Oh, Valentine’s Day

Oh, Valentines Day. A day of unmet expectations. Or inappropriately exceeding expectations – guilty! – when there were none in the first place.

(Because nothing is more awkward than giving someone flowers on Valentine’s Day and getting the text message: “Thanks. That’s sweet. X.” as a response. We, uh, never spoke again).

For those in established, long-term relationships, it can feel like an obligation. Not that either partner hates showering their loved ones with affection; just, why does it have to be on this day, this corporate holiday? Grrr!

For blossoming romances, it’s a chance to go all out. To make it official: we’re boyfriend-girlfriend! Or boyfriend-boyfriend. Or girlfriend-girlfriend. Whatever! As of right now! With these flowers! We’re a thing! It’s real!

Despite it’s corporateness, I love Valentine’s Day. Few days embolden me more to stew in my own personal cocktail of insecurity, honesty, immodesty and self-deprecation. It’s designed for those in fledging relationships, or aspiring romances, to take a chance. Yeah, go on. Send those flowers! Send that card! Tell her you like her!

Oh, it’s not reciprocated? That’s OK. It’s Valentine’s Day. We’re all a little love-crazed on Valentine’s Day. It’s fine. Normalcy resumes tomorrow.

One of my ill-famed Valentine’s Day moments (of which there is a phone book) occurred just out of High School. This girl and I, we weren’t going out yet, but there was a spark, I was sure of it. Or at least, pretty sure. There was maybe a spark. Possibly. One minute I’d think, Yeah, something’s here, and the next I’d think, God, what are you thinking?! But on this Valentine’s Day I woke up thinking: this is it. Time to do something huge. Time to make my move.

It was time to send flowers.

There were problems with this plan. Firstly, I couldn’t afford flowers. Secondly, I was petrified of delivering them: what would I say when she answered the door? What would I say if a parent answered the door?! Thirdly, how would I get to her place? I didn’t drive. The answer was my mum and dad. Which added a fourth problem: telling my parents I liked a girl, and dealing with the repercussions.

Anyway, to cut it short: I borrowed money from my parents, got a lift from them, and arrived at the girl’s house… where I promptly dropped the flowers on the front veranda and dashed back to the car. I don’t think I screamed “Go! Go! Go!” at my mum, but I probably wanted to. Then I whipped out my phone and texted her something like: “Left flowers on your veranda. Hope you like them.” Or something similarly poetic. And I probably added a smiley emoticon, because when your heart is all aflutter, emoji’s work wonders. It worked out OK in the end, though. Somehow. Miraculously. Well, for a while.

I totally get that there are those who view Valentine’s Day as a day of required love, and abhor it for that reason. I guess I have this inexplicable partiality for seeing people loved-up. Not that I want to witness their public displays of affection, you understand, but there is something very unifying and heartening about seeing couples holding hands, leaning into each other, roses, or another gift, in hand.

Some days it feels like the world is full of hate and bitterness. Valentine’s Day might be infested with corporateness, and for those without that ‘special someone’ (and especially those who, quite frankly, don’t want a ‘special someone’), the whole day can feel like a gigantic Fuck You. But there are too few days that encourage humanity to showcase their love and affection for one another. I can’t help but bask in it.

Although the day we shatter status quo on marriage in this country and let any two people wed will make it absolutely pale in comparison.

Aliens!

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At the age of eleven I’d already written a bunch of things. And I’d already decided by then I wanted to be a writer.

Because writing –- the act of thinking of stories and scrawling them out longhand or on my Dad’s laptop –- was the only time –- honestly, the only time – I felt satisfied.

See, I was a shy, nervous, introverted kid.

(As opposed to the push-you-over-if-you-get-in-my-way kinda guy I am now.)

Let’s not get into the why. Doesn’t really matter. Point is, I lacked confidence. Terrible at sports. Average academically. Abysmal at maths.

And my social skills?

Nada.

But at some stage, when I was around eight, I guess, I discovered I could write.

And write pretty darn well.

Y’know — for an eight year old.

Not my own opinion, you understand. I had no idea. It was a judgement made by my teacher. One day he called me aside. He had my journal on his table and he said, “You’re pretty good at this.”

(Or something similar).

And my heart swelled.

Seriously, that feeling – –

– – I’m good at something?! – –

– – was amazing.

But as I said, I was a shy kid. And boasting about your writing doesn’t win you mates.

So life, as it does, carried on.

Until one weekend, when I sat down to write. And not because I had to. Not for plaudits from my teacher.

Because I’d realised I liked writing.

And so I wrote.

I wrote a lot.

 

Throwaway stuff: Short stories about heroes I read about in comics. Superman, the Phantom, Spider-Man; you name the hero, he or she guest-starred.

I lost myself in these fictional worlds. I loved the control I had. Destinies were mine to play with. Life, death. Love, betrayal. All mine.

(Wow – villainous, much? Cue psychotic laughter.)

But life, outside my imagination, carried on.

Outside: same old, same old.

But, maybe, getting worse.

My self-doubt grew.

Just a mental thing, I think. The wires in my brain weren’t letting me like myself. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. That would be causing a fuss. That would be making a scene.

Not my style.

It got to a stage where I believed my friends realised the same thing I’d always felt.

That I wasn’t any fun.

I was, in actuality, pretty shit. A waste of space.

Why’d they bother hanging with me when there were so many other cooler kids?

So, not wanting to talk with anyone about my feelings, I retreated to my fictional world.

Only this time, the fiction was sprinkled with a lot more fact.

I began typing.

I didn’t know what, at first. Not exactly.

But I knew it would be about me.

Not the real me, though.

No – – the person I wanted to be.

But why not take it further than that?

The person I wanted to be – – in an alternate reality.

Where I had powers!

Because, why not? This was my world. I was in control.

I typed the heading: ALIENS!

(Yes – with an exclamation mark, thanks).

Looking on it now, I understand.

It was shorthand for alienated.

ALIENS! was about a ten-year-old version of me. I lived on a farm with my parents – thanks, Ma and Ma Kent – but somehow attended the same school.

I also had the powers of Superman’s. Obviously.

Strength? Uh, duh.

Flight? You betcha.

Heat vision? Natch.

I was, I’ve since realized, writing a precursor to Smallville.

But this was real.

The characters in ALIENS! weren’t just based on my friends – they were my friends.

I just happened to add the extra spice of aliens, super-powers and a mysterious shaman named Shogo.

(Seriously).

ALIENS! opens with Simon walking his dogs around the farm. The opening chapter – THE OLD FARM – ends with this:

“Simon’s best friend was [REDACTED]. He was also friends with [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. Occasionally Simon would have troubles with them, but that was only on the bad days.”

Chapter Two begins. Simon’s at school. He’s playing a game called ‘Battle,’ but he’s alone. He reflects: “Simon kept on going into battle without his friend. He could do it, but he felt someone was missing.”

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I was a comedian, even then: “In class, Simon read a book called JOKES. ‘You call that a joke?’ thought Simon.”

Man, that’s great stuff.

But that darker side is never far behind. Page 28, Simon thinks: “I don’t know if I’ll ever be friends with [REDACTED] again. I think [REDACTED] is my best friend. But I don’t know.”

More telling is the next line: “Maybe I don’t have a best friend.”

ALIENS! is the inner turmoil of my eleven-year-old self.

On paper.

It’s me, working out my issues, as only I could.

And y’know?

It worked.

It took me three months to write those 105 pages.

(It’s not that I remember – the dates are on the first and last page.)

The tone shifts greatly throughout. I can point out the sections I wrote during which I was sad and depressed. There are whole chapters dedicated to Simon’s inner monologue as he debates his friendships.

Then, suddenly, the action takes over. Aliens attack and Simon intervenes. The prose becomes bombastic. Huge-font BOOMS! take over. That’s when I know I’m feeling good.

Eventually it is revealed Simon’s mates are being mind-controlled and that Simon was given his powers for a reason.

He has a destiny.

ALIENS! ends with our protagonist accepting this, and the line: “This,” Simon thought, “was gonna be fun!”

 

Our writing has the power to change lives.

Sometimes many. Sometimes very few.

Sometimes, just one. Yourself, if you’re lucky.

But no matter who you’re doing it for, know that it matters.

Every.

Word.