Do you remember the folktale "The Three Billy Goats Gruff"? I remember how much I loved hearing my father or mother read that story to me when I was a child. I imagine what most intrigued me was hearing my parents change their voices for each of the parts.
The sound of the bridge as it was crossed by each of the goats, "Trip, trap, trip, trap." The response of the big ugly troll with his big eyes and his long nose, "Who's that tripping over my bridge?" And each of the goats. The smallest goat's teeny voice, "Oh, it's only I." The middle-sized goat in a middle-sized voice, "Oh, no, don't take me." And finally the largest, full-grown goat in his deep, scary voice, "It's the Big Billy Goat Gruff."
Of course, the ugly troll under the bridge is tricked by the goats and never gets to enjoy a goat meat dinner.
Well, I've been wrestling a bit with the troll under the bridge the last few days, and for the moment I have won, but the troll still lives, although scarred and wounded, under the bridge.
The troll under the bridge represents my inner critic.
As you may recall, I am taking an intensive online writing class this summer. This class gives me structure for working on a book project, and I am making progress, but sometimes the troll emerges and shouts, "Who do you think you are? You may think you can write a book, but have you ever done it before? And even if you do it, will anyone even want to read it? Why don't you just stay on the other side of the bridge and graze in the pasture there? It's summer after all and the sun is shining. Take it easy. What difference will it make after all if you write your stupid book anyhow?"
My troll under the bridge is a talkative troll.
Two things happened recently to encourage the troll. First of all, I had applied this spring for a grant and received notice that I was not selected as a semifinalist. Now I knew it was a long shot, and I don't regret stretching myself. I learned a lot in the process and writing the proposal deepened my commitment to my project, but, true confession, of course, I was disappointed. The reinforcement for my project and let's face it, the money to support the process would have been welcome. On the surface I seemed to shrug my shoulders and say, "Oh well. You are on the bridge. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other--and keep writing one paragraph after another."
But the troll, who never misses a change to undermine, also got the email and at first seemed to empathize with me, but then…"Poor Nancy, why work so hard? You tried your best. There are so many other ways to use your time. You have other gifts. No one will know that you decided to set the book aside. After all you did it before and that was no big deal."
I didn't have much of a chance to think about what the troll said before Bruce and I left for a few days of vacation. We drove to one of our favorite places, Door County in Wisconsin. We have been there many times over the years, beginning when our children were young, and it has come to symbolize a place of utter ease for each of us. This time was no exception. We had both been working hard, and we needed the time-out.
Door County worked its magic. We loved the days of roaming, visiting long-time friends, eating at favorite spots, taking the ferry to Washington Island, exploring a new lavender farm on the island, and allowing ourselves time to read and sleep late and relax. Fully. Utterly. Although I did do some writing, not much, to be honest, by the time we returned home I had gotten used to the slower pace. And that happened after just four days of being gone.
Once again the troll was ready for me. "Wow, Nancy, you really seem relaxed. Good for you. And what a great pile of books you bought at the bookstore on Washington Island! I know how eager you are to read them. Summer comes just once a year, so feel free to take a book and a glass of lemonade to the garden and read all afternoon. Today and tomorrow and any day."
I could feel myself take a few steps back to the meadow side of the bridge, but I didn't quite turn around. Just in time a message arrived from the facilitator of the writing class offering encouragement and even mentioning how at this stage of the class, the inner critic is louder than usual. Had she met my troll?
I decided I needed to have a little chat with my troll. First, I meditated a bit longer than my usual 20 minutes. I continued to sit quietly waiting for the voice of my inner wisdom to appear, hoping that voice could be heard over the din of the troll. Would I know the difference between the two voices?
Here's what I heard. "Nancy, what is your heart's desire? What is the call of this time in your life? How will you live the gifts you have been given? Only you can answer those questions and only you will know when your answer encourages the person you were created to be."
I could feel the troll shrivel just a bit.
I don't know if I will actually be able to bring this book into reality. I hope so, but while that is important to me, it is not the only thing. The important thing is to walk with integrity, to be attentive to the deep inner voice, to pay attention when that inner voice matches the voice of God calling me to be more than I thought I could be.
Take that, Troll!
I have returned to my garret and have been writing. I am keeping up with the class assignments and responsibilities. I am writing a new chapter for my book. I have read the feedback from my classmates about my most recent submission to the class, and they offered helpful suggestions, and no one suggested I drop out of the class. I am continuing to cross the bridge. However, I am crossing it a bit slower. I am learning that when I pace myself, when I take time for meditation as well as leisure and allow myself fun and spontaneity in my life, I am stronger and more resilient when the troll tries to knock me off the bridge.
Do you have a troll in your life? Perhaps he is an inner critic or perhaps he is another kind of obstacle, fear or anger or procrastination or anything preventing you from being your best you. How do you respond to your troll? I would love to know.