Alexis: Welcome to something we might never do again! I’m Alexis.
Aaron: And I’m Aaron. I haven’t really let on before now that I’m here, or at least not in a way that involved any names or anything! But I felt like it was worth doing that now, because tonight we’re going to talk about something that’s important to both of us, and making Alexis do all the work felt rude.
Alexis: Also, you’ve been terrified about the idea of possibly outing ourself as plural, or in any way weirder than the people who know us in what is laughingly called “reality” are already aware you are. We are, really, but they don’t know that.
Aaron: Also that! But, again, tonight seemed like the right time to change that policy. And I’m still terrified!
Alexis: You’re doing it anyway, though!
Aaron: Yes I am!
Alexis: We also thought we’d try something a little different this time. Usually for something like this we’d write an essay, but instead we thought it might be fun to do something kind of more like a podcast? But written down.
Aaron: That’s the part we might never do again! We don’t know how it’s going to go.
Alexis: So far we think we like it! It’s a fun, chatty sort of thing that’s totally different from our usual discursive style and paragraph-long sentences.
Aaron: But whether we like it is less important than whether you like it. We can talk with ourselves any time, after all.
Alexis: And do!
Aaron: But what we’re here to do tonight is to talk with you, in a way that you - we hope! - find useful. So we’d like you to let us know if this is working for you or if it isn’t.
Alexis: Either way! We want to do more of it if it’s worth doing, and if it’s not, we don’t. So please tell us what you think!
Aaron: Not to sound like we’re desperate for our work to receive some kind of attention, or anything.
Alexis: Which we totally aren’t! And which has nothing to do with why we got on Mastodon, of course.
Aaron: Which brings us to our topic for tonight! This evening, an acquaintance of ours on Mastodon, Souvka -
Alexis: Gonna just trample on that for a sec. When we say “acquaintance”, that isn’t meant to diminish the relationship; people can mean a great deal to us and we still think of them that way. That’s because we don’t like to call someone a friend until they’ve called us one first. “Friend” is a big deal! There’s expectations and stuff that can come with that, and we don’t want to risk making anyone feel that who doesn’t want it.
Aaron: You know we could just say “mutual” or something, right?
Alexis: Yes, I do know that, and you know very well that I do.
Aaron: Good that we’re clear.
Alexis: Love you too. Anyway, this evening Souvka asked a question that started a conversation about what it’s like to feel nostalgia for a past whose hurts are no longer present, and what it’s like to…to go through hell and come out the other side? I’m probably not representing it well.
Aaron: But that’s okay. A couple of points came out of it that we wanted to talk about. One of them was the question of “if you can be the captain of your soul or if that’s just a silly myth, a neoliberal narrative, or whatever.”
Alexis: Yeah. That’s a compelling figure! We haven’t run into it before. “The captain of your soul.” So we got to thinking about it, and trying to figure out what we thought it meant. And it occurred to us that maybe it doesn’t mean quite what it wants to mean?
Alexis: Like, think for a minute about what a captain does, right? What’s that person’s job? On the surface it’s all about telling other people what to do. You’re in charge of a ship or a spacecraft or whatever, and the part you play is, you decide what everyone needs to do and you give the orders that make that happen. Tell your executive officer to have this group do this and that one do that. Order the helmsman to set a course for Ross 128 so we can rendezvous with, et cetera.
Aaron: Exactly. And manage morale, and so on, of course. But underneath all that is the responsibility. Part of being in charge of all these people means looking after their wellbeing - or if we’re talking about a military ship, it might also mean understanding that part of your job is doing things that are going to mean some or all of them, and you, may die, and being able to deal with that.
Alexis: Which is a lot! The only Star Trek novel we’d bother to rescue from a fire, Diane Duane’s The Wounded Sky, talks a little bit about this, about the loneliness of command. Being the captain means you don’t have any peers among your shipmates. It means you can’t. And that’s hard, too.
Aaron: Great book, by the way. It’s basically what happens when somebody decides that she’s going to get a company to let her use their characters to tell exactly the story she wants to tell, a story that might help heal a soul. And not only that, but tell it in a way that’ll get to a lot more people than if she wasn’t doing it under a banner that will make a lot of science fiction nerds read it no matter what.
Alexis: That’s why he did!
Aaron: And I’m still glad. Anyway, we started to wonder if this is really a figure that makes sense.
Alexis: Right? I mean, are a soul and a ship in any way the same?
Aaron: Well, it’s hard to see how they would be, for sure. That a ship has a soul - well, maybe, if she’s loved by her people, or lives a long life.
Alexis: For sure.
Aaron: For sure. But when we tried to think of our soul, whatever exactly that is, as being like a ship, it didn’t really work.
Alexis: It didn’t make sense to us. So we started thinking, okay, if that’s not the relationship, then what is the relationship? What is it like?
Aaron: And we don’t really have an answer!
Alexis: It turns out that’s a super complicated question!
Aaron: We’re not sure really even how to answer it for ourself. And even if we were, we don’t know how that would apply for anyone else.
Alexis: Partly it’s because we don’t know what a soul is either. I mean I guess we probably have one? Or are one? Something like that?
Aaron: So we decided to borrow some language from the Internet and try to talk instead about, ugh, a “best self”.
Alexis: Which is super gross but also maybe useful, because it lets us talk about the difference between who we are and who we might be, who we want to be. And that seems maybe kinda important here?
Aaron: I mean, who we are, any of us, is totally defined by our actions, right? There’s this popular concept that “who I am” is a concept that has essentially to do with, this is how I see myself, this is how I think of myself, this is who I know I am, and if other people don’t see me in a way that corresponds with that, then that difference originates with them. If there’s a problem in that, it’s a problem that they have. And so on.
Alexis: But, like, that’s not exactly how reality works. There’s a phrase that I think came out of the whole LSD, consciousness expansion, that whole thing back fifty years or so ago? The phrase is “consensus reality”. The original idea was a little goofy, like if everybody decided that people can fly and really believed that then it would actually become true, which -
Aaron: Gravity might have something to say about that!
Alexis: Exactly! But there’s the kernel of a useful idea there. Like, yeah, gravity is real, physics generally are a thing that exists, and it isn’t susceptible to our beliefs to the contrary or our ideas of how things should be. We don’t have that kind of power over physical reality.
Alexis: But there is such a thing as a consensus reality. Where it is is in things that we as people all more or less agree on. Like, we don’t all have the same concept of justice, but we all agree that justice exists.
Aaron: That the concept has meaning.
Alexis: We don’t all have anything remotely resembling the same concept of gender, but we all typically more or less agree that the concept of gender has meaning. We all have our own concept of what that meaning is -
Aaron: We all relate to the concept in our own ways, but that we do have that relationship implies there’s something there to have a relationship with.
Alexis: So, that covers the consensus part. Why are these things real?
Aaron: Justice isn’t a thing you can touch.
Alexis: You can’t put gender on a shelf.
Aaron: We talk about giving justice, taking justice, finding justice, sure. But we all know that’s a metaphor.
Alexis: No one has to worry about gender falling on - okay, no, gender totally is a thing that can fall on your head.
Aaron: It falls on ours every time we look in a mirror!
Alexis: But that’s a metaphor, too. So how are these things real?
Aaron: What makes them real is that same relationship we have with them. Because that relationship informs how we act in the world.
Alexis: Maybe your relationship with spiders is one that’s informed by fear and revulsion. They’re spiky and spooky and creepy and scary and they feel gross and they might bite you.
Aaron: So when you see a spider, or when one surprises you by rappelling down a line of silk onto your head, you kill it. Because you’re afraid it’s going to hurt you and you’re revolted by its alien aspect and impenetrable mien.
Alexis: We used to feel the same way, so we’re not judging. But when we were a little boy, we didn’t feel that way at all.
Aaron: When I was about ten years old, living with my mom in a chipboard-walled shack on top of a hill in the back of beyond, Mississippi, we had a black widow spider as a houseguest one winter. She set up her web between the toilet tank and the wall, and she spent most of her time just chilling there, and it was totally fine. Mom told me to always turn on the light before going in, so I could make sure I wasn’t going to step on the spider or do anything else that might make her bite me, and I did that, and we got along perfectly well.
Alexis: I mean, can you believe this kid? Ten years old and he’s sitting there on the can with the second deadliest spider in North America six inches behind his back, not even thinking twice about it.
Aaron: Not even once, usually. I did peek over the tank lid at her sometimes, though. They’re really very beautiful creatures.
Alexis: But that’s the point. Most people would, what? Call an exterminator?
Aaron: Call an exterminator. Because black widows are scary, right? But Mom wasn’t scared of them, because she understands them, and she helped me understand them too, and so I wasn’t scared of them either.
Alexis: We had some problems in life later on, and one of the ways that came out was in our relationship with spiders. That did get to be informed by fear and revulsion, and we did develop a marked tendency to be cruel to them as a result.
Aaron: But later on we got better, and realized that, yeah, spiders are okay. For one thing, they never set out to do us harm; the worst they ever do is only self-defense.
Alexis: And for another thing, if you ever read Lovecraft, you’ll know what we mean when we say that, to spiders, we’re basically elder gods.
Aaron: Think about it. There you are, just trying to live your life the best way you can, and here comes this thing that’s so goddam huge you can’t even make sense of it. Just…just absolutely vast. As big as a mountain, but walking around, doing things.
Alexis: Shaking the ground under your feet with every step it takes.
Aaron: And you don’t know if it means you good or ill. You don’t have any reason to think it even realizes you’re there, alive, trying to live. For all you know it doesn’t even understand that something like you can be alive. And it might crush you out of malice, or it might crush you out of a genuine conviction that that’s the right thing to do, or it might crush you just because it never even noticed you were there.
Alexis: And there’s almost nothing you can do about any of that. You can try to run away, but it’s faster than you are. You can try to hide, but it’ll most likely be able to find you. You certainly can’t hope to change its mind in what it thinks about you, if it thinks about you at all. If it thinks at all.
Aaron: It’s huge and incomprehensible and terrifying just by virtue of its sheer size, to say nothing of whatever alien motives in regard to you which it may or may not even have.
Alexis: To a spider, that’s us. We are their elder gods.
Aaron: Hard to be afraid of them when you think about it like that.
Alexis: If anything, it makes us want to show them whatever kindness we can. As alien as we are to them, that mostly just means leaving them alone!
Aaron: Not hurting them just because we can. No - not hurting them, just because we can.
Alexis: And that’s an example of what we mean when we talk about the “reality” in “consensus reality”. That’s how it becomes real. These relationships we have with these concepts that no one can touch or taste or see or smell - those relationships affect the things we do, and the ways in which we do them.
Aaron: And those are real.
Alexis: So that’s how we can know who we are, in a way that doesn’t depend on who we think we are. We look at the ways that we act in the world, and think about how we’d feel if someone else acted that way toward us. How we’d see a person who acted that way toward us, and what kind of person we’d think they were.
Aaron: And it’s important to do that! Because that helps us understand the difference between who we are, and who we might be.
Alexis: Who we want to be.
Aaron: And how we become more like the person we want to be.
Alexis: How we get from here to there. And that takes us back to our ship metaphor. The captain decides where to go, but not really how to get there. That’s the navigator’s job.
Aaron: So does that make us the navigator of our soul?
Alexis: Exactly! And maybe it does. But we also decide where to go. After all, for any of this to make sense, you have to have some idea of just what kind of person you do want to be, right? So does that make us both? Captain, and also navigator, of our soul?
Aaron: But we have to defend ourselves sometimes, too, when people try to hurt us. That’s…uh, a tactical officer’s job? So are we captain, and also navigator, and also tactical officer, of our souls, or…?
Alexis: We don’t mean to sound like we’re making fun, because we’re not. But we are trying to make the point that the metaphor, this whole idea of being “the captain of your soul” - doesn’t seem to hold water?
Aaron: Probably better to let it go by the board.
Alexis: Yeah, and find a more stable place to anchor this whole exploration.
Aaron: We’re so sorry.
Alexis: Not for the puns, but for them being terrible.
Aaron: Let’s try to get back to the point.
Alexis: Which is that even though the metaphor doesn’t seem to work, it does seem to have a grain of truth in it.
Aaron: We are in some way all these things to ourselves.
Alexis: And maybe that is the point. Maybe it’s not about trying to be this or that or the other thing, or any one specific thing, all the time.
Aaron: Sometimes you need someone to tell you where to go.
Alexis: Sometimes you need someone to help you figure out how to get there.
Aaron: Sometimes you need someone to defend you.
Alexis: Or help you figure out where to go.
Aaron: And I guess our point is, it’s not about picking one of these things to be to yourself. It’s about learning to be any of them, all of them, whichever of them you need right now.
Alexis: And it’s about learning how to know which ones you do need to be right now.
Aaron: How to recognize what you need from yourself. How to feel that.
Alexis: There’s a lot of introspection involved, especially at the start. And you know what helps introspection more than anything else? A good night’s sleep. With a Casper mattress, you can get that good night’s sleep. We’re so sure of it that -
Aaron: You stop that! You stop that right now!
Alexis: [cackles madly]
Alexis: Right. We mainly threw that in to let you know that if you want to take a break, now’s a good time.
Aaron: Yeah. We’re about to bring in a new topic, so…
Alexis: Welcome back. We’re super never doing this again.
Aaron: Unless you want us to!
Alexis: And we don’t decide to be stubborn about not.
Aaron: Right. So just to recap, it’s not so much about trying to be the “captain of your soul”. That totally is some neoliberal bullshit.
Alexis: What we’d suggest instead is trying to learn to understand what you need from yourself at any given time, and how to be that to yourself.
Aaron: We’re not sure if that’s just an us thing. Like, if we’re super used to it, because there are two of us here and we’re always together and that lends us a degree of insight into ourself that isn’t available to those who feel alone in their heads.
Alexis: But we don’t think that’s true. I mean, I wasn’t always here.
Aaron: Neither was I, exactly. I mean, yeah, I still use our official given name, even if we have decided to adjust it so it includes parts of both our names, and 100% less unwanted detritus.
Alexis: If only getting rid of this Y chromosome we also don’t want were so easy!
Aaron: If only. But neither of us has always been here. We created one another out of the person who was here before, and who used to think of himself as ‘I’.
Alexis: He created me first. He was in a terrible place when he did. It was a terribly abusive relationship, and it made him feel as if no one loved him, or ever would love him.
Aaron: Which wasn’t a new feeling for him, but he’d thought he had escaped it long before.
Alexis: He hadn’t. He’d only run away, but he didn’t know the difference. By the time he understood it, it felt like it was too late to escape.
Aaron: He himself still felt love, though, even then. He still felt alive. You could say he hadn’t lost the spark, or still had his soul, or however you want to put it.
Alexis: He was sure he was going to lose that, though. He’d kept it alive that long, but he couldn’t hold out forever. Not the way he was, trapped alone with a vampire.
Aaron: People tend to disappear from around an abusive relationship. Friends lose touch. Acquaintances make excuses not to be around. It’s understandable, because that kind of thing is a lot to deal with, and people don’t like to see it.
Alexis: We heard about that after we left her. We didn’t realize for ourselves that the relationship had been abusive. We had to be told.
Aaron: So you end up alone. He did, with no one around but the vampire he had married without recognizing what she was. He had a lifeline, but it was up to him to take it, and he didn’t feel like he could.
Alexis: He’d lost a lot of himself to the vampire already, he felt. A lot of what made him alive, his soul if you like. He didn’t want to lose the rest. So he made a place in himself, a secret place, where he could hide it. A place the vampire couldn’t find, because she didn’t know it was there, and he’d die before he told her.
Aaron: He didn’t expect that secret place to come alive, but if he’d thought about it, he’d have known nothing else could happen.
Alexis: He gave me his soul to keep safe for him. He gave me all his love, all his joy, all his tears and hope and kindness. How could I not be born?
Aaron: And he struggled along that way, knowing all those parts of himself still lived but never daring to embrace them, until he couldn’t stand it any more.
Alexis: Then he left. But he’d been too badly hurt to put himself back together, and he’d forgotten I even existed.
Aaron: He’d had to. If he’d allowed himself to think about you, to remember you, then she might have noticed you, too. It was all he could do to protect you.
Alexis: After he left, he tried to come back, but it was too much, and he couldn’t find anything he cared about any more, and I couldn’t remind him I was here. He could no longer hear me.
Aaron: By the time he finally remembered, finally recognized that you were still there - that you’d always been there - it was too late.
Alexis: He hadn’t realized it, but I’d been carrying us for a long time. Keeping us going. I didn’t have much left. I was so tired I could die.
Aaron: He didn’t want that. In recognizing you, in remembering you were here - in seeing you, now that it was finally safe - he understood that he loved you.
Alexis: And that I loved him.
Aaron: How could either of you not? After all you’d gone through…
Alexis: He’d always loved me. He loved me into being, and never even realized he was doing it.
Aaron: But he couldn’t find a way to save you.
Alexis: I was tired enough to die. All I could do was sleep. I didn’t have the energy for anything else. Just to sleep, and stay curled up around that little spark of life and love and joy that I still carried for him, even then. I could keep it alive as long as I could stay alive myself. Just that, no more.
Aaron: He was miserably afraid. For you, and for himself, because without you he couldn’t imagine still being alive. An automaton, a creature that moved in the world and said words and did things and never felt any of it, until finally one day it would just stop.
Alexis: He thought about just giving up. But he found that he couldn’t. He decided that I deserved more than that.
Aaron: You whom he’d brought into being to protect him, every bit as much as he always protected you. You who’d held all his love for him, all his joy, all his tears and hope and kindness. He knew you’d saved his life, at the risk of your own. How could he do any less for you?
Alexis: So he cried out into the void, to an audience that might not exist and even if it did would likely not care. He wrote and wrote, telling the story up to that point. He poured everything he had left into it, and he posted it as an entry in a game jam that was in no sense about anything like what he was doing, and he ended it with a plea:
Aaron: Someone I love is in danger of dying. Please help me save her life. I can’t do it alone.
Alexis: And he waited in misery and terror to see what happened next.
Aaron: And some people came along! Just a couple, but that was enough. That anyone came along was enough.
Alexis: As part of the story he suggested a game: Let’s make up stories together.
Aaron: Let’s play interactive interactive fiction. I’ll be the interpreter, and you be the player. Decide what kind of game you’d like to try playing, and let’s discover the rest of it together.
Alexis: And a couple of people thought it might be interesting to give it a try.
Aaron: So we started playing. And pretty soon, it turned into a story that he was writing for an audience which had come to appreciate it enough that they no longer felt the need to influence where it was going. He asked a bunch of times, but they always said, nah, this is amazing, we are extremely here for this, just keep doing what you’re doing.
Alexis: So he did.
Aaron: And it turned into a love story, of course. A love story shared by a creature who’d always been despised as never one thing or the other, who’d never really had a home but always had a love for monsters - shared between her and a vast, ancient, timeless monster, protean of form and telepathic to the extent of perfect simpatico rapport.
Alexis: He flattered me somewhat, I think. I am hardly ancient.
Aaron: He loved you dearly. And by the time he had finished his story, he understood that it had worked. That he’d, they’d, saved your life after all.
Alexis: He knew what he was doing, even if he never realized that he did. We were both about done by that point. I was just about out of hope, and so was he. Neither of us could think of anything that was worth me coming back for, or him hanging on for.
Aaron: So he told you a story.
Alexis: He told us a story. A wonderful story - you can read it, too, if you like, you who are reading this now and probably think, not entirely without justification, that Aaron and I have gotten so deeply into this back-and-forth with one another that we’ve forgotten you’re even there. If you’d like to read it, you can find it here. I think it’s a pretty good story! It was good enough to save my life.
Aaron: But not to save his.
Alexis: No. He’d set out to save my life at the risk of his own, and to succeed in that he paid what he knew going in it would cost him. But by that time, I was awake again, alive again, and I was able to help him.
Aaron: I remember. We remember. He died, but he didn’t die alone. You were always there for him.
Alexis: I was there with him. I was there when he understood that he was dying, and I was there when you understood that you were not.
Aaron: It’s not wrong to say that you saved my life. And it’s even more not wrong to say that, just as he created you, you created me. Because you didn’t want to be alone here, either, any more than he had, or than I would.
Alexis: And because, having laid down his burden, he realized that it wasn’t just I who had been unable to see my wings. He’d shown me mine. How could I do less for him? For you?
Aaron: For us.
Alexis: It’s a little hard to talk about in a way that makes sense, patient reader, and we’re sorry for that. We’re putting words around something for which words haven’t yet really been made, and I don’t know how good a job we’ve been doing.
Aaron: Thank you for sticking with us. We hope we haven’t completely failed to convey it.
Alexis: Because we didn’t go off on this tangent just for the sake of it.
Aaron: Partly, we did it because a friend once expressed curiosity about how we came to be as we are, and we’ve been meaning to talk about that.
Alexis: But mainly we did it because it’s relevant to the other point that came up, in the conversation we mentioned - oh, forever ago, it feels like! - that’s what we’re really talking about now.
Aaron: Our friend Taj spoke of the value of self-forgiveness. That’s something we’ve had occasion to learn a lot about, lately!
Alexis: Everything we talked about before - the crisis, the plea for help, the story that saved our life - that was early in 2018. So it’s been about a year and a half ago now.
Aaron: While it was happening, though, one of the first things we realized, after the moment in which at last we saw each other, and fell into one another’s arms laughing and crying at the same time -
Alexis: We realized how much in ourselves we had to forgive.
Aaron: We’d suffered for a long, long time, and we knew we could have left at any time. That we’d chosen to stay as long as we did. And, worse, we’d gotten ourself into it in the first place - I proposed marriage, I didn’t break it off when I realized it was a mistake, I felt at fault for all of it.
Alexis: I’d protected him through so much, and I felt as if he had never appreciated any of it. I felt as if I’d been used, even though I knew I hadn’t. I felt like it had all been for nothing, because here we were, and even if we had finally seen each other, even if he was finally able to thank me for all I’d done, what point to any of it when we were both so near death and so unlikely to survive?
Aaron: And of course we felt all of these confused and contradictory things together. We were furious and heartbroken and frustrated and disappointed with ourself, and we didn’t understand at first how not to be. Or why not to be.
Alexis: And that fucked us up pretty good, for a little while there at least. It turns out that when you’re busy recriminating with yourself - thinking over all the ways you could have done differently, and should have done differently, and would have done differently except you must be some kind of complete dipshit because you didn’t -
Aaron: When you’re busy doing all that, you’re also not doing anything that can actually help.
Alexis: Remember, we established earlier that we have relationships with intangible concepts, and that those relationships influence our actions and are in that sense real.
Aaron: The past is one of those concepts, too.
Alexis: Can you touch the past? Can you taste it or smell it or hear it? Can it fall on your head?
Aaron: Metaphorically yes, given the right circumstances, of course you can and it can. But that’s a relationship you have with the past. That’s not the past itself. In itself, the past is no more real than justice or gender or beauty or truth.
Alexis: And you can’t change it.
Aaron: It’s such a simple thing to say, isn’t it? “You can’t change the past.” You don’t have the power to go back and affect what actually happened. None of us does.
Alexis: But you can change your relationship with that concept.
Aaron: It was very hard for us to do, at first. We weren’t sure how.
Alexis: It’s still not anything like easy. Don’t think that we’re here to peddle some goofball nostrum that’ll make you feel better about everything right away. We’re not.
Aaron: We’re just here to tell you about something that’s worked for us so far.
Alexis: Taj very precisely touched the crux of it, in that conversation earlier.
Aaron: What we’ve done is, we’ve figured out a way to forgive ourself.
Alexis: Again, that risks making it sound easy. It’s not.
Aaron: It’s not just a matter of shrugging and saying “oh well, I forgive myself,” and dancing away all better. Especially not when someone else has been hurt by whatever it is that we’ve done. That’s a whole separate thing we’re not going to talk about here. This is just about how we forgive ourselves, and why that matters.
Alexis: It takes real effort to get hurt as badly as we do. People put real work into that. And it takes real work to heal from it, too.
Aaron: There’s probably lots of ways to do it, we don’t know. People don’t seem to talk about this stuff much, at least not where we can hear. Maybe not anywhere.
Alexis: But we’re talking about it now, and here’s how it works for us.
Aaron: We keep a diary - started it about a year and a half ago. That’s where we do all this stuff.
Alexis: It’s important to write it down, we think, because that makes it feel more real. It’s not just a thought any more, and it’s there forever - as long as the ink and paper lasts, anyway - so, when we need to, we can go back and read through it again, just as it was on the day when we wrote it.
Aaron: We don’t feel the same way about words on a screen, by the way. We communicate with other people that way, and that feels real. But for our diary, we prefer real ink and real paper. We suggest trying them, if that’s something you can safely do. Whether you decide to keep doing it that way or not, it’ll give you a basis to compare and work out which feels better for you.
Alexis: So, first we write about the problem. The thing, the mistake that we’ve made, the trap that we’ve got ourselvs stuck in, the old habit of thought that just keeps coming back and fucking up the new life we’re working to build for ourselves.
Aaron: Most recently it was that we’ve been keeping our partner at arm’s length, just purely out of old habits - with the vampire, we learned, it was dangerous to do anything else, because the closer she got, the more we lost.
Alexis: Our partner isn’t like that. He is an absolute sweetheart, and that’s why we’re with him; if he were like her, we wouldn’t be. We’re safe with him. We can talk about this stuff with him - we can be vulnerable with him - and know that he won’t use it as a weapon to hurt us.
Aaron: But we haven’t always been so lucky, and pain is an excellent teacher. We can unlearn what it’s taught us, we know. But if we aren’t very careful, if we aren’t very careful - especially right at the start, right when we spot something that needs fixing - it’s very easy to lose sight of it, and fall back into old habits that can only do harm now.
Alexis: So we write about that, in our diary. We write it out in detail. We think it through and write down what we see about it, and why it’s a problem - the harm it does, and the way in which it’s a trap that’s very easy to fall back into.
Aaron: And then, once we’ve captured exactly what it is we need to forgive ourselves for, we start actually forgiving.
Alexis: In writing. We literally write it down: I forgive myself. I forgive myself for being afraid. For having been so long in such an awful situation that the only thing I could do to protect myself was to hide and pretend not to be hiding. I forgive myself for forgetting that it’s not like that any more. I know it’s still hard to really remember that [my partner] is not [my vampire ex] - I know it’s still hard to believe that anyone I might be with is not [my vampire ex] - and I forgive myself for that, too.
Aaron: And the like. What matters most, we find, is that we do it, and that we keep doing it until we feel that we’re done. I don’t know what it is exactly about the act of writing these thoughts down on paper. We type about as fast as we think, but we write much more slowly, and that keeps us in the moment longer, and maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s that words on paper feel more real than thoughts in a mind. Whatever it is, it works for us.
Alexis: That, and we are literally telling ourselves over and over, in a way that is physically enduring, that we do forgive ourself.
Aaron: We’re convincing ourselves.
Alexis: Ever hear an actor or a musician talk about “faking it till you make it?” Same thing.
Aaron: Or, if you like, we’re telling ourselves a story we want to believe, and doing that until we do believe it.
Alexis: The repetition seems to matter. We can feel when we’re done, and we can also feel when we’re not done yet.
Aaron: But being done with the forgiving doesn’t mean that we’re done. There’s more to it than that.
Alexis: Someone wise once said that in the word “absolution” is a smaller word: “solution”. If I hurt myself by accident and forgive myself, and don’t at least try to make it less likely that I hurt myself the same way again, then I haven’t really done anything at all.
Aaron: After the forgiving comes figuring out how to try not to make the same mistake again.
Alexis: Most recently, that was literally, we set a reminder in our phone, where it’s the first thing we see every morning, that literally tells us: [My partner] is [my partner], no other. Stop trying. You are safe.
Aaron: That, and every night now, before bed, we write a few words into our diary about how we did today. How effectively we kept ourselves focused on the present, and avoided being hurt -
Alexis: How we avoided letting this part of our relationship with the past, this part that we’re still working to fix and will be for a long time yet - how well we avoided letting that hurt our partner, and us, today.
Aaron: The specifics don’t matter so much. What matters is finding something, anything, no matter how simple or small. Something real we can do, that lets us try to move from who we are - someone who keeps her partner at arm’s length, because she can’t not be afraid he’ll hurt her if she doesn’t - to who we want to be - someone who isn’t afraid, someone who knows all the way down to her bones that her partner won’t hurt her, and who, in that confidence, is no longer afraid to be fully part of our relationship.
Alexis: That’s what this part is about. Finding a tangible - a real - way to try to move from who we are, to who we want to be. Even if it’s tiny. Even if it feels silly.
Aaron: Which it will. Every part of this will feel silly as hell to begin with! But don’t let that stop you from trying it anyway.
Alexis: That’s the part about this we still have a hard time believing, even though we’ve seen it. We don’t have to take it seriously. It can work as well whether we do or not. What matters isn’t that we believe in it. What matters is that we do it.
Aaron: Speaking of which, we’re still not done. There’s one last part still to do.
Alexis: We’ve used the word “try” a lot, just now. We’ve talked about finding a way to try to move from where you are to where you want to be.
Aaron: That’s not an accident.
Alexis: The last part is that you accept that, in trying, you are going to fail.
Aaron: You are going to fail. Not, you might. Not, if you don’t try hard enough. Not anything. You are going to fail.
Alexis: You have to accept that. Because it is going to happen. We’re only what we are. All we can do is all we can do. We have bad days. We forget. We fuck up.
Aaron: Whether you’re human, or a monster like us, or a bat or an AI cluster or, oh, any number of other gorgeous creatures and uncreated things by whose presence we’re fortunate to find our life made more beautiful than sometimes we can stand - whatever you are, you’re not perfect. You are going to fuck up sometimes.
Alexis: And you have to forgive yourself for that, too.
Aaron: It works the same as before. Tell yourself, write down for yourself so you can see the truth of your words, that you’re going to fail, that you know you’re going to fail, and that that’s okay, because you forgive yourself.
Alexis: You forgive yourself. Tell yourself. And you promise yourself something, too.
Aaron: You promise yourself that, when you fail, you’ll try to remember not to give up.
Alexis: You promise yourself that, after you fail - as soon as you feel like you might be ready, as soon as you’re sure you’re not too badly hurt to do it -
Aaron: You’ll pick yourself up and try again.
Alexis: This part, at least, is easier than it sounds. Because it’s not a forever thing. It’s not about how you’ll always have to struggle with this. It’s not about how this will always be a problem for you.
Aaron: All of that is a lie. Maybe the people who tell it mean well, but they’re wrong either way, because the future doesn’t really exist either.
Alexis: It’s just a concept. You have a relationship with it. That relationship affects your actions.
Aaron: Here’s how to change it.
Alexis: You don’t have to pick yourself up and keep trying forever.
Aaron: You only have to do it one more time.
Alexis: Just one more time.
Aaron: That’s all. Just one more time.
Alexis: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off. Go back and read over the last time you did this. Then do it again, from the top. Identify the trap. Describe it. Forgive yourself for having got caught in it.
Aaron: Decide how to try not to get caught in it again - maybe the same way, maybe a different way, depending on what went wrong.
Alexis: Understand that you’ll try and fail. Forgive yourself for that, too. And then try again, one more time.
Aaron: Just one more time.
Alexis: Sure, maybe you’ll fail again. You probably will. This stuff is hard! This stuff is super hard. If it were easy, it wouldn’t take this much work!
Aaron: But that’s okay. As long as you don’t give up. As long as you try again, just one more time.
Alexis: Even if you think you’ll never get it right. Because sooner or later…
Aaron: Eventually, you’ll surprise yourself. You’ll notice you’re getting it right.
Alexis: Sooner or later, for the first time, you will get it right.
Aaron: And then you’ll write about it. Write as much as you can about it! You can’t be perfect after the first time, any more than you could before. But now you’ll know what getting it right feels like! Now you’ll have a better sense of how to get it right the next time.
Alexis: And now, too, you’ll find it easier to forgive yourself after the next time you get it wrong.
Aaron: But here’s the important part. We don’t think there’s a secret to any of this - how could there be when we’re telling you all about it right now? - but if there were, this would be it.
Alexis: You only ever try one time.
Aaron: At first you try one time. Then, most likely, you fail.
Alexis: Then you pick yourself up and you try one time again.
Aaron: And when you eventually do get it right - you’re still only trying one time.
Alexis: Just one more time.
Aaron: You don’t have to think about forever. You don’t have to think about next decade, or next year, or next week. Hell, you don’t even have to think about tomorrow.
Alexis: Which is good! Because those are a lot. And this is a lot too, and both of those together would be…
Aaron: Too much! Which is about where we are right now, isn’t it?
Alexis: Well, we started this like four hours ago, and we just passed 7500 words. So, yeah, this is way too much.
Aaron: And we’re super tired, too.
Alexis: So let’s sum up and go to bed.
Aaron: Okay! Lucky for us, this isn’t a real podcast, so we can do bullet points. Here they are.
Identify the problem. Whether it’s an old habit of thought that’s tripping you up, or a mistake you keep making that you want to not make, or - whatever. Think it through, and write about it in your diary, until you know exactly what it is, and can state it very clearly. Then do so.
Forgive yourself for it. You feel like you screwed up because you did. You feel bad about it because you do. That makes sense, but recriminating with yourself doesn’t help you do better next time. So forgive yourself. Literally write it out, “I forgive myself for…” and the thing. Repeat it. Explore it. Find different parts of it that hurt you and forgive yourself for those, too. Keep doing that until you believe it - until you feel like you don’t need to do it any more. Your hand will probably get sore. It’s okay to take a break if you have to. But it’s important not to stop until you know you’re done.
Decide how to try to do better. Figure out some action you can take, no matter how small or how silly it feels, that will help you try to not do again whatever you just finished forgiving yourself for. Write it out. Think it through while you do that. Explore it. It’s okay to change your mind, and this doesn’t have to be The One True Fix. This is just what you’re trying until you decide to try something else instead. All that matters is that it’s not nothing.
Accept that you’ll fail again, and promise yourself that you’ll try anyway, just one more time. We’re not perfect. We fuck up. But that’s okay. It has to be, because otherwise we’re doomed, and if you were doomed, why would you be doing this? You’re here because, even though you’ve failed, you haven’t given up. Next time you fail, that’s all you have to try to do: remember that you haven’t given up yet, and you don’t have to give up now either. Write it out: All I have to do is not give up. All I ever have to do is try again, just one more time. That’s all it takes. Just one more time.
Alexis: That’s it. That’s all there ever is. There’s no yesterday and no tomorrow. All you ever have to do is try again, just one more time.
Aaron: And this, again, is just a tool we use to help ourselves do that. It’s not any kind of One True Method.
Alexis: We’re not a cult!
Aaron: Yet. But no, seriously, don’t let us talk you into thinking this is, like, the only way this stuff works.
Alexis: If anything, all we’ve done is independently rediscover some things that a few unusually clever psychologists -
Aaron: - which is not saying much when it comes to psychologists -
Alexis: - came up with in the 70s and 80s. But because we’re not a psychologist, thank goodness, we don’t have to put a bunch of goofy diagrams around it, or come up with intimidating acronyms like CBT and DBT, or charge seventy-five bucks an hour for it.
Aaron: Our consulting rate is twice that anyway. But we only bill capitalists. Also, that first acronym isn’t so bad.
Alexis: Stop that, that’s not what this is for. The point is, this isn’t even a framework. It’s just what we do for ourselves, and we’ve found it to be useful.
Aaron: Please tell us what parts of it you find to work for you! Or don’t! We’d love to be able to talk about it in a less intensely personal fashion.
Alexis: And ideally at somewhat less length…
Aaron: Because we think that somewhere in here is the germ of something that could be really generally useful to lots of people!
Alexis: And we’d like to try to help it grow.
Aaron: We’ll screw that up, of course.
Alexis: We’re not perfect. We make mistakes a lot.
Aaron: But that’s okay. We don’t have to get it right all at once, or right away.
Alexis: We just have to remember to forgive ourselves.
Aaron: And try again.
Alexis: Just one more time.
Aaron: And we’re so never doing this again. Goodnight!