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)

Bill’s Loneliness Monster

Bill (not his real name) suggested I post this little talk with his Loneliness Monster, who turned out to be more of a sad scared self. (Please note that I will NEVER blog your monsters unless YOU suggest it!)

Again, this one pretty much monstertalked himself… (I promise my job isn’t always this easy!)

Loneliness: lonelylonely lonely

me: oh, love

I know, it’s so hard

so much love to you

Loneliness: I don’t want love, I can’t trust it

me: okay, of course I’m not going to send you love if you feel uncomfortable with it

can you tell me why you can’t trust it?

Loneliness: because it goes away

me: oh :/ oh, I see

Loneliness: (note from Bill, this must be a big thing , I keep coming up with all sorts of other things to talk about and think about)

me: :(

so have you had love go away in the past?

Loneliness: I really don’t like it when people pay attention to me

I’d much rather distract you both

me: I get it

Loneliness: wow, Bill is deducing things

I think he’s actually right

what I’m calling love, isn’t love, it’s actually attention, being in focus

me: ohh, I see

Loneliness: more specifically, being held in positive focus

me: and why do you feel uncomfortable with that?

Loneliness: because it’s transient, and then I miss it when it’s gone

because I feel unloved

me: oh, that’s totally legitimate, I can see that that must be really painful

Loneliness: yes, it is but it’s pain that comes from cross wiring

me: what do you mean?

Loneliness: well, it’s not really that they don’t love me

it’s just that they’re not focusing on me in a positive way at that moment

me: no, it’s not :) they just happen to – exactly

Loneliness: of course, it may be that they never did love me

and I’m sure in some cases that that’s true

but not all of them, and probably not most of the ones that are important

me: absolutely :)

Loneliness: okay, you can love me now

me: hooray! lots of love coming over :)

I hope you got that ;)

Loneliness: wow, that feels quite different

me: does it? :)

Loneliness: yes, much softer, but it was much deeper

IS much deeper than what I experienced before when what I was paying attention to was attention

me: ohhh – that makes sense

so when you stop paying attention to the attention, you’re able to – love the love?

Loneliness: yes

me: wonderful :)

Loneliness: and this explains a lot for Bill

about why he’s always feeling like he wants someone to talk to

me: because he’s been mistaking attention for love

Loneliness: yes

not mistaking, at least not at a conscious level

but at my level deep inside, yes

me: I understand the difference

Loneliness: we are also noticing that even though this conversation feels easy, and I was able to understand what’s been happening without the use of a sledgehammer

it’s still very significant, and important

me: I agree, it really is

Loneliness: this pattern underlies so much

me: like what?

Loneliness: and we can feel the giant shift

me: wonderful

Loneliness: what mostly Bill being uncomfortable with being alone

me: *nods

Loneliness: and feeling like he needs attention from the people around him

me: which is a hard situation for an HSP who actually needs downtime

Loneliness: yes

although we’re still not quite sure how that fits in

me: well, socialising can lead to HSP overwhelm, and it sucks if it’s a choice between overwhelm and loneliness (may be projecting a bit here, I think I have one like you too, so this is helpful for me as well!)

Loneliness: no, I don’t think you are projecting

me:

Loneliness: or, maybe you are, but you’re also right

LOL

me: :D good to know!!

Loneliness: thank you

me: you’re welcome!

Loneliness: I think I’m going to go play now

I believe we’ve done what we needed to with me

me: have a wonderful time, it’s been great talking to you :)

and I believe you’re right!

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.)

Introducing LITTLE SISTER!

I was still stuck on tidying my room, despite doing lots of work on it. It occurred to me that I needed a monster conversation, but there was no obvious voice of doom making its presence felt. So I thought maybe it was a wall (a wall! In my room!) What would this wall be protecting me from?

The mess in my room is one of the main ways I keep myself stuck. No matter how much I achieve during the day, I always come home to this sty. A huge ever-present reminder of my stuckness, shame, and despair. It’s like a big sign saying YOU WILL NEVER CHANGE. And yet it’s also curiously reassuring.

The mess says YOU’LL NEVER CHANGE, and it’s reassuring.

Oh, right. The wall is yet another thing protecting me from growing up.

Me: Oh, wall. I understand how desperately you want to protect me from growing up. I’m sorry, but you can’t protect me from that, because I’m already an adult. But I can have all the best qualities of being a child, like playfulness, curiosity, fun, wonder, a strong sense of self, safe boundaries, comfort in my body… and you can help me have those things by letting me through.

Wall: No! Not good enough. You have to actually stay a child! Not just pick and choose the best bits. I have to keep you as a literal child!

Me:  I’m so sorry, I know this hurts, but you can’t keep me as a child. It’s too late. I haven’t been a child for years. I grew up long ago.

Wall: YOU PROMISED NOT TO!

Me: I couldn’t help it.

And the wall turned into a little girl screaming and bawling her eyes out. It wasn’t really a wall at all, but a sad scared self. She was about four. I picked her up and she continued to howl.

Me: Hey, what’s the matter?

Her: I DON’T WANT TO DISAPPEAR!

Me: I’ll never let you disappear! You’ll always be part of me and I’ll always love you!

Her: Waah!

Me: Just like I have a big sister who’s a future me – you’re my little sister. You’re just as important.

Her: Waaah!!

Me: I need you to work with me to help me tidy my room. I promise you’ll be safe.

Her: I’m scared!!

At this point I called in Big Sister, who appeared at her most radiant and Mary Poppins-ish. Little Sister stopped crying and gazed at her adoringly.

Me: See, there’s nothing to be frightened of. You’re not going to disappear. You’re just going to get more big sisters!

Big Sister held out her arms and I passed Little Sister over to her, and we walked along like that.

Me: How about if we find a different way for my room to make you feel safe? How about if, instead of mess, we just make it really childlike and playful?

Little Sister: Maybe…

Me: And restful. Make it look like a place for resting and not working all the time. A place where you don’t have to try hard…

Little Sister: Yeah!

In saying this, I reminded myself of Kyo and Asu from  the anime Poor Sisters Story. These two characters are young sisters struggling to survive without parents, and each wants to be this for the other – ‘the one place where you don’t have to try hard.’

It’s occurred to me before that I’d like my relationship with my inner child to be more like Kyo’s relationship with Asu – one of loving, supportive teamwork - but now I realised there was a third dimension. This radiant spirit guiding the two of us. For Kyo and Asu it’s the spirit of their dead mother, for us it’s Big Sister, our future self. This is my new phone wallpaper:

Kyo and Asu hugging with the spirit of their mother holding both of them. Caption: 'Because I've left you two... a small promise.'

(At this point we had a long digression about the Japanese words for big sister and little sister and how they’re used. I was surprised that Little Sister seemed to know Japanese as well as I did, and she said, ‘I have access to everything you know. I just see it differently.’)

Me: So I’m tidying my room with a child. A scared, four-year-old child. And I need to make it fun and non-scary for her. Big Sister, do you have any ideas?

Big Sister: *just shines*

Me: Okay, more God. But anything else?

Big Sister: *shine, shine*

Me: Well, yes, I guess I could ask Little Sister. What would make tidying more fun for you?

Little Sister: Ice-cream! We have to have ice-cream when we’ve finished. And when we’re half way through!

Me: Okay! Anything else?

Little Sister. Colours. I need more colours!

Me: Like how?

Little Sister: You’re the big sister, you work something out!

Me: Okay, I’ll work something out.

Little Sister: And I want the dogs to help.

Me: Right. How about each dog gets to be in charge of a category of stuff, and the dog who ends up with the most bags and boxes packed wins?

Little Sister: And the dog who wins gets ice cream!

Me: Okay, but let’s try not to get it in their fur…

Little Sister: And I want you to put your posters up NOW! Not after we move!

Me: That’s fine. I kind of want to as well.

Little Sister: Yay! And please brush your hair less.

Me: Huh?

Little Sister: I don’t like hairbrushing. I like messy hair! I don’t feel like me otherwise!

Me: Hmm… maybe we can find another way instead of being messy? Would it help if I wore pigtails?

Little Sister: …I don’t think I’d like that. You wouldn’t look like my big sister. (Pause) I’m realising that it’s my hair I don’t want brushing. Not yours. You can brush your hair. (Pause) I need to think about what this means.

How about that?!? At this point I arrived at work so we had to stop, but I’m sure she’ll inform me of what it means when she’s ready… I suspect she’s realising she doesn’t need me to behave exactly like her to feel secure in her own existence. Whew!!