Friday, 16 April 2010

Aunt Aggie

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!


Crystal Cook said...

This is PERFECT Jayne!! i love it! I will now tell my own Aunt Aggie to SHUT UP! But I must name her, actually I always think of it as a him.

Thanks for this :)

Anne Gallagher said...

That was fabulous! Good for you! I think Aggie's at my house now though.

Lydia Kang said...

As long as you get to say, "Can it Aggie"! Mine doesn't have a name yet. But I may have to give it one so I can have a sit-down conversation and tell her to behave herself.

Anonymous said...

Suspect that I am in the same age band as Aunt Aggie! Great idea. My personification of nagging self-doubt will be a young wasp called Wanda who has no grey hair or wrinkles and whose prose is as perfect as her pearly white teeth. Bah!

music obsessive said...

Sounds a bit like Bertie Wooster's Aunt Agatha - is it one and the same? He always avoided her by buzzing off to New York for a few weeks. I hope you are not considering this (unless you want to of course) as it could work out very costly.

Btw, I like your new-look blog. It has inspired me to revamp mine.

Jayne said...

Hi Crystal. I'm glad you liked it! Do tell your Aunt Aggie to take a hike - interesting that for you it is a 'him' - I wonder what his name would be?


Hi Anne. Oh no! Tell her to shift! Don't let her start knitting whatever you do. :)


Hi Lydia. I think giving it a name and picturing the conversation really helped me - it became a story, and that put it into my control. And I do get to say 'can it Aggie!'


Christine - I love the idea of your young wasp called Wanda! I can picture her (does she give you condescending looks at all?) and see her standing there, tall and slim, arms folded, one designer shoe tapping. Gosh, I hope she doesn't come over my way as well.


Hi Martin. I haven't read any P.G. Wodehouse, isn't that an awful admission? He is on the list for this summer. But I shall look out for this Aunt Agatha! No danger of me buzzing off - Aunt Aggie seems to travel about with me whether I like her to or not. But she is very quiet at the moment - still shocked, no doubt!

Thanks for saying you like the new-look blog! I'm still not totally happy, but it will do for now. :)

Fran Hill said...

Aunt Aggie gets around, that's all I can say.

Elana Johnson said...

This is the best post I've read today! I so have this Aunt you speak of, and next time she comes around, I'm going to put her in her place. :)

Laura S. said...

This was brilliant! (Go shove THAT in Aunt Aggie's goblinish face!) I'll be sure to give my nagging voice a name and take back the control.

Thank you for this, Jayne!

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Haha, great stuff Jayne, and take THAT Aunt Aggie!!

music obsessive said...

Not read any...!? Oh, Jayne!

At least you have it all to come. P G Wodehouse evokes a lost Englishness in a way that no one else does. Eccentric farce that gladdens the heart. I look forward to your monthly review this autumn!

Eliza said...

Jayne that was a brill post, I have to give my Aunt Aggie a name too :-)

Amy said...

Yay! You tell her.
I need to name mine. It's more of a whispering goblin I think.

Al said...

I have an "Uncle Harry"
Thank goodness he only haunts my blog. And then only occasionally!

Kit Courteney said...

I agree with Martin!

Aunt Agatha is a trial ;0o

(I think she has well and truly left my house for the forseeable...until I get things moving again.)

Nice post x

Ev said...

I hate her! Will I come over and bash her up for you! Although I'd need to sprout wings as we are truly an island nation again!

Jayne said...

Hi Fran. Aunt Aggie is rather quick on her pins, sadly!


Hi Elana. Aw - thank you. That comment makes me happy! And next time you see Aunt Aggie, tell her where to go!


Hi Laura. Haha - thanks! It makes such a difference giving it a name, it has made me feel immensly better about myself. :)


Hi Karen. Heee! Next time Aunt Aggie comes around I will be sure to point her to this post!


I know Martin! I think I have stayed in my comfort zone too often when it comes to reading. This year is all about pushing those boundaries and discovering new authors (at least, new to me!). And I cannot wait, if these books are as you say, they sound like books I will enjoy.

Jayne said...

Hi Eliza. Thank you! Do give her a name - it totally brings it down to something that can be controlled. :)


Hi Amy. A whispering goblin, eh? Next time you hear it's whisper, tell it to put a sock in it! I have a spare tennis sock (last used to house my mobile) going spare if needed. :)


Hi Al. Ah - an Uncle Harry? Maybe he and Aunt Aggie should meet up and dance a waltz.


Hi Kit. Glad you liked it! I am looking forward to reading about Aunt Agatha.


Hi Ev. Thanks for the offer! Haha. And our island nation is no more - I have seen three planes in the sky so far this morning. And a helicopter woke me up at 5am - I was so pleased.