How To Write

Recently, I’ve been asked by a few people what advice I would give someone who wants to be a writer. They assume because I have a blog and once, as a full-time journalist, I wrote for a living, that I ought to be able to tell others how to do it. It’s a fair assumption. But the truth is, I’m still and always learning!

Asking me how to write is like asking directions from a blind man with a guide dog; I don’t know how to tell you the way to get there. I just follow the dog.

That said, here are a few tricks the dog keeps trying to teach me.

First, write about what you know, the thing that’s right in front of you, the thing you’ve been given to write about, the thing you can’t seem to get off your mind. Read a lot and, in particular, read everything you can find by the writers you like best; if you like them, it’s probably because their voice speaks to the voice in you. Develop that voice. It’s yours.

Write like yourself, the way you talk. Read what you’ve written out loud. If it doesn’t sound like you, rewrite it until it does. Learn the rules of writing and stick to them a long time before you dare start messing around.

Write between the lines; say more with less. And be prepared to suffer, not because writing invites heartache, but because it always insists on examining it. Never pretend to be what you aren’t, or to know what you don’t know. That applies more to life than to writing, really, but the two are not so different. And as for inspiration, I don’t need it to write. I just need a deadline. It’s the surest cure I’ve ever found for writer’s block.

If you want to write, if you feel called to do so, you should. And you will. Maybe you won’t earn a living at it. Few writers ever do.

But you can write cards to encourage the downhearted; and notes of condolences to comfort those who suffer loss; and crisp, compelling business letters that clearly explain why the item you received was not the item you ordered, and what exactly you will do if you are not reimbursed. You can write job applications and memos to colleagues and letters to the editor, or to your MP, or to God, to shed light and right wrongs and make the world a better place, or at least, to get stuff off your chest.

You can write for posterity the stories your grandparents told you, stories that will be lost if you don’t write them before you die.

You can write love letters to your children or to anyone, really, to say all the things that you could never say with your mouth.

You can even write in a diary or journal, if you are so inclined (and a lot more disciplined than I am) to get to know yourself better.

That, of course, is the real reason we read and write — to know and to be known. It has been that way a very long time and I expect it always will. It works like this:

You take thoughts and feelings from your mind and your heart, and occasionally from your soul, and you fashion them into words.

That is called language.

You put the words on paper, or perhaps on a computer screen, using lines and circles, marks and symbols, until you trust them to carry your meaning.

That is called writing.

Then someone — who perhaps has never seen your face or heard your voice — sees your lines and circles and symbols and marks, and recognises them as words.

That is called reading.

Sometimes, unpredictably, the words hold the power to recreate the writer’s thoughts and feelings in the mind and the heart and even in the soul of the reader.

That is called communication.

Some do it for love. Some do it for money. And some of us, if we are lucky, get to do it for both.

And that’s where I will stop for now. The dog has gone to sleep.

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Higher, faster, stronger…

London made me proud last weekend. The Opening Ceremony of the XXX Olympiad was a brilliant celebration of British history, culture and diversity. The passing of the torch and design of the flame were inspired moments. For me, there is always something special about the Olympic Games. I often find myself glued to the telly, celebrating great moments in sports in which I usually have no interest whatsoever. This year, with the Games being held in my own home city, the excitement is greater than ever.

So I’m taking a break from blogging, as I try to juggle work commitments and the Olympics – in the latter case, attending swimming and athletic events, and following the fortunes of Wiggins, Hoy, Adlington, Ennis, Idowu, Bolt, Blake and the other top athletes. The prospect of another record-breaking men’s 100m final, the Games’ blue-ribbon event, has me drooling!

In the meantime, I recommend the blog of my friend Dawn, who is volunteering at the Games: http://dawndenton.wordpress.com

See you all soon!

The first kiss

Like any red-blooded boy of the age of 13, when I was growing up, I imagined nothing the Almighty had created could compare with kissing a girl. I did the whole deal: making out with pillows, feeling up two slightly deflated footballs… When I started to become comfortable with the fact that my parents knew puberty was beginning to rear its hairy head — well, I’m still not entirely comfortable with it, to be honest — I would cut out all the models from Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions, put them on my walls and give them little comic-strip thought balloons, saying stuff like, “David, you’re hot!” and “David, James Bond has nothing on you.”

In my imagination, I was a torrid lover, a machine, a manly cat the kittens couldn’t keep their paws off… well, let’s face it, guys, I was Shaft. Unfortunately, I was a most private dick; even though a few of my friends had tales of heavy petting debauchery, usually with an older girl, typically in a dark room somewhere and often involving zippers, rubber gloves and mayonnaise, I, at 13, had still never properly kissed a girl (I’m talking about real snogging here, not the quick, stolen pecks on the cheek with Stacy behind the primary school washrooms when I was 11, although, at the time, they were meaningful). The closest I came was taking a girl in to the school bazaar; she ended up leaving with another guy when I told her, no, sorry, I can’t go to hang out the mall afterwards because my Dad is picking me up bang on 6 o’clock, can’t be late. (Emily, I haven’t forgotten you… contact me, if you ever want to talk.)

I thought it was never going to happen. Then, my childhood friend Andy started dating the local football coach’s daughter, and I was lucky (so lucky) enough to accompany him on a few of their dates. Mostly, they would sneak off to a dark corner, and he would touch her breasts (He touched her breasts! He even grabbed them!) and kiss her cheek, and I was off trolling around, hoping neither of them noticed that I was watching.

I mean, what must it be like? You’ve got a girl there… and you can do anything with her! Sure, one time Andy sneaked his hands a little too low, and she let out a shriek and told him to stop it, but I suspect that’s just because they were out in public. When they were alone, who knew what kind of insanity went on? I bet he even kissed her with his tongue.

Imagination was all I had. I was helpless with women, and rather than face the embarrassment of being rejected, I just avoided them. It wasn’t until I joined a local youth club that I finally met a girl who would talk to me.

Her name was Michelle, and I was the first person she’d ever kissed, too. She was a shy, bookish girl, with big glasses that I think also helped the sight of anyone who happened to be standing behind her (within 10 feet). She was a year below me in school and wanted nothing more than to get straight A’s, be a bridesmaid in her best friend Julianne’s wedding, meet David Hasselhoff (believe it or not, there was a time when The Hoff was considered sexy) and not be late to Sunday school. She was a proper sweet straight-laced schoolgirl, and sex was something that would be not be even thought of until her wedding night, and even then only if you’re lucky.

I liked her because she was nice and funny and a good decent girl — this was during a period of my life in which I wanted to be a minister; that might be surprising to you, and probably strikes you as something I should delve into deeper, but I won’t, because it’s not really all that interesting, and besides, it was a very long time ago, and I’m such a sinner now I’d feel guilty even thinking about it — but mostly I liked her because she had enormous breasts and I thought maybe if I was really, really nice and gave her flowers and told her I loved her and took her to movies and made nice with her friends and held her hand, she might let me touch them.

I was willing to wait. Once I finally dug up the nerve to ask her out, we had three dates. The first was to a movie, Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox. Mum wouldn’t let me go unless I had a chaperone, so Andy, who was a year older, also came along… if only Mum knew the stuff I’d seen Andy do! The second was also to a movie, the name of which I have forgotten.

The third night, I knew it was time to make my move. It must have been a particularly ribald weekend in Hollywood, because all the films at the cinema were rated R, save for one. So Andy and Michelle and her friend Julianne and I marched up to the ticket window, plunked down our cash and headed in to see Back To The Future.

The scene was toward the end, when the band is playing “Earth Angel” and Marty McFly is starting to fade from existence because his parents-to-be aren’t getting together on the dancefloor as they were destined to in 1955. The tension was high; would this be the end of our hero? Michelle gripped my arm. I touched her hand. She looked at me. I leaned in. She leaned in. Closer. Closer. I puckered up (this was fucking it! Oh man oh man oh man!) and planted my lips on hers, where they remained for about, oh, half a second. We were in a cinema, but I could still see her blush. As did I, when Andy, sitting right behind us, began to giggle.

And that was my first kiss. Years later, at Julianne’s wedding, I gave a toast. I saluted Jules and her husband, and made a joke about initially spending time with her to get closer to Michelle, my first kiss, someone I’d never forget. Michelle blushed then, too, though I think she might have been drunk. She ended up marrying a grocer or something, and I think they have a couple of children, both shy and bookish with enormous glasses. Curious to see how their breasts turn out.

The one I love

I’ve been chatting online with a friend of mine who’s been quite distraught at the prospect of her cat being put down. Listening to my friend mourn her pet brought memories flooding back of my own experience a few decades ago and inspired this piece I wrote for a writing challenge on the theme of “Love & Loss”.

 

He was there when she was alone and needed a friend. Now her pet is dying, and she feels helpless.

When I was a child, probably about eight or nine, my family was visiting some neighbour friends for a late-night barbeque. As tended to be the case, the adults would sit around the grill and bitch about their marriages, or their jobs, or their children, whatever came to mind after a six-pack or two. We kids were relegated to the garden, free to roam around as long as we were within eyesight and able to stop, drop and roll at a moment’s notice. I was running around stupidly, freely, as children are wont to do, when I came across a small kitten, likely a stray. He was gray and dirty and had the cutest little nose. Unlike most cats I’d come across at the time, he didn’t seem to mind when I picked him up and roughed him up a bit. He was sweet and funny and even jumped up on my lap when I was lying in the grass, daydreaming. He was the friendliest cat I’d ever come across.

A cat seemed like the ideal pet for her. Cats are easy. All you really have to do is feed them and change their litter box. Cats aren’t like dogs; they don’t need attention. They just go about their own thing, eating, sleeping, shitting, licking themselves. The world of a cat is a blissful one, and it is decidedly solitary. They just go about their merry way, living their content, spoiled little lives, and if you end up playing with them, it’s because they have allowed you to.

She loved that concept. As nice as dogs are, you could pretty much smack them upside their head with a two-by-four, and after the cobwebs cleared and the blood was wiped out of their eyes, they’d happily come drooling back for more. Not cats. They don’t need you. They’re just fine without you, thank you very much. You have to earn the respect of a cat. They figure out whether or not they like you, and then they conclude if you’re worth hanging out with.

Her brother has the best way with cats. He has little interest in pets and he’s particularly not a fan of cats. So he just completely ignores them, not even implying any interest in their activities, a difficult task, since there are four of them roaming around his house. What happens? The cats, appreciative of not being picked up and snuggled when they just want to sleep, can’t get enough of the guy. He has to peel them off of him anytime he’s just trying to watch the telly. He often tells me that this is also how you’re supposed to deal with women, which, well, is a notion that might be of some value.

We were just fooling around. I would grab a leaf, rub it against his nose, then throw it so he could chase it around. He’d grab it in his teeth, bat at it with his paws, knock it across the grass and then scamper after it again. Playing along, I’d swipe it from him, dangle it around his ears and giggle as he twirled wildly trying to find it. I even did that trick where you pretend to throw the leaf and keep it in your hand instead, tittering madly as he searched furiously for it. At last, I did wad the leaf up and throw it toward a fence that surrounded the garden and shared a boundary with the neighbour’s. Out of nowhere, I heard a chain rattling, a growl, a crunch, a shriek and, ultimately, a whimper.

So she decided she wanted a cat. She wouldn’t even rent a flat that wouldn’t let her have one. She didn’t care what type of cat; as long as she had a kitten, something whose mind she could shape and warp in her own image. Her brother and I, just happy that she’d moved the 300-odd miles north, went on the hunt and found a woman he’d worked with whose cat just shot out a litter. The middle one will be perfect for her, she said; he’s sprightly and energetic and very affectionate. She’ll be living alone. She’ll need all the affection she can get… I mean… when you guys are not around, of course!

Thus, on one Sunday afternoon, about two weeks after she’d arrived in New York, a city in which she knew hardly anyone, a furry little tiger runt showed up at her new flat, announcing his presence by crying and sprinting under the bed. At first, inexperienced in having her own pet, she rushed after him, trying to calm him and instantly make him her friend. She learned quickly enough… just leave him alone. After a few hours, he peeked his head out from under the covers, looked left, looked right, and slowly, slowly, slowly crawled tentatively toward the living room. She tossed him a play toy she’d bought for the occasion. He hopped back, frightened, and bolted out of the room. Within 30 seconds, he was back, gnawing on the toy. She just watched, quietly. A half hour later, he was attacking her feet. An hour after that, he was on her lap, sleeping, and she knew he was hers. Or, more accurately, she was his. She named him Simba.

Many friends of hers in Pennsylvania had cats, and she thought they treated them too much like, well, too much like cats. They would end up either hiding under the bed anytime company would come over, or they would be the fat blob of hair taking up half the couch, a piece of furniture that needs to be fed. Her cat wouldn’t be like that, she vowed. He was just her flatmate, and he could do whatever he wanted just like any other flatmate. Want to sit on the kitchen counter? Dude, go ahead; it’s your place too. Want to eat the leftover pizza? Want to scratch up the wooden sofa legs? Want to bite my arm? Hey, it’s your prerogative. Who am I to tell you what to do? I have no business telling you how to live your life; like I know what I’m doing.

And he was awesome, the most personable animal this side of a car salesman. He would welcome any visitor with a hop up on the lap and a nibble on the wrist. He was just another guy — having him fixed was an ordeal she lamented for days — and he became more a pal than an inferior household pet. He would fall asleep wherever she ended up at night — whether it was the bed, the sofa or, on those particularly rough nights, the floor — and he ran the place however he saw fit. He even helped her out by charming what few guys she could coerce to come over to the flat. (Sometimes being a girl living alone with a cat does have its advantages.)

It has always seemed to me that, in a way, we’re closer to our pets than we could ever be to another human being. You can pick your nose, fart, masturbate, whatever, the types of things you could only otherwise do alone, with your pet in the room and not even think twice, not even hesitate. It’s a natural closeness. That’s the type of relationship she had with Simba.

She talked whimsically about how insane it would be for Simba, who as a cat was likely to live for close to 20 years, to go through changes with her, to move to new places, to meet the man she’d love, to play with her children. You have a cat for a long time, and, sometimes, they’re actually a bit of work. With Simba, it was a commitment she didn’t think twice about making.

Immediately, it was obvious something was wrong. I hurried guiltily over to the fence and saw an enormous dog, blood dripping from its jaws, scurry away. And on the ground, eyes wide wide wide open, was my little kitten. There were two puncture wounds, one just below his neck and one just below his ribcage. The cat was feeling no pain, not yet; it just lay there, in shock, lacking understanding. I was vaguely aware that I might have caused this… if I just hadn’t have thrown the leaf near the fence. And then came the gasps. Later that evening, my mother explained that the dog’s bite, its horrific CHOMP!, likely broke the kitten’s ribs and collapsed its lungs. But all I remember are the gasps. The desperate thrusts for air, a wheeze, a cough, another wheeze. There was simply no air to be found. He wearily lifted his eyes up to me, what happened, oh God I can’t breathe, what is going on? I found myself eerily calm. He is going to die. I ran to the bathroom, grabbed a wet rag and ran back out to him. And for the next two hours, until my parents made me leave, I lay there with my gasping kitten, wiping his brow, trying to ease his suffering, making sure he was not alone.

Her cat is dying. It started about four months ago, when her flatmate complained that Simba, entirely out of character, had urinated on her bed. After changing the sheets and apologising profusely, she watched as Simba promptly hopped on her own bed and pissed there too. She took him to the vet, who told her he had a urinary infection, common for male cats. He gave her some pills (he gave the cat some too) and told her to make sure he drank plenty of water.

Simba was better for about a week, but then he was right back at it again, this time not urinating, but instead depositing little droplets of blood across the flat. It was almost cute; he was conditioned to the litter box, so he would only go on places that weren’t the floor, like the bed, or rugs, or pieces of clothing lying around. She rushed him back to the vet, who said his bladder was blocked, or his tract was swelling, or something, she didn’t really understand what. He said Simba would need surgery, and that it would cost her about several hundred dollars. This was money she didn’t have just sitting around, but there was no way she was letting her cat suffer. Plus, the place was starting to smell. Simba had the surgery and was fine for about three months.

And then last week when she found a dark red spot on the rug. She called the vet, bitching up a storm about paying all that money for a surgery that would only help for three months.

“Yeah, we were afraid that was going to happen. Listen, we weren’t sure at the time, but this is a chronic thing. This isn’t going away. We can perform another surgery on him, but this is likely going to happen again in three months, or two, or one. And it’s just going to get worse.”

“So what do I do?”

“Well, he’s going to be in a lot of pain. I don’t think it’s right to let him suffer.”

“Yeah, but how do I fix him?”

“We’re not sure we can.”

“Wait, you’re not saying… ?”

That’s what he was saying.

About a year later, I was riding my bike by the very same house we visited that night. It was the middle of the afternoon. No one was home. I noticed the dog, a big nasty mean ugly dog, sleeping in the neighbour’s front garden. Stealthily, I hopped off the bike and jumped the fence. I stood there watching that dog for a while, trying to will myself into kicking it right in the stomach, but I couldn’t do that. So I just leapt over the fence again and pedalled away, feeling empty.

She is taking Simba to the vet tomorrow. She’s not certain what the vet will say, but she has a good idea. So now her cat is lying there, on the sofa, silent, motionless, in agony. Occasionally he’ll move his head, look up, eyes wide wide wide open, and let out an anguished yet muted rowwrghhhhhhhhhh, then put his head back down. Christ, is there anything worse than an animal in pain? The poor fucking thing… just lying there, crying, screaming, wondering what in the world is happening to it… incapable of adequately communicating how much this fucking hurts.

As “owners,” we have little control over our pets’ lives. We feed them, clean their litter boxes, make sure they’re not living in total filth. That’s about all we do. Yet she keeps thinking that she’s done something wrong, that she fed him the wrong food, or didn’t pay enough attention to him, or didn’t change the litter often enough. She could have done something. This is her fault. It isn’t, or so I keep telling her, but to her, it sure feels that way.

Oh God, she says. He just jumped up here, on my desk, next to my computer. He’s looking at you on the screen. Did he know we were talking about him? How did he have the strength to make the leap? He’s staring at me now. Does he know? Is he aware? Can he understand? Is he angry? Does he know how much he’s meant to me? Has he ever known?

And then the anguished cry: Oh, Simba, I am so sorry. Please forgive me. We have been through so much. I don’t know what to do without you…

All that remains…

I found out a little over a year ago that my late grandfather liked to write. It is a failing of myself that I had never thought to ask.

It came up in casual conversation with my great-aunt, whom I’d dropped by to visit over a busy Christmas schedule in the Caribbean. I love Aunt Helen, who helped me land my first job in journalism and who, despite her years, is still a formidable force to be reckoned with in the field. I was telling her about my job in IT and how I’d been keeping up my writing through my blog and with the occasional piece I write for various publications, including hers. I don’t even know if she knew about this blog; the Internet is not something too much in her frame of reference. Telling her about the IT, I almost fell asleep myself. But her face just lit up when I talked about writing.

“Oh, your grandfather always knew you were going to be a writer, just like your dad.” I woke up immediately. What? My grandfather died when I was 11; the last thing on my mind the last time I had seen him was what I would end up doing with my life. (In retrospect, the only thing on my mind when I was 11 was, “I hope my parents don’t find out how often I masturbate.”) How in the world did my grandfather ever imagine that this particular grandson, out of so many, would end up writing?

“Your grandfather used to love writing. He said it made him feel calm.” My grandfather was a politician, holding several cabinet positions during his career. The only writing I imagined him doing was writing speeches. But his sister was talking about what he wrote in his spare time. “He raised four children, so he didn’t have much time, but boy, whenever he had time, he loved it. He was very funny. He just never had time.” I was stunned. Did anyone else in the family know this? “No, he kept it rather quiet. It was just one of those things he loved to do, like gardening. It relaxed him.”

I asked her if she had anything in storage that he had written. “Oh, no, I don’t think that ever occurred to him. Honestly, I think he would have been a little embarrassed. I don’t even know if your father ever even knew.” She paused. She is getting on in age, and her hands shake. Her signature always looks like an ECG readout. “But he always knew you would do something like that. He saw it in you when you were very young. You’re just like him, you know.” She then asked me if I wanted any of the black-eyed peas on the table with my lunch. I declined. Black-eyed peas are vile.

************

One time, I came home from university abroad, somewhat depressed, for those vague, completely stupid reasons people get depressed in uni. It was a lovely day, and I was supposed to meet my father for lunch to watch some cricket, so I drove to his office.

Barry, a guy my father worked with for more than 20 years, saw me pull in and told me Dad was stuck in a meeting away from the office and wouldn’t be back for half an hour. We chatted a bit and then he told me I should just wait in Dad’s office until he returned.

The first thing I noticed there was a picture of me and my siblings, all flashing bright smiles. Then there was a picture of Mum, that photo I knew he loves so much, and next to that was, to my shock, my most recent article for the Guardian. It was surrounded by several others. In fact, my father, a former journalist himself, had almost covered his desk with his son’s newspaper clippings. I sat quiet for a moment, then grabbed my backpack and headed out to my car. I’d wait for Dad there. I didn’t want him to see me seeing all that at his desk. It would have been embarrassing for both of us.

************

A few months ago, I did a reading from my Dad’s newly-published poetry anthology. My brothers and sisters were all there with my parents. While I was up front reading, apparently some women in the back of the room were carrying on a conversation. (I can never hear this when I’m on stage; I’m too busy concentrating on not urinating on myself.) People talking during a reading is nothing unusual, or even bad; readings are, on the whole, pretty boring, and I’m sure what they were talking about was far more interesting than whatever I was blathering about up front.

But one of my younger sisters would have none of this. She stood up, walked to the back, crossed her arms and stared at the chatty Cathies. “AHEM! Excuse me, but my brother is reading from my Dad’s book right now, and you need to be quiet. So be quiet!” She stared at them for another 10 seconds or so, then turned back around and sat down next to my father.

From what I’m told, they were very quiet from then on.

************

I was talking with a friend recently about my writing, specifically, the minute details of my life and of my family’s life I have included in this blog. Then she brought up something that, once again, I’d never even considered: “You ever thought just how fascinated your grandchildren are going to be reading your blog? It’s going to be like a time capsule.”

Imagine that. Imagine being able to read about your grandfather’s life, and his times, from when he was in his mid-20s and 30s and 40s. His fears, his hopes, his dreams; by the time they read these, they will know the ending of the story in a way the author does not. They will have a tie to their roots, a little sliver of understanding of what has helped make them who they are.

This was never the intention, but, truth be told, that might be one of the greatest gifts this blog could ever give, if I can keep it going.

************

When you strip it all away, we are lonely and confused and, all told, rather pointless. Our constant bluster must be amusing to whomever created this universe; nothing we do is important. In 90 years we’re all going to be dead, and whatever we have created during our short time here will be forgotten. Everything I’ve ever written, anything I’ve ever done, will, eventually, be the dead sea scrolls, relics, strange curiosities easily dismissed.

At the end, all we really have is family. We have the people who know how we used to cry whenever we lost a big game, how we would get scared and crawl into bed with them after listening to jumbie (ghost) stories, how we never could pronounce the word “denominator” without stuttering over the third syllable. They’re the people, the only people, who are with you at the beginning, the middle and the end. They’re the only people who, honestly, really matter. Everything else just occupies the time, gives us something to do.

My family is the reason I’ve been able to do anything, and they will be my only legacy. That’s just fine with me. I couldn’t ask for any better way to go down in history.

Disconnected…

I usually write this blog at home, sitting in the living room in front of the telly. This one is being written over several days in various outdoor places. As I write now, my internet connection has been down for 10 days, two hours and 17 minutes. (That’s why there was no blog last week. Sorry!) Since I’ve got out of bed this morning, I have not read an email, or visited a Web page, or downloaded a song, or sent an instant message. I am coming to you live.

It is just me. Just a guy with a disconnected laptop, lounging on a deck chair in Hyde Park, alone. No little windows will pop up with a friend wanting to chat. No emails telling me how to artificially extend my penis. No bad news about the economy and Syria and reality television. An argument could be made that this is as undisturbed an environment as I have seen in years.

And I hate it. I can’t breathe. I am lost. I am a man without identity.

Here under the trees near the Serpentine, I have set up my outdoor space to reflect my online world. I am speaking to no one. I have put on my music, as loud as is acceptable, and tuned out. There are other people around, but I will not speak with them unless absolutely necessary, even the really attractive ones in hotpants — say, if one of them is on fire or about to eat something poisonous. I made a deal a long time ago that my writing self would be different from my real self, and this deal has required me to make some sacrifices. Social skills were the first to go. Talking no longer happens. I spend a lot of time online for reference and research, so when I am writing this blog, or poetry, or a few pages of what I hope will someday be my debut novel, I am no longer David. I am simply my online identity.

When I am writing, I will only communicate online as well. And I write a lot. So there are these people… people with whom I have discussed particularly memorable past sexual experiences and debilitating hangovers and illicit substances, all on Facebook messenger, or via e-mail and text messages, or over MSN and BBM… these people, I’m not even sure I would recognise their voices.

Watch! Watch! Watch as my tentacles spread throughout the country and, lo, the world! Here I am in London — and now I am in Edinburgh! To New York! To Australia! To Mali! I am everywhere at once. Ding! A missive from Italy! Allow me to join you, weary traveller. I would stay longer, but I must go to Spain! There is sun there, but I have not the time. I am everywhere, but not too long, because there is more and more and more. And it all comes with a soundtrack of my own choosing. Do I want the Stones to accompany me on my journey? Vivaldi? Ella Fitzgerald? How about Bob Marley? Wait, I don’t have the new Jay-Z/Kanye album? Click-click-click-woosh… now I do! Where to next? Where to? And on and on! And on!

And it is now gone. The Internet is down. What the fuck is the problem anyway?

Who am I if I am not an MSN handle? If I am not intothenightlife, what is it I have become? My link to the world, where people create and envision and dream and hope, it no longer exists. It is a Microsoft Word file, empty, cursor blinking, taunting me, type, type, here, no one can here you scream, your life is a vacuum.

Back home… I am venturing to the bathroom. On foot. Shit, remember when I used to shower and dress nicely every weekend morning? I am wearing the only clean t-shirt I have left, and I have not shaved since Tuesday. My head has indents in it, in the shape of the headphones, and my face is pallid, empty … but yearning. I must get back. There is no time. I must get back to my laptop. Perhaps the Internet has returned! Perhaps we are back on the road! Perhaps I am me again!

We are not back. The Internet is still down.

BT has sent around an engineer, an IT gentleman. It is his job to fix this problem. He is from Ireland, has curly brown hair, wears an earring in the wrong ear, and stands about five-foot tall in heels. He looks like a particularly butch Premiership midfielder. He is a nice guy, jovial, upbeat, hopeful. I bet he talks to his parents weekly, at least. He likely has a dog who follows behind him, and licks his face in the mornings, and fetches his slippers. He pays his bills on time, loves TalkSport radio, and smiles and says, “’Ello mate!” to the newsagent when he buys his Sun newspaper every morning. He is telling me he cannot help me. Right now I would like to rip his fucking face off with a staple remover, slowly, meticulously snipping at the edges of the cheeks, under the chin, around the ears, fftt fftt fftt at the hairline, nice little clips all around, and then, yes, we’re ready now, YANK, splurt, splash, all that’s left is a skull with some wet flesh and that earring attached. (So sorry… I watched Red Dragon the other night!) I hope his eyes stay in their sockets. I want him to see what he has wrought.

Help me. I’m lost. I am a broken man, a ghost, a shell, a dead desiccated oyster buried under dry sand. A character in search of a play. A camel in search of a desert. A bone in search of a dog. I have been out there for so long, hiding from the rest of you so well, that the shakes are uncontrollable. Perhaps a drink of water. No, no, what if it comes back while I am gone?

I don’t know what to do. Maybe I could look through old screen shots. Yes, yes, my Microsoft Explorer, if I shift to offline mode, has saved some sites I visited a few days ago. Ah! It’s a Google search from Thursday! A preview of last night’s game! (Didn’t quite turn out as predicted.) Oh, look, it’s a story by a friend of mine — by friend, I mean an email address halfway across the world which belongs to a body I have not met — on a spunky little independent Web site. That story was funny. Remember that story? Remember when you read that last week, intothenightlife? Oh, those were the days. Such memories. Such great times.

Ah, but I am hungry, and I must find more sustenance. Regurgitation will not suffice. The big dog must eat. Connecting to server… connecting to server… connecting to server… sweet heavens, can’t I just connect? Help me connect. I need to connect. I am nothing here. I have no leg to stand on.

Help. Help. Yelp. Yellow. Yemer. Yemen. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. A rat in the house may eat the ice cream. Algebra. Trigonometry. The unbearable lightness of being sad I miss the comfort in being sad two’s comfort but THREE’S A CROWD! THREE’S A CROWD!

Wait, wait… wahey, check it out… what’s that… the Internet’s back! The world has opened again! OK… see you later suckers!

Headbangers ball

I can hit my head against solid surfaces and objects really, really hard.

That might be perceived as a flippant statement, maybe a little in-joke you don’t get, or a philosophical metaphor for the struggle of the human brain to fathom the weight of existence. It is neither. I’m simply telling you: I can bash my forehead into things, and it doesn’t really hurt.

I first noticed this ability in primary school, where such God-given talents are usually discovered. This might come as a shock to you but, in primary school, I attempted to make up for my inadequacies and insecurities about girls by brazenly attempting to attract attention to myself. My early, crude attempts involved armpit noises, blotches of ketchup smeared dribbled down my chin to simulate blood and, until puberty hit, impersonations of Mickey Mouse’s voice. None of these seemed to go over well.

Then, one day, when I was trying to make Suzie Johnson laugh on a bus ride home from school, I took my spelling book and bashed it against my face. Suzie had been telling me she was having trouble with spelling, how she just couldn’t get the letters in right order, how she just couldn’t make the words fit right in her head, no matter how hard she studied. I had a word-a-day calendar at home, and I’d recently learned osmosis. I told her she should just try to put the book to her head, or maybe sleep on top of it, and perhaps it would all just seep in. “Check it out,” I said. And then…WHAP!

The reaction was immediate. The eyes of the entire bus locked on me. Joy, the bus driver who had known me since kindergarten, mistakenly thought I’d hit Suzie with the book and made me do the walk of shame to the front of the bus, sitting directly behind her, like all the troublemakers. I told her I didn’t hit Suzie; it was my own head I’d hit. To prove it, I smacked myself with it again. “David!” she exclaimed. “Why on earth are you doing that?” Everyone on the bus was still staring at me. I had their rapt attention. It was exhilarating. Their looks answered Joy’s question, easily.

After that, I honed my talent into an art form. During lunch, I’d gather friends around and let them take shots at me with the cafeteria trays. It became rote to walk into doors face-first and then fall back dramatically, pretending I was in agony before breaking a smile to let them know that, no, I was fine. At parties, I would ask a girl to dance, and if she said no, I would ram my face into the wall. Sure, they were horrified at first, but after a while, they were simply repulsed. It never failed to get a laugh from my friends, and it got everyone talking about me, and, really, that’s all I wanted.

Eventually I even trained myself to take repeated shots, usually against some sort of table, a woodpecker-type motion: WHUP-WHUP-WHUP-WHUP-WHUPWHUPWHUP! My all-time high was 16 in a row. Even I started to get dizzy at about 14, though that was more because of the quick downward thrusts than anything else.

The years passed, but this skill never waned. As I got older, alcohol entered the equation, upping the ante. Oftentimes, toward the end of the night, everyone would gather around, making sure their glasses were off the table, and then watch Daring David’s display. Alcohol made me somewhat cocky, though, and a couple of times I would come up with rather large cuts in my forehead. It still never hurt, though.

It even comes in handy at work. When I’m having a particularly bad day, or just had another conversation with on of the resident idiots, I can quietly retreat to my office, close the door and use my head to perform a slow, rhythmic beat on the desk.

We all have a little talent like this. One friend can say words backwards as easily as he can forwards. (Palindromes make his nose bleed.) Another can rattle off the names of every ’80s rock band member, with instruments. One can bend his fingers the wrong direction so that they touch his wrist. I’m sure you have one too. Mine just happens to be a resilient forehead. My talent’s advantage is that it makes a loud noise, and sometimes leaves a rather frightening welt. Maybe it all started at the age of three, when I fell and busted my head against a stair, receiving a permanent scar on my forehead, but I feel like kind of a tough guy; sure, I can’t lift a pair of dumbbells without busting a blood vessel, but I can take as many head shots with a flat object that you can muster. There should be some sort of Strongman competition for this. Or maybe I should go on Britain’s Got Talent… or Jackass.

Of course, um, I’m in my late 30s now, which means I rarely perform anymore — or at least I try to limit my performances to the right moments. I usually don’t call people over anymore. I’ve found more subtle, quiet ways to make sure everyone around pays attention to me now. But when the right moment comes, almost always at a bar, I’ll pick my spot and just lay one down. The trick now relies more on the element of the unexpected; maybe we’ll be discussing politics or something, and someone will make a point I hadn’t thought of and have no instant response or comeback to. The debate has been lost. What better time? WHAP! WHAP! WHAP-WHAP-WHAP! After that, people tend to forget whatever it is we were talking about. I know I do.

Look! I can even do it against a keyboard! Fgo iftp uit eca etrffvm,frf4vrfvk gjuhhuyyhuddyt dytduy7y8t7t6t67.

All right. I’m done here. I think something just haemorrhaged.