Robin and No Choice/Do Nothing

I loved doing this session with a new client, Robin. Afterwards he very kindly said I could put it on my site (I didn’t even ask, he just offered!) It contains many useful learnings about monsters :)

One: Some monsters – even really big, old, hurtful monsters – are just acting out of habit. They don’t have any real emotional resistance to change, it just hasn’t occurred to them to think about it.

Two: When they do think about it, they can resolve their issues very quickly. This session was over before I knew it. The monster was all ready to curl up and go to sleep, and I was still talking on because I couldn’t believe it was that easy!

Three: Never assume there’s not a monster!

Robin told me he was feeling apathetic and a lot of things seemed pointless to him, including his job working with children. He often found himself having no reaction when children were literally beating him up. As we talked, it became clear that his job was a big problem for him, and I started to assume it was the whole problem – he didn’t need a monster whisperer, he just needed a new job! Then he told me why he wasn’t reacting when children beat him up:

Robin: its becuse the way i want to react if i did would be considered inapropriate.. i would most likely curse at them a lot and humiliate them that way or even beat them up if that dont work. but i know i cant do that. i would reget it quickly and im not that malicious.

Me: oh, ow
it seems like you feel so angry at those times, and you can’t see any way to express it that would be okay or acceptable
so you shut off your reaction because that’s less painful, right?

Robin: i guess i dont know i been bulied and depresed a lot in the past. and been in situations when i cant do anything about it. like living whit my moms horrible boyfireinds. or having a bad job. not having any choice on what to do. Well there is always a choice but usally its better to do nothing about it.

Me: oh, that sounds so painful
so maybe you have a monster called ‘There’s No Choice’ or ‘Do Nothing’

Robin: yes
both would be correct

Wow. So there I was assuming we had a simple case of ‘wrong job’, and suddenly it turned out to be a huge painful issue going right back to childhood. This was bound to take a lot of work to resolve, right? Again, wrong assumption…

No Choice/Do Nothing: hello

Me: hello <3 and thank you for agreeing to talk to me
you’re completely accepted here, I’m not going to force you to change or tell you off for being the way you are :) I’m just here to listen to your story and see if I can help you
(and I do mean ‘help’ not ‘force’ ;)

No Choice/Do Nothing: thats fine

Me: great :)
so I gather you’ve seen Robin go through a lot of painful situations where there didn’t seem to be any choice or any way out, am I right?

No Choice/Do Nothing: for manny years yes

Me: how do you feel about that?

No Choice/Do Nothing: sad

Me: poor monster, I so feel your pain
it must be very sad watching Robin suffer when you care about him so much

No Choice/Do Nothing: i guess i dont really what to think about it to painfull

Me: okay, well, like I said, nobody is going to force you to do anything here, and if this conversation gets too painful for you, you are always welcome to stop it

No Choice/Do Nothing: its finne

Me: thank you :)
so I’m guessing that if you don’t want to think about this no-choice thing because it’s too painful, you also don’t want Robin to think about it
maybe you want to protect him from the pain by stopping him from thinking about it?

No Choice/Do Nothing: distractions are a good way

Me: okay, this sounds interesting, could you tell me about distractions and how you use those to protect him?

No Choice/Do Nothing: no sorry

Me: it’s okay, no need to be sorry :) do you not feel safe to tell me?

No Choice/Do Nothing: i just dont want to rigth now, maybe latter

Me: that’s fine, later is fine, never is fine too, this is your space and your time :)
so, here’s what we’ve got so far
you’ve observed that Robin’s been in lots of situations where he didn’t seem to have any choice
and you’ve seen him suffer pain because of that and you feel very sad about it
so you’re trying to protect him from the pain by making sure he doesn’t think about how little choice he has
so I guess the next question to ask is – what makes you think he has so little choice?

No Choice/Do Nothing: its ussles anyway. and he already knows he has choice. but it does not matter. i take the pain away thats all.

Me: I see, so your role is just to take the pain away, not to analyse the situation or do anything about it

No Choice/Do Nothing: yes

Me: okay
I’m seeing a lot of different things wrapped up in what you’ve just said, I’d like to understand them a bit better so I can help you
are you saying that he knows he has choice, but the choice is useless and it doesn’t matter?
like, he CAN choose but it wouldn’t do him any good, so it’s better to do nothing?

No Choice/Do Nothing: It depends on the situation. sometimes it migth get even worse if he did do something. And there has been many such situations. although i admit it might no longer be the case now.

Me: that’s interesting because I was just wondering if now might be different from then
could you tell me a bit about those situations in the past?
then maybe we can see if there are ways in which now is not then

No Choice/Do Nothing: The first time probably was when he was in 7th grade then it was neseriy for survival. although his emotions where not blocked per say. but after that it was only more and more difficult situations. to feel nothing was the best way to get over depresion to be indiffrent.

Me: was it necessary for survival because he was being bullied so badly, and if the bullies saw him reacting emotionally, they would hurt him worse?

No Choice/Do Nothing: no he would either kill himself. or kill all the bullies. they did not hurt him pysically. ints not like it was only a few peolple it was an entire class and a bunch of random people.

Me: omg, my heart goes out to both you and Robin

No Choice/Do Nothing: constantly every day.

Me: that must have been so incredibly painful, and he must have been SO angry
so shutting down his emotions really was a survival strategy for you then, it really was life and death
not only life and death for him, but for the children around him too
no wonder it matters SO much to you to hang on and keep doing this, I mean you must have been terrified for him
and I’m sure some of that fear is coming up again now when you see him once again surrounded by children who are attacking him
am I right?

No Choice/Do Nothing: not really

Me: okay, please tell me what’s really going on for you <3

No Choice/Do Nothing: Its not the same situation

Me: right

No Choice/Do Nothing: its just a habit at this point.
i have not thought about it.

Me: I understand <3 because it’s been painful to think about, right?

No Choice/Do Nothing: its not like i think much to begin whit. im mostly reactional.

Me: you’re just there to make the pain go away

No Choice/Do Nothing: i suppouse

Me: okay, here’s the thing

No Choice/Do Nothing: i do feel like let go a bit after talking to you.

Me: I’m so glad <3 I think you letting go a bit could actually help him, as well as make life
easier for you
what is it that you really want for Robin? Even if you think it’s impossible for him to have it, what would you want for him if anything was possible?

No Choice/Do Nothing: a girlfriend <3

Me: aw!!! I wasn’t expecting that :) :)
well, good news :) I think it’s very possible for you to help him with that, AND you can do it just by trying LESS hard (like you said, letting go a bit)

No Choice/Do Nothing: hm.. ok ill try maybe.

Me: wonderful!!
see, in order to get a girlfriend, he needs to be able to see that he has choices (like choosing to ask a girl out on a date, even though it might hurt if she says no) and he needs to be able to see that sometimes it’s worth doing something
and like you said, now is not then
Robin isn’t a small, desperately unhappy and bullied child who needs your constant help just to survive

No Choice/Do Nothing: true… but he never was weak to begin whit. people just tend to be mistaken and take advantage of his kindness. when he is probebly the strongest one i know.

Me: oh wow, I’m so happy to hear you say that, and I’m sure he’d be really happy to hear you say that too
so are you ready to let go a bit and let this strong person make his own choices, and do things?

No Choice/Do Nothing: i already have i just wanted to be acknowledged.

Me: oh!!! thank you so much!! I’m really happy :)
I guess we’re done here then, do you have anything more to say, or would you like to go and relax now? :)

No Choice/Do Nothing: Im a bit tired now…. no i dont really want to say anything more

Me: all right, you go and rest :) so much love to you
bye <3

No Choice/Do Nothing: bye

Me: okay! Robin, welcome back, how are you feeling now? <3

Robin: good. a bit warm in the chest.

(I had to include that last bit… proof that monster talks can be literally heartwarming ;) )

Tiny schoolgirl me hates slow progress

Most of us have some interesting past experiences that have left us with some sad scared selves needing attention in the present. A lot of mine stem from my strange education. Happy Noodle Girl is a product of school 1. The me who doesn’t like slow progress, it turns out, is a product of school 2. This was the school where I started at age four and everyone else was at least seven.

I was chatting to a friend about my pattern of having to change HUGELY AND IMMEDIATELY or not at all (which usually = not at all) and I realised that at school 2, I was either great or terrible at all subjects, to the extent that I wasn’t really learning in any class. I was either mucking about while people learned things I already knew, or mucking about while people learned things I couldn’t imagine being able to do. Which was painful, but it also gave me a sense of specialness because I was the only kid allowed to spend music lessons sitting under the grand piano or netball lessons collecting conkers.

I realised that my fear of slow progress might be a fear of not getting to be special and not getting to play while everyone else works – which is interesting, because progress would actually lead to MORE of those things. My friend invited me to talk to the me who didn’t like slow progress, right there in the chatbox. So I did. :)

She came out talking in ALL CAPS and quoting everything, from Mary Poppins and Winnie-the-Pooh to some very grown-up books that she definitely had not read (Wuthering Heights and Stephen Fry’s Making History, which gave us the line, ‘Oh sure, like on Mars…’) I thought about putting in ‘me:’s and ‘her:’s after the fact, but it’s very obvious who’s talking without them!

so, could I talk to the part of me who doesn’t like slow progress?

YES PLEASE DO!

oh, you’re going to talk in all caps? That makes it easier to tell who’s who, and it sounds like you really, really want to talk to me!

YES BECAUSE YOU WON’T LISTEN!

Oh, I’m sorry I haven’t been listening to you. I’m listening now, please tell me what’s up

THIS IS
YOU HAVE A GREAT LIFE RIGHT NOW. REALLY!! EVERYONE ELSE HAS TO KEEP MOVING AND YOU GET TO STAY THE SAME
EVERYONE ELSE HAS TO MOVE UP A YEAR AT THE END OF THE YEAR
YOU GET TO STAY IN YOUR CLASS DOING YOUR LESSONS
SITTING ON YOUR SPECIAL CHAIR THAT’S SMALLER THAN EVERYONE ELSE’S

wow, okay, so it sounds like you really need, um… consistency? Things staying the same?

ME STAYING THE SAME
YOU STAYING THE SAME
OTHER CHILDREN LEARN, YOU STAY THE SAME AND DO YOUR OWN SPECIAL EVE THINGS AND DON’T HAVE TO FOLLOW THE RULES
AND DON’T HAVE TO GET RED PEN AND CROSSES ALL OVER YOUR WORK BECAUSE YOU’VE DONE THESE LESSONS THREE TIMES AND YOU COULD DO THEM THE FIRST TIME

so it sounds like you really don’t like rules and being corrected?

RULES AND BEING BAD AT THINGS
EXCEPT WHEN YOU’RE SO BAD YOU DON’T HAVE TO TRY BECAUSE NOBODY EXPECTS ANYTHING OF YOU

oh, bing!
in my current life, as a grown-up, nobody (mostly) expects me to cope with time or money or work, because I’m ‘Eve’

EXACTLY!!!
YOU WANT TO BE NOT ONLY A GROWN-UP BUT A D-GRADE GROWN-UP WITH RED PEN ALL OVER YOUR GROWNUPNESS BOOK!?
IT’S SO MUCH HARDER! AND SHAMEFUL AND EMBARRASSING, I MEAN OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK IS REALLY BAD!
HAVING SPECIAL PERMISSION TO NOT TRY MAKES IT OKAY!

okay <3 I’m noticing something as you say that
there were times when it wasn’t okay for you, weren’t there?
I remember one games lesson when you just crawled under a bench and hid and people ran past and pulled your knickers down
and why were you under the piano in music lessons?

I LIKED FEELING THE VIBRATIONS

did you also want to feel safe and away from everyone else?

OKAY YES
I FORGOT THAT
ALL THIS TIME I THOUGHT IT WAS REALLY NICE UNDER THE PIANO

well, I think it was, because outside the piano was not so nice
right?

WELL IT’S NOT GREAT BEING UNABLE TO SING A NOTE IN TUNE. BUT BEING YOUR OWN SPECIAL PERSON IS BETTER

are you afraid that if you try, you’ll lose your identity?

YES, I’LL BE THE WORST DIRTIEST SHEEP IN A GREAT BIG FLOCK OF SHEEP
INSTEAD OF RIGHT NOW, WHEN I’M A GOAT. OR A DOG.
AND OKAY SO IT’S NO FUN BEING THE ONLY PERSON OF MY SPECIES, BUT ALSO, I’M THE ONLY PERSON OF MY SPECIES!!
AND THE WONDERFUL THING ABOUT TIGGERS IS I’M THE ONLY ONE… RIGHT?!

oh, love :/
you’re lonely!!

IS A DOG FURRY?!

would you like to be able to connect with other people, and be part of a group, while also being special and unique and the only one of you?

WELL SURE, LIKE ON MARS, IN THE VALLEY OF THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN WHERE EVERYBODY SKIPS AND JUMPS AND BAKES CHERRY PIE FOR STRANGERS!

you don’t think that’s possible for you?

I’M SCARED IT’S NOT. HOW WOULD I KNOW, I DON’T CHANGE!!

so not changing is really keeping you from getting this thing that you really want
let’s think about it in your terms…
when Tigger comes to the Hundred Acre Wood and makes friends with all the other animals, he’s still the only Tigger, isn’t he?
and everyone is happy to work with him to find out what Tiggers like, and to give him what he needs

EXTRACT OF MALT!

yes!
and he still bounces, doesn’t he??

YES!!! BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE!!

sounds like you’re happy about that :D

YES BUT HOW DO I… I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PROCEED. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO LEARN!!

you learned loads before you were at school, that was part of why you felt so alone AT school

OKAY BUT THAT WAS BACK ON MARS WHEN CHILDREN WERE ALLOWED TO LEARN WHAT THEY FELT LIKE BECAUSE THEY FELT LIKE IT
ADULT LIFE IS SO MUCH MORE LIKE SCHOOL

that’s because…

WHY ARE YOU CRYING?

because most adults don’t know any better
they got so thoroughly sent to school that they sent themselves to school for the rest of their lives
and OF COURSE you don’t want that for me!
I don’t want that for me either, in fact I don’t want that for anyone!
I want everyone to be free from school for ever and ever!!

ME TOO!!! OH GOD ME TOO. IT’S NOT FAIR. PEOPLE AREN’T SUPPOSED TO WORK LIKE THAT AND I WANT TO STOP IT!
I WANT TO THROW DOWN ALL THE SCHOOLS AND BUILD HOUSES. FARM HOUSES WHERE PEOPLE CAN PLAY AND LEARN ABOUT ANIMALS FROM THE ANIMALS THEMSELVES
NOW WE’RE BOTH CRYING!!!

we both want the same thing, don’t we?

YES OF COURSE BUT I WAS SO LITTLE, HOW COULD I CHANGE IT? ALL I COULD DO WAS NOT JOIN IN

well, now we have all this power that we can wield

BECAUSE OF BEING A GROWN-UP?

yes

SOMETHING IS BREWING

yes, something is brewing, about to begin!

CAN’T PUT MY FINGER ON WHAT LIES IN STORE…

but I feel what’s to happen all happened before!!

THE WIND’S CHANGING AND MARY POPPINS IS COMING BACK!!!… WHY DID I SAY BACK?

we’re going back to how it used to be, ‘on Mars’ if you like :)

YES I DO LIKE!

learning like there is no school
and no red pen
ever, okay?
there are no bad marks
nobody is marking you
it’s not about doing it well or doing it badly

NO IT’S NOT!! DID MUMMY EVER GIVE ME A TICK OR A STAR FOR READING A BOOK OR LEARNING ABOUT SOMETHING? NO BECAUSE I WANTED TO DO IT!! I DIDN’T NEED A STUPID PAPER STICKER TO ENCOURAGE ME1!

okay, so we’re going to learn what we want, how we want, right?

WHAT IF WE DON’T WANT TO LEARN ABOUT MONEY?

well.. we’ll get an accountant :D

HAHA.. A WIZARD OF FINANCE!!

yes, that’s exactly it!!
and.. you know what else?

THIS IS HOW WE TEAR DOWN THE SCHOOLS!
THIS IS HOW WE TEAR DOWN THE SCHOOLS INSIDE PEOPLE!
IF PEOPLE SEE ONE PERSON WHO IS NOT AT SCHOOL, THEY’LL SEE THAT IT’S POSSIBLE TO NOT BE AT SCHOOL FOREVER!!
AND!!! AND!!!!!
BEING UNDER THE PIANO IS STILL BEING AT SCHOOL!!
BEING IN THE SAME CLASS OVER AND OVER IS STILL BEING AT SCHOOL!!
GETTING LOTS OF TICKS AND TEN OUT OF TEN IS STILL BEING AT SCHOOL!
IT’S TIME TO LEAVE THIS SCHOOL!! FOREVER!!

omg… yes!! Thank you so much!!

YOU LISTENED!!
I KNEW WHAT TO SAY
AND YOU LISTENED!!

you’re really happy that I finally listened, aren’t you?

I’VE BEEN A WAIF FOR THIRTY YEARS!!!

love, I’m so sorry

IT DOESN’T MATTER NOW, LET’S GO FLY A KITE!!

woohoo!!!! Let’s go!!!

(epic tearful and excited hugs)

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.)

Bilbo and the Blue It’s Too Late Monster

This is a chatlog of a monster talk I did with a client who’s also a dear friend. They were very keen for me to post this, and chose the pseudonym ‘Bilbo’ for reasons that will become apparent (and unintentionally hilarious when I quote LOTR at one point.)

Bilbo has been dealing with chronic illness for many years, and is now dealing with the possibility of getting better and being able to have a career. Which sounds (and is) wonderful, except that here be monsters…

Bilbo: This is the monster that makes me panic so much about how much I haven’t got done in my life yet and how it is slipping away and how there is absolutely no chance that I can achieve or do anything real now.
It’s a “what’s the point”? type monster, as far as I can make out.
But above all, it’s an “it’s too late” monster.

me: oh <3333 empathy

Bilbo: Yeah. It took me a while to burrow down this far, if that makes sense, but this is one of the Big Bads for me.

me: that does make sense! I find a lot of the time I deal with one monster and there’s another lurking underneath
monster layers!
and yes, I can understand that

Bilbo: Definitely!

me: do you want to tell me a bit more about it?

Bilbo: I don’t feel I know much about it yet – frankly it’s a very, very intimidating monster! But it’s also kind of slippery. Impervious.
It doesn’t attack me, as such, it looms over me and steals all the air from the room.

me: eurgh

Bilbo: It’s very tall, and very thin, and has a cloak. And is, oddly, blue.
Oh, and I do know that a lot of its Stuff comes from my Dad. Who was very much into this idea that if you didn’t begin the day right you couldn’t ever get it back.
(Frankly he seemed to imply a lot that if you didn’t begin the day right you couldn’t get any day back, but I did at least manage to break that slightly.)

me: ugh, ugh, I feel for you having to grow up with THAT

Bilbo: *hugs* Thank you!

me: and well done for breaking it, even slightly
you know, that was a monster of HIS talking!!

Bilbo: Oh, yes, that’s true!
Damn. Monsters are contagious! :-(

me: I only just realised that myself and it’s SO true
*hugs*

Bilbo: *hugs* too
Oh, something else about this monster – it looks sad.

me: oh!
<3

Bilbo: Not angry, just… sad. Disappointed. But you know that “grown-up” negativity that is actually really oppressive, that regards optimism and positivity as childish and unrealistic etc.? That.
That kind of disappointment that absolutely refuses to let other people not be disappointed too.

me: aaargh
yes
okay

Bilbo: It’s not quite the same, but it reminds me of a time I played piano in a music concert when I was, I don’t know, 7 or 8 or so? And I didn’t do brilliantly, but I did my best, and I got a really nice round of applause. And my Dad had been page-turning and helped me off-stage and all he said was, “oh, never mind”. In a really, really kind way, and he clearly thought he was being lovely. But it was crushing because he was telling me I’d done badly.

me: argh!
oh, you must have been completely gutted

Bilbo: I was. :-( It’s weird how much that still hurts!

me: ouch, ouch
not weird at all!
your creativity is so essential to your being, music especially
and his approval for something SO fundamental to you must have meant SO much

Bilbo: Yes! Also, he didn’t let me enjoy even for a minute the fact that I’d made it through to the end of the piece even though it was, in retrospect, too hard for me.

me: ugh, horrible

Bilbo: If he’d told me later on that he thought I could do better than that and he’d help me to practise more next time? That would have been absolutely fine.

me: yes <3
I think most people intuitively get that children need support for their creativity even more than adults (and you know how much adults do!) and give them that little bit of applause however well they’ve done

Bilbo: Yeah, exactly. Which is what the people applauding me were doing! They could all see that I was struggling, and they felt for me and were applauding my being brave and keeping on going even though I was under-rehearsed.
Just thought of something else: it was him choosing what he thought my emotional response should be. (Which my parents both did so much, and my Mum still tries to do with everyone.)

me: ugh, yuck
so, you really, really didn’t get a lot of empathy as a child

Bilbo:  Yeah, really not. :-(

me: I’m so impressed that you’ve ended up with such a gift for giving empathy to others

Bilbo: *hugs* Thank you. <3 blushes rather
I think that’s all I can thnk of about my “It’s Too Late” monster right now.

(Here we did conscious entry)

me: if you’d like a safe room (or knowing you, the top of a safe mountain) to be in while I talk to this monster, that can be arranged
or if your monster is ready to come forward now, I’m ready to talk to it <3

Bilbo: I think so. I’d like a sheltered hollow on top of a Scottish hill, with a wonderful view of the sea, and sheltered enough to be able to play my uke and guitar and turn the pages of music books without them blowing away. :-)

me: wonderful :) I see you need no prompting there :)

Bilbo: :)
exhales, a little panicky but okay
My monster is not just ready but very eager to come forward.
(And barged past me… hmph.)

me: (oh!! <3)
hello, monster :) let’s talk

It’s Too Late: Hi.

me: so it seems like you’re really eager to talk to me
is there something particular you want to say?

It’s Too Late: Bilbo never listens.
They keep thinking there are things they can do, even though they’ve wasted most of their life so far.
I am hoping that you will listen to me.

me: I’m absolutely listening
I know it’s really, really important to you to be heard

It’s Too Late: .. Thank you.

me: you’re welcome <3

It’s Too Late: I’m not sure what I want to say now. Except that I feel betrayed by Bilbo.
They are horrible to me.

me: sounds like you’re very, very angry

It’s Too Late: I’m mostly just miserable.
But Bilbo makes me angry as well by brushing me aside and not listening to me.

me: oh, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re miserable
and it’s totally understandable when you have such a painful relationship with the person you love and exist for

It’s Too Late: They don’t listen! They keep trying and trying and trying to get better and to do things and they won’t listen to me when I tell them that there’s no point when it’s too late now for us to do anything!

me: you must be terribly frustrated

It’s Too Late: We lost our childhood to abuse and bullying, and all our adult life so far to illness.
I am!

me: *nods*

It’s Too Late: There is no possible way that things can change now, and every time Bilbo decides to try more it makes me so angry and upset.

me: why is that – what are you afraid will happen to them if they keep trying?

It’s Too Late: I don’t feel loving towards Bilbo. :-( All I feel is this enormous hole full of grief that they won’t acknowledge or pay attention to.
They are trying to make our story have a happy ending, and it’s not possible! No story starts like ours and has a happy ending.
No one would even bother to tell a story like ours. Happy endings are for people who do things when they’re young and keep on doing them.

me: oh – you need acknowledgement for your loss? For their loss – right?

It’s Too Late: Yes yes yes!
They are determined to have this happy life, and that’s all well and good but are so damned positive and chirpy about it and they won’t notice that their childhood was ruined and their adult life has been ruined and there’s no hope of it changing.

me: you need to know that Bilbo is mourning with you, because you don’t want to cry alone?

It’s Too Late: Yes! Oh Gods, yes!
But I think they are afraid that if they start mourning they will slide into depression and never come out again.
So I can see why they don’t want to acknowledge the loss.
But I am still depressed. And I’m upset that they aren’t too.

me: I understand

It’s Too Late: But Bilbo mourning the loss too wouldn’t help that much.

me: why not?

It’s Too Late: Because it’s still far, far too late for them. For us.
Because there’s no point to anything in their life because they didn’t achieve anything when they were younger, and because their life has been ruined.

me: so basically, you just want Bilbo to be here with you at the end of all things

It’s Too Late: I suppose so.
I want them to stop trying to escape.
I want them to stop trying. Trying to be nice. Trying to be positive. Trying to act like they have a life that’s worth anything and that can ever be worth anything.
*flaps cloak around in frustration*

me: okay, just assuming for the moment that you’re right and Bilbo’s life will never be worth anything – what happens if they keep trying?

It’s Too Late: They will never notice what’s happened to them. And I will be all alone!!
You were right earlier. I… I want to not be on my own anymore.
I want Bilbo to understand how much pain I’m in.

me: it sounds like you need empathy <3

It’s Too Late: Yes.

me: like all those years when Bilbo needed empathy and wasn’t getting it

It’s Too Late: Yes.

me: and for Bilbo to give you empathy for your pain, you believe they would also have to be *in* your pain

It’s Too Late: Yes!

me: which is incompatible with seeing hope and trying

It’s Too Late: I want them and me to understand each other, and instead they are going further and further away from me!
I’m supposed to know everything about them. I do know everything about them.
If they keep hoping and trying and changing, I won’t know them anymore and they’ll be even further from understanding what it is I’m feeling.
They are running away from me and I’m so scared!

me: sending you so much love for the fear

It’s Too Late: Thank you.

me: the thing is, Bilbo has tremendous compassion
they can understand someone’s pain, and feel compassion for them, and be with them and even cry with them, without also taking on that person’s stuff and making it their own stuff
and maybe, just maybe, they can do that for you too

It’s Too Late: Then why haven’t they already?

me: they don’t respond well to fear-based motivation

It’s Too Late: They want to not even acknowledge that we share this horrible history of pain!

me: which is totally understandable because well, it’s a horrible history
and what you seem to be doing is emphasising just how horrible that is, in the hopes that if you make the horribleness big and loud and in-their-face enough, they can’t fail to respond
the thing is that when things are big and loud and in their face, they respond by protecting themselves, just like most people would
the more scariness you’re sending their way, the less they want to interact with you or acknowledge you

It’s Too Late: But I’m scared!
They keep wanting to achieve more with their life!
It’s terrifying!
They’re breaking the story!

me: why is it terrifying, what are you afraid will happen?
how is the story supposed to go?

It’s Too Late: They… argh.
The story goes that they had an abusive childhood, and were bullied at school. They achieved some things despite that, but then they became ill.

me: *nods*

It’s Too Late: And that’s it. The story has to end there, or it carries on with them continuing to be ill. Dying loved and pitied but … but what it can’t do is suddenly change in their early-mid thirties into a totally different story!
They can’t just turn around in their mid-thirties and achieve things!

me: oh, right!

It’s Too Late: Things… people… stories… life doesn’t work like that!
It’s impossible!

me: so, wait
you’re actually afraid that Bilbo is right?
that they *can* achieve things, and that this will just make the story unreadably weird, like if the consumptive Victorian woobie got up in the middle and started driving the plot?

It’s Too Late: Yes!
There’ll be no… no guidelines! No rules! No plot! It will be chaos.
I won’t know how to help them with that!
They won’t know what to do, and they’ll never be able to explain to people the story of their life because it won’t make sense!
I’m… oh Gods.
I think I’m Bilbo’s writer.

me: oh! oh, wow. <3

It’s Too Late: It’s not good! I’ve been lumbered with this horrible story, but at least I can make it consistent!
They’re trying to run away from everything I can set up for them.
It was bad enough when they got a boyfriend, I could make things fit that. But… but to suddenly decide to be and become a successful folk singer? In their mid-30s? And then, what, adopt a child in their mid-40s? Argh! It’s chaos!

me: I so empathise with how scary it is when your story takes on a life of its own

It’s Too Late: And there’ll be this huge big hole in their twenties, and… and if they get better and start enjoying life then they’ll have to face up to that huge big hole, and all the horrible bits of their childhood, and look back at them as this blank space, and it will make them utterly miserable!
And, and I know I’m not being consistent and argh!
It is scary, yes. Thank you for empathising.

me: you’re welcome, and you don’t have to be consistent <3

It’s Too Late: I don’t want them to be a middle-aged person and achieving all these things and then looking back at the first 34-odd years of their life as a waste.

me: of course you don’t want that for them, I understand

It’s Too Late: But… but if their whole life is like that, then, well. That’s just a tragedy. Not a mess.
A tragedy I can deal with! I can help them with a tragedy, I understand it!

me: yes, because then… they clearly couldn’t help it, right??

It’s Too Late: Yes!
And at least it would be a good story!
This… all this changing when they’re far too old to be the hero of their own book anyway.
Maybe if they left it ’til they were 70 or so it could be a different sort of book.

me: oh, that
I’ve been sensing that floating around the edges of the conversation

It’s Too Late: But no one goes from zero to adventures at 34.
Okay, apart from hobbits.

me: you read my mind
hobbits, though!

It’s Too Late: But Frodo was the equivalent of 21! I’ll concede Bilbo though, since 50 works out as around 30s for hobbits.

me: I was going to say, Bilbo

It’s Too Late: But.. argh.
See, that’s an appealing thread. It makes some sense.
But it’s one story against all of the others that are piled up against anything happening for people in their 30s unless the things in question started a lot earlier.
Also, how is Bilbo going to explain the huge gap as a folk musician? There are professionals half their age. It’s terrifying. They’re going to be told they’re too old.

me: TROPES! We have a problem with Real Life Tropes!

It’s Too Late: … Oh. Yeah, I guess.

me: there are a lot of Real Life Tropes that say achievement can’t start in your 30s

It’s Too Late: I think… well.
I brought Bilbo up.
I, books, stories.

me: oh, wow
yes, yes

It’s Too Late: Their parents were so neglectful in so many ways. They never taught them the things they needed to know.
I’ve looked after them as best I could, even though I’m just a hack writer.
But they’re a real person, and it’s HARD!

me: oh, SO MUCH EMPATHY FOR YOUR HARD!

It’s Too Late: And I can’t help them or look after them or guard them or explain to them what they need to do when none of the stories cover where they are going now!
I can’t do this!
And if I can’t do it, who is going to look after Bilbo?!

me: Bilbo
and their gods

It’s Too Late: cries
But what if that’s not enough?
I have to look after them! I need them, and they need me!
What if I stop protecting and hemming them in, and they need me and they’re too far for me to reach!

me: Bilbo will always need stories
and stories will always be part of them
but to be hemmed in – by stories?
the fact that you even chose that word tells me that you’re starting to see it differently

It’s Too Late: I think I am.

me: :) can you tell me what you’re seeing now?

It’s Too Late: I think… I think I have to let Bilbo write the story.

me: I think that is the most bloody awesome idea ever <3

It’s Too Late: And/or I have to let Bilbo be free and lead their life, and then I write that, rather than, well, writing their life and making them follow what I’ve already written.
But then, what’s my purpose?

me: you’re the writer
you are the one the character brushes past and whispers ‘Take this down’

It’s Too Late: And, well, they haven’t done much writing over their adulthood? Probably because I’ve not let them… argh. :(

me: this isn’t just about literally writing
it’s about stories
if you prefer, you’re the storyteller

It’s Too Late: We have to make a new story together. They and me.

me: yes
yes :)

It’s Too Late: I don’t know if I’m good enough for this. :-S
I… I really do have to try though, don’t I?

me: yes!
this is the great thing about stories!

It’s Too Late: Oh.

me: when you let them tell themselves
that’s when it gets good!

It’s Too Late: This is the whole writing thing, isn’t it? The whole craft thing generally.

me: yes <3

It’s Too Late: You keep going at it, and if it’s shit you keep going and then you write/make/sing/invent more and more and more because the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
I’ve been writing Bilbo the wrong story to be in.
And I’ve not let them write their own.
So we’re both actually pretty inexperienced for this.
But… but we have to try. We really do have to try.

me: and there is time, for both of you, and yes

It’s Too Late: I would like them to acknowledge more fully how much grief we both have for their childhood and the first part of their adulthood, though.
I think that would help. Not so much with the story but, well.
Because I was writing it so I got more and more and more distressed by it.
Can I help them to mourn, but without depressing them in a bad way?

me: yes, absolutely
I think mourning and depression are almost opposite
mourning is processing pain, letting it flow through your system
depression is when you’re stuck in pain and pain is stuck in you

It’s Too Late: *nods* That makes sense.
Yes.
Gosh, I really am very scared. Bilbo and I are trying to write a totally new story, with a plot that no one else seems to write!
I think I’d better let them take the lead. I think that way I won’t obstruct them.
But maybe I can help with some of the fine detail.

me: I think that’s a wonderful idea, and yes

It’s Too Late: I… this may be an odd request, but can I talk to your Mr H?
It’s just that he seems to really know a lot about stories.

me: yes!! he would love to, hold on

It’s Too Late: Thank you. :-)

Mr. H: hey there :D it’s me

It’s Too Late: Hi!

Mr. H: so you wanna talk about stories?
ask me anything

It’s Too Late: OMG how do you cope with being a story-person who lives in the head of a real person? It’s so hard!
I’m starting to realise that I may not actually be a monster at all.
How do you stop the tropes from getting in the way of the real story?

Mr. H: I just keep reminding myself and her that I’m part of her

It’s Too Late: *nods* Trouble is, I’ve been controlling Bilbo far too much. I need to know how to let go of that, but still support them and… well, I’m kind of stumped.

Mr. H: what I do is sense when I’m needed and show up

It’s Too Late: nods
I’ve done a lot of advising Bilbo over the years.
When things in real life are similar to stories, I’m usually quite good at advising them.
But when there’s a difference, I get terrified.

Mr. H: right, so that’s when you need to show up, when there’s story-stuff going on
when you can motivate Bilbo by saying guess what, ring, fire, go!

It’s Too Late: So… so I guess I need to learn to tell when this is something I can help with, and when it’s something that actually Bilbo can teach me about, or someone else in their head-cast can teach us both!
Haha, yes!

Mr. H: yes!
this is why we exist, see, because real (you know, THAT kind of real) people need a multiplicity of viewpoints

It’s Too Late: Ahh, yes.

Mr. H: and when you’re terrified… that probably means it’s time for you to curl up in stories and let another part of Bilbo take over
not because you’re lesser, not because you’re weak
because what we are doing here.. is TEAMWORK :D
you know, it’s like acting!
ensemble show!

It’s Too Late: That makes sense!
Or ensemble cast – most of mine and Bilbo’s favourite books have huge casts in them.
Ensemble fantasy novel casts, I mean.

Mr. H: yes, I get it

It’s Too Late: Thank you so much, Mr H, this is really helpful. :-)

Mr. H: you’re welcome, I’m loving this too!
anything else you’d like to know? I like to talk

It’s Too Late: :-)
I’m actually thinking that I probably need a new name.
I’ve also noticed that I seem to have shrunk, and I’m no longer 7ft tall. This is probably a good thing!

Mr. H: yes

It’s Too Late: I’ve been the “It’s Too Late” monster, and… no.
It isn’t too late, and I’m not a monster.
I also think that I should stop just being blue all the time.
Blue is a nice colour, but so are lots of other colours!

Mr. H: YEAH!
oh, yeah
you have literally been blue all the time
and there are lots of other colours

It’s Too Late: Yep.
Now, obviously I need to be careful, because beings that have just been one perfectly nice colour suddenly becoming so-and-so-of-many-colours tends to go badly. ;-)

Mr. H: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
aw, man… you made my eyes water with laughter

It’s Too Late: I’m the Storytellers.
:-)

Mr. H: plural
YES
beautiful

Storytellers: Good grief, that was a misprint, but now I come to look – I was right!
I am the Storytellers!

Mr. H: I’m pretty much punching the air over here

Storytellers: I am one being, but I am also several.
*splits into several figures, all of different colours*
*and sometimes reshapes into a single being who’s a rainbow*

Mr. H: that’s one way of solving the Saruman issue!
ALL YOUR POWERS COMBINED!

Storytellers: Ha, yes!
Yay!
Stories are many, and varied.

Mr. H: you can say that again!

Storytellers: And being stuck into one being made us, frankly, kind of broken and bewildered and, well, stuck.
Bilbo can have a range of storytellers to help with different cases.
But ultimately, we are the reflections (many and one) of their own storytelling power.

Mr. H: yes, yes, yes

Storytellers: Seven (or possibly a million) Rainbow Storytellers for the price of one blue monster. :-)
Oh, I like being this us so much better! relaxes

Mr. H: you guys are so awesome :D

Bilbo: Mr H, may we collectively give you a hug?

Mr. H: YEAH!!!
hugpile!

Storytellers: Rainbow Storytellers hug-pile!
Thank you. :-)
I would really, really like to talk to Bilbo soon, so if I could have Eve back so maybe she can help me prepare for that?

Mr. H: wahoo! thank YOU, and yes, sure

Storytellers: But thank you so much, Mr H!

Mr. H: thanks guys, never been hugged by someone else’s headpeople before, I’ll never forget this

Storytellers: :-)

Mr. H: and you’re very welcome
now here’s Eve….

Storytellers: As are you!
Hello Eve. :-)

me: hello!

Storytellers: We would really like to talk to Bilbo, and to apologise to them for having scared them and resented them so much.

me: I think that would be wonderful

Storytellers: And we’d also like to give them full permission to be the Head Storyteller of our little group, and promise to let them take the lead.

me: and I think that would be wonderful too

Storytellers: We are, however, quite scared.

me: oh <3 how can I help?

Storytellers: We’re not quite sure.

me: what’s scaring you right now?

Storytellers: That they may hate us.

me: *nods*

Storytellers: Also, that we will fail at this, and go back to being the Blue It’s-Too-Late Monster again.
We don’t ever want to be the Blue Monster again!

me: as long as you don’t want to, you won’t
you might have moments when you forget, but you’ll be able to be reminded, or to remind yourself
you can’t un-realise what you’ve realised today

Storytellers: nods That makes sense. :-)
Maybe… maybe Bilbo can help us to stay Rainbow. :-)

me: yes :) absolutely

Storytellers: But the bluest of us is going to stay slightly taller, and may be our spokesperson, to remind us that we were Blue, and that it’s okay for our pasts to have had grief and failure and regrets in them.

me: that’s perfect, yes
that’s beautiful

Storytellers: Because pasts are important, including grief and failure and regrets.
Thank you. :-)

me: you’re welcome

Storytellers: Okay! We are ready, if Bilbo is ready too to come out.

me: wonderful
let me check with them
Bilbo, are you willing to come out and talk with your Storytellers?

Storytellers: Can you call them? We’re… a bit shy of doing so, given everything.

me: I understand

Bilbo: Absolutely. :-) Actually, I can’t wait.

me: then please come and do so <3
Storytellers, you’re good to talk now <3

Bilbo: *emerges*
Hi Storytellers!
I’ve heard everything that’s been going on.
I rather randomly found some daisies at the top of this hill, and I made seven daisy chains. Which can also be a million if you like, because this is (partly) Story-land.

me: <3<3<3

Bilbo: (Okay, I’m going to start using character headings to avoid confusing us. :-) )

me: :D

Storytellers: Bilbo, we are so, so sorry for impeding you and stopping you from doing things, and for trying to control you and hem you in and make you follow a trope-filled story that wasn’t appropriate.

Bilbo: I know. :-) You were doing it because you love me, and Gods, you helped me so much when I was a child! It’s not your fault that stories can’t cover every eventuality – or that most of the stories in the world are problematic when it comes to things such as age, gender, child abuse and disability and so on!
I’m really proud of you all for talking to Eve and Mr H and sorting yourselves out. And I love you. :-)
*gives Storytellers daisy chains, one each*

me: *crying happily*

Bilbo: Oh, that’s lovely! You know that you were all identical before? You started off as the Blue Monster being bearded and male and thin and sad-looking, and now you’re all shapes and sizes and identities, and fluctuating! I think the daisies brought you to life. :-)

Storytellers: :) :) :)

me: :) :):)

Blue Storyteller: Bilbo, we really do need and want you to grieve properly and fully for everything you’ve lost in your childhood and adolescence and adulthood so far. And to recognise that it’s okay to regret things. That is going to be my role in your head from now on – to remind you that stories with regret in them aren’t unbearably sad. That you don’t need to push that grief aside.

Bilbo: Okay. I’m not going to be able to do that all at once, you know? But bit by bit, I promise… no, Quaker, I affirm that I will do just that. And, thank you. :-)

Green Storyteller: Bilbo, we want you to recognise that you are our Chief, our Chief Storyteller. We will take our lead from you. We will suggest things, and write things down and tell them when you want us to. And we’ll all have different perspectives and ideas. But ultimately this is your story, and you need to write it. We’ve done our best to bring you up to this point, but we’ve been making things so much worse for you over the last few years.

Yellow Storyteller: You’re going to write a whole new story with your life from now on, Bilbo. And we’re going to help you. And we’re really scared by it, and we know that you are too. But we’re going to try to not add to your fear with our own Stuff. If you notice us doing so, please tell us, and tell us that it’s our Stuff, and we’ll try not to bring it to the table so much!

Red Storyteller: Also, you should write your own stories with 30+ female and/or genderqueer heroes, because there need to be more of them!

me: :D DD

(enthusiastic agreement from all Storytellers)

Bilbo: I’ll do my best. But I need to start living and writing my own story freely first. :-)

Purple Storyteller: Are you ready to do that now?

Bilbo: As ready as I’ll ever be, and I need to start somewhere. :-) One of the things that I need you guys to recognise is that sometimes the story image isn’t helpful to me at all. Because of all the baggage, and also becomes sometimes all I can deal with is the next five minutes, not the whole of my life! Seeing things in story-shape has contributed to my anxiety. Which isn’t your fault! But you remember how lately I’ve found it helpful when motivating myself for some things to say, “what I have power over, all I have power over, is me, myself, right now”? I want and need to carry on doing things like that.
But that doesn’t mean at all that you lot aren’t going to be wonderfully helpful to me too! There will be times when I’ll need your advice, and times when I’ll need your encouragement, and times when I really need to be in a story now, and times when I’ll need you to tell the story that I’m making – to be the author that the character whispers too! And times, above all, when I’ll need you guys cheering me on, because goodness knows recovery is hard in so many ways.

(the Storytellers coalesce temporarily, into a rainbow hue)

Rainbow Storyteller: That makes perfect sense. :-)
Hug?

(the Rainbow Storyteller separates into the 7 main colours again, and Bilbo hugs each one in turn. Then each of them lays their hand on Bilbo’s head in turn, and colour suffuses them.)

Bilbo: Thank you. Thank you all. :-)
Okay, is there anything else that any of you would like to say, to me or to Eve?

Storytellers: We’d like to thank Eve, please. :-)

me: :) oh, I was over here crying with joy and thanking God for letting me be a part of this

Bilbo: *loves*

Blue Storyteller: Eve, may we have a hug?

me: you SO may

Blue Storyteller: Storyteller hug-pile!

me: *hugs you all*

Blue Storyteller: Eve, it is possible that you now have colours on you yourself. :-)

me: <3<3<3<3<3<3
hee hee
I have no objection :D :D

Bilbo: SO MUCH LOVE Storytellers. And well done. I’m so proud of you all. :-) I’d really like to talk to Eve myself now and wind things down, because my head is slightly exploding with being me and the rest of you at the same time! But I LOVE YOOOOU! And we’ll talk soon, yes? :-)

(Storytellers spin and spin and spin together into one Rainbow Storyteller and then spin and spin and spin faster until they are made of light, and then disappear with a slight pop. Though they are probably just in Bilbo’s head now, and have not actually gone anywhere.)

Bilbo: Phewwww!
Gosh.
falls over sideways

me: I KNOW RIGHT
that was so wonderful I can’t even
wow

Bilbo: I was getting rather self-conscious during the last bit – talking to myself felt so weird.

me: it was amazing to read

Bilbo: I’m so scared, still. But also positive. :-) And, yeah. I know that they’re there in the back of my mind, and it’s like there’s this part of me that I know is on my side now. :-)
Yeah, getting that feeling of freedom. This could be good. :-)

me: oh, wonderful

Bilbo: THANK YOU SO MUCH OMG I DON’T EVEN!
You were amazing.
You are so damn good at this!

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.)

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?

Happy Noodle Girl

So I’d been reading The Killing Joke while feeling VERY stuck and frustrated, and this line of Joker’s struck me as worryingly apt: ‘It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for… it’s all a monstrous, demented gag!’

This triggered a long think about Joker, and a realisation that what he and Batman have in common is not just that they have hideous traumas in their past, but that they’re both stuck in rage about them. Joker can’t even remember what happened, but the rage is still right there and all the killing in the world won’t be enough for him, any more than taking down all the criminals in the world will be enough for Batman. They’re angry forever.

And this is because it’s always between you and you. Killing people is too superficial! The only way to deal with your stuff is to deal with yourself, and neither of those guys is ever going to deal with themselves.

Then I realised that was why I was STILL stuck in rage about people trying to take away my sovereignty when I was four. In order to really deal with my anger, I not only needed to give myself sovereignty, I also needed to give myself forgiveness.

So I asked to talk to the me who wanted to take away my sovereignty. She showed up as a grotesquely stretched version of four-year-old me in school uniform, as tall as I am now, spindly-limbed and giraffe-necked, like Alice after she ate the mushroom. Her voice and demeanour were adult.

Me: I can’t help noticing you look like a child who’s been forced to grow up.

Her: Yes. That’s what happens. You can kick and scream all you like, but you’ll be defeated.

Me: Oh, bing! There’s no point struggling!

Her: That’s right. You can struggle if you like, but you don’t get to have sovereignty. You’re defeated before you begin. It’s your nature to be defeated. You’re defeated the day you’re born, and even death can’t undo it.

Me: Ouch. Life actually is a black, awful joke to you, isn’t it? People are helpless and there’s no point to anything. You actually share the Joker’s view of life. No wonder I was feeling tempted by it. And no wonder I find it so hard to do anything.

Her: You can do things if you like, but there’s no point because you don’t get to have sovereignty. Somebody could come along and stop you at any moment and there’s nothing you could do about it.

Me: Like at school when I never got to finish a painting.

Her: Yes. Life is cruel and random.

Me: I don’t see the world like that at all.

Her: That’s why you need me.

Me: Wait, you’re trying to protect me from making an effort because you know there’s no point and you hate to see me struggling?

Her: Yes. I wish you’d just give up and join me. See the world the way I do, and we could both just smash everything up for shits and giggles, or die in a gutter and rot horribly because who cares?

Me: Joker, Joker, Joker.

Her: (turning into a Joker jack-in-the-box) YOU RANG??

Me: (freaked out) Backup! Backup!!

Mr. H: Whoa, you have to talk to her in a way that she can hear you. She’s just scared right now.

Her: (back to normal) Was kind of the point.

Mr. H: What for?

Her: Because who cares?

Me: Okay, I happen to know that you do care about me because otherwise you wouldn’t stick around to protect me from making effort. Wait, are you the biggest ‘Why even bother getting out of bed?’ monster ever?

Her: You can get out of bed if you like. It doesn’t matter.

Me: Wait – I think your ‘nothing matters so you can do anything’ is actually a way of trying to give me sovereignty! Joker is totally sovereign in his way, isn’t he? He does exactly what he wants. You want that for me, don’t you?

Her: Of course, that’s what every child wants!

Me: That’s great. Thank you. And you believe that the world is so cruel and random that there’s no point having a long-term plan. There’s no point having anything I value or struggle for, because anything can be taken away from me at any moment. So I might as well just do whatever I feel like, even if it’s destructive or even if it’s nothing.

Her: Yes.

Me: Your one bad day was the first time you got marched out of Art half way through, wasn’t it? [Note: 'one bad day' is Joker's term for the event that drove someone crazy.]

Her: No. It was when I realised they were going to do that to me every week, and I could kick and scream till my throat hurt and it still wouldn’t make any difference.

Me: Oh, I’m so sorry. Hand-on-heart sigh. This is about creativity, isn’t it?

Her: (tearing up) Yes! I really loved painting! I’m a creative person! That’s what I am! And I realised that day that I’d never be safe to create anything. Somebody could always stop me. Somebody could always take it away. It wasn’t being hit or being bullied that broke me. It was when they took my creativity away from me. My creativity was me! They took me away from me!

Me: Oh, no. That makes so much sense. I totally get why you would react that strongly. And you’re still furious, aren’t you?

Her: Of course!

Me: The reason you look like a child who’s been stretched… is because you stopped then, isn’t it? You got taller, but you didn’t change, because your anger didn’t change.

Her: Yes.

Me: And the reason why you’re happy for me to spend all day making candybar dolls, but hate it when I write stories, is that candybar dolls don’t matter but stories do. You want me to take out my creativity on things that don’t matter, so I won’t get upset when they’re taken away.

Her: Yes. And that’s why you always make candybar dolls when you’re really depressed and procrastinating. I still want to make pictures. I just don’t want to make pictures that matter. And making dolls is so quick. So I get to finish pictures, over and over again.

Me: My heart is seriously breaking for you right now. What can I do to make this better? I don’t think there’s anything in the monster manual for this.

Her: There’s nothing you can do, obviously. Other than accept my reality and do what you can to find pleasure in a pointless life.

Me: I’m not willing to do that, so let’s try a different tack. Why are you so sure that we don’t get to have sovereignty?

Her: I think that was amply demonstrated at school. You were there.

Me: Yes. I totally agree that we didn’t have sovereignty at school. Can you tell me why you’re sure we don’t get to have sovereignty now?

Her: By extrapolation. And also because – because – the only way a person gets to have sovereignty is to grow up, and if I grow up then they’ve won, and if they’ve won I don’t have sovereignty. So there is no way for me to have sovereignty.

Me: Wait, you believe that a person can have sovereignty if they grow up?

Her: Not really, because of that Catch-22. If you grow up people will stop trying to force discipline on you, but only because they’ve trained you to force discipline on yourself.

Me: That was actually who I was expecting to see here. I thought the me who wanted to take away my sovereignty would be the me who forced discipline on me.

Her: (silence)

Me: What’s going on? What are you experiencing right now?

Her: I was confused and thinking about what you said. I think the you who tries to force discipline on you does believe that a tiny amount of sovereignty can be achieved by compromise and submission. That good behaviour will be rewarded with a little bit more freedom. Whereas I see freedom as another of those things that it’s pointless to value or struggle for, and compromising with the enemy as not only pointless, but distasteful. (Pause) I mean, you can do it if you like. It doesn’t matter.

Me: Are you sure that it doesn’t matter to you?

Her: I’m confused. I’m breaking up. I don’t know which me you’re talking to.

Me: Can you explain your confusion?

Her: I’m confused about the difference between no-point me and forcing-discipline me. I don’t know which one is which. You’re asking the questions wrong. I feel like I’m losing me.

Me: Could it be that you’re both?

Her: Yes, I guess. But not at the same time. That’s why it’s hard to understand that I’m both because I’m never both at once. No-point me says ‘Do what you like, there’s no point’ and then forcing-discipline me sees you doing what you like and says, ‘Who are you to think you have sovereignty? Stop doing what you like and learn to bow, bow, bow. Maybe if I discipline you enough you’ll finally get that there is no sovereignty.’

Me: On whose authority are you disciplining me, if there’s no sovereignty?

Her: I don’t know. Society. Whoever in the real world is telling you what to do. You yourself. I take your dreams and turn them into orders. And then no-point me sees you struggling to carry out those orders and says ‘Stop struggling and stop valuing things, there’s no point.’ And that’s why you have cycles.

Me: Wow. Thank you for explaining this.

Her: So can you forgive me?

Me: What? Yes of course I can forgive you! You’re a hurt child who just wanted to finish her paintings!

Her: I was. Thirty years ago. I’m something nastier now. I’m thirty years of hate and anger. Thirty years of despair. Can you really forgive hate?

Me: Of course. I was there. I know how hard it was. I know why you’re like this. I know all hate comes from pain. It’s – it’s just pain that’s gone hard.

Her: I’m not sure I want you to forgive me, because I can’t fight you then, and if I can’t fight you how can I win you over to my point of view?

Me: What makes you think that if I forgive you you can’t fight me?

Her: (crying) Because next time you feel despair or hate or anger you’ll just go, ‘Oh, there’s that poor hurt child who wanted to finish her paintings! Let’s do a painting together!’ And then you’ll make me go all soppy and then I’ll lose!

Me: To me?

Her: Yes to you, who else would I be fighting?

Me: Okay, and you’re fighting me to make me understand that there’s no sovereignty, so that I won’t go through all the pain of thinking there is and valuing and struggling for things and then having them taken away from me?

Her: Yes.

Me: Okay, two things. What if it doesn’t have to be a struggle?

Her: Of course it’s a struggle.

Me: Most of the struggling I’m doing right now is against you. If you can learn to relax a bit, I won’t need to struggle much because I naturally like doing things.

Her: (crying) So I’m causing the problem I’m trying to prevent? Damn, I thought I was one of those monsters who didn’t do that.

Me: It’s okay, I forgive you! And the other thing is – okay, this is a big one, are you ready for this?

Her: Yes. No. I don’t know. Say it anyway.

Me: I’ve got a theory and I’d like us to test it, okay?

Her: Maybe.

Me: Okay. My theory is that sovereignty is possible. Yes, sometimes bad things happen that are unavoidable, but that doesn’t take away your sovereignty. The only thing that takes away your sovereignty is thinking that you don’t have any sovereignty. It’s always between you and you.

Her: But when some huge adult takes away your choice and uses physical force on you, where’s your sovereignty then?

Me: For you, it was in kicking and screaming. You were exercising your sovereignty the only way you knew how. You were raising your voice in protest. For another child, a sovereign response might have been choosing to obey because they valued harmony. And for another it might have been asking politely for a timetable change.

Her: How can it be sovereign to choose to obey?

Me: Well, because it’s a choice. It’s not like someone presses a button and obedience comes out. You think about it, you work out if it chimes with your needs and values and you go, ‘okay then.’ It’s only unsovereign if you think, ‘I don’t have a choice, I have to do this.’

Her: But I didn’t have a choice!

Me: You had a choice to protest or to obey willingly, and you chose to protest.

Her: Nice choice. But I do sort of see your point. I don’t know though. It’s kind of sitting in a garret pretending you’re a princess, isn’t it?

Me: No, it’s a genuine choice. Being sovereign isn’t about controlling everything in your world. It’s about recognising the choices you do have, and making them according to your own needs and values, and not giving a damn what anyone thinks because you are the king or queen of your life.

Her: Fine, but you’re forgetting what it was like. There is no way you can feel sovereign under such horrible circumstances. Maybe it’s normal for teachers to drag four-year-old children across the floor by the wrist, but I experienced it as physical abuse.

Me: Actually I’m pretty sure that’s not allowed in schools now.  Your pain is totally legitimate. And yes, there are times when you just can’t feel sovereign, but afterwards you can get the feeling of sovereignty back. Even in horrendous situations – like the hostages in Beirut managed to keep their sovereignty by giving themselves the respect that the guards weren’t giving them. And by respecting the guards as fellow human beings too.

Her: So what you’re saying is the loss of sovereignty I experienced was temporary, not permanent? And that you can have sovereignty regardless of what other people do to you? And that all it takes to have sovereignty is to know you have sovereignty?

Me: Yes.

Her: I can’t accept that.

Me: Why not?

Her: Because I’ve been teaching you for thirty years that you don’t have sovereignty. So if you’re right, I’ve ruined thirty years of your life for nothing.

Me: It’s okay! I forgive you!

Her: That doesn’t make it okay. If you’re right, I’ve spent thirty years taking away the one thing I most wanted you to have. I absolutely will not countenance that. No way.

Me: I think you’ve already realised that I’m right.

Her: Shut up shut up shut up.

Me: It’s okay, there’s still lots of time. We can still turn this into a good thing.

Her: How can it possibly be a good thing?

Me: Because now we get to learn about sovereignty so we can teach it to other people. It’s a lot harder to teach something if you’ve never had to learn it.

Her: (tearing up) Did you say teach? We get to teach? For real? That’s a huge part of me too!

Me: Yes, we totally get to teach!

Her: Okay, maybe I can get on board with this. But it’s going to take a while. I’m not going to just be fine overnight.

Me: Of course not.

Her: And I guess on the bright side, after being made of despair for thirty years, at least now I have hope. Say, do you think that’s why we named Hope Hope?

Me: It might well be! She’s very powerful!

Her: So we have sovereignty. Wow. We actually have sovereignty. But wait, I’m scared. It’s still not safe to value things or put effort into them because people can still take them away.

Me: Yes, that can happen, but it’s worth the risk because most of the time you DO get to finish your paintings. Now is not then. And oh, bing! The fact that horrible things can happen doesn’t mean the world’s a joke. It doesn’t mean there’s no point trying or valuing anything. Because a lot of the time, trying and valuing things have fantastic results.

Her: But what if people DO take the thing away?

Me: Well, we grieve, and then we try again.

Her: What if I screw up and take the thing I value away from myself?

Me: Same thing. We grieve and we learn from our screwups and try again using the new information.

Her: That sounds reasonable, but it’s very scary.

Me: I know, and it’s okay to be scared, and we’ll take things slowly. And you can go and hide in a safe room and paint any time you want to.

Her: (crying again) Can I?

Me: Sure. You can have a room where nobody can ever stop you or take anything away from you.

Her: Really?

Me: Yes. And it can be as big as your imagination.

Her: Wow. Can I go there right now?

Me: Sure. What would you like it to look like?

Her: I just want a door into infinite fields. Like the view when you’re flying. All to myself. And the sea in the distance. I want a world that I’ll never be done exploring.

Me: You’ve got it.

Her: And I want infinite art supplies. And I want them all to be waterproof so my pictures will never wash away when it rains. And I want the power to go inside my pictures, so I’ll have worlds within worlds within worlds.

Me: Oh. That! Yes, of course. Of course you’ve got that. And no, they’ll never wash away. Ever.

Her: Thank you. That’s everything I want.

Me: You’re welcome. Here’s the door. And wait – here are your art supplies. (Handing her a carpetbag.) You know it’s bigger on the inside.

Her: Of course. Well – bye.

Me: You can come back any time.

Her: Maybe. I’ve got a lot to do. Wait, I don’t like the way I look. And my clothes. I don’t want to be wearing uniform. But I don’t know yet what I do want to look like. I don’t know if I’m really a child or an adult.

Me: Well, you’ve got all the time in the world to decide. And when you do, paint yourself a new body, and some new clothes, and step into them.

Her: I can do that?

Me: Anything.

Her: Okay. Thank you. Goodbye.

(She pushes open the door. It opens on a beautiful landscape under a blue sky. Wind blows through her hair.)

Her: I’m really allowed?

Me: Yes.

Her: You really forgive me?

Me: Yes. I love you.

Her: I love you since the day you were born. I’m going now. Goodbye.

Me: Goodbye.

(She steps across the threshold, and the door closes behind her.)