Charles can’t get started. He has written an email to the help-desk at Silencing The Inner Critic telling Richard Grannon that he can’t get started and wondering if there’s anything in particular that he can do to rectify this parlous situation. He honestly doesn’t know why he can’t get started. When he thinks about how angry he is with himself (because of how he can’t get started) he begins to flashback and remember how his dad always used to say that he was a pathetic piece of crap who would never amount to anything. Next he feels this unbearable ‘constricted feeling’ in his chest, and, in exquisite conjunction with that unbearable constriction – like a cowboy cantering along, determinedly, beside a demented heifer – an equivalently overwhelming urge to go online and surf the algorithms and buy a book or – better still – an audio book called something like: Living Your Unlived Life.
He imagines listening to this audiobook at night on his laptop while he’s sleeping – or on his nifty, brand new, clean-white, kinda-space-cube-y, wall-mounted CD player (if he can burn a CD on his brand-new-as-yet-unboxed CD burner) which seems to have no automatic stop mechanism (the reviewers on Amazon were definitely niggled/bemused by this) so is essentially permanently on repeat – and . . . and . . . yes, and the positive messages will seep gently and painlessly into his unconscious mind . . . or . . . or his conscious mind (more likely), when he’s not managing to sleep, because he actually cannot sleep, because he is so frustrated by the fact that he can’t get started and he truly fucking hates himself. He fucking hates himself for this blatant sign of his manifold cowardice and impotence and ineffectualness and weakness.

Just. Cant. Get. Started.

Never. Quite. Got. Started.

My. Whole. Damn. Life.

 

This is his Toxic Super-Ego at work. Surely? The Toxic Super-Ego tells Charles that he is a pathetic piece of crap just like his dad always said he was. The Toxic Super-Ego is the Parent voice. It’s his dad’s voice. It is constantly at work within him – hectoring him, lecturing him, pointing the finger. Finding fault.

Plenty to find fault with here, kiddo . . .

‘WAH! NO! Stop it! Stop it Toxic Super-Ego!’ Charles immediately counters, ‘I’m calling you out, see? I’m wise to your games now! I know who you are! I know what you do!’

 

In the Introductory Module which Charles has only watched half of because he suddenly felt terrified and overwhelmed and tired – tired – just so ludicrously, deliriously tired – Richard Grannon stood majestically in front of a whiteboard wearing a newly-pressed blue shirt and calmly outlined the role of the Toxic Super-Ego. The Toxic Super-Ego was sitting (Grannon drew a little cartoon with his trusty marker pen) in its own small bath of ‘toxic shame’.
Grannon is funny and handsome and ‘buff’ and Charles finds it difficult to believe that Grannon was also an unholy screw-up a mere two years ago. Two years. Before he cured himself.

He and Richard Grannon are approximately the same age. There is still hope.

Although there is already something about this picture that doesn’t entirely add up. If a person is truly, authentically an unholy screw-up then how the hell do they still manage to hold down a job as a life-coach/therapist and teach high level martial arts and do a series of other remarkably cool and interesting things like becoming an NLP Master Practitioner and living in the Far East and having an encyclopaedic knowledge of Important Cultural Moments in both fiction and film while owning a giant, blonde dog which lollops about shedding hair and stealing socks?

?

Who looks after this beloved dog while Grannon’s kicking back in the Far East?

Huh?

If Grannon doesn’t take good care of his dog, how do you know you can trust him to take proper care of YOU?!

Charles has inherited a hairless Sphinx cat called Morpheus and the cat refuses to either eat or drink if Charles goes away on a trip. When Charles went to an uncle’s funeral (not a real uncle but a real funeral) in Wick for 3 days the cat had to be rushed to the vets and put on a drip.
Fucking co-dependent fucking cat.

This is your Toxic Super Ego at play, Charles tells himself. Grannon warned you that the Toxic Super Ego (TSE) would start trying to undermine and ridicule ‘the process’. The TSE doesn’t want to be eclipsed.
You are AT WAR with the TSE. The TSE is a vicious rogue element – a terrorist – which has secretly hijacked your brain. It is bloated beyond all recognition – like a pumped-up mid-seventies Elvis. It is marching around vaingloriously – like a psychological Napoleon in a ridiculous cocked-hat. It has short man syndrome.

But remember – remember! – that you don’t want it to know you are AT WAR with it. Too risky. You want to sneak up on it and catch it unawares. To set a cunning trap. To approach it, with stealth, and then . . .

. . . to POUNCE.

Because . . . shhh!

YOU ARE NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO DECLARE OUTRIGHT WAR ON THE TSE! IT WILL CALMLY AND SYSTEMATICALLY PULVERIZE AND DEGRADE AND HUMILIATE YOU IF IT CATCHES WIND THAT ANYTHING – ANYTHING – UNTOWARD IS UNDERWAY. BECAUSE THAT’S SIMPLY WHO IT IS AND WHAT IT DOES.

IT IS POWERFUL.
IT IS CUNNING.
IT *gasp!* HATES YOU.

Beware!

Oh balls. Oh balls, Charles thinks. If only I could get to grips with the course, watch it from start to finish (YES! The Holy Grail!) instead of just dipping in and dipping out. If only I could muster a sense of . . . of order, of connectedness, of coherence. If only I could marshal my wayward spirit. Then – only then – might I finally be able to come to grips with the malign influence the Toxic Super-Ego is exerting on my every waking thought and feeling and breath and impulse.

Charles feels so . . . so disparate.

Desperate?

No.

Disparate.

 

‘I suppose the important detail here is that he – or she – didn’t actually break in,’ Avigail murmurs, ‘She just tried. She tried but she failed.’
Avigail looks at Charles. Charles is holding a popcorn maker (retailing at £14.95 excl p&p) which is still boxed and which he is trying to give to the prospective purchaser, a ferocious-seeming Chinese woman called Wang Shu who seems to speak no English. Wang Shu is barely through the front door. Wang Shu’s interpreter is her dumpy daughter who has her right arm encased – wrist to elbow – in slightly grimy gauze. The daughter is called Ying Yue.
Ying Yue has emphatically assured Avigail (on Wang Shu’s behalf – and insofar as Ying Yue can be emphatic, which isn’t very far) that Wang Shu will not be put off by the sheer amount of stuff clogging up Charles’s small property, because the property number just happens to be 8, which is highly propitious in Chinese culture.
Charles lives in the centre of Llandudno in a curious house which has no real, independent character and seems more like the back end of a giant office space (a dark corner for designated parking, drains and growling air conditioning filters) or possibly even the unkempt kitchens of a large but seedy hotel. There is no front. It is all rear. Small windows. It’s on a grimy side-street close to the sea front. There is no garden. There is hardly any pavement. He inherited the property from his mother. His mother (Branimira) had worked for thirty years as a veterinary nurse in Conwy – after arriving in Wales from her native Bulgaria in 1964 – even though she was always allergic to both hair and fur. Hair and fur.

(In fact hair and fur aren’t actually, qualitatively different, they’re just alternate words for the same keratin-based substance. It’s the proteins – Can f 1 and Fel d 1 – which are released in the dog’s saliva and the cat’s saliva/skin which provoke allergic responses).

Charles’s mother was not a home-body or a consumerist. Charles’s mother was made of sterner stuff. Charles’s mother lived at a high altitude – a lofty attitude. Charles’s mother lived a life of the spirit.

Charles’s mother LOVED TO GIVE.

Without inhibition.

But not to Charles. No. No. No. Not to Charles.

Mainly to the helpless, the dispossessed, and animals (including insects and birds).

Then to Charles.
All the left-overs. The scraps. The hard rind. The soggy remnants.

 

 

 

This is an extract from I Am Sovereign by Nicola Barker.

Feature photograph © John Lodder

Two Poems
Interview with Constantia Soteriou