Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Eric B. & Rakim I Know You Got Soul (Instrumental)
 George Michael Careless Whisper (Instrumental)
 Porcupine Tree The Start of Something Beautiful
noun. the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal.
It’s a wonderful thing, the soul. This nifty piece of kit has seen me safely through some of my darkest hours and is the very first item I’d pack on an expedition. Actually, that’s not altogether true. You see, I haven’t the faintest idea where I left it right now. I know it’s close and can sense it at this very moment. But this slippery little customer is also notoriously hard to pin down. I’ve checked my jacket, my trouser pocket, under the sofa, and do you want to know what I’ve come up with? Two stale cashew nuts, a stickle brick, and a ball of hair that appears suspiciously pubic. I’m buggered if I know where it’s got to.
In dire situations such as these, I believe the customary thing is to retrace your steps and see if that jogs your memory. It’s awfully inconvenient right now as there really is somewhere I ought to be. But you don’t see Hercule Poirot hopping off the Orient Express two stops early just because Miss Marple promised she’d bake him apricot scones, do you? No, the time has come to set the DeLorean for the bleak midwinter of 2013 and find my way back to the future. This promises to be a laugh-a-minute.
Apologies if you picked up the vague sarcasm in my tone but it turns out that laughs were at something of a premium during this particular cold spell and there’s only so much blood one can draw from a stone, unless it’s the one from Subspecies. That said, thanks to the elusive soul we’re off to lasso, I can now wear my rose-tinted spectacles for considerably less arid recollection. The relief is palpable this end, believe me, as some decidedly rancid events took place during the Year of The Snake and I was in no great rush to relive those bitter memories. But sometimes this is a jaunt worth taking as it can remind you just how far you’ve come since.
I may appear almost identical to the broken man on his knees from way back then, but inside it’s a whole different story. In the winter of 2013, I was screaming inside. Four years down the line, I’ve jacked that in for dancing. Don’t ask for a twerk as I haven’t quite mastered that one yet. I was thinking more side-to-side slide for starters. To further lock in the ambiance, I’ll even hit up the jukebox. Care for a slow dance? Just to be clear, I may well be stepping on your toes rather a lot.
First things first, please don’t adjust your sets as I haven’t dialled us back to 1984 by mistake, as tempting a miscalculation as that might be. It’s just such a terribly romantic song, don’t you think? Alas, there was precious little tender-hearted about the year in question as my entire universe was tumbling down around me. What started as work-related stress twelve months prior had upgraded to full-blown depression and I was medicated up to the eyeballs. At the time I was married with a two-year-old boy and finding it harder and harder to keep my head above water. I loved my wife dearly but outside influences were making it nigh-on impossible to stay the distance and that meant the unenviable task of walking away from everything I knew.
So I did. Within twenty-four hours, everything changed. Any feelings of relief were far outweighed by guilt and I began slipping deeper into my own personal void. Nobody understood where my head was at, not a solitary soul, and my well-meaning family suspected I had lost the plot entirely. I took the psych tests as they requested and not a solitary red flag was raised. Not that this helped my cause as I’d never felt as alone in all my life and had no burning desire to continue. The outlook was bleak to put it mildly and comfort spending wasn’t an option here as you’ve got to have it to spunk it. I’d worked my whole life until this point and had never been short of funds; so it was alien to me being so utterly cut-off and having no control whatsoever over my finances. Indeed my entire personal effects consisted of a gutful of steadily worsening angst and a dusty old laptop.
Thank fuck for technology. You see, this dire turn of events conveniently coincided with a potentially game-changing discovery. Actually, this was more rediscovery than anything else as I’d been aware of my creative skill set right up until around the end of my teens. For whatever reason, I took the road more travelled, punched in at a 9-5 job I could do with my palms superglued to my cheeks and never looked back. However, when forward offers no clear route, it is customary to begin digging around in your slipstream and, when I did, it suddenly all came flooding back to me. Unless I was mistaken, writing was my true calling in life, and I had the tool to answer that call right at the tips of my fingers.
If I was to do this, commit my future to becoming a writer, then I’d have to be prepared to make certain sacrifices. There was tremendous pressure being placed on me to get straight back to work and I resisted this with a stubbornness that had never previously been my thing. Landing a job wouldn’t have proved too troublesome as I’d never been fazed by interviews. But keeping one, well that would entail being prepared to die a little more inside every day. The way I saw it, I’d come this far, and would unlikely have the opportunity again to become the master of my own destiny. So I did precisely that.
Day after day I bled all my pain onto the screen before me but not the way most wounded animals would. Better out than in apparently and I get that; but had no inclination to playing harbinger of sorrow. It would be easy enough to air my dirty linen in as downbeat a manner as possible and there’s no doubt this would’ve released the valve, so to speak. That said, anyone reading my despondent rants wouldn’t really stand to benefit from the transaction and that’s hardly the best way to build a readership. Hi, I’m the Keeper of the Crimson Quill and I’m here to dump my emotional baggage on you. Fuck that shit and fuck it twice, my glass had never been less than half full before so why change the habit of a lifetime for a teensy-weensy thing like buckled spirit?
It was around this time that my soul got in touch and I was floored when I received its introductory voice-mail. Over half-a-decade had passed since I lost my father but the years rolled back instantaneously as a wave of serenity rushed over me and I realized pops was close-by. While I’d love to report a paranormal sighting, there was no ectoplasm to be found and no ghostly apparition to discern either. But he was most certainly present. It’s ultimately about personal belief, how far you’re willing to free up your mind and openly endorse the fantastical. When it was my all-time number one personal hero being offered up as a bargaining tool, I was all-in well before the flop landed.
The words were gushing out of me and, the most unfathomable thing was that I had no real idea what until I surfaced for air hours later. It almost felt like my father was my ghost writer; that it was his thoughts and feelings pouring out and I was little more than his vessel. Considering I had nothing whatsoever left to lose, there seemed no harm or foul in trusting my gut one more time for the road. The reimbursement may not have been monetary but suddenly I began to feel some way less destitute. Let’s not slap a plaster on the amputee just yet, I was still in a dark motherfucking place and dropping altitude like fat on a frisbee. But way off in the distance was a solitary light and I hurriedly tapped in its coordinates.
Some of my content from 2013 is admittedly a tad more parched than the carefree ramblings I post four years later and not necessarily advisable for bedtime perusal material. However, this solitary light shone like a beacon every time I channeled and it wasn’t long before other injured parties began to sit up and take notice. I shit you not, the early days were like one big group therapy session and I gleaned great pride from the fact that I could not only feel a part of something again but also play a fundamental role. Regrettably this was misconstrued as a call to arms from the one man deemed capable of sparking a revolution and I even began to believe that myself for a while there. The problem was that I was utterly disinterested in leading.
To be considered a figurehead, it helps if one has an ego in need of further inflation. For as much swagger as I displayed through my prose, my real-life strut was more closely resembling of a zombie shuffle and the last battle cry an army wishes to hear as they clamber out of the trenches is “braaains!” All I truly wanted was to be one of the people, not the sole martyr for a cause that I wasn’t even certain of myself. It was fine and dandy that folk took something positive from my work, but applying such affirmative logic to my own situation was proving a great deal more irksome. It’s no cakewalk proclaiming that there’s light at the end of the tunnel when it appears to be growing ever dimmer. What I’d failed to recognize was that I’d unwittingly pressed a shiny red button months prior and there’s seldom a good shiny red button, as I was about to discover.
The knob in question may not have been labeled self-destruct, but the icon above it of a man punching himself in the kidney was as clear a clue as I could have hoped for. Aside from my dignity, physical health was the only thing left to surrender, and by far the item that mattered least in the short run to my pine receptacle. With my mind in such a state of disarray and my heart broken; my body felt surplus to requirements and presented the one persistent obstruction to the release I was craving so badly. They say you should treat your body like a temple and are also quick to point out that it’s the only one you’ll get. I treated mine like a crack house and was secretly banking on no second bites of the cherry.
Eventually, the bleak midwinter of 2013 came and passed, giving way to spring blossom and a fresh meadow breeze that was far more about bracing than debasing. I continued to write and gradually found a style more fluent and focused, with fiction now playing a supporting role in my output. To this very day, I’m at my most luxurious and untroubled when telling the tallest of tales as my imagination can soar to otherwise unobtainable vantage points. The more shit I had figured out in my head, the more time I could dedicate to pushing boundaries that had formerly restrained me. It was the workload that I had an issue with as my weary mind had never done so much calculation.
Guilt was my chief affliction and the lion’s share of this culpability naturally stemmed from within. However, the thing about guilt, is that you need to watch out for the “trippers” and, trust me, they don’t introduce themselves as that. If someone is looking to make me feel bad about myself for the purpose of emotional one-upmanship, then I can smell that odious stench like a fart in a florist. Guilt-tripping is second only to jealousy in my list of terrible ticks. My mind had no time for games when it had so much sorting to be done and the moment they commenced kicking off around me, I ducked down faster than a midget in a bar brawl. Suddenly all I heard was white noise and my soul was required to scream bloody murder to make itself heard among all the commotion.
Turns out it has some lungs on it, this soul of mine. Could that be some kind of cryptic clue as to its whereabouts? I dare not reach into my ribcage right now as the music just died and there’s something in my dance partner’s eyes that calls to mind the silver screen and all its sad goodbyes. Fucking guilty feet, got no rhythm have they? If I ever locate this evasive soul of mine; there’s one thing I can tell you for next to nothing – I’m never gonna dance again. There may be no comfort in the truth, but there’s only so much hurting it can get away with, before you start to grow numb to its pain. Besides, landing a seven-week acting gig in L.A. provided all the shot in the arm I needed and there was no way on this earth I’d waste the chance that I’d been given.
The character I played was a detestable puke, the kind of human spew that no amount of rigorous scrubbing could neutralize. This suited me down to ground zero, as did requesting that Robert bite the bullet in a manner as far from dignified as feasible. I needed all this gut rot out of me like Regan on her period and, if that meant walking like a crab and screaming “let Jesus fuck you” while stabbing myself in the nut sack with a rusted crucifix, then I’d snarf back all the pea soup in Taiwan just to retch it back up on “Action!” For his despicable lack of sportsmanship and stock-room molestation, Robert’s prize could only be a thorough tenderizing. While you’re at it guys, why not make it a tag-team effort? You know, the old “two-for-one” special.
It’s hard to recall exactly how many dry slaps I took to the face with spiked leather gloves that day but my hazardous guess would be somewhere between a ton and ton fifty. I can however reel off my ailments – split lip, swollen jaw, bruised ribs, and tender loin – not to mention the most astronomical feeling of being “ALIVE” I’d felt since the midwife severed my umbilical back in the everything must go sale of 1974. There’s nothing like being beaten to a bloodied pulp, dragged to an active steam valve by your nostrils, having the flesh burned away from your skull, being stabbed in the abdomen, getting your head compacted with a mallet, then eventually being cannibalized to wake you up after a hard year’s slog at the inner torment centre. I even threw in a little Texas nod death rattle to shake the last of it off, just like Taylor Swift taught me. I tell you, the lessons come from the most unlikely places.
Suddenly I felt like a one man wrecking ball, and let me tell you, Miley doesn’t get a flannel in there much. Somehow inexplicably, I’d managed to exorcise a whole host of my demons in one fell swoop and made a second whole host of lifelong friends in the process. Lose demons, keep friends – simple. Now all I had to do was return to the UK and report my findings through prose. My output was colorful and glee-filled during this period. More critically, my soul had been on spotter duties the entire time. When I arrived in L.A., having never acted before, I gave myself some fairly long odds of not making a cock of myself on camera. Once I boarded the return flight however, I was no longer so overawed by the prospect. I’d left all of myself in the dingy steam room that night – blood, sweat, tears and semen were all well and truly accounted for. If you’re curious where the jizz came into my mauling, please allow the following two images to mop that one up.
While I accept full credit for my enthusiastic and vigorous death rattle, my fellow cast members may have found it a tad odd that my knees continued trembling for a full minute after “Cut!” and I guess that’s no longer such a mystery. Don’t shoot the messenger, my soul made me do it. Okay I admit, it may have got by with a little help from two friends but my throbbing testicles will just have to share the spoils on this occasion as my soul led me there in the first place. It was my soul that accepted the gig on my behalf, my soul that ensured I boarded the plane, and my soul that made every faithful leap from that point on necessary. Indeed, my soul even helped me onto the departing jet bird with my hand luggage, much lighter now I hasten to add.
Listen, I’m going to level with you now. Everything beyond that point is ultimately skim-read material at best. That isn’t to suggest that the past three years haven’t been memorable and life-changing, on the contrary, I could hang this out for another 3000 words if I had any burning desire to euthanize you. But the real graft had been done by this point and it’s been a reasonably steady flow of inclines ever since. Banana skins may still have been a touch too plentiful for my personal liking, but two more years of tinkering under the hood of my psyche was all it would take before I could wash the grease of guilt off my hands.
I’m comfortable in my skin now, as cosy as I was way back before the puberty bomb landed. All demons have now been named, shamed and discarded. I’m on first name terms with the chimp tasked with driving me to distraction and his name is Percival Mandrake III. I’m done with culpability as that shit will eat your soul from the inside all day long, if you let it. Perfection is unobtainable and that’s okey-dokey as my imperfections are far more fun to play with anyroad. Granted, the top coat could do with a lick of paint, and my health continues to offer cause for concern, despite a recent clean health bill from the doctor. But I no longer have to work on my mind and this frees me up to do like Olivia and get physical.
I like to sloth. So shoot me. I’ll never be the guy on the treadmill, the one guzzling anabolics until his winkle shrinks, or even the one happy to contend with the acid reflux that Creatine encourages just to look a little more buff in the mirror. I’m the cat lounging and scrounging, mooching and smooching, doing the thing that takes the least amount of elbow grease required to live the simple life I hanker after. It’s funny, I’m actually meeting one of my lifetime personal heroes for dinner this weekend and this fine figure of a man once prowled the screen in a manner almost feline-like. I guess that’s why his performance in Martin made me purr so back in 1978. We birds of a feather do like to flock together, you know.
And flock we bloody do. I’m surrounded by wonderful people and feel blessed to consider myself one of them. All around me there is beauty and light and it’s so much easier to spot when you’re no longer locked in a tense stare-off with yourself. When I lay down my head each night, I smile now as opposed to tweaking myself fetal and this is the greatest endowment I could ever wish to hope or dream for. What fixes the grin on my cheeks, only my soul can tell and it just so happens to be whispering in my ear right this very moment. It’s a billion blessings all at once, a light ahead to guide the way forth, and… GOTCHA! Told you I’d track down my soul. Ladies and gentlemen, I feel proud and privileged to introduce you good people to the one and only… hold on, where’s the slippery little bugger got to now? On the plus side, that was a lovely dance we shared together. Who would’ve thought these guilt-free feet of mine would turn out to have some rhythm after all?
Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2017