Welcome to October’s third Showcase, focussing on the theme of ‘Reality And Perspectives’. This is a multi-layered theme and, so far this month, we’ve seen poetry and prose exploring all sorts of different angles: the ways in which perspective colours reality, the infallible nature of reality and how easily it can be distorted, and what happens when realities differ.
I’m Charlotte, and I manage the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. In my opinion, there’s no greater backdrop for the clash between reality and perspective to play out against than a great adventure story. The struggle imbues the narrative with depth, inviting readers to journey through uncharted landscapes: not only physical, but also those of imagination and self-discovery. However, it can also present us with the daunting reality that our perspective may not always be reliable.
In the poems and stories in this week’s Showcase, we explore the ways in which our mental wellbeing can be profoundly influenced by our interpretation of reality and the perspectives through which we view the world. They show that mental health isn’t solely determined by external events but is often shaped by the unique way we perceive and respond to those events.
This first poem recounts a tense encounter in a strange city, offering a poignant perspective on the dichotomy of reality and subjective perception in everyday life. The vivid description of fear and the palpable tension of the situation shows us the visceral reality of a moment and emphasises the stark difference between the perceived threat and the objective reality. The poem prompts further reflection on how personal experiences can shape one’s perception of reality, as it did for the speaker, when his friends scoff at his retelling of the encounter later.
One night me and my friend were walking in a strange city heading
back towards our hotel. A big guy stepped in front of us and refused to move.
He was in his twenties, perhaps thirties, had short hair and looking tough.
His movement was stiff. His eyes were motionless. We didn’t know what
he wanted, or if he was carrying a gun or a knife. We walked down
the pavement to avoid confronting him, but he followed us down to the street.
My mind went blank. My heart was pumping fast. Suddenly someone took
my shivering hand. It was my friend. Not a word was spoken. We turned
around and ran in the opposite direction. We took one street corner, and then
the other, almost breathless. We kept looking back. He wasn’t following. Later
we told this incident to other friends who all laughed at us: two guys scared away
by a drunk or drugged man. I didn’t laugh. The fear felt vivid. I wondered what
I would do, or how I would feel, if I was a woman, walking alone at night.
(c) Hongwei Bao, 2023
This short story explores the interplay between reality and perception within the context of living with autism, and viewing the world through a lens that differs from the norm. The narrative presents the reader with a deeply personal perspective, where the protagonist grapples with a daily existence that’s a blend of sensory experiences, vivid metaphors, and a constant shifting between different mental ‘rooms’. The story illustrates how the protagonist’s perception of reality is heavily influenced by their unique perspective and struggle to make sense of a world that often feels overwhelming. The protagonist’s introspection, which encompasses moments of gratitude and fear, unveils the intricate relationship between their own perceptions and the external reality they navigate.
Clutching Coffee: Mornings With Autism
I’m beginning to suspect the crutch of the mentally disordered being prone to an artistic bent is due to the overreliance on metaphor to describe internal states. The attempt at putting the internal into words is so easily hijacked by creativity, one’s mind quickly becomes a catalogue of daily adventures.
As my tooth throbs, I see it sitting on my gumline as large as a pumpkin, pushing the other teeth aside, and its razor-like roots thrash away below the gumline to spite its own existence.
I sit down at the kitchen table sipping my coffee, lost in the morning fog, and waiting for the caffeine to smoke out my sense of self, who I’ve been told is the one to help me get through the day.
I have been re-living a moment from my teenage years for the last hour with no contemporary oversight and attempting to envision different outcomes from the event. It’s like I have wandered into this room willingly, but I cannot now leave it until I solve a puzzle that does not and should not exist.
This last metaphor, the idea of being stuck in a room, is common, especially in the morning if I’ve had a vivid dream about a past love. The full weight of forgotten emotion will be pressed into the room with me, refusing to budge and forcing me to reconcile how I could have possibly moved on.
“You had to move on,” I hear myself say.
“Because if you still felt like this every day you would have ceased to function. Just like you have ceased to function now.”
The walls dissolve around me and a sense of years ago returns to bathe the old memories. The room has released me along with the rules of how I am expected to think and feel within its confines.
A few breaths later and I’m in a different room and I begin texting people with things I’d like them to know in case of my imminent death.
The rules have changed.
I apparently have gratitude I wish to unload on a few friends who I’ve decided have helped me during pivotal moments in my life. However, there are only three out of 56 people I believe should have this gratitude.
Lucy, I have since come to realise during our time in high school that I had undiagnosed mental issues, and the reason that time sucked so badly for me was because I was not getting the help I needed. I often recall a time when I was particularly low, and out of all of our classmates, you alone seemed to recognise this, and you asked if I was OK. That meant a lot to me.
Sammy, you knew I was eating your food in the student dorms, but never said anything. I was broke at the time, so thank you.
I just wanted to thank you, Robin, for covering for me at work all those years ago. I was going through some things and just couldn’t stand to be around people, but thanks for not reporting me while I worked through it.
I sent the last text and stood my phone up next to the marmalade.
When the rooms are gone, I can focus on reality and the sensory information that comes with it. Too much sensory information can drive me back into the rooms again, which is why I always have resting autistic face when I’m at work; the light is on, but nobody’s home.
Too busy solving a riddle with rules I have imposed on myself.
After years of this, I have wondered if the presence of this seemingly endless number of rooms is representative of a seemingly endless number of unresolved issues, or if my brain is simply creating a space for me to retreat, independent of any convenience considerations.
The passage of time isn’t enough to get me out of the room; I have to do something while I’m in there.
My phone buzzes and falls over.
You stole my food! I thought it was Jeff. In fact, I asked you who you thought it was and you told me it was Jeff!
Why had I ruminated on the need to share gratitude and then coupled it with my fear of dying? I wanted to share gratitude and instead I created a confessional.
Who am I kidding? My sense of self isn’t showing up. Look at all the shit he’d have to deal with.
The Prozac tumbles down with the rest of the coffee and I wonder if I was somehow made inside out.
You still owe me for that shift, you bastard.
I truly am gifted at helping other people remember.
A book of Sontag’s essays is still sitting unopened on the table. I slide it over and begin to read, feeling her warm heady voice pulling my brain back together. The balm is overwhelming and I realise how much I need this.
The phone buzzes and Lucy’s number isn’t Lucy’s any more.
The rules have changed.
© Jack Pemment, 2023
Connect with Jack and find out more about his writing on his website: www.jackpemment.substack.com
This next poem offers a thought-provoking and hopeful perspective on the human condition. It emphasises the shared reality of our existence and the experiences we have in common. It challenges the perceptions and biases that can divide us and encourages a shift in perspective, reminding us of the importance of unity and understanding, rather than conflict and division. Ultimately, the poem calls for compassion and goodness as we journey through our shared reality.
Seven billion people share this earth
Our time here is just a jot
We worry what we have
And what we haven’t got
Our leaders create the wars
Setting us all against each other
But the man we aim the gun at
Is a human sister or brother
I may not know your suffering
But I can clearly share your pain
Round and round in circles
And we fight all over again
The media have an agenda
It has greed at its very heart
Black is black and white is white
The aim to keep us apart
We all have a right to live
Not one of us is superior
Don’t let anybody ever tell you
That you are worthless or inferior
Each of us have goodness
We all will laugh and cry
Spend time working our arse off
And sadly one day we all will die
Judge each other on what we do
Not on the the colour of our skin
By fighting and arguing among ourselves
We let the powers that be win
One day we will all be just ashes
Leave behind a legacy of good
No need to move a mountain
Just a memory of where we stood
You cannot change your past
But the future is there for you to mould
For you to look back with fondness
When you are grey and old
© Danny Fenn (the boleyn poet), 2023
You can follow Danny on Facebook: danny.fenn.10 and Instagram: @danny.fenn.10
Sometimes, the most daunting struggle isn’t with reality itself, but with reframing our perception of it. But, within that shift lies the power to transform the world as we see it. If you’re struggling with the reality of your situation, then this last poem is for you. It was written by Shout, a mental health charity providing free and confidential text messaging support services for anyone who is struggling to cope. It is accessible 24/7.
I’m Here To Listen Anytime
But if anyone ever needs to talk in confidence with someone they don’t know
Then Text Shout to 85258 for support on the go
It’s free, it’s quiet, it’s 24/7 and it’s on your phone
There’s no need to ever be so alone
© Shout, 2023
Connect with Shout on their website: www.giveusashout.org
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