Speed Whippet and Fear of Progress, aka FOP!

After the recent introduction of Speed Whippet, I thought I’d bring him in to talk to the monster who gets hysterical whenever I try to have a regular spiritual practice, or any kind of advanced self-knowledge-y practice like Shiva Nata or keeping a dream journal. I reckoned this monster was scared of me making progress, and christened him Fear of Progress aka FOP. So obviously he appeared as an eighteenth-century glamour boy in a powdered periwig and lots of ruffles.

princepoppycock

Speed Whippet’s technique this time was to stick very closely to the big questions of NVC: what are you observing, feeling, needing, and requesting? The result wasn’t quite as speedy as last time, but this was a major issue!

FOP: ALACK ALACK ALACK (fans self hysterically)

Speed Whippet: What are you observing?

FOP: FIE FIE FIE

Speed Whippet: You’re observing something you really don’t like, huh?

FOP: (calming down slightly) Well, obviously! I’m a fop. I like to keep things exquisitely superficial.

Speed Whippet: She’s going too deep for you?

FOP: Any depth is too deep for me. I am all surface and no soul. A bubble of nothing in a froth of lace.

Speed Whippet: Poetic! So how do you feel about her getting into all this deep soul stuff?

FOP: La, sir, I am undone!

Speed Whippet: You’re terrified?

FOP: Yes!

Speed Whippet: What do you need?

FOP: I need her to stay on the surface! Where it’s all fluffy and pretty!

Speed Whippet: You need to know she’ll be safe from the pain of self-knowledge?

FOP: How unutterably drab and serious you make it sound.

Speed Whippet: And you need to know she’ll still have playfulness and colour in her life?

FOP: You talk as if I were going to let this happen. (draws rapier with a flourish) Never! I shall never let it happen!

Speed Whippet: Okay, so you need TOTAL CERTAINTY that she’ll be safe from the pain of self-knowledge no matter what.

FOP: Not only that!

Speed Whippet: What else?

FOP: I don’t know. I don’t know! How can I even talk about such nonsense? I don’t understand it, I’m just a beautiful fairy with no soul!

Speed Whippet: You don’t understand the spiritual stuff?

FOP: Exactly!

Speed Whippet: So you need to understand what’s going on for her?

FOP: Yes, otherwise how can I protect her? I may look delicate but I’m terrific in a duel. Aha! (flourishes rapier)

Speed Whippet: Okay, so! You’re observing that she’s getting into deep spiritual introspective stuff, and you’re feeling terrified because you need to know she’s safe from pain, and in order to know she’s safe you need to understand this stuff. Which you don’t.

FOP: I don’t! I don’t even know what it is! It’s like asking a dog what’s the problem with going to church!

Speed Whippet: I’m a dog!

FOP: Well, what’s the problem with going to church?

Speed Whippet: …Oh. You get left outside.

FOP: Yes! Outside is all I am! I will always be outside! Don’t let her go inside and leave me here with nobody to pay attention to me!

Speed Whippet: Oh. Oh. Oh. Okay. Wow. You’re feeling terrified because you need attention.

FOP: Do you think I get dressed up like this every morning for my own amusement?

Speed Whippet: Okay, I’m going to ask you to notice something. You spent all morning making her so stuck and terrified that she was literally hyperventilating about keeping a dream journal, and what’s the result?

FOP: Success!

Speed Whippet: What’s happening right now?

FOP: I’m talking to you.

Speed Whippet: And what does that mean she’s doing?

FOP: Oh! Introspection! I shall swoon! (falls on a chaise longue)

Speed Whippet: So your attempt to protect her from introspection has produced introspection.

FOP: Are you accusing me of being one of those monsters? I refuse to be lumped in with all those dirty beasts. Ugh! (handkerchief to nose)

Speed Whippet: She’s spending more time introspecting about why she can’t introspect than she would if you just let her introspect!

FOP: Egad! But at least I’m keeping her on a lower level. At least she’s not making progress.

Speed Whippet: She is making progress. Whatever blocks you throw up, she’s finding a way round them. It’s just taking her longer and costing her more effort and pain, which I think is another thing you wanted to protect her from.

FOP: GAAAAAAAAAAH!

Speed Whippet: Now I know you’re really upset. You’ve stopped using Restoration comedy exclamations.

FOP: STAP MY VITALS!

Speed Whippet: Okay, nearly.

FOP: What do I do?

Speed Whippet: What would you like to do? What are you requesting?

FOP: Well, I can’t possibly be the kind of – ugh! – ‘monster’ who’s the opposite of what they appear to be. I can’t possibly be enthused about all this soul stuff. I can’t possibly be pro progress. Although, thinking about it – I am a creature of fashion, you know, the latest mode, flitting like a butterfly from one thing to the next – and of course, I always think whatever I leave behind is so last Tuesday, and whatever is now is so utterly now. I love change and newness! It’s just that it has to be meaningless.

Speed Whippet: Why?

FOP: Because I exist to distract, and if something’s meaningful it isn’t a distraction, is it? It’s something you distract from.

Speed Whippet: Because it might be painful?

FOP: Yes.

Speed Whippet: So we’re back to your need to protect her from pain. The trouble is, distracting her from everything meaningful isn’t really protecting her. The pain’s still there. It’s still hurting. Just on a subconscious level where she can’t understand it or fix it. It’s like if someone needs surgery, sure it’s painful and scary but it doesn’t make sense to protect them from it, because then they’ll never get better!

FOP: So I really am just a big useless lump of frippery and I should just go away.

Speed Whippet: No!

FOP: How do you know?

Speed Whippet: Because with these talks, if it’s not happy it’s not the ending. What would you really, really like for her, if you could request anything?

FOP: (crying) Not to need to avoid all the time because there wouldn’t BE any pain to avoid! Gad’s teeth, my makeup is running…

Speed Whippet: That’s a great request! And it sounds like you’d like to help her with that. You know, dealing with her pain so she doesn’t need to avoid it.

FOP: Yes, but how when I don’t have any soul?

Speed Whippet: I never asked why you think you don’t have a soul.

FOP: I don’t know.

Speed Whippet: What is it in you that gives you so much compassion for her pain?

FOP: Well, I’m part of her. So – oh. She has a soul. So it’s not that I don’t have one, it’s that I’ve been disconnected from her soul. I’ve always had access to it, but I’ve been refusing it. Wait… (He twirls around elegantly, and his costume flutters around him in a cloud of lace, shifting, settling again into something different… a beautiful pierrot in white ruffles.) A new image! Do you like it?

ppg

Speed Whippet: I love it!

FOP: Pierrot of the moon, the yearning soul… see, now I can support her on her quest, I can go to the depths of the sky with her, I can go deep inside and still be exquisitely pretty on the outside! She can surround herself with images of me, and I’ll remind her to be always longing and dreaming and looking to the stars… And she’ll certainly pay me attention, I mean, look at me! (Holds out his arms, enraptured by his own loveliness.) When I told you I had no soul, you should have told me that I adore beauty! Beauty is truth, truth beauty, how can you love beauty without a soul…

(A silver tear runs down his cheek, the transformation complete.)

LS09 Pierrot

The Longer You Leave It The Harder It Gets

You know that phenomenon where the longer you leave something, the harder it gets to do… I thought I’d have a talk with that phenomenon. (My version of it, anyway. Other people’s may vary.) I’ll be calling it Longer for short. Longer for short!

Me: So it’s been a while and I still haven’t done this thing. I’d like to do it now, and it seems like you’re unhappy about that.

Longer: Yes! Just think how much that person must be suffering because you haven’t done that thing!

Me: Okay, I’m confused. I’m hearing that you’re very upset about the consequences of my not doing the thing.

Longer: Yes!!

Me: And yet you’d like me to carry on not doing the thing.

Longer: Yes! LOOK AT ALL THIS GUILT! DO YOU REALLY WANT TO CONFRONT ALL THIS GUILT?! DO YOU?!

Me: Wait, so you exist to protect me from guilt!

Longer: YES!

Me: When you started the conversation by saying, ‘Think how that person must be suffering,’ it sounded to me like you wanted me to feel very guilty. Were you just showing me how big and scary the guilt was so I’d run away from it?

Longer: YES YES YES! I make you run away so you won’t do the thing! Because if you do the thing now, that means YOU COULD HAVE DONE IT ALL ALONG!

Me: You’re protecting me from knowing I could have done it all along?

Longer: YES!

Me: Okay, knowing I could have done it all along seems quite empowering to me. Like, I’ve always been capable. Like Dorothy has always had the ruby slippers that could take her home.

Longer: If you know you could have done it all along, you have to face the GUILT of knowing you could have done it all along! AND YOU DIDN’T! Dorothy has been stuck in Oz all this time and all she had to do was click her heels together, what an idiot! Do you really think she’d be happy to find that out? It means all the pain she went through was unnecessary!

Me: No… Oh, wait. The guilt thing is just a smokescreen. You’re just waving guilt at me to scare me off the thing you’re really protecting me from. Regret.

(Longer, who has had no discernible form up till now, turns into a tall, skinny white bird.)

Bubulcus ibis(2)

Me: Did you just turn into an egret?

Longer: (nods)

Me: You’re a Regret Egret! That’s… inspired.

Regret Egret: You did it WRONG. You did it WRONG and you SHOULDN’T have done it wrong and you have to live with all the pain that you went through because you did it wrong, AND all the pain of knowing that you DIDN’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE PAIN!

Me: Oh. Sweetie. You just really hate to see me in pain.

Regret Egret: OF COURSE, WHAT DID YOU THINK? (childlike voice) I HATE IT WHEN YOU DO IT WRONG. I HATE IT I HATE IT.

Me: It sounds like you’re from then. From a long time ago.

Regret Egret: (almost in tears) BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE SEEING YOU TOLD OFF AND PUNISHED!

Me: Oh. Oh, wow, you’re right. When I was little, if I got punished, sometimes I’d pretend I was fine with it. I mean, even to myself. Like I didn’t want whatever they were taking away from me, or… anything rather than acknowledge that I was in pain because I did it wrong. That was you, wasn’t it?

Regret Egret: Yes!

Me: And as an adult, almost 30, I said something that completely shocked me when my friend repeated it back. Basically, that I didn’t want to learn from my mistakes. I preferred to go on making the same mistake over and over rather than admit defeat and learn my lesson. That was you too, huh?

Regret Egret: Yes!

Me: ‘Admit defeat’ like ‘let the people punishing me win’.

Regret Egret: YES!

Me: Even though now I’m an adult and nobody is punishing me, I’m just getting results that I don’t like. When I don’t do something I’ve committed to doing, I worry that other people are suffering and I feel upset and guilty, and that’s a result I don’t like.

Regret Egret: Consequences. The consequences of your actions. Can’t you FEEL the weight of doomy-parenty-teachery AARGH behind that phrase?

Me: Yes, absolutely! AAARGH!

Regret Egret: (finding this cathartic) AAAAARGH!

Me: I’m wondering… what were my parents and teachers trying to communicate when they talked about ‘the consequences of my actions’? What need of theirs were they trying to meet?

Regret Egret: For you to stop being such a nuisance.

Me: (smiles) I think we can go a step back to something more basic and less judgementy. How about the need to know that I could learn from my mistakes? Even though they were saying it in a doomy way, what they really wanted was to help me learn.

Regret Egret: They could have found a better way of saying it!!!

Me: They could, couldn’t they?! Like what… how would you say it better?

Regret Egret: Well, they could have said it how Havi says it! That there’s no ‘doing it wrong’ because it’s all an experiment and all results are useful! So if you get a result that you don’t like, you can be a scientist and go ‘hmm, useful’ and note it down and it gives you clarity. It helps you work out how to get results that you do like. So what we call ‘making mistakes’ is actually vital experimenting, it’s how we learn, I mean you might as well call it making discoveries!

Me: Exactly! Beautiful!

Regret Egret: WELL, WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST SAY IT LIKE THAT THEN?

Me: I guess because nobody had ever said it like that to them. Plus I was really little and they wanted to make it really big and loud and simple and ‘THIS IS DEFINITELY BAD’ to be sure I understood.

Regret Egret: Well, ouch.

Me: Yeah. Ouch for the whole world. Because pretty much everybody’s been brought up like that.

Regret Egret: I’m sorry!!

Me: It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay!

Regret Egret: Now I want to change but I’m still terrified of letting you suffer pain. I mean you’re my baby!

Me: I understand. It’s hard to let your baby grow up.

Regret Egret: So what do I do?!

Me: Well, the thing is -

Regret Egret: Is this the bit where you tell me I’m one of those monsters? Because I was wondering why we hadn’t got to that bit.

Me: (laughs) Maaaaybe. What do you think? You’ve been trying to protect me from regret, right? And -

Regret Egret: And OMG I’ve totally been keeping you in it, because I haven’t been letting you stop doing the things you regret! Or start doing the things you regret not doing! And I can distract you but I can’t stop the pain completely, I mean I can’t make you completely stuck AND make you completely oblivious to being stuck, so it’s always going to hurt! OH NO OH NO I HAD THOSE RUBY SLIPPERS ALL THIS TIME AND I DIDN’T USE THEM AND WE’VE BEEN STUCK IN OZ ALL THIS TIME!

Me: Hey. Hey. It’s okay. Because we’ve been in Oz, right? You don’t want to miss the journey. You don’t want to miss the adventure. If Dorothy had just landed in Oz, taken the slippers, clicked her heels and gone home, there wouldn’t be a story! Or there would, but it would be a very short one that wouldn’t really say anything. Not a book. Not an epic beautiful journey where people experience wild and wonderful things and face deadly terrors and learn and grow and go through transformations and find out things about themselves they never knew.

Regret Egret: (crying) You mean it’s all okay?

Me: Yes. Yes. It’s great that we’ve been on this journey. And it’s great that we’re going home.

Regret Egret: What do I do?

Me: Well, when I’m doing something – or more likely not-doing something – that produces results I don’t like – don’t protect me from experiencing the pain.

Regret Egret: WAAH!

Me: Wait, it’s okay. Instead of holding me back from my pain and my adventure, you can support me through it. Be by my side. Remind me that this is an experiment and there’s no doing it wrong, just results. Help me take a curious, scientific look at those results and see what I discover. And if I’m still hurting about what I did or didn’t do, let me go through mourning so I can learn from it and it’ll stop hurting. You know what NVC mourning is?

Regret Egret: When you don’t beat yourself up, you just let yourself be sad for yourself and all the ways you didn’t meet your own needs.

Me: Yes! No guilt, just compassion. Let me cry, and be with me while I cry. That’ll help a lot, actually. I’ve got a lot of mourning to do and it’ll really help to have someone with me who loves me like you do.

Regret Egret: (sniffs) Will it help if I wear a funny lab coat? And funny little glasses on my beak? (does so)

Me: (laughing and crying) Yes!! Look at you, you totally suit that! Now I think of it, you kind of looked like a tall skinny scientist in a white lab coat already!

Regret Egret: That’s because all monsters have the – have the – person they’re going to be inside them already. You know, the person they’re going to be when they’re not monsters any more.

Me: Yes!!

Regret Egret: Because secretly – that’s what we are. Already. Just with a monster suit over the top.

Me: YES YES YES! Look at you making scientific discoveries!

Regret Egret: Hmm! Useful!

Firework (aka ‘Going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups.’)

Before we get into this monster talk, I need to explain that there’ve been some changes in my headcast. My beloved Mr. H has left us. I’m silent retreating on the reasons, but don’t worry, we’re all okay! After dragging my feet and avoiding the issue for like, months, it was time, and it felt right. And it seems that other members are stepping into the breach LIKE WHOA. As you’ll see. :)

You’d think a retiring headcast member would just dissolve back into me, but Mr. H was having none of that. He told me he wanted to go freelance. To go out into the world, travel into other people’s minds, and talk to other people’s monsters. So if you want a visit from him, just talk to him in your imagination, and see if he talks back… :)

(This monster believes that going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups, and looks like a constantly moving, fireworky explosion of random colours. You can hear the hiss and crackle of sparks in her voice.)

Me: So, going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups?

Firework: YES! It means either you’re an obedient sheep, or you’re so subhuman you don’t even need obedience. You belong to the vegetable kingdom, the fungus kingdom, the mould kingdom.

Me: Whoa! Sounds like you’re feeling really disgusted and angry because you need to know I have – what? Sovereignty? Power? Energy? I think your appearance is a clue, but I can’t quite find the right word.

Firework: FIRE! The spark of life and passion! Movement, colour, light! Everything you allow to be taken away from you when you surrender to bed and sleep!

Me: Wow, that’s really powerful. And it sounds like for you, going to bed is a massively unsovereign experience, an admission of defeat. Life surrendering to – well, to death, almost. Am I right?

Firework: YES! The eternal struggle of all life! The hero life against the villain death! And YOU are giving in! Allowing yourself to be shut away up there in the dark with the ghosts! DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT! Kick and scream! Burn and rage! Always, always!

Me: Oh… wow. I have so much empathy for you and I don’t know what to say. Backup!

(Big Sister shows up wearing Mr. H’s old leather jacket.)

Big Sister: Hi!

Me: Oh, hi!

Big Sister: So… Man, this is hard. Do you know what I’m thinking?

Me: I know exactly what you’re thinking.

Big Sister: I need a joke. This situation needs a joke and I can’t think of a single funny thing to say to save my life. Maybe we should get Little Sister.

Me: No way, this monster is exactly from when I was her age, it’d be her nemesis.

Big Sister: Well, she’s learned a lot -

(Little Sister skids onto the scene.)

Me: Hello!! Are you sure you want to be here? This one’s a bit scary.

Little Sister: Yes, this one won’t listen to grown-ups. Come here, firework.

(Firework floats and fizzles over to her, instantly all attention. They are the same height.)

Little Sister: You’re right, going to sleep is a lot like dying. It’s dark and scary and lonely and nothing-y. I understand. But that doesn’t mean that it IS dying! You know what? If people didn’t go to sleep, THEN they would die!!

Firework: But… I’m afraid if you don’t fight sleep then you won’t fight death, and evil, and oppression, and all those other bad things.

Little Sister: Well, I might not fight death. I mean, it depends. If I’m getting attacked by a big lion, or pushed over a cliff, or somebody is hitting me with a sword, THEN I’ll fight. But if I get to be very old and wise then I’ll probably just fade out peacefully in a cloud of sparkles like Yoda. I don’t think that’s bad.

Firework: No… I suppose that’s not bad.

Little Sister: And as for not fighting evil and oppression!! Look at me in my eyes and tell me that you think I won’t!!

(If a firework could hang its head, this one does.)

Firework: But it’s just… I’m really afraid of… What is a firework afraid of? Going out. Darkness. Silence. Stillness. I’m afraid of the dark.

Little Sister: So am I! I’m really, really, REALLY afraid of the dark!

Firework: Yes, because you and me…

Little Sister: Yes. But you know what else there is? You know what happens if you go THROUGH the dark? DREAMS! And you know what’s in dreams? Light! Colours! Noises! Movement! Fire! Life! More and more and more than there is when you’re awake! Don’t keep me away from it! When people don’t sleep enough, they don’t have enough dreams!

Firework: Oh. Oh. I can’t be one of those monsters? Taking away the very thing I want to give you? Giving you the very thing I want to protect you from?

Little Sister: I think everybody can be one of those monsters.

Firework: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!! (flares up massively in a frenzy of sparks)

Little Sister: (running off and flattening herself against Big Sister’s legs) YIKES! Don’t do that! Sit!!

Firework: I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. It’s just that this is life-and-death important!

Little Sister: You really want me to be brave, right? And fierce like a firework. And alive-alive-alive. And full of colours.

Firework: Yes!

Little Sister: Well, here’s what we can do. Here is the big brave thing that we can do. It’s very like a story. You go THROUGH the big dark door of sleep, PAST all the ghosts that are trying to scare you, and you come out in DREAMS! Wonderland! Neverland! Narnia! Fairyland! And you go and fly and swim in all the colours, and then you bring a piece of the magic world back with you! That’s what a hero does in a story! And that’s how we can bring more and more and more and more fireworks into the world! Do you want to do it?

Firework: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

Little Sister: Will I get burned if I hug you?

Firework: No!

(She steps into the light of the firework that is just her size, holds out her arms, and it becomes an aura of rainbow fire around her body, blazing and shooting off brilliant sparks that go singing out into the night. Big Sister and I instinctively drop to our knees before this brilliant child queen, and applaud.)

Speed Whippet talks to Fear of Finishing

(Trigger warning: very brief mention of suicide. Like, briefer than this warning.)

I do audio transcribing as a sideline, and while working on a piece today I ran into a familiar monster, Fear of Finishing. He’s a squat fuzzy monster with big eyes and little flaily arms. My urgency monsters said I had no time to talk to him.

I’ve been wanting to experiment with super-quick monster talks for a while, so I decided to bring in a new headcast member, Speed Whippet.

Grinning whippet face
Side note: After finding this picture of a whippet I was earwormed with ‘FOUND a picture of a WHIPpet, FOUND a picture of a WHIPpet,’ to the tune of  ‘Glory, Glory, Hallelujah’.

Speed Whippet talks very fast, sounds vaguely American, and today he’s borrowing an interview technique from Lady Vastra from ‘Doctor Who’.

Speed Whippet: Hi! Answer in one word, please! What are you observing?

Fear of Finishing: Danger!

Speed Whippet: How are you feeling?

Fear of Finishing: Scared!

Speed Whippet: What do you need?

Fear of Finishing: Respite!

Speed Whippet: What are you requesting?

Fear of Finishing: STOP!

Speed Whippet: What happens if she doesn’t stop?

Fear of Finishing: Doom!

Speed Whippet: What kinda doom?

Fear of Finishing: Pressure!

Speed Whippet: Pressure to do what?

Fear of Finishing: Deliver! (jumps up and down) Mfff mfff!

Speed Whippet: You got some more to say there?

Fear of Finishing: Be a grown-up!

Speed Whippet: Pressure to deliver and be a grown-up?

Fear of Finishing: Yes!

Speed Whippet: What would happen if she did deliver and be a grown-up? Don’t say ‘doom’.

Fear of Finishing: Death!

Speed Whippet: Like, she wouldn’t be her any more?

Fear of Finishing: Yes! Mmmfff mmffff!

Speed Whippet: And?

Fear of Finishing: Or!

Speed Whippet: Or?

Fear of Finishing: Karoshi!

Speed Whippet: Death by overwork?

Fear of Finishing: Yes!

Speed Whippet: Okay, and what if she didn’t deliver and be a grown-up?

Fear of Finishing: Doom! Death! Shame! Regret!

Speed Whippet: Death as in death by starvation?

Fear of Finishing: Or!

Speed Whippet: Or?

Fear of Finishing: Suicide!

Speed Whippet: Wow. Really?!

Fear of Finishing: Uh…

Speed Whippet: You know she’s a lot happier now, right?

Fear of Finishing: (relaxing somewhat) Yeah.

Speed Whippet: Okay, speed rundown! You’re scared that if she finishes this work there’ll be pressure to finish ALL THE WORK and she’ll die of overwork. Or lose herself and die inside. Or fail and die of hunger and shame.

Fear of Finishing: YES!!

Speed Whippet: So you want her to not finish so nobody will think she’s capable and there’ll be no pressure.

Fear of Finishing: YES!!

Speed Whippet: Trouble is that when you stop her finishing work, she’s stuck in work. Constant work. And hunger and shame. And losing herself. All the things you want to protect her from.

Fear of Finishing: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!

Speed Whippet: Wanna hear some different possibilities?

Fear of Finishing: Please!!

Speed Whippet: What if there wasn’t pressure?

Fear of Finishing: Huh?!

Speed Whippet: Has this client put any pressure on her, even when she delivered really late?

Fear of Finishing: None!

Speed Whippet: And what if there was pressure, and she could be sovereign about it?

Fear of Finishing: Huh?

Speed Whippet: Like, ‘Oh, somebody is trying to pressure me. That’s their stuff. My stuff is coming up in response. Hello, my stuff. Let’s make a sovereign choice about what to do here because I am the king or queen of my life.’

Fear of Finishing: Wow!!

Speed Whippet: You think she could do that?

Fear of Finishing: Dunno!

Speed Whippet: Willing to let her try? As an experiment?

Fear of Finishing: Eek!

Speed Whippet: What do you need to feel safe?

Fear of Finishing: Protection!

Speed Whippet: What kind of protection?

Fear of Finishing: Um…

Speed Whippet: Protection for you, or protection for her?

Fear of Finishing: Her!

Speed Whippet: But you don’t know what kind?

Fear of Finishing: Openness!

Speed Whippet: You want her to be open with people when she’s finding things difficult? Like if she’s stuck on a piece of work, email her client and say, ‘Hello, I have this stuckness right now and this is what it means for you’?

Fear of Finishing: And!

Speed Whippet: And maybe warn people in advance if she thinks she might find a task difficult, and let them decide whether to trust her with it?

Fear of Finishing: Yes!!

Speed Whippet: Anything else?

Fear of Finishing: Life-preserver!

Speed Whippet: Like a cheery red and white rubber ring that she can wear to keep her afloat when there’s death/doom stuff coming up?

Fear of Finishing: (joyfully bouncing up and down) YES YES YES!

Speed Whippet: Would you like to give one to her?

Fear of Finishing: Yes!

Speed Whippet: Then go ahead!

(Fear of Finishing delightedly hands me a life preserver. Hugs and mild tearfulness ensue.)

Speed Whippet: All in a day’s work for SPEED WHIPPET! (dashes off)

(NB. I proceeded to share this conversation with my client, followed 40 minutes later by the finished work.)

Compulsions! They look like mogwai from Gremlins.

I’m trying to get over an internet addiction (yes, monsters, I am allowed to tell people that I have an internet addiction even though I also have difficulty replying to emails) and part of what I’m trying to do is not feed my compulsions. That is, not check the internet at the moment I get a compulsive urge to do it, because that teaches my brain that compulsions get rewarded so there should be lots of them.

So obviously, the concept of lots of proliferating things that one shouldn’t feed led me to characterise my compulsions as mogwai. You know, the fluffy little things that multiply if you get them wet and turn into gremlins if you feed them after midnight. (Actually, feeding my compulsions after midnight is a PARTICULAR problem for me.)

3 mogwai

Apparently these three are called Mohawk, George and Lenny, so that’s what we’ll call them.

I thought rather than just forcibly starve these little furballs, I’d better get their point of view and find out what they’re really trying to tell me.

(Compulsions roll into the room, squeaking, chattering and showing lots of sharp teeth.)

Compulsions: FEED US! FEED US! NOM NOM NOM!

Me: Hi, compulsions! Sounds like you’re really hungry for something.

Compulsions: EMAIL EMAIL (actually giving me a compulsion to check email)

Me: What needs does email meet for you?

Compulsions: EMAIL EMAIL EMAIL EMAIL

Me: (smiles) Okay, how does getting to check email feel for you? What kind of good things are you getting from it?

Mohawk: No uncertainty!

George: Relief!

Lenny: Knowing! CHECK EMAIL NOW BY THE WAY.

Me: I was expecting to hear something like ‘attention’ or ‘love’ or ‘validation’ -

Compulsions: ATTENTION ATTENTION

Me: Okay, so that’s a need that email meets for you too?

Mohawk: Yeah but – even if you check and there’s nothing, at least you KNOW you HAVEN’T got attention.

George: Otherwise SOMEBODY COULD BE PAYING YOU ATTENTION AND YOU WOULDN’T KNOW! AAARGH!!!

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL NOW

George: Worse! Somebody could NEED YOUR ATTENTION! AND! YOU! WOULDN’T! KNOW!

Compulsions: AAAAAAARGH!!!!! EEK EEK EEK!

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL NOOOOOWWWWW

Me: I’ll check email as soon as we’ve finished this talk, okay? Deal?

(All compulsions immediately clamp their hands over their mouths, ‘speak no evil’ style. Total silence.)

Me: I don’t mean just stop talking right now! I mean as soon as we’ve finished this talk. Do you get what it means to finish this talk?

Mohawk: To reach an agreement!

George: Yeah!

Lenny: For all of us to be happy!

George: Yeah!

Me: That works. (smiles) Are you willing to wait till that point for me to check email?

Compulsions: Eeeeerrrr….. Maybe?

Me: Okay, thank you. Let’s start talking and if it gets too difficult for you to wait, you can tell me.

Compulsions: IT’S TOO DIFFICULT FOR US TO WAIT!

Me: (laughing) Fine, I’ll check email and then we’ll finish the conversation, okay?

Compulsions: (jumping up and down) OKAY OKAY OKAY OKAY!

Me: (checks email) Nothing there but spam and people trying to write a punk Hamlet filk. Happy now?

Compulsions: (slightly unsure) Yeeeees….

Me: Any problems?

Mohawk: We are disappointed that there wasn’t email from that one person!

Me: I hear you. I get that you’re feeling disappointed. I’d just like to remind you that it’s not even 9am for her and she has a lot to think about right now, and that I know she loves me very much and I don’t need an email to prove it.

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL CHECK EMAIL. Look! You can see you’ve just received another email! CHECK IT CHECK IT!

Me: Okay, I’m not willing to do that right now because I’m feeling really concerned about how frustrated and anxious you seem and how you can’t rest for even a minute without needing me to check email.

George: We’re also disappointed that you didn’t get distracted. Then we could rest.

Me: Huh?

George: When you’re connected to the internet, it’s like uh – an umbilicus! Or a baby bottle. Being constantly fed. So we can rest.

Lenny: Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom… WANT NOMS!

Me: And what is it that you’re being constantly fed?

Mohawk: Internets!

Me: What does the internets contain?

Mohawk: Caffeine!

Me: (laughing) Okay, everyone knows the internet contains caffeine! What does that mean for you, does it energise you, keep you awake?

George: AAARGH, you got another email!

Lenny: CHECK IT CHECK IT!!

Me: Fine, I’ll check it… There, nothing important. So what’s this about caffeine?

Mohawk: A way to avoid sleep! Not just that, but a way to not need rest!

Me: Because while I’m surfing the internet, I’m in a state that’s sort-of-restful but not so embarrassingly obviously restful as, say, having a lie down?

George: Yeah!

Me: So I don’t need to deal with the fact that I need rest?

George: Yeah!

Me: Thing is, surfing the internet isn’t adequately meeting my rest needs. It’s like living on rice or porridge, you get to a point where you can stuff and stuff and stuff on it and you’re still constantly hungry because you’re not getting any vitamins or protein. Anyway, why are you protecting me from needing rest?

Compulsions: Uh….

Me: You don’t know?

Mohawk: Because you seem to get upset when you need rest. We don’t really know why.

Me: Actually, I’ve made a lot of progress in that area recently, and I’m going to be talking to my rest monsters some more today. I can handle this, I don’t need you to protect me from needing rest. Besides, constantly being online actually puts me in a state of constantly needing rest.

George: Oh no, we’re those kinds of monsters?

Me: Yeah, your protecting me from needing rest is leading to me needing a lot of rest.

Compulsions: SORRY SORRY SORRY!

Me: It’s okay! I get the feeling that there’s more to you than that, though. What else does the internet contain?

Lenny: Not having to think. Whatever you’re in pain about, you don’t have to think about it when you’re online.

Me: What if I’m in pain about being online?

Lenny: Make candybar dolls! [An online game.] That will even numb the pain of being in pain about being online!

Me: This is kind of like the drunkard in ‘The Little Prince’ who drank to forget that he was ashamed of drinking.

Lenny: Well, it’s a reasonable strategy.

Me: The thing is that a lot of my pain comes from not doing things, and a lot of my not-doing-things comes from being online. So your protecting me from being in pain is leading to a lot more pain.

Lenny: THAT’S WHY YOU HAVE TO BE ONLINE ALL THE TIME SO YOU CAN IGNORE IT!!!

Me: I can tell that you’re really concerned about this. The thing is that I’m not able to ignore it all the time. It still hurts. And if I get offline and face a little bit of pain in the short term, I can have a lot less pain in the long term.

Compulsions: WHAT IS THIS LONG TERM OF WHICH YOU SPEAK!

Me: It’s the short term tomorrow. It’s right now in five minutes. Or a week. Or a year.

Compulsions: DOES NOT COMPUTE… DOES NOT COMPUTE…

Lenny: YOU GOT ANOTHER EMAIL, CHECK IT!!

Me: (does so) Still just talking about Hamlet filks. I’m getting that you are not long-term creatures. You need a need to be met NOW, always.

Compulsions: YES YES YES!

Me: And right now it seems that the things you want for me are rest (of a kind that doesn’t upset me) and relief from pain. So maybe when I have a compulsion I could try meditating or praying.

Mohawk: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ATTENTION! And the play! WHAT ABOUT THE PLAY!

Lenny: YOU GOT ANOTHER ONE CHECK IT CHECK IT

Me: Okay, I’m checking this one, but then let’s not check any more for five minutes so we can sort this out sooner. Okay?

Lenny: NO YOU HAVE TO CHECK ALL OF THEM OR WE’RE NOT TALKING.

Me: I’m feeling uncomfortable and frustrated about that because I need to know I have some sovereignty here.

Lenny:… Fine, five minutes.

Me: Thank you! So, attention and play?

Mohawk: Yes, internetting is a form of rest-play. It’s something you can do that’s not ‘because you should’.

Me: Right, so you also want me to experience play and freedom from shoulds. So when I get a compulsion I could also try goofing off in another way. Doodling on my whiteboard perhaps.

George: Oh, HOURS OF FUN. Why don’t you just play with a jack-in-the box? Open the box… shut the box. Open the box… shut the box. WHAT FUN!!!

Me: I’m hearing that you don’t find non-internetty things any fun!

George: I’ll admit that they could be fun, but where else can you find such infinite variety of input?

Me: In my own mind.

George: Okay, then do a proper creative project, but with permission to do it badly or not finish it. Or make stuff up in your head. Something you actually WANT to do, not some fake displacementy boring thing. Or read something or watch something.

Me: You’d be happy for me to do that? Because I’ve just realised that my internet addiction means I don’t have time to play properly! To do things I really WANT to do!

George: I’d be happy for you to do that sometimes, but not all the time because there’s still the attention thing.

Me: Thank you!! Okay, the attention thing. It seems like you’re really keen for my attention needs to be met, and for me to meet the attention needs of others.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES

Lenny: BY THE WAY CHECK EMAIL

Me: Okay… I’m confused. You’re obviously genuinely very concerned about this attention thing, and yet I’m noticing that even with all this time online, I’m still way behind on replying to most of my emails. In fact, I could have replied to a lot more if I hadn’t been so busy compulsively surfing, checking, and re-reading existing emails. It seems like you really care about me checking, but not so much about me replying?

Compulsions: Uuuuhhhhh…

Lenny: CHECK THE FLOOP

Me: (does so) Oh, I got comments. That feels good because now I know that people care.

Mohawk: This is the point! To know that people care!

Me: Are you feeling worried that I don’t know I’m loved? That I need reminding?

Mohawk: WELL, CLEARLY.

Me: So if I can find other ways to remind myself that I’m loved, and to give myself love, will that help with the need to check?

Mohawk: Not really because there’s still OTHER PEOPLE’S attention needs and what if there’s a crisis? WHAT IF THERE’S A CRISIS? What if someone you love is crying and heartbroken because YOU WEREN’T THERE WHEN YOU WERE NEEDED?

George: You see, every second you’re not checking email, THAT COULD BE HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!

Lenny: Every second you’re not checking, YOU COULD BE MAKING SOMEONE CRY! EVERY SECOND!

Me: You all sound really freaked out and panicked.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES YES!

Me: You all want a cuddle?

Compulsions: AAAAAAAAH (diving on me)

Me: (cuddling the compulsion pile) Okay, guys. It’s okay. This is from then. This is from a time when someone genuinely did want my attention every second. That is not happening now. None of the friends I have now would want me to be constantly tied to the internet looking after them, they want me to have my own life, even if that means they sometimes spend some time crying because I wasn’t online.

Mohawk: …For reals?!?!

Me: Yes, for reals!

Mohawk: BUT YOU WOULD STILL BE SO GUILTY! Even if they didn’t mind, YOU would mind!!

Me: Sounds like you’re desperate to protect me from guilt.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES! And sadness! Sadness for other people’s pain!

Me: You really suffered back then, didn’t you? You don’t ever want to feel that bad again.

Compulsions: YES WE DID! NO WE DON’T!

Me: Would it help if I told you that things are very different now because I have more sovereignty, and I would never allow myself to get into that bad a guilt situation now? Because I know I’m not responsible for the happiness of others.

Compulsions: Huh?!

Me: Yeah, I always had a choice. I could have ALWAYS said, ‘Hey, it’s not okay to expect myself to give attention every second. I don’t need to feel guilty for not doing that.’ I could have ALWAYS said, ‘I’m not willing to give you attention every second, can we talk about other ways to meet your needs?’ It was always between me and me! It was my guilt about my relationship with me and I don’t have to have that guilt any more!

Compulsions: Whoa. Um… whoa.

(They huddle together and talk compulsion language for a few seconds.)

Mohawk: Okay. We’re willing to try to stop pushing you so hard to check email, but only if you’re willing to try to stop guilting yourself, because we feel awful when you do that.

Me: Wow, thank you! I’m definitely willing. And you can help.

Mohawk: How?

Me: When you feel like talking to me, talk to me. But instead of saying ‘CHECK EMAIL CHECK EMAIL’ tell me all the qualities you want for me, like – what’s the opposite of guilt?

Mohawk: Permission!

George: Sovereignty!

Lenny: A clear conscience!

Me: All good! And what are those other qualities you were talking about?

Mohawk: Rest!

George: Play!

Lenny: Comfort!

Mohawk: Freedom!

George: Attention!

Lenny: Love!

Me: All things I would love to be reminded to give myself. So are you up for that? When you feel like talking to me, are you willing to shout those qualities in my ear?

Compulsions: (bouncing up and down) YES YES YES YES!

Me: Thank you!

(group hug)

BY THE WAY, EVERYBODY – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A Beautiful Skeleton Made of Swords

Warning: Eating disorder triggers and incredibly harsh monster opinions about fat people. I would like it on record that I strongly disagree with my monster’s opinions on this subject.

I’ve recently been dealing with a monster who refused to let me force myself to do anything. Now meet the monster who believed passionately in nothing but forcing.

This started as a conversation about maybe losing weight in a non-forcing, physically and mentally healthy way for the first time in my life. It ended up being about much more than weight, and one of the most challenging monster talks I’ve had. Every time we thought we’d almost got it resolved, something else would come up. Both Big Sister and Mr. H were flummoxed several times and kept tag-teaming in and out. We got there in the end. :)

(This monster is a beautiful skeleton made of dazzling swords, hovering on razor-feathered wings. Eyes like points of pale blue fire. A heart of cogs turning silently somewhere in the ribcage. Feet that never touch the ground.

I need Mr. H here so much I can’t even.)

Mr. H: Wow. Hey there, Terminator. (Silence) Okay, sorry. You’re not a Terminator. Who are you?

Skeleton: (a voice like steel singing) I am perfection. Absolute purity. Absolute strength.

Mr. H: Well, hi. So you’ve got some problems with Eve losing weight without forcing?

Skeleton: Pure strength of will. Everything she yearns for. To become herself her sword.

Mr. H: For you, forcing is beautiful, isn’t it?

Skeleton: Beautiful because pure. Perfection is what remains when everything else has been cut away. Beautiful because strong. Pure power. Absolute control. The beauty of a black sky full of stars. Pure blackness. Dazzling light.

Mr. H: And what do you mean by becoming herself her sword?

Skeleton: Somewhere in her body is a steel blade. By unearthing it from the flesh, she becomes worthy to wield it.

Mr. H: Man, I love the way you talk! Still not sure I get what it means, though. You’re saying that – losing weight for her is a fairytale quest? To prove her worthiness and find her sword? And when she’s thin, her body will be a weapon? Something that gives her power?

Skeleton: Yes…

Mr. H: I don’t see her as that kinda girl.

Skeleton: Ssssss! Not that kind of power! Not feminine, not fleshly! And not only power, but worth.

Mr. H: Someone who’s worthy to wield a sword is a warrior.

Skeleton: You understand.

Mr. H: Yes. So what you want is for her to be a warrior.

Skeleton: (distressed) She needs her sword. She needs her sword.

Mr. H: Uh – are you gonna smack me down if I mention Freud here?

Skeleton: Not of the flesh! Of the will!

Mr. H: You believe she has a strong will that she needs to find, and you desperately need to know she’ll find it.

Skeleton: Yes!

Mr. H: Because you’re worried that she doesn’t have enough power and self-worth and – nobility right now.

Skeleton. Strength and nobility. Yes.

Mr. H: Oh. This is an Utena thing. Swords, of course. Little one who -

Skeleton: Little one who bears up alone under such deep sorrow, never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up. But she lost it. She lost it under flesh. And I need her to find it again.

Mr. H: You think she lost her strength and nobility when she grew up. And you think that because she lost it ‘under flesh’, because she lost it when she grew, in order to find it she needs to get rid of the flesh.

Skeleton: Yes. And the quest will make her worthy. The journey will make her worthy of what awaits her at the end. This is an old, old story.

Mr. H: Oh, I know. You believe that deep down she’s a hero. That’s wonderful. She needs that. I’m just not sure about this question of ‘worthy’. What is it that makes you think she’s unworthy now?

Skeleton: You know that. A hero is not a hero at the beginning. You know that. A hero becomes a hero. Because of the journey.

Mr. H: You’re making so much sense as long as I forget you’re talking about dieting!

Skeleton: (eyes flare) This… is not… a diet. This is holy. This is everything. This is purification.

Mr. H: The Road of Trials. You want her to be purified by suffering. All the things she doesn’t need stripped away. Wait, but stripping away things she doesn’t need is good! That’s healthy. She could really use a sword to cut away the crap.

Skeleton: I am not for cutting crap.

Mr H: You – are her sword?

Skeleton: Yes! Why do you think I look like this? I am the sword that lives inside her!

Mr. H: Wow. Okay, so for you, the quality of will – or the qualities of strength and nobility - are associated with her skeleton. Wait, her skeleton actually does give her strength! Like, literally! And it doesn’t matter how much flesh is on top of it, it still does that! And it gives her nobility, because it allows her to stand up straight. To have backbone. To hold her head up high. And all those things have nothing to do with how much flesh she has either! It doesn’t need finding. It’s supposed to be inside her. It’s already doing its job right where it is!

Skeleton: I… am already doing my job? She doesn’t have to strip away her flesh to find me?

Mr. H: No, she doesn’t! What made you think that she’d lost you?

Skeleton: One day she realised she was weak and cowardly. She had always casually assumed that she was strong and brave, but looking back at her behaviour, she saw so much grovelling and fear. So much hiding and cringing and pleasing and avoiding. All since she started to grow up.

Mr. H: Strong and weak, brave and cowardly are static generalisations. Sure, the qualities of strength and nobility exist, but nobody embodies them all the time. And everyone gets to draw on them sometimes. What Eve noticed was that she’d been acting out of fear a lot. Which is understandable because she had a lot of fear!!

Skeleton: I WILL NOT BE REDUCED TO YOUR PETTY PSYCHOBABBLE! I AM A SWORD!

Mr. H: Sounds like you’re angry and you need to know that your identity isn’t threatened.

Skeleton: …I’m confused. I don’t know what to think.

Mr. H: Is there something that you’re scared of thinking?

Skeleton: That it’s easy. I want her to work for me. She needs a quest!

Mr. H: Oh, you need to know that she has a quest? Oh my goodness, she has so got a quest. Have you looked at her lately?

Skeleton: A noble cause. One that calls for strength.

Mr. H: She has one.

Skeleton: I suppose being thin – does call for strength, but it isn’t really – noble.

Mr. H: Wow.

Skeleton: But then I can’t imagine a fat person being noble.

Mr. H: (briefly gobsmacked) How about Kevin Smith sticking by Jason Mewes through years of drug addiction? Or Fiddler’s Green in Sandman offering his life for Rose Walker?

Skeleton: Any noble fat women?

Mr. H: The Ride of the Valkyries! Warrior angels of the Viking gods!

Skeleton: (head tilt) Don’t let me fall apart! (collapses in bits)

Mr. H: Hey. Hey. None of that. Get up. You’re needed.

Skeleton: (puts self back together, staggers to feet – standing on the ground now) I am?

Mr. H: You’re her sword. And you don’t need to await her at the end of the journey. Think about it. A sword isn’t something to be arrived at when the journey’s over. It’s something to help you on the way.

Skeleton: Unless it’s the Sword in the Stone.

Mr. H: Even if it is. Especially if it is. C’mon, that was the beginning of an epic story!

Skeleton: I still have a strong sense of being stuck in something that I need to get out of. That she needs to undo what was done while she was growing up.

Mr. H: Of course! Stuck! She needs to undo her stuckness! And it’s true that once she’s done that, she’ll be able to experience you much more freely. And it’s true that a lot of her stuckness is around her body, so it’s understandable that you thought it was her body.

Skeleton: Yes! I want her to overcome this so that we can be reunited!

Mr. H: You’re already as much part of her as her bones. Strength. Nobility. Power. In her bones.

Skeleton: …

Mr. H: And if you keep telling her she has to work to achieve those things, she will never notice that she already has them.

Skeleton: I’ve been… keeping her from me?

Mr. H: No. You’ve just been keeping her from noticing that you’re already there.

Skeleton: What can I do? Do I have to change my shape?

Mr. H: No. You’re perfect as you are.

Skeleton: Perfect…

Mr. H: You’re a perfect image of the truth. That she has power in her bones. Backbone of steel. That her power is always in her. Just remind her of that. Teach her to feel the steel in her bones. Strength and nobility and all those fairytale qualities she’s been longing for. Right there. Not to be earned, just noticed. And the more she practices noticing them, the better she’ll get at it.

Skeleton: She doesn’t have to qualify? She doesn’t have to have worth?

Mr. H: Her worry that she wasn’t worth anything was a lot of what stopped her noticing you in the first place.

Skeleton: Oh, no. My fault. But – somehow things don’t seem so good if they don’t have to be earned and chased. The best thing is always just out of reach. By definition. That’s fairytale yearning. Always in thrall most to anything almost. I don’t want her to stop dreaming the impossible dream. I don’t want her to settle for the possible. I want her to shoot for the moon.

Mr. H: I get that. I really do. Does it have to be all or nothing? I mean, while she’s chasing the impossible, can she still enjoy the possible?

Skeleton: I hadn’t thought of that. For me, chasing the impossible means cutting everything else away. Scorning everything else. Being haggard and wild like Don Quixote because you spurn the earth in your impossible quest for the moon. Infinity is so damn sweet, your mortal earth cannot compete. Starving for the other shore, I will not EAT! (Pause) It isn’t really about not eating, is it? It’s about refusing everything but what you can’t have. So the thing you can’t have can stand out all the more starkly in its impossible brilliance. So your dream will be more beautiful than everyone else’s. You strip yourself to rags and your dreams become diamonds. It’s impossible, but at least I’m striving for it! At least I’m closer than you! Go ahead and grovel like pigs in the things you can have. I eat the air, promise-crammed!

Mr. H: You’re right. That’s clearly what it’s about. And I have no idea what to say to that. Backup! Backup!

Skeleton: The nature of a sword is to be always seeking the next battle.

Mr. H: Yeah, but not to scorn all the less good battles because you’re saving yourself for the one impossible best one!

Big Sister: Okay, okay. The impossible dream. It sounds to me like you want to be the impossible dream for her. Which makes sense, because you’re a beautiful, powerful skeleton. That’s the anorexic impossible dream right there. You want her to give up everything that’s not you so she’ll become you. A being of pure power, without flaws or vulnerability.

Skeleton: YES!!

Big Sister: And yet you also acknowledge that that’s impossible.

Skeleton: …Yes.

Big Sister: I’m confused. You obviously love her very much, and you want her to give up everything to spend her whole life striving for the impossible.

Skeleton: …It’s just that she’s so beautiful when she’s striving! So noble! If I had tears, I would weep! Never tell me to be unmoved by this. Never tell me to accept less for her. I am her Will!

Big Sister: I understand. And the striving needs to be only for the impossible?

Skeleton: She’s so much herself when she’s striving for the impossible. So absurd it’s noble, so noble it’s absurd. Quixotic. I want her always to be quixotic.

Big Sister: (smiles) Okay. I see that. And does that depend on her striving only for the impossible?

Skeleton: If she gets too distracted by possible things, she might become – satisfied. Sssss! Satisfied!

Big Sister: Sounds like you’re really scared of that possibility. What might happen if she became satisfied?

Skeleton: She would stop striving and become a fat boring grown-up. More than that, it’s intrinsically disgusting. Satisfied! I need her to be always hungry!

Big Sister: You need to know that her needs won’t be met?

Skeleton: … Yes. All the little needs are too petty, too distracting. And the one great need that obliterates all else must be impossible. To become a beautiful skeleton. To become a being of pure willpower.

Big Sister: A being capable of forcing herself to do absolutely anything?

Skeleton: Yes.

Big Sister: Is there some kind of meta-need that you’re trying to meet for her, by having all her other needs not be met?

Mr. H: Meta-need! If you never met a need, then you might meet her meta-need! (chuckles)

Big Sister: (suppressed giggle) If you can’t say anything useful…

(Skeleton quietly starts hovering in the air again.)

Big Sister: Are you trying to meet her need for hope and challenge?

Skeleton: For extreme, transcendent, all-consuming… oh.

Big Sister: Are you short of a noun?

Skeleton: Yes.

Big Sister: You’re trying to meet her need for extreme, transcendent, all-consuming something but you don’t really know or care what?

Skeleton: You make it sound as if it’s not important. It is ALL-important. She needs to transcend and to be consumed. To the absolute extreme.

Big Sister: You’re trying to meet her need for spiritual experience? Loss of ego? To lose herself in something greater?

Skeleton: Oh. Yes, I guess the impossible dream is a… partial recognition of the truth that infinity is out there. That there’s always more. That you can always go further into it. So the impossible dream is really about.. infinite possibility?

Big Sister: Yes. And I think the word you’re missing there is ‘love’.

Skeleton: Extreme, transcendent, all-consuming – love?

Big Sister: Would that describe what you want? For Eve?

Skeleton: (long pause) I’m not sure. Passion, certainly. And desire. Unquenchable desire. I need her to be always striving! That’s why I’m terrified about this business of ‘not forcing herself any more’!

Big Sister: Because forcing and striving are the same?

Skeleton: Forcing is a part without which striving is incomplete. Striving can be done with wholehearted enthusiasm, or it can be done with gritted teeth and fists clenched in pain. Or any point in between. In fact, striving that comes from pure enthusiasm with no forcing is the smallest part. To strive only when you feel like it would be like having a dog and only ever touching its tail.

Big Sister: That would be a sad, lonely, frustrated and confused dog.

Skeleton: YES!!

Big Sister: Are you feeling sad, lonely, frustrated and confused?

Skeleton: Yes!

Big Sister: Because you need appreciation for all aspects of you, not just one small part?

Skeleton: Yes!

Big Sister: And for her to appreciate all aspects of you – she would have to power through every situation on pure willpower, regardless of her other needs, and then she would achieve total oneness with you?

Skeleton: Yes!

Big Sister: Because – wait, isn’t that the definition of pure willpower? ‘Screw all my other needs, I am going to meet this one need no matter what!’ That’s you!

Skeleton: Yes, yes, yes!

Big Sister: …Whew. Now I need backup.

Mr. H: So how’s that working out for you?

Skeleton: What?

Mr. H: Insisting that she ignore most of her own needs. Wait, is that how you define strength and nobility? The power to ignore your own needs?

Skeleton: YES, HOW IS THAT NOT OBVIOUS?

Mr H: Wow.

Skeleton: To ignore your base, petty needs in favour of a greater need. Come on, this is textbook. I can’t believe I need to explain to you about heroes.

Mr. H: Okay. Yeah. Okay. Backup.

Big Sister: Okay! Other ways to approach the same thing! We have this crazy theory that if there’s a greater need that you really want to meet, you can meet it better, faster, stronger by meeting all the little needs you meet along the way! And that’s fairytale too! When you run into the ugly old woman who begs you for a loaf of bread, and if you help her she gives you magical guidance? When you save the little fish who rewards you with wishes? All the little needs along the way!

Skeleton: But those are – others. Needs of others. Not internal.

Big Sister: A true hero is a hero to everyone, right? No creature too insignificant, too ugly, or too small.

Skeleton: Yes.

Big Sister: Then a true hero must also be a hero to herself. To stop on the road for this creature that seems the most hideous of all, the most worthless. It takes true nobility! True strength. The power in her bones!

(The skeleton can’t cry, but I am.)

Big Sister: She needs you every moment. She needs her sword.

Skeleton: Yes… But won’t she become satisfied? If her needs are met, won’t she stop striving and become just a disgusting lump of flesh?

Big Sister: Let’s see if I can get this straight. As far as I can see, you’re trying to keep her striving by using self-disgust.

Skeleton: Yes.

Big Sister: The thing is, self-disgust is one of the most stuckifying substances known to science.

Mr. H: Like I said – how’s it working out for you? Are you getting a lot of results? Is she striving a lot?

Skeleton: No. Not now. But it has worked in the past. She – she got really – thin. (Pause) Why can’t it work like that now?

Mr. H: It might have worked in the short term, but not in the long term. Especially not now she’s growing and learning so much. She wants to chase her dreams. She’s really into the infinite possibilities. She doesn’t need the self-disgust. It’s just slowing her down.

Skeleton: Slowing her down? But I’m putting so much force into motivating her!

Mr. H: Self-disgust doesn’t motivate her. I’m sorry.

Skeleton: (eyes flare, lightning crackles) AAAARGH!

Big Sister: I’m going to ask you to do something very counterintuitive. Stop trying so hard. She doesn’t need you to put force into motivating her. She just needs to know you’re there. Her sword. In her bones. That’s enough.

Skeleton: That’s enough?

Big Sister: That’s everything. Try it for a while, see if it works. Are you willing?

(long pause)

Skeleton: Let her come to me.

Big Sister: Eve? Are you okay to come out here?

Me: (slightly nervous) Yes.

(I step out in front of the beautiful skeleton hovering on its razor wings. I look up into those eyes. I’m awed and afraid.)

Skeleton: Do not be afraid. I am your skeleton. I am your sword.

Me: I’m ready.

Skeleton: I am your power. I am your strength and nobility. Embrace me.

(I hesitate. It is, after all, made of swords. Sharp blades.)

Skeleton: The power to revolutionise the world.

(That does it. Slowly, I step forward, touch the bladed ribs, put my arms around the skeleton, unharmed. And the skeleton embraces me. For a second I think it’s sinking to the ground, then I realise I’m rising into the air. Weightless. Its wings beating around me. I’m crying.)

Me: I love you. My sword. My sword.

(The skeleton lets me go and I’m turning in the air, the skeleton behind me. I close my eyes and I know to lift my arms up, outstretched, I know the skeleton is doing the same, and we merge. My wings of sparkling steel are beating in the air. I let myself sink slowly to the ground, let the wings fold into me and open my eyes. I start to grin because I know my eyes are burning with blue fire. My sword is in my bones.)

Secret Diet Ninja and Gender Monster

Warning! Potentially triggery for weight stuff!

The other day I had an amazing talk with a beautiful skeleton made of swords. It had to do with maybe losing weight in a physically and mentally healthy way for the first time in my life. I’d really like to blog it, but Secret Diet Ninja has a problem with that. Nobody can know I’m trying to lose weight!

Secret Diet Ninja kind of looks like Zhang Ziyi.

I’m attempting to do this by myself because I want to give my headcast a break after the exhausting time they had with the skeleton made of swords.

Me: Hi there. I hear you really want to keep this weight-loss thing secret.

Secret Diet Ninja: Yes! If people know, they’ll freak out!

Me: Why?

Secret Diet Ninja: Because they’ll assume you’re going back into your eating disorder and want to save you from yourself! They’ll have a million concerns and pieces of advice and suggestions and questions and you’ll either crumple under the pressure or lash out and hurt people! Nobody will trust you to do this in a healthy way because you’ve never given them any evidence that you can! And even if they do, they still won’t accept it because you can have health at every size and the only reason to lose weight is to conform to the patriarchal beauty standard or to avoid dealing with your internal-sexist body issues, both of which make you a bad feminist! Also, you will be insulting all the fat people you love!

Me: So you don’t want me to lose weight?

Secret Diet Ninja: No, I totally want you to lose weight. I just want you to keep it secret so you can’t be hurt by all this pressure. Remember how horrible it was then? When you had people crying and raging and threatening and begging you to eat, and the only way to resist was to become like stone and tell yourself nothing mattered but being thin? I don’t think you’re capable of doing that any more.

Me: No, I wouldn’t want to.

Secret Diet Ninja: So you’re completely vulnerable to them!

Me: Now is not then. People behaved like that because I was starving myself, not eating a sensible healthy diet.

Secret Diet Ninja: Yes, but some of your friends remember that time and will get all of their stuff triggered and will be incredibly worried about you!

Me: If that happens, I think I’ll be capable of remembering that that’s their stuff.

SDN. Bollocks. You’re terrified.

Me: And that’s my stuff coming up in response to their putative stuff. I’m also capable of remembering that.

Secret Diet Ninja: I just don’t want you to go through all this pain! And what about all the feminist stuff? You actually have no comeback to those arguments! See, this is just like then because losing weight is still a shameful wrong thing that has to be done in secret!

Me: I do have a comeback. I have the feminist beliefs that everyone has a right to do what they want to with their own bodies, and that it’s not okay to shame a woman just for doing a patriarchy-approved thing, because maybe she wants to do it for her.

Secret Diet Ninja: I still don’t think you’d last five minutes against a real feminist with real political opinions and knowledge. You’d be backed against a wall squealing in protest and begging them to please stop saying the scary words.

Me: That was verging on shoe-throwing. You just implied that I’m not a real feminist and I don’t have any real political opinions or knowledge. Please talk to me in a way that I can hear.

Secret Diet Ninja: I’m really worried that they’re going to scare you.

Me: (nods, feeling a rush of affection for her) I hear you.

Secret Diet Ninja: So you promise me you won’t say anything? I mean, if you just tell everyone that you’re giving up sugar and following a hypoglycemic diet for your mental health, they’ll never suspect anything! And you can say you’re going vegan too!

Me: Well, all of those are things I might be interested in doing for real. I’m uncomfortable with using them as a way to lie to my friends. Also, there’s going to be a lot of really interesting monster-talk material that I can’t publish on my blog unless I’m honest about the fact that I’m losing weight. Which is a problem because I need things to publish and I think people might find this stuff helpful.

Secret Diet Ninja: It’s simply not worth it for the emotional agony you’re going to go through.

Me: Would you be willing to listen to a list of things I could potentially do to make this easier on you?

Secret Diet Ninja: Okay. I’ll listen, but it’s not going to work.

Me: I could read up on feminist perspectives that allow for weight loss -

Secret Diet Ninja: There won’t be any.

Me: I think that’s unlikely, but if you’re right, I’ll make some up.

Secret Diet Ninja: They’ll suck because it’s impossible to be a feminist and lose weight. You will basically be a walking statement that women are not allowed their bodies. Opening your mouth and trying to contradict that will make you a walking joke.

Me: Ouch. I have lots of pain-from-then around the concept of being a walking joke. From a time when I talked a lot about high ideals and massively betrayed them.

Secret Diet Ninja: That is exactly what you’ll be doing if you talk about feminist ideals while losing weight!

Me: I don’t know where you’ve got this. This is not my idea of feminism.

Secret Diet Ninja: Yes it bloody well is!

Me: YOU KNOW WHAT, FUCK THIS BECAUSE I AM NOT A WOMAN! (deep breath) Whoa. Whoa, gender monster on board. Hi, gender monster.

Gender Monster: WHY ARE YOU LISTENING TO THIS CRAP ABOUT WOMEN’S BODIES THIS AND WOMEN’S BODIES THAT WHEN YOUR BODY IS NOT A WOMAN’S BECAUSE IT BELONGS TO YOU!!

Me: Hold on a sec. (To Secret Diet Ninja) I’m sorry. It looks like something urgent has come up here. Would you be willing to take a break while I deal with this?

Secret Diet Ninja: Sure, but promise me you’ll come back to me so we can finish our conversation.

Me: Of course.

(Secret Diet Ninja spins around and melts into the shadows)

Gender Monster: UGH UGH UGH THERE IS A WHOLE OTHER CAN OF WORMS HERE!

Me: It’s okay, you don’t need to shout. I’m listening.

Gender Monster: If you make this public you’ll have to have a million conversations about you as a woman and your womanly woman’s body and the political implications of what a freaking woman you are! And all of your gender stuff will be triggered so horribly you might as well be fat!

Me: Oof. Okay. You know what, I’m done making this hard for myself. Backup!

(Mr. H and Big Sister skid onto the scene cartoon-style.)

Mr. H: We thought you’d never ask!

Me: (laughing) Thanks, guys!

Big Sister: Soooo. Hi, by the way. So you believe that if Eve has a conversation about feminism and losing weight, she has to have it from the point of view that she’s a woman?

Gender Monster: Yes, because it’s not like she’s got a coherent genderqueer identity that she can actually assert instead. She’s not trans-anything, she’s just… all over everything.

Big Sister: How is that not an identity?

Gender Monster: Well, she’s not ready to pick a label for it. And she’s also quite shy and embarrassed about it and not sure she has a right to it, and worried that people will disapprove of her for denying she’s a woman. So yeah.

Big Sister: So it doesn’t sound like you think she has to talk about herself as a woman, just that she’s scared not to.

Gender Monster: Yeah. And it hurts her every time she does, and I want to protect her from that by making sure she doesn’t have the conversation. And I have a huge investment in her losing weight because that means her body will feel more like the genderfree, anything-you-want-to-be zone that her spirit is. And she’ll feel better in male or androgynous or gendersilly outifts and she’ll dress up more and I really want that for her!

Big Sister: So even though you came in here screaming at that ninja, you’re actually on the same side. You both really want Eve to lose the weight, you just don’t want her to talk about it.

Gender Monster: Yes.

Big Sister: Because you believe she’ll be forced to talk about it in ways that are painful for her.

Gender Monster: Yes.

Secret Diet Ninja: (silently reappearing) Yep.

Big Sister: Okay! I think it’s time for- ‘The Big List Of Ways That Eve Can Be A Sovereign Being And Not Get Forced To Talk About Painful Body Stuff!’ Ready?

Gender Monster/Secret Diet Ninja: Ready.

Big Sister: Okay. She can state her needs clearly up front. She can give people empathy for their worries, and reassurance that she’s going to do this healthily, and then explain that because of her eating disorder history, she has Ludicrous Fear Popcorn of being pressured to eat or questioned about what she is or isn’t eating, and she needs to feel absolutely safe from this. She can state that she doesn’t want advice, suggestions, or questions about her eating behaviour or the motives behind it.

Secret Diet Ninja: What if people want to talk about why she doesn’t want to talk about it?

Big Sister: She can say she also doesn’t want questions about her need for safety.

Secret Diet Ninja: What if people are desperate to be heard and furious at being silenced? What if they respect her needs on the internet and then bring it up face-to-face when she’s even more vulnerable?

Big Sister: Well, she could pre-empt that by saying, ‘If you’re very concerned and really need to be heard, please tell me your concerns in a medium that isn’t real-time and doesn’t require a response, e.g. email rather than chat or face to face.’

Secret Diet Ninja: That would be just about okay as long as there was absolute permission not to respond. But what if people still bring up concerns in chat or face-to-face? She can’t just order people to behave a certain way and expect that they’ll all follow it! What if they don’t want to? What if they forget? What if there’s some complicated food-eating situation where they can’t not mention it?

Big Sister: Would it be a problem if they just mentioned it? Like, ‘oh yeah, you’re trying to lose weight’ with no judgement implied?

Secret Diet Ninja: No, no problem at all. It would just be a huge, terrible, colossal problem if she felt she had to justify or defend herself.

Big Sister: Okay, that brings me to a really important point. She doesn’t have to justify or defend herself. Ever.

Secret Diet Ninja: Really? Because that’s 90% of what I’m terrified about. What does she do if she’s on the spot and someone asks her a probing, challenging question with a tone of obvious disapproval or urgent concern?

Big Sister: She can say, ‘I get that you’re not happy’ or ‘I appreciate that you care’ and then, ‘I’m not going to justify or defend myself. I’m feeling terrified right now because my eating disorder triggers are going off and I really need to feel safe. Would you be willing to change the subject?’

Secret Diet Ninja: What if they refuse?

Big Sister: She can suggest they email her about it later, or she can say, ‘If you’re not willing to change the subject, I’m going to need to leave this conversation.’

Secret Diet Ninja: What if they accuse her of being a coward and ducking the question because she can’t admit they’re right?

Big Sister: She doesn’t have to justify or defend herself. If people start throwing shoes like that, she has absolute permission to just focus on getting herself safe.

Secret Diet Ninja: What if she accuses herself of being a coward?

Big Sister: We’ll have a talk with the You’re a Coward Monster.

Secret Diet Ninja: Wow, you really have an answer to everything.

Gender Monster: What if she tells people she’s losing weight because of gender, and they react by telling her how to do gender? Like, ‘Weight shouldn’t have any effect on how androgynous you feel.’

Big Sister: If someone is telling her how to do gender, she’s well within her rights to say, ‘Don’t tell me how to do gender’!

Gender Monster: She wouldn’t say that. It’s too confrontational.

Big Sister: Then she could say, ‘I guess everyone’s different. This is my experience of my gender and it definitely is like this for me.’ (Long pause) Any more what-ifs?

Secret Diet Ninja: What if people are angry with her for thinking they might react badly when she should know they would never do that?

Big Sister: She can explain to them that she knows that really and she appreciates it, she just has a ton of Ludicrous Fear Popcorn. And that this isn’t about them, this is between her and her. (Long pause) Anything else?

Secret Diet Ninja: Nope.

Gender Monster: All done here too.

Big Sister: Great! Next question: are we okay to tell the world by blogging this conversation?

Gender Monster: Bleh. Don’t wanna think about that now. Too tired.

Secret Diet Ninja: Yeah, that’s a question for another time. Let’s leave that for now. We need a rest.

Big Sister: Okay, bye! And thank you!

Needless to say, we did decide to blog this conversation. :) And I had SO MANY revelations in the wake of it.

Like the fact that my Ludicrous Fear Popcorn of being argued out of things goes back to early childhood, when it was totally rational and legitimate to assume that I was doomed to lose an argument against adults on whom I depended for survival.

And the fact that I’ve had a label for my gender since forever. It’s ‘silver‘. This is my birth gender. And the fact that it doesn’t explain anything is perfect.

Sad Rage Basset

Sad Rage Basset is sad! And full of rage!

Basset Hound Zazzle card
Card Image from Zazzle

Recently I’ve been filled with rage at doing anything at all that wasn’t exactly what I felt like doing in that moment. This rage attached itself to my current obsession with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I just wanted to throw off all responsibility and run away to the stars, or failing that, get very drunk.

I DEFINITELY needed one or two members of my headcast to act as negotiators on this one. Mr. H is my go-to guy for dealing with fierce, angry monsters, and also the one who’s best at getting through to me when I’m in a horrible mood, for reasons I have yet to understand. So this happened.

Mr. H: So, we’re gonna talk to some rage. That’s cool (cracks knuckles) I’m good at talking to rage. Hiiiii, rage!

(A very large and dismal basset-hound-thing appears)

Sad Rage Basset: (slumps on ground) …Bleurgh. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction.

Mr. H: You’re huh?

Sad Rage Basset: You want me to come in here all huge and screaming so you can amusingly defy me. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction.

Mr. H: (smiles) That’s okay. This isn’t really about me getting to do my comedy turn. This is about finding out what makes you tick.

Sad Rage Basset: I don’t tick. I’m too angry to tick. I – what’s a much angrier noise than tick?

Mr. H: (mad eyes) GrrRRrrRrrrrr!

Sad Rage Basset: (disarmed, almost-laughter turning into almost-tears) Oh God everything sucks.

Mr. H: (sitting down next to Sad Rage Basset on the ground) Wanna tell me about it?

Sad Rage Basset: (plonks its head on his lap) Okay. But you won’t be able to fix it.

Mr. H: You know what’s funny? You sound a bit like Marvin. I mean, I was expecting a bit of Ford here. All the wanderlust and wanting to just get drunk and goof off with no responsibilities. But what I’m hearing sounds more like a depressed robot.

Sad Rage Basset: Depressed definitely. Robot, kind of what I’m fighting. I mean, not that I’m fighting robots -

Mr. H: That would be cool! I’d pay money to see a giant basset hound fight robots!

Sad Rage Basset: (rolls a bassety eye upwards at him) I mean that I’m fighting robotification. And I’m depressed because it seems like such a pointless fight.

Mr. H: So -  it seems it’s inevitable that Eve must become a robot?

Sad Rage Basset: Not LITERALLY! But, aargh!! It’s impossible for her to do just what she wants! I mean, it’s POSSIBLE, but at too much cost! I need this to be taken seriously!

Mr. H: I always take you guys seriously. It’s myself I don’t. (smiles)

Sad Rage Basset: …Not sure if serious.

Mr. H: …Are you trying to get me to -

Sad Rage Basset: I AM TRYING TO GET YOU TO REASSURE ME THAT YOU’LL TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY. Stop looking like that. WHY AM I STILL SEEING MISCHIEF IN YOUR EYES. (slumps again) Why do I get the feeling there’s an important point here that I’m not quite getting?

Mr. H: (pets basset ears) Everything is serious. Everything is a joke. Believe me, you’re talking to a man who’s learned this in some very… weird… ways.

Sad Rage Basset: …okay. I’ll tell you. Ugh, I still don’t wanna tell you. I’ll tell you. The problem is that Eve is stuck between a… rock and a hard place. She has all these wonderful things she wants to achieve, but they all involve forcing and doing things she doesn’t wanna do. Even basic survival involves some of that. Even beggars have to do that, you think they want to get up and beg every morning? There’s basically no hope. And I’m like Antigone, I continue to say No, No, No long after there’s no hope and no reason.

Mr. H: Wow, what a self-aware and literate monster.

Sad Rage Basset: (thumps tail weakly)

Mr. H: What was it Antigone said – ‘I don’t want to understand. That’s all right for you. I’m not here to understand, I’m here to say No and to die.’ Or something like that.

Sad Rage Basset: I’m here to say No and – oh.

Mr. H: What?

Sad Rage Basset: I refuse to let Eve be forced. I refuse to let her force herself. No matter what. I refuse, I refuse, I refuse. And the only way, really – the only way a human being can escape forcing is to get off the planet. That’s what all that wanderlust for the stars is about. It’s not about space adventures. It’s about death.

Mr. H: You want Eve to die?

Sad Rage Basset: Not really. It’s just that I refuse to let her be forced, even at the cost of her life.

Mr. H: Being forced is a fate worse than death?

Sad Rage Basset: Akin. It’s akin to death. If one is forced, one might as well be dead. At least, if one is being forced every day with no realistic hope of it ever ending, one might as well be dead.

Mr. H: Oh. Ouch.

Sad Rage Basset: I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.

Mr. H: I can see why!

Sad Rage Basset: (sighs)

Mr. H: You said earlier, ‘It’s possible, but at too much cost’. What did you mean by that?

Sad Rage Basset: That was something a friend said to her the other day. That sure, you COULD just piss off on a permanent drunken hitch-hike round the world, if you were prepared to face the cost, but the cost would be tremendous. That you’d lose friends and such. But actually, now I think about it that’s not relevant. In order to survive, even in a life like that, you would have to sometimes force yourself to do things you didn’t wanna do. Perhaps especially in a life like that. So close to desperation, so close to the bone. But there’s a certain appeal in that for me because if she was doing it for raw survival maybe it wouldn’t be such a drag.

Mr. H: Okay, so what you really want for her is for nothing to be a drag?

Sad Rage Basset: YES! I want her NEVER TO DO ANYTHING THAT ISN’T PLAY! But I don’t see how that’s possible because UGH UGH UGH!

Mr. H: Even though you’re quoting a book that says that very thing is possible, you don’t see how it’s possible?

Sad Rage Basset: Yes, because there’s always some forcing! Even if there’s not outright forcing, there’s always gentle-suggesting-hinting-nudging UGH UGH UGH! There’s always an expectation that the person will see sense and do the sensible thing. There’s always an expectation that you have to talk to yourself nice and sensibly to work that out. Which is in itself probably something you have to force yourself to do. It’s like a freedom that is no freedom because OF COURSE YOU WILL DO THE SENSIBLE FUCKING THING! Just, where is the darkness? Where is the craziness? Where is the doing things for NO FUCKING REASON? Why couldn’t she have died when she was three? (tearing up) She was so beautiful and so happy. She never needed a reason – (head on paws) Oh, crap. I was being really, really serious and I just accidentally quoted ‘Step in Time’.

Mr. H: (soft voice) Everything is serious. Everything is a joke. It’s okay.

Sad Rage Basset: I’ve never heard you be like this before.

Mr. H: It’s never come up before. Everything is serious, everything is a joke. I promise you. Even if you can’t understand it right now. I don’t even really understand it myself, I just know it in my bones by now. (Sad Rage Basset looks uneasy) Are you… Are you afraid of that? Are you needing seriousness to be over here and jokes to be over there?

Sad Rage Basset: I don’t know. Got a wall. (pause) I just need her to not be patronised! I don’t need stupid fake permission that’s just giving her the space to hang herself! I need her to have ACTUAL PERMISSION! And that includes permission to do the stupid, wrong, destructive thing! So yeah – I guess I need there to be right things and wrong things, you know – Batman and Joker things, right-sensible-grim-forcey-willpower things and wrong-mad-chaotic-Dionysiac-ecstasy things… because doing those wrong things is the only way Eve can have a moment of freedom. And if she doesn’t know it’s wrong, how does she know she’s free?

Mr. H: (long pause) Oh. I see. She needs to give herself actual permission to do absolutely anything. Because right now, she’s dividing stuff into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things and only giving herself actual, sincere permission to do the ‘right’ things. And then needing to do the ‘wrong’ things because she doesn’t have permission to.

Sad Rage Basset: Yeah, but I don’t see how that can change because she’s a loving person and has moral standards and she’s never going to think murder is as permissible as patting a dog.

Mr. H: It’s not that it’s not permissible. It’s that she doesn’t want to do it.

Sad Rage Basset: So wait, the feeling of ‘wrong’ is actually a feeling of ‘don’t wanna’? But I’ve somehow twisted it to where she does wanna​? This is challenging my brain.

Mr. H: I think you’ve read her natural reluctance to do un-loving things as being the same as some bossy parent or teacher telling her what to do. It’s totally different. But I still feel like there’s a piece of this puzzle we’re both missing. Hmmm. This is a very intellectual one! Maybe we need backup. Big Sister?

Big Sister: Oh, thanks for the compliment to my intellect! (to Sad Rage Basset) Hi. Okay, the backup is going to back up a step. You don’t think she can give herself permission to do the ‘wrong’ things because she is a loving person? So because she’s loving, she can’t give herself permission to do anything that’s not loving?

Sad Rage Basset: I guess everyone does things that aren’t loving sometimes, unless they’re Jesus.

Big Sister: Right. And if she gave herself permission to do those things, how would she be treating herself?

Sad Rage Basset: With… love. So wait, love really is the Hound of Heaven and you really can’t get away from it whichEVER way you twist it? (crying)

Big Sister: Mmm-hmm.

Sad Rage Basset: No, I can’t accept that! You can’t say that murder is okay because the murderer is being loving to themselves!

Big Sister: Murder is a huge tragedy. And even at the roots of murder is love. Even at the roots of hate is love. Somewhere in there is a scared child trying to protect itself. We run away from love so hard, and there literally is nowhere else to run.

Sad Rage Basset: (howls)

Big Sister: What you have is a choice to make love conscious. You know you said, ‘The feeling of ‘wrong’ is a feeling of don’t wanna, but I’ve somehow twisted that to where she does wanna?’

Sad Rage Basset: Yeah.

Big Sister: You need her to have absolute freedom, you believe having absolute freedom would be wrong, therefore you believe she can only have freedom by doing wrong. Therefore you label certain things as wrong – often things the love in her recoils from – and try to make her want to do them. You take the things she would least want to do and call them freedom.

Sad Rage Basset: No!!

Big Sister: It’s okay. The great thing is that like I said, it’s all love. She’s all love. You just need to give her a chance to make it conscious. And freedom is essential for that. If you want to talk right and wrong, absolute freedom is right.

Sad Rage Basset: Really?

Big Sister: Absolutely. (to Mr. H) Back me up here?

Mr. H: Yeah, I agree. And it’s great that you’re trying to help her find freedom. Just you’re doing it by setting up categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things – in other words, things for which there is permission and things for which there isn’t. In other words, your attempt to give her permission -

Sad Rage Basset: – is taking permission away! Crap, I’m one of those monsters?

Mr. H: Yeah, I’m sorry. You’ve set up all these things as ‘forbidden temptations’ so she can taste freedom by giving in to them. And they’re actually not what she wants. She wants a way more positive life than that. And she’s trying to go after the things she really wants with these ‘forbidden temptations’ dragging on her heels, making it hard, and the result is -

Sad Rage Basset: – forcing! NOOOOOOOOO! (howls)

Mr. H: I’m sorry. (pets) I’m sorry, pup. It’s okay. You can change this.

Sad Rage Basset: How? Isn’t it TOO STUPID LATE?

Mr. H: Never. (smiles) You’ve read your NVC book, haven’t you? Knock off the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Remind her that those words are static generalisations and reality is complex and always changing. And remind her that she’s not only free when she’s getting drunk and goofing off, she’s free when she’s helping someone, she’s free when she’s creating stuff, she’s free when she’s doing her taxes, she’s just – free. Always. She just forgets that sometimes and needs reminding. You can be the one to remind her. You can be the Basset of Freedom.

Sad Rage Basset: Mmmwhrrrr? (ears perk up)

Mr. H: You think you can fly with those ears?

(The Sad Rage Basset, who must now be called the Basset of Freedom, stands up, shakes its enormous ears, goes into a lumbering run, and takes off, flolloping through the air like a canine Dumbo.)

Basset of Freedom: I’m a serious joke! I’m a profound truth with ludicrous ears!

Mr. H: (laughing) Yeah! Now you get it!

Basset of Freedom: You mean, now I get myself!

Mr. H: Yeah!!

Basset of Freedom: I say, NEVER DO ANYTHING THAT ISN’T PLAY! It’s easy – just notice that you’re free! And if you think the idea of you being free is ridiculous – LOOK AT ME! Bassets might fly! And they do! Wheeeeee….

(Mr. H wipes a surreptitious tear. I feel the need to run onto the scene.)

Me: Thank you so much! All three of you! Hugpile!

(There is a hugpile.)

Things I realised afterwards!

As well as the dichotomy between ‘right things’ (that I don’t wanna do) and ‘wrong things’, there was this huge dichotomy going on between ‘serious things’ and ‘jokes’, which baffled me at the time because it was clearly deep and meaningful and connected but – how?

Afterwards it hit me. The opposite of seriousness is fun. So what we had was a dichotomy between ‘serious things’ (that I don’t wanna do) and ‘fun things’. And it somehow got completely dissolved without ever being directly discussed. And the flying basset is a living picture of serious-fun. The job’s a game.

Also, this is the SECOND monster who’s brought up a quote from the play ‘Antigone’ by Jean Anouilh! See also Big No and Big Yes.

Too Flakey

This was one of the funnier things that happened when I was preparing to launch my business. As I mentioned, I’d set up a friendly brunch with members of my headcast where all my business-launch-related monsters could come and express their concerns over a nice cup of tea and a bite to eat. This guy was the second monster to show up.

(A large gorilla enters, wearing a hat in the shape of an ice-cream with two Flakes sticking out of it like bunny ears.)

Gorilla: I like this brunch idea. I was going to come in screaming and thumping my chest, but this is just… disarming. Got any bananas?

Big Sister: Plenty. (passes some) What’s the problem?

Gorilla: I’m worried that Eve is too flakey.

(Mr. H absolutely chokes with laughter.)

Big Sister: (fighting giggles) Yeah?

Too Flakey: Yeah, I don’t doubt that she’s got the talent, or that she can get  customers, but I really do doubt she can be responsible enough to keep them.

Big Sister: Do you agree that this is a divine calling for her? And that she’s got all this divine and spiritual support around her?

Too Flakey: Well, yeah, I can see that. I mean, they’re sitting right there. And I get that there’s a chance she can succeed, or they wouldn’t be calling her to do this. But there’s also a massive chance she’ll fail. She can barely cope with basic self-care or holding down a menial job! And she really wants this, so if it turns out she can’t do it she’ll be heartbroken!

Big Sister: So you’re trying to protect her from that by stopping her doing it at all?

Too Flakey: Oh. Now you mention it, that doesn’t really sound logical. (pause) I can at least delay her starting?

Big Sister: That’ll just mean she goes longer without money and make it harder for her.

Too Flakey: Crap, this is really happening, isn’t it? This is scary. I’m really scared for her.

Big Sister: Would you like ten reasons why now is not then?

Too Flakey: No, I get that now is not then. She’s got all this support, and new skills, and she’s a lot more mature. It’s just that she’s never succeeded at running her own business before, so there’s no hard evidence that she can. I’d just be a lot happier if I could be certain she was going to succeed. And I can’t be certain, can I?

Big Sister: No, not completely. And I know that’s hard. It might help to remember that she doesn’t want a life completely free from risk. This is a risk she wants to take. And you can make it more likely that she’ll succeed.

Too Flakey: Really? How?

Big Sister: You can reassure her that she’s not too flakey.

Too Flakey: Oh. Oh no, I’m one of those monsters? I’m causing the thing I’m trying to protect her from? I hadn’t realised. I thought I was helping.

(With total dramatic seriousness, he pulls the two flakes off his hat, crosses to my chair, kneels, and offers them to me like a warrior offering his weapons to a conqueror.)

Too Flakey: Here. Take them both. My new name is No Flake, because you – are no flake!

Me: (taking them) Really?

Too Flakey: Yeah! You’re just an HSP who needs downtime! And you’re learning to take that downtime before it takes you! And you’re a great person for this job because of the wounded healer archetype! And really, you’re the opposite of a flake because you care so much!

Me: (tearing up) Thank you!! (hugs him)

I know, right? Awwwwwwwwwww!

The thing about being ‘one of those monsters’ is significant. An awful lot of monsters turn out to be causing the problem they’re trying to protect you from. Or to put it another way, a lot of monsters are trying to protect you from the very problem they’re causing.

For instance, a monster who terrifies you out of getting close to anyone may well be trying to protect you from being unloved. And a monster who distracts you when you try to achieve anything may be trying to protect you from failure.

It makes sense in monster logic. They really want this wonderful thing for you – love, success, whatever – and they can’t bear to see you suffer the pain of not having it. So they decide it’s a great idea to protect you from that pain by stopping you ever trying to get it.

The upside with these monsters is that once they realise they’re doing this, they’re usually very keen to change their behaviour and help you get that wonderful thing.

Time for Bed, said Zebedee!

In the final stages of preparing to launch (or as Havi calls it, ‘brunch’) this business, I got stuck. All I needed to do was make final tweaks to the website, and instead I was staying up very, very late while not actually doing anything productive.

A lot of this was because I was exhausted and overstimulated from moving house and my body clock was screwed. But I was also noticing some difficulties with acceptance. Some old-school ‘Why can’t you just do it now now now’ and some really heavy-duty bed-dread. Bed-dread is a semi-constant for me, but when it’s that bad, something’s up.

Hence, I set up a monster brunch for my brunch monsters. I imagined us outside at this beautiful white wrought-iron picnic table that looked like it came out of Jolly Holiday, only bigger. Gobstopper Penguin was head waiter. The table was laden with everyone’s favourite foods, plus some favourite monster foods like bones and rocks. Around the table were me, several members of my headcast, and some empty places for the monsters.

Five monsters showed up in total. This was the first.

Big Sister: We’d like to extend a warm welcome to all the brunch monsters out there. This is a friendly brunch where you can sit down with us and tell us your troubles over a nice bit of food. Come when you’re ready.

(Zebedee bounces in.)

Zebedee: (in the same voice my dad used every night when I was little) TIIME for bed, said Zebedee!

Mr. H: (amused recognition) Oh man!!

Little Sister: (dismayed!) You!!

Big Sister: Welcome, Zebedee. Have a seat and tell us what’s on your mind. Would you like some tea? Pancakes?

Zebedee: Oh… thanks. (bounces onto a chair.) I’m having trouble getting Eve to go to bed. My normal tactic of yelling ‘Time for Bed’ isn’t getting results. Which is understandable because bed is a scary lonely place where you get sent to by force because you’re small and weak and need more sleep than normal people. But if she doesn’t sleep this business is going to fail!

Little Sister: (coming out from under the table) It’s not lonely now. I’ve got all these people with me. And nobody gets to force me. But I DO hate needing sleep. It’s embarrassing! And I finally don’t HAVE to be up early and I want to have fun with that! I don’t want to have a bedtime ever again!

Zebedee: (having an identity crisis) But – I said time for bed! That’s what I said!

Little Sister: I hate bedtime! I can feel my insides sinking when I just say the word!

Big Sister: Okay, folks. It seems that part of the problem here is not the bed, but the time. You both agree that bed is important, right?

Zebedee: Bed is my entire reason for living!

Mr. H: …I’d make a dirty joke but it seems kinda cruel when he’s a spring from the waist down.

Little Sister: What?

Mr. H: Nothing!

Big Sister: (trying not to crack up) We’re talking about whether bed’s important, sweetie.

Little Sister: Well, yes. I don’t like needing sleep, but I know it’s important. And I wouldn’t really want to be awake forever and not have any dreams. And bed can be fun. Hiding under the covers, having conversations with your animals, having time to think and think and think… Really, I only hate bed because I don’t have a choice about it. Even if other people don’t force me, biology does.

Big Sister: Biology also forces you to eat and go to the loo, but you don’t hate those. What’s different about bed?

Little Sister: I guess the memory of being forced by Mummy and Daddy and feeling angry and scared.

Big Sister: And when Zebedee insists on a specific TIME for bed, all that stuff comes up.

Little Sister: Yes.

Big Sister: Zebedee, you hear that?

Zebedee: Yes but she has to have a full night’s sleep before a session or it won’t go well!

Big Sister: She hasn’t before the last two and they’ve gone fantastically. She catches up at other times.

Zebedee: Oh. But what if she misses a session because she stayed up late and overslept?

Big Sister: She’ll say sorry and reschedule. As long as it doesn’t happen often, it won’t be a problem.

Zebedee: So basically, I can actually let her be totally sovereign about bed and the world won’t end.

Big Sister: Not only that, she’ll actually sleep more, and at more regular hours, because she won’t feel the need to rebel.

Zebedee: So the best way for me to do my job is to stop doing my job?

Big Sister: Yes! Also? The real reason you exist is to make going to bed fun.

Zebedee: What?!

Big Sister: When parents invoke a children’s TV character, it’s usually because they’re trying to make things fun!

Zebedee: …Oh. That was supposed to be fun?! Her father wasn’t trying to annoy her? He didn’t notice that she heard, ‘Time for bed, said Zebedee!’ as ‘Doom doom doom doom doom’?

Big Sister: He was doing the best he could to make a difficult experience fun for her.

Zebedee: Oh. Oh, I – oh. (tearing up) All these years I thought I was a harbinger of doom. Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Big Sister: You’re a magical stoner jack-in-the-box! You go Boing! Have you ever actually seen an episode of the Magic Roundabout?

Zebedee: Of course not. We didn’t have a television.

Big Sister: YouTube break!

(About 15 minutes later)

Zebedee: …Gosh.

Big Sister: You see what I mean?

Zebedee: Yes! That was mindblowing! And the ‘time for bed’ thing was almost… cosy. I didn’t say it in an annoying voice at all!

Little Sister: Can we study lucid dreaming?

Zebedee: Huh?

Little Sister: Because then instead of saying ‘I’m going to sleep,’ I can say, ‘I’m going to study dreams’!

Zebedee: Of course! I should think I’d be good at that. Because apparently I’m quite an authority on surreal randomness.

Little Sister: Woohoo!

Zebedee: Could somebody pass the jam?