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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tea Break Read So A serialised short story By Allan Hunter 3. I think this prof may be a mind reader or something. He hands me back my paper from last week and he says he thinks there’s a lot more to explore and that I’m holding back. How did he know that? Anyway I’m not really holding back. I’m reserving the right to remain silent about certain things. I don’t have to tell him about my mom’s name and how she insisted I should have it as a middle name, and how proud I am of it since she got sick. That’s none of his business. And she’s really strong, my mom. She may have cancer but she doesn’t let it run our lives. She just says that it lets you care less about the small stuff. She doesn’t worry about stuff. If you’ve got cancer, why fill your head with chicken shit worries? I like her attitude. I like that she listens, really listens, when I want some advice. I’m gonna call my first girl Ann. Anyway – he says we’ll do another writing exercise, and that’s fine because he’s said that right from the start. We’ll write every week, he said that in class right on the first day, and then we’ll talk about the results and that’ll be your homework, to write more. Sort of a reflection on what we already did. I don’t think this course is going to be hard, so I reckoned I’ll stay, even though it does mean writing each week. He tells us the next exercise. It goes like this. We have to close our eyes and think of a place we like, of a house or a home we like. And then he says that money isn’t a problem and we can have any kind of home we want. He calls it the dream home, asks us if we can visualize it, and lets us get on with it. We can write about it if we want, he says, but he’d like us to see if we can draw it first. Well that gets a big groan from the whole room. Drawing. Most of us hate drawing. I’m no good at it, though I quite like doing it. But I’m no good. Anyway, it’s only a house, so how hard can that be? So I draw a house with a big yard, room for a few dogs and a cat and some ducks, because I like ducks, a lot. They make me smile. And I’ve always wanted some dogs. We couldn’t have any when I was growing up because my mom said it’s cruel to keep a dog in an apartment with nowhere to run. We had cats, though. My house drawing isn’t that good but it has three floors, lots of trees round it, but just three big ones in close. And a pool that’s fed from a natural river. That’d be really cool. Natural water, not some stinky chlorinated puddle. The kid beside me drew a little house in the woods and in the middle of a rainstorm. The kid on the other side of me, the nerdy one who looks a bit like a refugee, had a couple of horses in his yard and a huge barn, bigger than the house. I wish I’d thought of that. I don’t like horses that much, but they’re classy, y’know? That kid I like, Jesse, drew a house inside the walls of some town he likes in Puerto Rico. It looked really cozy. So we do all this drawing and everyone’s quiet. That’s weird to me because in class most of the time no one’s ever really quiet like that. I guess everyone was absorbed by what they were drawing. At least for 10 minutes or so. We show our pictures and I’m kind of blown away by how different they all are. Then the prof says that when we draw a house we are probably not just drawing a building but sketching out a whole series of values, values that we’d like to live our lives with. He says they may be clear to us or they may be unconscious. The thing is to know what our values are, consciously, so we can own them as ours. Then he says that we were the ones who chose what would be in our pictures, and so every choice we made could indicate something about us – what we value, who we are and what we want in our lives. Then he asked to see our pictures. He said a bunch of stuff to everyone but I couldn’t really listen to that as I was wondering what he’d say about my drawing. I was a bit nervous, actually. He points out the long driveway up to my front door and says that it indicates a desire to keep people at a distance until I know them. The front door isn’t just available to anyone strolling by. They have to want to come to the door, especially as I’ve got the dogs out front, sort of guarding things. Having a house in the country, like mine, suggests (he uses that word suggests a lot) that I like my privacy. Then he points out all the windows I’ve drawn and says that might indicate that I want to let light into my life and also be seen – but not by just everyone. So I’m getting interested now. It feels right. I don’t let people close too easily, but I do want them to know who I am. But doesn’t everyone? Then he points to the trees, which he says are sheltering, and so may indicate the supportive people in my life and how close I want them to be. I was spooked when he said that. There are three trees right close to the house; my three best friends are my support system. How did he know that? Then he starts talking about the water. I’ve got this natural pool, with a bit of a water fall from a river, running right by the house into a rocky basin. I could see me basking in that pool, plus a few friends. A few beers on a summer evening. He says that the pool might just indicate something about the emotions, and how comfortable I am with them. The water was calm, he said. Some other kid, the one from New Hampshire with the stupid haircut that he covers with a Red Sox cap, well he had a raging ocean storm, which might say that he’s used to turbulent and dramatic emotions and really likes them. Not me. I like that calm space. The prof says that water in dreams and in life tends to reflect how we respond emotionally (something like that) and since when we go swimming we usually aren’t wearing much (like the time I went skinny dipping with GooGoo and Andy, and we couldn’t find half our clothes afterwards because it was so dark. And how me and Andy got really close to something and we haven’t talked about it since. Perhaps we need to. I don’t know.) So he says that the water might just indicate how we feel about the emotions and about sex. That made a few of us sit up, I can tell you. I’m not sure how I feel about sex and the emotions. I mean I can tell you how I feel about sex. And I can tell you a bit about my emotions. But the two haven’t got much to do with each other. Not yet anyway. You hook up and maybe something good happens. But maybe it’s just a one nighter. And that’s not very classy. Plus I have a hard time trusting people. They always want to stab you in the back somehow. I think Andy feels the same way. That’s why we don’t talk about the swimming. GooGoo just went back to the car, but we stayed until we got cold. Anyway, the prof said that calm pool, just off the waterfall and the river, seemed to suggest I liked calm and private and even deep emotions with a possible playful aspect to them too, shown in the waterfall. Hmmmm. Then he said, look, your pool is behind the house. People have to get to know you before you invite them into your pool, your private space, where all the fun is. You make them work for the privilege. And he’s right about that. The first few times I met Andy I made him work. We kind of squared off like we were going to fight. Then somehow we reached a truce. He told me about his sister who is autistic, and after that something changed — we were real friends after that. I think he expected me to push him away because of his sister, but really, with a brother like mine I wasn’t even thinking about any sort of judgment or prejudice about Andy or his family. I mean, his parents are still together, which is pretty impressive. I left class with my head a bit fuzzy and I went to find Andy right away. He was talking with GooGoo and I told them all about the class. Then I showed them my house picture and said what I could remember about it. I think they were impressed, somehow. I don’t know what I said, really. Then Andy said, yeah, that sounds like you drew you, and he laughed. I think he may be right, though. Later, though, I couldn’t get the prof’s words out of my mind. I think he’s right, but in some spooky way you can’t put your hand on. 4. So this week in class we start with a review of last week, the house drawing, and the prof asks us how we got on. No one wants to say anything at first, of course, so eventually the dorky kid says that he felt the drawing was spot on (that’s what he said “spot on”. I think he’s from England. He’s got a funny accent.) and he talks about how it sort of explains him. I don’t say much. Last week Andy and GooGoo said they thought my picture told them a lot about me they hadn’t really known before, but could see now, but I wasn’t going to share that with the class. Actually it was a bit weird because there were things there I didn’t even know until I started to talk about them. Like that bit about the dogs. The prof said that the dogs could indicate how I felt about love, because dogs love you unconditionally. If that’s what you want in your life, unconditional acceptance, he said, then dogs will give it better than anything else. Cats he said, tend to suggest the other side of things because cats loved to be loved, but are choosy about who they let close. I know that from my cats. Marley is a tough cat, a tortoiseshell, but she loves me and no one else. She’s more like a dog than a cat. Sitting in class like that, listening to the others, made me see that I wasn’t the only one who’d made a real connection with this house drawing. And it got me thinking. If I’d done that the way he said, if I’d drawn out on paper a whole series of values about myself that I didn’t really know I had, then what else don’t I know? I thought I knew a bit about me already, but this was like detective work. This was like the profiling you see on the tv, where the cops look at a crime and conclude all kinds of things about the murderer form the smallest details, things that not even the murderer really knew about. It got me thinking about my emotions, though, and who I let close, and why. And how I feel about love. I‘d like to trust love, although I can’t say my father’s exactly a great example of trustworthy love, so may be it doesn’t exist, or doesn’t exist for very long. My mom’s sort of given up on love. Perhaps I have, a little. But then this drawing says that I have longings in me. Or perhaps it’s just me saying I have and finding them in the stupid drawing. So this week he says we’re going to do a guided visualization. He gets us to close our eyes and then he says he’ll take us through a scenario, asking us what we see or hear at certain points, and we then write it all down afterwards. It sounds a bit like one of those meditation DVDs you get. I don’t much like closing my eyes in a room full of strangers, let alone a class, but I look around and they’re all doing it, so I do too. I hope I don’t fall asleep, is all. It’s been a heavy week again. I’m not sure if college is really for me. I thought it’d be more relaxed, somehow. I don’t get to bed until about 2 most mornings. I’m not really sure why. It’s not like I’m doing anything important. So the prof takes us on this imaginary walk. First we have to see what we’ve got on our feet. I’ve got my sneakers, and I’m walking on a grassy path. Then he asks us to look down and I see a key, he says. Except mine isn’t really a key, it’s a can opener. I pick it up. Then we walk a bit further and see a cup and mine’s a red solo cup, which I leave. Then there’s some water, and mine’s a stream with stepping stones, and on the other side a steep slope. I turn round and look back over rolling hills and there’s my grandmother’s house. Moving forwards I see a small hut, and inside it’s like a day care center, except deserted and all these little chairs, and dust. When he asks us to open our eyes it all feels a bit like I’ve been asleep, dreaming. But I write it all down. Then has asks us for our responses and after he’s heard them all he starts to tell us what they might mean. He uses the word “perhaps” a lot. Did I mention that? He says that there’re no hard and fast rules about what “means” anything, because we’re all different. He says this is the language of our Unconscious, of dreams, and so it takes some care to hear it right. The Unconscious speaks to us in pictures, he says. So then he starts. The shoes, he says, can let us know what we think the world will be like as we venture into it. Did we have heavy boots? Or were we barefoot? What we wear on our feet tells us how welcoming or difficult we feel the world will be. I suppose that makes sense because I always wear my sneakers, because you never know if you’re going to have to walk a lot (and with this campus sometimes it means you have to) so fashion boots aren’t that practical. Plus I really hate those girls who have those smart heels and stuff but can barely walk. What do they think they’re doing? Then I’m walking down a grassy slope. Not a path. That’s because I’m making my own way. And then I see the can opener. The prof says that sometimes it’s just whatever it is, but keys and can openers open things, but they’re also symbols of power. Specifically it’s about male power, because men still dominate the power structures of our world. And that’s true enough. You look anywhere and it’s always some man in charge. So then he says that the key could be seen as a phallic object. I know what he means because we did all that in high school but I could see that a couple of kids were taken by surprise by that one. So I stick up my hand and say, what about a can opener? And he says, well let’s think about that. It’s like a key because it opens things, but a can can’t be locked up again afterwards. It’s still a powerful tool. And I stop being able to pay attention right there because if this is about sex then it’s a bit too much just now. So he goes on about the key, and then about the cup we were supposed to see. I saw a red solo cup. The girl across from me did too, which was weird, and the blond girl with her iphone under the desk who’s always texting, said she saw a white plastic cup, all dirty, a piece of trash. And he says, well now, a cup is a way we drink, and it reminds us at an Unconscious level of being fed when we were babies (something like that) so a cup is perhaps a symbol of the female, of how we see women in our society. Are they treated like trash? Are they treated as one night’s use only? The guys sniggered about that. It may suggest the way you think women are treated, or perhaps even the way you feel you’ve been treated, if you’re a woman. And that’s when something goes off in my head. I don’t say anything, though. I’m not that dumb. But I see it, so clear I could shout. That red solo cup? That’s what they always have at parties, where the girls are looking to find a guy and the guys just want a hook up. That red – that’s the passion, isn’t it? Red’s always passion in lit courses. But then I start to get it. When you’re at the party it feels like that cup is your reason for being there. You’ve got a drink, you’re getting drunk, that’s what it’s all about. But it’s also about us, women, getting drunk, being used for sex, and we agree to it. And the next morning we’re trash. They’re talking trash about us. We’re the ones on the walk of shame. Not them. So I’m getting kind of agitated at this point, and we’re not even close to the end of class yet. I could get up and go to the bathroom but everyone’s sitting there, kind of riveted and kind of afraid, and I can’t leave. I think a panic attack might come on. And then he starts talking about some other part of this exercise, saying we should write about what feels true for us. And he’s talking about the little house we see at the end of the walk and how it might reflect how we feel about death. And my house is a small shack. Actually almost everyone’s is, except for the blonde who has a lighthouse, and she uses the key to open the door, which was a bit weird. But it got me thinking about my can opener again. You see it was like he knew, already, what the can opener meant. I just wrote the first thing that came into my head, but, yeah, I can see that can opener has kind of betrayed me. It’s not just random. I don’t think he can know all that much about me. But perhaps he does. Does he know about that night? I mean it’s not everyone who’s nearly raped and gets beaten up. But I they didn’t get me. I was like a sealed can, I guess. I got dented but not raped. God, this stuff is weird. That night I have a few flashbacks, or something, in my dreams. I’m fighting and I get free (just like I did for real) then I try to run but I can’t move my legs. My roommate tells me I shouted in my sleep. Well, I did get free, that night. I ran to the road and I could do that because I didn’t have my pants anymore, and the bastard who was trying it on had his pants around his ankles, for all I know, and his drunk friends were too drunk to do much. I don’t remember all that happened after that, until I was in Jody’s car and we were getting the hell out of there, and I was crying so hard I couldn’t speak or breathe. I was crying so hard I threw up. I can’t write any of that stuff to the prof, though. I know he says that no one but me and him will see the papers but still, I can’t. I just can’t. Instead I write about how symbols can be misleading and how sometimes a solo cup is only a solo cup. Then it hits me: “solo”. I wouldn’t have got into the trouble I did get into if I had been with someone I knew. Instead I went outside with some guys I didn’t know to share a joint. That’s what they said. And I was alone, solo. And they did have a joint, those fuckers, (but I can’t write about that to a prof) and some coke too, which I didn’t want, but that wasn’t what they were after. If I’d had a boyfriend, a real boyfriend, then none of that shit would have happened. Those fuckers wouldn’t have dared to mess with me. Instead I had a sort of thing going with Brett, who was nice and all but not a real manly guy. So I write this crappy paper for the class and I try not to say anything I’ll regret and I feel like shit. It’d be such a relief to share this stuff, just say it, blurt it out. But I can’t do that. So instead I write about my grammie. She was the one who was always there for me. But she died. And I remember that in the walk visualization I look back and see my grammie’s house, and then it hits me. She was always the one who protected me, and I could have used her help about that stupid party. She’d have told me not to go, and I’d have fought her, but I’d have known she was right all along. She was my protector, she knew me best, and if I ever told anyone about that night I’d have told her. Anyhow, know what? She wouldn’t have told me any of that “I told you so” crap. She’d have understood and she’d have known that I’d been through something. I miss her so much. Then it hits me that this prof has brought up two of my biggest issues (that’s what they call them: issues. Stupid word) which have to do with being nearly raped and losing my grammie, and, oh number three, why I’m a bit scared of men and why I don’t really trust anyone. Plus my anxiety. That’s a shit load of stuff. I’m wondering if I’m going to make it through this semester. That can opener. Piercing and ripping the lid off cans. Destroying the can in the process. But then I think about the can opener I visualized as one of those old style ones that just makes a diamond shaped hole on one edge, then you do the same on the opposite side of the lid. And I wonder about that. Doesn’t seem that bad when you look at it that way. Then it hits me. My God. I mean it really hit me, hard, so hard. If I’d not managed to get away, if I’d been too drunk or stoned, then I’d have been raped, and probably they’d have made me have oral sex, too. Two holes. I didn’t make this connection til later and I nearly threw up. I don’t tell GooGoo or Andy about this. I call Jody (because she was there that night) just to check I didn’t imagine stuff, and she’s good. She calms me. But you can tell she’s scared about it. She’s afraid I’ll go off the deep end, or maybe she’s scared I’ll tell people and she’ll have to explain to them what she was doing that night. I don’t know. I don’t know anything much any more.
It's being serialized and these are the first two sections. Enjoy! https://inspiredworldmagazine.com/tea-break-read/ So A serialised short story By Allan Hunter So, there’s this class I’m taking. The people in my dorm said it’s a whacky class but it’s great and I’d really like it. Not everyone in my dorm. Just the people I speak to. You know, my people. Bea and Andy and Goo Goo. They’ve all taken it except Andy, but he talks to Bea a lot. And they said it gets a bit spooky but I think I’m OK with that. So I ask them what they mean by spooky and they say that he looks into you, into who you are, and then Bea said that wasn’t quite right because he gets you to look into who you are. That got me interested. I mean, it’s a prof in a class. How spooky could it really be? Anyway he comes into the room and he’s just this old guy with lots of gray hair and he reads the syllabus and then he does this thing with us. He calls it an exercise. And he asks us to write some stuff about our names. Big deal, it’s just our names. Lame. He wants us all to know each other, or may be he just wants to try and remember who’s in the class. Icebreaker stuff from the medieval period. He looks old enough to be an Alzheimer’s job, so that makes sense to me. Perhaps he’ll have us all wear little stick-on labels. So I write about how I’m called Hilda Ann Rawlinson, but everyone back home knows me as RunRun, and that’s because no one in this century is called Hilda. Hilda was my great grandmother, actually, and she was a bit of a hard old bitch – at least my Mom says so, and she should know. I got the name because my mom’s mom, Babci, said it was an honor to have the name of such a powerful woman. Like I really care. I tell everyone to call me Hillie. Rawlinson is from my dad, natch, and I guess I’m used to that even though I don’t see him much now. When we talk it’s always by phone or text and when I do he always seems to pick an argument. I don’t know why. He asks me all these questions and it’s like, dude, you’re out of my life for like ten years and you come back and expect me to tell you all my private stuff? And then about once a year he takes me shopping and we buy stuff that he thinks I should want, and I let him do it, to make him feel better. I think he’s lonely. He has a girlfriend but I think Mom was the love of his life. She says he hasn’t been right since they split up. And really they only split up (Mom and Dad, that is, not Dad and the girlfriend) because he was on the road so much she felt he was a stranger on the few occasions he came home for more than a couple of days. That’s the life of a not-top-of-Twitter-feed musician, I suppose. Not that he’d know what Twitter is. Well, may be Twitter. But really. He’s not that clued in. Anyhow, this prof gets us to talk about our names by asking us to read out some of our responses, because we were supposed to write them down. I read off a couple, but I wasn’t going to let anything important out. I wasn’t going to mention RunRun just yet. I got that name when my dad came to a track event I was at in Junior high. And he got all excited and yelled RunRun at the top of his lungs when I was winning some event. And after that the whole school started calling me RunRun. Cringeworthy. I was pretty good at track, you know. The mile was my thing. I could still do it now. I don’t smoke or anything, which helps. Everyone’s into marathons now, and I just don’t have that kind of time. Luckily that was the only time my Dad was there. I didn’t mention Ann. My middle name. And because he had the class list he asked me, of course. And I said I didn’t know. As if. Anyway there’s nothing to tell. It’s my Mom’s name. But let’s not get into that. So, some of the other kids there really got into it. One kid, Clare, said how she hated her surname because it was her dad’s name and she couldn’t wait to get free of him. She said she’d take her step-father’s name as soon as she could do it legally because he was the one who brought her up. She said how she’d told her father – her real father – about this and how he’d said he never wanted to see her again. And then she had a little pause, but I could see she was ready to cry. I don’t think anyone else noticed. I was curling up inside. I mean, who cries in college? In class? Pretty soon it was time to end the class, and I could hardly believe it. It really flew by, which is good I guess. The names part was pretty interesting. There’s this kid who’s called Kim, and she said she got that name because that was the name of the woman her dad was sleeping with at the time she was born, and he wanted to keep things simple. That’s what she said. I mean, that’s kind of sick. I think I’d change my name if that was me. Our assignment was to write about our names, the first class and what we’d noticed. The prof suggested that we might want to consider identity as a topic. Because when we get named we don’t choose the name, and some of those people want us to be a certain way, which is why we get named after important people in our family. Like me and Hilda. They wanted me to be this powerful, no nonsense, spit in your eye kinda girl. And I guess I am a bit. Except when I’m sad. And that happens a lot these days. I think I can write a couple of pages on that, no problem. 2 This class got a little looser, which is fine by me because by the time Wednesday comes around I’m tired and I could use a bit of a change. So we got arranged into birth order groups, like Only, First Born, Second Born and so on. We even had one kid who was a fifth born. He was kind of on his own so he got folded in with us second borns. Then we had to write down the messages we got as we were growing up, but not just what our parents said. Instead a message could be the way we were treated, the things that it was assumed we’d do, and the way that got conveyed. It was pretty interesting actually, because I got to talk to all the people in my group and we had a few laughs. By the time he asked us to report our results we were starting to get a bit bonded – well some of us were – and I felt like these were cool kids. So that was good. Then he asked us for our report on what we’d learned. Well, the Only children each had their own list, and it was kinda silly. Lots of stuff about not sharing and feeling alone. Then the first borns did a sort of office presentation. It could have been an assignment right there. They’d produced this list of things about being responsible and being held accountable and so on and they all agreed with each other. If they’d added a couple of Powerpoints the whole thing would have been just like one of those boring science classes, or maybe what they do in Management. That was weird. Then we second borns had to report in, and no one had much of a list and everyone who spoke said how different they were from everyone else. And that’s weird, because we’d just been getting along really well because we’d found so much that was similar between us. Plus, I think we were the loudest group. And then here we were saying we’re not like the others. Now I think about it that’s just plain weird. The third borns didn’t even get around to making a list. They all spoke about how their strongest feelings were for their siblings and how they looked up to their older siblings. Not me. I guess the thing I got out of it was that even though you’re in the same family the experience you have as you grow up isn’t the same as even your siblings. That’s true of me and my brother. I mean, for one thing, he was a boy, the first grandchild, and so he was special. But he was a boy and when I arrived they were all kind of like oh it’s a girl, and that’s nice but she’s a girl. So we got treated a bit differently, I suppose. Well, it stands to reason, right? I didn’t tell them what a complete fuck-up my brother turned out to be. OK, yeah, he’s going through a hard patch just now. Perhaps it was the pressure on him from the family. I don’t know. I’m just glad they never expected that much from me and so I could do what I wanted to, pretty much in terms of who I had as friends and what classes I took and even what college I went to. I think they were pissed that he went to a decent school and then flunked out after they’d paid all that money. Me, I was happy to get to a state school where I could do my own thing. Then after he dropped out they all kind of looked to me as if I was now the star, and that felt a bit like pressure, really. I was expected to make up for him. So the good thing is that fifth born kid in class is really friendly. He’s called Jesse. He joked that his mom really wanted another girl so he got a name that sounded like a girl’s name. He’s kinda hot, too. He’s got no trouble in talking with anyone. I asked him about that and he said he’s never had any trouble talking with anyone, not even girls he has the hots for, because he has older sisters. I wonder if that’s what’s wrong with my brother. He needs a girlfriend but he doesn’t know how to talk to girls, not really. Not at all. He was never interested in talking with me, unless he was telling me what I’d done wrong. I mean, as if I didn’t already know what I’d done wrong. Dork. Now he’s the one who’s doing everything wrong. I don’t tell him he’s a screw-up though. Not any more. I think he already knows how I feel. And any way, who wants to hear that stuff? I know I don’t. I don’t know what I’m going to write about for this week’s assignment, though. I mean it’s obvious so why write about it? Being a second born and a girl I never had much of that sibling rivalry that some of the others had, and I was never that close to my brother. I was lucky to be left alone, I guess, at least for a while, but how do you make a decent paper out of that? And yeah, I do things my own way. That used to bug the shit out of my highschool teachers. I didn’t follow their dumb rules. But I am kinda pissed that my dad only ever noticed my brother and ignored me – until my brother (he’s called Arnold, by the way, another dorky name) fell apart. I think Dad couldn’t handle a kid of his having problems. Maybe he was afraid he’d have to pay for the therapy or something. Yeah, I know he buys me a lot of stuff now, mostly stuff I don’t need, but I think that’s because he’s basically cheap, and he’s trying to prove he isn’t. Doesn’t fool me. He could pay my tuition, for one thing, if he really cared. Do what he’s supposed to.
Yesterday the president suggested that the answer to school shootings was to arm teachers. My immediate thought was to ask what sort of arms would be provided. Would I soon be the possessor of a shiny new Glock? What would it feel like to swagger down the hallways with a bulge on my hip, since those things don't fit easily in shoulder holsters? But then, you see, a Glock is a handgun. School shooters use assault rifles which are much more deadly and much more accurate. I'd be spraying bullets around inaccurately when the first round from an AR-15 took my head off, no doubt. And then, knowing that school teachers are armed, wouldn't any future assailant simply don more armor and bullet proof accessories? Or use grenades, perhaps? So here's my idea, presented with the spirit of Jonathan Swift; go ahead and arm me, but if you do then I want an anti-tank gun. Because I know that if the next wave of escalation starts those guys will be coming with much more firepower than they have now. I can only hope it doesn't come to that.
Lessons Taught From a Very Young Child You don’t have to respond to someone just because they call your name and want you to do something. You don’t have to smile on demand. You don’t have to be what anyone wants or expects you to be. You don’t have to perform. Love the people you trust. Trust is a feeling, not a calculation. Ask for what you want. The people who are paying attention will understand what you mean right away, long before you have to shed tears. Be you. Everyone who is paying attention to life will love that you’re being you and will become more themselves as a result. Those who don’t get it won’t get it, ever. Life asks us to play, and if that means the living room looks like a disaster zone after a few minutes that’s perfectly OK. It just goes to show that adults have stopped knowing how to play properly. It’s your job to teach them. Sometimes the wrapping paper and cardboard box really are much more exciting than what’s inside. Loud noises are scary. But anything that even comes half way close to being music is magic. Wonder is everywhere. Join in. It doesn’t matter if you can’t actually speak yet. You can still make encouraging sounds and be part of the conversation. Tents are fun. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Occasionally people ask me why I teach literature. At such times I tend to make a few statements about learning empathy, seeing others' lives, and so on -- and pretty soon my questioner is asleep with eyes wide open, nodding pretend comprehension. So here's another answer. Do you want to live the best life you're capable of? Do you want an exciting, richly fulfilling existence that will bring you joy? If you answered yes, then you're going to need to observe the lives of others and measure your views against theirs, learn from them, and make some decisions about how to be. You're going to need context, so you can stand outside your own life and see it more clearly. You'll need other people to talk with about this information. You'll end up stretching your mind. Good literature brings you all that, and more.