December 5, 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

One day last week I found myself thinking about a time, many years ago, when I got stressed beyond my tolerance. It wasn’t easy to believe things would get better. After a while, everything worked out reasonably well; but I still feel as if I have that stressed-out past self worrying endlessly in the back of my mind.

Trying to cheer her up, I invited her to spend some time in my imaginary village of Channelwood. As soon as she materialized in one of the village’s tiny houses, though, it was obvious that there would be no uplifting conversation taking place. Younger-Me didn’t even seem to notice my presence as she sat on the bed with her arms wrapped tightly around herself, staring blankly out the window at a gentle rain while birds chirped and twittered in the trees.

“I’m cold, so very cold—I am always so cold,” she kept repeating.

The air temperature in this scenario wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; I was imagining a pleasant breeze from the window. Regardless, my past self didn’t seem to be talking about the actual surroundings, but rather about feeling that the world was a cold, inhospitable place in general.

What could I say to that? No words came to mind. Instead, I thought of a blanket I keep in my living room, which was a gift from my mother-in-law. I like it for staying comfy on the couch, especially on these long December nights.
 

Blanket with floral pattern on couch. 

I pictured myself wrapping the blanket around my younger self’s shoulders and telling her, “It’s all right. Everything will be okay,” just as if I were comforting a distressed toddler in need of a nap.

She still didn’t look at me or say anything in response. Instead, the scene ended abruptly when she faded out of it. For the next few days, I turned it over in my mind looking for profound life lessons, but didn’t come up with anything really new or perceptive. I finally decided that its meaning might be as simple as just acknowledging the fact that, sometimes, we all need a little more warmth.

After spending so much time this year rowing with my husband and traveling to regattas, it feels sad to look outside and see frost on the grass in the morning, while the boats sit empty until warmer weather returns. But, on the other hand, it’s not realistic to be on the go forever. Although it would be nice to have unlimited energy for fun activities, sometimes what’s needed is to relax and not be in a rush.

My subconscious mind drove home that message on Monday morning with no subtlety whatsoever, before I fully woke up. An unexpected thought came into my head without any filtering. “Thank God it’s Monday,” my half-asleep brain informed me. “It’s just an ordinary workday, and there’s no need to go anywhere.”

That left me considering how I might do a better job of balancing travel and adventures against the need to rest and replenish my energy. Even though this wasn’t something that happened long ago, I decided on Tuesday evening that a make-believe conversation in one of the tiny houses of Channelwood, the imaginary village where I send my stressed-out past selves for a restful vacation, could give me some insight.

I pictured my half-asleep Monday morning self sitting on the bed next to me. The scenario reminded me of a dorm room because the only other place to sit was a desk chair. Outside a narrow window, a cliff fell sharply away to the ocean, and I heard the surf and seagulls clearly.
 

Cliff with trees and shrubs dropping away to the ocean.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

I couldn’t manage to compose any useful dialogue, though. Monday-Morning-Before-Coffee-Me was not lucid enough to put more than a few words together, and just looked like she wanted to go back to sleep. And to be honest, I didn’t think of any good questions to ask her before I was dozing off too.

It wasn’t a completely wasted exercise in imagination, though, because the idea of a dorm room left me dreaming that I was back in college. I wanted to eat a leisurely pancake breakfast in the cafeteria, but my husband (who was, of course, my boyfriend then) was telling me to hurry up and grab something quick.

In real life, he generally doesn’t try to rush me when I am eating breakfast because he knows I hate that. So I interpreted the dream-image as referring not to him in particular, but to whatever might put me in a rush.

As for the pancake breakfast in the cafeteria, I decided that was my subconscious mind’s advice for enjoying a more restful life; and I made banana pancakes with real maple syrup. Yum, that left me feeling better!

August 16, 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Monday seemed like a melancholy day, without much good reason for it. Dark thunderstorms and cooler temperatures have been rolling through the area for days, making it feel as if we’ve already lost the warmth of summer; and I was bothered at times by memories of past foolish acts when I was younger. Of course, those things didn’t matter much even at the time, and they’re all totally unimportant now; but they just tend to stick around as little irritants in the mind—rather like burrs, or maybe sand and grit in shoes.

So when I went to bed Monday night, I decided that I would benefit from a calming visit to my imaginary Channelwood Sanatorium for troubled past selves, as described in several of my Younger Self posts. I generally picture two of Channelwood’s tiny homes as being kept available for my use. They’re both about the same in dimensions and furnishings, about 100 square feet and containing a bed that converts to a daybed, a nightstand, a small desk, and a dresser/wardrobe unit that has a mirror with an ornate pewter frame hanging above the dresser section.

The only difference is that they are located on opposite ends of the village. One is deep in the forest, while the other is close to the beach. Depending on which I choose, when I get in bed I’ll set my clock radio to play either an ocean soundtrack or a rainforest with tropical birds singing.
 

Tropical bird on branch in rainforest.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

I started to feel better after listening to the rain and birdsong through my imaginary window on Monday, and then it occurred to me that perhaps all those annoying past incidents needed was a few good laughs to take the sting out of them. After all, it really was very silly that I still felt bothered by insignificant stuff that happened 30 or 40 years ago. Some of the people there at the time probably weren’t even alive now.

Although that last sentence looks like a morbid thought when put into written words, it briefly struck me as hilarious in my half-asleep brain. I pictured myself telling them, “Hey, guess what, you guys are dead now! Ha, ha, wasn’t it silly, all the ridiculous stuff that we used to think mattered?”

Then a few of their disembodied voices joined in the laughter. “Yeah, we’ve been dead for years! We’re all jolly ghosts now! Ho, ho, being human was so absurd! Can you believe we ever imagined any of that nonsense was important? What a hoot!”

We all laughed raucously together for a minute or two, while the birds went on singing and a cool, refreshing rainforest breeze blew through the tiny house’s open windows.

“Thanks for dropping by, you guys,” I finally said, just a little more seriously. “You’ve really cheered me up.”

“No problem, glad to oblige,” one of the ghosts promptly replied. “Hey, it gets kind of boring sometimes, being dead and all that.”

I didn’t sleep well on Sunday night. Although I went to bed at a reasonable hour, it seemed like I had already been lying awake for a very long time when a parade of my younger selves began showing up, one after another. They were all very distressed, crying about how unfairly they’d been treated on some long-ago occasion, even though they had done all that reasonably could be expected.

For a while, I did my best to comfort them with imaginary hugs, reassure them it wasn’t their fault, and sing them to sleep; but they just kept on coming. I tossed and turned, now completely miserable myself. I felt like I would never get any sleep no matter what I did, and then I’d have to drag myself out of bed for work.

Long after midnight, I got up to drink some water. I felt parched, like there wasn’t enough water in the world, even though in fact I’d had plenty to drink on Sunday. After lying back down, I couldn’t get comfortable because however I turned, my body seemed full of aches and pains, battered and worn down by many years of stress. Then the younger selves started in again with their litany of woes. It was all so unfair. I felt responsible for comforting them, almost like I was their mom; but who was going to comfort me?

This was definitely not just an ordinary night of “the blues.” There were so many layers of blues piling on top of each other, it felt like I was lost and doomed to wander forever in a deep blue wilderness.
 

Blue night clouds in Oregon wilderness.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Then I saw daylight behind my closed eyes. My first thought was that I must have gotten at least an hour of sleep. I carefully got out of bed, anticipating that something would hurt; but there was no pain anywhere. I felt healthy, refreshed, and full of energy. How could that be?

I got a cupful of water, picked up my mobile phone, and opened the Fitbit app in which I log my daily water intake. One feature of the Fitbit wristband is that it senses when the wearer is sleeping. The app showed that I had slept for a normal eight hours, with only a few minutes awake when I got up in the night for water.

Only then did I realize that I had just been dreaming. The achy, sleepless “me” who had become old, tired, resentful, and worn down from many years of taking on too much responsibility and complaining about life’s unfairness was not really me at all. Rather, she was a very literal manifestation of a wake-up call from Spirit, showing the natural consequences of such feelings.

I went into Monday morning with much gratitude, as if I had reached the end of my life and then, through miraculous grace, had been given a chance to start over.

I’ve been getting outdoors almost every day in the warm weather, rowing and bicycling. Although that’s fun and good for fitness, both my blog and my yard are starting to feel kind of neglected. I keep meaning to sit down and write a post or a story, but then I wander off and do something else instead. My flower garden is full of thistles that grew back after I weeded last month, when I meant to put down fresh mulch but never got around to it. Thistles can be pretty in nature when they’re blooming in a field, but I would like them much better if they would stay there.
 

Thistles blooming in a field.

(photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net)
 

If anyone happens to find my responsible grown-up self, please let me know. I’m really not sure what became of her. After all those blog posts I wrote about imaginary conversations with my younger selves, I’m beginning to wonder if I turned loose an inner child who just wants to go out and play all the time.

While it’s probably about time I lightened up a little on those self-imposed To-Do list entries, I haven’t yet gotten comfortable with the empty places where they used to be. I feel as if I might wake up one morning, with only a vague memory of strange thumping noises in a dream, and discover a mindspace like a half-empty attic where a gleeful Younger-Me has tossed dusty old boxes and furniture out the window to make room for a hopscotch grid on the floorboards, decorated in all the colors of the sidewalk chalk bucket.

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.