Does anyone else hear the nagging voice of self-doubt and self-recrimination? I hear it so often that last night I decided to give it a name.
Meet Aunt Aggie.
Aunt Aggie is a small misshapen woman who will never ever admit her goblin heritage, despite her love for mischief. She has a fondness for garish flowery smock dresses, the brighter the better, and a wispy chin. A cigarette permanently dangles from her red-painted mouth, scattering ash like blessings. She constantly knits - tumbles of grey greasy wool tangle around her belly and by her feet. It looks as though she is knitting chainmail, or perhaps nothing so fancy. Perhaps just chains.
We grew up together, Aggie and I. I have a fancy she was younger once, slightly thinner, more hungry. She was always knitting though.
Her usual perch is on my shoulder. She likes it there. She may be small but she is devilishly quick at spotting my hesitancy, and will scramble to her seat. Once there she starts speaking – no pleasant how-do-you-do for Aunt Aggie. Her knitting needles will flash and click and her voice will be a low rasping monotone with no break, no pause, no respite.
This is what she was saying last night.
You were hopeless in that presentation. Didn’t you hear how you fumbled that sentence? Let’s re-play that again, but picture everyone looking bored by the very idea of you. That’s right - look at their faces; they hate you really. It’s because you looked like an idiot. Maybe you’ll be sacked. And what makes you think you can write anyway? You know you can’t. People who say they like your stories are just being kind. They pity you. No one believes in you really, you may as well not bother. You should give up before you become even more of an embarrassment.
She never looks at me as she speaks, but addresses her words to the rather long, rather sharp, clacking needles. I try to block her out but her voice seeps into my self-conscious, until I fall asleep lulled into nightmares where I am lost and failing.
But not last night.
Last night I gave her a name.
‘Oh Aggie, shut up’, I said, and the instant I had her name I saw her. Even better - she saw me. There was a pause as we eyed each-other. I had the feeling Aggie had never seen me before, that my giving her a name had broken whatever spell bound us, and released me from a contract I had never signed.
I could see she knew it, too. She had even stopped knitting.
‘What did you say?’ she asked eventually, and I felt like laughing, as for the first time I heard hesitancy in her voice, and it gave me power.
‘Just stop it,’ I said. “None of what you are saying is true.’
She peered at me, beady brown eyes trying to determine if I was serious. Then she raised her needles to continue.
Think about how you stammered that sentence. Really fluffed it didn’t you? They think you are awful...
‘No they don’t’, I said, interrupting her. ‘If they thought I was so bad, why did they congratulate me?’
‘They were lying,’ she said, but I could see she was a bit desperate now. I wasn’t supposed to be talking to her direct. I was supposed to be trying to sleep in anxious dismay.
‘Why would they lie? Don’t be absurd,’ I told her, enjoying her disquiet. ‘My boss thanked me. I even had people queuing to speak to me afterwards and asking me questions. People don’t lie about things like that. If they didn’t like it they would have gone for their lunch and not bothered.’
She glanced around, clearly discomfited.
‘And while we are here, if I cannot write, why would a magazine editor tell me I was a good writer? Why would people I admire who are already authors tell me the same? Why would I be asked to write for other people? Why would I get jobs based on being a good writer?
‘In fact, Aggie,’ I said, pressing my advantage. ‘you’re talking rubbish and always do. Go away. I don’t believe in you anymore.’
To my surprise she went.
I’m not saying she won’t be back. Aunt Aggie forever waits for her chance. But the greatest thing is I now know her name, and because of that I have brought this fear down to something I can control – maybe not all of time, but finally I have discovered her chains are not unbreakable.
Do you have an Aunt Aggie? And if you do try giving it a name – take the power back!