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Barrier to Entry

9 min read

This is a story about prejudice...

Way out

If somebody has decided they don't like you because something has invoked their prejudices, then almost anything you say or do will be twisted negatively. There's no way to win somebody over once you're seen in a bad light, because it's possible to create a monster out of a saint if your mind is that way inclined.

I photographed the exit from my office.

I shouldn't have done it.

I knew it was wrong.

Nobody's told me off yet. Nobody's caught me. My wrongdoing has been entirely unnoticed by the universe.

This. Does. Not. Matter.

I'm not supposed to put photographs of an entrance into a secure building up on the public internet. In fact I'm probably expressly forbidden from doing such a thing depending on the interpretation of deliberately nebulous bullshit.

Provided I'm the golden boy and I'm making myself valuable around the place, nobody really gives a damn who I am and what I do. I could write about the specifics of what I do for a day job - which is all public anyway - and I wouldn't suffer any consequences, so long as I retain the aura of a person who's desirable to have around; so long as I'm wanted.

The moment that the sands shift and I'm viewed as an undesirable scumbag then I'll suddenly come under much closer scrutiny. Those who are looking for reasons to reject me are sure to find many things which they can twist to their advantage.

"Aha!" they will exclaim. "We've rumbled you!"

Of course, the joke is on those who seek to act with prejudice, because this identity existed all along. Everything has been on open public display. I was welcomed in with open arms when you wanted something from me and you thought you were getting the better end of the deal.

"You mean to say I hired a junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt tramp with mental health problems!" they exclaim.

The indignation is palpable.

The prejudiced are always unreasonably angry and upset to discover that their trusted and valued colleague who has successfully delivered their large and complex IT project is nothing more than a low-life loser.

"I could have paid you peanuts!" seems to be the thing that's most upsetting to these people who'd think nothing of kicking a homeless person to death and urinating on the corpse.

It's not true.

You cannot pay me peanuts.

I cut my day rate by over 50% when I was utterly desperate last year, and I was taken advantage of worse than I've ever been in my 21 year career. I was treated disgustingly. I will never do that again.

Do you think you're getting a bargain every time you beat somebody down on the price they've quoted you? Do you think you're succeeding when you ask somebody to do more work for less money?

Wrong.

Pay less. Get less.

Do you think you're making the world a better place by refusing to work with vast swathes of society? Do you think you're more likely to succeed if you surround yourself with people who are just like you: A-grade achieving, 2:1 degree holding, compliant and conformant worker-bee drones who've got manicured CVs?

I should not be allowed onto the hallowed turf.

My face does not fit.

I'm an intruder.

I'm an interloper.

However, I'm not a fraud.

Stuff comes out of my mouth and even I'm surprised. People wander over to my desk and they want to talk to me. They want to ask me questions. Somehow I know the answers. Believe me... I'm more surprised than anybody.

I'm acutely aware that when people are having a tough time and living in a precarious situation they are more inclined to accept less money. People who are going through economic difficulties are easier to bully and exploit. It's relatively straightforward to fuck the poor.

In a poker game you have to have your chips on the table. Everyone can see the size of your stack.

I seem to have gained a somewhat posh accent, although I'm not entirely sure where I got it from because my parents are Northern and I was born in Wales. My cut-glass accent is apparently a close enough approximation to that of a privately educated and privileged member of the set who are destined for greatness, such that I haven't had to suffer the indignity of being offered insultingly low wages by the exploitative rentier class. They assume I'm one of them.

I'm racked with guilt that I enjoy privileges conferred by social status - when the people who I interact with in a work environment mistakenly think I've had a fine and expensive education - but yet I've rubbed shoulders with enough rough sleepers, junkies and alcoholics on the streets of London to know that intellect doesn't magically happen to restrict itself to upper-middle-class white families in the Home Counties.

Nobody knows that I should be stacking shelves in a supermarket for minimum wage. That's my so-called place in society, and I should be grateful to lick the boots of the capitalist pigs. (Caveat: I know that our supermarket shelves need stacking - it's a vital role - and I'm grateful to those who do the job).

I'm careening towards a collision with those who believe it's their rôle in life to police the social strata. They will find this document interesting reading. There is much ammunition here to construct a fabricated reason for my dismissal, on the flimsy and patently absurd basis that I might be exposing the country to terrorist attack by publicising confidential details about the entrance to our impregnable fortress. Perhaps I'm bringing my profession into disrepute and otherwise stepping out of line; conducting myself in a manner unbecoming of my position of responsibility. Bullshit.

Of course I might feel a pang of regret if I succeed in raising my profile sufficiently that the powers-that-be feel they have to take some action and eject me from the world I'm not supposed to belong to. "This isn't for the likes of you" they'll say as they boot me out of the door.

"What have I done?" I'll momentarily ask myself.

It seems two-faced to sit on the fence. It seems awful to take the big bucks and not impoverish myself as a charity worker. What the hell am I doing trying to change the world without first making myself poor and destitute?

Actually, I did make myself poor and destitute.

Am I now turning my back on the struggling masses?

I like to think that I'm doing the very opposite. I'm a bridge in-between two worlds which would never normally meet. There isn't much more I could do to challenge the prejudices of those who live in sheltered worlds, inaccessible to ordinary people and especially those who are tainted by the stench of poverty. I have specifically set out to become liked and respected, while also maintaining an open secret of my chequered past. My situation is no accident.

Three years ago I grew impatient. Three years ago my project was in its infancy and I was rushing things. Three years ago I was too tired, stressed and destabilised by the traumatic experiences I'd been through. Three years ago I had a plan but I was too unwell to execute it with any finesse. Three years ago I tried to force things to happen, which was "contrived" to put it in the words of the BBC journalist I was dating. She was right.

What I'm doing right now is still somewhat contrived, but it's not easy.

You'll find plenty of writers who'll have spent a single night sleeping rough, or perhaps in a psychiatric institution, in order to provide material for them to write about.

You won't find many people on the right side of the tracks who can write with any depth of experience and knowledge about the afflictions of modern life.

Life is a one-way street.

I feel quite unique in having been able to resume a life to which my entry should be completely barred. A great deal of effort goes into stopping people just like me from being able to enter the realm in which I inhabit. A vast system exists to thoroughly exclude ordinary mortals from getting anywhere near the restricted areas where I tread.

Instead of thanking my lucky stars and being wowed by the privilege, such that I become afraid of being ejected, I try to keep doing the brave thing of being honest and open. I refuse to hide my true identity.

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm careful to blur portions of images which show things which are confidential. I'm careful to never mention anything which is sensitive or classified. I never say where exactly I work and who I work for. I never divulge any details which realistically could be ever used for nefarious purposes, or expose anything which should be secure.

Of couse... my real name and my face are public property.

But.

How would you go about blackmailing or otherwise manipulating me, if I've already made everything about me fully public?

What do you think I'd say if you said you knew my boss' name and were going to send them the link to my blog?

You're failing to appreciate the value of living an open life.

You're failing to see that secrecy and privacy are illusional.

You're failing to accept that the pressure of maintaining your spotless CV and so-called reputation is an instrument of tyranny, which makes you easily manipulated and exploited by the capitalists.

The most rebellious thing you can do is to create a public identity you're proud of; refuse to sanitise and hide your true self and your mistakes.

Never hide.

 

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Condescendingly Oversimplifying Highly Complex Life-or-Death Issues and Trivialising my Achievements

7 min read

This is a story about perseverance...

Tree in winter

Despite the exhaustive lengths I've gone to in order to make myself understood, surprisingly few people have any appreciation of my achievements in conquering insurmountable odds. It shocks me that there is a complete lack of comprehension of the magnitude of the task, of starting a journey of recovery locked up on a psych ward, unemployed, homeless, £54,000 in debt, physically dependent on addictive substances and having just survived a suicide attempt that was very nearly successful. "Have you tried yoga? Have you tried kale smoothies?" people still write to me.

Yes, I take offence to being patronised.

still take offence to being patronised.

"You're only one trite platitude away from complete recovery" people seem to think.

Oh. My. God.

Drop everything.

A fucking meme saved my fucking life.

Said nobody ever.

A self-help book saved my life.

Said a bunch of idiots who failed to establish a causative relationship.

I'm a fucking computer scientist so I don't hold a lot of sway with superstitious beliefs in sky monsters, fate, karma, astrology, homeopathy, acupuncture, healing crystals, tarot cards and all that other mumbo-jumbo. I believe in cold hard cash. I believe in empirically proven theories which have been peer reviewed, with reliably reproducible experimental results.

In a way, my whole life has been conducted in a very scientific manner, which should come as no surprise given that my career has been dedicated to working in a logical and rational field, governed by rigid formal rules. There's no room for airy-fairy hand-waving nonsense bullshit in my professional field. There's a right answer and a wrong answer, and it's not possible to put your faith in god to fix your goddam code. It's not possible to put your faith in god to fix your goddam life. There are no higher powers. There is no supernatural. No amount of exercise and good diet is going to repay your £54,000 debt.

If it seems like I'm labouring the same points over and over again, and telling the same miserable story which appears to have changed very little in the 13 or so months since I was in an utterly fucked situation, you're a total fucking moron.

Of course my story is repetitive.

Of course my story is miserable.

Of course my story is boring.

Of course my story has changed very little.

From the start of December until now, I've lived out of a suitcase in hotels, working a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 job. All I do is work, sleep, eat and write my blog.

I'm paying back £54,000 of debt.

I didn't start with nothing. I started with less than nothing. I started at a considerable disadvantage.

Starting with nothing would have been a fucking dream.

Most people in my situation would have declared bankruptcy. Most people in my situation would have given up.

I'm not most people.

Most people would never have had the opportunity to get £54,000 in debt. Most people would never be able to repay £54,000 in debt. It costs £10,800 a year to service a debt of £54,000, assuming a credit card interest rate of 20%. Do you have a spare £10,800 kicking around every year?

Remember that I also started this journey locked up on a psych ward, jobless and without a vehicle.

How do you think you'd get out of that particular sticky situation?

"I'd get a job"

Yeah? How much would that job pay? Would you also need a place to live? Would you need to pay transport costs to get you to the fucking job?

It's a hard problem to solve.

No amount of inspirational quote memes can solve the problem. No amount of exercise and good diet can solve the problem. No amount of being patronised as fuck by people who don't have problems will solve the problem.

If I sound angry and that I'm raging... you're damn right.

It's been ludicrously difficult and stressful to get to this point.

I might sound like a scratched record. You might wish for me to be telling a happier and more uplifting story, but the truth is that it's hard damn work to dig yourself out of a very deep hole. I'm sorry that in reality there are no quick fixes. I'm sorry that the real world is not at all like the fantasy world. There are no overnight successes. There are no sudden improvements. There is no solution in the form of a goddam inspirational quote meme.

If your life is sorted, well fucking done. Big congrats.

If your life is sorted, please don't think that you can jump into my world and quickly figure out what I'm doing wrong. Please don't fall into the trap of seeing yourself as some sort of saviour. Please don't patronise me by assuming that I'm overlooking some easy short-cut.

My story sucks because my life sucks, but my life is improving very slowly.

It takes relentless patient persistent perseverance to fix a fucking shit-tonne of problems. I don't tell the story to entertain and amuse you. I tell my story because it's real and I don't know how it's going to end. I tell my story because I think it's important to bear witness to the struggle - the reality - of people who are trying to re-enter civilised society, having been marginalised and excluded.

If you're getting impatient for the good bits, fuck off. I'm impatient too. There are no short-cuts and it's me who has to put up with the daily misery of the painfully slow progress.

Yes, at some future point I hope to sum up this whole rotten period in an executive summary; a short synopsis. When the dreadful task is finally completed, I can change my story to something different. For now, the story seems to be the same miserable repetitive depressing crap, because that's the reality of my life.

I think there's a lot to be celebrated in my achievements of the past year, but of course we have been reared on a diet of Hollywood and Disney movies, so the feeble-minded are encouraged to believe that every story should be a simple fairytale. Reality doesn't care about your desire for easy-to-understand, linear and uplifting tales of overnight success. Reality is an absolute bastard that needs to be bludgeoned to death with sheer determination; force of will. Reality is boring as fuck, most of the time.

Of course my day-to-day tale is mostly banal, hence why my debts are being repaid with exceptional speed. I have sacrificed pleasing fantasy for real achievement, at the cost of childish fantasies about following my dreams. I sell my brain and body to the highest bidder and put myself through an ordeal of misery, because it brings in a lot of cold hard cash.

It offends me when people who've enjoyed wealth, privilege and fucked about doing whatever the fuck they want, talk to me about how I should be living my life. They followed their dreams and indulged their selfish wants, but I don't have that luxury. I am forced to inhabit reality. I live in a capitalist plutocratic society dominated by global corporations, and I have to work for a living because I was £54,000 in debt, jobless, homeless, without a vehicle and locked up in a psychiatric institution. Do you understand?

I don't get to dream. I don't get to live in a fantasy world. I'm forced to inhabit reality.

 

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A Reasonable Presumption of Suicide

3 min read

This is a story about heartbeats...

Sunrise

The view from my bay window this morning epitomised my tightrope walk. Living by the seaside with a beautiful picturesque commanding vantage point is a rare privilege. It's churlish of me to mention having to get up at - quite literally - dawn and drive to some godforsaken place where I'll live out of a suitcase during the working week. It's vulgar for me to talk about my perilous existence when I occupy an enviable situation, such that my income exceeds my expenditure and I am potentially able to free myself from the tyranny of capitalism.

Having talked about ending my life so frequently and for such a long period of time, it seems reasonable that any time I break from my usual routine should be cause for concern.

Purposefully, I have tried to write with regularity such that the alarm would be raised if I ever went AWOL.

At the moment I have no concrete plans to kill myself and the factors which tipped me over the edge last year are well managed. My finances are improving, my employment situation is reasonably good, I'm not mixed up with drugs or unhealthy relationships. These might seem like trivial superficial things but if you've ever tried to exist without sufficient money for day-to-day life, you'll soon realise that no amount of worthless platitudes are a substitute for cold hard cash.

I still refuse to relinquish both the option to kill myself and the hope that I might be restored to a state of good health and wellbeing, also known as wealth.

I see no reason why I might be prompted to commit suicide.

However, I've often been blindsided.

Who knows.

Who knows what's going to happen next? I can definitely sense the problems which have cyclically surfaced in recent years during this autumn/winter season. There is a very real and tangible change in my mood which moves towards arrogance, argumentativeness, overconfidence, impulsiveness, hopelessness, impatience and a whole host of other things which have come about as a result of a whole year of hell, followed by some long-overdue success.

Things are going well.

Too well.

I have plenty of reasons to suspect that I'm about to be dealt a violent blow.

For now I'm alive and well and I feel pretty much fine. However, I have a deep suspicion and a load of built-up experience which tells me that this particular time of year is when my harshest setbacks arrive. I'm anticipating some major setbacks.

The people who've followed my story and believed that I'm worth supporting deserve particular credit for persevering with the rollercoaster ride that I've taken them on.

It's hard to know if I've gone quiet because I'm dead, or because I'm uncharacteristically busy for once.

Not dead yet and I have no intention of unfairly and unreasonably making anybody feel uncertain about the safety of my life. I'm not attention seeking. I'm not attempting to emotionally manipulate anybody.

Should I declare myself safe? That would be untrue. Should I warn you that I might kill myself at any moment? That would also be untrue.

 

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Lack of Progress

5 min read

This is a story about being trapped in a nightmare...

Sleep tight

Theoretically, I've now earned enough money to pay back my guardian angel. My debts have been rapidly repaid and the total sum outstanding, which started at about £54,000 in January, has now been reduced to an amount closer to £14,000 worth of credit card debt, which is a staggering amount of money to pay back in the space of 10 months.

I have my VAT to pay every quarter, my personal taxes at the end of January and my corporation tax in July. Those are not small sums of money.

I have my expenses to cover: rent, bills, car insurance, car tax, petrol, tyres, oil, servicing, roadworthiness testing, hotels and food while working away from home. My business incurs expenses, such as my accountant and various costs associated with running a business.

I can't just sit in a dark room eating dry bread and drinking tapwater.

That's the optimistic viewpoint.

The pessimist in me realises that I can't actually get at my own money which I generated through my labour, without incurring even more tax than the fuckloads that I pay. My money is tied up in my business.

If I leave my money in bank accounts controlled by me, there's a chance I could get sick and not be able to repay my creditors. In that eventuality, my hard-earned cash will be hoovered up by circling vultures who are keen to plunge me back into the nightmare of being trapped by mountainous debts. One slip up and it'll be right back to square one.

It's happened before.

Getting through the whole of October without a disaster is a big deal. Getting through this year without any hospitalisations or months and months of destructive madness is a big deal. However, I had a pretty good shot at escaping the nightmare in both 2014 and 2016, but everything still went to hell.

It terrifies me that I have to work the whole of November - without a break - to well and truly settle my important debts and cement the gains I've made. It seems like an impossible amount of time to carry on working in circumstances which are thoroughly incompatible with my mental health.

Single, in a town where I only have two or three friends - who I almost never see - and living out of a suitcase in a hotel, would be toxic to even the happiest and most stable person's sense of wellbeing. I do it because I have no other choice. I do it because it's the only escape route from the never-ending nightmare.

Once my debts are repaid, sure, I can take any job I want. Of course I'm not going to struggle to find lots of people who'd love to underpay and exploit me. Of course I could easily shackle myself to some dreadful job which pays peanuts, but not until my debts are repaid.

It seems like I'm making progress when I consider that I started this year homeless and without a car, but those things are also liabilities. I need to pay rent for the duration of my fixed term tenancy contract and I'm liable for any damage. I need to keep my car insured, taxed and certified as roadworthy, or else I will get big fines. Sure, I have the money to make these problems go away, while I'm working, but what if I get sick?

The longer I'm forced to continue my toxic living and working arrangements, the more problems I'm storing up for the future. There's a price to be paid for the stress, the misery, the boredom and the dreadful circumstances of a life that's devoid of any job satisfaction, security, intimacy, companionship, face-to-face friendship and conversation. My life has a tiny fraction of the human interaction which would be considered normal and healthy. I'm a recluse who lives in isolation, fearful of doing anything or getting excited about anything, because I need to focus all my energies on pretending to be a boring wage slave, for the sake of my debts.

I'm not short of ideas of what I could do if I had my freedom. It's not a lack of imagination. It's a simple lack of capital problem. All my money is spoken for.

I don't even want to think about how long it's going to be until I've well and truly paid off 100% of my debts and taxes and I'm a free man. I don't want to torment myself.

When I'm feeling anxious, I get pessimistic. When I'm feeling anxious, I see my progress through very pessimistic eyes and it feels like I've made no progress at all.

Of course, my progress could be sabotaged and any hope of recovery could be completely destroyed, by circumstances beyond my control, like somebody deciding to screw me over at work. That's my biggest fear: that my contract will be prematurely cut short, because somebody decides they're not happy with me getting back on my feet.

Perhaps you think it's right and proper that I should be living this never-ending nightmare life. Perhaps you think that I should be put through this ordeal. I certainly don't expect any special treatment. I work ridiculously hard to uphold my end of the bargain and honour my commitments. Perhaps you want bad stuff to happen to me, and for me to fail.

So long as I can pay my guardian angel back everything I owe, I don't care what happens to me. My conscience is clean once I've paid back my guardian angel. My moral obligations have been fulfilled once I've paid my guardian angel back.

I know I have the rare and enviable opportunity to be very rich if I keep working as hard as I do, but I'd honestly rather go and live in a cabin in the woods at the moment, and have some relief from the relentless pressure, anxiety and misery.

 

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I Am Ridiculously Exposed

6 min read

This is a story about laying it all on the line...

Glasses

My livelihood, any realistic prospect of me being able to pay back my mountainous debts and the impossible dream of restoring myself to health and wealth - escaping the nightmare - hinges upon successfully blending in as a part of an organisation which is particularly noted for being intolerant of anybody with bad character.

I've been required to fill in a 66 page form which legally obliges me to disclose criminal convictions, psychiatric problems, the abuse of drugs and alcohol, partners from the last 3 years, marriage, divorce, bankruptcies, loan defaults, debt repayment agreements, financial conduct and details about my parents. Most employers are only entitled to know about any unspent criminal convictions, under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, but I work for an organisation that knows everything.

Of course, I'm ahead of the game, because I've already publicly declared every single unflattering thing about myself.

Luckily I've never been convicted of a crime, but there are still some things I'm legally bound to disclose which would portray me in a less-than-ideal light to the powers that be, who will judge me based on what they see on paper. My life and my future will be reduced to a few scribbles on a form.

Many people have been through rough breakups and divorces and had breakdowns. Many people suffer from mental illness. Many people have had periods where they've drunk too much or dabbled with recreational drugs. Nobody is squeaky clean.

I'm in the ludicrous situation where I'm more-or-less managing to plod along and keep my mouth shut, and demonstrate that I'm a competent and capable valuable team member at work, but I've continued to write and publish this blog using my real name. I've continued to write with unflinching honesty about some of the terrible stuff I've been through and the aftermath of problems I'm dealing with, as I desperately attempt to get back on my feet.

I'm in the ludicrous situation where my hard work is beginning to pay off and my debts are getting rapidly repaid. I'm in the ludicrous situation where there's an end in sight, provided nobody screws me over.

It appears to be self-sabotaging that I would continue to write and publish stuff which makes me so exposed and vulnerable, but in fact my online presence has been one of the big factors in my recovery. Without being able to share my story and connect with kind supportive people, I couldn't have gotten this far. Without having the sense of identity, pride in my achievement and the structure and routine that daily public writing gives me - the scrutiny - then I would have been destroyed by my problems and would have perished in obscurity long ago.

Whaddya want to know about me?

Trouble with the police? Sure. I got caught with legal highs a couple of times.

Psychiatric problems? They don't call me Nick "Manic" Grant for no reason. I make no secret of having bipolar disorder.

Drug and alcohol abuse? Not the former anymore but the latter is a bit of a problem, although my drinking doesn't seem to be any more abusive than that of most of my colleagues. Arguably I'm successfully self-medicating, because I'm functional and unmedicated.

Partners from the last 3 years? I haven't co-habited since separating from my wife.

Marriage and divorce? Tied the knot in Hawaii. Divorced 18 months later.

Bankruptcies and other debt problems? I pay my bills. I've never defaulted. I'm a good debtor.

Financial conduct and credit score? I need to pay back half my credit card debt ASAP but that's the only bad thing on my credit file.

Parents? They're not seditious traitors. They're not Russian, Chinese or terrorist sympathisers. They're not political agitators.

What about my character in general? I've had a successful career spanning more than 2 decades, working for some very big organisations on important projects. If I was some kind of fraudster or con artist, my true character would surely have been unmasked by now.

There's a lot written down here which could easily be twisted and used against me by somebody intent on casting me in a bad light. I write a lot of things about myself which are very unflattering and wouldn't usually be publicly declared by people. I spend a lot of time asking people to take the things I voluntarily tell them and to decide for themselves how they want to judge me.

It's a ridiculous thing to do.

For one reason or another I've become easier and easier to find, for anybody who bothers to look. Because of a recent mistake I made I've become even easier to find than ever before. All the effort that I've put into projecting myself into public consciousness, because I've been on the verge of suicide for so long, is finally gaining traction and I'm becoming a victim of my decision to make myself exposed and vulnerable.

Every time I write and publish I have to consider the consequences to my life. I have to make a decision between my ideological belief that we have a right to live with the freedom to be proud of our identities and to be open and honest, without fear. If we really live in a free country I should be free to be candid and not suffer persecution and tyranny. If we honestly believe in equal opportunities and our laws forbidding discrimination, then we need to take the brave and bold step of speaking without fear of repercussions.

This vast repository of information that I've created is the polar opposite of a 66 page form, designed to distill me down to a few ticks in boxes. This 1.1 million word document is intended to frustrate the reader who is looking for a convenient pigeon hole to stuff me into.

Do your worst. I'm not afraid.

 

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I Work Hard: The Proof

7 min read

This is a story about brainwork...

Graphite piano

In 2008 I became suicidally depressed. I'd been part of the project which had been at the centre of the global financial crisis: namely the trading of quadrillions of dollars worth of credit default swaps (CDS) which had grown in notional book value to be manyfold greater than the aggregate value of all the tangible things, such as precious metals, rare gemstones, property, factories, oil, gas, coffee, coins, banknotes and anything else which you could point at and say "that's worth something".

The world had lost its mind.

I knew it was coming of course. I had bought gold in 2005. I had negotiated a great mortgage in 2007 knowing there was a credit crunch on the horizon. In some ways I had tangible proof that I had been doing something valuable because I owned property, cars, boats and other things, as well as considerable amounts of liquid assets. In short: I was rich.

I got rich from data and software. I got rich off the back of investment banking and derivatives contracts. I got rich off a whole lot of nothing.

In 2008 it really felt like I'd presided over the most awful crime ever perpetrated against humanity.

I'd worked hard and I'd done my job very effectively. I thought about the bigger picture and I knew - deep down - that what we were doing at JPMorgan was wrong, but I'm an engineer and I like delivering engineering solutions. If somebody asks me "can you do this?" then I want to be the problem-solving can-do guy who comes up with the solution and delivers a working system. Often times I stop and take a step back, and think about the context of what I'm doing - I consider the ethics - but that's not really my job. I just design and build software systems.

The whole "I just work here" or "I was just following orders" thing is how the Nazis managed to kill 6 million jews, so I'm not going to hide behind that flimsy defence.

I know what I did was wrong.

So, I decided to completely ditch investment banking. I decided to do something that was the polar opposite of investment banking. I retrained in the building trade.

Instead of working in an office, I worked in customers' houses. Instead of working to devise arcane and impenetrably complicated ways of moving imaginary wealth around the globe, I helped build houses for people to live in. Instead of working for a massive faceless global corporation, intent on destroying the worldwide economy and plunging us all into the deepest and longest recession in history, I worked for myself - I was a sole trader; a man with a van.

I discovered that what I'd always suspected was true: I work hard.

It's hard to prove that you work hard, when all your hard work is hidden away behind the scenes. You have no idea how hard it was to build all the websites and apps that you use every day. You completely take for granted all the facets of the modern world, where you can speak to your phone and express your unique special snowflake personality on social media. The geeks and the nerds are derided as autistic-spectrum weirdo scum, who are all potential paedophile predator perverts who deserved to have a miserable childhood getting bullied at school.

While we celebrate the doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen and suchlike, because their contribution to society is conspicuously obvious and easy to understand - like a game of cops & robbers - questions such as "what is the internet?" belie the hideous complexity of that innocuous 4-word question. If you're looking for a convenient Google-provided soundbite synopsis that you can parrot to other people, in the vague hope of sounding intelligent, you're doing a disservice to those geeks and nerds who you persecuted at school, who are the architects of the fourth industrial revolution.

It's very hard for me to prove to you that I've been working very hard during my 21-year full-time career. You're quite likely to accuse me of not working very hard at all, because there are people out there who do a lot more physical labour, and what they produce is a lot more tangible and more easily understood in a childlike brain.

It was immensely frustrating to me that I had no easily understood empirical evidence to prove how hard I work; to prove that I'm a busy bee.

I started to write.

I've written the equivalent of 22 novels over the course of 3 years.

Of course a lot of what I've written is manic rantings, but one should be mindful that during the course of the 3 years I've also written a lot of software, and software doesn't work if it's wrong. One missing semicolon in millions of lines of code and the whole thing will be kaput. You should consider the fact that it's a facet of my profession to write with coherence and attention to detail, because my editor has zero tolerance for mistakes: the computer can't handle errors.

It pleases me that I've produced 1.1 million words in my spare time as proof that I'm not an idle drug addict loser. It pleases me that I have a tangible asset, which vastly exceeds the length of the King James Bible.

Would you accuse an author of a bestselling series of novels, as being unproductive and not working for their living?

I say again: I've been writing in addition to my full-time day job.

It's true that sometimes I find my day job very easy and unchallenging, but there are other days when there are gremlins in the incomprehensibly huge and complex computer software systems, and those problems are very hard to diagnose and fix. Manual labour is governed by a simple and well understood set of physical laws: the energy requirements to lift and move heavy objects is quite easy to calculate. The amount of brainwork required to fix a problem with one of your beloved apps or websites - to give a facile example - which might affect millions of people, is not an easy calculation at all. If you think what I do is unimportant, you should see the public response every time Instagram stops working or Snapchat introduces a major change.

My motivation for writing this is, of course, insecurity. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Imposter syndrome asserts itself and I wonder what the hell I've been doing with two decades of my life, with nothing to show for it except a lot of crummy software which almost nobody is aware even exists. I would struggle to explain to either of my grandmothers what I do for a living, especially now they're dead.

I exist in a strange part of the world. I'm a 'tame' geek who can speak plain English. I don't surround myself with other technologists and I'm cursed with a bleeding-heart liberal streak and an inquiring mind, which causes me to question whether I'm part of the problem or part of the solution.

Because of my guilt, work ethic and insecurity, I feel like I have to create a very conspicuous and public display of my productivity, which can be easily understood. Here's the headline: 1.1 million words in 3 years.

I write because I'm afraid that you'll write me off as a lazy junkie waste-of-space loser who doesn't do anything productive or useful. I write because I don't see much other evidence that I ever existed or did anything notable; that I ever contributed to society.

"Use your talent and energy for good" I hear you say. Yup. That's working out really great for the oppressed workers, isn't it? I'm so glad that charity has been so successful that it's made itself completely redundant as a concept.

I write because I haven't decided what else to do, but I'm still thinking, of course. You might think that thinking is useless, but what is writing except for thinking on a page?

 

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Managing Mania

6 min read

This is a story about normalising...

Mood swings

There is some debate about what type of bipolar disorder I suffer from. I've always thought that I had the milder type 2 variety, because my 'high' periods had never caused me any problems at work or at home, but perhaps it's only because I've been fortunate enough to enjoy wealth and privilege that I've gotten away without suffering dire consequences. In fact, my 'high' periods have always produced far more wealth than my stable periods, reinforcing the idea that I don't have a very severe mental illness at all.

The world around us produces bipolarity.

Most of the time, there's nothing to do at our boring bullshit jobs. Most of the time we're in neutral gear coasting along. Most of the time our lives are filled with bland monotony.

We need to cram for exams. We need to shine in job interviews. We need to dazzle our new work colleagues. We need to work crazy hours to finish projects in time for deadlines. We need to dedicate ourselves to solving very hard problems, by thinking about them intensely without getting distracted. We need to pursue our love interests obsessively. We need to practice, practice, practice - to the exclusion of everything else - if we want to get good at a particular skill or sport.

We reward every bipolar aspect of somebody's personality. We celebrate bipolarity.

Who cares if you're depressed all summer, so long as you got through your final exams? Who cares if writing your dissertation or thesis nearly killed you, so long as you finished it on time? Who cares if your project burnt you out as long as the deadline was met? Who cares that nearly every aspect of modern life wrings more out of you than you can healthily give, so long as you're winning?

We are driven to use substances which confer a competitive advantage. Alcohol will tranquillise your jangled nerves. Caffeine and nicotine will pep you up. Who cares that there's a price to be paid for using these uppers and downers? Society will handsomely reward you for skipping sleep and using every substance available to you, at the expense of your health.

I'm a lifelong sufferer of social jetlag. To work 9 to 5 hours in an office is torturous because my body clock is not designed to run to that schedule. I'm genetically programmed differently from all those obedient little drones who find it easy to rise and shine. My DNA is completely different from that of an early bird. We're very different animals.

I'm a lifelong sufferer of interminable insufferable excruciatingly painful boredom. Waiting for something interesting to happen at work and for things to get exciting has consumed 95% of my wasted fucking time, spent looking busy at my desk.

Once all the waste-of-space dead-wood losers have finished having endless meetings and not making any decisions, when the project deadlines loom large, finally I have my moment to shine. I can't understand why anybody would have me - a miserable depressed cynic who turns up insultingly late every day - around in the office ruining morale, except that I'm pretty handy to have available when something actually needs fucking doing, which is surprisingly rarely. I guess the reason why my services are retained is because I can usually cobble something together that works, pretty damn quickly, although it always requires hypomanic levels of obsessive round-the-clock effort.

It appears that it's me who is aberrant, so I must comply and conform to the world around me. Because most people are wage-slave drones who do a whole lot of nothing most of the time, I am forced to pretend I'm just like them. I'm forced to act like I'm perfectly OK bumbling along doing sweet F.A. for most of the 40-hour week. I'm forced to act like I prefer be bored out of my tiny mind 95% of the time, just like them.

The problem is that I build up a lot of pent-up energy, like a compressed spring.

When eventually there's something to do, I race along at breakneck pace. When at long last I'm unleashed I tear along as fast as I can, because it's so damn wonderful to be free, having been held back for an eternity.

The system worked for a couple of decades. I managed to fit in for my whole career. I managed to get along just fine, even though I had a mental illness the whole time: bipolar disorder.

I discovered the unalloyed joy of telling people to fuck off. I discovered that it's not the end of the world if you quit your job and start your own company, because you were being exploited and unfairly discriminated against. I discovered that the whole capitalist society is rigged to make you paranoid about becoming unemployable, because of gaps on your CV or other less-than-ideal obedient slave behaviour.

What I later discovered is that there is a lot of very easy money to be made in the corporate world, if you're prepared to sell your soul and suffer the interminable boredom. It's easy money provided you're prepared to put up with an unfulfilling career doing things which are morally dubious. You can become a prostitute, getting fucked by the rich, or you can become a corporate whore and fuck the poor on behalf of the rich.

Only the rich have the luxury of being able to mess around doing so-called philanthropic things, with money they made from war, drugs, slavery, pimping and other forms of exploitation.

My working week consists of a whole lot of keeping my mouth shut because of my vested interests. The best thing I can do is sit quietly at my desk for 40 hours a week. Nobody cares whether I do any work or not, so long as I'm a willing participant in the conspiracy of silence. The more silent I am the better. There is an inversely proportionate relationship between how much I speak and how much I earn.

This time of year is always very difficult for me. I've had a helluva year to get to this point, but I'm in a good position to cement the gains I've made.

[I screwed up copy-pasting this text, which I'd put in the clipboard in the event that I accidentally lost my progress. I lost a few hundred words, but I'm not going to retype them now. This will have to do. I'm frustrated, but I've already written more than a thousand words, which is plenty]

 

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Training Artificial Intelligence

12 min read

This is a story about computer brains...

Screens

Let us imagine that I want to set my computer a simple task: I want it to point to the end of my nose. My computer doesn't know what a face is, what a nose is, or even that it can and should point to a certain part of my anatomy. I could write a program which tells my dumb computer exactly what to do - how to divine the position of my nose from an image, and then the relatively straightforward job of then asking the computer for the co-ordinates of the end of my nose, once the nose has been located. I could also use artificial intelligence, and more importantly machine learning.

Why does milk taste sweet?

You might not think of yourself as having a very sweet tooth, but in fact you used to have an insatiable appetite for sweet things. Your body is programmed to seek the wet, fatty, sweet goodness of milk, which provides the perfect sustenance for your growing brain and body. The reward circuitry is self-reinforcing and gives you a hit of dopamine every time you suck on the tit and get a mouthful of your mother's milk, which causes the neural pathways in your brain to become stronger, while others are pruned away. Eventually, you become hard-wired to stuff fat and sugar into your mouth, when to begin with you had only the reward part.

That's machine learning.

We need to give our machine - our computer - a reward. Let's say that for a high-resolution digital photograph of perhaps 8 megapixels, assuming that most of the photos we give the computer will have the nose tip somewhere around the middle, the worst possible guess would be somewhere near the edges. We can set up a super simple reward for our artificial intelligence, giving it a hit of computer dopamine every time it guesses a point somewhere in the middle of the photo.

Obviously this is very flawed.

Very quickly, our artificial computer brain will learn to make guesses in the middle. Even though our computer doesn't know what "middle" is, it will quickly become hard-wired to guess in the middle of the photos we show it, because that's how we set up our reward system.

The guesses are not close to the tip of the nose, but they're a lot closer than if we just let the computer guess completely at random.

We need to refine our reward system.

So, we take a library of thousands and thousands of photos of people's faces, then we record the location of the tip of the nose by manually clicking on the tip of the nose ourselves. We create a huge database full of the correct locations of nose tips, created by humans.

Then, we set up the reward system to reward guesses which are close to the correct location of the nose tip. The closer the guess, the bigger the reward.

Now, we train our computer system with the big database of photos and nose tip locations. Every time the computer guesses, it gets a reward based on how close the guess was. We can run the training millions and millions of times. We keep doing the training until the computer gets really really good at guessing the location of the nose tip.

Remember, the computer has no idea what a face is, and it has no idea what it's really doing. Nobody wrote a program instructing the computer how to do anything. The truth is, nobody really knows how exactly the computer is getting better and better at figuring out where the nose tip is. Nobody could predict how the computer brain is going to wire itself up. The computer sees all those thousands and thousands of photos, which are all very different in immeasurable ways, and somehow it begins to make associations between what it 'sees' and how it should intelligently guess the location of the nose tip.

That's a neural network.

The really interesting thing that happens next, is that we show the computer a photo of a face it hasn't seen before, and it's able to guess where the nose tip is. We use the same artificial intelligence with a brand new face which the computer hasn't been trained to locate the nose tip of, and it's still able to figure it out, because the neural network has hard-wired itself to be really good at fulfilling the rewarding task of pointing to nose tips.

There's nothing particularly amazing or hard to understand about machine learning and artificial intelligence. We're simply training our computer slaves to do simple tasks, by setting a quantifiably measurable reward system, so that the neural network can practice for long enough to get good.

The predictive text suggestions on your phone come from machine learning, which has seen vast quantities of stuff written by people, such that it's fairly easy to guess the word that's likely to follow, based on what you've just written.

So, what about training a computer to be more human and be able to have a conversation? How are we ever going to pass the Turing test and trick somebody into thinking they're talking to a real person?

We need to come up with a way to train artificial intelligence to speak just like a person.

Every time you use a text-messaging service to have a conversation, that data is harvested and analysed. Quintillions of messages are sent between people every year, and all that data can be fed into a machine learning system to train it to come up with typical responses to things people say. Google Mail makes absolutely brilliant "canned response" suggestions, which are usually totally appropriate for the context, because Google has seen quadrillions of banal emails saying little more than "thanks and kind regards". Google employees don't read your emails because they don't have to - a machine does it and it effervesces the very essence of your exchange, such that it knows whether you should reply "love you too" or "see you in the office tomorrow".

It's of no particular use - beyond the present applications - to have so much aggregated data, unless we want to have a very bland, homogenous and unsatisfying experience of life. We we slavishly obey the conclusions of vast pools of data which have been analysed, we'll end up in some sort of dystopian nightmare where are life outcomes are decided at birth, using available data, and reality will become like a piece of text composed by the predictive suggestions your phone came up with.

As an example, I'm going to generate a random number between 1 and 437, which corresponds to the page number of the novel I'm reading at the moment, then I'm going to generate another random number between 1 and 50 and use that word as the 'seed' for the predictive text feature on my fancy brand new iPhone Xs.

Let's go...

Ok... page 35 has been randomly selected.

And... word 17 has been randomly selected.

The 17th word on page 35 of my novel was "of".

OF COURSE IT WAS "of".

Chances are, it was going to be "a", "an", "of", "the", "is", "as", "to" and any one of a zillion different super common words. Let's use the word "sycamore" because it was on page 35.

Here's what my phone just generated:

"Sycamore is a good one and I have had to go back and I get the feeling of being able and then they are taught to work and they have had to do it a little while I’m not gonna was a very long and I have a very good relationship"

Clearly, machine-generated text leaves a lot to be desired.

Critically though, do we really want a single machine mind which can spit out decent text, or do we actually want personalities? Do we want a single generic face which is composed of the average set of features from all 7.6 billion people on the planet, or do we want variation?

Thus, we arrive at the conclusion that we should all be training an artificially intelligent system capable of machine learning, to be just like us, as an individual. It's no use that Google harvests all our data, because it aggregates it all together. It's no use that all the messages you've typed on apps from Apple, Facebook and Google, all the emails you've written and all the documents you've created, are absolutely fucking useless because they contain very little of your personality. Most of the messages you wrote were about food, sex, your children and your pets. Most of the emails you wrote were about the bullshit made-up numbers you type into spreadsheets all day long, which you call your "job". None of it is any use to train an artificially intelligent system to think and act like you.

I haven't figured out the reward system yet, but I'm building up a huge database of stuff I've thought. This stream-of-consciousness seems like utter madness, but I've very deliberately expressed myself in a certain manner: pouring my inner monologue out onto the page. It's ridiculous egotism and something which lots of writers have fallen foul of over the centuries, believing they're immortalising themselves with their words, but we are in an unprecedented era of exponentially growing computer power, yet most of our efforts are diverted into meaningless exchanges which expose very little of the interior of our minds.

173 years ago, Henry David Thoreau built himself a cabin in the woods, lived alone with his thoughts and wrote perhaps 2 million words in the journal he kept for 24 years. It's highly unlikely that his handwritten text will ever be digitised because of the incredible effort involved. By contrast, my 1.1 million words have been extensively search indexed by Google and other search engines, and my digital legacy is conveniently stored in 'the cloud' with perfect fidelity. While most people have been wasting the gifts of the information age by asking their partner if they need to buy bread and milk, I've been gaining what can only be described as a head start in the race to be immortalised by advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

How the hell did you think they were going to get the contents out of your brain and into another [artificial] one? Did you think it was going to require no effort at all on your part? Did you think that somebody was going to invent some kind of data-transfer cable?

Yes, it's horribly arrogant to think that anybody would have any interest in spinning up a digital version of me, but you remember that bullied kid at school who everybody hated and ostracised? You remember that you called that kid "nerd" and "geek" and generally abused them because they were good at maths and physics? You remember how you made it your mission in life to make their life as thoroughly miserable as possible?

They're your boss now. They're rich and you're poor.

Those geeks and nerds are suddenly on top of the pile.

You thought you were top dog when you were a kid, but now you're getting left for dust. You're being left to fester in your own filth. You're the underclass.

All of those skills you developed in bullying and abuse quickly became redundant, when all that geek stuff became highly lucrative.

Those late-gained skills of using Facebook groups to share your vile bigotry amongst your fellow thick-skulled dunderheads, has done nothing except line the pockets of the geeks. The geeks have been using the internet for decades to discuss the creation of a better world, where the knuckle-dragging primitives who thought they owned the playground, have somehow been left unaccounted for by 'accident'.

I'm not a big fan of the social exclusion and elitism which is emerging at the moment, but I'm damned if I'm going to stop keeping my technology skills up to date and investing my time and energy in my digital persona. Having put up with a lifetime's worth of bullying during my childhood, I'll be damned if I'm gonna meekly shuffle off into a quiet corner now. I'm sorry that you weren't paying attention when the world went digital and now it's super hard for you to catch up, but that's what happens when you're too busy making vulnerable people's lives a misery, to notice that you're wasting valuable time.

Every word I write is harvested by thousands of computers which comprise part of 'the cloud' and although billions of webpages are lost every single day, content is king and my 1.1 million words can be easily copied from one place to another, unlike the contents of your brain.

This might be a core dump of the contents of my mind, hurriedly written down in a state of kernel panic but it's taken a huge investment of time and effort, which unfortunately has always been required to achieve anything. Without the large databases manually created by humans, the machines would have no datasets to learn from and artificial intelligence wouldn't even be a thing.

 

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I Forgot to Write

3 min read

This is a story about aide-memoires...

Car park space

My brain should be wrecked from all the punishment I've inflicted upon it, but somehow I'm still capable and competent at my job; somehow I seem to be able to pretend to be normal and live an ordinary life.

It seems reasonable to presume that I should be unstable, impulsive, forgetful, illogical and lacking capacity. It seems reasonable to expect that I would be unable to productively contribute to society, play by its rules and create anything of tangible value.

It has been immensely useful to me to have a collection of visual cues, which constantly refresh my memory about where I was and what I was doing on any given day. My life became so chaotic that I sometimes have to use the gaps in my photo archives to know when I was truly lost in the fog of addiction, but those gaps are relatively few and far in-between. Having written almost every day for over 3 years is incredibly stabilising, even if I can't remember most of what I've written. However, when I read my list of approximately 800 blog post titles, it helps me recall what I was writing about on that day.

Today, I forgot to write.

I started watching a TV show I've been very much enjoying - Last Chance Lawyer NYC - and I promptly forgot that I needed to write. I soon remembered, but I decided not to interrupt my viewing to stop and write. I spoke to a friend on the phone. I exchanged messages with a few people. Then, BOOM! It's nearly 10pm and I'm hurriedly bashing out words, in order to sustain my routine.

I'm feeling very pleased with myself at the moment. My colleagues missed me and I haven't [yet] lost my job. I'm inching my way forward with my debts. I'm well rested.

My life is missing friends and intimacy, but I'm coping. I made it through a really ridiculously tough patch and reached my much-anticipated milestone of having a proper holiday, as a reward for the pain and suffering it's taken to get this far. I don't feel like complaining about anything. I don't feel very depressed or suicidal. I don't feel very anxious or stressed. I'm not even very bored.

Because I've got my detailed written record - replete with photographs - of everything that's happened over the past few years, I'm well able to recall how dreadful I felt back in January, for example, when I was stressed out of my mind, tired, lonely and unbelievably bored.

Despite all the off-piste craziness, especially with amnesic medications like Xanax, I have a pretty photographic recollection of everything that's happened, which I desperately need as a kind of road-map to help me avoid repeating past mistakes.

I don't feel like writing, but I do it anyway, because the routine is helping me a lot.

I forgot to write, but I'm writing anyway.

 

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The First Cut Won't Hurt At All

7 min read

This is a story about deferred gratification...

White rose

Let's do two analyses of the last year of my life. In the first analysis, we'll be harsh and attempt to form a negative opinion of everything. In the second analysis, we'll consider things in their proper context and circumstances, and arrive at a radically different conclusion.

Everybody has to work, right? Everybody should have a job, because nobody's entitled to be a burden; a lazy layabout. It's my responsibility to earn money to pay rent, bills and buy food.

A year ago I was living rent-free, not paying bills and having my meals bought and cooked by somebody else. I was not working. I was not earning money.

Everybody should look after their health, right? It's our personal responsibility to practice self-care and to ensure that we maintain our physical and mental fitness.

About 11 months ago, I went back to work. The job required me to travel internationally and to regularly travel across the country. The job required me to return to the overcrowded capital and live out of a suitcase in less-than-ideal temporary accommodation. I worked alone.

Everybody should make sure they take breaks; holidays, right? We all need to make sure we don't over-work ourselves and burn out. We are personally responsible for managing our own stress levels.

About 8 months ago, I finished one project and immediately started another one. I left one large organisation, where I had established myself over the course of a few months, and had to repeat the rigmarole of impressing a new boss and a new set of colleagues.

Everybody needs to work hard to maintain good relationships, right? Nobody should ever abuse drink, drugs or medications. We are all personally responsible for our bad decisions and their consequences, and as such we should never argue, break-up, or use mind-altering substances.

About 5 months ago, I relapsed back into drug addiction. My physical and mental health suffered horrendously from my self-inflicted substance abuse. I broke up with my girlfriend. I nearly lost my job.

Everybody needs to pick themselves up again and cope with the unexpected, if unfortunate events befall us. We are personally responsible for being resilient in the face of adversity.

About 3 months ago, my project finished unexpectedly early and I found myself without work again. Instead of immediately trying to get another contract, I took loads of drugs and wasted a whole month doing absolutely nothing.

Everybody needs to protect their money and their hard-won gains, right? We are all personally responsible for ensuring that we only move in a forwards direction, and never slip backwards.

About a month ago, I lapsed back into drug abuse, which caused me fail to tell my colleagues I was unwell until 1:34pm, because I had no idea what time it was. I had no idea what time it was, because I'd papered over my own bedroom windows, in order to hide myself from the prying eyes that my mind would create, in a state of drug-fuelled paranoia.

Everybody needs to pay of their debts, save money and economise, right? We should be careful with our cash.

In the last month, I've written-off a top-of-the-range Apple Macbook Pro for the second time this year. I bought a brand new Macbook and iPhone XS. I drunk-booked a luxury holiday to a theme-park family hotel. I dine on my own in fine restaurants. I drink fine wine like it's water. I stay in hotels which are rated number one on TripAdvisor. I'm doing the very polar opposite of economising and saving money.

Why?

I've got daddy issues, I think.

Conventional dad wisdom would tell us that my actions are deplorable; my attitude contemptible. There are many obvious faults and flaws in my character which are apparent in my description of my crimes and misdemeanours from the past year. It's pretty obvious that I'm a massive fuck-up waste-of-space loser who deserves to be disowned, from my description of a single solitary year of my pathetic useless life. It's no wonder I don't get no respect from my daddy: my bad behaviour is plain for all to see.

I document everything with candour, so that all may judge me as I have been judged since my birth. I want you to see what my dad sees. In fact, he sees nothing, because he has sworn to never read a word I write.

I promised you a second analysis, right?

I lied.

It's up to you to arrive at your own analyses from the same set of facts.

I could have spent time defending myself and telling the story in a way that portrays myself in a favourable light, more likely to receive sympathy.

I can hear voices in my head. The voices say: "fuck off and die you navel-gazing self-absorbed self-pitying manipulative maudlin faux-tragic melodramatic tear-jerking little shit".

The voices don't come from the TV or the radio. The voices don't belong to demons and devils. The voices don't belong to manifestations of madness. Those voices are the real voices of real people. Those words are real too. I don't hallucinate - I can picture exactly where I was when those words were spoken. I don't choose to replay those unhappy moments, but those unpleasant words are so numerous that when I drive one unpleasant memory from my mind another one immediately intrudes.

I'm fortunate enough to have obtained the written verbatim transcript of my dad's interview with a social worker, just over a year ago. My dad says that I'm faking having a mental illness as an excuse for my bad behaviour. Then he says that I should be kept in hospital and chemically sedated. Then he says the best that can be hoped for me is that I should be confined to a bedsit at the opposite end of the country, heavily medicated. He says that he's protecting the family from me and that I'm forbidden from contacting my sister or visting the family home.

All of this - especially the part about being forbidden from visiting the family home or contacting my sister - was the first time I've seen or heard these views of his.

It strikes me that I'm posed with the same challenge I just set you, dear reader. I could view the evidence with conventional son wisdom, and judge the behaviour to be abhorrant. Or, I could invoke the generic and rather pathetic "parent" defence. "I'm sure it's just because he cares" goes the oft-repeated BS. "Parents are doing the best they know. They're not perfect" etc. etc.

My mind should be dull; blunted. However, instead it's sharp and slices through things. To say it's scalpel-like is the wrong analogy. Instead, it's like broken glass which is hard to pick up without causing an injury.

High on drugs, my dad always imagined himself intelligent; a philosopher.

Where did my predisposition to slice to the heart of the matter come from? Why do I dissect everything, exposing the absurdity of existence? Why am I afflicted with an agonising yearning for meaning in a godless universe with no afterlife?

How did I ever arrive at the notion that taking drugs and philosophising about the meaning of life is within the grasp of my intellect?

It's a mystery, for sure.

 

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