Mission Report: In Hostile Territory

Confidence comes with practice.
–Mother Dearest.

One thing leads to another, and I find myself sitting in a parlour.

I mean, as an undercover agent, no one should be able to recognise me for longer than three months. Some might say that’s just an excuse for a terrible new haircut.
But I kid you not, my latest disguise has me looking like an overgrown five day-old chick with a bedhead. What’s that? Of course I can’t tell you the purpose of my mission.

But the real test for an undercover agent is for hostile forced to never catch you. Unfortunately, I think some of them run our local parlour.

Somehow, they managed to convince my mother that I needed a face clean up.

Me on the brink of university, my mother readily agreed anyway. No prizes for that.

All of a sudden, I find myself taken into a small room and locked inside. A woman, part of the network no doubt, follows me in. She hands me a black cloth bag.
Off with your shirt, she says. Put on the bag. Then she leaves the room.

I’m trapped. Guess I have no choice. I obey.
She comes back in and I’ve worn the bag the wrong way.

Of course it’s my first time. Preferably my last. She laughs and tells me how to really wear it.
Turns out you don’t just drape it around your neck like a preschooler playing a brinjal in the vegetable dance for junior annual day. You take your arms out through the elastic of the bag, which I actually found pretty pointless. If you’ve got a problem with baring and stuff, with the amount of skin you’d be ‘covering up’ wearing a thin see-through black bag, I don’t really get your net gain.

But then of course, I was reminded that I’m an ace in a very allosexual world.

Anyway, I did what she told me to and the put me down on the only bed in the room. Relax, she said picking out her towels.

This reminds me of a suspect about to undergo a waterboarding interrogation.

Fuck.

I think my disguise may have been blown. My identity has been compromised. They’ve got me! And there’s nothing more I can think, so I close my eyes as she brings on a wave of creams and rubs them up my nose.

I’m learning to breathe in time with the few short breaks she gives me between blocking off my air passages.

The lines from the Dire Straits song are running through my head.

And I get trouble with my breathing
She says boys don’t know anything
But I know what I want

I want out.
She then brings a wide flow of steam and focusses the blast on my face.

I keep my eyes closed and steady my breathing. She’s rubbing something around my mouth. Then on my mouth. I am adamant. I keep my lips sealed tightly shut.

I won’t break down. I am better than that. She won’t get any information out of me. She won’t get me to confess. She won’t get a word out of me.

Then she’s pinching my nose, rubbing my eyes to the point where my focus is a bit messed up even now and the torture begins. She’s silent the whole while. I mirror her. I’m not coughing. I’m stronger than that.

She seems to realise that. We’re taking this a notch higher, it seems.

She dims the lights. The bright squares on the ceiling are gone. There’s now a blue light coming from somewhere on the floor. I try to lift my head to see where it’s coming from.
“What’s the matter?” she asks. Very courteous. Very polite. Almost like she wasn’t trying to force a confession out of me.
Two can play that game.
It’s almost a mockery of everything that’s happening around me, but I simply say, “Nothing,” and put my head back down.

She’s turned on cheesy music.

I’d once heard that the CIA had broken someone down by playing Red Hot Chili Peppers on loop. (Not that I would mind them,) It seems she has a similar plan.

But she complies with my request to turn it off as she brings another round of shady liquids.

I turn up YouTube. There’s something I’ve been wanting to listen to, and there’s no other time I can think of where I’d get 49 unbroken minutes to listen to it. (She’d told me it would take half an hour.)
(Since I’m on the phone, I can’t use YouTube and blog simultaneously.)

So I bring my set list into the square middle of an attempted interrogation.

I’m being layered with mysterious liquids with potential side effects, to Gustav Holst in the background.

I swear it feels like I’m in a movie.
I also know know exactly where the Star Wars theme’s inspiration lies.

She probably thought I was listening to Hans Zimmer or something.

We’re mentally jumping through hyperspace in the middle of an interrogation.

And finally, she’s rubbing my face in time to Gustav Holst. Oh my.

Then suddenly, with no warning, she flicks a switch. The lights come on again, harsh, bright, glaring in my eye.
This is going to get serious, isn’t it. She isn’t going to let me go so easily. Her colleague walks in.

“Your hair hasn’t been dried properly,” she smiles. Sinister.

I’m given my two minutes alone to put on my shirt.
To put on my shirt, they say. It’s really just to gather my wits, prolong the torture, give me two minutes alone with myself, to realise the futility of my resistance, the end in store for me, how my fate is sealed.
Two minutes alone to cry in silence, for the hopelessness to echo in the remotest recesses of my mind, for the breakdown to begin.

I sigh, put on my shirt and open the door.

I’m told to go to the room my mother’s in.

I pause by a mirror. The disguise is effective, because I need to double take. I don’t really know the person in the mirror.

Mum seems okay. I wonder if this is another part of the interrogation. Mum’s getting her waxing done. I wonder if they’re trying to scarr a confession out of me. Mum seems satisfied, she even suggests I get myself in the same position.

No freaking way.
I don’t know if she’s actually in cahoots with them. Or maybe they’ve brainwashed her into saying that.
But I’m a grizzly bear, and do plan to remain so in the near future.
The lady working on mum is encouraging too. She says, once you get it done, you’ll be back every month yourself!

God, they get payed to mess with your brains so bad. That doestdo sound good.

And then I have to go. They can’t see an unfinished product walking out into the free world. The transformation must be complete. The message must be strong and the damage… lasting.

And they do it, they do their job well. They pull on it and run their brushes and spray cans and heaters through them. Their relatively short length cannot save my hair from certain fate. It’s straight, flat and rounded down midlenght. God, they’re so professional at it, I don’t even know what to call what they’ve done. But this time, the execution is perfect. I got to sit through the entire process, eyes wide open, I get to watch every shred of my identity being torn away. Ironed out. Falling into line.

It’s done. We’re done. The transformation is complete.
My face looks dull, my eyes bleary and I look like a porcelain china doll.

They’ve got me. The System got me. I hate what I look like. But the job’s done well. My mission is incomplete, abandoned, and headquarters doesn’t recognize me anymore (and neither does my little sister).

And so, I’m going under again.

Frigid Thoughts

It seems to me that I’m most tolerant of the winter in the midst of summer.

I can’t stand my freezer these days. For the first time, I’m resenting the cold blast I get when the door opens. My key to the Arctic. Beloved zero degrees. Clear ice. Being able to see the flow of frigid air, seeing the air move without infrared glasses or playing god or inhaling nitrogen vapours in the chem lab about two seconds before you set off the smoke alarm.

I’m not looking forward to it. I opened the freezer cringing. Safe to say there was no ice cream in there either. I’m not even in a bad mood, but I wasn’t anticipating anticipating a cold blast and the following break out of neurotic signals on overdrive with my arms trying to tell my brain, “Boss, it’s cold! What now?”. My brain normally just responds with “Yeah, it’s cold. Just chill. And I like it when you call me Boss. The skeleton I sit in doesn’t seem to realise that fact all too often. Especially not inside exam halls, if the records hold any weight.” This time, it just grunted and muttered, “shit.”

I normally enjoy the cold. I yearn for it during the summers. The opposite never happens. I intuitively know that I’d just be happier being a frozen popsicle than a barbeque charcoal going red.

My reputation is at stake. The snow jackets are laughing in my face. This is no way to be prepping for the winters.

‘Winter is coming’, I suddenly see the phrase in a new light.

I want my old ice loving self back.

If this rant bored you and you got stuck on the thought of ice cream in the freezer and eventually graduated to more sucrose-laced thoughts (sucralose for those of you on diets?), here’s a drawing of the chocolate biscuit and Oreo and milk and Coke can aisle of the grocery store.

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 The hand is definitely mine. Don’t ask how it’s possible to draw and reach out with the same hand, but I like chocolate biscuits too.

In the end, I’ve ranted and you’ve drooled before graphite choco chip cookie bags, so we all leave this page happy about having achieved absolutely nothing.

Have a great day!

Detuned And Totally Unprepared

Clichés are clichéd, awful and annoying. So I’m not going to begin this with the customary “it’s been a long while since I last blogged” and am going to entirely avoid addressing the elephant in the room (text-box?). Or maybe I will. I’m still alive, if you’re wondering. It’s good to acknowledge that!

I’ve been preparing for university. Most of my time has actually gone in procrastinating preparing for university and in trying to accept the fact that I’m eighteen, an adult, and can legally drink in the UK. (Although, UK or not, I am a soon-to-be uni kid who has read too many books—and has a lot more of those to come!
Who needs legal drinking age limits, I’ll probably graduate and never have had the time to drink… and this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you hype your beginning university.)

In truth, my academic progress is hovering pitifully above zero, and I just embarrassed myself with my terribly slowed down calculating powers working on my little sister’s basic high school physics yesterday.  [And of course, “yesterday” being two weeks ago, because that’s how much I procrastinated finishing this post. It’s never like this when I write on paper!]
Did I just call high school physics basic? Change (and tons of rain) is in the air.

I have to admit, I really admire people who can keep up their hobbies during their off-periods. When I was a kid, I used to wonder how busy adults managed to fit in fun stuff into their work-filled lives. I’ve come to realise that when your mind loves to wander and you’re the Ace Pro of Procrastination, blogging in the middle of your chemistry finals preparation is really no big deal. Consistently blogging in the middle of the lazy May summer break? I’d buy you a trophy. To be honest, my mind isn’t really working enough to recognise that I can be blogging about things I’d jump to my phone for during the mentally active periods. Maybe I’d be glad once university begins, so take my future whining with a grain of salt!

My latest preparation for college was thinking it would be a cool idea to have a harmonica on me on campus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not abandoning my guitar. I’d take it everywhere with me if I could. But I have learnt through experience that that’s not a great idea. It’s also kind of cumbersome. I mean, mum and dad have ruled out carrying my electric guitar and amp with me, at least for the first year. I can’t be walking around stations with a backpack, a suitcase, an amplifier in hand and two guitars slung over my shoulder. So well, ouch. I was sort of hoping a harmonica could fill the void (it would also mean I’d probably do a reverse Dylan– I’m ditching rock and roll for folk and the blues… indicative, ’cause if you see me in a few month, you’ll probably hear me admitting, “I got the blues”). Besides, a harmonica could fit in my pocket! I mean, I do have a policy of always having a pick on me at all times—just in case!—but you can’t really do much with a pick alone, and most people’s incidentally-lying-around guitars happen to be dusty, rusty to the point where you fear a tuning peg would snap if you turned it, to say nothing of the strings, but that’s all in a guitarist’s day’s work. Problem is, they are all right-handed. I am freaking Tantalus.
A harmonica on me would really be neat in such trying times!

So I dragged mum into the nearest music shop because I failed to do that to dad. I may be legally eighteen, but when product prices start exceeding what you can hope t earn in your adolescent dreams, you resort to the trusted method you’ve used since you were five.
In my defence, it got me my first guitar.
So we stepped into the shop.

Now, I’ll make a confession here. I actually don’t like music stores that much. You’d think I ought to practically live there, and I’d have thought so too. But really, they freak me out a bit. It’s a constant challenge from the very second you enter. There’d be that one eager salesman who’s out to prove that he knows more than I’ll ever study.
Hey, I’m still a student too, and in music, the learning never ends. But this guy really is the Master of everything music, and what he doesn’t know probably isn’t for real.

He’s so knowledgeable.

He’s so skilled.

Man wears a backward hat.

He knows a freaking pentatonic scale and keeps playing it over and over again.

He’ll tell you that the PRS he’s playing is probably the best in town. [But his store sells freaking Gibsons on order!] He’ll talk about how he heroically quit everything to pursue hid dream (of being a music salesman?), then he’ll throw his head back and rock it sideways with his eyes closed as he plays the A# pentatonic scale again. And when he opens them again, there’s a clear challenge in his eyes.
Part of me cannot resist the challenge, but oh, for goodness sake, I only came for a guitar belt!

Breathe. Sometime, I’m going to remind him that Stratocasters are heaven and he will forever be a disappointment for this store not stocking one.
But beware that if you ever try out a guitar and play something, he’ll be there behind you, smirking. What does suck though, is that he gets to smirk anyway. Remember I’d mentioned Tantalus? I’m awkward holding all guitars on display, of course. They’re all right-handed. And then, just for variety, Soulful Salesman tells me that he too is left-handed in truth, but learnt to be comfortable playing right handed, for t’is the Right Way.

I guess that’s the real reason he has a three paragraph-long rant in his name.

But anyway, this time it was for harmonicas. I’d heard people refer to harmonicas as mouth organs, so I wasn’t sure what to tell them. On a whim, I went with the second.

“Could you show me some mouth organs?”
There. That was all it took to have triggered somebody.

A man turned to me to inquire if I’d ever played anything in my life, and why I was looking for this particular instrument.

I told him I was a guitarist and was simply interested in trying out a new instrument.
Big mistake. He immediately took me for a commitment-phobe and proceeded, over twenty minutes, to demonstrate, on both the guitar and mouth organ, what a difference commitment could make in a player.

“And, my dear child, it is a harmonica, do not call it a mouth organ!”

He didn’t work at the store (he repeatedly stressed on this point). He was eighty-four years old, an engineer and a hobbyist luthier who had a shop of his own in a nearby town. He showed a number of styles of playing, emphasising what practice could do for me, talking all the while, and all I could do was nod. In between explaining me why I shouldn’t go for a SEYDEL harmonica, being an absolute rookie, just like I wouldn’t begin driving lessons with a Ferrari (I had only wanted a look) came the story of his kid’s birth and the autobiography he was writing, and a pretty neat quote from his book. I just can’t remember what it was at this moment. The book though, is still under construction.

In the end, he told me I could drop by the store anytime, and remember, he did not work here, but they had his number and I could get in touch with him for any advice, and now I should just say “Thank you, sir”, and it was time for me to leave. And well, that’s exactly what happened.
I never actually got to see the harmonicas.

This is why I am not yet ready for college.

I Did Not Sign Up For This

This is not what I saw myself doing when I signed up for this.

About two years ago, I put one tentative foot in front of the other and pretended to set out to become a design student with a C++ textbook in my closet. I moved a foot forward, shuffled a few feet back and learnt on the way, of all things, that I, as I had expected, would never become a fashion designer. I mean, I can barely keep my human sketches respectfully clothed, and the ol’ tried and tested tee and jeans they wear is beginning to fester.

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Unsurprisingly, every human figure I draw and get bored with eventually turns into a superhero. When it’s not a dragon. And clothed in spandex (not the dragon).

I knew it was visual/communication design for me. If I didn’t see myself dying of poverty (what was that C++ textbook for, after all?), I saw myself at least doing cool Hollywood stuff or basically doing this:

Okay, it is definitely a tad bit ambitious to say I saw myself working with my favourite band, mostly because I really wouldn’t be working at all; I’d be drifting through a dream and thinking about how the latest music video on Muse’s website would actually depend on me and be influenced and shaped by my style of art, and basically spending all day trying to (unsuccessfully? heartbreaker) somehow compare guitar notes with Matt Bellamy and go home at night under some happy delusion that Matt’s going to rub off on me and I’ll be writing riffs as good as Muse soon. Any time now. Reading’s just a few good songs away.

Wait, I got carried away, didn’t I… what’s that? You’re telling me you have no idea how and why I began talking about some life goal of being a musician and headlining Reading festival’s main stage and I was in fact talking about making a career in… of all things, design? Really? Give me a second to scroll up and get some context…

Okay, right, the design student working in communication. (Hey, it’s good to dream!)
So, I had fantasised about working in the music industry with bands and artists on video effects or album art or posters [I SAID I COULD DREAM], I had anticipated maybe working on effects or in films, or  in animation (though I wouldn’t really have wanted to), and I had feared ending up working on freaking adverts. (And subsequently mentally threatening everyday to quit and follow the footsteps of Wally Wood)

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A poor man’s Wallace, please? Maybe?

But I had never imagined finding myself in this situation.

 

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I’m drawing biology diagrams. I’m not even a biology student. I’ve reached a point where I don’t even know what I’m drawing. All I know is that it looks like benzenes. I miss shitposting about chemistry, honestly.
But I haven’t done any bio in years. I feel dumb. I’m drawing these for my little sister. Four years littler, mind you.
How that girl talked me into doing this, I’ll never know.

But if you need me, I’ll just be sitting in the corner with that C++ textbook trying to convince myself I know something. Oh, and watching an old live performance of Muse from 2000 at Eurockéennes under the covers.

(No, I didn’t just make the last bit up at random. I’m talking about this lovely. What about the first bit? I honestly don’t know.)

Mileage

As a traveller through unfamiliar lands
I’ve quite a specific quest
The idea is to get home
And you’ve no idea that’s a fucking test

Because I’m walking the plank
Where the captain toots a horn
At 160 decibels or so;
My mental drapes have torn

One step forward, two steps back
Is a waltz in my head
Only it’s played on a landmine:
One wrong step, kiddo, and you’re dead

I’ve nearly slipped and drowned
And I was only walking on a road
My treasure chest is getting heavy
And so are my breath, my curses and my groans

I threw away the map
After tearing it to shreds
Around these parts
Only my eyes can get cred

And my legs seem made of lead
The green man’s laughing at me
Only fifty metres away
Arrive to give the dust company

Who’d have thought crossing a road was hard?
Who could possibly have known?
At just a few hundred metres distance
I’m still a long walk from home.

Trashing

As a semi-irresponsible occasional cyclist and woke kid who has turned the ignition key in mum’s car before promptly handing her the keys, I am mildly shook by, throughly impressed by, and do fully and disturbingly relate, to every scene with a vehicle present, in the latest Mission: Impossible movie.

 

[Also, running through the tags for this post, I just made a disturbing realisation: Admission contains the word ‘mission’. College admissions are collegiate advertorial missions. Crap. I mean, it’s not even wrong. Have you tried answering the “Why us?” college essay?
Oh well, I guess we know what the latest Mission: Impossible ripoff will be about!]

I’m Craving School

My boundaries may just be blurring in dangerous ways.

I think I’ve been spending way too long on Reddit. Part of me regrets signing up, because you can subscribe to communities, and they pop up on your Reddit homepage. When you’ve been accustomed in life to having to go out of your way to even get ice cream, Reddit shoving its content into your face tirelessly is a something you’ll readily take. Jokes on me though, I spend way too much time these days.

Reddit may not be the villain here, but it is on the verge of turning me into my own worst nightmare: a mindless content consuming drone. Nightmare? Scratch that. It’s the end of me, my biggest fear.

So I’ve been scrolling through an amount of posts that would put my… ex-math textbook to shame. It was thick. It also put a serious smile on my face to call it my ex-textbook. I’m almost longing for a new one now, three months is the sort of vacation no one should be allowed to have.

If I digress for a minute, just imagine the sort of profits the entertainment industry would make if people had three month long holidays. After a point, people would begin to pay the trashiest posters on Reddit, Instagram, whatever else they use, just to fulfil their daily cravings.
Although, it’s not exactly as if sitting at your desk at work or at school during a quiet moment, you don’t feel the urge to check Buzzfeed. I guess as long as the world has people bored and numbed, the creative industry will soar. The irony is that the creative industry is practically of the Ones Who Broke Away.
But I have resolved to get back onto YouTube. I’ve stayed away from live music recordings for way too long, I can’t lose touch with that!

Anyway, I’ve been mindlessly scrolling for the moment. I guess I didn’t realise how instinctual it had become. This morning, I was reading the newspaper and was on the comics page (no, the actual comics page). I read through a comic I liked, and just for a second, my index finger tensed as if preparing to lift itself up and hit the Upvote button.

Oh shit. The cynical observer in the Man vs Robot war is falling prey to the enemy. This is probably more of the reason I haven’t blogged for so long. I have got to get my brain running again. I’m going to dig out those old physics notebooks.
Jokes on me again, though. The physics notebooks have been out all week, I have sort of been aware of my Reddit (semi?) addiction for a while now. It’s pretty much numbed my mind, killed my wit and is retarding my writing style too. That’s actually why I’ve been afraid to write anything significant for a while. I know I’m going to look back on this and cringe hard.

I never thought you’d hear me say it. I’m craving school right now. I need the school environment to get me interested in learning again. I need a change, I guess.

If I read this post title in isolation, I’d check me into a mental institution, but I guess Stockholm Syndrome’s hit me. After reading this, I’m just fucking ready to check into university, help me.

But the guitar sort of helps. I’m doing almost nothing creative these days, save maybe a three-chord arpeggio riff, nothing major. My other blog’s nearly dead and I haven’t written any poetry in a long while. Even though I nearly die almost every time I walk back home from design class, there’s tons of fodder, but I need to become more receptive to it again. Maybe then I’ll tell you about how awkward it can be to be a science student among art majors. Huh? What is this ‘friend’ you speak of? Is it a new algorithm? A mathematical mnemonic? New drug in the pharmaceutical lab? …Oh, wait.
It’s a long story I will attempt sometime soon when I’m not cringing as I write. I’m really just thinking out loud right now.

The guitar still helps though I’m restricted to only playing it, because like every other muscle in my body, my vocal chords are stiff and I cannot sing to save my life. I’m trying, but sheesh, I’d really rather not do it with anyone around. Things are literally going like this.

Me: (attempts to mumble)
Mum: (mildly concerned looking out of the window) “Is a kid crying in the next building?”
Me: (tries to cover up mouth movements by pretending there’s something stuck in my teeth)
Me: (tries to hit the lower notes)
Mum: (looking out the window) “Bikes can be so noisy.”
Me: (tries to falsetto but vocal chords are in the middle of a union strike over unemployment)
Mum: “alkjmp Darn that construction!”
What?!

So yeah, not my best period. I was trying to play along with my iPod today, and it probably wasn’t a great idea. I’m playing along with the track and Elliott Smith begins to sing, and I forget to play, because it has been a really long time since I’ve heard a real singing voice and one that’s not begging for death. Elliott Smith also just happens to be amazing.

At least so far, my fingers have only been stiff some five times.

Who knows, maybe the truth really is Stockholm syndrome. I kinda miss trashing school.