she saw it through the gate. It was as if she’d dropped into a Monet or Van Gogh painting. Kurt vaulted the wall and landed next to her.

“You’re seeing it?” he asked.

She nodded, dumbfounded.

“Keep looking. Or rather, keep letting it just wash over you. Try not to think about what you’re seeing or interpret it in any way. If you can manage that, you’ll start smelling it, too, and feeling it, and then you’ll be perceiving the ideal world as the truth, the same way as you usually perceive the real world as such.”

Olivia did as she was told, and before long she was fully immersed in the ideal world, and blind to the real world. It felt as if she were one person in a crowd of millions singing along to a song at a rock concert, completely lost in the ultimate harmony, the moment lasting for eternity. She felt both individual and part of the whole at the same time, everything that has been or would be in existence being perceived by her all at once. She was there, Kurt was there, Jake was there, her brother was there, both Kurt’s sisters, Olivia’s parents, her grandparents, all her ancestors and descendants. There was no place to be other than where they all were, and no time other than the moment they were all inhabiting.

Gradually she noticed herself standing back in the walled garden, her perception fine-tuning itself back to the real world. The flowers and pond regained their edges, their finer features, their individual differences. She began to feel the chill of the air, smell its fragrance. She heard the dawn chorus breaking up, the birds starting to go about their individual tasks for the day. She felt Kurt’s hand in hers, became aware that he was talking to her.

“…tell you as soon as I found out, but I needed to bring a bit of mystique back to your life first, get your head into the right mindset. Then I remembered that your birthday was coming up and that I could give you the ideal gift – literally. So, happy birthday, Liv!”

She leaned into him, smiling broadly. She knew that the experience was coming to an end, but that it would be experienced time and again now that she had learned that the way to reach the other side was to stop wasting time yearning and searching for something that wasn’t there, and start paying the kind of attention needed to see what was and always would be right in front of her.

nufffluff

© Kate Chandler, 2015

 

 

Posted by: Kate | July 28, 2015

What Have You Been Up To Today?

I hate that question – not the attempt at human connection behind it, but the actual question, and I’ll tell you for why…

Externally: today I got up at 6.50 a.m., made my daughter’s lunch and packed her bag, made and drank coffee, made my daughter’s breakfast, took her to daycare, got a ride with my husband to the mall, sat and stared into space for an hour, walked to a new shop and browsed around, went to see the doctor, drank another coffee while reading a chapter of Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness (which -in general- was about the nature of the voices that schizophrenics hear and why they seem to have such authority), walked back to the mall, bought a few groceries, had lunch with my husband, got driven back home and have been sitting listening to music on my laptop for the last hour.

But internally I’ve been on the most incredible journey, my head full of thoughts and insights, my feelings ranging from blankness to contentment to absolute power to slight anxiety to pure joy to detachment to overwhelming love and compassion. None of which I can verbalise properly to even the most intimate of my friends without going into a deep vortex of contextual explanations which would take years for somebody to begin to understand if they had the notion to try.

So… what have I been up to today?

Um, nothing much. But everything.

Posted by: Kate | June 25, 2015

Do We See Reality As It Is?

Nope. We see it in the way that best helps us survive and continue evolving.

Posted by: Kate | June 17, 2015

On Being Seen and Heard

You know what? People don’t have to struggle and suffer to grow. Physical growing pains aren’t necessary or common, so why should mental and emotional growth be any different? Growth is just what is already inside, pushing outwards. If there were no obstacles to stop this growth, each person would grow to their full potential, but if impeded, they just grow the best they can in the circumstances. Sure, adverse circumstances can often help to show a person who and what they are, and give them the motivation needed to be the person that those circumstances are, at the time, restraining them from being, but to say that one cannot grow without a struggle — that growth MUST come from some sort of painful experience — is nonsense.

Lately I’ve been wondering why I go around asking and answering questions of myself, about my day, why I do what I do, etc. I always seem to be narrating my experience to an imagined other, as if just silently witnessing it for my own enjoyment isn’t enough of a record of my life. I wonder why I feel the need to do that, and why I feel the need to write a journal to record what I’ve been thinking and feeling. Maybe it’s because I feel a lack of attention, or feel uncomfortable asking for it from others, so I ask the questions which I wish others would ask, therefore giving myself the chance to express my individual experience of the world, to feel like it matters that I’m experiencing it, to allow myself to grow into who I am without the need for outside encouragement.

I think that the only reason anyone expresses themselves (when not directly engaged in an activity together and needing to communicate plans and actions) is to gain attention, to obtain validation of themselves and their world view. But what does this validation and attention ultimately garner anyone in real terms? Nothing. It begets you nothing. If someone pays you attention it is because you’ve put yourself in their line of sight then offered them something that is worth THEIR while to pay attention to. Whether someone appreciates you or not has very little to do with who YOU are, and everything to do with who THEY are. If you benefit them, they pay attention. If you don’t benefit them, they don’t pay attention (or if they do it is out of a sense of duty, or through gritted teeth…I don’t wish to burden people with that, because I really hate it when others do so to me).

Today I was thinking about all the trees that don’t get looked at because there is nothing special about them to really differentiate them from all the other trees around them. There’s nothing wrong with those trees. They’re perfectly nice trees and if they were the only example of their kind for miles around, they’d be noticed. Only things that are different get special attention. But then they don’t achieve anything by getting more attention, other than having more eyes looking at them. If anything, they may suffer from having the extra attention. When people notice something, they tend to covet it, competing with others for the right to use it or own it, or else wish to destroy it…

So, really, what does it matter how many eyes are upon you? What does it matter how many people listen to what you have to say? Or see things the way you do? The more admirers a person gains, the more detractors, whether or not they deserve admiring or criticising. It is probably better to be anonymous and invisible. You are totally free to be yourself then, not pushing yourself into roles that you then feel a failure for not fulfilling, or feel frustrated and hemmed in by.

I wish that I could just relate to everyone I come across spontaneously and naturally and as I really am, and let their judgement of me — good, bad or indifferent — go completely over my head. Theoretically I know that nobody is any better or worse than I am, so I don’t need to manage my image to be acceptable or admirable to anyone other than myself.

But nobody likes to feel alone in the world.

So now I’m going to post this to my blog, and in expressing it to the outside world I am by my own admission hoping to gain some sort of attention or validation of the kind that I have just spent most of the post trying to convince myself that I don’t need and would be far better off without.

Sigh, humans: we’re all nuts.

Posted by: Kate | June 13, 2015

The secret to life, the universe and everything?

wheeloflife

The Great Wheel by CircleArt

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 587 other followers

%d bloggers like this: