Suggested Audio Jukebox:
 George Clinton “Get Yo Ass in the Water Swim Like Me”
 Eric B. & Rakim “I Know You Got Soul”
 Cypress Hill “When the Shit Goes Down”
 Ohio Players “Sweet Sticky Thing”
 The Temper Trap “Sweet Disposition”
Sink or swim? As far as choices go, this one couldn’t be more simple. In the time that I have been writing, I’ve done a fair share of the former but have also learned how to do the latter. We all have that sinking feeling at one time or the other and it can feel like the only thing to do is to allow the currents to take us down. However, just as we’re preparing to suck in that breath and hold it indefinitely, something inexplicable occurs and we find ourselves floating. Today Grueheads I have decided to write what I used to refer to as a battle cry. In my darkest hours, these exercises assisted in keeping me topside, stopping me from drowning, and gaining my very own water wings. A lot has changed since then and I’m no longer quite so weighted by anguish and guilt. But the sentiment still remains. It’s all about solidarity and intimidating the enemy, which just so happens to be similar for all of us. Nine out of ten times, said adversary is ourselves, and this is preferable as it’s better the devil you know after all. Belief may be at a minimum, hope all but diminished, but the good old battle cry shows that we still have the stomach for a fight. Basically, it amounts to us not goin’ out like that.
Easier said than done right? Indeed, after so long treading water, it can feel impossible fighting the tide any further and inevitable that we take that swan dive. Every one of us is different from the rest, each challenge is exclusive to host, and we can feel horribly alone in these moments. I’ve been there a thousand times, thrashing about in the swim, as though there’s a finger pressed down on the top of head gently coercing me sub-aqua and not a damn thing I can do about it. In instances such as these, I have learned that the only thing to do is reach out in the hope that somebody will throw me a life raft. I could either write them a polite correspondence, perhaps provide a perfumed RSVP, and hope that their ship comes sailing by. Or I could use the lungs that I had donated at birth, the ones I have tried my level best to impair for three years now, and call out for help. The latter wins every time as it turns out as, while my withered shell has been adamant that it wishes to gradually self-terminate, my soul has been far less accepting of fate. Without this dazzling piece of kit, I would have been all at sea, whereas land has been ahoy at all times thanks to its ever presence for the past three years.
I’m speaking of something that effectively has no mass, no bona fide identity, no access points that are known and is generally an absolute mystery to us. In 2013 my mind was suffocating, body taking in water, and heart rapidly sinking like a stone. This trio conspired to drag me under and it appeared the only saving grace was to dig a little deeper and unearth another element. However, time was against me, the oxygen to my brain was diminishing, my body felt weary, and my heart fragmented. I reached down in these moments and produced something from deep inside; a light which had remained dimmed since way back at childhood. Said illumination came from my soul and it asked as few questions before bailing me out as it provided me answers. It just kicked in instinctively as though working under a higher supervision and, in doing so, fashioned a channel for my misery. At the time, this process was widely known as “the bleed” and represented the third stage of a four string healing process. First up is “the seed” and only one of these kernels need be planted for the procedure to become initiated. This can be something we read, a passing comment, one kind gesture, or a thousand miniature deeds but it sets us off down the right trail.
Next is “the feed” as we all know that a flower cannot hope to blossom without exposure to the correct vitamins and nutrients. Should you surround yourself with like-minded individuals, all clutching their soul cages and feeling their way inside, then you will have a feeder on hand at every given moment and we cannot hope to be triumphant in battle without some form of nourishment. You think William Wallace was nil by mouth prior to fighting for Scottish independence? Surely you wouldn’t suggest that Boudicca didn’t have a bowl of bran flakes each morning before taking her seat on her battle chariot? I’m sure even her horse had itself a carrot. Food is a necessity and I learned how to home in on any growling tummies in the vicinity and begin licking my gums optimistically. Planting “the seed” can be hungry work and “the feed” ensures that we reach the next phase with our cheeks full. Granted, the metallic taste can appear a little off-putting, and projectile blood effortlessly trumps vomit in the “maybe it’s time to have that check up after all” stakes. But “the bleed” is positively steeped in merit.
When it all comes out, in rivulets of the deepest red, it can feel a little startling. Coughing up blood is traditionally a rather bogus pastime and neither is it welcome at the other end. However, with spotters all around us, we can clear out the old to make way for the new and get rid of some of those pesky burdens weighing us down in the process. Whether scribe, artist, musician, or mime artist, our blood is the same color and the gush is no less exquisite. Coping tools such as belief and encouragement hold our hands as we upchuck, pin back our hair and rub our backs with a “there there” until the initial nausea passes. Just like sickness, we feel better the very moment we spew up our guts, and one quick splash of cold water later, we’re back in the game and minus any noxious surplus. I bled for the very dearest of life, washed a fair share of the demons out of my hair, and sent them on their way. Little bastards flicked me the bird and I swear one of them lobbed a pebble. That said, while I’m under no illusion that misshapen stones can break one’s bones, one of my associates forewarned me of this incoming threat thus I ducked down low and assumed position.
Funnily enough, stage four, also known as “The Final Chapter” is all about “A New Beginning”. I know right? Can’t place my finger on where I’ve heard that one before but I’m sure it’ll come back to me momentarily. We are now in “the breed” and this is the most hands-on period of the entire transition as it entails reaching out, grabbing yourself some skin, and sending those sailors to walk their respective planks. As we drop anchor and it ghosts down to the sea bed, the algae is on hand to do the rest. Fret not as I spent the winter of 2013 as street algae and know precisely how many clothes should be worn for our next episode – none. Okay you can keep your socks on if you so wish but, just warning you, it’ll look vaguely ridiculous. Nobody will judge but we may well snicker or, heavens forbid, let out a chortle or two. You got me, I’m likely to relinquish my bladder, and that’s bad news for you as I happen to know where’s its pointed. Full mast and blowing in the wind like D.J. Qualls in late Fall. I’m just saying, socks ain’t sexy for long. And whoever suggested breeding was for comfort?
The Crimson Honey Dripper tends to put in a shift on my behalf when “the breed” comes into play as it is one huge communal climax and he happens to know how to pollinate. All this nectar and there is no bonnet burly enough to scoop myself a meager percentage of the sweet honey nectar on offer. Besides, I’ve been prone to fumble, and that baton can’t be allowed to drop for a nanosecond or we’ll all be shipwrecked. There needs to be impregnation and, should we cast our minds back to “the seed”, then we’ll already be primed for our twelve week scans. It’s a boy? It’s a girl? I shit you not, mine looks worrying like Brundle Fly after a night on the feces. But we love them nonetheless right? You ever hear a parent refer to their offspring as “the ugliest totem of puke ever regurgitated”? Of course not, that’s a privilege that falls to callous schoolyard bullies. Granted, the first diaper change is no picnic, and your sleep pattern is about to change for the more excruciating, but piloting a pram can be hella fun, especially when you have yourself a bomberman.
So there’s your battle cry from one thru four and it’s time to reveal the true method to my madness this tepid hot summer day. You see, last night something remarkable occurred. Seasoned Grueheads will be familiar with the wondrous Heather Aycock by this point and she broke the seal on something truly momentous as she shared with me a piece of creative writing which warmed every last cockle I had. Heather hadn’t committed to an undertaking such as this for fifteen years or so and that just makes Hope’s Moment all the more remarkable. I know a thing or three about rousing encores but there is nothing more resplendent than opening curtain. Her gift to us all is truly that – something to treasure and hold close. It’s a life jacket thrown out to one and all even though she’s a water baby herself and not at her most centered when choking up seaweed. This tremendous leap of faith says everything to me and a thousand others also. Moreover, it is about to do so with you too. I think I shall close by letting you chat amongst yourselves. Fret not, as I’m on iceberg detail, and can cut visual through the mist thanks to pre-consumption of Hope’s Moment.
I shall rein it in very soon but not before elucidating further why this undertaking is so Herculean. Heather entered covenant with herself and every last soul about to spark from her words, then pushed out a pleasure nugget in record time, before the first blink became necessitated. As births go, this one couldn’t have cared less for an epidural, and entertains full and undivided feeling. I’ve nary felt more swollen with pride, as grateful for the gifts that friendship brings, or as utterly hopeful for the future as I did come its close. With a squadron around us, and a bloated armada of manned cannons no less, Heather Aycock is about to set sail. Ordinarily I wouldn’t trust the oatmeal biscuits as scurvy is rife in these waters. But she used Hope’s Moment to cook up some rather flavorsome macaroons and that sure as shit beats fish food anchors down.
By Heather Aycock
Everyone talks about hope. “I hope I pass this test.” Or maybe, “I hope I get that raise.” There is even the all too common, “Oh crap! Was that a cop? I hope he doesn’t see me going 70 in a 35”. I’ve even heard that it can float. I’d stay away from that last one. It reminds me of a particular clown with a rather nasty temperament. These are all well and fine examples of hope. Hope does come in many forms so why not any of these, you ask? Those forms of hope do not lead to moments that signify hope in its purest form. Notice that each form started with, “I hope” followed by a result that was for one’s own gain and not others.
Tiny acts of simple kindness add up. Have you ever felt the culmination of those acts? For one moment, the tiny hairs on your arms become hypersensitive like an insect’s antenna. The air ripples along your skin in waves of electricity. It is fluid, wrapping around you like a second skin. Your fingertips tingle. Your toes become extra sensitive. Your body is alive, truly alive.
A hush has fallen over your world, not because it is holding its breath just for you. Instead, you only hear the beating of your own heart. Your heart does not thunder nor race. Your ears do not feel as if they are stuffed with wet cotton or blood. There is nothing but calm is the soft thud, thud, thud of your steady beating heart. It is a calm that only comes from absolute certainty.
Your eyes dilate as you gaze into the unwavering eyes of another whose simple acts of kindness have led to the stirrings of your very being. Understanding. Pain. Calm. Sorrow. Peace. Clarity. Joy. Love. Then, light that transcends space and time. Lips part as intimate knowledge is exchanged.
In that secret place, deep within your soul, hope waits inside a small seed. It yearns for the light of a soul ablaze with life. The wait has been long. Despair and sorrow have buried hope so far inside that the possibility of light ever reaching the fragile seed is remote. And yet, here is this one perfect moment, THE moment that ignites a spark.
From the embers, the soul is awakened by this connection. Light cuts through the deepest of the darkness, piercing to the every essence. The seed of hope is warmed in a loving embrace. No longer does it dwell in darkness. Another spark of life is nurturing the seed, coaxing the delicate stalk to venture out of the pod.
How could you ever anticipate that something so profound, so life affirming would ever come from simple acts of kindness? What do you do now? The answer is simple. Embrace hope openly. Feed those sparks. Nurture the soul until hope and love flourish. Time and distance cannot defeat you. Hope will be by your side. With it, you’ll never again be alone, in the dark.