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What do I do?

People keep asking me that same question. It's a cocktail party kind of thing. And I answer candidly that I teach literature, that I write books about the way we can use literature and writing to grow our souls, that I write stories, and that I coach people past the inevitable burn-out that we'll all face at some time. "Ah, so you're a professor," is the usual reply. Except that's not particularly accurate. What do I do? I move people past their own blocks. I make it possible for people to get out of their own way.

“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.