Calum McSwiggan

Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

Finding My Voice

In Eat, Gay on September 10, 2013 at 6:30 pm

YouTube

‘You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve, and I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.’

– Bastille

When I was a teenager I had a crippling hatred for my own voice, living in a world where I saw people beaten up on the daily for being gay, I was terrified that my camp rasp would give away my biggest secret. A lot of people hate hearing a recording of themselves back on tape, but I despised it so much that it made me want to cry.

It wasn’t until after I found a more accepting world and came out as gay that I began to be able to accept my voice for the high pitched monstrosity it was. With the support of a close group of friends, I built up the courage to join a gospel choir and, hidden beneath a dozen powerful vocalists where nobody could hear me, I quietly began to embrace my inner voice.

There would still come the time where somebody would make a joke about the way I spoke and I would recoil with disgust and embarrassment, but for the most part my voice and I began to get along just fine. That was until I overheard two of my friends mocking me after hearing me practising singing at the piano. Hearing their hurtful words stung so badly that I never sang in front of anyone again, and just the thought of holding a karaoke microphone was enough to make me succumb to an overwhelming panic.

It was something that never really went away, and when I moved  to University it made me want to shy away from all of the arising opportunities to perform and speak publicly. I had this social butterfly inside of me bursting to get out but this on-going inner conflict seemed to keep bringing me to a standstill.

I continued to push down these inhibitions, successfully sweeping the problem well under the rug, until my best friend one day extended the opportunity to join her in starting our own radio show. Not wanting either of us to miss out on the chance, she relentlessly poked me in the ribs until I hit breaking point. Releasing all of my pent up fear and anger in one sharp burst, I snapped at her and we both fell uncomfortably silent.

It was the only time we ever had anything even close to an argument, and it was in that split second that I knew that I had a problem that I had to overcome. With ample encouragement and support, she convinced me to take up her offer and join her in that radio booth where we worked together in creating our own show. It was the confidence this gave me that lead me on to performing regularly and taking up a job in teaching English that saw me commanding the attention of dozens and singing in front of hundreds.

I noticed a performer inside myself that I had never before met, I now had the emotional stability to speak out but as soon as I finished teaching I had no outlet to share it in. I carried on staying quiet, reserving my stories to be written on my blog or to be shared with friends and strangers around the camp fire, until I became intrigued by a friend from the radio station who had started his own vlog.

His first video had gone viral and reached over 100,000 hits in a matter of days, and not only was I impressed by him personally, I was amazed by the untapped power of YouTube. It was this that inspired me to create my own videos, and working underneath the It Gets Better project and Out4Marriage campaign I published my own videos. For the first time I had exposed myself and my voice to the malicious world of the internet where insults and hurtful words are no holds barred, but I was fully prepared to brush off any unwanted and pesky comments about my womanly voice.

Making videos wasn’t something I could do very well, but it was something that I adored, so after moving to London and being again inspired by the YouTube community, I knew that the next step to take would be to learn how to create my own video blogs, fully embrace social media, and pursue creativity in every way possible.

I cleaved my savings in half by buying myself a new computer and a camera, promised myself that I would stay in one place for at least a little while, and began working on my first video. It’s a nerve racking experience to put the entirety of yourself into something and then push it out to be judged by the masses, but it’s also thrilling and rewarding, and after only a few days I’m already beginning to see the results.

The response I got was relatively small, but for an individual with such a tiny following I was amazed at how much a short video can bring to the table. I only received around 700 views, but scores of strangers were not only hitting my subscribe button but also coming through to my blog, reading my stories, and emailing and tweeting me at a rate I couldn’t keep up with. It’s like vlogging has been the missing link and now everything is beginning to come together.

I’ve only created a single video introducing myself, and even though I still haven’t figured out how to use a camera or a piece of editing software, exciting things are starting to happen. Already I’m collaborating with designers and illustrators and so many talented people who have come forward to offer up their talents, and it’s all stemmed from me putting faith in my own voice.

My only regret is that I let my inhibitions control me for so long and didn’t start a hell of a lot sooner. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to film a vlog from the inside of a tiger cage or from the back of an elephant, but although it’s only a side project, I’m already excited about things I can potentially shoot in the future.

I’ve finally overcome that fear of my own voice, and although I still won’t take up a microphone and join you in singing a karaoke rendition of Beyoncé’s greatest hits, if you’d be so kind to indulge me, I’d happily share with you a bit of nonsense in my first ever video blog.

Summer In The City

In Eat, Gay, Love on August 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

Alexandra Palace

‘So I put my faith in something unknown, I’m living on such sweet nothing.’

– Calvin Harris 

The screams deafened me as I peered through the heaving crowd and up at some of my biggest inspirations, I couldn’t believe that these people who I had watched and read in solitude were now here in front of me being idolised by thousands. I had the same feeling of excitement that other people must feel when they see their favourite musicians perform, watch their favourite actress, or cheer on their favourite sports team.

I listened to their words intently, taking mental notes to drive my own inspirations, hanging on their every word, and then catching the eye of one of them and smiling. Lost in a crowd of hardcore fans you never expect them to acknowledge you, and so when you see them smiling back, you look around frantically, convinced that they’re looking at someone else.

I’d come here to be inspired, I’d only just moved to London when I heard that this global YouTube event was taking place right on my doorstep, and I just had to be a part of it. International writers, film makers, and vloggers were flying in from all over the world to give talks, run seminars, and to meet with their fans. There was absolutely nowhere in the world I would have rather been.

I had been getting despondent with my creativity, with boxing myself into a career path that wasn’t giving me the same enjoyment it once did, battling self enforced deadlines, and ending up necking a bottle of wine instead of getting anything done. This event was the push I needed to branch out and try something new, inject the life back into my work, and finally bring that big project into fruition.

It was incredible to be able to briefly shake the hands of the people that inspire me, to thank them for their work, and get them to sign a good luck card for a like-minded friend about to take on the biggest change in his life. It was thrilling to tick meet one of my idols off my bucket list for 2013, but what was really unbelievable was what was about to happen next.

After meeting so many of my aspirations, there was just one more person I wanted to meet, the person I’d stared up at from the crowd, the person I’d followed religiously for as long as I could remember. I rushed across the room just in time for his meet and greet to find a two-thousand strong queue already snaking across the hall and outside. I very nearly walked away and went to sit another seminar, but just as I caught his eye again for a split moment, I decided to hop on the end of the line and join the monstrous queue.

I waited for so long that when I was finally rushed forward and instructed to snap a photo and move along, I was flustered and couldn’t get my words out. I wanted to talk to him, pick his brain, and ask him a thousand questions, but instead I whispered a quiet compliment, asked him to sign my friend’s card, and was swiftly hurried along. How can I find you? he called after me as the security guard took my arm and hurried through the next person. Tweet me, I said, @CalumMcSwiggan.

I can’t think of a name more difficult to spell or remember, and that was just one of the reasons that I never expected to hear from him again. He took to the stage again later that day and when I heard the screams of thousands echoing his name, I knew that of course he wasn’t going to contact me. I tried to catch his eye again but I was lost in a sea of people, I’d been fortunate enough to meet a handful of my idols, and to expect anything more was delusional.

Just meeting these amazing people and taking part in their workshops filled me with such creative energy and passion that it began to revitalise my dwindling creative spirit. I’ve not been taking my work seriously, and this was exactly the boost I needed to really start working towards everything I want to achieve.

I wanted to try something new, and meeting these people gave me that push. Not only did I want to start vlogging myself, I wanted to try my hand at photography, take up a dance class, complete a marathon, pose for that life drawing class, and track down my saxophone and piano and relearn my love for music. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to do all of these things just as long as I took the leap and got started.

It’s been no secret that I’ve been finding it difficult settling into life in a big city, but all of a sudden I felt like I suddenly fit in, like I was part of something. I understand the importance of building a strong network of friends in the real world, and that’s why I’ve finally settled down and chosen a home, but there’s also a real thriving online community that I’ve been teetering on the outskirts of, and now I really want to throw myself into the centre of it.

I let the last few inspirational words wash over me as the last of my idols waved goodbye and disappeared backstage. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and got ready to leave when my phone buzzed in my pocket and there was a message from him. He wanted to see me again, and even though I only got to see him for the briefest of moments, my heart somersaulted in knowing that he’d chosen to contact me out of the thousands of people who’d queued to meet him.

I never expected to hear from him again as I hugged him goodbye and tumbled down the hillside with a handful of new friends. It was a pleasure to have met him, he was no longer a person inside my computer screen, but he was now a real person and that was enough. I never would have thought I’d have been so lucky to stay in touch with him, that he’d go on to read my work, and become somebody that I could call a friend.

I had wondered if I had made the right decision in moving here into the big city, knowing that I could instead be off island hopping and setting off on my next voyage, but meeting so many of my inspirations changed this. This time last year I was alone in Ibiza in the middle of a whirlwind adventure, but I wouldn’t swap any amount of Mediterranean sunsets for what I have now. I’m just beginning to start this new life, and I couldn’t be happier to spend the last of the summer in the city.

Paint Your Life

In Eat, Gay, Love on August 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Hyde Park

 ‘I like it in the city where the air is so thick and opaque, I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts, and shades.’

– Adele

It only took two days to find a place, to move off my best friend’s sofa, and cart my suitcase through the streets of London and into my new home. The wheels buckled as I dragged the weight of my entire life behind me, and as block by block I approached my new front door, my wheels fell off and the seams of my suitcase began to tear as my belongings toppled and fell out into the street.

This suitcase and I had travelled together for a year and a half, we’d visited countless countries and had countless adventures together, and yet somehow, on the day that I’d finally decided to come back to my own country, it’d given up and was falling apart. It was as if it was telling me that it’d had enough and wanted to stay in one place.

Clutching the keys to my new place in hand, I pushed open the front door and pulled the suitcase up each flight of stairs, breathing in the fragrant flowers nestled in the window boxes, and stepping over the threshold of my new room. I dropped my case to the floor and let all of my worldly possessions spill out, opened the window to the fire escape, and let in the song of a pair of singers duetting in the dusk.

I had more space than I could fill with my few dwindling possessions, and even after mounting my Buddhist tapestry, plastering the walls with several dozen photos, and hanging my gay pride flag, it still seemed terribly empty. I was still missing friends.

I’m so fortunate to now have my best friend living around the corner, but we’ve always operated independently. Like a functioning married couple, we live our own lives so we always have something to talk about when we sit down to dinner. I didn’t want to piggy-back upon her friendships, I wanted to build my own, and that’s why I was so overjoyed when the doorbell finally rang.

Leaping down the stairs three at a time, I pulled open the door and dived into the arms of the American standing there. She was from Ohio, we’d worked together in Italy, and now she was here standing outside my London apartment. It was hard to believe it was really her, and with our combined knowledge of the city totalling nothing, we ventured out together to explore.

This was the life I had wanted when I chose to move here, and in those few days that she was with me, I experienced it all in a snapshot. Just as quickly and as rapidly as she’d come, though, it was soon time for her to disappear on a train and leave me wanting more. It was a scene so familiar to me, except this time it wasn’t me going somewhere new and exciting, it was somebody else, and I was the one being left behind. I might have been living in one of the world’s hubs with people endlessly coming and going, but I still felt very much alone.

 It was a letter from a friend that really made me feel solitary. He said that I was an inspiration for uprooting my life and coming here, and he brazenly played with words like brave and courageous. It was the most flattering letter I’d ever received in my life, but every word stung because I felt like my friendless self was a complete and utter fraud.

I knew then that it was time to stop pretending and to actually start building this life for real. It was time to paint a life that suited me, and so I began trying to make friends in whatever way I could. Scrolling through endless Grindr profiles by day, and bar hopping by night, I talked to anyone and everyone in search of someone I might call a friend, but it seemed everyone just wanted benefits. A topless man would ask me for a fuck, my inbox would flood with pictures of penises, and somebody would take me aside and request to pay me generously for my services.

Making friends as an adult is hard, I never seem to have trouble when on the road, but when I finally come back to my home country it seems impossible. Perhaps being the mysterious guy who arrives on a train and then leaves on a plane is easy, but being a new permanent addition to somebody else’s city is hard. I’d make fleeting friendships by chatting to the girls in the ice-cream shop, getting drunk in somebody’s kitchen, falling asleep in a stranger’s bed, but by the time I’d get home, these people couldn’t even remember my name and I’d probably never see them again.

The people I’d pass as I wandered through my local plot of green frustrated me, I was so jealous of them as they laughed with their friends and lapped up the last bit of the summer sunshine. Laid out on their picnic blankets, wrapped up in their happiness, they had everything I craved but were oblivious to me and the rest of the world around them. They’d found their lives, and it was time for me to find mine.

Everything I wanted was here, I just had to be patient enough to let it happen. Trawling bars and casual sex apps was not going to find me the friends that I wanted, and as soon as I started looking, I began to notice the people I’d shut my eyes to before. A girl sat reading a book alone beneath the boughs of a shady tree, a boy sat on the curb with headphones pushed into his ears, and somebody who smiles with such genuine intentions that you know that they’re just as lonely as you.

Like my visiting friend from Ohio, people come and go from this city every single day, but just as people leave, new people arrive, and those people are all looking for the very same thing. They’re looking for a life that isn’t handed to them on a plate, a life they have to work for, a life they can design from scratch. I may not be able to snap my fingers and have everything I want come shooting out from them, but in time it will all come. Yes it’s lonely, yes it’s scary, but more than anything I’m just grateful that I’m able to sit here and paint my life with whichever colours I so choose.

A Beautiful Disaster

In Eat, Love on July 29, 2013 at 2:35 pm

London Skyline

‘And maybe, just maybe, I’ll come home.’

– Ben Howard

It was our last night in the temple, and as we sat atop the skywalk, lighting our bonfire and watching the tigers prowling below us in the darkness, we began to pen our wishes. Armed with a dozen candles, a flashlight, and a notepad, we wrote down all of the things we wanted for ourselves and for each other, and prepared to ceremoniously toss them into the fire.

Living in a Buddhist Temple was making me begin to believe in all things spiritual, but as I scrawled down the specifics of my each and every wish, I could see my friend worriedly watching me before she finally reached out and stopped me. Are you sure these are the things you really want? I looked at the items on the list, the things I would go on to make happen for myself in the following weeks, and nodded. She wasn’t convinced, though, she told me to be less specific and was adamant that I had absolutely no idea what it was that I wanted.

It felt like an attack on me personally, but I knew it was just an acceptance that absolutely nobody really knows exactly what it is that they want, and that you should be extremely careful with what you wish for. She had given me two life-changing tarot card readings in the month that we had spent together, and for that reason, I trusted her with all things spiritual.

I had those readings in mind when I began rewriting my wishes. The first had been about my love life, and the second about my career, and although she stipulated that there’s no such thing as magic beforehand, they really helped me understand the things most important to me.

I asked for love, happiness, friends, and a home before tossing the wishes into the lit bonfire and watching them crackle and burn. It was this moment I thought of as I sat alone in my new Spanish apartment, watching a single candle flickering on the windowsill, having all of the things I’d originally wanted to wish for, and yet being debilitating unhappy. She had been right.

Each day the thought of having to wake up, get dressed, and cross the Spanish border to work both exhausted and depressed me. I had once loved the picturesque walk along the shore and into town, but now it only made me want to scream.

The problem was, despite having everything I thought I’d wanted, I had absolutely nobody to share it with. Without a working internet connection I could no longer chat with my best friend on Skype, send outrageous things to my friends on Twitter, and flirt excessively with the boy I liked on Facebook. I was suddenly disconnected from my world of friends, and for the first time it became apparent that I wasn’t actually surrounded by the people I love. I was alone in an empty room.

I needed to get out and about, and so each evening I’d wander through the streets, soaking up the atmosphere, and popping in and out of tapas bars and warm vibrant cafés. I could feign perfect contentment until I’d get hit with the full emotion of seeing somebody I knew, and then I’d well and truly fall apart.

A sense of overwhelming happiness would fall over me as I’d push through the crowd to try to catch up with Liz from Ohio, Jang from Thailand, or Matteo from Rome. I was so excited to see these amazing people that I missed so much, only to be left deflated when I realised that, of course, it wasn’t them. I was in a quiet Spanish town in the middle of nowhere, and as much as I would have liked to have bumped into friends from all over the world, it was never going to happen.

I remained hopeful that people would come to visit, but as each invitation was politely refused, a date cancelled here, a friend too busy there, I realised I was sitting around waiting for friends who were never going to come. A bottle of champagne sat waiting to be uncorked, a book of vegetarian recipes sat waiting to be cooked, and mood setting candles sat waiting to be lit.

Every day that passed I began to feel more and more alone and wondering why on earth I was out here in the middle of nowhere. I had an incredible job, and family just around the corner, and yet still I craved for so much more, this just wasn’t enough. I was saving every spare penny towards that dream of moving to New York, but I couldn’t wait another second, I needed to be in a big city.

That thought really hit me as I stood in the supermarket looking at frying pans and ready to fall apart. The same excitement I felt when kitting out my spider-infested room in Thailand was somehow lost, and as I walked out of the shop empty handed, I felt something snap. How I had gone from playing with tigers to shopping for cooking utensils at such a short turn around was beyond me. Somewhere something had gone wrong.

I sat at my desk that afternoon and talked to my friends profusely about how exhausted and bored I was of living in Spain, and then as each friend independently revealed to me that they didn’t understand why I was still there, I felt something spark inside of me. It was nothing more than a glimmering idea of what if, but by the time I got home that evening, it had snowballed into so much more.

I paced up and down in my apartment, shaking with excitement and nervousness as I rang my best friend over and over again. I paced for almost an hour waiting for her to finish work and pick up, and when she finally did, I told her that I was going to quit my job and move to London.

To me, this was the most ridiculously spontaneous thing I had ever done, but I was deadly serious and couldn’t think of a single reason not to do it. I lost an absolute fortune on an apartment I’d only lived in for two weeks, and I was wrestling with the idea of losing a well-paid job that I loved, but somehow none of that seemed to matter. I knew that something had to change, and before I could even begin to fathom the consequences, I was packing my bags, negotiating with my boss, booking my flights, and getting on a plane.

I had never been so sure of anything in my life, and yet I could have so easily talked myself out of it. The choice to move into an apartment in Spain was a catastrophic mistake that turned out to be a beautiful disaster, but without taking that leap, I never would have made it here, to my best friend’s East London apartment, filled with all the hope and happiness in the world.

I know that I made the right decision. It’s scary to take such a drastic u-turn, to sever commitments and ties, and accept that you’ve made a massive mistake, but sometimes that’s just exactly what you have to do. It was undoubtedly the craziest choice I’d ever made in my life, but already, as I sleep in the familiar warm of my best friend’s sofa, I’m already beginning to feel like I’ve finally come home.

A Small Piece of Home

In Eat on July 24, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Gibraltar By Night

‘How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.’

– William Faulkner

The rich Spanish man sat opposite me, his feet perched on the desk, and a lit cigar balanced between two of his fingers. He spoke quickly and passionately, filling the air with thick smoke, before clapping his hands together and nodding suggestively towards my bag. This moment had been a long time coming, and as I reached down and withdrew the largest wad of cash I’d ever had, I knew that just like that, I finally had a home.

It had all started on that first day in Thailand when I’d arrived at the temple gates with a colossal case of food poisoning. Still dizzy and nauseated, I stood in the doorway of a dark spider infested room, watching the lodging pigeons flapping their wings in wild panic, and wondering what on earth I’d signed up for. A few meditation mats lay scattered across the floor, the window was a mere hole in the wall, and thick cobwebs hung from the ceiling. It wasn’t much, but it’d be my room for the next five weeks.

Carefully sweeping the arachnid nests from the wall, I uncovered a list of advice that had been left there to help the next volunteer get through the month. Scrawled in the insane handwriting of my predecessor, the guidance was as follows:

Lizards and spiders are your friends, they eat mosquitoes
Don’t watch porn, the monks will check your browser history
Leave powder under the door to stop fire ants getting in
Watch out for scorpions

I laughed as I read these rules aloud but ceased destroying the homes of my spider friends immediately and wasted absolutely no time in sprinkling talcum powder under the door and eradicating the pornography from my search history. Like it or not, this was going to be my home for the next month, and I might as well have made the most of it.

Stacking the meditation mats together to make myself an improvised bed, I gave myself a wide berth from my friends scuttling along the walls, and hung my red and gold mosquito net in the centre of the room. I had bought it in Khan Market in India, and for the next few weeks the only time I’d feel safe would be when I was wrapped up in the safety of its cocoon.

I took a trip into town and bought some cushions and a blanket, lit some citronella candles to keep away the critters, and even found an old abandoned writing desk that I cleaned up and placed in the corner. It’s been no secret that for the past year I’ve been looking for somewhere to call my home, and oddly, fixing up this small infested room began to quickly inspire those very feelings.

I may have squealed in terror at night as unseen creatures skittered across my body, I may not have been able to sleep in the unbearable unrelenting heat, and the room may have flooded every time it rained, but none of that mattered. To me, this was a small piece of home.

Having new friends sleeping in the same squalor is what kept us all sane. The living conditions were beyond dreadful, but by ridiculing the hilarity of the situation, we managed to sugar coat the whole experience. A scorpion attacked me in the shower today, one of us would laugh, and then a tarantula dived onto my head while I was brushing my teeth. We compared stories at the end of each day, and it became almost a competition of who’d had it worse. That’s nothing, someone would cry, a cobra chased me to the temple this morning, and a buffalo kicked my door down last night.

We became a little family, scrounging together food scraps to throw together a meal, staying up late to play forbidden card games,  and sneaking down into Tiger Canyon after dark to indulge in midnight horror films. Stripping everything down to basics with the companionship of new friends made me realise that this is what I’d been searching for all along.

The thought of having to go back to my real job, and again impose upon my parent’s guest bedroom, terrified me more than any scorpion infested shower ever could. Every day that passed only concreted more and more for me what I had to do. Like a broken record, I kept everyone up at night mulling over my options, talking and talking and talking. It became more and more apparent that if I left things how they were, I’d wind up desperately unhappy. Something had to change.

I thought about that wish I’d made on my birthday, I’d wished for summer romance. It was something that, no matter how badly I wanted it, was never going to happen in the situation I was in. I happened upon the idea of having my own place by the beach in Spain, and having friends from all over the world come to visit, and before I could even think it all through, I’d made up my mind.

I was going to move into that dream apartment by the beach, and ask for a pay rise to pay for it. I would set up a life in Spain and spend the rest of the year spending afternoons lazing on the beach, drinking wine, and gorging myself on tapas. I set my plan in motion the moment the plane touched down on the runway, and only one week later, I’d gotten the raise I wanted and was handing over that fat wad of cash for my new apartment.

The rich Spanish man took my money and handed me the keys, and before I’d even moved in, I started booking friends in to visit. It was an incredible feeling as I stepped over the threshold and unpacked my bags for the first time in over a year. This would be it, I thought, climbing into bed on the first night and staring out of the window at the magnificently lit Rock of Gibraltar. This is what I’ve been waiting for. 

I lay still for a few moments before getting up and going to stand on the balcony. I listened to the Spanish celebrating in the streets below, and sucked in the cool sea air as I watched a topless man perched on his window ledge across the street. The yellow glow from his bedroom light drew me in as he took sips from his glass of wine and gave me a small nod. This would do just perfectly, I thought, smiling back at him. This would be my new home.

Oh how wrong I was.

Viva Forever

In Eat, Gay, Love on April 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Gay Barcelona

‘Viva Forever, I’ll be waiting, everlasting, like the sun.’

– Spice Girls

A booming voice sounded over the loudspeaker as I began stripping out of my work clothes and scrubbing the oil and dirt off my body in the airport bathroom. I had left work early to make sure I arrived on time, but after breaking down in the mud, I had done everything but.

The last call for Barcelona sounded again as I threw on freshly creased clothes and tried to fix my dishevelled hair. It was only as I ran for the departure gate with an overnight bag slung over one shoulder that it dawned on me- this is now how I get ready for a night out.

Long gone are the student days where my friends would come around to pre-drink as we complimented each other’s outfits and fixed each other’s hair before lazily sauntering out of the front door and into the nightclub across the street. To see my friends now, I have to get on a plane.

The sun had long since set when the plane touched down at midnight and I greeted one of my oldest friends. We’d agreed to meet in Barcelona and hadn’t worried about making plans in advance, forgetting to book a hotel, and not bothering to figure out in which direction we were going. It didn’t feel like we were meeting up in one of the clubbing capitals of the world, it was all so familiar, as if we’d jumped into a taxi for a night out in our home town.

It wasn’t until he pointed it out that it struck me that we hadn’t seen one another for almost two years. The last time we got drunk together very well may have been when we were eighteen years old and stumbling down some private golf course, howling The Spice Girls’ greatest hits after escaping our senior prom.

Life has started to move ridiculously fast, so fast that six months seems to disappear between sips of coffee, and the dream of the future begins to fade into the memory of the past. I saw my sixteen year old friend turn into a confident young twenty-something as he confronted a pick pocketer who tried to swipe his phone; we relived old house parties as we unashamedly taught the locals to slut drop in some underground basement club; and then as we counted back the years of what seemed like a new friendship we both said at once, Fuck, that was seven years ago.

It wasn’t memories of my last trip to Barcelona that danced through my mind as we wound through the once vibrant streets and the now deserted markets, it was memories of the last seven years. It takes seeing an old friend to truly realise how much has changed- the friend who was late for music class everyday because he was making another tea; the friend who brought a house warming gift when I moved in with my ex; the friend who told me he wasn’t worth it anyway when it all fell apart; the friend who text me from Scotland to tell me that he was going to live in China; the friend who was now lay out in the sun beside as me as we nursed our hangovers and rubber necked at all the gorgeous topless men.

The streets were alive with fire eating and sword fighting but I was almost far too busy laughing to even notice. We shared stories of our shared and separate pasts, making fun of our old teachers as we gorged ourselves on food and wine, and sharing stories of recent romances as we watched gay couples holding hands against the backdrop of roaring waves and sun-kissed sands.

He gasped as I told him about the student I had a crush on in Germany, about the Vietnamese child who found my dildo, and about the boy who gave me the lovebite that still lingered on my neck, and then I howled with laughter, throwing my head back to the blazing sun, as he told me stories that were equally as scandalous.

I do miss my old lifestyle, I do miss partying every single night, and I do miss having all of my friends at my fingertips, but still I wouldn’t change it for what I have now. Sustaining and pursuing friendships and romance is so much harder but in exchange I know that every day brings new adventure.

It’s never hard to say goodbye to any of my friends scattered around the globe because I always know that it isn’t the last time we’ll meet. I don’t know where either of us will be when we see each other again, but I do know that there will be wine. Hasta manana my friend, I’ll see you again soon.

The Lovebite

In Eat, Gay, Love on April 2, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Boys kissing

‘Keep your head up, keep your heart strong. Keep your mind set, keep your hair long.’

– Ben Howard

I pushed through the crowded Brick Lane curry house and sat down with the entirety of my best friend’s immediate family. I was desperate to disguise the enormous lovebite protruding from the neckline of my low cut shirt, and so when they asked me where I was last night, I clapped one hand over my neck and fumbled my words as I tried to change the subject.

Nobody had taken any notice, and yet still it burned with the same intense heat of the Indian spices, as if everyone were staring at it. My cheeks flushed and I nervously shuffled back and fourth in my seat, only relaxing when I caught my best friend’s eye across the table. She knew exactly where I was last night, and probably knew that the carousel in the back of my mind was skimming over and over the events of that morning.

The tube bustled noisily in the underground, and was so overcrowded that my body was pressed up firmly against my date’s. I grazed his fingertips out of sight of the commuters and looked longingly into his syrupy brown eyes. He was trying to tell me something in his ever so slightly Essex accent, but I wasn’t really listening. I was too busy counting down the stops until we’d have to part ways.

I’d been in this situation so many times before, and knew I was about to make the same mistake I’d made time and time again. The train’s doors would open and I would leave without a proper goodbye and then probably never see him again.

More and more people left the train, and our bodies were no longer forced together as the carriage began to empty. We gradually grew further and further apart and all I could think about was how I’d let my last date slip away without a goodnight kiss; how I let fear get in the way of me kissing that boy in Berlin; and how badly I wanted to kiss this boy right here and now.

A voice inside my head was screaming itself blue, commanding me to not let another boy disappear on a train, imploring me over and over to just kiss him, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

See ya then, I spluttered to my date. I knew I’d let myself down, but as I turned to hop off the train, I felt his lips catch mine, and if only for a second, my soul caught light and I was lifted off my feet. Nobody had ever kissed me in public before, and it gave me the kind of rush I’d wanted from the boy who stood me up in Rome, the kind of rush the boy in Frankfurt failed to give me, the kind of rush that I was searching for when I penned find a boy who gives me butterflies on my list of goals for 2013.

I was so dizzied that I could barely make out his silhouette as I stepped off the train, re-gathered my senses, and watched him disappear into the blackness of the tunnel. I had to stop for a moment to catch my breath, and as if his lips had been sweet amphetamines, my heart rate began to steady and the butterflies in my stomach soared into my chest and propelled me and my feet off of the ground.

I had all but lost sight of finding a boy who gives me butterflies until that unexpected kiss. The passion that lead to the lovebite on my neck meant nothing in comparison to the intensity of that moment, and it was that memory that left me wordless as I scanned the table of friendly faces in the curry house. I knew that I would soon be departing back to a life of work and stress, a life of responsibility and pressure, a life away from the warmth of familiar company and the pleasure of sweet lips, but now things suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

In the company of good food and good friends, everything seemed perfect. A little kick of warmth and acceptance rose from the pit of my stomach and I relaxed and dropped my hand from my neck. I was secretly quite proud as I raised my head up and caught sight of the lovebite in my reflection across the room, because for now, if only for a moment, it was a reminder of both the adventures in my past, and the adventures yet to come.

Boys Will Be Boys

In Eat, Gay, Love on January 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Hot Gay Guys

‘Boys will be boys, and even that wouldn’t matter if we could prevent girls from being girls.’

– Anne Frank

It’s that time of year when the excitement of a fresh start begins to wane and the big love day is almost on top of us, and for the majority of the single population, we start to panic about the fact that we don’t have a partner. I’m no exception, and over the past few days I’ve noticed an emptiness that just can’t seem to be filled, and while searching for something to fill that void, I stumbled upon some tweets from last summer that pinpoint exactly what it is I’m looking for.

Calum McSwiggan Twitter

The family I was staying with had gone to the beach and neglected to leave me a key, and after thoroughly searching for an open window or an unlocked door, my attention was caught by a faint roar catching on the wind. My ears pricked up, and as I wound through the olive gardens, following the sound across the Italian countryside, I found myself standing before the local football stadium.

I pushed my way through the crowd and leaned up against the railings with a group of twenty-something Italian men. What’s the score? I asked in the most dishevelled Italian anyone has ever spoken, and they interrupted their flurry of cheers and profanity to tell me. I spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to join in with their foreign football chants, and when the match was over and the stands began to empty, I realised that despite years of fulfilling the gay stereotype and openly proclaiming my hatred for soccer, this was actually quite enjoyable. It was just the beginning of a new-found obsession.

Calum McSwiggan TwitterI found myself suddenly spending my evenings watching the football at home with my host family or out at a bar with the local teenagers, and this surprising new love of football even started bleeding into my work. Twice a week I told my students to put away their books and brought them outside for a ninety minute match under the warmth of the Tuscan sun. I just couldn’t get enough. And yet despite all this, alongside my daily intake of pasta, when I finally left Italy behind for the summer, I left my passion for soccer behind too, and it’s only now whilst reading back through my own words that I realise how much I miss it.

Calum McSwiggan Twitter

 But it’s not the football I miss, not really. It’s the feeling of being part of something masculine, and being accepted as one of the lads. Since the end of my last relationship, male companionship is something I’ve been lacking, and that’s what I really miss. It isn’t that I’m lonely, I have plenty of friends to keep me company, nor is it a craving for sex, I could quite easily toss aside my celibacy vow and pick up a guy if that’s really what I wanted- the thing that I’m really missing is somebody I can be a boy with.

I think somewhere in the process of coming out and redefining my new identity, I embraced all of those repressed feminine parts of my personality, but in doing so I lost sight of the masculine. Suddenly it was okay to dance to Britney and admit I liked One Direction but I forgot that once upon a time I liked football, skateboards and video games.

With very few straight friends I have nobody to embrace these parts of my personality with. I love going out to gossip at fancy French restaurants but sometimes it’d be nice to have a boy over to eat greasy take-out with while nuking the shit out of zombies in our underwear. Instead of being the gay best friend and asserting my much needed opinion over dresses in boutiques on the high street, it’d be nice to dip into Foot Locker and have somebody help me choose a new pair of high tops. Instead of going ice skating and holding hands while we skate in slow romantic circles, it’d be nice to drop the pretence and race them across the rink.

I’m looking for somebody who would wrestle me to the floor when I try to change the channel, somebody who thinks yes, it would be a good idea to roll down that sand dune, somebody who can educate me about the offside rule, teach me to burp the alphabet, and call me a girl when I cry at the Titanic. Maybe that’s why I’m so often attracted to the straight acting guy, I’m more interested in bromance than romance, and that’s why in the lead up to Valentine’s this year, I’m not looking for a boyfriend, I’m just looking for a boy to be my friend.

New Year, New York

In Eat, Love on January 10, 2013 at 11:59 am

New York City Fireworks

‘And because no matter who you are, if you believe in yourself and your dream, New York will always be the place for you.’

– Michael Bloomberg 

I shut down my laptop and carefully placed it into my bag as the lights went down, the stacks emptied, and the University library began to close. I slung my bag over my shoulder and picked up the letter from New York University that was sat waiting for me at the end of my desk. I’d completely put off opening it since I found it by the front door that morning, the crux of everything I had worked for up until that moment was sitting in that envelope, and now was the time to open it.

I’ve always been a firm believer that you will always conquer your dreams as long as you fully commit yourself to them, and so it was devastating to say the very least when I peeled open that seal and let that big fat fancily worded no fall out into my hands. It was the beginning of a series of rejections that would come to me over the next couple of years, a series of rejections that would eventually end in me bidding farewell to my New York dreams.

Living in New York seemed to be an impossibility, with the high competition for graduate schools and the complications of immigration control, I seemed to be met with failure from whatever angle I attacked it from. Even visiting seemed implausible when my carefully planned trip to The Big Apple was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.

After failing to make it so many times it was difficult to be anything but defeatist. Every time I tried to make this dream a reality something jumped in the way and stopped me. It was as if I was being tested, as if somebody was telling me that you can’t just stroll into New York City, if you want to live in the city of dreams, you have to prove that you’re willing to sweat.

I weighed up my options for the longest of time, that constant of New York always burning in the back of my mind as I hopped from country to country, and every time I tried to talk myself out of it, my body kicked and screamed in resistance. I’ve had this craving for home for so long, and after everything that happened in Derby, nowhere really seems like home anymore, nowhere but that place on the other side of the Atlantic, that place I’ve never even set foot.

And so in the lead up to the New Year, I made myself a promise to save $10,000 and move to Manhattan with nothing but a suitcase and a smile. I wouldn’t try to secure a job, or a place at a University, I would just turn up, treat it as an extended holiday and just see what happened. I told myself that within five years I would be living in New York City, and while I let the cogs whir in the back of my mind, scheming up all the details of my plan, a stack of life changing letters were on their way in the post.  

I didn’t know it at the time but these letters were everything I needed to concrete my plan, they weren’t graduate school acceptance letters, or job offers, or exciting opportunities, they were something far more important- letters from my friends. When you sever all ties and up and move to Spain, you’d think that it would be impossible to maintain those old friendships, and yet when these letters came from all over the globe, they proved to me that these friendships were just as strong as ever.

Each envelope or parcel came filled with inspirational photographs, quotes, poems, and gifts that directly corresponded to all the things I wanted to achieve in the fast approaching New Year. Each one lovingly reminisced over fond memories, each one made motivational reference to my vision of moving to New York, and each one came with the same underlying message: I believe in you.

For the first time I really realised that I’m surrounded by people who don’t only listen to my aspirations but they have full faith in my ability to achieve them, too. I so often talk about travelling solo but really I’m never on my own, I’ve got a whole wack-shack of like-minded friends constantly cheering me on. Each and every one of those letters encouraged me to go out and achieve everything I’ve ever wanted, each one was an acceptance letter, and each one was a ticket to New York. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have the means to attend a University, I had a whole load of friends who believed in me, and that was infinitely more important.

I scrambled for my wallet and pulled out the ninety-three dollars I had left over from my cancelled trip to America, and then I scrawled New York on an empty envelope and stuffed them inside. I was going to save up that ten thousand, and I was going to move half way around the world, except I wasn’t going to do it in five years, I was going to do it in ten months.

Having five digits in my bank account will be a huge accomplishment in itself, but being able to use that money to go and live amongst the dreamers will be by far the greatest thing I’ve ever accomplished. There’s something poetic about arriving in New York for the first time with nothing but a suitcase and some money, almost reminiscent of the first people who landed there and called it their home. It’s as if this is what everything has been leading up to until now, and in ten months time, for the first time since my old life fell apart, just like those settlers crossing the ocean, I’ll finally be heading home.

A Stranger in My Own Home

In Gay, Love on October 27, 2012 at 11:16 am

Eclipse

‘Clinging to me, like the last breath you would breathe, you were like home to me, I don’t recognise this street.’

– Ellie Goulding

I stepped off the train and breathed in my hometown, I was glad to be back, excited to walk old walks, and high on the thought of seeing old friends, but from the very first moment, I knew that something wasn’t quite right. I could feel a pair of eyes watching me, stalking me through the station, and following me as I wound back through the streets I’d once escaped from.

But every time I turned around and sought them out, there was nothing, so I carelessly shrugged them off and settled back into the warmth of the place that I once called my home. I awkwardly lingered at first, a stranger in my own home, except it wasn’t my home anymore, it hadn’t been for quite some time.

Things had changed, new pictures hung on the wall, new furniture filled the room, and new trinkets cluttered the mantle. When you disappear you kind of expect life to stand still behind you, but it doesn’t, you move on, and life moves on with you. It was obvious that like me, my ex had built a new life for himself, and the only thing left of the love we once shared were two silver rings sat next to a picture of a loving couple posing for their engagement. I once knew one of those boys as myself, but he was a stranger to me now, I didn’t recognise him anymore.

I smiled at the photo, placed one of the cold metal bands between my fingers, and let everything it stood for wash over me, a memory that once haunted my every waking dream, a memory that once corrupted me, a memory I thought I was now strong enough to face.

It was all too easy to fall back into the life I once knew, to have dinner with the boy who was once my world, to indulge in the things that once constituted my day-to-day life. I fell so hard into old habits that I very nearly forgot the new life I’d made for myself. I indulged in false luxuries, wrapped myself in the warmth of a familiar hug, and cherished the companionship of old friends, but deep down inside I could feel this inexplicable deep hollow ache that was slowly but surely consuming me.

The thing about a broken home is that no matter how far it has fallen into disrepair, it will always feel like home, and with my new found longing, I was happy to give myself over to it, I welcomed each new day with a smile, and very nearly forgot about the pain and suffering that once drove me to the brink of madness. I lay down in the comforting rubble of my former life, and turned a blind eye to the demons that crawled the streets, the phantoms that haunted my dreams, and the slow consuming agony that was building up inside me.

And amongst all of this, every now and then, I caught a glimpse of him- out of the corner of my eye, in the sparkle of a rogue reflection, or merged amongst the crowds in the streets. He was following me, and I let him slink closer and closer each day. He watched me from the adjacent street, stood outside my window, waited outside my door, and finally climbed into bed with me. I let him lie beside me, I let his warm fingers caress my body, soothe my pain, pull me in close, and adorn me with a false sense of hope, I let him do all of this.

But after only a few days the feeling began to go sour, as this dark creature held me in his embrace and slowly slid his fingers around my throat, the warmth I felt began to turn into a crippling loneliness. And like an eclipse on my soul, familiar nightmares began to resurface, forgotten arguments burst back into reality, and I began reliving feelings I thought I’d shut out for good. I tried to scream but his cold fingers were already suffocating me, throttling me, drowning me in dark unknown waters.

I gasped and spluttered and pleaded with him, but he already had me in his grip, and the only thing I could do was face him. I desperately stared into his empty ocean blue eyes, and for the first time, I recognised him for who he was, and realised it was me who was the stranger, not him.

It was the boy from the engagement photo, the boy I’d once seen in the mirror, the dark shadow of my former self, and all this time he’d been trying to tell me something, and all this time I’d refused to listen. I caressed his skin, examined the pain in every wrinkle, and let my eyes fall upon his blackened frozen lips. He struggled to find the words, and with all the effort of a thousand dying men, he spoke to me for the first time, and he told me to run.

And so I threw off his hands, clambered away from him, pulled myself from the comforting rubble, and once again embraced the dazzling sunlight. As I looked at the heartbroken glaze over his eyes, I reminded myself of the adventures behind me, and the adventures yet to come, told him that he wasn’t the person I wanted to be anymore, and allowed myself to draw a sharp underline to this life.

And just like that he returned to his photo, smiling sweetly and innocently, a permanent reminder of both the good memories and the bad. It may be even harder to say goodbye this time, but I know now more than ever, that although I can pass through for a few days, catch up with old friends, and appreciate the things that once made me ridiculously happy, I can never, ever, go back.