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.