Visions of Solanaceae – Horror story.

Here’s a bonus blog for you. Definitely my last of 2013. A horror story inspired by my own experiences and spooky Christmas dramas.

Not really done scary before, so it’s a bit of a try-out. I hope you enjoy it – in a scary kind of way. (Let me know if you do!)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Garry

sleep-paralysis

Visions of Solanaceae

By Garry Abbott

I dream of waking nightmares, for in the waking world the roads lead somewhere. There are rules. It is solid. Not so in the nightmare lived behind closed eye lids. Walls are shadows that change around you, the roads are roundabouts with no exits. Even the air can take terrible form.

How do you explain to others that your life is in peril, when that peril exists only inside of yourself and they cannot see?

‘They are just nightmares’ says the doctor. ‘Intense maybe, but still nothing more than bad dreams. Do you wake from them?’

I wake from them often, I tell him, usually to a strangled utterance as the spectre fades, burned for a moment in my retina against this or that texture: a wardrobe, a dressing gown, a bookcase. The logic of breath fills my lungs and I gasp into physics, the texture returning to inanimate safety but the nightmare waiting for me in that other place.

‘So you don’t want to go back to sleep after such an episode?’

The doctor starts tapping into his green and black screen before I even answer.

‘The biggest danger for you Mr Wilkes, is sleep loss. It is likely you are sleeping light and may be experiencing sleep apnoea – problems with your breathing – that your mind is interpreting as nightmares in order to wake you up. It is not unusual for people to stop breathing all together with this condition and wake gasping for air.’

He prescribes me sleeping tablets and a spray to help me breathe easy. A two pronged attack. One will keep the air flowing, the other will keep me from waking and, therefore, remembering my dreams throughout the night: good or bad.

That night I sit motionless on the sofa, trying to sense the artificial drowsiness as the light from the mute television highlights edges in the room. I sniff and a remnant of the bitter concoction trapped in my sinuses runs down the back of my throat. I feel tubes rather than trickles of air being pulled into me. I rest my eyes to encourage the drugs. Not here, I think – I must make it to bed. But it is too late. The faint sounds of heavy traffic on a distant road grow loud. I fancy I can tell the size and speed of each engine as they push air all the way to my ears, to my focussed mind. But they become quiet again, and for a moment I think the traffic is dying down, or I am moving farther away. Yes, that’s it. I am moving away, through a tunnel.

I wake sometime later to the flashing colours of some confusing programme on the set. Red and yellow stars flicker and contorted faces pop up on the screen. I heave myself up and stumble across the room. I run my fingers around the smooth edges of the television until I feel a click and the invasive images cease. Now the streetlights and the moon compete for illumination. They must have always been here, hidden beneath. My eyes adjust enough to pick a path to the door. My head is as heavy as it has ever been and I stand insecurely between the two worlds as if one long blink could send me back and crashing to unconsciousness. Paintings and photographs suspended on walls tip and sway under my groping hands as I guide myself through narrow eyelids to the hallway and then crawl ape-like up the stairs, through the open door of my bedroom, and slide head-first under the covers. I have made it, and I allow my eyes to close. Briefly I fear the moment to sleep has passed before my head seems to fall through the pillow and I feel it no more.

Later I again wake from black timelessness and my feet are heavy as if the drowsiness has crawled down my body to my very toes. I try to lift them but they do not respond. My eyes are still closed and I hope to shake off this waking interruption quickly so I can return to the void, but the lack of sensation concerns me. I fancy I may have crept under a pile of heavy clothes and cut off my circulation. I can’t remember if my bed was made or my bedroom tidy when I came up here. I resolve to push away whatever it is and let the blood return. I try to bend forwards, I cannot. Maybe something has fallen on me? I try to reach up with my arms but find that only my fingers twitch. With reluctant urgency my eyes open. I see nothing at all, my senses for the moment ignoring the dim light I know must be there. I focus hard on the space above my torso. In my peripheral vision the moonlight begins to paint faint blue diamonds through curtains and across walls, but above me remains dark, and then the dark moves.

There is an absent mass atop me. It is not so much a form, though a rough protuberance from the dark shroud resembles that of a head with no neck. The weight is now crushing my chest and working its way over my body to my mouth, which struggles to open or summon air. The heavy shadow is inches away from my face, though somehow its presence is wrapped all around and pierces through me. I try to scream for help with my little remaining strength of body and will. At first nothing happens, my voice is trapped and strangled, then gradually it fades in. Although I feel the vibration from my throat, I hear my voice from another place, growing to a shrieking cacophony. I close my eyes and jolt forwards.

I find myself still on the sofa, not in bed at all. The loud shriek I could hear had presumably been mine, but I find myself only incomprehensibly muttering as my senses return. The room is still lit by the television that shows images of hillsides. Besides me, on the coffee table, the discarded packaging of the sleeping tablets lay next to a drained glass of water. The spray is there also, but upon inspection I find it still sealed. I never used it; the tablets were stronger than I had accounted for and my intended actions must have formed my dreams as I unexpectedly slipped away.

To be sure of my senses I switch on the light and a familiar clarity resumes. I snap open the lid of the spray and treat myself before switching off the television with the remote. I remember at this point that there is no ‘off’ switch to be found on the unit itself. No matter how devious dreams can be there are always clues to be found. I carve myself a route of light to bed, being sure to switch on the next before the last is terminated. In this way I come to the top of the stairs and reach in through my bedroom door to flick the switch as my other hand rests on the landing light, ready to make the exchange. I press them simultaneously and something pops and fizzles. All lights go out.

The trip switches are in the basement. I don’t want to go down there. I am just a step away from sleep. I step into the dark bedroom.

It takes my eyes sometime to adjust, but adjust they do, and I marvel at how well rendered my dream of this place was before. The same tone of moonlight makes the same triangles on the same walls. The same shadows draw divisions. The bed is not made properly, and it even seems that under the sheets, the discarded clothes that I had suspected trapped me before are actually there. I reach under to extract them but my hand freezes as it meets the cold touch of a human foot. Someone is asleep in my bed.

I am suddenly and uncontrollably flooded with rage at this intruder in my real world. Without thought I crouch upon the shape under my duvet, pressing my legs against its legs and my hands around the wrists so that it cannot move. The person below the covers stirs and tries to fight the pressure. I move my knees up to its chest and I feel the ridges of ribs through the sheets. It gurgles pathetically in its throat and twitches below me. I catch the glint of a reddened eye through a slowly opening lid: the wretch is terrified. Somehow I feel I can take away its breath without the need to smother. I inhale deeply, the stimulated and widened arches of my nasal passages taking in vast swathes of air, of life, away from the room and the creature below me. All the thing can do is exhale desperately and I am there to draw the terror out, to never let it ever breathe again.

I am there, and I am here. I lean down and look closely into the diminishing eyes. They are mine. The last of the air shrieks out from my crushed self and I jolt forwards into nothing.

When I awake I find myself still on the sofa, not in bed at all. The room is lit by the glow of the mute television which shows images of nightshades. I hear noises from upstairs.

THE END.

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Yeah, it’s my end of year thing for 2013 OK?

I know, I know – ‘end of year review’ e-mails, blogs and updates can get a little tiresome. But why? Maybe it’s because they intuitively conjure up lots of words that have the word ‘self’ as a prefix – congratulatory, obsessed, centred. It’s a curious thing that we shy away from sharing our own successes and challenges – maybe it’s cultural – but for whatever reason, I’m not going to let it stop me, this having been a landmark year for me personally and professionally. So you have been warned, this is an end-of-year review and will as a result be tediously reflective and upbeat. So there.

Obviously, it isn’t actually the end of the year yet, but very nearly, and near enough for me to want to clear the decks and not have to worry about doing blogs and such like over the next couple of weeks. So, unless I am struck by an uncontrollable wave of inspiration, I will make this the last blog of 2013, and try to have a ‘holiday’ until the new year.

A new start, long awaited.

In February this year I ended a decade of working in the wrong job. I say ‘the wrong job’ because it was, for me, the wrong job. I worked in a bank (formally a building society) as a ‘thingy’. A ‘thingy’, is a technical term for someone who isn’t able to answer the question “what do you actually do?” with any degree of clarity or precision. It’s not particularly good for your soul that situation, and the world is full of ‘thingies’. I was a kind-of technical specialist, I was a kind-of legal (compliance) specialist, I was a kind-of trainer, a kind-of auditor, a kind-of quality controller, a kind-of project worker, a kind-of data-entry clerk. One day I could be in meetings, discussing requirements for a multi-million pound computer system, all the while thinking “I’m not getting paid enough for this” and the next I could be endlessly tapping numbers into a spreadsheet, thinking “I’m getting paid too much for this”. There were many things I wasn’t quite, and many more things I’m quite sure I shouldn’t have been, but still it took ten years to break away thanks in no small part to the rut/routine that a (fairly) decent wage and a none taxing job can collude to create when you are busy figuring out who you are and what you want to be.

So that was the end of that. I left by my own accord, having hung on for a few years with the possibility of redundancy that never materialised, and unable to ‘get on’ with our new pay-masters: The Co-op, and their shambolic management (an assessment that I feel very much vindicated for, given the events of this year).

When I left, I had a few things lined up, which really helped me to get straight on with my new life as a self-employed writer & musician (you see – that’s much easier to define, isn’t it?) I had been running my creative activities alongside my old job for several years anyway, but I always suspected that I would need to let go of the comfort (and boredom) of the office job if I were to really ever fully embrace my aspirations. So far, I have found that to be true, and long may it continue.

 

Unearthed

The first ‘big’ job, which lasted throughout the year (at intervals), was the ‘Unearthed’ project. This was being drafted in as a supporting artist to help develop and produce community engagement with a new memorial sculpture in my home town of Stoke-on-Trent (specifically in the town of Hanley – if you are confused by that, it’s because we have this whole weird, six towns into one thing going on over here – look it up). As part of this project I got to do several awesome things. I got to write, narrate and score an animation that was then shown at several public locations and continues to be available as an online resource. I got to write my first choral piece (set to the words of my own poem) that was then rehearsed and performed by students of a local sixth form college at a memorial ceremony with city dignitaries in attendance. And I got to work with the real words of the people we engaged with the project to produce an oral sound-piece, used to accompany an original composition and dance routine at the unveiling ceremony of the sculpture. This project took me to places I hadn’t expected, connection with history and communities though art, a sense of integrity and responsibility with story-telling and representation of real world events that I had never considered or encountered before. It was a great experience and I can’t thank Nicola Winstanley and Sarah Nadin enough for involving me in their excellent project – I am a ‘Dashyline’ fan! (Visit the project website, here: http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk/)

The Audio Mill

There was also a continuation (and I fancy a building momentum) of my composition and production work alongside my good friend and collaborator Kieran Williams as part of ‘The Audio Mill’.  This year we have produced several pieces for fashion houses River Island and Mr Porter for use in their viral campaigns. From a professional development point of view, working to brief to compose and produce original music in a variety of styles really helps you to hone your technical and creative abilities. So far (as I know) they have been very happy with all the work we’ve completed for them, and the videos our music accompanies are popular and well received. Obviously, the world of fashion houses feels miles away from me in my small office in Longton, laying down rhythms, bass lines, guitar licks and melodies, but thanks to Kieran’s ever fruitful move to London, the chance to showcase our abilities to a larger audience through an established outlet, is a welcome one, and I look forward to more work like this in the new year. Examples here: http://www.theaudiomill.co.uk/

Newsjack

My first BBC broadcast credits happened this year, in the form of several one-liner jokes and a sketch used as part of Radio 4 Extra’s topical comedy show ‘Newsjack’. There have been two series this year, the first airing while I still worked at the bank. However, I managed to get two one-liners into the first series anyway, and given the extra time and emphasis of self-employment, was able to up that score to 5 one liners and a sketch in the latest series! This is very satisfying work when it happens and takes time and practice to get right – the business of joking seems to be a serious one. This is an aspect of my work that I want to take forwards into 2014 one way or the other. I will, of course, continue to submit to Newsjack when it comes back, but one eye must be kept on ‘where next?’ – building on the successes and reaching for more regular and guaranteed work. I’d be happy if I could find a way to get some one-liners onto other radio 4 programmes (shows like the ‘Now show’ and ‘News quiz’ often have writers that have started through ‘Newsjack’ – it’s just finding the link in or being a persistent bugger I suppose). I have also tickled some light interest with a sit-com script this year – falling short of the mark but getting good feedback and encouragement from an industry insider. If the right idea comes along, I will be writing and pitching new series next year, as well as looking to contribute to more programmes. Watch this space. (well not this space, this space won’t tell you anything new – I’ll be more specific about what space to watch when we come to it).

 

Poetry

Poetry is something I do rarely, and am quite self-conscious about, but that might change following the publication of one of my (very few) poems written this year in a collection. The poem ‘I’m alright Jack’ was chosen out of 600 odd entries to form part of a collection of 50 poems by the publisher mardibooks called ‘The Dance is New’. It is a genuinely good collection, and naturally, I would urge you all to buy a million copies each from here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Dance-New-Michelle-Calvert-ebook/dp/B00FL887N8 (I promise you I am one of the authors! For reasons of Amazon weirdness, my name is not listed at the top of the page, but I am linked at the bottom – I am in there basically).

                This is another area I intend to return to and perhaps ‘force’ a little more poetry out and onto the world (that’s not a bad thing – so much writing takes effort to get down on the page, just waiting for inspiration is not at all conducive to career development).

The Dimension Scales

Did I mention that I gone written a book? No? Well I have. It has been in development all year (and most of last year), a collection of short stories that will be released in 2014. This has been my favourite part of this year’s work. I finished my creative writing studies a few years ago, and this feels like the first piece of work that really puts all my learning together into one collection. I’m sure you’ve heard me go on about this before, and as of yet, there is nothing new to show you, but soon, very soon. I’m hoping that I will learn a lot of lessons from the release of this collection next year, and that a new work will be hot on its heels when I’ve had chance to digest the experience.

Education

I was thrilled and a little shocked to have achieved a distinction in two Open University modules this year: Philosophy and Arts History. Both form part of a BA degree I am working towards. Currently I am studying the last two modules (a higher level philosophy course and social science), and these will complete in 2014, at which point, I will get my degree. I started this education journey with nothing but the desire to learn more about creative writing (the first two modules that I completed three years ago now) – and was overcome by the education bug. I have since chosen subjects that I hope have informed me and my work in a positive way. History, social science and mostly, philosophy, are all helping me to get a deeper understanding of the world and myself. I would recommend to anyone who feels they might have ‘missed out’ somewhat during teenage years to revisit education if they can, or have the inclination. Learning is fun when you’ve chosen to do it and the subjects interest you. I don’t know if I will continue after the degree (I might leave it a year before deciding whether to do a Masters), but I hope to take the subjects I’ve chosen forwards into my work and life at every opportunity. They are already paying dividends.

Gravity Dave

My band ‘Gravity Dave’ have had a solid year as we’ve welcomed a new drummer to our number, written some great tunes, and gigged fairly regularly throughout the year. We have basically written and rehearsed/performed an album’s worth of material this year, and I think 2014 is the year to take this to the next step with quality recordings and more and more gigs. The main thing is that we all still find it really fun, creative and rewarding, so we’re not going to stop, and the music’s gonna keep flowing. I need a band, it is part of who I am and what I do, and I feel privileged to be part of this one with such great musicians. We’ve had a bit of a lull just in the last month or two due to problems with rehearsal space and health, but we will be back next year, and I promise, it will be bigger than ever. www.facebook.com/gravitydave

 

Anything else?

Well, this blog for one thing. When I started this, I didn’t know quite what it was meant to be, and I still don’t. All I know is that I enjoy it, and so do other people it seems. It’s quite a mixed bag as I’m sure you can tell. But it feels very important to me to keep on at it. It’s a bit like a digital sketch pad, a place to vent and experiment, reflect and celebrate. I hope those of you who follow this blog are generally entertained by it, at least enough to keep coming back. I have had some brilliant feedback from people directly, and I want to thank everyone who comes here and reads this. It’s kind of spooky that more people read this than I am aware of (according to the stats), but anonymity is the readers prerogative, and I appreciate your time spent reading my words greatly.

Another unexpected but fun development has been the rise of ‘ADMIN CAT!’ – a silly cartoon I produce to keep myself and some passing social network types entertained for a few seconds each week. This has potentially led onto some exciting developments for 2014…

 

And a happy new year!

I’m sure that as soon as I’ve finished writing this I will remember a whole bunch of other things. I have supported some great people and endeavours this year in a number of other ways not listed here. I occasionally still ‘do the spreadsheet thing’ for small businesses, and special mention has to go here to Misco Chocolates (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) who are a constant inspiration to me in their attitude to life and work, both as business people and friends (as are all my friends, I must say).

You may notice a lack here of any personal details about the rest of my life! That is for two reasons: this blog isn’t really about that, and it hasn’t changed much (in a good way!). I live happily with my partner and my cats, and I love them all very much (even when they do bring in dead mice – the cats that is, not my partner).

So, all that is left is to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year! Please feel free to drop links to your end of year reviews or any  other work into the comment boxes – it is the least I can do to read yours if you have stuck with this! I do write really long blogs, but I don’t care, this isn’t Twitter. Thanks, as always, for reading. Here is a picture of me in a hat as a Christmas treat:

Image

Garry Abbott.

We are already there.

A poem today – inspired by our glorious and great leaders in the commons:

 

We are already there.

By Garry Abbott

 

An 11% pay rise? Well, that’s a surprise.

There’s no flies on you, is there?

It’s out of our control! Unlike the hole

You’ve dug for us, the ground’s just opened

and swallowed you poor people up.

Better luck next time,

but that’s the music of the land;

you must play to the tune of seventy grand.

 

And then the reasons fly:

Come on now, be fair!

We’re not all millionaires! (just most of us)

How are we supposed to act  without temptation,

and represent the peoples of this

Pay-freeze nation –

If we’re not riding higher than inflation

and able to ignore the draw of corporations

who want to line our pockets in compensation

For our ears, our laws, our resignations?

Come on now, be fair.

 

We should expect nothing less.

‘Cos nothing less is what we get.

 

And yet, I might suggest,

That you’re competing with the wrong people

If thrice the national average

already can’t attract,

those who would act

with genuine authority

over those who seek to undermine –

not just some weak backbencher –

but basically our sovereignty,

then we have it wrong

and no amount of zero’s, will ever compare,

or repair, this sorry state of affairs.

 

And I lament that it seems,

we’re already there.

 

We are already there.

Some thoughts on emotions – Friday Philosophy!

So, for the last four weeks or so I’ve been working my way through my Open University course material on the philosophy of emotions. It’s heavy-going stuff, and I definitely will need to revise the multitude of philosophers and theories covered, but as a revision exercise, and something I thought you might find interesting, here are some initial thoughts – based on a revision question posed at the end of the course-book.

Now, I’m not going for an academic essay here, these are my instinctive opinions, quickly formed. So no references or quotes; I want to see what comes out when I start writing my answers. Philosophy is often about the testing of intuitive response, and so, if you are interested in this, see how you think and feel about the topics and my answers.

Does it make sense to describe someone as being justified in feeling sad, jealous or loving a particular person?

Here we are talking about ‘justification’ when it comes to rational thought versus emotion. Much of this topic revolves around whether rational thought requires or is inhibited by emotion. To that ends: what does the emotion serve? What does it do that pure rationality cannot? (if anything).

Strategically, maybe feeling sad or jealous has a long term rationality. It may not help the immediate situation, and it could be argued that the physiological and psychological effects of sadness/jealousy are not very practical in the short term. i.e. When something bad happens, it would practically make more sense to deal with arising issues in a very ordered calm and measured way – not something that acute depression or seething envy is particularly good at doing. However, the event, the content of the reason you are sad/jealous, is the culmination (presumably) of causal factors, both internally and externally, that have led to the emotional response.

For example, I am jealous of another person’s success – this is linked to my beliefs about what I feel I am worth, the opportunities I’ve encountered, my abilities and so on. So, if I get passed up for promotion, and I believe it is unjust somehow (whether true or not), I may experience jealousy. In the short term, that doesn’t serve me well. It is an unpleasant emotion, it is likely to negatively affect how I interact with and think about that person and situation, and usually not in a very constructive fashion (being jealous about something rarely enables you to do anything about it – it can lead to resolve, but resolve doesn’t have to follow jealously, it can be independent and born of ambition, so jealousy seems an unnecessary step).

However, if we are creatures that learn from experience, if we are ‘in touch’ with our emotional responses, the unpleasantness of a jealous reaction to a situation may help us with future desires. After all, not to be jealous, implies an understanding of what jealousy is in the first place. If I go for future promotions and remember how my attitudes towards the last attempt led to a terrible envy, I will try and avoid those triggers this time. I will make sure I am as prepared as I can be, I will make sure my beliefs about the situation are well founded, and I will mentally prepare reasons why, if unsuccessful, either the situation or my abilities are the problem, not some negative paranoia or favouritism (I may well conclude that there is a negative element, but if so, logically I should want to avoid being in that situation in the first place).

So, to look at the alternative, what if jealousy is all bad? If you believe this then the logical ideal would be to not get that ‘shock’ of jealously when we encounter a situation like described. What would the result of that be? I would propose that not to feel jealous in certain situations would result in us fruitlessly repeating negative decisions and becoming dogmatic in our attitudes. There is perhaps a certain positive conditioning that arises from negative emotions. This doesn’t mean that it only takes one bout to be ‘cured’ of negative emotions and behaviours, just that each exposure should help us to learn something new and tailor our beliefs and attitudes to prevent, or reduce the severity of, a reoccurrence if possible.

We are multi-faceted beings, and I like the idea that we respond to all perceptions and thoughts with every emotion, it is just that some are so slight we don’t even register them most of the time, conditioned as we are to expect a surge in one over the other in less complex situations. This could explain why ambiguous events lead us to ambivalence, because more than one emotion is competing for our attention – leading us to make choices and take gambles on which may serve us best. But emotions, or logic, can never actually know which choice is right (epistemology shows us that there is no such thing as true future knowledge) and therefore all must hold court with our judgements to some degree.

So those are some initial thoughts on ‘negative emotions’ (feeling sad, jealous) – but what about loving someone? Can it be cognitively justified to love someone? This may seem a counter intuitive question (it seems obvious really) – but think about the judgements people make for love, the personal sacrifices etc… and then think about how that stands against rationality (if you imagine rationality to mean a practical and logical response) and it does a pose an interesting question. However, I still think the answer to this is yes, it is justifiable, and rightly so. Some philosophers completely take ‘love’ out of the category of ‘emotions’ as it has such unique properties, and requires a fair amount of classification (you can love your friends, family and spouse, even your car! But though we linguistically use the same term to describe these, they are qualitatively different) – so it can be argued it deserves its own category.

I’m not so sure about the categorisation of ‘love’ at this point, but I certainly think it is a justified response. It tends to (ultimately) lead to positive outcomes for the majority of people (stability, companionship, children, cooperation, comfort etc…) and any negative effects we might associate are probably either due to the mistaken belief that love exists when it doesn’t, or a categorisation mistake (mistaking the acts of lust for acts of love for example). So, yes, it seems cognitively justified to me.

In conclusion, I suppose my overriding feeling from just this small inspection is that emotions do play an important part in our reasoning, though I am not yet down to the finer details or whether or not they are actually part of or the same thing as our reasoning (I’ll save that for my proper essay next week!). But I also think that our emotions are not just simply evolutionary ‘left-over’s’ (a kind or pre-vocal language) that get in the way of justified reasoning and that we would be better without. Quite the opposite – I do believe they came first and led to stronger ‘base’ behaviours (fight or flight), but only when that was reflective of our evolutionary requirements at the time. As we have become socially and intellectually more complex, our emotions have evolved also, and perhaps when we feel that they are not serving us well in the modern world (who wouldn’t want to not be angry in a traffic jam?), it has more to say about the modern world than it does our emotions being ‘throw-backs to a simpler time’. If more of us made emotionally led choices, or were allowed to make emotionally led choices, perhaps we would see less anger, stress, frustration and depression as a result. But this is not because our emotions are not suited to the modern world, it is because many aspects of the modern world are not suited to our emotions.