Here are some samples of my fiction writing so you can see I don’t just talk about writing, but I also do it.
This section is called ‘In Different Voices” – because these are monologues from people I’ve imagined.
Many of these were first published in Inspiredtimesmagazine.com.
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. We jump to the easiest and most obvious conclusion and that’s often not the right one. We tend to think it means immediate advantage or money for us, and because we’re all fixated on money we make rash decisions. Sometimes a dream goes deeper than we can imagine. In this case it taught me about my own greed, my own ego, and how that can get in my way whenever I let it. There’s plenty to learn from things like this. Like a mirror this series of events reflected me back to me.
So now I tell this story and people get a good laugh out of it.
But I’d rather have had the $375,000 that it eventually sold for.
Blocked: a story
I’d spent the whole day, a rainy bleak kind of day with gusting winds, waiting for my muse to arrive. That’s what I called it, or her, or whatever that thing is that makes me write. My muse. By which I meant inspiration; an idea for a new piece. An insight, a flash of… something. And nothing had arrived.
This wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been just the one day, but it had been over six weeks since I’d sent off my last piece of writing, and closer to six months since I’d felt that deep glow of enthusiasm that could keep me at the keyboard way past any reasonable person’s bed time. I was in a slump.
Actually it was worse than that.
You know how people talk about writer’s block? And how there are a million books out there telling you how to overcome it? Yes. That. I should know. I’ve read a whole lot of those books. A couple of years back I even wrote one. It seems I was having trouble taking my own advice.
Although… that’s not entirely accurate. I had done the things that normally would spark some creative energy. I’d meditated. I’m not much good at it, so I also tried long walks in the country – until the weather got too awful. I watched movies, read, thought, pondered. Nothing seemed to work.
I went down to my local coffee place, Mary-Anne’s, and sat surveying the other customers, most of whom seemed to be sitting looking as vacant as I felt. And I began to turn over idea for stories. What would it be like to wait tables there? What sorts of people went for that job? Who would their friends be? Would that be an idea for a story? What would be the dramas of such a life?
I couldn’t get into it. All rather tired material, I felt. I needed new ideas.
I scanned the papers heaped up by the cash desk. Nothing much there. Was I blocked, empty of ideas? Or was I depressed? No ideas came. Or if they did I couldn’t register them.
So I walked home. The rain had eased off. And then, as I walked down a suburban street, I saw it. A rabbit. One of those black and white pet-shop rabbits they used to call Dutch rabbits. It was wet and cowering by the front wheels of a parked car. I bent down and I could see it was shivering, so moving gently, I reached out and picked it up.
It struggled a little, but was clearly used to being held. Wet as it was I held it to my chest to warm it up, and pretty soon I could feel it snuggle into my sweater. It didn’t seem to be hurt. I looked around. I rang the door of the nearest house. They must have thought I was completely nuts – I mean, wouldn’t you, if someone came to the door holding a rabbit? Anyway, it wasn’t theirs. Neither did it seem to belong to anyone else I rousted out of their Sunday night torpor. So I took it home.
I used to have a rabbit when I was a kid so I put this little chap in a cardboard box and got some lettuce and stuff from the fridge. I put him? her? I decided it had to be a she, on an old towel and tried to do a bit more thorough job of drying her fur. She didn’t object. We looked at each other for a while. Then I thought I’d better put out a few ads saying ‘lost a rabbit?’
Over the next few days I had not a single reply. So I put up a notice near where I’d found her, pinning it to a phone pole. No replies. After a week I decided I’d better give her a name. Obviously it had to be Cynthia, after my childhood rabbit, and I moved her to a bigger cardboard box well lined with newspaper while I figured out what sort of hutch I could put in the garden.
And at some point during all this I began to feel again the joy I’d had as an eight year old, with my first pet. I began to sing little songs to Cynthia as I’d clean her box or feed her lettuce. I found myself picking the leaves of any dandelions I saw on my way to the shops, because rabbits really seem to like dandelions, and Cynthia was no exception. In the evenings she’d scrabble on the side of her box, asking to be held. So I’d pick her up and she’d sit on my lap, perfectly content, for hours, twitching her nose and sometimes nuzzling my hand. I fell in love all over again, my eight-year-old self standing beside me, smiling, no, beaming at me.
Since I was at my desk, the computer before me, I started to type out a few thoughts that came along with the warm feeling of knowing Cynthia was there.
And that’s when I knew that the muse doesn’t respond to us by giving us ideas for stories. Ideas come from the head and they’re rather cold and calculated. What the muse responds to are emotions. It’s the heart the muse engages. Anything else is not important. At some point during that first week I knew that my job was to write from my heart.
Cynthia has the run of the house now. She goes to her cardboard box as a litter tray, only, and she loves to sit on the couch. She doesn’t like TV much (too noisy), but she loves to follow me round the kitchen. She sits on my lap when I type. I think she approves of what I’m doing. She is extraordinarily loving. And everything I write is filled with that knowledge. Everything is a love note to this astonishing, magnificent, ordinary world I so often used to take for granted.
“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 folks? Since most New-Agers 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.
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.
When I was a teenager we had a history teacher called Mr. Carew-Hamble. Inevitably this elderly, tall, awkward and desperately short-sighted man was made fun of, and eventually condemned with the nickname of Screwy. His poor eyesight meant he couldn’t keep control of the back rows of any classroom, and his old-world dignity merely made us guffaw. Because of this he was relegated to teaching only those classes that were considered hopeless. Every year, so the rumors went, he was invited to tea with the headmistress, who would ask him if he perhaps felt he would like to retire. Every year he politely declined, saying he felt he still had a few good years left.
The rest of the school prided itself on having younger and more energetic teachers, the ones who could push us through our exams and get laudable results. Screwy in his tweed suit was in direct contrast to this.
One day, much to our amusement, we saw a notice that invited us during lunch break to visit the History Exhibit put on by Screwy’s class. The subject was World War Two (we all yawned at this familiar theme) and of course we knew Screwy had been in it. It was common knowledge that anyone could get him to digress from whatever lesson he was supposed to be teaching if only we asked him what the war was like. Standing around our classroom (it was raining, so we weren’t about to go outside) a bunch of us thought this might be a laugh. We’d get a chance to see just how bad this exhibit was.
We made our way in raucous spirits to the classroom a few doors beyond ours and entered to see Screwy slumped in his chair, looking blank. There, on the walls, were student projects about World War Two, with the obligatory maps, typed pages of exposition, red arrows showing advancing armies, and so on. Pictures of officers and soldiers were arranged, one or two with “my grandpa” written on tags below them. All pretty standard stuff, we thought.
Then we turned to face the back of the room.
There, laid out on tables were several empty artillery shell cases, some large fragments of shrapnel, a grimy and stained flag, and shockingly, four very used looking rifles. One had a sniper’s telescopic sight. Beside it was a rusted helmet. On one side of this was a single bullet hole. On the other a huge tear in the steel where the bullet had exited.
We were speechless. I think tears came to my eyes, but I wasn’t going to let anyone see that. It was clear that these were Screwy’s own collection, brought in especially. He’d been there, in the thick of it, and who knows what he’d seen, what he’d had to do. I for one knew that I had no reason to mock him now. The unmoving figure behind the desk was no longer the Screwy we thought we knew. He was a messenger from another time, telling us of things were fortunate to have avoided.
No one spoke as we walked back to our class.
Screwy may have been the butt of many jokes and in conventional terms was an utterly ineffective teacher when it came to getting pupils through exams. Even though I had other teachers I can honestly say I don’t remember much of the history I learned for my ‘O’ levels.
But none of us ever forgot the haunting, visceral lesson of that day. And I am forever grateful for that.
The name of the exhibit? Peace in our Time.
The other day I reconnected with a friend I’d not heard from in years. It was a great pleasure to chat, and we began to compare notes on people we’d known and what they’d been up to.
Several acquaintances had moved on to impressive careers. Some were prominent in government, some in professional spheres. But, we said – think of the strain of that kind of life!
Some had written books. A couple had written books but, alas, not had them published. Well, it’s a tough world, being a writer.
One was a prolific poet. How wonderful – but there’s no money in that life.
One had thrown over a promising academic career to be a used car salesman. One had suffered a nervous collapse; one had given it all up in disgust, which could have been the same thing. Several had died in various ways that were unexpected and vaguely shocking. One claimed by drugs, one killed while reporting in Iraq. And so on.
And as we talked I began to see that we all, every single one of us, tend to have many conflicting needs as we think about our friends. We want them to have done well, but not so well that we feel diminished. We’d like them to excel, but are much happier if they do so in ways we expect, so we can say, “Yes, she was always going to do something good in that arena”. That way it feels as if we predicted it, and so we’re just as wise and important as they are, even if we’re not quite so much in the public eye. The ones who fell by the wayside we can pity – and yet that’s not the same as compassion. Pity lets us feel slightly superior as we survey the failings of others. So, some have no children (what a pity!) and some have too many (What a stress! What a difficulty! How do they manage?)
It allows us to feel that no one got it right – except perhaps ourselves.
And yet, that’s not a selfish thought. Perhaps we have, in fact, got it “right” or right enough for who we are. There’s no point in being a huge success if it leaves you feeling empty. And there’s no value in a life of privation if it doesn’t allow you whatever it is you need and are willing to sacrifice physical well-being to get.
Comparisons are never easy, and sometimes not helpful.
We don’t all have to be heroes, let alone Superheroes. We need to be who we are. And we need to love others, no matter how well or poorly we think they’re doing.
This next item is a much longer piece, originally serialized in Inspiredlivingmagazine. it’s in the voice of a teenage college girl.
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.
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.
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.
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 flash backs, 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.
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 til 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 chitchat and people texting and after a while 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 caf 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 icecream 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 chose 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 health care 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.
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.
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 on line, 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 on line. 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.
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
Cereal 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 being raped and abused anyway, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 oir 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 whre 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.
“Sail Away for a Year and a Day”. That’s what Malcolm had us think about in this class.
After last week we were more open than before this time. People shared what they’d learned about meeting the stranger with the bag of gifts, and some of it was hard to fathom. But that might have been because not everyone said everything that was on their minds. Kayla described seeing her old softball coach, a guy who had made her life miserable (because she had always loved softball) and in the meeting he as sarcastic and handed her a softball. And I wanted to ask her – did he do more than belittle her? Was he a sexual predator? I mean, it sounds like he was psychologically abusive, but was he more than that? What grown man victimizes a kid of 12 who just loves to play softball and is actually good at it? Some sick part of him must have singled her out for destruction. I wanted to say all that, but I mean, how can you say that to someone? “Did he molest you?” Is that what you say? “Did he hurt you?” is that any better? Jesus I don’t know. So I listened and I think that even without my questions she got what she needed to off her chest. I wanted to know more, though. The whole thing really stuck in my mind.
Personally I didn’t want to say any more about Rudi. I want to keep that as my memory, not spread it around.
There’s more, though. I may as well write it down. When you write stuff down it can be scary. What if someone reads it? But somehow when it’s written it stops being so big around the heart. It stops trying to suffocate you.
So here we go. After Rudi died I was really sad for a long time. You know we were going to have the whole summer before college to have fun (we both had jobs, but they weren’t taking over our lives or anything. Not like an internship.) So I was left sort of dangling, with my sadness all around me like a blanket.
And that’s when Stefan came into my life. And he was so wonderful and caring, or so I thought. I’d known him a bit at school, but hardly enough to talk to. So we start dating, and I’m still hurting from Rudi, so I’m a bit confused. And then we started getting intimate. Having sex. I think I was trying to get Rudi out of my head.
So I’m not sure what I feel about Stefan, but he’s a good looking guy, and I thought I’d give it a whirl.
Yeah. One of my better ideas, right? What I didn’t know was. What I. See, he had one of those tiny cameras. And he videoed us. I didn’t know it. I didn’t know it until he circulated it. Then suddenly all these people I’d graduated high school with are calling me asking if it’s true. Was that me?
I can’t even begin to tell you what it felt like seeing that video. It was like a huge bucket of acid was burning all my insides. I think I shook and trembled for days.
I couldn’t tell my mom, my Dad, anyone.
This was a dark time for me. Stefan wouldn’t take it down. He didn’t care if he was in the clip – he just wanted to boast. I had no idea what to do.
It turned out that help came from an unexpected quarter. Someone sent it to my brother. My brother’s a total fuck up, but he has an anger problem, and that turned out to be a god thing for once. He found Stefan and made sure he found him alone. He wouldn’t tell me what happened. But the result was that the link disappeared, Stefan and his friends shut up. Mind you, the damage was done because so many kids had seen me giving him a blow job and they weren’t going to stop talking or making ugly jokes. It was grainy and blurry and badly lit, but it was still me, doing it. By then it was only a few weeks before I had to leave for college orientation, and I guess most people who’d seen the clip were doing the same thing, running around buying stuff at Target for their ultra-cool dorm room, and so on. I was old news, suddenly.
And then I came here and left it behind, perhaps forever. Who knows? I don’t care anymore. If people here get to know I think I’ll be kinda pissed, but I don’t want to throw myself off a bridge anymore. It feels like a lifetime ago, actually. A betrayal always leaves a mark on you.
Weird though, that one of the people I trust least, my brother, was the person who stood up for me. But perhaps he was just standing up for himself – after all he still has to live in that stupid town. Who wants to be known as the guy whose sister is a slut? He’s not that big, but he comes across as angry a lot of the time, so people don’t like to get in his way. An unlikely knight in shining armor.
So there you go. I wrote it. Now it’s all out I feel better. More free. I really, really needed to do that. Perhaps I’ve wanted to write it all out from the start. That and the rest of it.
Today I re-read all this. I think I’m getting free.
Yeah, so class has to do with that, too.
Malcolm read us this poem, a nonsense poem, he said. It was by Edward Lear who lived in the nineteenth century. I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget.
The owl and the pussy cat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat
They took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five pound note.
They sailed away for a year and a day to the land when the Bam tree grows.
And there in a wood a piggy-wig stood with a ring at the end of his nose.
He said he’d adapted it. As if we’d know.
So then he repeats it and asks to imagine a boat. What kind of boat? How big? And what would we take with us? Would we take anyone? And where are we going? Where do we meet the pig? Do we do anything about the ring?
There was a big groan from Jessica when he got to the “who would you take with you?” and a couple of people looked up in sympathy. A couple of people started to draw the boat, in specific detail, but most of us just wrote down what the boat was and what sorts of things we’d take.
By now I’m kind of alert to what these exercises might be about and I thought it might be a way of looking at how secure or insecure we are, you know, in terms of where we chose to go. I wasn’t exactly right about that.
So we got a lot of response from the class. Almost everyone spoke up. We had big cruise ships with several hundred people on them, and we had sailing yachts with just a few friends. Me, I decided to go alone, with maybe my cat (Rufus is my favorite, but he’s not fond of water, so I don’t know), and I took my music, some blank notebooks, pencils for drawing and that’s about it. I was sailing away to a desert island somewhere. I forgot about the pig, but I did see a ring in the sand and I picked it up. Then I put it on a string around my neck. It was plain gold.
I think we all sort of raced through it because we were thinking about what Malcolm would say it all meant. I know I was. So perhaps that wasn’t the best way to do it.
Anyway, so we got some weird results. Mike wanted to take a whole lot of safety equipment, including a spare bilge pump, a raft, distress flares and survival kit. When he mentioned all those things I wondered if I was doing the exercise right.
Malcolm explained that the sing-song verse tends to lull us a bit, and our defenses drop. Then when we hear “a year and a day” we tend not to think of 366 calendar days but more of a really long chunk of time. So, he said, with luck this becomes a metaphor of something bigger, like a voyage through life. And he said that no one had any sort of calendar, and no one said they’d be back in time for Christmas or anything, so it was a sort of limitless expanse of the future – and therefore it might reflect how we saw our future unfolding for the next stage of our lives.
That sounded about right to me, somehow. It got my interest for sure. Then he talked about how some people are light packers and some people always over pack. And that made sense, especially for those who’d been on Spring Break. And there were plenty of jokes about who had wound up carrying Kayla’s suitcases and how much extra gear she’s taken on a beach vacation. We had a few laughs about that. I know Kayla and she always has too much stuff. The amount of junk she puts in her backpack each day – you can’t miss it – that she drags to classes!
So Malcolm says that those who take a lot of stuff feel that perhaps the world isn’t going to supply what they need, so they bring it with them. Those who take less are perhaps more confident or optimistic. I guess that puts me on the optimistic or confident side, but you know, I just don’t need all that much. I’m kind of self-sufficient. If I don’t have something I can usually ask someone for some help, and I usually get it. I don’t feel vulnerable. I mean, compared to Mike who had practically an entire spare boat with him I was very restrained. Mike seems to expect trouble wherever he is. He expects he’ll have to do everything himself, and not ask for help. It’s a guy thing. It’s really boring. He doesn’t accept help. And that’s what he said. He said “I find it really difficult to ask for help with stuff, because I don’t want to be ‘one down’ to someone.” Guys. I tell you. He reminds me of my brother so much. Exactly the same. I’m starting to feel sorry for Mike, now. Here he is, in this class that’s almost all girls, and he’s always such a guy – how’s he ever going to speak up about what’s on his mind?
So the voyage through life also has to do with the size of the boat – a big boat suggests a really social approach to life. Mine was a smallish, but a sturdy ocean going sort of sail boat, able to move under its own power, and just me on it. And Malcolm said that it might mean that for the next part of my life what I need to do is spend some time building a deeper understanding of myself. He said that the people you take with you are likely to be those you want to build a relationship with for the foreseeable future, and that it’s absolutely OK to want to get to know yourself, especially when you’re at college. The cat I took is part of that. It’s not Rufus, my tortoiseshell, but it’s something like him. And cats feel very self-possessed. They don’t give their affection very easily (just like Rufus) although they’re good at taking affection, so they tend to be representative of that need to be self-sufficient and not have to care for others. A dog, by comparison, is all about needing attention all the time.
Then I don’t have a destination. Malcolm said that some people go with life’s flow, and so have no set destination. They enjoy the trip. Others have a specific goal in mind and get focused on that. Which are we? Good question. Of course I want to graduate and get a job, but it’s not like I’m determined to run a Fortune 500 company before I’m thirty, or anything like that. I’m not about outer rewards. For me it’s about happiness, contentment and inner peace; really, it is. I mean, isn’t that what it’s all about? Well, it is for me. I don’t want to be a goal-oriented go-getter with hypertension and a shitty home life, and ten million bucks in the bank that I don’t even get to enjoy.
The pig, it turns out, is a gate-keeper, a person or situation that might stop you getting what you desire. I didn’t see one at all. Mike caught his and had a barbeque with it roasting on a spit. Who’s he trying to kid?
The ring, though, was interesting. Rings are circular and so have no beginning or end, and mine was gold, which often suggests something eternal (because gold doesn’t rust or decay). So Malcolm tells us the rind is suggestive of the reward that we think life will give us. Do we expect a reward? What might that be? And then he says that a ring can be seen as a symbol of the completed self. When will you feel complete? Will there be a time, or will it just happen? The peope who didn’t see the ring are likely to be those who don’t need a “reward” like a medal to show them they were complete.
And I wasn’t convinced about that. I mean I think I am a person who doesn’t need rewards or diplomas or whatever to let me know who I am, and I said so.
And Malcolm said, yes; he agreed. And we could look at it another way, too. Where did I put the ring? On a string around my neck. So it was hanging near my heart, perhaps? A gold ring, a bit like a wedding ring, but not on my finger, but near my heart. And he looked at me, as if to say, finish the idea. And I started crying. Before I knew why, I was crying. And it wasn’t about him being mean to me (he wasn’t) it just flooded over me. So the Kleenex box comes my way for a while.
And it doesn’t come clear until after class. I’m sitting back in my room, feeling confused, still a bit weepy. That’s when I see that the ring is about me healing my heart. My heart was broken by Rudi, by Stefan and by those fuck-heads at the party. And by my dad. And that’s what I want to heal. And if I can be alone for a bit and sail as I need to I know I can be healed. I know it. But right now it hurts.
I cry myself to sleep.
For the next few days I’m in a bit of a daze, but I function OK. Still, I know something has changed. I give Jessica a hug just because she’s there, and she’s a bit surprised but she hugs me back. Then I do the same to Goo Goo and we have a really sweet moment, and he says thank you. And I say why? And he says he was afraid I didn’t want to be his friend anymore. And I laugh and give him a bigger hug. And that’s when he tells me he thinks he’s gay, and I tell him I’d thought so for a long time so this isn’t news to me. I still love him, I say, you’re still my friend. And he gives me a big kiss on the cheek. We hung out for a few hours, but we didn’t need to say much, not really. It was all kind of understood.
So Malcolm was telling us about this poet, Mark Nepo, who has a technique for understanding things. It comes from Brazil. It’s good, and I hope I can remember it properly.
He says that when something bad happens the best thing you can do is listen to a person, and then you ask this question that goes: “and so?” Meaning, what does this all mean in the greater world? How does this fit into world events? Does your broken heart alter your life plans? And then the person thinks about that and speaks. Then, after they’re done you ask the same question, except this time when you say: “and so?” it means, do you have a sense of where you are now? Then you let them speak and when they’re done you ask: “and so?” again, but this time it means, So – what are you going to do?
I thought this was amazing because I’m always saying “so” as a way to lead into my next series of ideas. It seems I’ve been doing this all along. Cool, huh? Because each time I say “so” it really means I’m going to try and get my mind around it better. This method of Nepo’s seems more structured and more helpful. I tend to get stuck in repetition a bit too often. Then I wind up going round and round until I make myself sick.
Malcolm then led us in another exercise which was pretty similar. It began with “I’m here because…” and you had to complete the sentence. Then you use the next bit, the bit you just wrote, and use that as the first part of the next because sentence. Then you keep going. So I wrote:
I’m here because I like this class.
I like this class because we get to explore parts of who we are.
We get to explore parts of who we are because we need to!
We need to because most of never have explored like that.
Most of us never have explored like this because we’re always so busy doing all kinds of crap.
And so on.
It kind of wakes you up to what you’re doing why you’re doing it. Or at least as far as you can get with the “why” part. It’s the most difficult part. We can all recall pretty much what happened but they why is a bitch. Because is a pretty useful word – it takes you towards the causes of things, the reasons you might not want to face particularly. Really — I’m in this class because I’m confused and make bad decisions a lot and I want to get out of that. That’s the truth. That’s why I’m here.
So Malcolm gives us a case study to think about.
It goes like this. A girl (19) goes to a party and passes out in the bathroom from too much booze. Her friends are there and call her father (who’s not in her life much but he’s the only person who is). He comes and picks her up. Takes her home, puts her to bed. Next morning she wakes up rushes to the police and says her father raped her when she was passed out. Father denies it. Girl goes to stay with cousins and asks to stay with their well-functioning family. It turns out girl’s apartment lease is up and she has no money.
So we all get to float ideas about what could possibly be going on. And of course we all take the girl’s side. Her father probably did it. Or could it have been at the party? I start to get anxious at this point. I’m thinking of my own experience. But why blame her father? And someone says I bet she’s really angry at her father because he’s not in her life. And Malcolm says, “Go on” in that way he has. And she says a whole lot of stuff about how angry she’s been at her father, and how much she’s wanted to make him feel hurt, but she’d never go to this extreme. And Malcolm thanks her for this “great insight” as he calls it, and so I say, “What if she really was raped?” And Malcolm says that it’s very possible she was, or had sex and got frightened, or perhaps she wanted to use the event to hurt her father?
Then Jess says: what if she was pregnant and wanted to blame someone for it? And a couple of us sort of gasp – like: that makes sense.
Then someone else says, what if nothing happened at all? Why would she fake something like that? And then Mike says, did she fake it just to get somewhere to stay? She gets to stay in a proper family, one that’s quote well-functioning unquote, and so she gets a place to live and some sort of substitute family too. And I kind of wake up more at this point because I can see that she’d have a motive. She’d get to play the innocent victim and not have to be an adult with an apartment to pay for and a job and all that stuff that’s a bit scary, really.
That gets me curious, and I say, “Did they do any DNA testing? I mean aren’t they supposed to check if there’s any evidence, you know, fluids and so on?”
Before Malcolm can answer Jess says, “So what happened? What was the answer?” And then everyone wants to know the answer, too.
Malcolm holds up his hand and then he replies, rather slowly. He says that what we’ve just done is exactly what he’d hoped we’d do. We looked behind the actions to ask what was the cause. Because, he says, that’s the key. That’s the word we used earlier. We can’t understand events unless we ask that question a lot. When we do so we are probably going to get to the issues about the Unconscious.
Now, he says, rape is a very tricky thing to discuss. Plenty of emotions and plenty of openings for cries of sexism and “blame the victim”. So I’d like you to see this as just one case, not a pronouncement about all rape cases.
I like that he said that. People get so touchy about this stuff. And that’s good.
In this young woman’s case, he says, it wasn’t the father. The DNA test was negative, and that could be because she didn’t get it until the morning after and she’d had a shower by then, too. She may have known that it wasn’t her father or she may not, but she jumped to a conclusion probably because she wanted to hurt him. And she did. She must have known that would happen. She didn’t seem upset about that – perhaps her own sense of violation was too strong. She managed to have sex with someone, though. And promiscuous sex is sometimes what happens when women feel neglected by their fathers. It’s a way of getting male attention. Not always, but sometimes.
Do you see how complex this can be? Malcolm asked us. I was beginning to think that this sounded about right for a couple of people I knew, who definitely have some weird thinking . Malcolm gave a few moments for us to think about and then went on.
What emerged much later was that the young woman had been recently dumped by her boyfriend, with whom she had hoped to move in – which is why she hadn’t made proper arrangements when her apartment’s lease was due to run out. Drinking until she passed out was possibly the cry of sorrow she couldn’t express any other way. She drank that evening and really didn’t know if she’d had sex with anyone that night, although she was afraid she might get pregnant. In counseling she blamed her father for her entire situation, and she said she’d hoped she’d be adopted by the other family, so she could show her father how well she’d do in a proper functioning family situation. But actually she was afraid of growing up, and she admitted that. While she was with the other family she tried to take the place of the oldest daughter, and at that time she seemed to want to destroy the family by pitting them against each other. Perhaps this was envy at what she’d never had? She even accused the son of spying on her.
We all sort of sat back when we heard this, because it was way more complicated than we’d thought.
Well, said Malcolm – the case isn’t over because these things are never “over”. Human suffering lingers for a long time. And when people are frightened they do things that are often more Unconscious than anything else.
For a while there’s a fair bit of to and fro talk between us about this kid. Some people pitied her, others thought she was evil, and a few thought she was too far gone to ever be a functioning human again.
I’m listening to all this, yet there’s something I want to say but I’m not even sure what it is.
And then I start talking.
I tell them about the party and about how I was nearly raped. And I tell them that I thought I could handle anything, but really I knew I couldn’t. And part of me was asking, “Who’s going to protect me?” Because my dad never even tried even when I was a kid. And I thought I could do things that were dangerous and I’d still be fine because I can deal with it, because I’m strong, because I’m stronger than anyone else. But I’m not. And I knew it at the same time as I knew I wanted someone to save me. I think I went to that party because I was expecting to get into something. I didn’t think it’d be that, though. Never in a million years. The memory comes back to me sometimes and I hate it. I can still smell the alcohol on those guys, that smell that gets into clothes of beer and cigarettes and sweat. And that’s what jarred me. At the time, I mean. Luckily for me I wised up and ran. I don’t know why I did. I just knew I had to get out. I saved myself.
By the time I’d finished talking I’d kind of forgotten anyone else was in the room, I was so there, so back where it almost happened. And then I’m feeling my legs running for the car, and I’m out of breath talking about it, and I stop. I look around the room. Jess stands up, pushes past some chairs and gives me a hug. And we hug for a long time.
I don’t remember much else.
Actually I do remember more. I’m not sure I can write it. I can’t write it. I have to.
I knew things were getting out of control. I knew it. Then this guy grabbed my hair, from behind, and pulled, hard. His other hand was tight on the back of my neck and I couldn’t do anything. I could hardly move. And he was pushing me, pushing me towards a garden bench thing, and I knew what he was going to do. He was going to shove me over it, with my ass in the air, so I couldn’t move, and get between my legs so I couldn’t kick him, and he’d be there holding me down with my ponytail in his fist, bending my head back. He got me to the bench and let go of the back of my neck. I went face first over and I could feel him put his body between my legs and then he ripped my pants down and, and, and … I was scared! I was choking so hard I couldn’t scream.
I don’t know how I did it, but instead of pushing back against him I gave a huge lunge and threw myself forwards. I went over the bench in a somersault, and my legs came up and must have hit him somewhere, and we’re both falling forwards. And he let go. I rolled forwards, got up and ran.
I can’t write any more. I never wear skirts anymore. Never.
Every day I thank God or the Angels or whatever is out there for that escape. Every day I know that I can face myself because I got away. If I hadn’t, where would I be?
This is more than a class. This is something else.
Malcolm’s told us he’d like us to do a final paper. He says he’d like us to write about what we’ve learned or discovered, and if we haven’t learned anything much then perhaps we need to write about that, instead. Or we can write about particular exercises we liked, but this time we might want to go deeper, and perhaps connect to other exercises. We all nod, and say that sounds good. And Jess says she’d like to do a video and Malcolm says that’s OK, but this is a writing class, supposedly, so we’ll need a written component. So we think about that.
Then he says that perhaps there was something you wanted to talk or write about that you didn’t get to yet, and that the final paper would be a good place for that. It seems pretty wide open, and yet I can see that if I’m going to do this right I’m going to have to be specific and choose an approach so that it’s not just a series of dislocated comments.
Then I know what I’ll do. I’ll give him this diary. Yes. The whole thing, except I’ll add a section at the end that explains where I’ve got to, and why it matters.
And I start to tremble after I’ve decided to do this. I try not to let anyone see, and of course no one does; except Jess.
Three Years Later
I’ve kept this diary for a couple of years since I stopped writing, right at the end of the semester. I kept the file on my laptop, and I transferred it to the new laptop, too. I haven’t had to do much more writing like this, and looking at it now I’m not sure why I stopped. I think I just got to a place where I’d moved through all that old stuff. I mean, my dad’s still a problem and my mum’s still being treated for her cancer, and I’ve graduated. So I guess this was what I needed to do right then, at that time, and when I’d done it I didn’t need to do it any more. I mean, I still write stuff out when I’m upset or confused, and that seems to help, but I’m not doing it regularly.
I probably don’t go as deep, either. Sometimes I surprise myself, though.
I think what happened was I wrote my way to a place of peace and freedom. The stuff is still there, but it doesn’t wig me out the same way it used to. Perhaps that’d have happened anyway as I got a bit older. I don’t know.
That’s probably why I sometimes go back to the exercises and do them again. And sometimes I get results that surprise me, even though I know what’s happening and what’s going to happen. And I kept the text books for this course, too. Most courses I sell back to the bookstore after the first few weeks of class because I know I won’t need them. But I kept these.
A couple of times I’ve done the exercises with friends and that usually brings up some important stuff, too.
I don’t know what happened, but I’m glad it did. Malcolm left teaching about the time I graduated and I suppose I should have kept in contact with him. But perhaps not. He was what I needed then, and once he’d helped me over the mountain I didn’t need him any more.
I’m studying for my Master’s in Psychology. I volunteer at a women’s shelter doing some counseling. I’ve got a good gig waitressing a couple of nights a week to pay the bills. I’m making my life.