fiction, love, politics, women

Bad Date

The train rattled enough to make Ken’s bones hurt as he sat back, numb with rejection and drink and feeling like a failed photocopy of himself. He tried not to think about Rachel’s strained expression but his thoughts returned to it like a rotten tooth, poking it for the stab of anguish. It was half an hour on the last train back to Yarmouth. He wanted a cigarette and instead looked around the carriage at the other passengers. As dates went, this one had been traumatic, and the high point had been when she looked into his eyes and told him he was a potential rapist. Ken paid the bill and left saying nothing.

 

He watched a pair of women, hard and bright with youth as they typed into their phones. He enjoyed the chance to look at them. He imagined through a series of implausible events taking them both home and watching them before joining in. A brief spasm of excitement arose in him before it settled down, stubbed out by the sight of his reflection in the carriage window. The image spared nothing of his flaws, and he looked away, sickened all over again. Ken had pleasant features but little to distinguish them.

 

He saw the sticker next to the window, about the size of a coaster. The carriages were always filthy but Ken tutted as he read the slogan.

 

KILL ALL MEN

 

Ken narrowed his eyes, chuckled and looked around him to see if anyone else noticed but no one looked up and the amusement died in him. He stared at the sticker and realised he did not understand if the sentiment was genuine. It didn’t matter, but it seemed pointless and concerning to think someone thought putting this up would change anything. Ken was uncomfortable, because the idea was so ridiculous and yet, whenever he turned on the news, ridiculous people said ridiculous things all the time. The drinks he’d taken to calm his nerves hung onto his perceptions, stripping them of inhibitions as the pointlessness of the sentiment turned into irritation.

 

The sticker was a round piece of vinyl. Ken had trimmed his nails, amongst other parts, but he would peel it off with no trouble. It was a small, pointless gesture, but it offered him something to achieve, an antidote to the mundane chaos of his romantic life. He reached out and dug his fingers into the edges of the sticker and pulled it away.

 

It took a second before something sharp slipped into the meat of his fingertips, deep and sudden enough to cause disbelief before the warm trickle of blood slid down his palm and onto the sleeve of his shirt. Ken cried out in alarm as his retreat sprayed blood away from him. A couple sat in front of him caught the warm splatter, and the man turned, his face cast in a masculine snarl, ready to address the insult. Ken had dealt with such men all his life, but when the man saw Ken’s hand, red and dripping, his expression fell apart into disgust and confusion.

 

Someone shouted for the conductor.  It sounded faint to his ears as he looked at the lipless, bleeding slashes on his hand. As the sounds of shock and alarm faded around him, Ken saw the edges of his vision blurring to a soothing, intoxicating grey and with relief, he let it wash over him.

It embarrassed him when he awoke in the hospital. Passing out had not been one of his more dignified actions, but it meant they spared him the inevitable theatre of the ambulance and the dumbfounded Transport Police and staff, who glanced around, wondering where the blame would fall.

 

In a living room, with one of her less sociopathic cats on her lap, Rachel watched him and cringed with embarrassment. She had tried to reach across the aisle to a man, in the hopes of a comfort no march or heated debate could give her, but sat there, in the restaurant, her borrowed resentments kept coming up like a tic disorder until he was on the verge of tears.

She had tried to reach across the aisle to a man, in the hopes of a comfort no march or heated debate could give her, but sat there, in the restaurant, her borrowed resentments kept coming up like a tic disorder until he was on the verge of tears.

There, in a local studio, with his hair combed and a healthy glow to his cheeks, brushing off his anger and embarrassment with an aplomb which made him endearing.

The stickers had been a joke at the last meeting. Someone had posted a hoax message warning about the stickers, aimed at attracting the ire of trans women and Rachel, along with Flip and Petra, had spent a little over twenty quid on a roll of stickers and a few packs of razor blades. Rachel had taken the train to London but Flip had an uncle in Gorleston, so it had been her work. Her heart beat so fast, it throbbed inside her skull as she watched Ken recollect his decision. A prim, noble gesture like picking up litter and there he was, a man being celebrated for it.  The cat leapt off her lap, annoyed at being petted so hard and she was about to switch off the television and go online when the doorbell rang.

 

Her skin prickled with nerves as her phone bleated out a notification. She looked at the message from Petra and tasted bile in the back of her throat.

 

THEY’VE ARRESTED FLIP!!

 

Rachel stood there, staring at the phone as her thoughts all thinned out into a single pointed scream inside her skull as the knocking at the door echoed through the flat.

 

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poetry, politics

Cigarette Break

Someone who

Went to a better school

Holidays in places

Most of us see only in magazines

Tells me about my privilege

Because of the structural nature

Explained like this,

Words I’ve read but not heard pronounced before,

Phrases with the sheen of practice

To them,

Qualifications emerge on my lips

But there’s a light in their eyes

When they’re speaking

Which

Makes

Me

Stop

The edge of something sharp

And as they lecture,

I wonder

Who they’re really talking to,

Because I don’t think they see me,

Just my sex,

My skin,

And isn’t there a name

For that behaviour?

But I say nothing,

Wondering if these feelings

Would be cast aside

If they were in charge,

Because it starts with ambitions

And romantic notions,

It ends in lists,

And not poems,

Chants

And not songs,

Fair isn’t too much to ask,

But we cannot build

Anything strong on

Such inconstancy.

Still, not my hill to die on,

And sure it’s my fault,

But I’m not invited to anything

I didn’t create myself

So instead I smile,

And thank them

For their opinion.

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men, poetry, politics

Outside

I’ve seen them

Online, mostly

The occasional one

In real life

Rick and Morty t shirts,

Lines memorised

And analysed

A pedestal for every woman

They meet but no volunteers

For a fey adoration,

And they smell of a subtle danger

Women find abhorrent,

Recognizing the tribe

Is a bitter sweet thing

Seeing as I’m outside of it

These days

Happier in some ways

Because things were simple

There were enemies and allies

Lines fed via prompt

But the script needed work

And my writing made me

Conscious of where the lines

Needed work

But it wasn’t my draft

And soon, I struggled

To believe in myself

And the immature grimace

Borrowed sentiment

Doesn’t fit so well

So I see them

Wish them well

See the sour, seething

Sweating need

And give thanks

For the deeper,

Darker truths

Brighter kindnesses

I live within these days.

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poetry, politics

Whilst they watch the fireworks

Of course it is an experiment,

The sun never set

On us

And so we have a Petri dish

Infected with democratic process

All the choices

Freedoms

A dream big as King Kong

Taller than the tower he climbed

Beautiful as the woman he carried

Results are beyond initial parameters

And people don’t laugh at them

Nations have darkened for

An offhand act of tradecraft

They even spy on us

But the subjects are

Awarded all the freedom a cage allows

Still, when I go there,

I wonder if it will bottleneck

If it’s a dream which is killing

It or a nightmare

Squabbling over professional slights

And genuine primal pain

Blueprints of histrionics

Written in ink and blood.

They’re beautiful

Even if they’re torn between

Looking up

And

Looking

Foreward.

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politics, short fiction, women

Grift

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

James Baldwin.

 

1.

One of her students was the daughter of an old friend, and when I’d been in the area, over dinner and a good single malt, he had told me about the problems it had caused them. She had become hostile, which was fine because she was a young woman and they tested their parents as part of growing up, but Harrison, who’d had my back searching the houses of suspected jihadists,where every pair of eyes was a threat, looked pained as he poured himself another scotch and shook his head in pain and confusion.

 

I smiled and tossed back my hair.

 

‘Want me to look into it? Another woman’s easier to talk to.’

 

My therapist, for example. If I would talk about what happened during my career with the CIA, it was easier to do so with another woman.

 

There were nuances of horror only another woman understands.

 

Anger, too.

 

Harrison smiled and lowered his eyes before he nodded.

 

‘If this is about a threat to your white, male privilege -‘ I said.

 

He chuckled and shook his head. His smile decayed like autumn leaves into a pensive frown as he took another drink. He sipped his whisky and set it down on the desk as he sighed and bit his lower lip.

 

‘Do you ever think we did any good out there?’ he said.

 

I’d never have children. He had nightmares every night. We read the news, watched television and bore the resentment of people so desperate to be charitable, they gave their money and time to fill the pockets and egos of people who would never be satisfied. I reached out, touched his hand and said I would check it out for him.

 

2.

 

‘The reason you have nice stuff is that you stole it from me. Your people robbed, raped and degraded me and my people.’

 

I watched her give a clownish sneer as she stood before the podium, breathing in the light, constant rhythm of someone carrying too much weight. The microphone amplified her breath more than her words, and it sounded like Darth Vader at an AA meeting.

 

Professor Rachel Madureira looked across the hall before continuing. She had rehearsed this, saw the pained frowns and uneasy shifting from certain members of the audience. They displayed the appropriate amount of guilt, which she acknowledged with a nod, before continuing. She narrowed her eyes and glanced down at her notes, and I slipped from my seat, having heard enough to know how the rest of the talk would go.

 

It’s all your fault. Give me stuff.

 

She had accepted stuff as reparations.

 

Tenure at the university and a column on Slate where she told millions of people how they were rapists and thieves who should give their money to her to assuage their collective and individual guilt. A link to her Patreon was at the bottom of each article as livid as a paper cut and had given her a stipend of eighty thousand dollars.

 

Oppression was good for business.

 

The adipose march of time had slapped handfuls on her in uneven amounts, around the belly to where the skin of her stomach pressed through the front of her dress in folds and the material stretched at her hips and thighs. The wobbling jowls and chins enhanced the solid perpetual anger she emanated in waves of refined hostility. She wore it well.

 

Like her lies.

 

Her people were Scandinavian immigrants, who came to the country in the late 1950’s with the surname Larsson.The surname of Madureira came from a short lived marriage just after she graduated with her first in gender and racial studies, and she made allusions to ‘her people’ in her articles and speeches without specifying how her people were. This information was hidden, but available. Today was the first time I had been in the same room as her, but I knew her and what she did for a living.

 

There are stages to a confidence trick, and they are the same, no matter how large the scale:

 

She’d achieved this trick through her academic position, and there were lawsuits where she had sued universities based on perceptions of their hiring practices. They settled, and it would fund the next round of applications and lawsuits. I admired the elegance, even as I swallowed a distaste for how it put her in touch with young people.

 

She encouraged their guilt and compassion through confrontation. Her classes were her platform and she berated students to the point of tears. It was behaviour we would have drawn up a report on, but I knew where the Agency’s focus laid. The reward for the mark would be the sense of activism, ideology was identity and I realised I was looking at something more interesting than I had first imagined.

.These were calls to action, or public events seized on for a column or even a social media post. She made herself the victim when it suited her, posting unsubstantiated incidents of racial or gender abuse. Tearful, defiant videos and tears, then the comments below.

 

I put together a report, looked at her professor’s academic record, read her papers and found them wanting. She spent more energy on social media than her field of study. She defended herself on the most illogical positions without being called on them. The current President left her frightened, but after a dismal evening’s review, she had always been frightened.

 

It was late and I made an assumption. It was never something I did in the field because it could kill you, but I was curious, and it hadn’t led me to anything other than she was a shitty professor and a professional provocateur. I told Harrison that, and he had spoken to his daughter about changing classes but she was passionate about it enough to stand up to him, which he respected. It was their last conversation.

 

Rachel had promoted a counter protest against a talk by a conservative author. She had spoken about it in her lectures and on her social media accounts. It spoke of Nazis and stunk of insincere outrage, but it drew students to attend. It was a hot afternoon when the groups gathered, shouting and throwing missiles at one another. The air shimmered with violence and the heat brought out the worst in everyone.

 

It was a grapefruit can fill with concrete, shot from a catapult rigged in the back of a van. Someone had downloaded the design from the internet and printed the parts over a week before putting it together and used it on nazis like a tactical ambush.

 

Their mathematics had been flawed and the first shot went higher than expected, then it crashed down into the skull of Harrison’s daughter. It would have been quick, I consoled myself, as I watched him crumple after her death. There was video and I could lie and tell you I didn’t watch it but I did.

 

Rachel wasn’t there. It would be silly to direct a play and stand onstage.  Harrison had been careless in the way men are when they go about suicide, his head reconstructed with care but little success. A shotgun does that.

 

She lived in a gated community. Alone, which was convenient. There were cats, but they weren’t an issue for me and stared at me with indifference as I sat in her office and waited.

 

She came in without switching the lights on and went into the bedroom. She stayed there until dawn, then went out to teach. She did not eat lunch unless it was a faculty event and even then she would eat the barest amount of food. Her size led me to believe she suffered from an eating disorder.

 

The cupboards were empty. Her refrigerator was a stale, warm piece of performance art.

 

There were no photographs, no papers to show she even existed. There were transcripts and her presence online, but there was nothing I found to back it up. I put a call into someone who knew things, and she was not on their radar before the protests. After two visits and three phone calls, I sat in the bedroom, looking at the bed which had no sheets to spare me the sight and smell of the fetid, wet mattress as I sat in the corner of the bedroom and waited for her to come home.

 

She looked at the gun in my right hand then straight into my eyes with a reptilian interest.

 

‘What is that?’ she said.

 

I told her to close the door and come inside. She was perspiring, but not from fear and even in the twilight, I saw a pulse fluttering in her cheek.

 

‘You do something now, don’t you?’ I said.

 

She sighed, told me in a small voice, she needed to undress. I gestured with the device and she peeled off the dress, her flesh undulating like soured milk. It danced against her frame and I blinked twice as I hooked my finger on the trigger. My mind was a single screaming pitch of disbelief as she crawled onto the bed and opened her jaw wide, like a snake swallowing a pig and retched as the excess flesh dripped from her in smoking blobs and strings onto the mattress where they evaporated into the thick, ammoniac smell which permeated the mattress.

 

She sat up and stared at me from across the room. Rachel smiled with a grim unease.

 

‘I am from Scandinavia, but I am not one of their people.’ she said.

 

It took forever, but the words came out of me.

 

‘What are you?’ I said.

 

3′

 

I followed my people here, but I was never one of them.

 

I hid in their stories and their dreams. When I was hungry, I crept on top of them and sucked their dreams down like meat and mead, before I moved on. America was a land rich with promise, but it frightened me.

 

There were other people and their gods here, and how we clashed, unable or unwilling to compete for the faith of men in any terms less than war.

 

This mare was smart. I hid amongst the people, safe in a warm belly then a body for a lifetime and kept my feeding down to the bare minimum. Hunger is a good teacher, necessity is even better, so I learned to expand my appetites to strong emotions.

 

Anxieties. Fears. Guilt. Virtues.

 

After centuries, it amused me to pretend to be something I am not. I was strident in challenging anyone who questioned me, careful to remain mediocre in capability but not ambition. When you have lived through cycles of civilisation, it is no effort to find where a man’s guilt lies.

 

There is truth in the anger, I am part of an oppressed people, not indigenous but still separate from men, and dying as the distance grows. I have so much food to harvest, I have to store it all on my body, transmute it or I would explode, I’m sure.

 

My talent for provocation is amoral, an adaptation afforded to an apex predator, as your scientists would say, and it is what I must do to survive.

 

They have been good lives.

 

4.

 

I shot her twice in the chest and walked up to put another two rounds into her forehead.

 

A third phone call. Dennis would arrive with his crew and clean everything up. We had been exchanging cards at Christmas since before Burma, and his work kept him young. I cannot say the same, but I put the phone away and went outside, eager to be away from the stink.

 

Her disappearance warranted speculation but there was someone else eager to take up the slack. Left or right, it didn’t matter because nothing ever changed and I watched a country I’d endured horrible things for, die by degrees.

 

Rachel’s story stayed with me, and the rest of my life was flavoured with dashes of paranoia at every eccentric I passed, or everything I saw which couldn’t be explained straight away. It made sense more than the dismal crimes I hoped had been committed instead.

 

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men, politics, Uncategorized, writing

Incel

I don’t write this from an elevated perspective nor in judgement. My relationships speak to the good and bad we

I don’t write this from an elevated perspective nor in judgement. My relationships speak to the good and bad we all face, and I’m informed by my failures as much as my successes. I’ve rejected and been rejected, it’s the latter which informs this train of thought.

Most people weren’t aware of incels until today if they are at all. It is short for involuntary celibate, a designation made by men who haven’t been able to form romantic or sexual attachments at all. They congregate online, Reddit and there’s a lot of resentment expressed there. Hatred, in a lot of cases, and it leads to expressions and calls for violence. That’s a surface level interpretation of a subculture so infused with irony and sarcasm but there’s one of them who’s made it happen. I won’t write his name down because he’s a symbol now, an apogee for a situation where everyone has been throwing opinions around. There’s been a consistent narrative of mockery and emasculation to push and it comes from left wing/liberals (which I’ve considered myself to be albeit with some concerns) Is it any wonder they developed into an ideology which leads to murder?

Rejection is not an excuse for acts which impinge on the lives of others. Rejection hurts but it teaches by it being a painful experience. When lobsters lose mating competition battles with other lobsters, they shrink in size and experience depression (they have similar nervous systems as human beings) and slip down the hierarchy until they win again.

What if they never win? I wonder if it is something there, but it denies their humanity, and these days it is easy to forget we’re talking and commenting on the words and actions of other human beings. I feel disappointment because anger won’t solve this, and neither will love. There are winners and losers in everything, and perhaps they brought into the illusion of equity our culture espouses in terms of love.

Is it entitlement? If some cultural expectations and tenets of love are an illusion, then the idea might seek to plant roots in the soil of young minds and create an expectation of sex, or love by the virtue of approaching with it in mind.

There are illusions which kill people.

These are boys grown older, but not up. No one starts them into manhood, so they try to figure it out on their own and on the nights when it difficult to breathe when you’re nursing the bitter sting of loss, these ideas, these other people come to you like a fairy tale and they lure you in.

I wrote about this because things like this happen and you see blame but not understanding, and it given under the auspices of grief but its politicized and used to berate men. People die and we use it to hurt one another.

Rejection hurts but love hurts too. They are beautiful and painful kinds of hurt, and to use them as a means to make other people suffer betrays what happened.

Ten people won’t get to feel love or rejected again.

Fourteen are suffering more than most of us will ever know.

There’s lots to go around but at least we should be kind to one another.
face, and I’m informed by my failures as much as my successes. I’ve rejected and been rejected, it’s the latter which informs this train of thought.

Most people weren’t aware of incels until today if they are at all. It is short for involuntary celibate, a designation made by men who haven’t been able to form romantic or sexual attachments at all. They congregate online, mostly Reddit and there’s a lot of resentment expressed there. Hatred, in a lot of cases, and it leads to expressions and calls for violence. That’s a surface level interpretation of a subculture so infused with irony and sarcasm but there’s one of them who’s  made it happen. I won’t write his name down because he’s a symbol now, an apogee for a situation where everyone has been throwing opinions around. There’s been a consistent narrative of mockery and emasculation to push and it comes from left wing/liberals(which I’ve considered myself to be albeit with some concerns) Is it any wonder they developed into an ideology which leads to murder?

Rejection is not an excuse for acts which impinge on the lives of others. Rejection hurts but it teaches by it being a painful experience. When lobsters lose mating competition battles with other lobsters, they shrink in size and experience depression (they have similar nervous systems as human beings) and slip down the hierarchy until they win again.

What if they never win? I wonder if it is something there, but it denies their humanity, and these days it is easy to forget we’re talking and commenting on the words and actions of other human beings. I feel disappointment because anger won’t solve this, and neither will love. There are winners and losers in everything, and perhaps they brought into the illusion of equity our culture espouses in terms of love.

Is it entitlement? If some of the cultural expectations and tenets of love are an illusion then the idea might seek to plant roots in the soil of young minds and create an expectation of sex, or love simply by the virtue of approaching with it in mind.

There are illusions which kill people.

These are boys grown older, but not up. No one initiates them into manhood, so they try to figure it out on their own and on the nights when its difficult to breathe when you’re nursing the bitter sting of loss, these ideas, these other people come to you like a fairy tale and they lure you in.

I wrote about this because things like this happen and you see blame but not understanding, and its given under the auspices of grief but its politicised and used to berate men. People die and we use it to hurt one another.

Rejection hurts but love hurts too. They are beautiful and painful kinds of hurt, and to use them as means to make other people suffer betrays what happened.

Ten people won’t get to feel love or rejected again.

Fourteen are suffering more than most of us will ever know.

There’s lots of it to go around but at least we should be kind to one another.

 

 

 

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compassion, love, politics, women

On politics and kindness

Does anyone else feel disconnected from politics and political debate at the moment?

I don’t write overt political fiction. I used to be an activist and it’s a condition akin to a long term illness, periods of remission and infection but I’m much better at the latter, in so far I’ve focused on improving my self and making my art, but I still care. I was a socialist after a fashion, campaigned locally and was quite outspoken online, which is as pathetic as it sounds now. Self righteous and outraged, which hits the brain in the same way cocaine does and yet the stories aren’t as good.

I used to be a true believer, that if we instituted equality of outcome, then people’s innate goodness would bloom like flowers in spring. History tells us otherwise, and I was guilty of the sin in believing if ‘my version’ of socialism was implemented, it would be perfect. I used to consider myself a feminist, and wondered why I was anxious and angry, all the time, made to believe being a man was somehow a broken path through identity.

It’s not true, but it’s a controversial statement to say it aloud, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with being a man, any more than there is being a woman. It’s the individual choices we make, whether they come from nature or nurture and whether we accept the responsibility of their outcome. That is a subject for another time, because I have a lot to say in that regard and probably won’t because it riles people up, and I prefer to think out loud without it being seen as a provocation.

I don’t consider myself to be any one thing politically. I get why people believe what they do, even the worst things make sense to us, if we sit down and really look into ourselves. It’s part of why I write, because in the dirt of ourselves, we find the real treasure. What gets me about politics now is it is insular, with the same sins on both sides – the left have gone all in on intersectionality, where they’ve stopped empowering people to be anything other than victims whereas the right don’t come out and say ‘fuck you, I’ve got mine.’ I think the truth is somewhere between the two, but the debate is getting insular and shrill, and I watch it the same way I watch sumo. Two fat guys trying to slap one another of the ring whilst we all suffer, regardless of the outcome.

I got approached to run as a candidate once, and rejected it wholly which was the beginning of my move away from political activism towards art and working on being a better person. There are those who will say I have a long way to go in the latter, but I keep working towards it through my actions and art.

My politics, such as it is, is sourced in common sense and kindness and evidence. I don’t think someone’s origin defines who they are, but I can see how it hurts or helps. I think both sides ignore class and economic disparities because telling someone the colour of their skin or who they sleep with means they’re hobbled before the race starts is easier than trying to look at how resources get allocated and what opportunities are available. Poverty is corrosive and the scars run deep, but the left focus on nurturing a hierarchy of oppression hurts more people than it helps. I don’t believe a white male has anything close to inherent privilege. If you disagree, look at the homeless population and the suicide statistics. I think virtue signalling hides flaws which are better addressed through contemplation and therapy.

On the right, they could benefit from more empathy and listen to everything Jesus said, and I mean everything. I don’t think bombing everyone helps although the left governments are as excited about war as the right wing ones.

You get the idea, I like freedom of speech for everyone, because if someone puts an idea out there, we can talk about it. We debate or have dialectics because we are civilised and don’t have force of arms, but we hurt one another emotionally instead and wonder why nothing appears to get better.

I don’t have the answers, I used to think I did but I can do is think about how and why I behave, why I feel about certain things and issues, and vote. In this country, it’s a dismal set of choices to make come election time.

The writer Michelle McNamara, late wife of the comedian Patton Oswalt said something which makes sense to me. It applies to all points on the political spectrum.

‘It’s chaos out there, be kind.’

Raam Dass said something which I quote a lot.

‘We’re all just walking one another home.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pacifist or passive, but I prefer civilised discourse over violence and direct action. I loathe antifa as much as neo-Nazi activity because all it does is hurt and frighten people. An adolescence of comic books and mythology has taught me we are capable of being better, without a power ring or a radioactive spider bite, there are millions of good people doing good things to improve the world. Shit, Mr Rogers said something which I will end on, because it’s beautiful and it sums up how I feel better than another few paragraphs.

‘Look to the helpers.’

We’re all in this together, surrounded by miracles and horror. I write stories and poems which qualifies me towards nothing and I read a lot of books, trying to synthesize together all the information into some form of knowledge. I mispronounce words I’ve read but not exclaimed aloud, but I laugh at myself about it because it reminds me I’m human and as flawed as the rest of you. We make our own heaven or hell, and sometimes I can’t choose between horns or the halo, so I have fur and friends instead.

We all want to love and to be loved. It’s an elegant idea but difficult to express in action but we try.

Thank you for reading.

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