My cheeks are hollowed out by the drums in my head

  • Sunday, April 11, 2021
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“I don't feel particularly proud of myself. But when I walk alone in the woods or lie in the meadows, all is well.” 

(Franz Kafka)

I am idle, a little sore from yesterdays run and I am thinking about colour. I love the colour of Rust. Of Ochre, Umber, Sienna and straw, head high and Yellow. For Blue give me big sky. Beneath my naked feet I want the squirt of Red dust and sharp bone White thorn. For rain I'll give you Silver. Unless you are a dove you can keep Grey, I'm not fond of it. These colours are the pegs where I hang my nostalgia, textured hooks full of comfortable old clothes.

These are the extent of my thoughts. I’m sprawled in my garden, my cheeks are hollowed out by the drums in my head and a lone dove is staring at me from the neighbours garden. Above me are the clouds of my enemies and the universal sun. I feel it burning my legs and wonder if I can take my shirt off. The Cherry Blossom sighs and there is a single white feather between my feet. I have been lazy, held back by the snakebite of pain in my right Achilles but I need to run now and stop thinking and writing. I especially need to stop thinking. Time is invisible, sliding silently towards me, the year slipping through my fingers, transparent and unrestrained. In my eyes the stars are winking out one by one.

Winter has been dull and I have become anxious. The world is mad, probably no more mad than it has ever been or shall be but I seem to be thinner skinned. I need control. Pain is my remedy but perhaps instead I will find it in Spring. April is the cruellest month, TS Elliot wrote, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain. It is the month where we are crucified with outstretched arms between the seasons, dying but not yet resurrected. 

In my dreams I am always hung between worlds, belonging to neither one nor the other.

I hope my body is on the mend. My six mile run yesterday was the easiest I've felt over any distance for nearly a year. This is the moment to build, the woods are drying out and the temperatures rising. I need to prove that the rumours of my collapse are exaggerated. I have only one skin and it is rarely comfortable, it is either too loose, getting caught on irrelevance or too claustrophobic and I cannot breath. My answer is to start again. I have been thinking that the keys to a simpler life are minimalism and self reliance. 

I am at ground zero in so many ways so I will start again, with my body, with my friends, my job and my soul. I am going to reduce the noise in my life, the things that distract. I shall have less, do less and pursue colour.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and stoic said that the soul becomes dyed with the colour of it's thoughts. Do my thoughts contain colour or do I think death? It is an interesting question, my thoughts being powerful enough to define me. I have knelt too long beneath the tattered flag of a monochrome landscape that I was told flowed with milk and honey. 

They lied.

I have been running, my beads bouncing like rain against my throat. I follow the spoor of the ancient Anglo Saxons who once lived in these stony woods, leaping dongas filled with tiny trickling tributaries, sticks and mud and choose narrow paths between earthy banks and fallen mossy trees. I gather the sun and hold it against my breast like a child, seeking clarity in the midst of natures poetry. I am a captive on the conquered earth, running with deliberation and open eyes. Like the Stoics and the Aboriginals I live in each moment as it happens, rooted in the colour of the natural world surrounding me. I cast off the rags of my endeavours, breath on the embers of hope and drown in grace. Beneath my naked feet I want the squirt of Red dust and sharp bone White thorn. This is my only way out.

Outside it is dark but my heart is light.

  • Friday, April 02, 2021
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What is to give light

must endure burning

(Victor Frankl)

A conversation with a friend has sparked my thinking about trauma, disconnection, identity and what those things do to us.

I have been watching the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis policeman accused of murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck.
I hope I'm allowed to explore my own history and experiences in the light of what happened to George. I was listening to the emotional testimony of one of the witnesses, who said that he was probably the last person to have a sympathetic conversation with George Floyd as he lay pinned on the ground and it cut me in two.
When I was in my 20's I was talking to a man I knew when a pickup drove up and two men with guns jumped out. The man I was talking to turned to run away and they shot him in the back.
I've heard a fair amount of gunfire but I still hear that shot. I have vivid memories of how bright his blood was and how it leaked out of his stomach. While he lay in the baking sun the police arrived and I asked the sergeant if they were going to call an ambulance but he replied that the only good black man was a dead one and turned away. 
I often think about him, his blood and profuse sweat and how his eyes sank into his skull.  I have never been able to forgive myself for not intervening or giving him comfort before he died, I was too afraid of the police. Up to now it never occurred to me that the last conversation this man had was with me.
It's made me feel worse.
I told a friend that I am seeking space and adventure. She asked me if I plan on heading out of the Shire with Gandalf, as she sat curled on her chair with a book and a sealed bottle of shampoo. As I ran I considered her question seriously, stopped between the trees as still as ghosts with their whispered sounds because she demands serious consideration. In a space full of green and silence I decided that the idea of leaving the shire for adventure is attractive but irrelevant to me. I am less interested at this moment in my life of Frodo's journey to destroy the ring. Rather I am drawn to his state of mind when he returned. 
I have juxtaposed the probability of traumas that I have endured and the possibility of being Autistic with those of Frodo Baggins.
Wherever Frodo went and whatever he experienced he never left the Shire spiritually and He returned emotionally and physically damaged, changed forever by the torments that he experienced.. He suffered from PTSD and was ultimately unable to heal. He no longer fitted in. He no longer felt at home and his only option was to leave The Shire forever on one final journey.
I find this helpful. I left Africa but I carry it in my heart. I listen to Makeba, Masekela and Clegg. I eat Sadza, Biltong and Boboti. I mix Shona, Zulu and Afrikaans into my language and I dream of dying men and burning girls. I looked into the reptilian eyes of a man I could have shot in the face and probably should have.
Am I damaged?
And then there is the question of Autism.
Am I or am I not? 
I was recently sent an article by the brilliant young photographer Alfie White.
Alfie is just 20 and he is Autistic. He is currently exploring this part of his identity. In his article he writes that, "operating as an Autistic person feels like you’re an alien pretending to be human" He goes on, "In social environments it’s one challenge: you learn the basics and attempt to navigate yourself through social hierarchies, cues, and constructs which you cannot see. Kind of like that scene in The Pacifer, where Vin Diesel is worming around the lasers—except imagine they’re invisible. Like that. 

In work environments it feels like you are on the run and there is a searchlight after you. You dart from one dark corner to the next, avoiding situations which might put you in plain sight: conversations surrounding relationships, debates, areas of personal interest (as paradoxically this is where one can most easily find themselves blinded by the searchlight, usually after going on an obsessive, passionate monologue about said area of interest. Hands up! We got you now, alien)."

You can find him on Instagram, @alfiewphoto.

I relate to all of that. There is an awfulness in not belonging. I feel worse because It makes me angry. I feel that I do not fit in. I am accepted and even tolerated but subtlety excluded, uninvited and sidelined. The fault is mine entirely and I own it.
I can't decide if Frodo was fortunate to come back to The Shire or not. He probably had to in order to discover that it was no longer home. He came back changed. He was still a hobbit but part of him was destroyed and he no longer belonged. He had to move on because if The Shire is a place of peace and serenity but we have neither then we can no longer live there. This is because we have become alien and offensive, always angry and a bit odd.
If we carry The Shire in our hearts I'm not even sure that a final departure across the sea to the West will bring healing. There is debate whether Frodo left the Shire to die or if in leaving he became immortal. I believe that he left to die. It is the only and final way to peace when all else has failed.
Albert Camus said that we should always go too far because that is where we will find the truth. I am trying to go far, I honestly hope that you will sail with me but if not I will sail alone. I will be a meditation of one, smiling as I run, stopping only to think, breath and observe the spiders weaving death shapes between the twigs.
Outside it is dark but my heart is light. When Frodo pitied himself he became depressed, he died inside and lost hope. His name is derived from the word Fróda which means wise by experience. That is me, I am Fróda, wise by experience and I cannot afford to lose hope. I am rising, I will not pity myself and I promise to catch you somewhere in the day. Until then I am always running In the woods where the mud is slowly drying. Spring is here insistently poking through the clouds with exploratory sunny fingers. It is agitating the wind which seeks escape. It will go South soon to sulk across the equator. I will be nosing through the trees while I wait, bhundu running with my solitary shuffle, short strides and loose, my body dropping away from my face and shoulders, my fingers spread. 

I am stronger than a dead fish.

  • Sunday, February 28, 2021
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"You can't erase a dream, you can only wake me up/ My mind is turning slower, never to accept defeat/ it don't matter where I stay, I still got a house to heat"
(Peter Frampton) 

I've been re listening to Peter Framptons beautiful song "Lines on my face" on repeat.
I still own the classic live album and this song is one of my favourites. Frampton brings a lot of nuanced emotion to it both with his guitar, especially the liquid fragility of the intro and his vocals. It is sensitive, deeply felt and beautifully conveyed. It's essentially a heartbreak song of loss and bewilderment, a person shouting up a deep mineshaft of pain their voice futile and echoing off the deaf ears of the hard walls.
Last night I was struck by the words toward the end of the song though. Maybe I'm stating to feel the light and the warmth of my own fledgling return to mental stability but when Frampton sings, "You can't erase a dream, you can only wake me up/ My mind is turning slower, never to accept defeat/ it don't matter where I stay, I still got a house to heat" I sat up a little straighter and had another listen.
I'm always going to tell you what I think so here it is. My interpretation is that our dreams are indelible unless we erase them ourselves but they can be held up or lost in the maelstrom of our lives. I think we need to slow down sometimes and take stock. We have to find our priorities and ourselves again when we get lost and our dreams buried. It is up to us whether we accept defeat or not. And when Peter sings, "It don't matter where I stay, I still got a house I got to heat" he is telling us that life goes on regardless of our position. I think that is a call to movement, it's a choice, we stay in the mineshaft or we start to climb. Either way life is still happening to us. Doctor Martin Luther King said that faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase and he was correct. It takes courage but it has to be done or we remain where we are. Either way we still got a house we have to heat so it makes sense to go on an adventure. We either die in glory or we die in the mineshaft.
Life is always about choice which births change. Everything we do or experience immediately becomes history but history that throws itself forward into the future. Each person we meet, each triumph and tragedy, each scuff mark on our spirit becomes a part of a patchwork that we become. We literally embed these things into our souls and become the entity known as (insert name here). Consciously or not we pass it on, the good and the bad. We are social beings who are endlessly communicating both verbally and non verbally and we project what is inside us to others. I am morally incontinent but I can say in grace that we are responsible for what we project, whether we hurt or heal so therefore we need to be mindful of the choices we make.
We are all dreamers, some of us have just forgotten how.
The indigenous people of Australia have a beautiful belief system that enables them to keep hold of the centre of their lives. They have no word in their language for time and have a deeply held spiritual belief called The Dreaming which at it's core holds the concept of moving from dream to reality. It is an act of creative belief that they hold within themselves always and places great significance on nature and human interaction with it. The Aboriginal Australian belief is that the ancestral spirits created everything during a time known as the Dreaming as well as the relationship between people and nature, and once they had finished they transformed themselves into rocks, stars and water and thus remain which means The dreaming is never ending. Because of this places and nature have enormous significance and are sacred. There is a continuous link between the people and the earth.
I guess running is when I do my dreaming.
Each time I run I take something of the running experience and build it into my life. I take the dream and give it shape and substance and it takes on a spiritual form.. I posted on Instagram recently that I am odd and I feel like a social misfit but that I know I am home when I am running synched with nature. I am alone with myself, I have nobody else's expectations or demands to be subject to. I am rarely constrained by time. I can just be and interact with my surroundings. When I run I allow my mind to roam. The by products are things like resilience, self confidence, clarity and a deep respect for living things. I feel a strong connection between myself and nature.

My goal for the spring and summer months is to carry these things forward and just be. This is my current dream. To be simple. I am exploring the idea of existing, detached from the issues of the world and life as far as possible. As the poet Walt Whitman said " I exist as I am, that is enough" Running wise the last ten months have been hard. I have suffered two debilitating foot injuries but even worse I have found running hard and almost joyless. It has been a colourless grind. I honestly think it has been a reflection of my ghastly mental state. I love the simple runs where I am light and harmonious. The dreaming runs. I want to slow down and love running as I always have, simply for what it is and gives to me. I want to give back to it. I want to keep running the way I always have, not overthinking but floating free and gently engaged with my surroundings and then return to my garden and sit still in the sun. I want to read interesting books and let the ideas they contain ferment in my spirit. Someone once said that when we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago so I am going to take this time to retreat from tiredness toward peace. I shall become my own oasis. Both through running and sitting I am going to rediscover my thoughts and ideas and make my choices and decisions. It is said that only dead fish go with the flow and I am stronger than a dead fish. I am going to dream myself happy.
Whoever you are and wherever you are, take care. Make great choices. Keep it simple. Remember to dream. Talk to good people. I'm out there somewhere, I hope to see you around.

Life is change
We move on
And where you go
I hope the summer goes along
And in the trees
The autumn breeze
The winter's cold
But summer's soul is underneath
(Goo Goo Dolls, Autumn Leaves)