Cousin Irene

A few weeks ago I wrote about how to make your internal critics go away by writing about them, and told you that my critic was named Ed.  But Ed is only one of them – like most of us, I have several internal critics, nearly all of them nasty.  Here is a piece I wrote years ago about Cousin Irene, the voice inside my head who is in charge of procrastination, laziness, and all the addictive distractions there are.

Cousin Irene lurches into the room, trailing leavings from her purse – a dried-up lipstick, a wallet with a broken zipper, a scarf that has gum wadded in it, and of course those old used Kleenexes. She doesn’t pick anything up, because that is my job. She plops down on the most comfortable chair in the room. Her bulk overflows the cushion and her dress rides up on her thighs; she is wearing nylon socks that only reach halfway up her meaty calves. She tells me it’s too hot to write today, and besides there is nothing interesting to write about, and even if there was something interesting, I would not be able to find it. She demands a glass of wine, even though it’s only two in the afternoon. She asks what’s in the refrigerator, and then says I should make her a plate of something, whatever is there. She turns on the TV; it is Judge Judy, which suits her fine, she likes to sneer at all those stupid people. She spills her wine on the front of her dress but doesn’t bother to wipe it off.

Writing the above was pretty effective at keeping Cousin Irene fairly quiet – any time I felt the urge to give in, I just re-read my description of her. But a few years after I wrote it, Cousin Irene starting shaking her bootie at me again. So this time I didn’t just write about her – I made her into visual art, picturing her in both a drawing and a sculpture. Then I put the sculpture in a birdcage (without the bird) and have kept her there since. I plan to keep her there forever, although sometimes she moans and cajoles and lies in attempts to make me release her. She’s also been known to burp and fart when she knows I’m listening.

Cousin Irene does not give in easily.

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Good Ol’ Ed

I’ve blogged and written many times about my various internal critics. I give them names, physical descriptions, and personalities. This way they become real and cannot live as cowards hidden inside my head. I see they are not my friends and I am able to banish them – maybe not for always, but at least they stay away for a long time and when they do reappear I know how to banish them again.

We all have internal editors or critics. That’s the voice that tells you that you are stupid, a bad singer, clumsy, boring. It’s the voice that critiques every piece of writing you do, every conversation you have, the way you dance. This voice often shows up when you sit down to write. He, she, or it leans over your shoulder and whispers mean things in your ears.

One of my voices is named Ed. He used to tie my fingers up in knots and breathe dry ice into my brain. He doesn’t do this so much any more, because I found out that I could diminish Ed’s power by simply — writing about HIM. Here is one paragraph I wrote about Ed:

Ed is a middle-aged man with a sunken chest and a long thin nose through which he sniffs and snorts. He squints his beady eyes whenever he looks at me, suspicious that I will again try to write something. If I do, he’ll tell me I have nothing original to say, so why waste my time? His voice is usually sharp and piercing but he is capable of hissing his words, especially when he spots a mistake – any mistake, even a misplaced comma or a typo such as “teh.” He notes all mistakes in a black accountant’s ledger notebook that he always keeps with him. He reads the entries to me out loud.

And so on. As I wrote about Ed, it dawned on me that Ed is not my friend. And the more I wrote, the more obvious it became that Ed was a nasty, mean-spirited, chickenshit bully who did not want me to be happy.  So why was I listening to him? Why indeed. So nowadays Ed just pouts in the background, waiting for me to notice him again. I am determined not to.

Ed is only one of the voices in my head (and my body) who give me a hard time. Later this month I’ll blog about Cousin Irene, who is even worse than Ed. In August I’ll be blogging about two others who are in charge of various physical/mental attributes. Their names are Uncle ArthurItis and Aunt Nervine, and they are a pain in the you-know-where. Stay tuned.