Once upon a time I would spend a lot of time in one bar I know. Some weeks, I would show there every evening. Others, once or twice. There would be weeks when I couldn’t make it to the bar once. But I never stayed away for long.
In that bar, I would meet a stranger. And a stranger they would be, always, no matter how many times I had met them before.
There was no knowing how the night would go. On some nights, we would make each other laugh, or try to outwit each other in cheesy banter. On some nights, we would stare into each other’s eyes – in confusion, in understanding, in anger when the understanding went too far, revealing things we were not prepared to know about the other and ourselves.
On some nights, we could dance like a perfectly choreographed musical troupe; on others, we stepped on each other’s toes, slipped, tripped, laughed in amusement, groaned in frustration, left in a huff. Some nights, we would be all over each other for hours; on some, a five-minute talk would make it clear that neither was in the mood.
Ultimately, I didn’t mind how the night would go. I would just be glad to be there. To have shown up, be it for five minutes or five hours, be it for a dance, a chat, a kiss, or a fight.
On January 22nd, I lay awake at 3 am. If you know my nightowl self at all, you’d sooner be surprised by the lying down part than the awake part. But over the past few days, I’d gotten sleep in two-hour scraps around the clock, so I was trying to restore a semblance of a circadian rhythm, hence the early-for-me bed time.
The past week had been a flurry of preparation for the protests on Friday and Saturday. Friday, January 20th saw the first rally I put together myself, to support #BridgesNotWalls worldwide. Saturday the 21st was Women’s March in Liverpool. During the weekend, I made a couple of new friends, talked to more people I usually interact with in a month, was approached by a handful of reporters, and had my first, albeit peaceful, encounter with the police. I made it to two newscasts of localradiostations as well as the regional branch of the BBC, an article in the local newspaper, and a Facebook video of the same local newspaper that got some 40k+ views and made a few hundred people very angry.
Photos by Liverpool Echo, myself, and our photographer Simon
The whole experience was gratifying. Following protests on social media is an entirely different experience when you’re also a part of them. Whether or not you see a picture of your event/face crop up somewhere, you feel connected to these hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
But enough with the platitudes, positive as they may be. Here’s the real talk.
When you try and fail to sleep, your brain is your worst enemy. It’s at those moments that all useful feelings – strength, camaraderie, even anger – fade away, and give room to fear. That cold feeling in the pit of your stomach that tells you that you can’t really change anything. That it’s all for naught. That all the ill-wishers– actually, let me take a moment and speak to the ill-wishers.
Hello, ill-wishers. Yes, you who slam protesters and activists for being pointless. Guess what – you’re not original. Or did you really think that anything you can say to us we haven’t already heard from ourselves? Spoken in our own voice on sleepless nights, from the dark corner of our minds, from the cold pit of our stomachs? You think your comments are a revelation to us? Then again, I doubt you’ve given it much thought. You just want to give yourself a little meaning at someone else’s expense. You’re pathetic. Moving on.
To battle my 3 am demons, I turned to my vials of light. You know, in The Lord of the Rings, when Galadriel gives Frodo a crystal vial containing the light of a star, and says: “May it be a light to you in the dark places, when all other lights go out.” I have a few vials like that, with distilled memories of certain days that shine brighter than others. When I need some light, I reach for them. Last night, I imagined it very clearly – pulling on a stopper, and watching the memory unfold from its crystal container, flooding my senses. It was a memory of a summer day a few years ago. It helped.
And then, with the vial back on the shelf, I turned back to my 3 am demons, and that was the moment I learned something very important. I figured out why I take action, online and offline – and why I will KEEP doing that, for as long as I possibly can.
I do it because it helps me be less scared. Because you see, the insomniac small hours of the morning always have and always will be full of demons. That’s nothing to worry about. It’s when they spread to your other waking hours that you have a problem. And taking action, it doesn’t banish the demons, doesn’t erase the fear – but it does keep them contained. Shackled to their 3 am prison. Only capable of hurting you when you’re at your weakest.
And when you’re forced to walk through the demons’ dungeon at night, through a corridor that’s so narrow they can claw at you through the bars of their cages – it’s important to know that at the end of this corridor, is another morning. When you will wake up, and take action. And the demons’ cages will slam shut, and stay shut.
Are you feeling scared about the world right now? Drag your demons out into the light. Fight them until you draw blood. Then put it on your banner.
(Warning: this post will make the most sense to someone who has a) read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman; b) has ever been deeply impacted by someone’s art. (a) is not obligatory, but recommended. (b) is highly desirable, for your sake more than mine.)
This spring, I came back to Edinburgh, for the first time since a very memorable night in 2010. That was the night I met Gerard Way for the first and, so far, only time (I’ve seen his band My Chemical Romance play once before then and three times since, but never got to talk to him again). We exchanged a few words and two-and-a-half high-fives (nerves play havoc with my hand-eye coordination). The whole encounter took no more than two minutes. To date, my only tangible proof that said meeting took place is a packet of cigarettes with a Californian tax stamp, which Gerard had traded me for a pair of goggles that were part of my costume.
Out of context, the meeting itself was hardly anything special. But in the context of my life at the time, it was one of the ‘shining moments’ that make their way into poetry. A perfect alignment of time, space, heart, and soul.
It wasn’t something I could see right away. Moments like that are too big to see when you’re close to them. At the time, all you feel is overwhelmed. Deep down, you know that something strange and wonderful is happening to you, but all you’ve got to show for it is the vague feeling that somewhere, the proverbial stars aligned, the proverbial cogwheels clicked into place.
But as time passes, you look back, and realize, with ever increasing clarity, that you were right. If your life were a universe, that moment was the fleeting instant of perfect universal balance. Bodies in every orbit, from an atom to a galaxy, each in a place that’s inexplicably yet unequivocally right.