I don't know about you, but every day my news feed and Facebook pages seem deluged with the bad news about our governing party's cruel and callous actions. This is good - it keeps me and people like me aware. This is also bad - it makes us angry, nervous and irritable. But what do we do? Protests are planned for this Saturday to resist the immigration madness we seem to have descended into, but I can't see that joining a lot of angry people will actually do much good, aside from creating more anger. This president doesn't seem to listen. In fact he loves angry responses. It gives him the opportunity to tell everyone how right and good he thinks he is. Perhaps the best we can do is non-violent quiet protest. Alas, it didn't work for the Dalai Lama when he had to flee Tibet, and when his followers were massacred. This, my friends, looks as if it'll be a long, slow, ghastly campaign to restore democracy.
The other day I reconnected with a friend I’d not heard from in years. It was a great pleasure to chat, and we began to compare notes on people we’d known and what they’d been up to. Several acquaintances had moved on to impressive careers. Some were prominent in government, some in professional spheres. But, we said – think of the strain of that kind of life! Some had written books. A couple had written books but, alas, not had them published. Well, it’s a tough world, being a writer. One was a prolific poet. How wonderful – but there’s no money in that life. One had thrown over a promising academic career to be a used car salesman. One had suffered a nervous collapse; one had given it all up in disgust, which could have been the same thing. Several had died in various ways that were unexpected and vaguely shocking. One claimed by drugs, one killed while reporting in Iraq. And so on. And as we talked I began to see that we all, every single one of us, tend to have many conflicting needs as we think about our friends. We want them to have done well, but not so well that we feel diminished. We’d like them to excel, but are much happier if they do so in ways we expect, so we can say, “Yes, she was always going to do something good in that arena”. That way it feels as if we predicted it, and so we’re just as wise and important as they are, even if we’re not quite so much in the public eye. The ones who fell by the wayside we can pity – and yet that’s not the same as compassion. Pity lets us feel slightly superior as we survey the failings of others. So, some have no children (what a pity!) and some have too many (What a stress! What a difficulty! How do they manage?) It allows us to feel that no one got it right – except perhaps ourselves. And yet, that’s not a selfish thought. Perhaps we have, in fact, got it “right” or right enough for who we are. There’s no point in being a huge success if it leaves you feeling empty. And there’s no value in a life of privation if it doesn’t allow you whatever it is you need and are willing to sacrifice physical well-being to get. Comparisons are never easy, and sometimes not helpful. We don’t all have to be heroes, let alone Superheroes. We need to be who we are. And we need to love others, no matter how well or poorly we think they’re doing.
I've been relatively quiet here recently. And there's a reason. I've been publishing stories on Inspiredworldmagazine.com Take a look and see what you think. You can search me by name. If you were ever in one of my Therapeutic Uses of Writing classes (you know who you are!) you could take a look at my longer story: "So" published in 12 parts in the same magazine. It could help to jump start your creative energies! I copied that one to this site as well. Just scroll down. The other pieces are very short 'flash fiction' which you're sure to enjoy. My aim in all this is to get word out to those who might need to hear what I have to say, so please forgive me any redundancies.
Lessons Learned by Allan Hunter Gardens I’m not much of a gardener. I have a small slightly scruffy yard – which is a step up from the place I lived previously. There the yard was overshadowed by a large, sprawling locust tree under which nothing would grow. When the tree had to be taken down I discovered that, in fact, nothing at all could grow on that barren urban soil – except Locust trees. So you can imagine my delight when spring came along and my present garden erupted in patches of blue flowers I had not planted, and a neglected Azalea produced vast quantities of blossoms. The kids (aged 3 and 5) also enjoyed it. And they showed their enthusiasm by wanting to pick as many of the blue flowers as they could, so they could make ‘flower soup’ as they called it, in a pink plastic pail. I could feel myself wince. This was the garden, for goodness sakes, this was Nature doing its thing and we should not be picking it or trampling it. I wanted to tell them to leave the flowers alone. I was surprised by the strength of my reaction. So I took a deep breath. It was then that I recalled my own feelings about gardens and flowers. I remembered going on a walk with my parents when I was quite young and finding a huge field entirely full of what I think were cowslips, bright yellow flowers on stems about eight inches tall. I picked them freely and presented them, proudly, to my mother. What she was going to do with an armful of yellow flowers I did not consider. We were a long walk from home, and the cowslips wilted badly along the way. I don’t think any of them made it back to the vase on the dining room table. I recalled another memory, of the bike track we kids had made among the trees of Mrs. Hobdell’s garden. Her woodland paradise became a racetrack, and the daffodils probably never recovered. Or the time we drove a go-kart around my uncle Roger’s field where he and his service buddies played soccer every Sunday in Fall. We tore up the turf with our wild side-ways skids. No one had told us not to. No one punished us. We were just being kids. And that was when I looked up at the girls, picking flowers and reaching up for the azalea blossoms, stepping in all the muddiest parts of the garden, and saw the beauty of the moment. As far as I’m concerned from now on they can pick all the flowers they want. [from: Inspiredworldmagazine.com]
Tea Break Read I’d spent the whole day, a rainy bleak kind of day with gusting winds, waiting for my muse to arrive. That’s what I called it, or her, or whatever that thing is that makes me write. My muse. By which I meant inspiration; an idea for a new piece. An insight, a flash of… something. And nothing had arrived. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been just the one day, but it had been over six weeks since I’d sent off my last piece of writing, and closer to six months since I’d felt that deep glow of enthusiasm that could keep me at the keyboard way past any reasonable person’s bed time. I was in a slump. Actually it was worse than that. You know how people talk about writer’s block? And how there are a million books out there telling you how to overcome it? Yes. That. I should know. I’ve read a whole lot of those books. A couple of years back I even wrote one. It seems I was having trouble taking my own advice. Although… that’s not entirely accurate. I had done the things that normally would spark some creative energy. I’d meditated. I’m not much good at it, so I also tried long walks in the country – until the weather got too awful. I watched movies, read, thought, pondered. Nothing seemed to work. I went down to my local coffee place, Mary-Anne’s, and sat surveying the other customers, most of whom seemed to be sitting looking as vacant as I felt. And I began to turn over idea for stories. What would it be like to wait tables there? What sorts of people went for that job? Who would their friends be? Would that be an idea for a story? What would be the dramas of such a life? I couldn’t get into it. All rather tired material, I felt. I needed new ideas. I scanned the papers heaped up by the cash desk. Nothing much there. Was I blocked, empty of ideas? Or was I depressed? No ideas came. Or if they did I couldn’t register them. So I walked home. The rain had eased off. And then, as I walked down a suburban street, I saw it. A rabbit. One of those black and white pet-shop rabbits they used to call Dutch rabbits. It was wet and cowering by the front wheels of a parked car. I bent down, and I could see it was shivering, so moving gently, I reached out and picked it up. It struggled a little, but was clearly used to being held. Wet as it was I held it to my chest to warm it up, and pretty soon I could feel it snuggle into my sweater. It didn’t seem to be hurt. I looked around. I rang the door of the nearest house. They must have thought I was completely nuts – I mean, wouldn’t you, if someone came to the door holding a rabbit? Anyway, it wasn’t theirs. Neither did it seem to belong to anyone else I rousted out of their Sunday night torpor. So I took it home. I used to have a rabbit when I was a kid so I put this little chap in a cardboard box and got some lettuce and stuff from the fridge. I put him? her? I decided it had to be a she, on an old towel and tried to do a bit more thorough job of drying her fur. She didn’t object. We looked at each other for a while. Then I thought I’d better put out a few ads saying ‘lost a rabbit?’ Over the next few days I had not a single reply. So I put up a notice near where I’d found her, pinning it to a phone pole. No replies. After a week I decided I’d better give her a name. Obviously it had to be Cynthia, after my childhood rabbit, and I moved her to a bigger cardboard box well lined with newspaper while I figured out what sort of hutch I could put in the garden. And at some point during all this I began to feel again the joy I’d had as an eight year old, with my first pet. I began to sing little songs to Cynthia as I’d clean her box or feed her lettuce. I found myself picking the leaves of any dandelions I saw on my way to the shops, because rabbits really seem to like dandelions, and Cynthia was no exception. In the evenings she’d scrabble on the side of her box, asking to be held. So I’d pick her up and she’d sit on my lap, perfectly content, for hours, twitching her nose and sometimes nuzzling my hand. I fell in love all over again, my eight-year-old self standing beside me, smiling, no, beaming at me. Since I was at my desk, the computer before me, I started to type out a few thoughts that came along with the warm feeling of knowing Cynthia was there. And that’s when I knew that the muse doesn’t respond to us by giving us ideas for stories. Ideas come from the head and they’re rather cold and calculated. What the muse responds to are emotions. It’s the heart the muse engages. Anything else is not important. At some point during that first week I knew that my job was to write from my heart. Cynthia has the run of the house now. She goes to her cardboard box as a litter tray, only, and she loves to sit on the couch. She doesn’t like TV much (too noisy), but she loves to follow me round the kitchen. She sits on my lap when I type. I think she approves of what I’m doing. She is extraordinarily loving. And everything I write is filled with that knowledge. Everything is a love note to this astonishing, magnificent, ordinary world I so often used to take for granted.
Some of my regular correspondents have asked about my stories, and whether this site will now be given over to creative writing. The answer is yes, and no. I've been posting my creative work here and in magazines (which then get copied to Facebook) because what I do best, it seems to me, is enable others to liberate their creativity, to come to deeper awareness as a result. I felt it was time to say that I don't just talk the talk, but I walk the walk, too. Writing for self discovery is not a closet activity, after all. Don't ever think that. We are not on this earth to hide who we are.
So A serialised short story Three Years Later I’ve kept this diary for a couple of years since I stopped writing, right at the end of the semester. I kept the file on my laptop, and I transferred it to the new laptop, too. I haven’t had to do much more writing like this, and looking at it now I’m not sure why I stopped. I think I just got to a place where I’d moved through all that old stuff. I mean, my dad’s still a problem and my mum’s still being treated for her cancer, and I’ve graduated. So I guess this was what I needed to do right then, at that time, and when I’d done it I didn’t need to do it anymore. I mean, I still write stuff out when I’m upset or confused, and that seems to help, but I’m not doing it regularly. I probably don’t go as deep, either. Sometimes I surprise myself, though. I think what happened was I wrote my way to a place of peace and freedom. The stuff is still there, but it doesn’t wig me out the same way it used to. Perhaps that’d have happened anyway as I got a bit older. I don’t know. That’s probably why I sometimes go back to the exercises and do them again. And sometimes I get results that surprise me, even though I know what’s happening and what’s going to happen. And I kept the text books for this course, too. Most courses I sell back to the bookstore after the first few weeks of class because I know I won’t need them. But I kept these. A couple of times I’ve done the exercises with friends and that usually brings up some important stuff, too. I don’t know what happened, but I’m glad it did. Malcolm left teaching about the time I graduated and I suppose I should have kept in contact with him. But perhaps not. He was what I needed then, and once he’d helped me over the mountain I didn’t need him any more. I’m studying for my Master’s in Psychology. I volunteer at a women’s shelter doing some counseling. I’ve got a good gig waitressing a couple of nights a week to pay the bills. I’m making my life.
Tea Break Read So A serialised short story 12 “Sail Away for a Year and a Day”. That’s what Malcolm had us think about in this class. After last week we were more open than before this time. People shared what they’d learned about meeting the stranger with the bag of gifts, and some of it was hard to fathom. But that might have been because not everyone said everything that was on their minds. Kayla described seeing her old softball coach, a guy who had made her life miserable (because she had always loved softball) and in the meeting he as sarcastic and handed her a softball. And I wanted to ask her – did he do more than belittle her? Was he a sexual predator? I mean, it sounds like he was psychologically abusive, but was he more than that? What grown man victimizes a kid of 12 who just loves to play softball and is actually good at it? Some sick part of him must have singled her out for destruction. I wanted to say all that, but I mean, how can you say that to someone? “Did he molest you?” Is that what you say? “Did he hurt you?” is that any better? Jesus I don’t know. So I listened and I think that even without my questions she got what she needed to off her chest. I wanted to know more, though. The whole thing really stuck in my mind. Personally I didn’t want to say any more about Rudi. I want to keep that as my memory, not spread it around. There’s more, though. I may as well write it down. When you write stuff down it can be scary. What if someone reads it? But somehow when it’s written it stops being so big around the heart. It stops trying to suffocate you. So here we go. After Rudi died I was really sad for a long time. You know we were going to have the whole summer before college to have fun (we both had jobs, but they weren’t taking over our lives or anything. Not like an internship.) So I was left sort of dangling, with my sadness all around me like a blanket. And that’s when Stefan came into my life. And he was so wonderful and caring, or so I thought. I’d known him a bit at school, but hardly enough to talk to. So we start dating, and I’m still hurting from Rudi, so I’m a bit confused. And then we started getting intimate. Having sex. I think I was trying to get Rudi out of my head. So I’m not sure what I feel about Stefan, but he’s a good looking guy, and I thought I’d give it a whirl. Yeah. One of my better ideas, right? What I didn’t know was. What I. See, he had one of those tiny cameras. And he videoed us. I didn’t know it. I didn’t know it until he circulated it. Then suddenly all these people I’d graduated high school with are calling me asking if it’s true. Was that me? I can’t even begin to tell you what it felt like seeing that video. It was like a huge bucket of acid was burning all my insides. I think I shook and trembled for days. I couldn’t tell my mom, my Dad, anyone. This was a dark time for me. Stefan wouldn’t take it down. He didn’t care if he was in the clip – he just wanted to boast. I had no idea what to do. It turned out that help came from an unexpected quarter. Someone sent it to my brother. My brother’s a total fuck up, but he has an anger problem, and that turned out to be a god thing for once. He found Stefan and made sure he found him alone. He wouldn’t tell me what happened. But the result was that the link disappeared, Stefan and his friends shut up. Mind you, the damage was done because so many kids had seen me giving him a blow job and they weren’t going to stop talking or making ugly jokes. It was grainy and blurry and badly lit, but it was still me, doing it. By then it was only a few weeks before I had to leave for college orientation, and I guess most people who’d seen the clip were doing the same thing, running around buying stuff at Target for their ultra-cool dorm room, and so on. I was old news, suddenly. And then I came here and left it behind, perhaps forever. Who knows? I don’t care anymore. If people here get to know I think I’ll be kinda pissed, but I don’t want to throw myself off a bridge anymore. It feels like a lifetime ago, actually. A betrayal always leaves a mark on you. Weird though, that one of the people I trust least, my brother, was the person who stood up for me. But perhaps he was just standing up for himself – after all he still has to live in that stupid town. Who wants to be known as the guy whose sister is a slut? He’s not that big, but he comes across as angry a lot of the time, so people don’t like to get in his way. An unlikely knight in shining armor. So there you go. I wrote it. Now it’s all out I feel better. More free. I really, really needed to do that. Perhaps I’ve wanted to write it all out from the start. That and the rest of it. Today I re-read all this. I think I’m getting free. Yeah, so class has to do with that, too. Malcolm read us this poem, a nonsense poem, he said. It was by Edward Lear who lived in the nineteenth century. I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. The owl and the pussy cat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat They took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five pound note. They sailed away for a year and a day to the land when the Bam tree grows. And there in a wood a piggy-wig stood with a ring at the end of his nose. He said he’d adapted it. As if we’d know. So then he repeats it and asks to imagine a boat. What kind of boat? How big? And what would we take with us? Would we take anyone? And where are we going? Where do we meet the pig? Do we do anything about the ring? There was a big groan from Jessica when he got to the “who would you take with you?” and a couple of people looked up in sympathy. A couple of people started to draw the boat, in specific detail, but most of us just wrote down what the boat was and what sorts of things we’d take. By now I’m kind of alert to what these exercises might be about and I thought it might be a way of looking at how secure or insecure we are, you know, in terms of where we chose to go. I wasn’t exactly right about that. So we got a lot of response from the class. Almost everyone spoke up. We had big cruise ships with several hundred people on them, and we had sailing yachts with just a few friends. Me, I decided to go alone, with maybe my cat (Rufus is my favorite, but he’s not fond of water, so I don’t know), and I took my music, some blank notebooks, pencils for drawing and that’s about it. I was sailing away to a desert island somewhere. I forgot about the pig, but I did see a ring in the sand and I picked it up. Then I put it on a string around my neck. It was plain gold. I think we all sort of raced through it because we were thinking about what Malcolm would say it all meant. I know I was. So perhaps that wasn’t the best way to do it. Anyway, so we got some weird results. Mike wanted to take a whole lot of safety equipment, including a spare bilge pump, a raft, distress flares and survival kit. When he mentioned all those things I wondered if I was doing the exercise right. Malcolm explained that the sing-song verse tends to lull us a bit, and our defenses drop. Then when we hear “a year and a day” we tend not to think of 366 calendar days but more of a really long chunk of time. So, he said, with luck this becomes a metaphor of something bigger, like a voyage through life. And he said that no one had any sort of calendar, and no one said they’d be back in time for Christmas or anything, so it was a sort of limitless expanse of the future – and therefore it might reflect how we saw our future unfolding for the next stage of our lives. That sounded about right to me, somehow. It got my interest for sure. Then he talked about how some people are light packers and some people always over pack. And that made sense, especially for those who’d been on Spring Break. And there were plenty of jokes about who had wound up carrying Kayla’s suitcases and how much extra gear she’s taken on a beach vacation. We had a few laughs about that. I know Kayla and she always has too much stuff. The amount of junk she puts in her backpack each day – you can’t miss it – that she drags to classes! So Malcolm says that those who take a lot of stuff feel that perhaps the world isn’t going to supply what they need, so they bring it with them. Those who take less are perhaps more confident or optimistic. I guess that puts me on the optimistic or confident side, but you know, I just don’t need all that much. I’m kind of self-sufficient. If I don’t have something I can usually ask someone for some help, and I usually get it. I don’t feel vulnerable. I mean, compared to Mike who had practically an entire spare boat with him I was very restrained. Mike seems to expect trouble wherever he is. He expects he’ll have to do everything himself, and not ask for help. It’s a guy thing. It’s really boring. He doesn’t accept help. And that’s what he said. He said “I find it really difficult to ask for help with stuff, because I don’t want to be ‘one down’ to someone.” Guys. I tell you. He reminds me of my brother so much. Exactly the same. I’m starting to feel sorry for Mike, now. Here he is, in this class that’s almost all girls, and he’s always such a guy – how’s he ever going to speak up about what’s on his mind? So the voyage through life also has to do with the size of the boat – a big boat suggests a really social approach to life. Mine was a smallish, but a sturdy ocean going sort of sail boat, able to move under its own power, and just me on it. And Malcolm said that it might mean that for the next part of my life what I need to do is spend some time building a deeper understanding of myself. He said that the people you take with you are likely to be those you want to build a relationship with for the foreseeable future, and that it’s absolutely OK to want to get to know yourself, especially when you’re at college. The cat I took is part of that. It’s not Rufus, my tortoiseshell, but it’s something like him. And cats feel very self-possessed. They don’t give their affection very easily (just like Rufus) although they’re good at taking affection, so they tend to be representative of that need to be self-sufficient and not have to care for others. A dog, by comparison, is all about needing attention all the time. Then I don’t have a destination. Malcolm said that some people go with life’s flow, and so have no set destination. They enjoy the trip. Others have a specific goal in mind and get focused on that. Which are we? Good question. Of course I want to graduate and get a job, but it’s not like I’m determined to run a Fortune 500 company before I’m thirty, or anything like that. I’m not about outer rewards. For me it’s about happiness, contentment and inner peace; really, it is. I mean, isn’t that what it’s all about? Well, it is for me. I don’t want to be a goal-oriented go-getter with hypertension and a shitty home life, and ten million bucks in the bank that I don’t even get to enjoy. The pig, it turns out, is a gate-keeper, a person or situation that might stop you getting what you desire. I didn’t see one at all. Mike caught his and had a barbeque with it roasting on a spit. Who’s he trying to kid? The ring, though, was interesting. Rings are circular and so have no beginning or end, and mine was gold, which often suggests something eternal (because gold doesn’t rust or decay). So Malcolm tells us the rind is suggestive of the reward that we think life will give us. Do we expect a reward? What might that be? And then he says that a ring can be seen as a symbol of the completed self. When will you feel complete? Will there be a time, or will it just happen? The people who didn’t see the ring are likely to be those who don’t need a “reward” like a medal to show them they were complete. And I wasn’t convinced about that. I mean I think I am a person who doesn’t need rewards or diplomas or whatever to let me know who I am, and I said so. And Malcolm said, yes; he agreed. And we could look at it another way, too. Where did I put the ring? On a string around my neck. So it was hanging near my heart, perhaps? A gold ring, a bit like a wedding ring, but not on my finger, but near my heart. And he looked at me, as if to say, finish the idea. And I started crying. Before I knew why, I was crying. And it wasn’t about him being mean to me (he wasn’t) it just flooded over me. So the Kleenex box comes my way for a while. And it doesn’t come clear until after class. I’m sitting back in my room, feeling confused, still a bit weepy. That’s when I see that the ring is about me healing my heart. My heart was broken by Rudi, by Stefan and by those fuck-heads at the party. And by my dad. And that’s what I want to heal. And if I can be alone for a bit and sail as I need to I know I can be healed. I know it. But right now it hurts. I cry myself to sleep. For the next few days I’m in a bit of a daze, but I function OK. Still, I know something has changed. I give Jessica a hug just because she’s there, and she’s a bit surprised but she hugs me back. Then I do the same to Goo Goo and we have a really sweet moment, and he says thank you. And I say why? And he says he was afraid I didn’t want to be his friend anymore. And I laugh and give him a bigger hug. And that’s when he tells me he thinks he’s gay, and I tell him I’d thought so for a long time so this isn’t news to me. I still love him, I say, you’re still my friend. And he gives me a big kiss on the cheek. We hung out for a few hours, but we didn’t need to say much, not really. It was all kind of understood. So Malcolm was telling us about this poet, Mark Nepo, who has a technique for understanding things. It comes from Brazil. It’s good, and I hope I can remember it properly. He says that when something bad happens the best thing you can do is listen to a person, and then you ask this question that goes: “and so?” Meaning, what does this all mean in the greater world? How does this fit into world events? Does your broken heart alter your life plans? And then the person thinks about that and speaks. Then, after they’re done you ask the same question, except this time when you say: “and so?” it means, do you have a sense of where you are now? Then you let them speak and when they’re done you ask: “and so?” again, but this time it means, So – what are you going to do? I thought this was amazing because I’m always saying “so” as a way to lead into my next series of ideas. It seems I’ve been doing this all along. Cool, huh? Because each time I say “so” it really means I’m going to try and get my mind around it better. This method of Nepo’s seems more structured and more helpful. I tend to get stuck in repetition a bit too often. Then I wind up going round and round until I make myself sick. Malcolm then led us in another exercise which was pretty similar. It began with “I’m here because…” and you had to complete the sentence. Then you use the next bit, the bit you just wrote, and use that as the first part of the next because sentence. Then you keep going. So I wrote: I’m here because I like this class. I like this class because we get to explore parts of who we are. We get to explore parts of who we are because we need to! We need to because most of never have explored like that. Most of us never have explored like this because we’re always so busy doing all kinds of crap. And so on. It kind of wakes you up to what you’re doing why you’re doing it. Or at least as far as you can get with the “why” part. It’s the most difficult part. We can all recall pretty much what happened but they why is a bitch. Because is a pretty useful word – it takes you towards the causes of things, the reasons you might not want to face particularly. Really — I’m in this class because I’m confused and make bad decisions a lot and I want to get out of that. That’s the truth. That’s why I’m here. So Malcolm gives us a case study to think about. It goes like this. A girl (19) goes to a party and passes out in the bathroom from too much booze. Her friends are there and call her father (who’s not in her life much but he’s the only person who is). He comes and picks her up. Takes her home, puts her to bed. Next morning she wakes up rushes to the police and says her father raped her when she was passed out. Father denies it. Girl goes to stay with cousins and asks to stay with their well-functioning family. It turns out girl’s apartment lease is up and she has no money. So we all get to float ideas about what could possibly be going on. And of course we all take the girl’s side. Her father probably did it. Or could it have been at the party? I start to get anxious at this point. I’m thinking of my own experience. But why blame her father? And someone says I bet she’s really angry at her father because he’s not in her life. And Malcolm says, “Go on” in that way he has. And she says a whole lot of stuff about how angry she’s been at her father, and how much she’s wanted to make him feel hurt, but she’d never go to this extreme. And Malcolm thanks her for this “great insight” as he calls it, and so I say, “What if she really was raped?” And Malcolm says that it’s very possible she was, or had sex and got frightened, or perhaps she wanted to use the event to hurt her father? Then Jess says: what if she was pregnant and wanted to blame someone for it? And a couple of us sort of gasp – like: that makes sense. Then someone else says, what if nothing happened at all? Why would she fake something like that? And then Mike says, did she fake it just to get somewhere to stay? She gets to stay in a proper family, one that’s quote well-functioning unquote, and so she gets a place to live and some sort of substitute family too. And I kind of wake up more at this point because I can see that she’d have a motive. She’d get to play the innocent victim and not have to be an adult with an apartment to pay for and a job and all that stuff that’s a bit scary, really. That gets me curious, and I say, “Did they do any DNA testing? I mean aren’t they supposed to check if there’s any evidence, you know, fluids and so on?” Before Malcolm can answer Jess says, “So what happened? What was the answer?” And then everyone wants to know the answer, too. Malcolm holds up his hand and then he replies, rather slowly. He says that what we’ve just done is exactly what he’d hoped we’d do. We looked behind the actions to ask what was the cause. Because, he says, that’s the key. That’s the word we used earlier. We can’t understand events unless we ask that question a lot. When we do so we are probably going to get to the issues about the Unconscious. Now, he says, rape is a very tricky thing to discuss. Plenty of emotions and plenty of openings for cries of sexism and “blame the victim”. So I’d like you to see this as just one case, not a pronouncement about all rape cases. I like that he said that. People get so touchy about this stuff. And that’s good. In this young woman’s case, he says, it wasn’t the father. The DNA test was negative, and that could be because she didn’t get it until the morning after and she’d had a shower by then, too. She may have known that it wasn’t her father or she may not, but she jumped to a conclusion probably because she wanted to hurt him. And she did. She must have known that would happen. She didn’t seem upset about that – perhaps her own sense of violation was too strong. She managed to have sex with someone, though. And promiscuous sex is sometimes what happens when women feel neglected by their fathers. It’s a way of getting male attention. Not always, but sometimes. Do you see how complex this can be? Malcolm asked us. I was beginning to think that this sounded about right for a couple of people I knew, who definitely have some weird thinking . Malcolm gave a few moments for us to think about and then went on. What emerged much later was that the young woman had been recently dumped by her boyfriend, with whom she had hoped to move in – which is why she hadn’t made proper arrangements when her apartment’s lease was due to run out. Drinking until she passed out was possibly the cry of sorrow she couldn’t express any other way. She drank that evening and really didn’t know if she’d had sex with anyone that night, although she was afraid she might get pregnant. In counseling she blamed her father for her entire situation, and she said she’d hoped she’d be adopted by the other family, so she could show her father how well she’d do in a proper functioning family situation. But actually she was afraid of growing up, and she admitted that. While she was with the other family she tried to take the place of the oldest daughter, and at that time she seemed to want to destroy the family by pitting them against each other. Perhaps this was envy at what she’d never had? She even accused the son of spying on her. We all sort of sat back when we heard this, because it was way more complicated than we’d thought. Well, said Malcolm – the case isn’t over because these things are never “over”. Human suffering lingers for a long time. And when people are frightened they do things that are often more Unconscious than anything else. For a while there’s a fair bit of to and fro talk between us about this kid. Some people pitied her, others thought she was evil, and a few thought she was too far gone to ever be a functioning human again. I’m listening to all this, yet there’s something I want to say but I’m not even sure what it is. And then I start talking. I tell them about the party and about how I was nearly raped. And I tell them that I thought I could handle anything, but really I knew I couldn’t. And part of me was asking, “Who’s going to protect me?” Because my dad never even tried even when I was a kid. And I thought I could do things that were dangerous and I’d still be fine because I can deal with it, because I’m strong, because I’m stronger than anyone else. But I’m not. And I knew it at the same time as I knew I wanted someone to save me. I think I went to that party because I was expecting to get into something. I didn’t think it’d be that, though. Never in a million years. The memory comes back to me sometimes and I hate it. I can still smell the alcohol on those guys, that smell that gets into clothes of beer and cigarettes and sweat. And that’s what jarred me. At the time, I mean. Luckily for me I wised up and ran. I don’t know why I did. I just knew I had to get out. I saved myself. By the time I’d finished talking I’d kind of forgotten anyone else was in the room, I was so there, so back where it almost happened. And then I’m feeling my legs running for the car, and I’m out of breath talking about it, and I stop. I look around the room. Jess stands up, pushes past some chairs and gives me a hug. And we hug for a long time. I don’t remember much else. Actually I do remember more. I’m not sure I can write it. I can’t write it. I have to. I knew things were getting out of control. I knew it. Then this guy grabbed my hair, from behind, and pulled, hard. His other hand was tight on the back of my neck and I couldn’t do anything. I could hardly move. And he was pushing me, pushing me towards a garden bench thing, and I knew what he was going to do. He was going to shove me over it, with my ass in the air, so I couldn’t move, and get between my legs so I couldn’t kick him, and he’d be there holding me down with my ponytail in his fist, bending my head back. He got me to the bench and let go of the back of my neck. I went face first over and I could feel him put his body between my legs and then he ripped my pants down and, and, and … I was scared! I was choking so hard I couldn’t scream. I don’t know how I did it, but instead of pushing back against him I gave a huge lunge and threw myself forwards. I went over the bench in a somersault, and my legs came up and must have hit him somewhere, and we’re both falling forwards. And he let go. I rolled forwards, got up and ran. I can’t write any more. I never wear skirts anymore. Never. Every day I thank God or the Angels or whatever is out there for that escape. Every day I know that I can face myself because I got away. If I hadn’t, where would I be? This is more than a class. This is something else. Malcolm’s told us he’d like us to do a final paper. He says he’d like us to write about what we’ve learned or discovered, and if we haven’t learned anything much then perhaps we need to write about that, instead. Or we can write about particular exercises we liked, but this time we might want to go deeper, and perhaps connect to other exercises. We all nod, and say that sounds good. And Jess says she’d like to do a video and Malcolm says that’s OK, but this is a writing class, supposedly, so we’ll need a written component. So we think about that. Then he says that perhaps there was something you wanted to talk or write about that you didn’t get to yet, and that the final paper would be a good place for that. It seems pretty wide open, and yet I can see that if I’m going to do this right I’m going to have to be specific and choose an approach so that it’s not just a series of dislocated comments. Then I know what I’ll do. I’ll give him this diary. Yes. The whole thing, except I’ll add a section at the end that explains where I’ve got to, and why it matters. And I start to tremble after I’ve decided to do this. I try not to let anyone see, and of course no one does; except Jess.
Tea Break Read So A serialised short story 11 I wanted to hand in my paper about all that stuff last week, but I didn’t. I wrote 12 pages, and it was good stuff, too. It felt as if I’d jinx it all if I handed in the paper. And so I had a few minutes talk with Malcolm at the break, and he said that it was OK. He said that what was important was that I’d written it, not whether I’d handed it in for a grade. The important thing, he said, is that you know what you’ve written, so you might want to re-read it, just to remind yourself. I know what he means. I sometimes re-read my stuff and think – wow, I knew that, and then I still went out and made the same stupid mistake. Why can’t I be wise? Why don’t I use what I know when I need it? And then Malcolm said something interesting. He said – perhaps you don’t want to hand in your paper because it’s about trust. After all, he said, you’ve got plenty of reasons not to trust men, and here I am, a man, so why should you trust me with the information that you’re learning some lessons about how to trust yourself more? Do you think that has anything to do with it? Um, yeah. It’s like you get one layer of yourself worked out and another layer needs to be dealt with. These unconscious defenses (that’s Malcolm’s phrase, not mine) are tricky little bastards, aren’t they? That’s for sure. And that sent me back to thinking about GooGoo. He’s a person I trust, but that’s because he’s who he is and he’s not really a guy. He’s gay, I’m sure of it, so he’s not like guys and he’s not like my father chasing after his girlfriends and treating me all girly. He’s who he is and he treats me like an equal, all the time. I don’t go all defensive around him. You know, now I think about it he’s not a guy and he’s not a girl and so he’s safe – at least I think so. The exercise we did this week was interesting. We were asked to remember where we lived at about age 8. Well, there were moans and groans from the usual people in the class – ‘we lived in two places’, ‘I can’t remember that time’, ‘my dad’s house or my Mom’s house?’ And all that kind of shit. I mean, grow up people. He asked us to choose a place we remember, a place we felt was home, round about age 8. He doesn’t have to give everyone permission all the time for every little decision, you know? So when we’d got our house in our mind he asked us to sketch out a floor plane. Only one rule – no erasers. He wants to see any mistakes. Well, the good girls and boys were all upset about that because they wanted to hand in a neat drawing. Don’t they get it? It’s not about whether it’s neat or not, it’s about whatever the hell it’s going to tell us when we’re sharing the pictures and Malcolm gives us some pointers (his word) about what it might all mean. I swear, these people, sometimes. So I drew my house from when I was 8, and I made a bunch of mistakes. I made the stairs way too big, and my Mom’s room too small. Stuff like that. It didn’t all fit together. I wasn’t the only one, so that was a relief. And then Malcolm got into his “suggestions” about what it might all mean. And it turns out those mistakes were pretty interesting, after all. So he spelled out how we’re not drawing an accurate diagram. We’re drawing an impression of what we feel the house was, the way we remember it, and the way we recall what it was like to live there. That works even if it’s the house you still live in. For some people, he said, the house represents a safe place they enjoyed, or perhaps a place they were glad to leave. That’s what it was like for Jessica. She said how she really really loved that house, and the friendly neighbors, and how sad she was when they had to move, and how nothing ever felt like home since then. I thought that was sad. Then Malcolm said that when we draw space we draw what’s important to us. So we probably all knew exactly where the TV was, and important places in the home tend to get drawn bigger. Unimportant places even get left out sometimes. And I could see what he means. I drew my room as quite big, but my brother’s room was bigger, which makes sense because he was older, but I’m actually pretty sure our rooms were the same size. It’s just that he got all the preferential treatment. My Mom’s room turned out small in my drawing, which makes sense too because we never were in there much. It didn’t matter to us. But I drew the stairs as very big. And I thought about that, and I can recall how they used to creak because they were polished wood, and how that meant someone was coming upstairs, and I never knew who it would be. It might be my dad (and he was not really good news when he was around). Later it was one or other of my Mom’s boyfriends, and I was scared of some of them. I mean, really scared. It brought up a lot of feelings. Malcolm said that any house is a struggle as to who controls which space, just like who controls the remote for the TV is a struggle. Did we feel we had control over space? Did we have our own safe space? And that’s when Kayla described that she’d drawn all the rooms small, but that she’d drawn her closet as much larger than it really was, and that was because each night she’d crawl in there to sleep, because she didn’t feel safe in her real bed. She had a whole alternate bedroom crammed in there, and she showed the picture. Then in the morning she’d pretend she’d slept in her real bed. And I thought about the stairs again, in my picture, and how scared I’d been. And I thought about how I’d drawn the kitchen as larger than it was, because that was where we’d eat and it was always friendly and warm down there. Mike described his Dad’s basement, and the “man cave” he wasn’t allowed in. He explained that this was Dad’s room, where he drank. I think he has a few problems around father figures. It shows sometimes. The thing is that every diagram (Malcolm’s word) is a suggestion about who had the power in the house. Who ran the place? Who was in charge? The person who gets the most room, or the best space, tends to be the one who has the most power. So who was it in your family? Who ran the place? I’d have to say it was my brother. He was always in trouble, always doing something weird or failing classes, and he took up so much of our mental space that he was the one who “ran” the place, really. We all had to work around him. His special classes, everything. I got kind of pushed to the side, and dad was never really present. Well, he was on the road with the band. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d actually made some money, but he didn’t, and mom had to make it all. Malcolm told us how a kid in a class years ago had been unable to draw one room, the music room, and it turned out that she’d be molested by her piano teacher there, and so she simply couldn’t draw it – even though she drew the garden and everything in it – which is where she’d escape to. Her diagram was a map of her mind, of sorts. Fascinating. I can’t get my mind round it all, but I can see how it works. This is the strangest class. So Malcolm says again that this exercise is yet again about identity. Who were we in the family? This matters because when we get out into the real world we’ll tend to think that this is our role, and so we’ll take it up. If we’re used to not being able to have any space to ourselves then that’s what we’ll expect, whether we’re sharing a place with a roomie or a significant other. We’ll feel that way because that was our “normal” and if we don’t question it we’ll be that way all our lives. Then he said something interesting. He said that at age 8 we’re just starting to notice things about power and authority. We start to be expected to be more responsible at school, we can’t pout and cry and get away with it so often. And, also, we have ambitions – we want to be doctors or astronauts or superheroes but the reality is we can’t even choose our own bedtime. So we’re very sensitive to who has the power. We have to know who has it because we know we don’t! Now I think about it I can see more about why I find it hard to trust, especially men. I saw my Mom trust men – and they didn’t stick around. I saw her work hard for a man who didn’t do much and then didn’t stick around either. I saw my fuck-up of a brother run us all in circles. Then Rudi goes and dies. But before he did he gave me a real gift. He let me know I deserved to be loved. Now I can see where my insecurities come from they don’t seem so big. I know some people trust me (Goo Goo) and respect me. I know Malcolm trusts me to trust myself. But do I trust me? At the end of class I gave him my paper anyway. And I said, “I trust you”, and he smiled. “Trust” he said, “comes when we trust. You learn to trust by trusting. That’s the way it grows. There is no other way”. I smiled, nodded, and walked away. As soon as I was round the corner I whipped out my notebook and wrote it down. That was too good to miss. Later that night I thought about my name. Everyone, most people, know me as Ann, my middle name, my mother’s name. I don’t use Hilda, of course. Or Hildi or any of the variants that could be invented out of it. I think it might be time to claim my name, so I think I’ll just use the last bit of Hildi and call myself Dee. Yes. That’s what I’ll do. It could take some doing to convince people to change, but I can try. Old habits die hard. But I don’t want them I want new habits.
1729 I had this dream. It was a bit confused – or perhaps I was a bit out of it as I tried to recall it the next day – but it was one of those dreams you wake up from in the middle of the night and say, “Jeez! I must remember that!” And then nine times out of nine you forget all about it until about two weeks later, and by then it’s all a bit scrambled. Well, this was one of those except it only took me a couple of days to recall it, because it had one big bit of information in it, the number 1729. It might have been 1724, I thought, but eventually I decided I was more leaning to 1729. You may think I’m nuts, but I have to tell you I’ve had some great dreams. In one of them a few years back I got a whole lesson plan for one of my classes, one I’d been kind of agonizing over, and when I got to work I could remember about two thirds of it. I wrote it down and it turned out just great. What a gift! Well, that felt like one of those kinds of dreams. Clearly it was some kind of message, from out there, wherever that is, and I needed to know what it was that 1729 was trying to tell me. So I looked up what Wikipedia had to say about it, and all I got was the first performance of a Bach piece and the publication date of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. Not much help there. 1724 was even less use. You see, I wondered if it might be guiding me. Perhaps to the lottery. The Numbers Game has just 4 numbers, and then you have to choose the order, which is a bit more tricky. But the lottery has six numbers, and a multiplier, so could it be that I had to play 1, 7 and then 17, and then 2 and 4 and 24? But what about 12 and 14? Or, come to think about it, 41 and 21? Now I was getting confused. And which lottery? As those of us who occasionally buy a ticket know, you’ve got quite a few to choose from these days, which is why I always use the Mega millions with quick-pick, so I don’t look like a dork buying my ticket. I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing, and anyway the very sullen Sri Lankan guy at the cash speaks in a way I can’t quite catch. But perhaps he doesn’t know exactly how it works, either, and that time I asked he was laughing at me? I mean, I guess he’s from Sri Lanka, because he has a big poster of it behind the till. Faced with this I chose the numbers game and the mega millions. I didn’t want to spend too much, just in case it wasn’t going to work out. But just in case I checked the previous day’s numbers for both (because the information would have been fresh, then, seeing as how the dream was a couple of days old) and none of them were even close. I reckoned my dream vision might still be OK. I bought two tickets. The Numbers and the Megabucks. A buck each. For the next few days I couldn’t do anything. I was so full of what I’d do with the cash that I could hardly focus on conversations any more demanding than, “Would you like fries with that?” I had a few pretty good schemes mapped out, too. I’d spend some on me. Get that BMW. Then I’d set up a Foundation to help kids who’ve come from difficult homes. Something where I could do some good and not have to work hard or anything. It was only two days to the Megabucks drawing and I had a whole lot of great ideas, I can tell you. The Numbers had been and gone already. But I was relieved because the Megabucks paid out more. Of course nothing happened. The next day after the let down – I wasn’t surprised, really. I just felt the same. Anyway, I went on ebay, as I so often do. I know I shouldn’t because I just get excited about all kinds of random things, and wind up spending money I really shouldn’t. I typed in 1729. Then I had to narrow it down so I thought “Antiques” would be the best category. All I got was a load of stamped wills and such – old documents not worth anything but sentimental spending. I was tempted by a Will that had been drawn up at Guildford, England, which is where my parents had lived for a while. But I knew I’d have to frame it, then put it somewhere, and I couldn’t be bothered. Then I saw a whole lot of other stuff, including, strangely enough, that one I mentioned earlier “A Modest Proposal”. It was kind of interesting to look at, and pretty tattered and so I passed on it, even at the price ($15 plus postage). Three months later I’m reading on-line and there’s an article about a surprise auction find that had just gone to Christie’s and was expected to sell for a fortune. It was the sort of thing that The Antiques Roadshow would make a fuss over, a knackered old document that no one would really care about apart from a collector or a museum. Junk really. I looked closer. It was an edition of “A Modest Proposal”. They called it a pamphlet, which is why I hadn’t paid much attention. And that triggered something in the recesses of my memory. Dated 1729. It was, they said, a copy that has the author’s own handwritten comments and corrections on it. This had been verified – it really was his handwriting – which is why it was worth so much. There was even a message on the back of one blank sheet, by the same hand. Yeah. You guessed it. The same one. The ebay one that went for $15 (plus postage). The trouble with dreams is that they tell you so much good stuff, but they don’t tell you how to translate that stuff into the real world, right? So now I tell this story in pubs and bars and it gets me a free drink or two. But I’d rather have had the $375,000 that it eventually sold for. Next time.