Secret Diet Ninja and Gender Monster

Warning! Potentially triggery for weight stuff!

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

Secret Diet Ninja kind of looks like Zhang Ziyi.

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

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

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

Me: Why?

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

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

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

Me: No, I wouldn’t want to.

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

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

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

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

SDN. Bollocks. You’re terrified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Diet Ninja: There won’t be any.

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Diet Ninja: Yes it bloody well is!

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

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

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

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

Me: Of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. H: We thought you’d never ask!

Me: (laughing) Thanks, guys!

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

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

Big Sister: How is that not an identity?

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

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

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

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

Gender Monster: Yes.

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

Gender Monster: Yes.

Secret Diet Ninja: (silently reappearing) Yep.

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

Gender Monster/Secret Diet Ninja: Ready.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Diet Ninja: What if they refuse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Diet Ninja: Nope.

Gender Monster: All done here too.

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

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

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

Big Sister: Okay, bye! And thank you!

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

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

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

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?

Gobstopper Penguin Pretty Much Monstertalks Himself

Gobstopper Penguin is my ‘Rest is Weak and Selfish’ monster. The ‘gobstopper’ came about because he has many layers of hard. And then the word ‘gobstopper’ reminded me of ‘rockhopper’, as in rockhopper penguin, and thus Gobstopper Penguin was born. (Art by R. Taylor.)

Recently, I had this chat with him.

Me: Remember when I showed you that you don’t need to protect me from thinking I suck any more, because my ‘You’re Disgusting and Deserve to be Obliterated’ monster turned into an awesome dragon called ‘You’re Amazing and Deserve to be Safe Forever’?

Gobstopper Penguin: Yes, but. It’s just that in this particular situation, people are suffering right now because of what you’ve done. People are going without because you owe them money. And because you’re taking so long to clear your room, your housemate is no doubt really worried that she won’t have time to find a new housemate.

Me: I understand that. I truly regret how I’ve approached things in the past, and I want to make things easier for those people as soon as possible. And the best way for me to do this is with regular rest and play. I get more done that way, and that’s the point here. The point is not for me to suffer. They don’t want that. Or if they do, that’s their stuff.

Gobstopper Penguin: Yes, but I just fail to see how you can even dare to think about your wants and needs at a time like this.

Me: It sounds like you’re really, really worried about me being in a situation where people might be angry with me, or I might feel guilt and shame towards them, and you want to get me out of that situation as soon as possible.

Gobstopper Penguin: Of course! I can’t stand for you to be in that kind of pain!

Me: Okay, I really appreciate that you care. Thank you. Let’s look at it like training an athlete – or since we’re in that kind of headspace at the moment, when Yoda was training Luke, I bet he gave him enough time to rest and sleep! And the future of the galaxy was at stake there!

Gobstopper Penguin: Actually, it must have been really hard for Luke to sleep in that mud hut with all those snakes and bugs everywhere, and the air being so humid after he grew up in a desert…

Me: That was very… specific. Gobstopper Penguin, do you have a crush on Luke too?!

Gobstopper Penguin: (small trilling purr)

Me: You’re a male penguin!

Gobstopper Penguin: Are you being homophobic towards penguins?!

Me: No. No, you’re quite right. You are totally allowed to have a crush on Luke. He’d probably think you were adorable.

Gobstopper Penguin: He’d probably tell me that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

Me: Wow. Yes, that was really insightful. Well done! So how can we apply this to our current situation?

Gobstopper Penguin: Um… I’m afraid of you being in pain because of guilt and shame and other people’s anger. So I get angry at you for resting. And then you hate yourself and get stuck and suffer.

Me: Yeah, that’s exactly right!

Gobstopper Penguin: (tearing up) I’m sorry!

Me: It’s okay! It’s okay. Mistakes made out of love are the best kind. (hugs him) Let’s just think about how to make this better.

Gobstopper Penguin: Can I shorten my name like that other monster did?

Me: You mean -

Gobstopper Penguin: Instead of ‘Rest is Weak and Selfish’ can I just be ‘Rest’?

Me: AAAHHH I LOVE YOU (cries)

Gobstopper Penguin: (adorable penguin noises and beak nuzzling)

Me: I’ll probably still call you Gobstopper Penguin because it’s just so cute.

Gobstopper Penguin: Sure, just like you call Dragon Dragon. But her underlying name is the opposite of what it was, and so’s mine. I wonder if all monsters are really the opposites of themselves?

Me: I wonder if they are. People too, perhaps. Perhaps my real name is not ‘Procrastination’ but ‘Doing Lots of Awesome Stuff’.

Gobstopper Penguin: Yeah!!!

Me: Are you sure about this? I’m feeling like there’s still some residual fear there. Is there anything I can do to create safety when you’re worried about me feeling guilty and stuff?

Gobstopper Penguin: Rest! You don’t feel so upset when you’re not tired. And have a talk to yourself about sovereignty and whose stuff is whose. And being allowed to be where you are. And all of that good stuff that you’ve learned. And remind me if I forget, okay?

Me: Okay! You’re the best! Really, you’re stunningly articulate. Where did all that come from?

Gobstopper Penguin: You.

Me: Awww :) Thank you.

Big No and Big Yes

Yet another revelation brought on by (not) tidying my room! I was trying to work out why I was so stuck on this task, and I realised it was a growing-up thing.

I grew up in denial about growing up. Ridiculously epic denial. So when my parents decided I was old enough to tidy my own room, I did not take it well. As far as I was concerned, I was exactly the same person I’d always been and they’d just arbitrarily decided to stop taking care of me.

And then recently, a close friend decided to stop taking care of me. Intellectually, I agreed that was healthy. Emotionally, all my stuff from then was coming right back up. I realised part of me believed that if I tidied my room, I was accepting that I deserved rejection now just like I deserved rejection then.

When I find a part of me that believes something like that, I know I’ve got a monster.

Because I was freaking out about this monster, I asked Big Sister to negotiate with it while Little Sister and I hid our scared asses.

Me: Little Sister, would you like to be in a safe room for this?

Little Sister: I am not ONLY in a diamond igloo, I’m in a diamond igloo lined with cuddly dogs and bits of paper and MESS LOVELY MESS!

Me: Okay darling. Have a good time in there, you’re totally safe.

Little Sister: (slams door)

Me: Big Sister, can you do this negotiation for me? I’m really scared.

Big Sister: Do you want to be in a safe room too?

Me: Eeeeeeer… Yes and no. I still want to hear what’s going on. And I kind of want to know what the monster looks like too. I just don’t want it to be able to get at me.

Big Sister: Sounds like bulletproof mirrored glass is needed here.

Me: Yes!

(Big Sister conjures up a shelter for me that looks like a mini-Gherkin.)

Me: (laughing) Are you trying to tell me some Freudian thing here?

Big Sister: It was just what came to mind!

Me: Okay, thank you! (I go in and peer out through the diamond-shaped window-panes.) Please help us, God. Please guide us and help us all. Including the monster.

(Big Sister begins to glow gently.)

Big Sister: Hey, monster. Would you like to come out?

Monster: (big scary voice off) NOOOOOO!

Big Sister: You know what you just sounded like?!

Monster: (normal voice) Can we not go through a single monster negotiation without a Star Wars reference even when THAT guy isn’t here?

Big Sister: (smiling) You tell me, Mr. Big No.

Monster: (roaring into the picture on all fours, mostly mouth, like a cross between Taz and a giant Fizgig) NOOOOOOO!

Big Sister: Wow, you really can do a very big no!

Monster: (preening) Can my name be Big No?

Big Sister: Sure! So it seems like you’re alternating between being really friendly, and really angry and resistant. I’m noticing that you’re fine unless I ask you or tell you to do something, and then I get a big no. Is that right?

Big No: N – uuugggh.

Big Sister: I’m also noticing that you don’t much care for questions.

Big No: I just, I just, I just, aargh! I exist to say no, so I don’t know what I want! I’m like Antigone, you know, ‘I am here to say no and to die!’ Except I don’t die!

Big Sister: Well, sometimes saying no can be really valuable. No can be an incredibly sovereign thing to say. I think Eve really needs you.

Big No: BUT I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING ELSE!

Big Sister: You’re saying plenty!

Big No: But when someone tells me to do something, or asks me to do something, or asks me a question that’s supposed to have the answer ‘Yes’ – I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING BUT NO!

Big Sister: Ah, yes. Yes, I remember that feeling.

Big No: Of course, you were her. (looks about to tear up)

Big Sister: Yes. I understand.

Big No: Where is she? She’s hiding from me, isn’t she? (Big Sister nods) WHY HAS IT ALL GONE SO WRONG?

Big Sister: I’m so sorry. It’s going to be okay. Can you tell me what’s gone wrong? If you’re upset that she’s hiding from you, does that mean you wanted to be her friend?

Big No: OF COURSE, I’M HER BIG NO! Every toddler has one, don’t they?

Big Sister: Yes! (smiles) But, um -

Big No: You can’t help  but notice that it’s been a lot of years and she’s not a toddler any more and I’m still around.

Big Sister: Yeah. Well, being around is fine. Being around is great! Where would an adult be without the ability to say no?

Big No: I don’t have to disappear?

Big Sister: No, of course not! Please don’t disappear. You’re absolutely vital.

Big No: But it seems like I just cause trouble. I mean, without me she’d lose the ability to say no. But with me, she’s lost the ability to say yes. She wants to do this thing and I don’t know how to let her because all I am is a Big No. I can’t be other than that. The only way to let her do it would be to disappear, and I can’t do that. So I’m stuck and she’s stuck and she’s hiding from me because she hates me so much. (crying)

Big Sister: She doesn’t hate you!

Big No: People don’t hide from people they like!

Big Sister: Sometimes they do. She’s actually pretty proud of her ability to say no, but she’s scared of her inability to say yes.

Big No: I heard that most monsters are really the opposites of themselves, but I can’t imagine that I’m really a Big Yes.

Big Sister: Well, saying No to something is saying Yes to something else. For instance, saying No to helping someone is saying Yes to having time for yourself. Saying No to tidying is saying Yes to mess.

Big No: (enthusiastically) Yes to Mess! Hey, I just said yes. Theoretically.

Big Sister: What else could saying no to tidying be saying yes to? What was it saying yes to back then?

Big No: Yes to childhood. Yes to time to grow slowly instead of all at once. Yes to support – well, yes please to support, but there wasn’t any. The room just stayed messy.

Big Sister: That was hard.

Big No: Yes. Yes to wildness.  Yes to cosiness. Yes to SELF. Yes to imperfection. Yes to spontaneity. Yes to freedom. Yes to sovereignty! Yes to not giving a damn what other people think because you are the king or queen of your life!

Big Sister: Those are all really good yesses!

Big No: But why doesn’t she get those things when I say no to tidying?

Big Sister: Well, a mess can’t make someone a child or give them support. A mess can’t make someone free or sovereign. Not by itself. It’s just a mess. Refusing the thing you don’t want is only half of it. You also need to say yes to the thing you do. Otherwise you just get a nothing.

Big No: Mess isn’t a nothing. Tidiness is a nothing. Tidiness is being all scrubbed away till there’s nothing left of you.

Big Sister: So you’ve understood that there’s a ‘no’ of tidiness. Tidiness involves rejecting some things. I don’t think it necessarily involves rejecting yourself. What could tidiness involve saying yes to?

Big No: Your parents. Bossy people. Society.

Big Sister: Not who, what! Think about a sovereign person who is also tidy. Think about Mary Poppins. What qualities is her tidiness saying yes to?

Big No: I… Sovereignty, somehow. I don’t understand that one at all. I don’t understand how tidiness could possibly be sovereign. I guess… order, control of her environment. Serenity,  crispness, cleanness. Safety? Tidiness can be safe as well as mess. Perhaps. I feel a bit anxious about that thought. Maybe tidiness isn’t safe for everybody.

Big Sister: Maybe it depends if it’s yes-tidiness or no-tidiness.

Big No: Ooh! Yes. So how do I – what do I do?

(Here I procrastinated for a while)

Big Sister: I’m sensing some nervousness around the answer to that question!

Big No: I just know you’re going to tell me to turn into Big Yes, and I don’t want to lose my Big No-ness! I want to be both!

Big Sister: Good, because you need to be both. Even Havi has her ‘What I don’t want’!

Big No: Oh – like this? (The brown fuzzball divides like a cell into conjoined-twin fuzzballs, one red and one green, both with equally huge mouths.)

Red Twin: NOOOOOO!!!

Green Twin: YEEEEEEESS!!!

Big Sister: Awesome, awesome, awesome! Big No and Big Yes! Now this is what you do. Big No, whenever you say No, I need you to work out what you’re really saying No to. So when you say No to tidying, what are you really saying?

Big No: No to being bossed around! No to shame! No to obliteration! No to other people’s stories! No to other people’s stuff! No to boring! No to cold! No to lonely! No to always being sensible! No to always being a grown-up! No to always working! No to obedience! No to giving away my space! No to giving away my sovereignty!

Big Yes: YEEEEEES!!!

Big Sister: (applauds) That’s wonderful. Now, Big Yes, if Big No is saying No to all those things, I need you to work out what you’re saying yes to.

Big Yes: Yes to freedom! Yes to self-respect! Yes to being! Yes to MY stories! Yes to my-energy-back-to-me! Yes to fun! Yes to warmth! Yes to friends! Yes to silliness! Yes to childhood! Yes to play! Yes to autonomy! Yes to owning my space! Yes to sovereignty!

Big Sister: That’s wonderful! Can you feel how wonderful that is?

Big Yes: YEEEEEES!!

Big Sister: Okay! So now we’ve done all that - do these qualities require a mess?

Big Yes: YEEEEEES!

Big Sister: Do they require a mess all over the floor of her room?

Big No: NOOOOOO! Just…

Big Yes:… a willingness to make creative messes and play messy games, and not mind if things aren’t perfect as long as you’re having fun, and…

Big No: …not be clinical about things.

Big Yes: YEEEEEEES! We could play with that Mess book. And we could shout out our Yes-es and Nos while we’re tidying, so we don’t forget! YEEEEEEES!

Big No: NOOOOOO! We must definitely NOT forget! NO forgetting!

Big Yes: YEEEEEEES!

Big Sister: I love it! Well done, both of you! Round of applause! (claps for them)

(Big No and Big Yes clap for themselves. Being conjoined twins, they’re clapping with one hand each, in perfect synchronicity.)

Big Sister: Awwww! You guys are so cute!

Big Yes: YEEEEEES!

Big No: (simultaneously) NOOOOOO!

Big Sister: Would you younger ones like to come out of your safe rooms? It’s all good out here now!

(At this point I come out of the mini-Gherkin and the fuzzballs start bouncing up and down, slightly out of sync with each other. I crouch and open my arms to them as if welcoming a friendly dog and they bound into my arms. There are tears and doglike kisses.)

Me: Thanks, guys! I love you!

Big No: (overjoyed, can’t quite believe it) NOOOOO!

Big Yes: (triumph) YEEEEEES! We love you too!

Big No: We definitely don’t hate you! Where’s -

(We all look at the small diamond igloo where Little Sister is still hiding. A long silence.)

Me: She hasn’t heard any of this. (Knocks on the igloo) Little Sister? It’s safe to come out. They’re friendly now.

(Door cracks open and a very nervous and dishevelled Little Sister peeks out, with bits of things in her hair from being in the mess.)

Big Yes: It’s okay!

Big No: We don’t want to scare you!

Big Yes: We love you!

Big No: We don’t want to hurt you!

Big Yes: We want to make your life more wonderful!

(Little Sister just bursts into floods of tears. Real uncontrolled snotty crying. The fuzzballs snuggle up to her and let her wipe her face on their fur. Big Sister and I just stand back respectfully and let this happen. After a while we realise that the fuzzballs are crying too. The effect is of three children crying together with their arms around each other. They’re all about the same size.)

Little Sister: This was a really big thing… (cries more)

Big Yes: We’re very important monsters!

Big No: Except we’re not monsters any more!

Big Yes: We’re just fuzzballs that love you!

Big No: Except we’re not just fuzzballs!

Big Yes: We’re fuzzballs with VERY LOUD VOICES! (This shout blows Little Sister’s hair back and she giggles.) We can speak for you!

Big No: So you DON’T have to worry about not being heard! NO to not being heard!

Big Yes: YES to being heard!

Little Sister: (excited) I can shout too!

Big Yes: Can you?

Little Sister: YEEEEEEES!

Big Yes: Can you shout as loud as us?

Little Sister: YEEEEEEES!

Big No: NOOOOOO!

Little Sister: YEEEEEES!

(Big Sister and I give each other a big grin and walk off arm in arm, leaving them to it…)

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.)

Dragon

I realised I had a very aggressive monster called ‘You’re Disgusting and Deserve to be Obliterated.’ What followed was one of the most amazing monstertalks of my life.

I was really scared of this one, so I asked members of my headcast to help me.

Me: I DEFINITELY need a monster negotiator here. Who wants this one?

Mr. H: Me!

Me: Okay, thanks. Big Sister, you want in as well?

Big Sister: (in a flat, tightly-controlled-anger voice that sounds nothing like her) No.

Me: Okay… are you okay? Have I done something in the last few days that’s -

Big Sister: Yes.

Me: – ruined my future?

Big Sister: Yes. Yes you have.

Me: I don’t believe you! You’re a monster masquerading as my sister!

Monster: Yes.

Me: …Mr. H, you want to take it from here?

Mr. H: With pleasure. Monster, who are you really?

Monster: I’m the one you came here to seek.

Mr. H: What, ‘You’re Disgusting and Deserve to be Obliterated’? (He sounds slightly amused by this title.)

Monster: Yes.

Mr. H: You’re not very talkative, are you? You sound like you’re kinda… holding something in.

Monster (EXPLODING from the form of Big Sister into this demonic dragon-horror-thing that reminds me of Screwtape in his centipede form.) GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! *breathes fire*

Mr. H: Whoa! (steps back) Very angry monster! You’re furious about something, huh? Wanna tell me about it?

Monster: (breathes a huge blast of fire at him. It’s acting like a computer-game boss. Hovering up and down challenging him to fight.)

Mr. H: Do we have to do this? I mean, we can, but I’d rather you just told me what’s bothering you.

Monster: WHY AREN’T YOU SCARED OF ME?!

Mr. H: You’re not my monster.

Monster: …wuff! (A sulky little puff of flame.)

Mr. H: Come on, what’s up? You can tell me.

Monster: AAAARGH! (This time it’s not attacking, just throwing back its head and howling.)

Mr. H: I know, it sucks, huh?

Monster: (caught off guard a bit) What sucks?

Mr. H: Whatever you’re that angry about. Or just being that angry.

Monster: GRAAAH!!

Mr. H: Do you know why you’re angry?

Monster: Because she’s disgusting and deserves to be obliterated! It says it right there on the tin! (Points to a huge rusty barrel-sized tin, which does indeed have these words painted on it.)  GRAAAH! (breathes fire at the tin and whatever’s in it bursts into flames.)

Mr. H: Okay, I’m gonna NVC you. Ha ha. (mischievous look) You’re feeling angry because you need something. What do you need?

Monster: FOR HER NOT TO BE DISGUSTING AND… (sad moment) not to be obliterated, OF COURSE!

Mr. H: Oh. Oh, you’re scared that she’s going to be obliterated, huh? You’re really scared. (tries to pat monster’s nose, monster shies its head away like a horse and avoids eye contact.) You don’t want her to be obliterated because… you love her.

Monster: (breathing fire and crying, tears sizzling on its red-hot scales) OF COURSE, WHAT DO YOU THINK ALL THIS FIRE IS, IDIOT?

Mr. H: Whoa, that’s -

Monster: RED HOT BURNING FUCKING PASSION!

Mr. H: …I was right not to fight you.

Monster: What?

Mr. H: Well, you know. There’s good in you.

Monster: WAAARGH! It’s very angry good and I’m very tired and AAAARGH!

Mr. H: You need a rest, huh?

Monster: NO, I NEED HER TO NOT DISAPPEAR! Why can you not understand that? Why do you think I’m a dragon? A DRAGON GUARDS THINGS!

Mr. H: You’re guarding her. She’s the treasure.

Monster: (In very frustrated, ‘why do you not get this already’ tones) YES!!!

Mr. H: (suddenly sounding rather sad, and gentle.) But your name is ‘You’re Disgusting and Deserve to Be Obliterated.’

Monster:  ….

Mr. H: But you see her as treasure. The opposite of disgusting. And you dedicate your life to protecting her from being obliterated. Your secret name is the opposite, isn’t it? It’s like, ‘You’re Amazing and Deserve to Be Safe Forever.’

Monster: (crying) YES!! But what’s the use? Everybody else thinks she’s disgusting and deserves to be obliterated! So I can’t let her forget that or she will be!

Mr. H: Oh, no. Hey. Hey. (pats monster) Look, people don’t really think that.

Monster: The housemate does!

Mr. H: Not that she deserves to be obliterated! Didn’t she save her life crossing the road recently? That says right there, ‘I don’t think you deserve to be obliterated.’

Monster: She just didn’t want to have to clear up the mess.

Mr. H: Oh god, you are really… man, your life sucks. I think I need backup. You okay if I call for backup?

Monster: (nods)

Mr. H: (in a weirdly high voice, staring around randomly) Backup! BACKUP!

Big Sister: (running in laughing) You’re doing Phoebe from Friends!!!

Mr. H: (smiles) Just trying to lighten the mood. This one thinks everyone thinks Eve deserves to die. I’m a bit out of my depth.

Big Sister: (to monster) Ohhhhh, that sucks.

Mr. H: That’s what I said.

Big Sister: Okay, it sounds like we have a great big tangled-up ball of wool here so let’s see if we can find the beginning. When did you start thinking everyone thought Eve deserved to die?

Monster: Well, at school. They didn’t want anything about her. What she said, how she acted – they didn’t even want her intelligence, and it was a school.They basically told her to sit down, shut up and stop being Eve. Okay to exist as long as you no longer resemble yourself in any way. And after a few months of that she no longer did resemble herself, and then nobody else wanted her either. They wished she would stop existing so they could have the old version back.

Big Sister: Wow. That’s a whole lot of pain to be carrying around. And for what, thirty years? *hand-on-heart sigh*

Monster: Yes. I learned from that that she can’t please everyone. No matter how she acts, someone is going to want her dead. So the best thing for her to do is just to dial herself down as much as possible, and try to act however the person she’s with right now wants her to act. But she’s such a strong, exuberant, crazy eccentric person that the only way I could make her do that was to convince her they were right. Make her feel like a bit of rubbish that deserves to be burnt. I had to break her spirit to save her life.

Big Sister: Oh, monster.

Monster: Are you angry with me?

Big Sister: No, I’m feeling really, really sorry for you right now.

Mr. H: His real name is ’You’re Amazing and Deserve to Be Safe Forever.’

Monster: I’m a her. I think.

Mr. H: Oh jeez, I’m sorry!

Monster: (shakes head sadly) My gender is unimportant. I exist to guard.

Big Sister: You don’t really have much of a self, do you?

Monster: Well, I make a lot of noise.

Big Sister: I mean, of course you have a self. But you don’t have much sovereignty.

Monster: Where would I learn it?

Big Sister: Oh. Oh, dear. You were born from horribly unsovereign situations where everyone had everyone else’s stuff all over them. Which actually kind of is disgusting. I mean, people are never disgusting, but being buried under a pile of other people’s icky stuff is… a lot like the mess in her room right now. Ooh, epiphany! Can I use this epiphany to help you?

Monster: I want to get other people’s icky stuff off her.

Big Sister: Help her tidy her room?

Monster: But I’m a dragon. I hoard. Also, you haven’t really given me any assurance that she won’t be killed for being herself.

Big Sister: Nobody’s killed Havi.

Monster: Well, she’s been in some life-threatening situations. And anyway Havi is not Eve and Eve is different and what if people DO kill HER? She can’t just go around being herself. Nobody is allowed to be themselves past the age of four. That’s the whole tragedy of this world.

Big Sister: Oh, baby. You’re another growing-up monster.

Monster: Isn’t everybody?

Big Sister: Everybody in this monster menagerie, by the looks of it! Okay, here’s an idea. Maybe it’s better for her to be herself, even if she dies for it. I mean, I don’t personally think there’s any risk that she’ll die, but I can’t prove that. But even if it did mean a shorter life, maybe it would still be better for her to live as herself, without shame.

Mr. H: Oh, that’s totally true. Even if it takes you ages to work out how to be yourself because you’re so used to being everybody else.

Monster: You don’t understand. I’m a dragon. I guard. You’re asking me to stand by and risk my treasure being destroyed.

Big Sister: But your treasure is a person. Have you ever seen Pete’s Dragon?

Monster: Of course. That dragon’s treasure was a person.

Big Sister: Right. So the dragon brought his treasure to a cave, but he didn’t keep him there. Because a person’s not the kind of treasure that you keep in a cave forever. The dragon let his treasure walk away with another human being. He took the risk of letting him have all kinds of new experiences and form all kinds of new relationships, not knowing how any of them would turn out. He let him change, and when it was time, he let him go. And that’s how you treasure a person.

Monster: That’s hard. That’s much harder than fighting bad guys.

Big Sister: (hand-on-heart sigh) I know.

Monster: I can still fight bad guys sometimes? I’m scared, I’m scared!

Big Sister: I know, honey. But – okay, this is going to be hard to hear. The ‘death’ people wished on her all those years ago wasn’t physical death. They just wanted her to stop being herself. They wanted to take away her sovereignty. And the trouble is – out of love, I know – you’ve been doing that too. When she believes she’s disgusting and deserves to be obliterated, she loses her sovereignty. She doesn’t get to be herself. She doesn’t really get to live. It’s the very ‘death’ you’ve been trying to protect her from.

Monster: I killed my treasure? She’s not dead!! She can come back to life!!

Big Sister: Of course she can! I told you, it’s not death death. She just needs reminding, that’s all.

Monster: (crying) Reminding what?

Big Sister: That she’s amazing and deserves to be safe. Safe from anything that would threaten her precious sovereignty. Safe from ever having to be less than the strong, exuberant, crazy eccentric person she was born to be.

Monster: That kind of safe?

Big Sister: That kind of safe.

Monster: Is this really true, what you’re telling me? I don’t know…

Big Sister: (nods) Trust me. You’re part of her, so I’m your Big Sister too.

(Slowly, the dragon uncurls itself, showing just how huge and old it really is. Gnarled scales encrusted with ancient gems. Tears rolling down its long muzzle. It approaches Big Sister and lies down before her, bowing its head at her feet.)

Dragon: I will not be a monster any more. I will guard her sovereignty as I have guarded her life. My wings will be her cloak, my talons will be her sword, my fire will be her shield. I am afraid, but I – am – a dragon. And I exist to guard.

(Mr. H looks deeply moved, and not sure how to honour this speech for a moment, then slowly begins to applaud. Big Sister joins in.)

Big Sister: Rise.

(The dragon rises, as if knighted by a queen. Big Sister wraps her arms around its neck.)

Big Sister: Thank you. (kisses it on the cheek)

Dragon: (stunned) Nobody ever kissed me before.

Big Sister: Oh, you’re going to get plenty of kisses now. She’s going to love you now. Eve? Are you ready to come in here?

(And we draw a modest veil over the massive tearful dragon hugfest that ensues….)

Me: …Thank you, dragon. You are my love for myself. You are. And all this time you’ve been hiding as hate. I love you.

After this talk, I realised one huge key to helping Little Sister (my inner child) feel safe and secure in her own existence while I’m doing grown-up stuff. Dragon! My Dragon is incredibly strong (like whoa, a being this powerful is a part of me?) and exists to guard.To guard my sovereignty. To guard my self. To guard my existence, deeper than life. To guard exactly what Little Sister is afraid of losing. My Dragon was born from that fear, when I was just her age. This huge, fierce, noble being was born from the spirit of that little girl. Bringing them back together is a match made in heaven. What could make a child feel safer than having her own dragon?

Five minutes after I introduced them, the two of them were doing aerobatics over my head. I think it’s safe to say they’ve bonded.

R.Taylor drew this art to celebrate!