Author Archives: Allan Hunter

“So” continued: Episode 8

8 From Getting back to school can seem like a relief and a let down at the same time. I’m pleased to get back to my friends and not having to answer to anyone for anything much. But I do miss my private space, and I miss that it’s quiet when I want it to be. And I miss my cats. We’re back to class and Malcolm asks us in a general way about our break. Everyone says it was “good” and he recognizes that we’re not ready to say anything yet, so he reminds us about the course. And he says a few things that are really interesting. He says that for the first half of the semester we’ve been looking at parts of ourselves we might not even be fully aware of, the Unconscious parts, and that they determine most of what we wind up doing and who we become – if we’re not prepared to look at them. He says it’s a bit like living near a train station, and seeing everyone get on the train and go to work. So we grow up and we think we have to get on the same train, and we do, and we never look at the other possibilities. He says that he doesn’t particularly care whether we get on the train or not, that’s up to us, What he does care about is that when we do get on it (if we do) we know we’re making a choice. And if we decide we won’t get on it then we have to know where that decision comes from. If you’re compliant then you do what everyone does. If you’re reactive you do the exact opposite just to be different. But then you can also choose what you feel is true to you. And what’s true to you is likely to be what your Unconscious is telling you. So, the better you know your Unconscious the better decisions you’ll make and the happier you’ll wind up being. I’ve never encountered a prof who cared about whether we were happy. I mean, yes, they want us to like them and their courses and so on so they can get good end of term evaluations, but they don’t really care that much about whether we wind up happy, ten years down the road. But I really think he wants us to know who we are, inside, so we can be happy in a deep, fulfilled kind of way, in whatever way that works for us. No matter what we do. If it comes from the authentic version of who we are (that’s his phrase) then it will be empowered and joyful. We can, he says, change the world through our example. One person at a time. I’m kind of blown away by that. I don’t think most of the class got it. They all sat there like corpses dusted off for a museum showing. Or perhaps they did. You can never tell. So then he starts with another exercise. This one is kind of funny. He asks us to write fortune cookie fortunes for people we know. Mom, dad (HAH!!) people we know, people we have friction with. Then he asks us to think of what we’d like to find in cereal packages – those stupid toys we used to love when we were about 6, and then what we’d put in if we ran the company, and finally, if money were no object. I write these fortunes, and it tears me up a bit. For Me: It will be OK. For Mom: You are my strength For Dad: Wake up! For my brother: You’ll do fine if you stop trying to be better than everyone. For a special person: I think we’re going to know each other for a long time For a person of conflict: You shitheads don’t get it. Karma will get you. Cereal package, what I’d like to get: Motivational quotes in a book Cereal, if I ran the company: Motivational quotes, in a book or on bracelets Cerea if expense was no object Joy, in ready to open packets So we all share, and it was pretty interesting. Malcolm told us that what we want to receive as a fortune is often the message we’re waiting to get from someone, like “it’ll all work out” – but that actually if someone said that to us, a stranger, we probably wouldn’t believe it. We probably wouldn’t believe it if it came from our Moms or Dads either. So what’s really happening here is we’re sending that message to ourselves, from our Unconscious to our Conscious selves. We are reassuring ourselves. I thought that was really interesting. Then he said that the other fortunes were likely to be things that we wanted to say to people in our lives, but felt they couldn’t hear. Or more accurately, these were things we felt they couldn’t hear from us, because of who we are to them. And that felt dead on. I’d love to say all those things to all those people, but I know they’d just smile and say “yeah, fine, great” and forget it. Even that one I had for Jessica “I think we’re going to know each other for a long time” – that’s something I can’t say just yet. But I can feel it. Then Malcolm said: you all gave good advice to the people in your lives. Good. Now, do you take your own advice? I had to put my head down there. Because I don’t take my own advice. I can dish it out just fine. But actually I don’t live what I preach. I do try to be better than everyone else – it’s not just my brother. I’m pretty much like him now I think about it, which is why he annoys me so much. I can see what he’s doing! I understand it. But I can’t get through to him that he doesn’t need to put that shit. And I don’t seem to be that good at getting through to me, either. So then we came to the cereal package bit, which I thought was a bit lame. And there were all kinds of responses. Some people put forgiveness for student loans in their packets for when we had no expense limit. I thought that was cool. Others put in a million dollars. Only one other person put in something abstract, and that was Jessica – she put in peace and love and compassion. I thought that was amazing. No one knew what to make of this part so Malcolm took over and he said that this part of the exercise talked about our luck. The Free Gift in the cereal might indicate what we felt our luck would be like (because we all think we have our own personal luck). Did we have big expectations or not? Did we think we were going to get what we needed in life? I guess my motivational quotes are something I’ll need in life, to keep me focused, so I felt good about that. Then the gift we’d give to others showed us how generous we were likely to be to the greater world. Are we kind? Then – finally – the gift that we’d give if money were no object was one that could reflect how we felt people should be treated. And that started a good discussion because those who gave a million bucks realized that money is fine, but often it causes more trouble than we think, so it was a potentially difficult gift. Those who gave peace and love were looking at a more spiritual level for their fulfillment. And then he said this: The extent to which we are prepared to be generous with others tends to mirror the extent that we are generous to ourselves. And then he asked: are you generous to yourselves? I think my head exploded, again. When I got back to my room I immediately started to write about it. You see, my books of motivational quotes are exactly the way I operate. I like it when people take charge of their own lives and use the resources that are at hand (like quotes that inspire) but I won’t just hand them money and walk away. That’s kind of distant, isn’t it? Here, take five bucks and go away. That’s not really very caring. But I’m caring and yet hands off. I’m not telling them they have to come to a prayer meeting with me, or the Mormon temple, or whatever. I’m saying: here’s something. Use it if you want. It’s your life. Take charge. Because, you see, that’s exactly the way I live and the way I need to live. I need to take charge and use the resources I’ve got. That’s what I’m telling myself. It’s like I kicked myself in the butt with this one. Shit. This is one hell of a course. I’m still kind of shook up about that Jabberwock. I haven’t forgotten it, but while I was away on break it got shoved to the back of my mind and then today it came back, and it really came back to me. Malcolm said that we construct our lives around stories. We tell ourselves stories about things and some of them are good stories, and some of them aren’t. We tell ourselves stories about what we can say and who we can say it to – and they might not even be true. We tell ourselves that something is “just my luck” when in reality it’s more likely to be our way of interpreting a situation that can keep us stuck. If you don’t think you’ve got any luck then you’ll probably take no risks your entire life, and what a waste that would be. And that got me thinking about my narrow escape from that shitty party. I could see myself as weak, as a victim who’ll always get cornered. Or I could see myself as a person who made a mistake but had the wits to fight my way out. Which is true? Both. Which do I believe? I like the second one more. If I believe I’m always going to be a victim I’ll probably wind up that way, because that’s what I’ll be expecting, so I’ll have a way of making it happen, putting myself in danger, Unconsciously. That’s the creepy thing. Part of me that I don’t understand will try to make things happen because it’s what I “expect’, even if it’s going to hurt me!! SHIT!! So if I expect that men are only out for one thing, to hurt and exploit women and be assholes like my dad…..then that’s what I’ll find in life. I may see other possibilities but I may not be able to believe in them. So the nice guys get sent away with a curse and a shove. SHIT! And I do this to myself. Really? Do I do that? I suppose I do. Really, I think I might do that sometimes. I know there was more to the class because people talked. Some people didn’t get it, but I wasn’t listening to them. I had too much of my own mind to listen to. I think the last thing I wrote (for this exercise) might be the thing that’ll help me today. I wrote that I put packets of Joy in everyone’s cereal box. Real Joy. That tells me that I want people to be full of Joy and that I think I am, too, except I need to be reminded about Joy. Because that’s where I used to be, before. That’s who I was. I’d find joy in all kinds of places and it was so great to be that person. I think I lost it after that party. Sometimes I think that those guys saw I was full of joy and life and that’s why they wanted to try to rape me, to drag me down to their own sorry level. It wasn’t like I was running around like a ray of sunshine or anything, but people used to say that there was some good energy around me. I think it got frightened out of me.


Lessons Learned: Forgiveness Plenty has been written about forgiveness, but honestly — it often feels a bit cerebral, technical even. If you want to learn what forgiveness is then you have to go to an expert. I’m lucky enough to know several. Little Zoe, aged 3, has been my great teacher in this respect, and her sister, aged 8 months has been fairly impressive too. In the course of being with these two I’ve done just about everything wrong. I’ve put on diapers back to front; I’ve offered food they really don’t like; I’ve failed to know the right way to stop them crying. These can be real crises for small children, don’t forget that. In every case my blunders caused tears and upset, but within minutes they’ve returned to being their usual serene selves. They just let it go. What has this taught me? That forgiveness is instinctual, immediate, and free. It doesn’t have to be asked or begged for. It’s our natural condition. It’s also told me that not forgiving – holding a grudge, clinging to a resentment – is almost certainly a learned response. We have to teach ourselves to do it. And then we only do it because we imagine it will bring us a reward of some sort eventually. This is not true, of course, unless one considers pouting and blackmail to contain any rewards. So we can only conclude that this is what people believe when they fail to forgive.

Spring is in the Air

A while back I read that songbirds in England are now so crowded by people and cars and noise that they're starting to go deaf. This, of course, limits their ability to sing to attract mates, and presumably affects the quality of the songs. The astonishing, complex, recursive song of the blackbird comes to mind. In basic terms, the black bird sings a phrase lasting about 20 seconds. Then it repeats it with extra added phrasing so it's twice as long. Then it repeats that with even more additions, and so on - to produce an extraordinary and lengthy serenade. This may become a thing of distant memory. But we may never know, because we'll all be going deaf, too.


Today I saw a van beside me in traffic and the sign on it declared it to be a mobile pet spa. Presumably this was for people who were too busy to take their pet to a spa, or chose not to. I've never been to a spa of any kind, although I know of people who have and they've enjoyed it thoroughly as a de-stress activity. I guess I've been too busy.

Look – a Pen! A short story

“Look – a pen.” “It’s just a pen on the sidewalk, leave it.” “But what if it’s a magic pen?” “Really, you are too much.” But I picked it up anyway. It hadn’t been much of a date, and I guess that exchange sort of put the noose around its neck. I was up for a few laughs but she thought I was childish. That night I decided to write out a to do list. In my pocket was the pen I’d picked up earlier and when I held it; poised over the paper, it felt slightly tingly. Suddenly the pen started to write something. It looked a lot like poetry, and before I could stop it I had a couple of good stanzas, complete with rhyme. It looked the like end of a poem. I looked at my hand. I looked at the page. I recognized something. It took me a while, because I kept thinking this was all crazy. But what I had was two more stanzas of Keats’ Ode to Autumn. There was no doubt about it. More verses, notice. Extras. Not pastiche. Not repeats. New verses. I went to bed to try and shut this all out. I don’t write poetry. The next morning the pen was still in the same place I’d left it. I picked it up and felt the energy stir. And then it was moving my hand, moving my brain for godssakes, as I found myself writing. I knew exactly what it was, too. Unmistakable. Extra verses for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I’d studied it for a whole year with Mrs. McDougall’s ninth grade English class, so I should know. I hadn’t had breakfast yet. The verses were pretty good, actually. They were a sort of philosophical coda to the poem, as the wedding guest walks away. Fascinating. So I did what any sensible person would do. I researched Google to see if Coleridge and Keats had written and deleted any verses of this kind, particularly these ones that I seemed to be channeling. I spent most of the day on the computer, and called my academic friends when my bum got tired and I could walk around and yack. Connie, an expert in this field, listened carefully and said she’d get back to me. I told her I’d discovered some ancient manuscripts, because it was too weird to tell her I’d picked up a magic pen. She called back that night. The poems certainly sounded genuine enough, she said. The word patterns and meter were right. But there was no record of them ever having been seen before. She was ready to drive over to see the pages but I put her off as best I could. The next day was very weird. I mean, having a Hopkins poem jump out of the pen you’re holding – an ordinary black bic pen – that’s a bit intense. Kind of cool, though. I wondered if there could be any money in it. But here’s the point – writing something in someone else’s style is like being an Elvis impersonator rather than being Elvis. There’d be money in it, but not much. Here was this miraculous pen and yet it was producing stuff that most people would say wasn’t genuine. Except it was. I know enough about brain imprinting to be well aware that we can recall stuff we don’t even know we’ve seen, but this was way different. I was channeling these dead poets. Who would believe me except a bunch of New-Age nuts? Since most New-Age nuts are more into health foods and yoga that would narrow my potential audience even more. So I had a talk to the pen. I need, I said, to have poems that are every bit as good as these, but modern. Poems that look like they could have been written by me. But really really good poems, please. The pen lay on the desk, still. So I picked it up and said what I’d said again, to be a bit more intimate. If you see what I mean. I could feel it quiver and I was a bit frightened for a moment. Then it let me know it wanted to write. It was a pretty good poem, modern though, so I didn’t understand it. And believe me I tried. I did this a couple of times a day for a week. Then I typed it all up and sent it to a well known poetry magazine. I needed to see what someone else thought about all this. About a week later I got a very excited phone call. They loved the poems. Did I have any more? And that was how it started, you see. My meteoric rise. Suddenly I was famous. Actually it wasn’t sudden, it took a couple of years, but I was still in my old job and so life seemed to be just as useless and empty as always. So when I look back and ask myself what I was doing during those years I was doing nothing, and so it seems like it went by fast. It just slipped by. Except I was taking dictation once a day from the pen. So – I’d sign books for enthusiastic readers. I’d give readings and answer questions. At first it was bookshops with just a few people. Then it was at small libraries, then a college or two. Eventually it was in pretty large auditoriums and being introduced by famous people. It was fun. I got questions, lost of questions, mostly from women. “Would you please say something about your poem on the New York Stock exchange? I love that poem so much.” “Um, yeah. It came to me one night. All my poems come to me from a place I don’t even know what it is. I just sort of take dictation.” Stuff like that. I got a reputation for being a bit evasive and rather mystical. It turned out that was exactly what people wanted. I wasn’t even a good reader. It turned out that was what people wanted even more. A poet who didn’t read his own stuff well was exactly their idea of a truth teller. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. I began to get anxious about losing the pen. I kept it with me at all times. Then I found myself getting anxious about the ink. Wouldn’t it run out at some point? When it did I went into a panic. I TRIED TO KEEP CALM. I had a very difficult 20 minutes, I can tell you. Actually I did keep calm. I went out and bought another pen and transferred the guts to the old pen. It worked. The poems continued to pour out, one a day, for years. But whose are they? Are they mine? And what does it all mean? Famous people came to interview me and I couldn’t say much. I became famous for not being able to say much about poems that were greeted as “brilliant” and “life changing”. I was compared to the Buddha because of my supposedly inscrutable ways. Beautiful women also wanted to meet me. Most of them seemed to want to go to bed with me, too, so I didn’t object. But then they wanted to talk about literature and poetry and I really had nothing to say. I wanted to talk about the garden or the house I was building in the Hamptons. So they tended to leave after a while, looking sad, and saying I was remote, hard to connect with, and unfeeling. I’m not any of those things. I just don’t know anything about poetry. I began to wonder about all this stuff. If I’d continued to produce those Keats poems, for example, would that have been a massively important gift to civilization? Had I cheated the world by not doing that? Would it have changed the history of poetry? And what if I’d started to channel Shakespeare? That really would have been weird as I can hardly understand what he wrote, let alone if new stuff were to start flowing. The thing is, I love this life. I spend about an hour each day with the pen, type it up and send it to my agent. And the money rolls in. I have the whole day free to take walks, hang out in cafes, pop into clothing stores, and buy stuff. I have no worries, except for the occasional tense moment if my dog gets sick. A lab. Called George. I have a perfect life. I am a purveyor of sublime poems to the general public. I am therefore useful. What did I learn? Not much, although I did formulate a few sentences for interviews. I learned that I’m not in control of anything much, and that wisdom or poetry or art comes through us – if it comes at all. I learned that we all get in our own way. I saw that we don’t accept what comes to us but feel we have to justify it, earn it, deserve it, and then change it. I learned that when you have a good pen, one that truly feels good in your hands, hang onto it at all costs.

Be Good to … Yourself

We live in a world in which many of us do not love and accept ourselves. It’s a kind of national disease here in the US. Please notice, I’m not talking about narcissists. Narcissists actually hate themselves, which is why they need other to reassure them, constantly, that they’re OK. So how do we get to love and accept ourselves? The answer is startlingly simple. When we take care of those who are less fortunate than ourselves we are, in effect, being empathic and that is essentially a loving way of being. As we seek to relieve their misery we acknowledge that our own troubles are not as bad as we thought. When we do that, we accept who we are, right now, faults and all. We are actually loving to ourselves by loving others. What you give, you get back. This is the divine mathematics that does not show up on a bank statement

Little Zoe

Lessons Learned: Little Zoe Allan Hunter Little Zoe (still not three) teaches me a huge amount. A few weeks back I posted a couple of Facebook pictures of her hugging some life sized statues of children that had been placed around a statue of the Virgin Mary at the local church. The statues were concrete, plain white, and she spent about half an hour hugging them all in turn, even the sheep. This happened each time we went past that church. I was bemused. She seemed to think they needed some love. Yesterday we went out together to choose a Christmas tree. We then took it home, decorated it, and enjoyed its transformation. When it was time for Zoe to leave I said to her, “ Say goodbye to the tree”. I expected her to wave at it or say “goodbye tree” or something. Instead she walked towards it and hugged it. A few decorations were disarranged, but who cared. When one is three, and innocent of the distinctions adults place on things, surprisingly beautiful things happen. When Zoe wakes up she has a little bit of a hard time transitioning from the world of sleep and dreams to the world of here and now today. It occurred to me that the “here and now” world is actually something we all have to get used to – with its odd demands and hard edges. It’s a world that seems to require we take it seriously, whether we want to or not. This must be confusing for any small child who loves imaginative play and whose dreams are, presumably, not fenced in by the solid boundaries of this world. It’s a coming down to earth that must often feel discordant, and compared to which our own daily struggles to get out of bed and get started are slight. Why? Simply because we’re used to it. Zoe isn’t. And yet – our world is one of our own making in terms of how much emphasis we place on it. If we believe that we absolutely have to get to work on time or life as we know it will end, then, yes, we will be taking this world of ours as seriously as we possibly can. But there is a down side to being so focused and serious. Stress and unhappiness often are the results of such a life. If we buy into the cliché that hard work and dedication will make us wealthy, and that wealth is what we need above all else, then we will take the stress, accept the unhappiness, and seek the wealth of our bank accounts. Then, presumably, we will feel satisfied sitting isolated in our trophy room as the last vestiges of life wither from us – because we did what we were supposed to. But what if the things we’re supposed to do are all delusions, delusions as misplaced as other delusions that we buy into? Many people buy into the idea that guns are necessary and make them safer; others have the delusion that anyone with a dark skin is inferior; still others believe that there is no Global climate change problem. And so on. These are all delusions. And the delusion that democracy will cure all our problems is right in there, too, because it doesn’t take much thought to realize that crowds can often be very wrong about very important things. It all depends upon what they buy into as beliefs. Zoe doesn’t buy into many of those beliefs yet. Watching a political debate the other night she said, “Look at those kids”. She simply didn’t believe these were adults having an adult discussion. I have to say I agreed with her.

“so” episode 7

Tea Break Read So A serialised short story 7 This week was spring Break so we all went home, or, if you’re a senior you went to Cancun or someplace to brag about for the last remaining part of the semester before graduating to the big scary world. I don’t think the world’s big or scary, but then I’ve probably seen more of it than most people in their sheltered lives. Lots of sheltered lives here. Except some aren’t. Take Jessica, for example. I took one look at her and figured she was a white picket fence girl from the white-bread burbs. Turns out she’s from all over, because her dad was in the service. She was born in Okinawa, of all places. She spoke Japanese (sort of) when she was a little kid, but she’s forgotten it all now, of course. How cool is that? It’d be nice if Jessica was here but she’s from somewhere in New Jersey and so I’m stuck here. We have the phone and we can text, though. I got my old job back at the coffee shop – they’re really good about that and let me come in for the vacations, too – and it felt like I’d never left. When I appear it means the regular staff can take some vacation days so they kind of like that I appear in their lives. A couple of them, waitresses or counter staff like me, went to college too, and then wound up back at the coffee shop anyway. There’s not much employment around here and they didn’t want to leave family – and then a couple of them had kids and suddenly, there they are full-time, and not a lot of chance for promotion. It’s not like this is a big chain. We’ve got exactly three shops, all local. The furthest one is 15 minutes away. This one, the one I’ve been at since high school, is pretty close. I can walk or my mom gives me a ride if it’s raining. It’s decent work, no late hours, and the money’s a help. I get tips, too. Plus it’s not a job that requires much thought, so we put on the music we like and sort of swim through the day. I don’t drink coffee much. It makes me too jittery. So I get to thinking about that class again. It’s like it keeps popping into my head. And sometimes I think about the customers, too, and I wonder what they’d draw if they had to do that Jabberwock exercise or one of the others. At night I watch movies and talk with my friends. Mostly online, but I like the phone, too. Actually, that’s not all true. I’ve become a bit of a stalker. Yup, Malcolm’s the victim. It’s not like I’m hanging around his back garden with a telephoto lens or anything. But I did look him up online. And there’s this thing he talks about which has to do with belief systems. He says that what we believe shapes what our reality becomes, (fair enough. I get that.) But then he proposes other things. I wrote this down from one of his books, in the introduction: “I keep exploring these ideas since they run counter to everything we take as “normal” — and yet some of those ancient beliefs powered successful civilizations for far longer than our present, post-reformation belief system. “How would our world be if we shifted away from “me” and “us” and “success” and such constructs? How would life be if we placed peace and sustainability first? What would happen if we focused on handing over the planet to our children and grandchildren in better condition than we found it? And better does not necessarily mean more concrete or more billionaires. “One of the sacred symbols of the Eleusian religions seems to have been the pine cone. The Vatican has a huge stone example, presumably lifted and dragged from one of the temples of the major religion it replaced. A huge stone pine cone. In the days of horses and carts it would have been a major proceeding to transport this, so we can be sure the Vatican thought it was important. Think of it: a pine cone is a protective structure for seeds; one that opens and closes in response to weather; one that is linked to an evergreen; one that decays to provide rooting for the seeds. What a powerful and compact symbol that is of caring for the next generation, linking us to mortality and immortality. “It seems to be saying – we are vessels for the generations that will follow. “Anything we do must be in service to that.” I copied it all down so I could think about it a bit more. It all sounds a bit hippy-ish at first, but then I started thinking about it and it began to blow my mind. Or more like it gently lifted the top off my head and I felt everything inside begin to expand and breathe again. So then, life’s not about me getting a good safe job with a pension (like my Babci says it was for so many people in her time). It’s not about working to save up for vacation once a year, and getting the kids better gifts at Christmas. It’s about something else entirely. And it’s not just that idea of “service” or giving back or anything they tell you in civics. Just had a phone call from GooGoo. Such a drama queen (drama king?). He went on and on about how he was disrespected and I felt like saying to him, dude, I was nearly raped at a party. Don’t you think I feel disrespected? Don’t you think I see disrespect in every male’s face most of the time? Don’t you think I see it and feel it in every crappy comment I get in the caf? It was like I didn’t really pay much attention to it before, but now I’m really sensitive to it, because I know that some of it’s just talk and some of it is them, some of them, wanting to rape me, to humiliate me, to crush the spirit out of me. I didn’t tell him that. I just listened. So the idea I had after reading that section of Malcolm’s book just got a bit lost.

“So” episode 6

Tea Break Read So A serialised short story By Allan Hunter 6 It’s been a bit of a blur this week and I see I haven’t written anything for a while. I had the flu or something. The same thing everyone’s got except mine was a stomach bug as well, which was not fun, let me tell you. I don’t know why I wrote that, since this is my journal for me, so who am I saying that to, that “let me tell you?” bit? Yeah, I know the answer already, but it’s this inner dialogue thing that I do. I think it separates out two parts of me – the part I show the world and the part that’s always hanging back, commenting on the world, and writing this. But then there must be another part, right? Because I write this and then I come along later and read it and perhaps I see it a different way. I seem to have a lot of versions of me in this skin. Which is why I get it, now, that first exercise. That one where we wrote down our names and our signatures and Malcolm said, look at how you sign your name differently. See, it’s different, perhaps not by much, but perhaps it’s a lot different – depending on if it’s a signature for a job, on a letter, on a credit card slip, on a card you give your sweetie. It’s different because we’re different versions of us in different circumstances. And when I have the flu I’m a different version of me. Everyone is. Carla (down the hall, not the other one) becomes a baby when she’s sick. Really, she curls up and cries and talks in a little voice like a three year old. Me, I get grumpy because I can’t believe those microbes are doing this to me again. Anyhow you get the picture. So I’m feeling a bit better and I go off to Malcolm’s class because now I’m into it and I wouldn’t miss it. It’s much more exciting than – did I say exciting? No, it’s not exciting, it’s like when you watch a TV show and you just don’t want to stop watching because you want to know what’s going to come next. And this was worth the time. So he does his usual thing of asking us about our papers we’re about to turn in, and if we have any thoughts to share, and some people say a few words, but I’m guessing they have all their real words down on the papers and they don’t want anyone to hear them, at least not yet. So then he reads us this nonsense poem. He tells us it’s nonsense. I look it up later and it really is a bit weird, it’s called The Jabberwock and it’s famous, it turns out. It’s about a boy being sent into the woods to kill a monster “with eyes of flame” but there are all sorts of words in it you have to use your imagination on, like “brillig” and “slithy” and so on. So we read it aloud, talk about it, and then he says, “draw me this creature”. Well, you can hear the groans. Drawing. We’re all afraid of drawing, because we’re all bad at it. No one here’s a Visual Arts major. But he says do it anyway and write words when you need to if it doesn’t look like you thought it would. So we all get to work. And actually I think everyone’s having a pretty good time. I look up and I see that almost everyone’s actually doing it (Mike is texting. Typical) and they’re concentrating, too. Then Malcolm asks us if anyone needs more time and I see I’m the last one drawing, so I stop. Turns out we’ve been drawing for 20 minutes. I could hardly believe it. I rather like what I’ve done. It’s a sort of a dinosaur thing, a dragon in some ways, and it’s coming out of a cave to scowl down on a village, which it might decide to attack, perhaps. I’ve put in a lot of detail, too. It has long claws but it also has bad eyes, and is a bit thick, really. It looks misunderstood and lonely, which is why it’s so destructive and angry. It’s about 40 feet tall, and I’m thinking it’s not so much an it as a male monster. I kind of like it. It’s not a wimp, that’s for sure. So – there I go again with the so – Malcolm asks to see what we came up with and he asks a few questions and they’re all really really different, these monsters. And I don’t mean just the drawing. I mean the execution of the drawings. And he tells us that for some people the challenge is being asked to draw. Because when we’re three or four we just draw, happily, and we don’t care what it looks like. But somewhere along the way we get self-conscious and that’s because we run into judgment. And for some of us that’s a huge blow. The thing we used to do, drawing or scribbling, is now better than or worse than someone else. And that can hurt us. And that can come out in this exercise, he says, because some people are really angry at being asked to draw, and that often means they’re afraid. But drawing’s as natural as breathing. Why would anyone criticize you for breathing? And that, says Malcolm, is what this is all about, because if this exercise works (and he leans forwards here and we all get a bit quiet) it might just be a version of your own private monster. The thing you’re afraid of that stops you getting where you really want to. I’m not sure how that applies to mine. Luckily he keeps talking so I don’t have to ask a dumb question. And he says that if your monster is looking at you then it’s a current problem. If it’s looking away then it’s a sort of background problem. And if it’s up close, looking at you then it might be an urgent problem. And I look at Mike’s and his monster is a huge wide mouth, full of sharp teeth, and it fills the whole page. I think I’m beginning to get this thing, now. Then Malcolm goes round and looks at everyone’s and he looks at mine and he says it looks kind of distant and angry, and you say it’s male so I’d have to say that you might well have a distant male figure in your life who you’re afraid might show his anger at some point, even though you say he’s lonely. But people can be angry because they’re lonely. And then he looks as me and says: “Is this making any sense to you? I don’t know anything about your life, so I’m guessing a bit here, but sometimes that’s what one has to do.” And I mumble something. But for fuck’s sake, he’s right. It’s my Dad. Of course it fucking is. And I’m so angry. At him! And annoyed. I’m always afraid, always, he’s just going to want to come back into my life and that it’ll upset everything my Mom’s worked for so hard, and he’ll want to know me. And since he left when I was about two I can honestly say I really don’t want to know him. I mean, where was he when I really could have used him? Nowhere. Nowhere at all. Him and his addictions. And if he’s lonely then he’s done that to himself and he’s welcome to it. And he’s more than that, because now I’m thinking and I think he’s also a bit like my ex who keeps wanting to come back into my life again so he can keep on treating me like shit. I’m not having that happen again. So I ask Malcolm if it could be two people. And then it starts to spill out of me. What I said – except it took me forever to say it. And Malcolm listens, and passes me the Kleenex. And he says that, yes, it can be two people especially when they’re so similar. And I’m blown away by what just happened and so I grab another Kleenex to hide behind. And then Jessica starts to speak and she says; my Dad’s like that too. So the Kleenex goes to her. And I never realized that Jessica, Jessica for Christ’s sakes, had the same things going on as me. Except I think it was worse for her. Because she’s speaking and I get the overwhelming sense, like smoke entering the room, that he got sexual with her, and I feel like I’m choking. I’ve no idea how we make it to the end of class. On the way out I gave Jessica a huge hugs and then before I can do anything I start crying again. Why? It’s not me I’m crying for. I think it’s her. But I’m doing the crying. I don’t understand what’s happening, but later I say to myself that I’m relieved it is happening. Jessica texts me a bit later and I text back, and we’re kind of gentle with each other, and it feels supportive. Jessica is so different from me. She’s so squeaky clean American girl, with her blonde ponytail and her perfect skin. I mean, she’s beautiful in a wholesome sort of way. But I can see she chews her nails. I wonder if we can be friends. Then I know, we already are friends. We know who we each are. And so I go over to her dorm and all I can think of is to say thank you. And she opens her door and she’s the one who says thank you, and have a hug. Then I tell her, I say, we’re so different but we’re also so similar, you and me. And she says yeah. And I’m really, deeply, profoundly happy about that, and sad too. I’m going to stop writing about this now as I keep getting all teared up.

“So” episode 5

Tea Break Read So A serialised short story By Allan Hunter 5. So this week is easier. The prof (he’s called Malcolm and I suppose I’d better call him that from now on) is really gentle as he hands back our papers from the previous week and asks us about what we wrote about for this week. He gets a few questions from kids who want to know about the key/cup thing. One kid asks about a sea shell and says that has nothing to do with a female symbol. And Malcolm asks her to describe the sea shell and she does and he calls up google images on the overhead and asks was it like this one? Like this one? And she points to a conch shell and says that’s the one, and Jesus, I tell you that opening at the front, it looks a whole lot like a vagina. I mean, I gasp. But she can’t see it. It’s a female symbol, no doubt about that. I think everyone in the class sees it but not her. Malcolm doesn’t insist. He’s good that way. I think I’m starting to like him. He’s not your usual prof. This class isn’t your usual class, come to that. Obviously. So Malcolm goes on about how we have these pictures in our minds, Unconscious images, and until we bring them to the surface it’s really hard to know what we feel about complex ideas like masculinity and femininity. But our unconscious mind already knows. We just don’t listen to it enough. I know he’s right. That is, I know it feels right to me. But I don’t say anything. I mean, what would I say? “Oooh, you’re so right Malcolm. That’s amazing.” Yeah, really. What kind of suck-up crap would that be? Anyway he looks at me and asks me if I want to say anything. And I ask him why he thinks that. And he says, because you look a bit tense and you’ve screwed up your mouth, so I wondered if there was a reason for that. I didn’t realize I was giving myself away till he said that. So I get out of it by saying how I found the exercise to be a bit demanding and that I didn’t know if I’d done it right. And he just accepts it. Says there’s no way to do these wrong. All you have to do is reflect on what turned up on the page. I thought that was a pretty cool answer. Then I figure I’ll ask him something and I say – where do you even get these exercises? And he replies that he’s been using them for years and he finds that they’re a very effective way of getting people to be in touch with the things they need to explore and that it’s a way of opening up our Unconscious to ourselves. And he says that not all exercises work every time or for everyone, but most of them do for most people. And that gets me thinking. Because if that’s true then that means there’s a whole class full of people here and they’re almost all getting to this stuff and so that means I’m not the only one who feels a bit turned inside out. So I’m not alone. It’s just that no one is saying much. I can tell from the way they aren’t saying much, though, that there’s stuff they are holding back. When there’s nothing to say in a class, one of those boring classes about science may be, then all you get in class is chit chat and people texting and after awhile you get sarcasm. That’s if the class feels lame. That’s our way of showing it, for the most part. But no one’s doing that here. Well, I mean there’s that kid Mike who sits over by the door and I think he’s out of it most of the time, on another planet, but even he’s not sarcastic. I’ve seen him in another class, one of those core classes we have to take that no one likes, and he’s wicked sarcastic. Not here, though. So – do I say that a lot? “So”. People say I say it a whole lot and it’s like my warning word that says watch out here comes a bunch of opinion. I guess I do say it a huge lot. Most people say “well” and then get stuck in but I’m not most people so I choose “so”. I’m so sick of people who say “Well…” because you know they’re about to say something that isn’t going to agree with you. Like, “Well, you have a good point but blah blah blah and I think you’re talking crap.” Except there’s usually a couple of sentences there, the blah blah ones, that are truly mealy mouthed. Whenever I think of mealy mouth I think of someone trying to smile while eating oatmeal and the stuff leaking from between their teeth and lips. Yeah. Like that. Fun eh? So I start with “So”. It’s more direct. It’s saying: OK, now, this is how I think it goes. I mean – think about that. There’s this kid down the hall and every time he has an idea or an opinion he says “Jesus.” I just thought about that. I mean, he’s not even religious. You tell him something like they have genuine tacos in the cafe and he says “Jesus! I hope they do.” Or you ask him what he thinks of a movie or a game and he starts with “Jesus”, like God’s on his side. You can tell it’s a reaction. It’s not a thought out idea. It’s just a reaction. But it’s got all this force that comes with it, like it matters, when it doesn’t. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. So (see? There I go…) I only started this journal this semester to see if I could keep up with what’s going on. You know, who’s sleeping with who, and that. No, seriously, I wanted to keep track of who was friends with whoever and how that changed, because it gets complicated for some people. Jess and Brady in their suite are always having these feuds with the other people in their suite and then they’re best friends again two days later. Stupid stuff. Someone stole their ice-cream from their fridge (because they have to have their own private fridge) but that means it had to be someone from their suite and so it had to be Maria. No logic there, but what the hell. And, of course, Maria’s always been such a bitch and never shares anything. Except that Maria always gives them rides when they need them and even picked them up from Boston one night when they missed the shuttle and had no money for an Uber. She was their savior then, and they were all besties. Now they’re not talking to each other so their friends can’t talk to their friends, either. It’s amazing how that stuff plays out. But I thought it’d be interesting just to see how the power lines shift over the course of a semester, just as a sociological investigation. An Inquiry of sorts. Then I started but the first thing I did was I started writing about this class and it turns out it’s about all I do, now, for journaling. That other stuff doesn’t seem too interesting now. So then we start an exercise. This one turns out to be a short one. He, that’s Malcolm, asks us to think in terms of comparisons. Something is like something else. But that’s hard to do with people, sometimes, he says. So – if you had to compare yourself to a permanent structure or a building then what would that be? I think I get it, but a few people look blank. Would you, says Malcolm, compare yourself to a public library, say? Or a bar? So then we get it. And I think I’m a bit like the Statue of Liberty, but then I change it to the Eiffel tower. Tall, and delicate, spindly looking, but strong on those four great steel legs. Then he asks us to compare ourselves to a method of transportation. I wonder if I’m like a submarine or perhaps a bike, quiet and unobtrusive but I can pop up somewhere unexpectedly because no one’s heard me arrive. I remember riding down the path behind Amy’s barn on my bike when I was a kid and there were deer there and because I was riding quietly and slowly they didn’t seem to notice me or see that I was a threat, and one even started trotting after me for a bit. Except it didn’t trot, it sort of gave these gentle bounds and small leaps and it was just beautiful the way they moved. So elegant. And I’m pedaling away on that bit of smooth earth trying not to make any noise. I’ve never told anyone about that, and that’s strange because it was a moment filled with beauty and you don’t get that many of those most days. It made me feel light and yet part of something bigger than me, and I thought my heart would burst. When I got back I told Amy there were deer back there and she said her dad sometimes shoots them, and I didn’t feel like saying anything more after that. Then Malcolm says OK, now if you were to compare yourself to a fruit or a vegetable, what would that be? And for some reason all I can think about is mangos. I’ve no idea why. I like mangos but I don’t crave them or anything. Then he asks what sort of animal or natural creature I’d compare myself to, and right away I know it’s a wolf. A dragon might have been cooler but for me it’s got to be a wolf. So we share the results and we get some good ones because they’re all a bit bizarre. There’s Sandie who compares herself to a hospital, an ambulance, a watermelon and an Eagle, and I can see that some of that fits because she’s a nursing major and kind of an All-American girl (that’s the Eagle) so it fits that she’d see a watermelon which is everyone’s favorite summer food, right? Clare compares herself to a commuter train, Halley says she sees a pair of sneakers for her method of transportation. Mike says he’s like a junk-heap Corvette. That draws a few looks. I can’t remember too much about the others. So Malcolm says that the permanent building is something rooted, static, that people come to visit and so it might just represent the way you think other people see you. And I get very still when he says that. I do see myself as a stand out kind of person, and I think that’s how people see me. I know they do. But I also notice that people tend to see me as someone special like a monument in a big city. All kinds of people want to know me, and come and see me, but I’m not that interested in them. Like the Eiffel tower. All those tourists every year. Millions of them. And the tower just stands there. And when you get to the top, when you really get to work your way to that top platform, wow. Then I felt a bit sad. Because I’d love for someone to be able to meet me on that platform and see what I see, when most of them’re busy taking selfies and being dorks. So, yeah, the Eiffel tower. Then the method of transportation, says Malcolm, is different again. Because a vehicle moves under its own power and can change position, so it has personal agency, just as you have personal agency in your own life, therefore (he uses therefore a fair amount. It makes me smile.) it might just suggest the way you see yourself. Now, says M, the way you see yourself might be accurate or it might not be, but it is your way of seeing yourself, just as with the building it’s your impression of how others see you. How you see yourself, and how you think others see you, will determine to a great extent how you run your life. So he turns to Mike, the Junk Heap Corvette guy, and says that the image is strong, but clearly the car needs some help to get back on the road. And Mike looks a bit sly and says, Yeah, well, that’s the car I have back home beside the house. And we all laugh. But then I get it. Mike is exactly like that crappy car. He needs some fixing up. I hardly know him but I know that about him because it’s obvious. He needs some work. Now my heart’s beating fast and hard, but I’m taking notes as quick as I can. The submarine – all the things I think and feel that I keep under the ocean, and then sometimes I pop up. And sometimes I launch a torpedo or two and blow someone out of the water before they know it’s me, because they’re thinking I don’t matter. I’m like a pirate crew – don’t mess with me. And the bike ride, yeah; I’m pedaling, I’m powering my own quiet way forwards and sometimes it’s beautiful, just beautiful, the things I see. And that’s me. I’m liking this exercise a lot. I looked across at Mike, with his wrecked corvette. I wondered about that. It seemed so sad, so sorrowful. Unless he was trying to get some pity from the girls in the room. I wouldn’t put that past him. Still, I got the feeling that there was a sorrow in there. If I had to guess I’d say an ex. Now he wants someone to fix his broken American Dream car. Won’t be me. So then we get to the fruit bit. We had a load of weird answers to that. Several watermelons, a peach, a couple of strawberries, but I’m the only mango. We did have a pumpkin, though. That was Mike, because he always has to be different. I think he listened to what other people said and then altered his response, because I think he’s as soft as a grape. He just thinks he’s something bigger and more important, like a pumpkin. Anyway, the idea of the fruit was that if the exercise works (and M said it doesn’t always work, although god knows it was working for me, right then) the fruit might indicate how we are in terms of our emotions. So I think about that. And he says a tough outer skin might be an indication that we’re a little hard to “get to”. And I get it. That’s me. I’ve got this tough outer layer and I make people work before I let them near my emotions, but when they’re in, then I’m a bit gushy and very sweet and delicious and even a bit messy. Eating a mango’s not a tidy event. But then I’ve got this hard core to me. I’m not a pushover. And you have to work around that hard core – you can’t pretend it’s not there. And I’m making all these connections before M is even saying anything and I look at him and just blurt it out. “Yes, that’s Me” I say, “to a T”. I think the class kind of relaxed at that point, or perhaps it was just me, because more people start sharing what they think. And I hear it but I’m wrapped in my own thoughts too much to pay full attention. Because that’s me, that stupid mango. That’s me. And I didn’t even realize it until now. And there’s M saying that it’s hard to describe yourself in words, but often we already have a picture that explains everything to us in one rich image that has it all. He calls it the picture language of the soul, and it’s in your Unconscious. All you have to do is bring it to the surface. And that’s what we did. God alive, that’s what we did. We’re not finished yet because we still have the animal. Quite a few people said they’d choose a cat, or a dog (retrievers seemed to be popular) and there was a bear and a tiger and my wolf and a couple of others. A whale was one and a dolphin, I think. And M says that by this point in the exercise, with any luck, our Unconscious is coming to the surface pretty strongly, and the animal we choose will have some quality or aspect that we value at the core of our souls. So he focuses on me and he says, a wolf has several aspects. It can be cruel and kill, or it can also be loyal and caring to its clan, and highly intelligent, very loving – and also has the idea of being remote. The “lone wolf” is a figure of speech we use, he says, and everyone knows what it means. And so I connect with it. Yes, I say: I can be alone, and fierce, and yes, I’m totally loyal to the people I care for, and I’ll be fierce in defending them. I say that before I realize I’ve said it, and I stop. And then it feels good. So I say, “It felt good to say that,” and he smiles. “When we say who we are it always feels good. Because we’re being ourselves, yes?” And I smile. I’m really getting this. The rest of the class is a bit of a blur because I’m just so contented that I’ve spoken and that it was true. And I think people heard it too. That wolf is my “totem animal” says M, and the attributes I identify in it are the attributes that feel true to my essential nature, the real me. Something like that. I’ll have to tidy that up when I write the paper. I just know I feel amazing about this whole thing. What a week! I just managed a pass grade for the test in my Urban Life class, thank God; got an A on my Philosophy paper; and GooGoo has a new love interest, and he won’t shut up about that, although I think he’s actually gay except he doesn’t want to be gay. I mean, he’s already light-skinned black and dyes his hair blue and loves that classical music, the stuff from the 30s, but he works out like a madman and has these huge muscles. I can feel he’s gay, but he says he isn’t. He should take Mal’s class, I think. And I tell him but he shrugs. So why am I so anxious? I’ve no idea why I’m always feeling the old anxiety and panic creep up on me, like it’s waiting in the shadows to get me. Why? Why? I mean, why me, and why now? I just don’t get it. I’m doing better than I usually do in my classes and I have friends. Sure, I get that we’ve got a shitty president and that’s fucking things up good and ugly. My mom’s always kind of bent out of shape because of healthcare and my tuition bills. And her job is pretty shitty too. I know she says it’s fine but I can see how exhausted she is at the end of the day being nice to rich women who treat her like dirt. That’s retail, though. I’ll never go into retail. Yeah, well I did it once as a summer job, but retail sucks. People act so entitled. They’re just so rude. Just because you have money doesn’t make you a better person than anyone else. You don’t get an extra vote just because you’re obnoxious. But then I see it here all the time. The privilege. I didn’t understand that word until it got discussed in my Soc. Class. It means you have so much support that you take stuff for granted. Yeah, like with me. When I went to that party I nearly got raped. Well, those assholes who nearly did it were rich guys and I know they didn’t go to that party feeling that they’d risk getting raped. And because it wasn’t a threat to them they assumed that doing it was no big deal. Because they’re rich fucking white kids! If they get arrested they’ll get off because their daddies have expensive lawyers who’d destroy the character of anyone who tried to bring charges – as if they even could bring charges. Some cop somewhere would get paid off and it’d all come to nothing. And so those fucking kids, grown up fucking kids who should know a thing or two but don’t, they’ll go through life casually destroying lives around them for no reason except they’re dumb shits. They’ll fire the cleaning crew of undocumented workers because of a little thing, some little chicken shit thing, and never think about what that might mean to those people. Yeah, well, I’d better get off this. My friend Marisa’s mom was a cleaner and she got fired like that, and no one ever thought what that might mean for her and her family. What did she do wrong? Just this: She wasn’t out of the house fast enough because it was filthy, and it took longer to clean than she thought and the stupid bitch who hired her got all annoyed because she didn’t want her guests to know that she hired illegals. So she fired her. Try your best, do a good job, and get fired anyway. This is a strange world. I feel a bit better now I’ve written that. This journal is better than going out and getting smashed. When Linsey feels bad about stuff she goes out and gets smashed and sometimes she gets laid too, but I don’t think it works that well for her, really. Perhaps it did once, but not now. Now she just gets snippy and then depressed. Then she borrows money so she can go and get smashed again. Though lately she just hangs around bars and guys buy her drinks. You get the picture. The crazy thing is she’s not even 18 yet. She’s got a fake ID that wouldn’t fool a blind man but they let her in anyway. She’s basically a prostitute for the price of a few drinks. I’m kind of afraid of anyone who can do that. It disturbs me. I think I know why I wrote that. In class there’s this girl who’s got a huge mass of brown hair, thick and kind of wavy. I mean really thick. It always looks like she’s been on the beach and it’s got frizzed out, except that’s the way she is all the time. Anyhow she sits with her feet on the desk, and Malcolm doesn’t say anything, he just looks, and you can tell he’s noticing. A couple of classes ago she brought in some knitting (knitting! Who the hell knits?) and he made a comment about how he needed a scarf. She only brought it in that once. I think she was testing him. Well, this class she sort of blurted out that she’d been writing about her boundaries. She said the exercise we took that was a walk visualization had kind of opened her eyes. She said that when she visualized the water she saw a wide puddle completely covering the path ahead, and that she jumped over it. And she said: that’s exactly how I deal with my emotions, I jump over them, but I see them everywhere and I avoid them. And then she said that she didn’t really get emotions, even though she could see them, because she didn’t allow herself to feel them, which is why she always had these flings with guys, like all the time. And then she said that when she was 14 her mom had told her she worked for an escort agency. She sort of stopped for a moment. “She didn’t bring her work into the home”, she said. And I thought, Whoa. Who says that? Who admits that? Who’s got the guts to admit that to a whole class? Either she’s brave or she’s nuts. May be both. But, you know, how would that shape your life if you knew that? So she went on to say that her mom was very loose and had no boundaries, but that her dad, who divorced her mom years ago, was very strict and controlling. And she always tried to get his good will but she ended up not telling him about her actual life and then lying about it too, just to stay in his good books, to seem like the daughter he would approve of. But that always fell apart and made things worse when he found out. And when she said that I could see why she brought in her knitting and why she put her feet on the table desk thing they have in that shitty classroom. It was some kind of test. She was trying to see how far she could push Malcolm. Like he was a dad and she had to test him. And he knew it. He knew it. Suddenly I got it. I’m not sure if I hate her or if I feel compassionate, you know, kind of sorry, for her. Perhaps it’s both. Can you feel both at once? Perhaps I just feel sad. I mean, how do you sort yourself out in that kind of situation? Who do you trust? How do you know what’s right? If you decide to sleep with some guy just for the hell of it then can your mom even say anything if she’s basically doing the same thing? Screwy, and scary. The scary part gets to me. So this got me thinking. There she was, spilling her guts. And here’s me, not saying anything. Even though I want to some times. Perhaps I should speak up. This class got me thinking. Malcolm says that who we are gets reflected back to us, to some extent, by our early experiences. The trouble is that we don’t know how to understand these early events. So what we think is “normal” because that’s the way our family was, may not be at all “normal” in terms of what mainstream society thinks. If your mom’s a whore (Malcolm didn’t say that. That’s me) and your dad’s a control freak then how do you make sense of that? You split the world up. So you see men as severe and strict and needing to be manipulated, and you see women as kind of lost and slutty. That’s the story you tell yourself about the world and so you start to live that story, like it’s true. But it might not be! Malcolm goes on about these things as being Unconscious patterns. He says that’s why we’re here. We see them, notice them and then we can decide if we want them running our lives. Otherwise the Unconscious runs you, rather than you being in charge of it. Got me thinking, I can say. Malcolm said it may be why so many people keep dating the same loser, time after time. The Unconscious pattern says: “This one” and the sane part of the mind is overwhelmed and gives in. And then no one has much fun.