I got outdoors a lot over the long weekend—rowing and bicycling, and the hot weather was just right for the swimming pool. My daughter and her husband came down from Cleveland to visit. Their Labradoodle puppy still hasn’t quite figured out how to walk up the pool steps, but at least he has discovered that he can stand on the bottom step and leap out of the pool.

There wasn’t really much time for blogging, which was okay until an annoying self-critical part of my subconscious began to draw unfavorable comparisons to my creative output in the past. Maybe you’ve lost your mojo, it suggested nastily. You haven’t written much in months. What happened to the days when stories just popped into your head all the time, no matter how busy you were?

At first I tried to dismiss the voice, but then I started wondering—did I really have that much more creative energy in the past? Maybe this was just selective memory playing tricks on me, highlighting times when my younger self bubbled over with new stories, while skipping over the mundane stuff. How would I know?

Then it occurred to me that an imaginary visit with one of my younger selves might help me find an answer to that question. I decided to call her Butterfly because there was a time, many years ago, when I pictured one as my animal spirit guide, carefree and flitting easily from one place to another.

I tried to construct a mental image of this younger self sitting comfortably with a pen and notepad in hand, busily scribbling away. She had her own ideas about that, however. The comfy chair stayed empty; and when Butterfly finally showed up in my mindspace, she was pedaling cheerfully along on a three-speed bike from the 1970s, with her bell-bottom jeans rolled up so they wouldn’t catch and rip on the chain.

I was riding next to her in the same workout clothes I wore on Sunday in the park, on my Made-in-the-USA fifteen-speed Huffy bicycle from 1994. It still works just fine, as does my husband’s matching bike. (Over the weekend he upgraded both bikes with nice modern carbon-fiber water bottle holders, which, needless to say, is the only bit of carbon fiber to be found anywhere on them—but, at least now they’re not 100% ancient.)
 

Photo of Meg Evans on an old Huffy bicycle 

“Hello,” I said to my younger self, as we rode slowly along a quiet, shaded path in the park. The fast-paced real world seemed very far away.

“Hi,” replied Butterfly in a distracted tone, just before stopping her bike in the grass beside the path and exclaiming, “Ooh, look at the pretty flowers!”

I stopped next to her, and yes, the flowers were pretty—wild roses and honeysuckle all tangled together like a bright, living curtain that swayed gently in the breeze.

“If I had my phone with me,” I said, talking more to myself than to my companion, “and this was a real place, I’d take a picture of these flowers for a blog post.”

Butterfly turned to face me, frowning slightly, as if she thought I’d said something very peculiar indeed. She inquired, “Don’t you ever do anything just to do it?”

Now it was my turn to feel perplexed. “Well, of course I do. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors this spring. But lately I’ve been feeling like I haven’t had as much creative energy as usual—so, I thought I’d ask you about that. How do you manage distractions and stay creative?”

“Manage distractions?” she repeated blankly, as if I’d been speaking in a foreign language. Then, apparently losing interest in the flowers, she hopped back on her bike and pedaled briskly away, leaving me to catch up with her.

Wondering what I’d said to confuse her, I tried rephrasing the question. “I meant, how do you stay creative when you have a lot of things happening that distract you?”

“Well, usually they’re all different things, aren’t they?” Slowing down for a moment as we rode through a bumpy spot of dried mud, Butterfly raised her left hand in a vague gesture that seemed to include trees, grass, a squirrel, and some cottonwood fluff drifting softly to the ground. “And creativity has to do with fitting a lot of different things together in ways that make sense in the story, right? So, distractions should never be a problem, in themselves. If they aren’t naturally coming together into stories that make sense, then maybe the question to ask is: What other random thoughts have been wandering into the picture?”

After we rounded a curve, a straight, level pathway stretched before us, cool and pleasant in the shade of the overhanging trees. All I could hear was the chirping of the birds and the humming of our wheels.

“You know,” I said finally, “that way of looking at it does kind of make some sense.”

Butterfly, whose attention now seemed to be focused mainly on a woodchuck munching clover on the other side of the path, didn’t answer; but I thought I saw a little smile forming as she glanced away from me.

February 14, 2018 · 4 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I started noticing an odd feeling around the middle of January. My heartbeat seemed like it had somehow gotten faster, although my pulse rate had not in fact changed and, as far as I could tell, there were no actual physical issues. As best I can describe it, my heart felt like it was knocking impatiently on my ribcage and demanding attention. I assumed this was some kind of midlife weirdness and would go away after a while.

When it still hadn’t gone away by last night, I was left wondering what sort of attention my heart might want. So I tried to relax as best I could when I got in bed, with meditation and Reiki. That wasn’t as relaxing as it ordinarily would have been. No matter where I put my hands in the Reiki positions, my heart felt like it was trying to beat its way out through my fingertips. I had no clue how there might be a message in that.

I finally just said to myself—okay, at this moment I don’t understand what my heart wants to tell me, but that is all right because I trust that my body and subconscious mind are working for my best interests and know how to communicate.

Some time passed, and I was just about to fall asleep when a thought came to mind—was there something that had hurt my heart?

All of a sudden, a furious younger self popped up from the depths of my subconscious and began yelling. “You BET there were things that hurt my heart! LOTS of them! And I’m not going to pretend that they never happened or didn’t matter because they really DID, and they were WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!”

As she went on shrieking about all the things that had been so very wrong, I felt some kind of trapped energy rising up from my heart, like dark shadows passing through my ribcage. When they stopped, it felt like I had a heap of dry, brittle weeds and twigs sitting on top of my chest.
 

Landscape with dry, brown weeds.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

My angry younger self faded away, but I still had to find something to do with the imaginary dead weeds. Should I visualize myself putting them in the backyard or taking them out with the trash? No, neither of those options felt right; and although my younger self’s grievances came from a time when I lived in a different house, the backyard there didn’t seem suitable for disposing of my virtual yard waste, either.

Then it occurred to me that some time had gone by since I last visited the imaginary village of Channelwood. Surely it would have a compost heap; after all, Ella and the other girls always kept everything very tidy. That would allow me to dump my old emotional weeds in a place that wasn’t associated with anywhere I had been in real life.

I pictured myself materializing next to Channelwood’s outbuildings. Yup, there was the compost heap, not far from a shed where farm implements were stored. I scattered the dry weeds and twigs on top, and then I got a pitchfork from the shed and turned the compost over a few times, until I couldn’t see them anymore.

Just before I finished, Ella walked by on a path not far away. She was accustomed to my unpredictable comings and goings by now, and she simply raised a hand in greeting before she moved out of sight.

After that I fell asleep; and when I woke up this morning, my heart felt completely normal. Everything from last night was clear in my mind, with one exception—I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what past events had made my younger self so upset. When I sat down to write this post later in the day, I still had no recollection of what they were. So I guess they must’ve gotten composted!

January 15, 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

It took me a while to get to sleep one night at the beginning of January. An angry younger self made an appearance, venting about her feelings of being unappreciated, mistreated, stressed out, and having to soldier on anyway. The triggering event was nothing more than a simple request for a copy of a document from that time period. I found it without any problems, but looking through my old files reminded me of a time when everything felt like a struggle.

After my past self went through her litany of grievances, and just before I fell asleep, I saw a mental image of a rocky, barren crater. It gave the impression that a meteor had blasted a deep hole in my emotional landscape many years ago, leaving a damaged area where nothing would grow.
 

Photo of Meteor Crater in Arizona.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

“I’ll have to do something about this,” I told myself, before I finally dozed off. What that something might be was unclear, though. I couldn’t simply repair the damage by planting imaginary flowers and trees in that scarred landscape to represent abundance, or to screen off the view of the crater. All too plainly, my younger self wanted me to recognize the existence of the hurt, rather than prettying it up to hide it.

For the same reason, looking at the image from a great distance and telling myself that it was just an insignificant dip in the landscape, rather than an enormous crater, wouldn’t do. Although in fact I never experienced any actual disasters, the psyche has its own version of events, and its truth is not always literal. So the question then became: How could I honor the truth represented by the image of the crater, while not allowing old feelings of anger and hurt to take over my present-day life?

I gave the metaphor some thought. When a meteor hits, there is no malice behind it, no deliberate intent—in short, nobody to blame. A meteor is a random, destructive force of nature. Unlike our superstitious pagan ancestors, we don’t believe that a meteor strike is a punishment from the gods or an attack by evil spirits. Rather, it falls into the “stuff happens” category.

That does not mean it is insignificant or quickly forgotten. What does our modern-day culture typically do with a meteor crater? We don’t generally fill it with truckloads of topsoil and restore the area to its previous condition (unless the damage impacts high-value urban real estate). Most often, the crater is left as it is and becomes a tourist attraction—maybe even a national monument. Visitors take photos with their mobile phones, tweet or blog about the unpredictable power of nature, and then go back to their everyday lives.

Looking at it from that perspective, I decided to construct some imaginary tourism infrastructure. That would help to show Younger-Me that she had only taken a day trip to Crater Monument and was not a prisoner trapped forever in a desolate, ruined wasteland.

So I visualized the crater again, this time with broad, well-maintained concrete walkways all around its perimeter. Railings gave protection from the steep slopes, and comfortable benches were placed at regular intervals. A little shop had snacks and souvenirs. There were trash cans and restrooms. Plaques attached to the railings welcomed visitors and described the crater’s history. A parking lot with bike racks and a bus shelter—where a tour bus had just pulled up—completed the scene, along with an access road.

“Okay, that’s all taken care of,” I declared briskly to Younger-Me, handing her a Sno-Cone from the snack shop. “Why don’t you sit down on that bench over there and relax for a while? It’s a hot day out here.”

She took the Sno-Cone without really noticing it, as she looked incredulously around at the much-changed landscape. I thought for a moment that she was going to burst out in uncontrollable laughter, but she stifled the impulse and turned back toward me instead. Finally, she summed up the unlikely scenario in a tone reminiscent of John McEnroe ranting at a hapless official on the tennis court.

“You can’t possibly be serious.”

I ate a few bites of my Sno-Cone before I answered. “Serious—well, that depends on how you look at it. Right now in real life, I’m looking out the window at a January snowstorm and wouldn’t at all mind trading it for a nice tourist spot somewhere hot. But, that doesn’t mean I would want to live there. Everything always changes, no matter how we might feel at the time.”

Although Younger-Me looked like she might have been about to say something more, she just glanced around one final time, shook her head in resignation, and sat down on the nearby bench. I thought I heard her muttering something about “consumer culture gone hog wild” as I faded out of her time.

December 13, 2017 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

All was quiet on the younger-self front. A few weeks had gone by since I took one of my past selves on an imaginary hike near Channelwood Village. I had hoped that she would relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings for a while. Since then, she had been exceptionally quiet, much more so than I’d anticipated.

To some extent, I had been unfair when I nicknamed her Drama-Queenie because of her volatile temperament. Still, there was a reason for it. Many times, she had unexpectedly popped up from the depths of my subconscious, moaning about mysterious emotional pain. Quiet wasn’t something I associated with her. I concluded that I’d better go check on her and make sure that she wasn’t in—or causing—any trouble.

When I arrived in Channelwood on a bright, crisp morning, I found her returning with a basket of eggs from the village’s new chicken coop. I almost didn’t recognize her. During our recent hike, she had been wearing cheap sneakers and an ugly discount-store sweater and pants. Now she had on a long gingham dress, in keeping with my rather arbitrary decision to set Channelwood’s time period in the year 1897. The ends of her dark braids hung below a neat, clean bonnet. She looked like she had just stepped out of a Little House on the Prairie episode.
 

Farm-fresh eggs in a basket.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

“Good morning!” I gave her a friendly wave and then fell into step beside her while she carried the eggs to the kitchen outbuilding. Channelwood’s tiny houses in the treetops, all connected by narrow little walkways, did not have their own separate kitchens. Something smelled tasty, and when I turned a corner, I found twelve-year-old Sara toasting thick slices of brown bread on the hearth.

Looking up from the toast, Sara gave me a great beaming smile. “Thank you ever so much for bringing us a wonderful new friend! Ella and I are so happy to have her!”

Sara was known for her good cheer; but, to be honest, this wasn’t the reaction I had been expecting. Given Queenie’s history, I had thought it likely that she would be a sulky and unpleasant guest, tolerated out of pure charity.

“I’m glad to hear that you have been getting along so well with Queenie,” I answered, returning the smile.

Putting down her basket of eggs, the subject of the conversation turned to me and inquired, narrowing her eyes a little, “Why are you calling me Queenie? I’m not any kind of royalty.”

“Oh, I just thought it suited you,” I said breezily, settling myself into a comfortable kitchen chair while Sara spread the toast with apple butter and Ella started frying some eggs.

While Queenie set the breakfast table, I went on talking to her, in a more serious tone. “I’ve been thinking how brave it was of you, being honest about feeling pain. Our culture severely punishes that sort of honesty. It demands that we keep our true feelings to ourselves, hiding the pain behind a happy-face mask so that we don’t make anyone else uncomfortable. If we let the mask slip, other people get nasty, no matter how much we might try to please them and do everything they want—just as you said in the woods during our hike.”

Braids bobbing, Queenie nodded silently as she poured hot cider into thick clay mugs from a large jug that she had picked up from the edge of the hearth.

“I got nasty, too, telling you to shut up because I didn’t want to hear anything more about your pain. And I certainly ought to have known better.” I put a red cloth napkin in my lap as Ella gave me a plate heaped high with eggs and toast.

Queenie finished pouring the cider and sat down to eat her own breakfast. She took a big bite of toast and chewed slowly, thinking over her words before she answered.

“I know this isn’t a real place,” she began, “and that means I’ll have to go back to my old life, always falling short of everyone’s expectations because I’m not perfect, no matter what I do. But I wish I could stay here forever. To me, it feels much more real here. When I go out to the chicken coop to get the eggs, I don’t have to pretend anything. I’m not expected to compete every day to be a great success, never show any weakness, and keep everyone around me happy at all times.”

“That’s fair,” I said, as the steam rose from my cider on the table between us. “And the way I see it, there’s no requirement for you to go back. This is not a dream from which you have to wake up; it’s more like an alternate timeline. In the so-called real world, other versions of you checked off those modern-adult-life boxes many years ago—and they did a reasonably good job. It’s done and taken care of.”

After sitting motionless for several seconds with a look of total amazement, Queenie suddenly started bawling all over her breakfast. Big fat tears rolled down her cheeks and splattered all over her fried eggs.

Ella, who had been just about to sit down to her own meal, gave Queenie an alarmed glance and remained standing next to her.

“It’s all right,” Queenie gulped, managing to get a few words out. “I’m c-crying because I’m huh-huh-happy.”

“Well, of course you’re happy! Why shouldn’t you be?” Sara declared. “Everyone ought to be able to live someplace where she’s happy!”

Although Ella finally sat down, she kept a suspicious gaze fixed on me, as if she thought I might change my mind at any moment and snatch Queenie away. I didn’t take her distrust too personally because, after all, writers have to get used to characters who decide they’ve had enough of plot changes. Besides, I had a different kind of surprise in mind.

“Because you were so brave, Queenie, I think you deserve a medal.” I reached into my pocket and held out my hand toward her. A brightly polished gold circle glinted on my palm, with the word ‘Courage’ in elegant script above a raised image of a crown.

Looking down at the table and blushing, Queenie muttered, “But, but I wasn’t, not really…”

“Yes, you were,” I assured her. “Sometimes we can be at our very bravest when we see ourselves as not doing much of anything. It takes great courage to go against society’s demands and to say instead—this is wrong, this is hurtful. You had that courage, and it’s only fair that you should be recognized for it.”

The medal was attached to a braided gold chain, which I fastened around Queenie’s slender neck. Then I finished my eggs and toast (which were delicious) and thanked the girls for their hospitality. As I returned to what I called real life, I couldn’t help but to wonder just how much more real it was anyway.

When I have imaginary conversations with my past selves, which I’ve found helpful as a way to gain more perspective on my experiences, I’ll often picture myself giving them a hug and telling them everything will work out all right. There are other times when I keep more emotional distance and simply give them a few words of advice to consider.

I have to admit I lost my temper not long ago, though, and (virtually) yelled at one of them. I had nicknamed her Drama-Queenie because she popped up from my subconscious several times over the past few years loudly demanding attention for her many woes, which in her mind amounted to ghastly tragedies—although I couldn’t make any sense of them in the here and now. She looked like a nerdy 1980s student with big hair, pastel purple corduroy pants from the discount store, and an unfashionable sweater to match.

Sometimes when I was just doing household chores or some other ordinary stuff, Drama-Queenie wandered into my awareness and started moaning, “I’m in pain! It never gets any better! I can’t live like this! I don’t understand why I am always in so much PA-A-AIN!” She reminded me of the character Deanna Troi, the empathic ship’s counselor from Star Trek: The Next Generation, who was infamous for wailing about pain whenever she got near an agitated alien.
 

 

Where Drama-Queenie came from was a mystery, and I didn’t have the foggiest clue what she wanted me to do about her pain, either. It was frustrating. So when she showed up again, I got annoyed. My first thought was, “Oh, shut up already! Take a hike!”

She disappeared; and then I felt bad about it afterward, as if I had done something unkind to a puppy or other defenseless creature. After all, inner-child work is supposed to be about giving younger selves the love and attention that they didn’t get in the past, so that they can feel better about themselves and carry those feelings into the present day. Yelling at them (even though mine generally aren’t children) is a big no-no.

So I decided that I should try to make things right with Drama-Queenie by giving her a fair opportunity to vent her feelings, even though I couldn’t fathom what they might be about. When I brought her through my imaginary magical mirror to the beach at Channelwood, it was low tide on a cloudy afternoon with a cool east wind blowing off the ocean. Drama-Queenie stood scowling in her cheap sneakers next to a big, smelly, half-rotten pile of seaweed.

She promptly turned to me and shouted, “What is this awful place? I never said I wanted to be here! Why is everyone always pushing me to do things that I don’t want to do?”

Her whiny voice was loud enough that I could hear a faint echo, although she wasn’t directly facing the cliff. I gave her my friendliest smile and told her, “This is just a little corner of an imaginary world. Feel free to say anything you’d like. And if you want a louder echo, all you need to do is turn a little so you’re facing that way, where the cliff is highest.”

Following the path of my pointing finger, she glared at the cliff and raised her voice to a pitch that would have done an opera singer proud, shrieking, “World, you SUCK!”

A few rocks rattled down the cliff face as the echo reverberated. Several large crows launched themselves into the air from a tree just above, flying in a wide arc over the waves as their cries blended creepily into the lingering echo: “Awk! Awk! Awk!”

Drama-Queenie watched them for a moment with a look of satisfaction before she said to me, in a much calmer tone, “Okay, so are you going to explain what we’re doing here?”

“Well, first of all, I want to apologize for yelling at you the other day,” I said. “Maybe I don’t understand why you are in pain, and maybe you don’t know why either, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to ignore your feelings. When people are in pain, they need something done about it. So I thought we’d just go for a little stroll while we talk about things, and maybe we can figure out a solution.”

She didn’t look at all enthusiastic as she turned to gaze farther down the beach, where more dead seaweed and other unappealing debris had washed up with the tide. In fact, she looked downright sulky.

“The island has pretty hiking trails,” I suggested. “If we walk just a short way past the tree where the crows were sitting, there’s a path up the cliff.”

I started walking in that direction without waiting for an answer from Drama-Queenie, as I didn’t expect there was much chance of getting a meaningful one. After a minute or so, she followed along behind me, stopping to kick a seashell every now and again. Sand flew into the air, carried away on the wind.

“You’re in pain all the time,” I continued, trying to restate what she had said. “And you feel that people are always pushing you to do things you don’t want to do. Is that where the pain is coming from?”

As we rounded a curve in the shoreline, the cliff smoothed out and became a hill with a much gentler rise. A grassy path led upward.
 

Grassy path leading up to the top of a cliff.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Drama-Queenie still trailed along behind me, chewing a mangled-looking fingernail before she answered. “Yeah, maybe. I dunno. Whatever I do, they’re not nice to me. Someone needs to stop them from being so mean all the time.”

By now she was starting to sound like a five-year-old with a playground grudge, but I thought it was an improvement over her earlier attitude. At least she had given me a smidge of useful information. We reached the top of the hill, where the path meandered through an autumn meadow of tall waving grass and wild asters before narrowing to become a forest trail.

“Okay, that gives us a place to start,” I said, as cheerfully as I could manage. “Now we just need to sort out what needs to happen so that everyone will be nicer to you.”

“If I had any idea of how to do that, I’d have done it already,” my still-sulky companion objected, with what I had to admit was impeccable logic.

“Yes, I’m sure you would,” I said agreeably, keeping my doubts on that score to myself. “But much of what we know is buried deep in the subconscious mind, and things can turn out to be a lot more complicated than they seem at first. That’s why it helps to talk about problems. Sometimes an answer turns up, even if it might not have looked like there was one.”

Drama-Queenie stepped over a tangle of roots as the path narrowed farther, until there was barely room to walk side by side. Thick leaves closed in all around and over us, filtering out most of the late afternoon sunlight.

“Well, okay, I guess that might work sometimes,” she said in a doubtful tone. “But if other people are being hateful, then how is talking about it going to make them act any better?”

“Good question,” I said, as I picked up a fallen branch and tossed it into the bushes. “Why are they being hateful?”

“I dunno, they’re just mean I guess.”

“What do you think made them mean?”

This time Drama-Queenie took a little longer to think about it before she answered. “Maybe someone was mean and hateful to them.”

“You’re probably right,” I said. “That’s often how it works. I wasn’t being nice to you when I told you to shut up, and then you got angry and shouted at me when we were on the beach. You didn’t do it because you were naturally mean or hateful. There was a reason why you were angry.”

Drama-Queenie frowned, chewing on a fingernail again. “But there’s no good reason for anyone to act hateful when I make a mistake. It’s not like they’re perfect, are they? Of course not. But if I can’t do everything just the way they expect, or if it’s something I don’t want to do, then they get nasty. It’s not fair. I can’t go on like this. Sometimes I feel like they’re trying to kill me.”

“You poor kid!” I exclaimed. “No wonder you feel like you’re always in pain. That’s way too much of a burden, trying to guess what everyone wants and to do it perfectly all the time. And you’re right, stress can kill you if nothing is done to stop it. Thousands of people die every day from health problems caused by stress. So you’re not being too dramatic at all.”

She looked at me with wide eyes, plainly incredulous that anyone would tell her she sounded reasonable. “Really? You think so?”

“Absolutely. No doubt about it,” I declared in a firm tone, raising my voice for emphasis. Just ahead of us, the underbrush rustled, and a startled rabbit came out from behind a bush and dashed across the trail.

“And getting back to your earlier question about how to make people act better,” I went on to say, “what I’ve found most helpful is to keep in mind that they don’t usually have a plan to be nasty. Rather, they react to something that happens in the moment; and because their reaction is mostly subconscious, they may not be aware of what triggers it.”

“Well then, how in the world am I supposed to guess what might set them off, when they don’t even know? Sometimes talking to people feels like going for a walk in a field full of landmines. I try to figure out what’s safe to say, but it seems like nothing ever really is.”

“There’s no need to overthink any of this,” I advised. “You just need to give them something positive to focus on. When you do, they’ll switch over to a better subconscious script without even knowing it. Act cheerful, give them a big smile, tell them you’re glad to see them, and show at least a little enthusiasm for whatever they say. You don’t actually have to do what they say, but they’ll be much nicer about it if you act friendly and considerate when you do something else.”

We came out of the forest trail onto a wooden path that followed the shore of a clear blue stream. There was a break in the clouds just above the trees to the southwest, and the setting sun’s warm rays peeked through for a moment.

“Just around that curve in the path, there’s a nice little bed-and-breakfast place where you can stay for a few days and get some rest,” I told my companion. “It’ll help you to feel better. The owners are hard-working and very friendly, and they make a delicious old-fashioned rice pudding that they swear is the perfect cure for melancholy feelings.”

Although her sulky look didn’t entirely go away, I spotted just the tiniest hint of a smile starting to form as we walked farther along the path.

One of my younger selves got into a tizzy not long ago. She was upset about something that happened in 1997, I think, or maybe it was 1998—before she started working and was still spending her days taking care of the kids. They had left their toys all over the floor again, and hubby stepped on a crayon and got grumpy. As she saw it, he was unnecessarily rude to her—after all, she wasn’t the one who had been coloring. What did he think anyway, that she just sat down on the floor and played all day with the kids?

She stomped down that anger into her overflowing subconscious trash can, along with all the other emotions that never saw the light of day. If she had talked with anyone about her feelings, she’d likely have been able to put them in better perspective; but she didn’t, and so the old rancid anger from that particular incident was still sitting there fully two decades after it should have been taken to the curb.

One evening last week, that annoying memory popped up. It left me wandering aimlessly around the house, muttering to myself, “How RUDE he was! What a JERK!”

Well, this certainly wouldn’t do. Maybe Younger-Me thought she was entitled to hang onto her gripe forever; but from my present-day vantage point, it was high time for her to get some much-overdue therapy. So I decided that she would be the first visitor to my imaginary Channelwood Sanatorium for troubled past selves who needed a little time to rest and recover from their worries.

I took her hand and stepped with her into the mirror on my dresser, which magically transported us both to the beach near the peaceful little village of Channelwood. Unlike my past visits, this wasn’t a beautiful clear day with birds singing. Instead, we found ourselves standing under an overhanging cliff that gave us shelter from a steady rain. The rhythmic roar of the surf breaking against rocks blended with the drumbeat of raindrops on the sand, blotting out all other sounds. It felt like we were alone at the edge of the world.
 

Storm over the ocean with waves breaking against rocks.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Younger-Me looked around for a moment, taking in the scene. Then she turned to me with a slight frown and said, “You know, I was just about to start cooking dinner.”

“No problem, this is all just imagination, and you’ll be back home soon enough.” I gestured toward a driftwood log in the sand at the foot of the cliff, which made a naturally smooth bench. “Please, sit down and rest for a little while. I’ve brought a coloring book and a new box of crayons for you.”

Sitting to my left on the driftwood bench, she read the coloring book’s title out loud. “‘Mandalas and Dream Catchers: Coloring Book Therapy for Adults.'” She sounded more than a little perplexed to have come across such a curious thing.

“Coloring books for grown-ups are very popular in 2017,” I informed Younger-Me as I handed her an unopened box of 64 crayons. “A lot of people have too many busy thoughts cluttering their minds and don’t take enough time to just relax and have fun. The idea of coloring when you’re an adult is that it’s good to set aside all those worries and play like a child sometimes, making pretty things without caring about whether or not they have a purpose.”

She opened the box, selected a blue crayon in the color of a brilliant autumn sky, and tentatively started coloring part of a feather on a dream catcher with it.

“And coloring or other creative fun refreshes your mind even if you don’t put a lot of time into it,” I went on to say. “A few minutes before you cook dinner, or in between other chores, is enough to shift your perspective and get your thoughts out of their everyday rut.”

Filling in teardrop-shaped speckles on the feather with a bright vibrant green, Younger-Me said pensively, “I’m not sure how I forgot that…”

I gave her an encouraging smile as the beach scene started to dissolve around us, sending both of us back to our respective timelines. Although it had been only a few minutes’ interlude, I returned to my own time feeling much invigorated by this brief exercise of imagination, with my perspective newly refreshed in just the way I had described.

Although I’ve found that having imaginary conversations with my younger selves can give me a better perspective on the past, it does have some limitations. Because modern life is so busy and the human mind, by its nature, wanders randomly from one thought to another, sorting through bothersome memories whenever they pop up is not practicable. Even if it could be done, it wouldn’t be healthy to spend so much time brooding on them. My younger selves might not need long, detailed conversations, anyway—just a little bit of reassurance might be all right.

What was the best way to go about it? A quick “It’s okay now” didn’t seem to be enough, even if it was literally true that the problem or worry no longer existed in present-day time. Something more substantial was needed to make that a solid fact in the shifting, unsettled realm of the psyche. I needed a visual image to go along with the words—a quiet, protected place where my younger selves could feel safe.

Then it occurred to me that I already had imagined such a place when I sent my inner Cinderella away to start a new life in the abandoned village of Channelwood, from the old computer game Myst. I followed that up with another blog post in which she was joined there by Sara Crewe, another character from a classic children’s story. That imaginary village had plenty of space for a troubled younger self—or a few of them—to take a nice, restful vacation. Long walks on the beach, or along the wooden pathways through the bayou, would go a long way to restore their spirits.
 

Wooden pathway beside water, trees, and bushes. 

When I arrived at the island, traveling on an old-fashioned sailing ship, I brought gifts for Ella and Sara, in the nature of practical household goods. The only item that had any decorative value was a calendar from a London shop, open to the current month—September 1897, which had a picture of horses pulling a farm wagon piled high with the fruits of the harvest. My other gifts were cloth and sewing supplies, sacks of grain, jars of spices, and crates filled with clucking chickens.

That last gift, although certainly not as pleasant-smelling as the spices, was the most well received. Sara clasped her hands together and exclaimed rapturously, “Eggs! How wonderful! And grain too! Now we can bake bread and biscuits!”

“Rice pudding!” declared a less effusive but just as happy Ella, glancing from a sack of rice to a jar of cinnamon. “Just the thing—we’ve been picking grapes and drying most of them to make raisins.”

We started trundling the supplies up from the beach in wooden handcarts. After we reached the shade of the tall trees in the bayou, I let go of my cart’s handles and turned to face the girls.

“I’d like to ask a favor,” I began, doing my best to keep the request simple. “This is a very peaceful little village, with many empty houses. If I send a girl or woman here for a visit, so that she can rest for a while and become healthier, will you take good care of her?”

Sara chewed on her lower lip, considering the question. “Like a sanatorium, you mean? Where they send people with tuberculosis?”

“Well, sort of like that, but it’s for people who have been worrying too much and need a few days to sit quietly in the sun and dream of happier things.”

Water trickled slowly down toward the sea, and a slight breeze stirred the treetops. There was no other sound but a few squawking chickens that seemed anxious to get out of their crates.

“Oh, I understand how that is,” Sara replied, giving me a cheerful smile. “I always feel much better when I can pretend something happy instead of worrying.”

I smiled back at her. “Yes, exactly. But first, I want to set an intention for this village to feel like a safe and protected place. This wooden pathway makes a circle around the houses. I’m going to walk around it, starting here in the east, and look to each of the directions as I say words of blessing.”

Ella, with a very doubtful expression, took firm hold of the little cross that she wore on a simple necklace. “But isn’t that,” and she lowered her voice, though there was nobody else around to hear, “pagan?”

“Not necessarily. There are many rituals that used to be pagan but then became part of ordinary society. Christmas lights, for example. Long ago, pagans had ceremonies of lighting candles at the winter solstice, and then Christians started doing the same.”

Although Ella still didn’t look entirely convinced, Sara gave an understanding nod. “Like maypole dancing. Some people won’t do it because they say it used to be pagan.”

“Just so,” I agreed. “Now, when I look toward the beach, I am facing the east, where the sun rises over the sea. East is the direction of the dawn, of healthy buds and flowers opening in the spring, of the earth filled with green growing plants. May this village be blessed with all these things and feel safe and protected always.”

Then I walked a quarter-circle clockwise until I was under a particularly thick part of the tree canopy where only the indirect light of early afternoon came filtering through. I turned to face outward again.

“South is the direction of the sun, of the heat of midday, the fire that forever brings energy and life to the world. May this village be blessed always and feel safe and protected under the sun.”

I continued around to the west, invoking its late afternoon breezes and its winds of welcome change. In the north, I spoke of nightfall, of a cool rain, of winter and dormancy and a healing silence. Then I returned to my starting point beside the eastern shore and completed the circle by stating my intention that everyone within the village feel safe and protected forever.

“And there is no need to fear being attacked because no enemies can enter here.” I paused for a moment because I wasn’t sure where to send my past selves’ enemies. Maybe they bounced off a protective bubble of white light? No, that wouldn’t fit the Myst computer game. Even an imaginary scenario like this needed a consistent plot.

“They will go into a book,” I finally said, thinking about what had happened in that game. “And there they’ll stay forever—nothing but an old story, with no power to do any harm in the present. So let it be.”

The girls listened politely, Sara with what appeared to be genuine interest, and Ella looking skeptical. When I had finished speaking, we all rolled our carts up to higher ground. After putting the grain and spices away in a shed, the girls started planning how they were going to build their chicken coop.

“A few words before I leave,” I said, breaking into a discussion that quickly had gotten so animated that I wasn’t sure the girls still remembered I was there.

Putting down the sticks they were holding, the girls looked up from the diagram that they had been sketching in the dust beside the shed.

“I don’t expect to bother you too much with visitors,” I told them, “but every now and again, if a worried-looking girl or woman shows up in the village, please give her a kind welcome and a nice hot bowl of chicken soup—or maybe some rice pudding. Let her rest for a while, enjoy the peaceful landscape, and rediscover her joy in life.”

“Rice pudding,” Ella said, in a tone of complete certainty. “It would be just right to drive away melancholy feelings, especially on cool evenings when the wind blows hard against these little houses, carrying the cry of the seabirds.”

“Sometimes it can feel lonely here, especially on nights like that,” Sara confided. “But I’ve made pretty wall hangings from reeds, to brighten up the rooms and keep out the chilly drafts. It never gets as cold here as it does in London.”

“We’ll be glad to have visitors,” Ella finished, “whenever they come!”

The girls turned back to their rough sketch of a chicken coop while the hens went on clucking impatiently in the crates. I said goodbye and walked back down to the beach where my imaginary ship waited for the return journey. When I boarded the ship, I moved easily and felt light and energetic, as if I’d left behind a few worries of my own that I had been carrying around without knowing it.

My most recent imaginary visit with a younger self didn’t take me very far back in my virtual time machine—only to the summer of 2014. At that time, Not-Much-Younger-Me was in the midst of an ambitious project to visit a positive blog every day and document those travels on this site’s Random Kindness Blog Tour page.

She had in fact set herself a schedule that called for multiple self-improvement and home-improvement projects going on at the same time. The other ones included decluttering the house and writing weekly posts about it, composing a monthly Recovering from Negativity blog series in the nature of a 12-step recovery chronicle, and learning to row a double scull with hubby well enough to compete in regattas. Some might have called it a midlife crisis of sorts, though she wouldn’t have described it as such.

I caught up with her while she was standing in the backyard on a warm sunny afternoon, working on what seemed a never-ending job of cutting back all the bushes and small trees that had been damaged by that year’s frigid winter. She ought to have hired someone to take care of that chore instead, as it didn’t all get finished before winter came again; but, long ago, she had gotten in the habit of taking too much upon herself without realizing it.
 

Willow after pruning off small branches. 

I stepped into the shade of the little tree that she was pruning. She glanced over at me, blinked a couple of times, and then just shook her head in a tired-looking way.

“If you’re a new blog idea or story plot having to do with a visit from an alternate me, well, I don’t mean to be rude,” she began, in a tone that sounded like it was meant to be apologetic but conveyed very little beyond weariness, “but I have a lot going on at the moment. Maybe I can get around to writing about you next week sometime, if nothing else comes up.”

“Oh, no, I’m just here to talk a little, that’s all. No need to schedule anything,” I said cheerfully. The shade felt cool and pleasant. Somewhere in the leaves above my head, a bird gave a chirp of curiosity.

“And I certainly don’t mean to be rude either,” I went on, “but you’re kind of a newbie when it comes to this positivity stuff, so I thought it might help to talk about a few things. Such as, you’re not obligated to put on a happy face every morning and convince yourself that life gives you boundless energy, making it easy and fun to do anything you might imagine for as long as you want. The human body has natural limitations, after all. Needing to rest and recharge is one of them. Although a positive attitude is indeed good to have, it doesn’t literally expand the number of hours available in the day.”

The pruning shears snapped firmly shut on another dead branch, which rattled into the yard waste bag a moment later. “I haven’t been putting on a happy-face act. When I decide to do something, it simply gets done. And if you’re me, then you ought to know that,” Not-Much-Younger-Me declared irritably.

“Well, I’m not quite you, exactly. Coming from three years in your future, I like to think of myself as a more sustainable version of you. Of course, I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I’m working on it.”

“Sustainable… that sounds like we’re talking about a rainforest with little coffee farms carefully planted around the edges, or something.” The snap of the shears came again, not quite as loud as before.

“Yes, sort of, in that we have to pay attention to our own personal ecology and not deplete our resources. When we’re doing too many things at once, that doesn’t leave enough time for our energy to replenish naturally, and after a while we start to feel drained.”

“But just a few years ago, I was busier than I am now, and it didn’t seem like a problem then,” she started to argue. Then her hand went slack on the pruning shears as she thought about it some more and finally said, in a much softer tone, “Oh.”

Three little rabbits chased each other across the lawn before running around the corner of the house. I watched them for a moment before I turned back to my somewhat-younger self and explained further, “I don’t mean to suggest that you should drop all your projects, of course. Just try to keep in mind that if something takes longer than you expected, it’s no calamity. For example, coming from your future, I happen to know for a fact that some trees and shrubs didn’t get pruned this year, and guess what—it didn’t kill them.”

Not-Much-Younger-Me responded with a genuine smile and started to take off her gardening gloves. “Well then, I think I’ll just go inside and drink a nice cold glass of iced tea.”

“That sounds wonderful. See you in three years!” I gave her a jaunty wave as I stepped farther back into the trees and disappeared into my own time.

Although I’m not really going to the beach for Memorial Day weekend, I decided to get in the mood anyway by putting a cute beach and pool cartoon on my art display. Okay, maybe I can’t jump into the picture and be there; but hey, my inner child doesn’t know that, right?
 

Cartoon image of a pool with lounge chairs at the beach. 

Who says that doing therapy on oneself has to be all about angst and excavating mounds of deeply buried negative emotions? I honestly think that sometimes it might be more worthwhile just to invite my inner child to hang out at the beach for a little while, build a sand castle or two, and enjoy a yummy confection from the ice-cream truck.

At the very least, it can be a useful reminder not to take life too seriously!

I woke up to a dark, cloudy morning on Wednesday and felt gloomy for much of the day, brooding about past occasions when I had felt stuck in bad situations. Although that happened many years ago, it still bothered me that I had let myself get into such a negative pattern rather than taking timely and constructive action to deal with problems as they came up.

The sky brightened after a while, and I went rowing with my husband after work. We had to go slowly and carefully because the river was full of large logs and other debris that had floated downstream since the last time we were there.
 

Large log in the river. 

By then it was late in the day, but I still hadn’t managed to shake off the gloomy thoughts. As we returned to the dock, it occurred to me that some impulsive decisions I had made recently could be seen as related to that old pattern—or, more specifically, could be seen as my subconscious mind forcing the necessary action to break the pattern and ensure nothing like that would ever happen again.

“Okay, subconscious mind,” I said to myself, continuing the internal dialogue, “if you’ve been so busy protecting me from myself by any means necessary, then what was your reason to leave me feeling so totally blah the entire day?”

“To recognize the pattern, of course.” The answer popped into my head right away. It was not followed by a “Duh,” but sounded as if it might easily have been. Then the gloomy feelings instantly vanished, in what had to be the fastest mood swing ever. I felt fine while putting the boat away and getting into the car.

By the time I got home, though, my back muscles had tightened up for no apparent reason, making it hard for me to move around all evening. I don’t ordinarily have back problems, and I certainly hadn’t exerted myself too much when I was rowing very slowly around that obstacle course of monster logs. So what the heck was going on here?

Then another thought came to mind, which was that this drama had Dame Shadow’s fingerprints all over it. As I described in a December blog entry, Dame Shadow is one of my angrier and more defensive past selves. She feels like it’s her responsibility to protect me from the world’s evils when she thinks I’m not doing enough to take care of myself, which is often.

When I last had an imaginary conversation with Dame Shadow as she was getting ready to charge into battle with an army of mythological creatures in a landscape from an empire-building computer game, I came to the conclusion that she wanted recognition for her efforts, and I promised to show respectful appreciation the next time she had something to say. Gratitude for a sore back wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but that seemed to be where things stood for now. So I took a moment to meditate and let my mind quiet down. Then I thanked the Dame for kindly offering advice and told her that I was sorry, but I didn’t quite grasp what she was trying to tell me.

She didn’t step out into the light of my conscious mind, but I heard the fabric of her long skirts rustling somewhere not far away. “What or whom are you carrying on your back? You may want to think about that,” she remarked cryptically; and that was all I got out of her.

I realized that my back did indeed feel weighted down, as if someone had come up behind me and jumped on it. No particular images came to mind, though, and I spent the next couple of days pondering the question. Was it a younger self, heavy with old emotional baggage? Maybe another person that I had been trying to please without knowing it? Or a more general metaphor, such as having a monkey on one’s back?

Then I decided that I didn’t really need to have an exact answer; just thinking about the question was useful in itself. My back felt fine when I woke up this morning, and I wondered if perhaps the lesson might also have to do with patience—that is, setting aside any expectations that I ought to be able to get things sorted all at once. After all, everything always has another layer to it somewhere!