My Dear Virilina,
I must congratulate you on the toilet paper. A swarm of horse flies—in its intricacy, hunger, and chaos—is a masterpiece, but put a lantern in the lap of a man near those horseflies, and you direct all of that energy at a single point. You are a genius!
Vague anxiety burns bright but quick. (Also, the Enemy has so thoroughly mined seemingly stupid humans with reason, even ones who have not sworn any allegiance to him. They talk themselves out of anxiety treatments.) It is best to focus the Patient’s anxiety away from philosophies or ideologies. Anxiety that is concerned with ideologies might eventually work itself around to the wrong kind of questions about right and wrong and justice. Though you could build a genocide on ideological anxiety, a small, temporal focus is easy to manage and never in danger of looking up from basic, animal concerns. You have turned the humans’ eyes directly to their own backsides, and they are entranced!
I hear that you will be assigned cases now rather than general duties? How exciting!
My Dear Virilina,
I hear you have been assigned a Patient? A young woman?
The Patient is a bit young to be anxious about her death. And, as we have not succeeded in overturning the Job Precedent, a warrant bearing the Enemy’s signature is generally necessary for any direct bodily interference.
Keep up the good work!
My Dear Virilina,
Your frankly uninspired performance was a source of embarrassment for me this morning. I was on my way to recommend you for special recognition from Our Father Below.
Here is how we shall fix this: You must re-establish your hold on her thoughts. Coddle the Patient, congratulate her, plant thoughts in her head of how noble she is being to sacrifice her social outings, favorite coffee haunts, etc. This must be carefully managed. At no time must she be allowed to think of the threat posed to people she knows, who have names and faces for her. She must fill her whole field of vision. Her stockpiles, her feelings, her routines. Imagine constructing a hall of mirrors around the Patient.
Do not mistake my advice for approval.
Your urgent missile of alarm last night was most unprofessional.
I have received the Patient’s file and agree: given the circumstance of the Patient’s previous encounter with the Enemy and her abuse of that drug “purpose,” supplied by him, must be carefully managed to avoid relapse.
Patients who are susceptible to purpose are often active and addictive by nature. They must be doing things of great import or numbing the knowledge that they are not doing things of great import. Ordinarily, I would suggest a course of the usual treatments—large doses of alcohol, sexual conquests, meaningless entertainment, and preoccupation with social trivialities like reputation and likability. Since the usual treatments are, at present, out of reach, lean into the anxiety you have seeded. Prod her every few minutes with a need to check social media and the news. And when she is distressed, guide her toward distractions. Video media is as effective as any of the traditional treatments. Herd her gently away from productivity in round-the-clock, alternating doses of anxiety and hunger for distraction.
All will be well.
My Dear Virilina,
I passed your query about how to best use the current economic situation to our advantage on to Mammon. Quite difficult to get on his calendar, of course, but you are worth calling in a few favors. He noted that all great schemes have their power in inspiring littleness. He advised a three-pronged approach:
- Encourage the Patient to forget her usual tithe. It will not be difficult as you say that, with the interruption of church services she has mostly recovered from any habitual praying, singing, and do-gooding. Lapses are easy; patients are always looking for a way to lapse. If you can, in a little while, inspire some guilt over this. Nothing like guilt to really seal up a soul from wanting or getting communion with the Enemy.
- Suggest the idea of a splurge, a frivolous “pick-me-up” purchase, an excessive quantity of an essential, anything that has even the slightest whiff of practicality about it. Later, reduce it to regret and an urge to pinch and hoard to make up for the splurge.
- Name all fiscal anxiety “wisdom.” The Patient is particularly sensitive about finances given her bouts of unemployment and looming debt. She also idolizes being clever and independent. This should be easy.
It all comes down to smallness. In every possible way make the Patient feel and behave as small and tight as you can.
Your Uncle Screwtape
You may think, my little gremlin, that there is no fire for the frying pan which was your origin and in which you still sit to empty into—no farther to fall. You are wrong.
The VERY first lesson you are taught at the academy is to never, NEVER, allow a Patient who has had an encounter with the Enemy to despair. There must always be some bottle, indulgence, or amusement in reach to offer a little tease of relief. Humans are lazy and weak. They will not, and perhaps cannot, help themselves to anything that is not already practically in their hands. And the Enemy, as you now know the hard way, is perpetually scooping them up to kiss boo-boos. Instantaneously, he leaps to their slightest whimper, though it feels a very long time to them. (They don’t know anything about long times.) You drove your patient to loneliness and desperation without any comforting distraction, and she called, “Father.” Out pours his rain to soothe her sleep, the voices of her loved ones on the phone, her favorite church ditty “randomly” comes up on shuffle play. He delights in grotesque exorbitance of affection for even the tiniest act of faith and even in its absence.
Do not think any such help will come from me. You are a disgrace.
Emily Stroble is a writer of bits and pieces and is distractedly pursuing lots of novel ideas and nonfiction projects as inspiration strikes. As an editorial assistant at Zondervan, she helps put the pieces of children’s books and Bibles together. A lover of the ridiculous, inexplicable, and wondrous as well as stories of all kinds, Emily enjoys getting lost in museums, movies old and new, making art, the mountains of Colorado, and the unsalted oceans near Grand Rapids. Her movie reviews also appear in the Mixed Media section of The Banner and her strange little stories of the fantastic are on the Calvin alumni fiction blog Presticogitation. Her big dream is to dig her hands deep into the soil of making children’s books as an editor…and to finally finish her children’s novel.