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“So” episode 11

Tea Break Read So A serialised short story 11 I wanted to hand in my paper about all that stuff last week, but I didn’t. I wrote 12 pages, and it was good stuff, too. It felt as if I’d jinx it all if I handed in the paper. And so I had a few minutes talk with Malcolm at the break, and he said that it was OK. He said that what was important was that I’d written it, not whether I’d handed it in for a grade. The important thing, he said, is that you know what you’ve written, so you might want to re-read it, just to remind yourself. I know what he means. I sometimes re-read my stuff and think – wow, I knew that, and then I still went out and made the same stupid mistake. Why can’t I be wise? Why don’t I use what I know when I need it? And then Malcolm said something interesting. He said – perhaps you don’t want to hand in your paper because it’s about trust. After all, he said, you’ve got plenty of reasons not to trust men, and here I am, a man, so why should you trust me with the information that you’re learning some lessons about how to trust yourself more? Do you think that has anything to do with it? Um, yeah. It’s like you get one layer of yourself worked out and another layer needs to be dealt with. These unconscious defenses (that’s Malcolm’s phrase, not mine) are tricky little bastards, aren’t they? That’s for sure. And that sent me back to thinking about GooGoo. He’s a person I trust, but that’s because he’s who he is and he’s not really a guy. He’s gay, I’m sure of it, so he’s not like guys and he’s not like my father chasing after his girlfriends and treating me all girly. He’s who he is and he treats me like an equal, all the time. I don’t go all defensive around him. You know, now I think about it he’s not a guy and he’s not a girl and so he’s safe – at least I think so. The exercise we did this week was interesting. We were asked to remember where we lived at about age 8. Well, there were moans and groans from the usual people in the class – ‘we lived in two places’, ‘I can’t remember that time’, ‘my dad’s house or my Mom’s house?’ And all that kind of shit. I mean, grow up people. He asked us to choose a place we remember, a place we felt was home, round about age 8. He doesn’t have to give everyone permission all the time for every little decision, you know? So when we’d got our house in our mind he asked us to sketch out a floor plane. Only one rule – no erasers. He wants to see any mistakes. Well, the good girls and boys were all upset about that because they wanted to hand in a neat drawing. Don’t they get it? It’s not about whether it’s neat or not, it’s about whatever the hell it’s going to tell us when we’re sharing the pictures and Malcolm gives us some pointers (his word) about what it might all mean. I swear, these people, sometimes. So I drew my house from when I was 8, and I made a bunch of mistakes. I made the stairs way too big, and my Mom’s room too small. Stuff like that. It didn’t all fit together. I wasn’t the only one, so that was a relief. And then Malcolm got into his “suggestions” about what it might all mean. And it turns out those mistakes were pretty interesting, after all. So he spelled out how we’re not drawing an accurate diagram. We’re drawing an impression of what we feel the house was, the way we remember it, and the way we recall what it was like to live there. That works even if it’s the house you still live in. For some people, he said, the house represents a safe place they enjoyed, or perhaps a place they were glad to leave. That’s what it was like for Jessica. She said how she really really loved that house, and the friendly neighbors, and how sad she was when they had to move, and how nothing ever felt like home since then. I thought that was sad. Then Malcolm said that when we draw space we draw what’s important to us. So we probably all knew exactly where the TV was, and important places in the home tend to get drawn bigger. Unimportant places even get left out sometimes. And I could see what he means. I drew my room as quite big, but my brother’s room was bigger, which makes sense because he was older, but I’m actually pretty sure our rooms were the same size. It’s just that he got all the preferential treatment. My Mom’s room turned out small in my drawing, which makes sense too because we never were in there much. It didn’t matter to us. But I drew the stairs as very big. And I thought about that, and I can recall how they used to creak because they were polished wood, and how that meant someone was coming upstairs, and I never knew who it would be. It might be my dad (and he was not really good news when he was around). Later it was one or other of my Mom’s boyfriends, and I was scared of some of them. I mean, really scared. It brought up a lot of feelings. Malcolm said that any house is a struggle as to who controls which space, just like who controls the remote for the TV is a struggle. Did we feel we had control over space? Did we have our own safe space? And that’s when Kayla described that she’d drawn all the rooms small, but that she’d drawn her closet as much larger than it really was, and that was because each night she’d crawl in there to sleep, because she didn’t feel safe in her real bed. She had a whole alternate bedroom crammed in there, and she showed the picture. Then in the morning she’d pretend she’d slept in her real bed. And I thought about the stairs again, in my picture, and how scared I’d been. And I thought about how I’d drawn the kitchen as larger than it was, because that was where we’d eat and it was always friendly and warm down there. Mike described his Dad’s basement, and the “man cave” he wasn’t allowed in. He explained that this was Dad’s room, where he drank. I think he has a few problems around father figures. It shows sometimes. The thing is that every diagram (Malcolm’s word) is a suggestion about who had the power in the house. Who ran the place? Who was in charge? The person who gets the most room, or the best space, tends to be the one who has the most power. So who was it in your family? Who ran the place? I’d have to say it was my brother. He was always in trouble, always doing something weird or failing classes, and he took up so much of our mental space that he was the one who “ran” the place, really. We all had to work around him. His special classes, everything. I got kind of pushed to the side, and dad was never really present. Well, he was on the road with the band. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d actually made some money, but he didn’t, and mom had to make it all. Malcolm told us how a kid in a class years ago had been unable to draw one room, the music room, and it turned out that she’d be molested by her piano teacher there, and so she simply couldn’t draw it – even though she drew the garden and everything in it – which is where she’d escape to. Her diagram was a map of her mind, of sorts. Fascinating. I can’t get my mind round it all, but I can see how it works. This is the strangest class. So Malcolm says again that this exercise is yet again about identity. Who were we in the family? This matters because when we get out into the real world we’ll tend to think that this is our role, and so we’ll take it up. If we’re used to not being able to have any space to ourselves then that’s what we’ll expect, whether we’re sharing a place with a roomie or a significant other. We’ll feel that way because that was our “normal” and if we don’t question it we’ll be that way all our lives. Then he said something interesting. He said that at age 8 we’re just starting to notice things about power and authority. We start to be expected to be more responsible at school, we can’t pout and cry and get away with it so often. And, also, we have ambitions – we want to be doctors or astronauts or superheroes but the reality is we can’t even choose our own bedtime. So we’re very sensitive to who has the power. We have to know who has it because we know we don’t! Now I think about it I can see more about why I find it hard to trust, especially men. I saw my Mom trust men – and they didn’t stick around. I saw her work hard for a man who didn’t do much and then didn’t stick around either. I saw my fuck-up of a brother run us all in circles. Then Rudi goes and dies. But before he did he gave me a real gift. He let me know I deserved to be loved. Now I can see where my insecurities come from they don’t seem so big. I know some people trust me (Goo Goo) and respect me. I know Malcolm trusts me to trust myself. But do I trust me? At the end of class I gave him my paper anyway. And I said, “I trust you”, and he smiled. “Trust” he said, “comes when we trust. You learn to trust by trusting. That’s the way it grows. There is no other way”. I smiled, nodded, and walked away. As soon as I was round the corner I whipped out my notebook and wrote it down. That was too good to miss. Later that night I thought about my name. Everyone, most people, know me as Ann, my middle name, my mother’s name. I don’t use Hilda, of course. Or Hildi or any of the variants that could be invented out of it. I think it might be time to claim my name, so I think I’ll just use the last bit of Hildi and call myself Dee. Yes. That’s what I’ll do. It could take some doing to convince people to change, but I can try. Old habits die hard. But I don’t want them I want new habits.

1729 – a short story (

1729 I had this dream. It was a bit confused – or perhaps I was a bit out of it as I tried to recall it the next day – but it was one of those dreams you wake up from in the middle of the night and say, “Jeez! I must remember that!” And then nine times out of nine you forget all about it until about two weeks later, and by then it’s all a bit scrambled. Well, this was one of those except it only took me a couple of days to recall it, because it had one big bit of information in it, the number 1729. It might have been 1724, I thought, but eventually I decided I was more leaning to 1729. You may think I’m nuts, but I have to tell you I’ve had some great dreams. In one of them a few years back I got a whole lesson plan for one of my classes, one I’d been kind of agonizing over, and when I got to work I could remember about two thirds of it. I wrote it down and it turned out just great. What a gift! Well, that felt like one of those kinds of dreams. Clearly it was some kind of message, from out there, wherever that is, and I needed to know what it was that 1729 was trying to tell me. So I looked up what Wikipedia had to say about it, and all I got was the first performance of a Bach piece and the publication date of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. Not much help there. 1724 was even less use. You see, I wondered if it might be guiding me. Perhaps to the lottery. The Numbers Game has just 4 numbers, and then you have to choose the order, which is a bit more tricky. But the lottery has six numbers, and a multiplier, so could it be that I had to play 1, 7 and then 17, and then 2 and 4 and 24? But what about 12 and 14? Or, come to think about it, 41 and 21? Now I was getting confused. And which lottery? As those of us who occasionally buy a ticket know, you’ve got quite a few to choose from these days, which is why I always use the Mega millions with quick-pick, so I don’t look like a dork buying my ticket. I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing, and anyway the very sullen Sri Lankan guy at the cash speaks in a way I can’t quite catch. But perhaps he doesn’t know exactly how it works, either, and that time I asked he was laughing at me? I mean, I guess he’s from Sri Lanka, because he has a big poster of it behind the till. Faced with this I chose the numbers game and the mega millions. I didn’t want to spend too much, just in case it wasn’t going to work out. But just in case I checked the previous day’s numbers for both (because the information would have been fresh, then, seeing as how the dream was a couple of days old) and none of them were even close. I reckoned my dream vision might still be OK. I bought two tickets. The Numbers and the Megabucks. A buck each. For the next few days I couldn’t do anything. I was so full of what I’d do with the cash that I could hardly focus on conversations any more demanding than, “Would you like fries with that?” I had a few pretty good schemes mapped out, too. I’d spend some on me. Get that BMW. Then I’d set up a Foundation to help kids who’ve come from difficult homes. Something where I could do some good and not have to work hard or anything. It was only two days to the Megabucks drawing and I had a whole lot of great ideas, I can tell you. The Numbers had been and gone already. But I was relieved because the Megabucks paid out more. Of course nothing happened. The next day after the let down – I wasn’t surprised, really. I just felt the same. Anyway, I went on ebay, as I so often do. I know I shouldn’t because I just get excited about all kinds of random things, and wind up spending money I really shouldn’t. I typed in 1729. Then I had to narrow it down so I thought “Antiques” would be the best category. All I got was a load of stamped wills and such – old documents not worth anything but sentimental spending. I was tempted by a Will that had been drawn up at Guildford, England, which is where my parents had lived for a while. But I knew I’d have to frame it, then put it somewhere, and I couldn’t be bothered. Then I saw a whole lot of other stuff, including, strangely enough, that one I mentioned earlier “A Modest Proposal”. It was kind of interesting to look at, and pretty tattered and so I passed on it, even at the price ($15 plus postage). Three months later I’m reading on-line and there’s an article about a surprise auction find that had just gone to Christie’s and was expected to sell for a fortune. It was the sort of thing that The Antiques Roadshow would make a fuss over, a knackered old document that no one would really care about apart from a collector or a museum. Junk really. I looked closer. It was an edition of “A Modest Proposal”. They called it a pamphlet, which is why I hadn’t paid much attention. And that triggered something in the recesses of my memory. Dated 1729. It was, they said, a copy that has the author’s own handwritten comments and corrections on it. This had been verified – it really was his handwriting – which is why it was worth so much. There was even a message on the back of one blank sheet, by the same hand. Yeah. You guessed it. The same one. The ebay one that went for $15 (plus postage). The trouble with dreams is that they tell you so much good stuff, but they don’t tell you how to translate that stuff into the real world, right? So now I tell this story in pubs and bars and it gets me a free drink or two. But I’d rather have had the $375,000 that it eventually sold for. Next time.

“So” episode 10

Posted by Allan Hunter on 27 Mar 2018 Tea Break Read So A serialised short story 10 I think I may as well just give in and make this journal only about the class. The other stuff in my life is important, of course it is, but I don’t want to write about that here. The stuff that we deal with in class, it feels as if we’ve got some sort of handle on it. At least we do by the time we walk out the door. Life goes way too fast and I don’t get enough time to stand back and see what’s happening before it takes off again at a speed I can’t catch up with. But in class we get to slow down a bit. Ask questions. Make connections. Make more sense of stuff we might not have a chance to understand otherwise. It’s like decompressing and reassessing. It’s like the difference between the froth and the beer. Froth takes up a lot of space but actually it gets in the way of knowing what the beer’s like. Something like that. So today Malcolm had us do an exercise that was pretty strong. He took us on another guided visualization, where we imagine we’re in a place and then we see things, and we get to describe whatever it is that comes into our minds. In this one we walk along some place we like, it doesn’t have to be real. And as we walk along we see someone up ahead we think we might recognize. So we get closer, and we’re still not sure. Then something comes between us and we lose sight of the person, then we turn a corner and there he is. It wasn’t who I thought it would be, I thought when we started that this would have to be my dad but when I turned the corner there was Rudi, my first real boyfriend. He was pleased to see me and I know I was pleased to see him. Then he reaches into a bag he has and hands me a six pack of Bud, a notebook, a pen, and a puppy. I hand back the six pack but keep the rest. Then he says, “See you soon kid. I love you.” That’s when I felt the tears. I don’t think anyone noticed. So we shared the responses and a couple of people got rather emotional. Jessica saw her grandmother and she was sobbing so hard I could barely understand what she was saying. Then I shared mine, and I just about got through it. I could feel the tears gathering in my eyes. Why? I haven’t thought about Rudi for a long time. But I just wanted to cry. I mean, it is sad. He died from leukemia. One day he was fine and the next he was in the hospital, and they were saying there was nothing they could do. Shook me to my core. At least I wasn’t the only one who saw someone that made them cry. It was very quiet in the room for a while. Then Malcolm started off by thanking everyone for their courage in sharing difficult material. I thought that was classy, actually. It took guts for people to say what they’d seen. Then Malcolm starts to explain what we’ve just done. He says that we got to choose who we met on this walk, so this person is someone we perhaps want something from. And that made sense to me. I wanted so much more from Rudi than I got, because the time was so short. Malcolm said that the thing that comes between us, before we turn the corner and see the person, is sometimes a barrier than stopped us getting what we wanted, seen in symbolic terms. And (once again) my mind went into overdrive. Because I saw a cloud of flames, and what I did was walk round it. And I was so passionate about Rudi. I wanted him with me night and day, but especially at night. And perhaps that passion got in our way, a bit. I think it did. And then when he saw me he said exactly what I wanted to hear from him. I always wanted to hear him say he loved me, always, but after he got ill he never would. I think he wanted to save me pain. He knew he was dying, so he wouldn’t say it. He wanted me to move on and have a happy life, not remain stuck mourning him. But I wanted to hear it! Or perhaps the flames were to do with his cremation. Perhaps it’s both. So he gives me the beers and I hand them back, and I know what that means. After he died I got into drinking. I wouldn’t have been at that party and nearly raped if I hadn’t been drinking. I wouldn’t have gone outside with those guys if I hadn’t been loaded. And yes, I wanted something, booze or sex or something to blot out what I felt. But I did NOT want to be raped! So this is all making some connections for me. And then he gave me a notebook and a pen, like he was saying it was OK for me to write about this now. Because I never did. After I knew he was dying I stopped my journal. And I’d written a journal or short stories and poems for just about as long as I can remember. But then I stopped. And it’s like he came back to say it’s OK, you can write whatever you want now. It’s what you do best, it’s what makes you feel alive. And I can hear that, like it’s telepathy. Malcolm said that whatever it is they give you is a symbolic message, and this surely is. But, he said, it’s not as though that person was really there, so the message is coming from your Unconscious. What is it you’re waiting to hear? What is it you’re waiting for permission for? If there’s something you’re waiting for, you just gave it to yourself. Yep. He’s right. I wanted Rudi to say he loved me. I wanted those to be his last words. Because he did love me. He really did. But he never got to say it. And that’s what the puppy is about. Rudi gave me a puppy to love me and for me to love, and puppies are always so much fun. He wanted me to have fun, love again, and be loved. And not just a fling. He wanted the love and the devotion that only a dog has to give, something who will die for you. I got back to my room and suddenly I had to write a poem. I haven’t felt that since Rudi died. Then another poem came. And I woke up the next day and another poem was there. I’ve written a poem a day for the last week. And they’re full of feeling, and the emotions are bit powerful. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I don’t feel like hooking up on Thursday night (or any night) anymore. I used to feel that all the time. I don’t think I do now. In fact last Thursday and Friday I stayed home and wrote more things. I looked today and there’s pages of it. Some is quite good and I may go back and rework those. But I feel so much lighter. You see Rudi was my first real boyfriend. I’d never felt like that with anyone else before. He asked me to the Senior Prom and that’s when I began to look to see if he felt the way I did. And yeah, I could see he did. And then we were an item. It felt solid. But he got ill that summer and by Fall he was dead. How could I trust anyone after that? My Dad kind of disappears on a regular basis, my mom’s boyfriends had a habit of disappearing too, at least for a while, and then Rudi dies. What is it with men? Why are they always leaving? How can I trust them if they are so unreliable? How can I trust anything? In class Malcolm said that the thing we have to do is trust ourselves. We can’t guarantee that anyone out there will be as trustworthy as we’d like – although some will be – so we have to learn to trust ourselves. And that’s what the exercise did, he said, if it worked. It allows us to get our Unconscious self to give us the reassurance that we are looking for in our Conscious life. Tha way we can learn to love ourselves. And that’s true of Jessica, because she said she saw her Grandmother, who died when she was 12, and she always felt totally loved by her grandmother. And Malcolm said that this exercise may well have allowed Jessica feel that she is loveable, that she loves herself because she learned how to love and be loved from her grandmother. And that just made so much sense to me. And Jessica listened in class and at the end she went and shook Malcolm’s hand and thanked him. Yeah – she shook his hand. I’d have hugged the dude, but she looked all calm and teary at the same time, held out her hand, and kind of whispered her thank you. And he held her hand in both of his, and looked into her eyes, and I could see he was feeling it too, and he just said, “You’ve worked hard at this. This was a breakthrough. Well done.” Wanted to hug them both, but I didn’t. I hugged Jessica after class. Today I feel like I have saints and angels protecting me, and Rudi. Not that I’m invincible or anything like that. It’s more like I’m free to be me, more.

“So” episode 9

Tea Break Read So A serialised short story: from 9 So here’s a question. If my Jabberwock is my Dad, then why isn’t it those guys who tried to grab me? Wouldn’t that make more sense? It was really frightening, and I’ll never forget it. Why would my Dad be the bigger monster in my life? Why did I draw him??? I wondered about that a lot. I couldn’t ask Malcolm about it. I couldn’t ask anyone about it, come to that. So I went for a walk. Then I went for some ice cream, and nothing much altered in my mind. But I got a sense after a while why it might have been like that for me, now. It’s that my Dad is always there as a thought. Always a danger to my sense of peace. Always. The dumb shits at that party were a one time deal and I’ll never, ever get myself into anything like that again, I swear. My Dad, well, I can’t escape the effect my Dad has on me every day. I feel it every day I can’t afford stuff, and every time I see my mom or talk to her or text her. He’s there. He sort of haunts us all. The trouble with this stuff is that if you think hard enough about it you could probably rationalize almost anything, I’d guess. Or is that really true? So in class we talked about a bunch of stuff and then Malcolm says something about how often we make excuses in our world, and how often we say sorry. And we all agree that we do that to keep the peace, sort of. So Malcolm says OK, write a series of bogus apologies. What do you mean? Said almost everyone. I couldn’t believe they didn’t get it so I said, “You know, you feel you have to say sorry but you’re not, not at all. In fact the person you have to say sorry to is a grade one douche-bag but you still have to say sorry. Like the way I always have to apologize to my father when he gets the wrong thing at the store and I make it like it’s all my fault.” And half the class says “I’ve never done that” and the other half says “Yeah! I can think of a bunch of times”, and I say, right, so make it a sarcastic apology for an imaginary situation. Like: “I’m so sorry I ran over your dog – the nasty one that always tries to bite me and always chases my car. Yeah, I’m really sorry about that”. (because there’s a dog like that back home and I’d just love it if someone managed to run it over, even though I like animals. I love animals, actually, but this one…) Anyway I’m on a roll at this point so I say: Or better still, how about apologizing to that noisy guy who always plays his music too loud by saying, “I’m so sorry I broke your sound system. I didn’t realize that beer and electronics don’t mix well.” Some of the class still looks confused. And I come out with a whole lot of bogus, sarcastic and even downright mean “apologies”. I love this exercise! Jessica talks about working in retail and having snobby customers and then when they want help she just says “Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have that in your size” or something like that, just to get revenge. I know exactly how she feels! This was a great class, and we all laugh about some of them, and some of them are kind of enough to make you cringe. Kayla apologizes to her ex for calling the cops when he was beating her up, saying, “How was I to know that this was your way of saying you love me? How was I to know that your craziness is all my fault?” and the whole room sort of gets still. And Kayla says yes, that happened and yes, she’s got a restraining order against him now, and yes, she is still bullshit mad about it. Then she bursts into tears. And then a couple of people talk about abusive relationships they’ve been in, or seen, and how it did a number on their self esteem. There was a lot of sharing in this class. I think we all got closer. Even Mike, the kid who’s always texting, paid attention. Then at the end of the class Malcolm thanked us all for our open-ness, and even those who hadn’t spoken had listened, he said, and that’s a great gift to give too. And Malcolm said that this was a really simple exercise but look how much had come out of it. It was all stuff we needed to share and wanted to share, but we probably never got much of a chance to before. And he’s right about that. Then he said that when we apologize for something that isn’t our fault we give away a part of ourselves, we give away some power, usually. A bogus apology is a way of claiming it back, perhaps, as we reclaim our anger and annoyance. Then he said that it’s exactly the way the human psyche works. The Id wants to scream at people who are being assholes, but the superego says “you can’t do that” and so the ego comes into the middle, like the middle of a sandwich, and decides to do what you have to do to get through the day without too much conflict. So we apologize, sometimes we feel shitty because we want to choke the living daylights out of the person. That’s the price we pay for having a well developed ego – we don’t give in to our primal urges, though, which is probably good. So then he talks about Anger. He says it’s just energy and we don’t have to hit someone because that’s what we feel like doing. We can feel the feeling and let it go. Impulse control, he says, is the difference between most of us and those who get locked up for hurting others. They act on their destructive impulses. If anger is energy, he says, then we can direct it if we choose to. We can direct it to hurt others (bad idea) or we can direct it so we say “I deserved that bad treatment” which is usually not true (and also a bad idea because you’re hurting yourself). Because everyone deserves to be treated well. So if we go that route we’re punishing ourselves, which is a depressive viewpoint. But there’s a third way: we ask ourselves how we can get treated better. That may mean moving, or changing job, or making a legal complaint, but it is likely to be productive in a way the other routes aren’t. It’s also, he says, exactly the same as the Id, Ego, Superego structure. What we feel in the Id is real, it matters. How we act on it is our choice, and will define our destiny. Destiny. That’s what he said. Our choices based on how we react may well define who we become. Then he said – you can react anyway you wish. It’s a free world. My job is simply to tell you that you have a choice. You always have a choice. So much for that “I didn’t have a choice” stuff that people always say. Wow.

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.