Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snapshots: Cooperative Decision-Making and More

A post on Top Five disappeared last week. You'll understand why in awhile. It got embarrassing.

Three snapshots, all related to the movie in one way or another:

(1) catastrophic expectations,
(2) cooperative couple decision-making, and
(3) two movies we probably don't have to let our kids see.

Take it away.

1. The Catastrophic Expectation

After publishing about the new Chris Rock movie, a crazy thing happened. A catastrophic expectation came true, related to my fear that the blog would be pirated and spammed with objectionable photos.

It happened on Facebook last year. We opened the ap to find new pics, except we hadn't posted any. Thousands, mortified. Facebook rectified the situation immediately. But if this happens to me, what do I do? Delete years of psycho-education?

I pushed "publish" for the Top Five review, but probably because of the word (in bold yet) that starts with a "p", ends with an "n" and has an "or" in the middle, Google Ads paired it with a Sugar M____ies ad. (Think blood relation, not Daddies).  Soft ___ but definitely not so nice.

I'm upset by the betrayal. This is a family blog and kids love to mine it for content that they can plagiarize for their school essays.The ad is close to a realization of my catastrophic expectation (one of many, I'm Jewish). In therapy we use catastrophic expectations to manage anxiety, not exacerbate it.The patient discusses the expectation and we work together on what to do if it comes true.

This calls for an emergency treatment plan: Delete Google Ads entirely from the blog?  Sure. Because really, nobody cares.

I apologize if any of you saw anything you didn't sign up for. Life in the fast lane, what can I say.

2. Couple Decision Making

Choosing a movie with someone you love can be exasperating. Yet cooperative couple decision-making separates the solvent couples from those who will ultimately dissolve. (I think I read this somewhere, someone remind me.)

A popular intervention to bring couples closer, help them understand one another and love each other more, relies upon exposure therapy, a form of desensitization. Force the partner who hates violence to sit through a violent movie, then the one who hates romantic comedies has to sit through one of those, Legally Blond, maybe.

This is just dumb, as interventions go, imho, and I'm a CBT therapist, one who relies heavily on exposure therapies. But the reason some of us resist seeing certain genres of film is that we have already seen a few samples, and we don't like them. We know we hate violence, we know we hate mush. We've suffered enough. A date is supposed to be fun.

So it is back to the intervention tool chest. Here we find that when couples disagree there is always something in-between, either a compromise or an alternative solution, the product of a good brain-storm. That, or don't go to the movies together, see a play. (There is a post somewhere in the archives about recreational intimacy, check it out.) Frankly, I suggest people see movies with like-minded movie-goers, else why would we even have labels like chick flicks and Westerns. But some guys rarely go to the movies with buddies, they go to a bar. 


The story goes that December 24 is traditionally a time for Jews to go to the movies or play poker. FD and I are home a little earlier than usual. I want to pull him away from Law and Order reruns, begin the dialogue.

" I need to get out. And it is Xmas eve. A movie?"

He scratches his chin. "We haven't seen a movie in over a year." As in, why wreck a good thing?

"Speak for yourself. Some of us have friends."

He doesn't remind me that my dates for Big Hero 6 were five and ten years old, respectively. It was really good.

"I hear Wild is interesting," he offers, hoping to be helpful. "A Reese Witherspoon tour de force."

"Yeah, I read the book. which was good. But what about Selma? I really want to see that."

"Not out yet, sorry." He's polite.

"Wild will be scenic, which is good, a big movie. But there's is that heroin thing."

"Heroin?" he asks.

"Yeah. A little too much like work for me, watching people go through their addictions. But maybe."

He's got another idea. "How about Mr. Turner? It's about an eccentric artist. Got a great review in the Wall Street Journal."  FD devours the Journal.

I check it out, find it is two and a half hours long. "No go. Long. What about  Exodus: Gods and Kings? That has to be a big movie, if not exactly a thriller."

"Sure, but the this one is light on the miracles, the Red Sea parting is a trickle. No competition between a trickle and the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner."

"True enough. Yul Brynner in that, wow."  Agreement, take note, we're agreeing, but on what not to see. So not very helpful.

He perks up. "Before I left the office tonight a patient strongly suggested Big Eyes."

"Nah, saw the trailer and now it feels like buying a ticket is superfluous. Plus the movie is about financial abuse of women, not at the top of my list of things to think about right now. I need escape, not cringe."

"But everything makes you cringe," he counters.

"Not Babe: Pig in the City."


"We're stuck. Let's call in some experts."

When you are stuck, it is good to ask advice from other people. They don't have to be experts. Family and friends will do, and they may be experts on you.

So I text my daughter who is probably leaving Wild just about now.
Did you like WILD?
Good, but a little slow and felt long.

I text my son, who knows my sensibilities, ask him what I might like.

Whiplash, about a young drummer, has come and gone,m and we should see Annie with a younger person, too, for perspective. Into the Woods with Streep and that kid from Glee, how can this be a disappointment?  But it is, apparently.

We will have to go with the fail safe, Eeny Meeny Miney Moe, always a good decision-making strategy. We land on Top Five.

 (3) Two Movies We Probably Don't Have to Let Our Kids See (and may not choose for ourselves on an annual trip to the movies).

The first of the two: Top Five

We are not alone and it is almost show time. The parking lot is mobbed. Apparently, everyone tries to skip out on family Xmas eve. There are at least ten people here to see Top Five, everyone else chose one of the other six shows at the AMC.

Still, the conflict in the movie is smart enough:
Dare we risk turning away from what we're good at, maybe great at, to break into something new, something unfamiliar, yet important, something that matters?
Andre Allen (Chris Rock) is good at comedy, but he wants to shift to movies that tell untold stories, serious film-making. The problem? His fans won't fall into step. They want to laugh.

This isn't Michael Jordan leaving basketball to play baseball.

Andre, who is a changed man, no longer uses alcohol. In the past he used it for courage, perhaps even to overcome performance anxiety. No longer. He's just going to switch artistic venues and not tell anyone.

Laced throughout the film are cameos of movie and television stars, comedians, and rappers. Not knowing much about rappers, for me, this is a needed education, will help me relate better to young people who rap. You know who you are.

The cameos are cute, but the stories that make up the narrative are so sad. Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson, wonderful) is a journalist looking for Andre's real story, the story of his past. Hers, meanwhile, is about her choice to be exploited, her low self-esteem so low she participates in things she doesn't want to do, just to keep a relationship. The stuff of addiction, surely, but not only addiction. You know this person.

The things she's done? Not hings you want your kids to see, unless you think they are traumatic-snapshot-memory averse.

Andre's story about hitting bottom is embarrassing, humiliating. Sad. And we see all of the story in the film. We see so much we begin to wonder why we came. If we thought Chelsea's issues tough to watch, Andre's are worse. 

The kids will want to see the rappers. But they'll see lots more.

Second, Mocking Jay Part One

My daughter and son-in-law are leaving town for a few days and FD and I volunteer to watch the kids. It is Thanksgiving break and their 12-year-old has high hopes that we will take him to see Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One.

I can't do it, even though I suspect it is probably harmless, know he has seen as much on television, probably worse. His video games are probably violent and graphic. But holding onto principles, I risk the silent treatment for three days and say no. Children killing children. No.

He doesn't even try to ask FD, and works on me instead. It is admirable, his assertiveness. He brings up going to the movie, I say no, he drops it. He brings it up again, I say no, he drops it. Each time I say, "Dude! This is the stuff of nightmares. Let your parents be home when you have the nightmares."

It isn't good. But I hold my ground and a few weeks later buy him a solid round of books with content similar to Hunger Games for Chanukah. Anything to get him to read. It helps to have a children's librarian in the family.

Finally, Xmas day, his mom takes his younger brothers to Annie, and his father takes him to see Mocking Jay. Great. If he has to see the movie, let him be with his dad.

I pop over later and he throws his arms around me, already a break from tradition. (We share an obsession with the Ninja Pro blender and make smoothies, so it isn't as if there's nothing in common.).

"What did you think of Mocking Jay?" I ask, fully expecting to hear it is amazing.

He is dying to tell me.

"At first it was boring, nothing especially great, really. Blah. Then, the last 20 minutes. OMG. I was TERRIFIED. I was freaking out! I was SO scared!"

"Do you wish you hadn't seen it?"

"Yup. Annie would have been better."

Yes, for sure. For both of us.


That list of books for kids 7th grade and up. Note, these are for kids who devoured The Hunger Games but hate reading any other type of books.

Life As We Knew It and The Dead and the Gone by Pfeffer
The House of Scorpion by Farmer
Trash by Andy Mulligan (her favorite)
Gone by Michael Grant
Legend by Lu
Unwind by Shusterman (she's iffy about it-- she uses that word, Terrifying, thinks it might be for older kids)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Shirt Off Her Back

Most, almost all of our behavior is unconscious. We've said it before.

But here's a good one.

Both my parents passed away in the last four years, so I have accumulated a lot of things, hard as we try to donate, sell stuff on Ebay, and pitch. And my mom and I wore the same size. Cut off our heads, same body. So naturally, it is impossible to merely give away her wardrobe, and ditto for the jewelry, some of it, most of it, sort of. . . dated.  Retro.

I'll be at a brunch, or a holiday party, and one of my kids will compliment me on something, say a flamingo pin. My response, conditioned, unaware:
You like it?  Take it!  It is yours!
  And I proceed to fiddle with the pin.
No! No! That is not what I meant!  I did not mean, by complimenting your obviously very rare and lovely pin that I want it. It looks good on you!  Wear it in good health! Why do you always do this. We compliment something and you immediately begin to disrobe?
Flummoxed.  Makes no sense.

But this is exactly what I do, and what my mother did with me.  Oh, Mom, I love your blouse.
You like it? Take it. Please. Take the blouse.
Right then and there, she goes for the buttons. Luckily, although not really luckily, in her last years she couldn't work buttons.

So I totally loved this story about a woman at a drive-thru Whataburger in Liberty, Texas. "Nadine" reaches for her order in the drive-thru and is complimented on her mink coat. She doesn't even take a minute to reconsider, takes it off, hands it over to the window employee, Cheryl Semien. Cheryl is overjoyed and promises to pay it forward.

Maybe she will give it to her kid. Or a neighborhood kid.

Picture it, myriads of people in downtown Chicago handing off their coats. My daughter actually did this at a stoplight on her way to work one morning, so apparently it isn't a novel idea. It can get cold in Chi-town. Texas? Not so much. Not to take away, not at all, from Nadine.

Have a Happy, Merry, Awesome, warm, too, Chanukah, Xmas, Kwanzaa, Eat A Red Apple Day, World Aids Awareness Day, National Fritters Day, or Whatever-the-December holiday-you-celebrate, and yes, darling, you really should take the pink flamingo. It is too heavy for me, and your grandmother would have wanted it this way.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Regrets I've Had a Few, and The Leap

It's my birthday, so yeah, regrets I've had a few. 

Ever late to the party, I just learned that podcasts are much better than craning your neck to watch Netflix on a tablet while pretending to dice vegetables for the salad.

The New York Times story about William Cimillo
Let's start with The Leap from This American Life. Then we can move on to Regrets, I've Had a Few. We'll consider a few ideas, other sides of the story.

First, The Leap, Podcast 539:

Tales of brave souls who take blind, if calculated risks that others only dream about. We don't have the guts, and for good reasons: even executed with panache, a real risk gambles livelihood, relationships, reputation, and mental health. What could be worth all that? We'll see.

For starters (Act One), in 1947 William Cimillo, a bored New York bus driver, hi-jacked his own bus, the one he droves each day, same route, every day. He woke up one morning, puts on his cap, took the wheel and decided to take a left instead of a right at the corner.  Joe Richman tells that story, interviews William's sons, over a half century later. One is charitable about his father's audacity, the other is not. William drove all the way to Hollywood, Florida, 1300 miles, didn't call his wife, home with three little children, for two weeks. Michael Wilson broke resurrected that story in 2010, called it a take-this-job-and-shove-it.

There are other kinds of leaps. Would you time-travel, if you had the opportunity? Jonathan Goldstein and Sean Cole interview older people (not old) to find out what they have to say about revisiting time, or flash forwarding. They find seniors on a park bench , old friends, newspaper blown in the grass, and proceed to a community center. There, instead of watching Let's Make a Deal, the regulars in the rec room take a break to talk about time travel. They wouldn't bother, naturally. They're doing it all the time. Telescoping, remembering things we couldn't see as younger people, is a phenomenon of aging. Maybe a perk, maybe not.

But the best, the story with the widest implications, is The Wisdom to Know the Difference, a reference to the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The rest of the prayer is about surrendering to the will of Heaven, accepting adversity. Get over it. Let God do Her thing.

Tough message, but an expression of the worldview, the heart and soul, of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Tina Dupuy faces a choice, twenty years into sobriety. Is she sober enough to challenge the idea that she is an alcoholic? Diagnosed as a teenager, does the label still apply? No spoilers here.

It is enough to tell you that  she had been drinking hard liquor as a young child, remembers a full glass of tequila in her hand at the age of five, although she can't remember drinking it. Who poured it? Now she wonders if it ever happened. So disturbing, we wonder if it ever happened. But therapists can think of reasons for everything.

By 13 Tina is no longer rebellious or crazy. She is working a 12-Step recovery program, on her way to becoming a national celebrity, the young teenage Big Book thumper. Her story is on the front page of a pamphlet for teens.

Then at 33, twenty years solid-straight, like every person of faith at some point in their lives, Tina begins to question her Higher Power's real power, God's involvement in her life. Maybe even existence. 

They tell you in those meetings,
 'Keep coming back, trust your higher power, everything happens for a reason.'
But is someone, something up there really take care of things? Or do they just happen and we only think there's this master plan. What if there is no plan? Where is the evidence?

Tina worries. If there is no plan, then what the Big Book says isn't true. Maybe she can drink again. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe she isn't an alcoholic. Maybe one drink won't lead to another.

Changes in her beliefs mean she is changing. We use a bigger word, differentiation, when we talk about teenagers developing unique identities. They are differentiating (actually, we all are, but more slowly) first from parents and what they believe, then from their friends. That whole decade, and the next, too, is a search for self.  And Tina's self wound around that of a Big Book thumper a long time.

She is growing, is all. It had to happen one day. No reason to think she won't return to the dogma eventually, if in a milder form. She needs a break. The brain gets bored.

But you should know that this is the penultimate risk for an alcoholic, drinking. She might find that she can't stop with one or two drinks-- that her life, once again, becomes unmanageable. This is a terrifying thought. Nobody wants to go back to the reckless, irresponsible days, nothing romantic about them. An emotional roller coaster. Nobody likes you. You burn all of your credit with broken promises.

A leap many wouldn't consider, but Tina is thinking, what choice do I have? She sees only three possibilities. (1) She is an alcoholic in recovery, must stay stone cold sober or her life will become unmanageable; (2) She takes a leap and finds she is an alcoholic, can't stop drinking, or (3) She drinks under controlled circumstances to find she is not an alcoholic, meaning she can drink.

What will she do and what happens has me on the edge of my seat.

But what happened to four: She is not an alcoholic and doesn't want to drink, hasn't the desire and doesn't bother with what most of us take for granted? She doesn't consider this because the whole sobriety business has overstayed its welcome, apparently. Her brain, like yours and mine, needs more excitement.

What a set up.

This is what they should tell teens that at AA meetings: 
There will come a time will lose your faith, and you might want to see who you really are without AA.

Guess what?  You are you. You are your thoughts, your behavior, your desires, your friends, your books, your games, your studies, your choices, your relationships. And every year of sobriety, every day, as you add to your skill sets, there is more of you.
Must you still attend that same church when that crisis of faith strikes, or any church at all, read the same bible?  Maybe not. But if this is about identity, it isn't about just one thing.  

This podcast is likely to be the topic of many an AA meeting.

Most therapists would agree that the people we are as children are not the people we will be as adults. A child who drinks is likely acting out, self-medicating, socializing, or deliberately removing herself from something, perhaps a terrible life. She may be communicating anger, depression, anxiety, negative emotions.

And she has to learn how to talk about these, it is what we do in life, in sobriety, reel them in, learn to manage emotion.  Alcohol, actually, dis-inhibits, makes us more loopy, not less. Twenty years of calm, a lot less drama without booze, and she wants it back? 

So no, not on board, don't like this leap, I'm thinking. Don't set the example to others on the fence. When you are good at living without America's favorite recreational drug, when you have what everyone else wants, the clear-eyed life, why join those who top off even a good day with a haze?

As one of my alcoholic patients tells me: It makes you stupid, that's what alcohol does.

A little harsh, my friend. Not everyone drinks that way, and many writers can't write without it.

And the rest of us? We need those designated drivers.

We could certainly stop here, but just a few words about the podcast that follows leaps. 

Regrets, I've Had a Few is a line from a Sinatra song, My Way, and reading the words brings to mind, to my mind, a certain look in my father's eyes, sitting on a cracked leather bench in a beat up waiting room, still pink-cheeked and mentally vigorous in his eighties. We are waiting for his turn for dialysis and hear Ol' Blue Eyes sing that signature song.

For those of us who are notably hard-headed, who don't compromise often-- and those who lived with a family member who is hard-headed, didn't see a need to compromise, the song hits an ambivalent chord. I judged my father back then, a guy who had his way as a boss, a spouse, and a father, but not as a son. In the end, he couldn't. He would have lived to 120 if he had it his way, or longer.

Not that my way is bad, sometimes life calls for it. Definitive adulthood, making choices, choosing for ourselves. It is what Tina Dupuy is working out. But it is compromise that makes the (wo)man. We get farther in relationships if we compromise.

Enough podcasts and we're likely to get addicted to this perfectly innocuous field of entertainment. If you have started Sarah Koenig's Serial and find you can't wait for the second season. . .well then. . .

you know you're hooked.


And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way".

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!

Yes, it was my way.
Songwriters: Carter, Shawn C / Revaud, Francois / Thibaut, Giles / Anka, Paul / Francois, Claude

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts