Monday, March 31, 2008

Expectations versus Hopes and The Rubber Tree Plant

We saw a show about Sammy. He autographed this book for my daughter (she took piano lessons at the time).

The idea is to have high hopes. This is not the same thing as high expectations, which are to be avoided.

It's late March and that means that my parents will soon be returning from their winter home in Florida.

I met with my brother and sister-in-law Sunday, late in the afternoon to bond and shmooze in the burbs (it feels so different, hanging out at a StarBucks, not working on a Sunday afternoon). Little Bro asked a point of clarification, "They're coming home when?"

Wednesday, I'm pretty sure.

"Great. That's what I thought, too."

But today, when I pulled into their driveway to bring in some groceries, a black sportscar swerved to the curb. I startle easily.

A middle-aged, friendly woman in a parka rolled down her window and flashed a big smile! "Hi!" she sang out. "They're coming home tomorrow, right?"

Uh, Wednesday, I think.

"No, tomorrow. Tuesday. It's the Levines who are coming home on Wednesday. I'm Deb, that's what everyone calls me, but my real name is Devorah. I'm their mail carrier." (I changed her name, FYO, and the Levines, of course, are not real Levines.)

Oh, I say. They love you. They love you more than they love me.

"Don't be silly."

No, seriously, I say. They do speak very highly of you. And I personally am in awe. Thank you so much for taking care of the mail while they're gone, making sure they get it, for making the whole relationship so, personal. It's important to them.

Devorah brushes that off and tells me how my parents can't stop bragging about their kids. I'm pleased to have finally met her. Sort of a kindred spirit, you know, a person like that, who makes sure your parents get their mail, who talks to your parents. Mom says she's got a PhD or something similar, but prefers to deliver the mail.

We can all understand.

Anyway, my job while they're away is to water the plants and run the water, check that the pipes haven't frozen. They never have, but it's important to check, because if I don't, for sure, they will.

A phone conversation with my mother goes like this:

Me: I was at the house today.

Mom: Did you see any signs of mice?

Me: No.

Mom: Ladybugs?

Me: No.

Mom: Nothing?

Me: No sign of lower life. But the plants don't look so good, to tell you the truth.

Mom: I don't care. That's your father's problem.
I swept up a bit, wiped the floor, kicked up the heat. Inside the kitchen I could hear the rain start to trickle on the sky light. My father put in a skylight, one of those plexiglass ceiling bubbles, when he first built the house, nearly 55 years ago. As soon as those things were invented, for sure, he cut a big hole in the ceiling. It's the sunniest spot in the house. We looked for stars at night.

Saves on electricity, he'd say.

I reset the alarm, closed up the house, and took the garbage with me, mostly dead leaves, empty bottles of water swiped from the fridge, and the remains of a rubber tree plant that didn't make it through the winter. I had to take it with me because the garage is armed, too.

So there I am sitting in the car with a broom and a bag of dead leaves to my right (pic above). I flick on the radio and hear Simon and Garfunkle singing that song, Book Ends. I get that autonomic sad, nostalgic feeling. You know the one. Remember the lyrics? Old friends. . .

And it's raining. I take a look at the broom and the dustpan, the rubber tree plant,* squint through the raindrops on the passenger window and think,



* A couple of years ago I took my job of watering the plants too seriously and drowned one of them. FD and I walked into the house to drop off groceries for them at the end of the season, and there it was, this huge rubber tree plant that had made it through the winter but crashed to the ground, apparently sometime that week, lifeless.

It's a terrible thing, walking in on a lifeless plant sprawled on the family room floor.

So I sang. I mean, what choice does one have?
Oops there goes another rubber tree, Oops there goes, another rubber tree. Oops there goes another rubber tree plant. Ker plop!
We popped it into a black plastic body bag and carried it outside, feeling very guilty, then threw it into the trunk to dispose of it someplace else. Leaving it on the curb seemed suspicious to me.

This year I know I didn't overwater the plants, if anything, I neglected them, and one of them snapped in two, simply snapped. Or maybe it was a ladybug that knocked it down.

So Dad, I'm sorry about that tree. But ya' know, the words to the song should give you chizuk (that's Hebrish for strength).

You might remember the movie, A Hole in the Head, 1959, surely he does, and the song, High Hopes, written by Jimmy Van Heusen & Sammy Cahn. Frank Sinatra sings it to a bunch of little kids in the movie. Here's a YouTube video courtesy of 16 year old Tom, who plays soccer, darts, and a bit of tennis and lives in Ireland.

In the movie, Frank tells the kids, Have fun now, boys and girls. Relax.
Then they sing the song::
Next time you're found with your chin on the ground
There's a lot to be learned so look around
Just what makes that little ole ant
Think he'll move that rubber tree plant?
Anyone knows an ant can't
Move a rubber tree plant

But he's got hi-i-igh hopes, he's got hi-i-igh hopes
He's got high apple pi-i-ie-in-the-sk-y-y hopes
So, any time you're gettin' low, 'stead of lettin' go, just remember that ant
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant

When troubles call and your back's to the wall
There a lot to be learned that wall could fall

Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he'd punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram scram
He kept buttin' that dam
'cause he had hi-i-igh hopes, he had hi-i-igh hopes
He had high apple pi-i-ie-in-the-sk-y-y hopes
So, any time your feelin' bad, 'stead of feelin' sad, just remember that ram
Oops, there goes a billion-kilowatt dam
Oops, there goes a billion-kilowatt dam
Oops, there goes a billion-kilowatt dam

A problem's just a toy balloon, they'll be bursted soon
They're just bound to go pop
Oops, there goes another problem ker-plop
Oops, there goes another problem ker-plop
Oops, there goes another problem ker-plop

Murphy's and The Most Foreign Students

Today's top story on WBBM, News Radio 78 is about the racial composition at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. The Chicago Sun Times reports:

The University of Illinois has gone global. For the first time, the state's flagship public school is home to more international students than any other public university in the country. In fact, the number of foreign students at the Downstate Urbana-Champaign campus -- well over 5,000 -- is more than had ever attended any public university in U.S. history
Hey. I'm proud. It's my alma mater.

A few years ago FD and I shlepped our bicycles to Champaign-Urbana to celebrate our anniversary (did I tell this story?).

We stayed at a B & B in a nearby town, pedaled in and walked the campus. I reminded him that the day he proposed to me we walked down Green Street and he had a fever. I tried to let him off the hook later.

Anyway, we stopped in at Murphys, a local watering hole, to see if it had changed. I immediately got claustrophobic (the smoke) so we left. I've only been to a bar twice in 30 years, this is why. So we left, but not before noticing that the racial composition at Murphy's was decidedly Caucasian.

From there we went to the library. I'm a library person, basically, I feel safe in libraries. So I spent many evenings in this particular, wonderful library.

This was finals week. I forgot that detail, but our anniversary fell out on finals week.

The racial composition at the library, was decidedly not Caucasian. What can I tell you? Why would I make it up? Everyone there, it seemed, a person of color.

UIUC only admits top students. ACT's have to be relatively high, and grade point average, too.

So no. It's not a scientific study. And yes, obviously if there are more people of color at the university, then we'll see more people of color at the library. But I didn't see a one at the bar.

And you have to wonder, don't you,

Is the school now admitting more foreign students because their applications reflect that they work harder and keep that grade point average up because the academic goal is to learn, study, succeed, and make the family proud? I think yes. The grandchildren of immigrants might be less motivated, having assimilated into the greater (sic) culture that values entertainment above all else.

So. You go, UIUC! Admit the kids who are going to reflect well on your faculty, who will perhaps one day donate to the alumni association, who will contribute to society. Admit young people who will actually read those books that we tax payers pay for in the library.

And the rest of you kids at the bar, in the middle of the day no less?

Take a lesson.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stand Back!

Anonymous mentioned that I seemed a little blue last week, and the truth is that I was a little down. Maybe the slush on the sidewalk (there shouldn't be slush on the sidewalk), maybe the quiet of the house, maybe the stress of practice. Add to that the general aches and pains a person notices when they fall down skiing, or should we say, walking on skis in a flat city.

But then something wonderful happened. I think I told you, in a very long-winded fashion, that my paper had been accepted in a social science journal, one that I really respected. But that was over a year ago, and no word from the journal since. Supposedly it can take well over a year, sometimes two years from acceptance to publication.

In general I don't nag, but was thinking about giving the editor a call.


Nu? I would ask.

For those of you who don't know Yiddish, Nu means, So tell me? (You have to have a question mark after everything in Yiddish.)

I've published before, the dissertation, an article in a journalistic family therapy 'zine that appeared again in a book of best essays, letters to the editor. And have presented papers in conferences, a few of those. But I've never before published in one of those dry scientific journals that appeal to maybe 200 people in the world. Okay, maybe 300. It's not that the writing is so different, although it is. It's rigorous, is all, and the competition is fierce.

And then I got it! I got the email. The article is coming out in the next edition! Wow, so sudden. From nothing to something within a matter of moments. Pretty exciting. All you have to do is. . .reread, check for mistakes. Make corrections. And it's a CEU course, too. All very cool. They even showed me how the article looks in print. All set to go.

So for sure that picked me up (as good news will) until Friday I received this email. We would appreciate a picture, a jpeg, preferably. And would you please smile?


This morning as we're getting ready for work I mention it to FD. "Let's do it right now!" he cries. He whips out his camera-phone. "No, wait, let's use YOUR phone so you can beam it over, you know, how you do all that stuff."

No dear. I need some make-up.

I get ready and he takes the shot. I groan. He says, "It's fine."

Try again, I say. But this time, stand back a couple of feet.

He takes the picture.

Much better.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Every Girl's Dream

We were sitting around the table on a Friday night. The best china, lovely crystal, typical keep-'em-coming-back-for-more presentation. Cham's dad is a great chef (men do make great chefs) and Patti is bringing idealism and hope to a perfectly set table.

We get past Barack and Rev. Wright. Patti has calmed me down, but I'm totally clueless as to who I'm voting for in November.

The conversation flows and flows until finally, finally, finally someone (oh, now I remember who) says, "And what about that Spitzer guy? Does anyone care?"

OMG, I pop out. It's been on my mind a lot! (The attention turns to me).

Now you may think I obsess a little about sex, but since it is a if not the centering dynamic of life for many people, and an excellent way to communicate love, I cannot help but follow the topic when it makes news, especially when influential people are busted for sexual improprieties.

It does seem that it is the influential married people who are busted. If you are married and have sex with other people, ala Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky, or Eliot Spitzer/Ashley Alexandra Dupre, "Kristen," then you run a certain risk.

Why do important people with everything to lose do this?* The short answer (in general, not specific to Mr. Spitzer) is that it's exciting, and people like excitement, and the risk of being caught factors in heavily, despite all that stuff about Freud and libido I spewed on about a few weeks ago.

Dr. Laura, by the way, made a huge faux pas in a Larry King interview, saying that Mrs. Spitzer hadn't attended to her man, so of course he looked for it elsewhere.

Please. Spare me this.

But I'm game for the whys, the motivations behind human behavior, and will entertain all kinds of notions. I told FD, as soon as I heard the story, "Someone stung Eliot Spitzer. What did he expect, he hadn't made any enemies?"

Jason Itzler, fresh out of Riker's, Kristen's pimp from New York Confidential (the escort service that launched her career) appeared on the Larry King Show. Jason tells the history of his relationship with THE most fabulous escort ("girl") he's ever met, with whom he's personally enamored, "Kristen."

Mr. Spitzer, you should know, busted New York Confidential and seven other escort services as Attorney General. Jason says he has no hard feelings, it's just ironic, it's KARMA! that the "girl" from Emperor's Club VIP, the club embroiled in the Spitzer case, also worked for New York Confidential. Providence.

Anyway, Jason spends most of this interview extolling Kristen's virtues, primarily her unbelievable girl-next-door looks and sweet personality.

Why do we care about this story? Why do I care?

Domeena Renshaw, the sex therapist I often quote, would probably say that in Europe nobody would give this story a second thought, but Americans live in a country founded by Puritans. And I would agree.

What's interesting to me, however, is Ashley Alexandra Dupres. "Kristen." The Kristens of the world.

Kristen had been the hottest, sexiest escort New York Confidential ever had, according to Jason, her former boss. She's an awesome, nice, sweet, girl. I adored her. Everyone adored her. She was making, probably, $2000 an hour. And on and on about what a nice kid she is.

Following this send up, Mr. King interviews our awesomely sweet escort's mentor, a woman who is a little older. You can see that she, too, is a real girl, a nice person. She taught "Kristen" the business. I can't find the link anymore, and don't remember her name.

But she said something amazing.

She told the story about another escort, whom they all knew. This woman dated a very, very, very wealthy john and the two of them fell in love and got married!

"Can you believe that?!" the mentor cried, staring straight into the camera. "Every girl's dream!"

Wow, I thought. Every girl's dream.

Look no further.

Just one more thing. What do you tell the kids, in such a case, when they ask,
Daddy, how did you and mommy meet?
Just wondering how that part works.


* Apparently Mr. Spitzer is being called everything from a sex addict to a sociopath on the Internet, and when I have time, I'll read more about him. See, I say I care, but I really don't. But if you're interested, the latest link sent to me is at the Love Fraud blog. Where would we be without the Internet, seriously. We would know nothing.

When the wedding comes at the wrong time

Or better, when death comes at the wrong time. The famous true story is about a terrorist attack at a coffee shop and the deaths, among others, of a young bride and her father, a physician, before her wedding. A country mourned and its adversaries celebrated, danced in the streets.

The fiction is me reading Being Mrs. Alcott, by Nancy Geary. Here the bride returns from her honeymoon to find that her mother has one week to live. Ill before the wedding, mother doesn't want to upset her daughter with the bad news, a late diagnosis, breast cancer, irreversible for the times.

So it's a novel, and I may or may not finish it, but it stopped me in my tracks, that scene, Grace at twenty-one, sitting in the library in her mother's favorite damask wing chair, opposite the perfect Chippendale sofa, the silver candlesticks on the mantel and an oil seascape framed in gold, her brother drinking too much, her father taking it in. Lost.

Grace is newly married and now in mourning, the mourning of the stoic, which means, it's not necessary to feel too bad for too long, and it must be private. I'm not at all sure how it will all turn out, but this does happen quite a bit, untimely death. There's no good time for dying. The issue, of course, is whether or not Grace's mother should have told her sooner, before the wedding, before the honeymoon.

No issue, really. She should have been told right away, especially with what is thought to be a terminal diagnosis. But no, the family chose otherwise, not giving her the credit that she might be good knowing she'll spend the rest of the novel with Bain, that missing that first year as definitively happy, could be okay.

A person can hope, going into marriage, to live and enjoy (or not) a new life for years to come, and might expect that a few weeks and months of sadness in the beginning won't change that. Functional marriage, and that's truly the operant phrase here, is made to last a lifetime.

And now she sits in her mother's chair resenting that she's missed the last month of her mother's life. All to have fun on a honeymoon, as if this is so necessary, having fun with someone you're intending to have fun with forever, or for however long forever will be.

How terrible, how wrong to have missed those precious few weeks with her mentor! Just thinking about it makes me want to throw the book at the wall, but it's not mine so I can't (thanks for sharing, Cham!).

This business of stoicism is something we haven't discussed, not nearly enough. Being tough in the face of loss is functional, it gets you through the funeral, but it doesn't always accomplish much, and we believe (we being the therapeutic community) that stoicism may even contribute to something we call unresolved grieving.

You have to grieve, people.

This comes up in therapy quite a bit.

If you don't grieve, if you don't celebrate a person's life with talk of memories and tears of sadness, then those pent up tears and thoughts and emotional voids clog the brain like cholesterol in the arteries. No, this isn't yet a scientific finding. It's a therapydoc finding. You don't have to believe it.

And don't take it from me. Froma Walsh wrote the book on the subject, Living Beyond Loss: Death in the Family. Quite an accomplishment, this book, about family grieving, although I read the first edition, and this is probably the fourth. Of course, Froma's a family therapist and recommends family grieving. Call your family members on the anniversaries of death, keep memories alive.

Unresolved grieving implies not having attended enough to the subject of loss. The idea is that failing to allow your psychology to integrate, file, or sort through thoughts, ideas, memories, and feelings, will interfere with the process of living. We have to integrate the experience of loss into our psyche. If we don't, we respond abnormally, inexplicably, to events that shouldn't have to be so hard.

For example, if I haven't grieved someone close to me, upon hearing about the death of someone only peripherally related to me whom I hardly know, I might decompensate, burst into tears. Or maybe if FD said he wanted to go fishing with his brother for a couple of days, the thought of such a benign abandonment would make me ill. I'd irrationally argue with him. A younger person who hasn't resolved loss might become very emotionally vulnerable when a child leaves home for summer camp. Or even kindergarten.

It pops up, grief, in unexpected places.

What we're also talking about here, besides grieving after a death, which is so important, is taking the time to be with people who are very ill, who may be dying, even when planning something that's supposed to be happy, like a wedding. It can happen fast, you know. We may not be afforded the time. It's not always clear when people are going to leave us. It's often a shock, often an accident or a random event.

Still, you try to take a year to cry about it, if it's after the fact. And if you're given a heads up, you attend to a terminally ill person before physical loss happens, given the chance, if it's someone you love. You take the time to feel terrible. You have to expect that you will, too, and not be surprised.

And of course, when illness has lingered on for years, having grieved during that era, you may not grieve upon death.

But not every culture agrees with this, the idea of openly expressing, talking about grief, and it's true that you have to do this judiciously. You can't just dump your feelings on others. They have feelings, too.

Assume, however, that you're lucky enough to have people who care about you, who want you to share your feelings. If you've grown up in a family that frowns upon the direct expression of sadness, especially a public display of sadness or any emotion but happy, you may not be able to do it. If you are of this cloth and try to repress grief for either your sake or the sake of everyone else (we don't want to bum anyone out), then you think, indeed, I don't have to feel this. You're likely to get away with it, too. You might very well not cry. If you're this kind of person, maybe you can't cry.

Like I said, it might bite you later. But some people are raised not to cry, not ever. Don't express feelings, it's weakness. Babies cry. Don't be a cry-baby.

We call this stoicism, being tough in the face of adversity, and for some of us it has nothing to do with death at all, death is merely one area in which we're stoic. And there are surely various degrees in various situations.

For example, I'm not a complainer, don't express strong dissatisfaction if I can avoid it, but I'm working on it, trying to complain more. Maybe being a therapist is responsible for this, always being on the listening end, always on the hunt for the hope, the uplift, or maybe it's the tough Eastern European roots. I'm told the personality suffers in this way, when this happens, when we're restricted. People like to hear us kvetch, and they want to cross-kvetch. They want to hear from us and moan back at us.

So stoicism is multi-dimensional, not an all or none for most of us. I'm grateful to have been taught that tears are a good thing (this is best taught in early childhood, but adolescents get tough, forget). Complaining, by the way, is not that hard to do once you get the knack of it. Yiddish is all about complaining and cursing, so you can always learn that if you're having trouble in either area.

See, there's stoicism, and there's stoicism. With tears and without. Perhaps a meta-message, cry privately, is quintessential stoicism. Many of us can't ever bury feelings entirely, especially not those of us with a wide-range. We find the very idea impossible. But people do. They try to do this, bury their feelings.

Personalities that are deliberately restricted won't express much sadness, anger or anxiety at all. They probably won't go postal, will never lose their temper either, which is a good thing. But they do tend to feel "crazy" when normal emotions bubble over, as if they're self-imploding when they feel anything too strongly. Stoics are at risk for drinking too much and gastro-intestinal disorders. They're probably hyper-secretors. We know stress is a factor in heart-disease, too, and know that expressing emotion reduces stress.

There are amazing stories about stuffing it, however. To stay on topic, when people are successful at not grieving they sometimes expect others to be that way, too. So, for example, individuals who can't empathize with people who have strong feelings, might expect that everyone can really enjoy that wedding that was planned months before, despite the recent death of a first degree relative.

This happens, people who have not yet buried a terminally ill parent, or worse, a recently lost parent, are expected, by an uncle or an aunt, to attend a dinner or a shower for a cousin who is getting married. Indeed, enjoying such an event should be virtually impossible, and inappropriate. Disrespectful, I feel, too, in some ways.

I don't think most of us are wired to be able to do this, enjoy anything soon after, or just before, the loss of a loved one.

There's no point even trying, really. I think if your mother just died and you plan to be married that you should not cancel, not even postpone the wedding if that's possible, but should go into the celebration seriously, thoughtful, less likely to tear the house down dancing. You can try to enjoy the idea that you will become united with your new spouse, and that your union will be a blessing, or a memory, or something good for the deceased.

In my religion we always invite our relatives who have passed away to the wedding. They would be insulted if we didn't and we're quite sure that they attend.

But dance, sing, let go? I should think one would have to be quite intoxicated to do that or in great denial, more likely the case. I don't know what the religious rules are (feel free to tell me), but I do know that death has an effect upon natural intoxication, too, substance-free intoxication, and it's not pretty. Grief puts a damper on our levity, as it should.

Of course the wedding goes on. Life is for the living. But I should think there's a respectful way, a way for us to avoid jumbling the emotions, one that separates happiness from loss, a way that says, I'm crying for her, and I'm crying for my beloved, too, that we must always remember our day this way. And it's not the end of the world.

Lots of people cry at weddings, you know.

copyright 2008, therapydoc

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Being Three

My daughter says that it's 86 degrees in L.A.

Here it's in the thirties, best forties. We're supposed to get into the fifties by mid-week.

I bought skis, as you know, in late February thinking, well, if I buy skis then for sure it won't snow anymore. We've had 55 inches in Chicago this winter, more or less. I had to do something.

And it worked for awhile. No snow. Really, it started to look pretty good outside and we had some relatively warm days. I had skied once and then the snow stopped, as if on command, and melted.

Then Friday we had that fresh six inches you see in the picture. What you see could easily have been a picture of a pregnant robin struggling with groceries in the snow, had FD not rushed me. "Come children," he called from the tennis court, "It's time to come in and get cleaned up." (I was the only one in the park).

He had dropped me off at there to mess around with my new skis for the second time, while he made rounds at the hospital. The only creatures braving the weather that late, very snowy Friday afternoon, which happened to be the holiday of Purim (when things have to be upside down, note the significance later on) were me, a squirrel, a dog, and the ducks. Later the pregnant robin showed up.

This park has a zoo, so I was hoping for a few more mammals, but apparently the zoo people keep the animals inside, or maybe they go to a warmer zoo for the winter. I don't know. But Indian Boundary Park in Chicago is known as the local zoo park with the llamas that spit.

I've only done this once, this cross-country ski thing, so at the outset am pretty sure I'll fall and hopefully will fall well. It's something some of us learn to do as kids, assuming we're allowed to play. The lesson is, Try not to fall, but don't worry much about it, and if you do fall, fall well.

Kids, you probably know, are closer to the ground.

Anyway, I knew I had to make a trail. When you walk in skis on fresh snow, you have to be careful. The skis sink and it's hard to keep your balance. So you have to make a trail, basically, by walking* carefully through the park and then returning on the same path to reinforce it. There's probably a technical term for forging ski trails, but I never had a lesson, so am at a loss.

It was a great time for all, and flew by quickly. I got a little nervous when the dog appeared out of nowhere and glared at me. I wondered if I'd have to use my poles under attack. He wasn't smiling. You know how dogs smile. Instinctively (what else does one do when confronted by animals) I turn around facing another part of the park, hoping the dog will agree that the park is big enough, that there is enough territory for everybody.

He agrees, doesn't follow me. I make my way over to the duck pond, and it's amazingly beautiful, the picture above does not do it justice, and in full awe, I fall. A little hard. This happens because I just have to take a picture, juggling mittens, poles, and a camera phone in a case. What is it with us that we can't be content to see something beautiful, we just have to capture it? It's a sickness, I tell you.

So I'm fiddling with my camera phone and take the fall and the phone lands in the snow but I quickly dig it out, fairly sure that the dry snow hasn't hurt the phone and it hasn't.

Groaning from the fall (shoulder), I slowly pull myself up and carefully check my balance, resume the snapshots. Fairly well-padded, the injury must not be anything that a little ice (a lot) and three Advil won't take care of with a bit of rehab.

Ignoring the set-back I leave the ducks and set out to play for as long as possible on the new trails. FD picks me up at the tennis court and says, "The kids want to Skype and show us their Purim costumes and gloat over the 86 degree weather."

Safely tucked in front of the computer I tell my grandson that we have SO MUCH SNOW that there are snowmen everywhere.

He's three, so this is very exciting news. "Are they real?" he asks, wide-eyed (you can see those eyes with the web-cam, it's very wonderful).

"What do they look like, these snowmen?" he continues. "Do they walk?"

He's seeing legs, I'm pretty sure, being from California, a snowman-less state.

"Nah," I say, bursting the bubble. "They're not real. They're just fake people made out of snow."

The look of disappointment, unforgettable.

copyright 2008, therapydoc

*What? You think that I run, or sprint, or skate, actually ski? Be serious.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Deception Detector

Sometimes I talk to nice young men and women about what they're looking for in a partner and the idea of honesty pops up as a good thing.

But no one seems to know how to go about finding out if the person that they're dating or going to date is honest or not. And these days, if you meet online, you're at a real disadvantage. The picture, to begin with, is almost always a lie.

But maybe that's not fair. An old picture isn't such a big lie. That's not the kind of deception I'm talking about here.

Years ago I wanted to write this book, The Deception Detector. I think there is a book on the subject at Borders now if you want to take a look, but I haven't read it, so I can't recommend it. In fact, there's a book about every conceivable psychological/relational topic, and if there isn't, and you write it, it'll get published.

So here's what you have to do to find out if a person has a predisposition to deception.

Let's just use him, for the sake of convenience. We could have said, her.

You go out to dinner. You really have to be able to see him. You sit across from him You playfully ask, So when you were a kid, can you remember the first time you lied to your parents? Or the first time you did anything you weren't supposed to do?

He'll probably tell you. People love to talk about themselves, and when they're talking about what they did as children, they assume you know they're different, now. So no matter what he says, you act like that's fine, after all, kids do lie to parents to differentiate, and to teachers to survive. And you indicate that. That it's all right.

After all, it's not necessarily a sign that this is how a person will behave as an adult. Personality is determined by the resolution of the deception. Deception is really passive conflict. It's not the act so much, as how it's resolved.

Then you ask him, So tell me more! When was the next time?

And you're fascinated, of course. It is interesting, isn't it? This is the job, by the way, of dating, getting to know someone, finding what's interesting about him or her.

So you keep asking and get all the stories. And while you're getting the stories, find out how each act was resolved. Did parents find out? Did teachers find out? Did each lie lead to another or was there a time when everyone talked about it and the liar thought to himself, This is silly! Why am I doing this? I'm lying to myself, too!

When that happens, when we look at ourselves and think, I could hold my own in a truthful argument, we start telling the truth. We risk looking bad.

It's a lack of confidence and the certainty that we'll lose something that makes us lie. And of course, fear of exposure and maybe abuse. Lying is the opposite of intimate, so it works nicely if you want to screw up your relationships.

Or did he learn, This is smart. I get farther in life this way. This totally works.

You have to find out. If that moment of truth never happened? It won't with you, either.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Swing Set

You can buy this at I haven't seen Empath Daught's new one, but I doubt it's this nice.
(pictures would help, dear)

The other day I was discussing what a healthy sexual relationship looks like. It's that new paradigm you're going to read about on this blog one day. And I said,

Oh, that's lecture #71. It starts with the definition of sex as a verb having to do with love, really. First you have love, then you give it, and then it's this back and forth thing that you reserve for only one other person in just this way, which of course you can vary, but the partners remain the same.

Blank stare, of course.

The lecture continues:

Assuming you pull that part off, make the sexual relationship a special reserve, like a fine wine, except you can dip into it whenever you want (perhaps within limits, it's true, but very often over a lifetime together, as it IS the marital glue) assuming all that is in place, then you might get lucky and get children. Or even the dividends, as my zaideh used to say, GRANDCHILDREN.

And on that note I thought I'd share an email from Rac, too precious not to share. It's about my granddaughter, just 2 years old last February. They seem to spend a lot of time at my daughter's house, her Aunt Dardo. I thought it was Dardo, but Empath Daught's name, apparently now, who knows, perhaps forever, is Bardo. Come look. The email subject says,

HaShem (the Old Mighty) should bless
"Auntie Bardo. The swingset. The slide. The ladder. The ground. The flowers. The swing. The swingset. I love my swingset."

You can't make this stuff up.

It's a good thing "Auntie Bardo shares the swingset with me."

Your welcome. Anytime.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Decisions, decisions

I was running late on Sunday morning, lost track of time. My distractions can get me into trouble, and when they do I have to really pedal fast.

It wasn't as if I didn't have it in the bag, I did. You have to bundle up a bit to ride to work when it's just a little above the freezing mark outside and gray, meaning it looks cold, too. So I bundled up quickly, packed my backpack onto my bicycle, slammed the front door shut and hit the road.

I felt strong, too. Amazing how it really only takes a couple of days late in the winter to get in shape for spring. Your muscles are just there, waiting for you to use them, you know. So I zipped through the hood relatively quickly, but about a half mile from the house caught a look at something on the ground up ahead, something that looked familiar.

I could see it was a book as I passed by before hitting the brakes. Decision made. It wasn't just any book, it was clearly a holy book, a book of Gemara, the tractate Taanis, about fasting.

Fasting is something we do on occasion (no food or drink, the lesser fasts are 12-14 hours, the major fasts 25). So we have all kinds of rules and stories about them and the Gemara Taanis covers it all and more. I stuffed the book under the shot-cord that safely straps my bag to my bike, and started off again.

Yet another decision. Did I have time to untie my backpack and put the book safely inside? Uh, no.

Got to work ten minutes early, flipped on the computer, changed clothes, applied a little make-up, tried to look presentable. Even though it's Sunday, I feel I have to look professional like any other day of the week. There's a name in the book so I look it up online and find a phone number, call and set up a time to return it.

Meanwhile, it's just me and Taanis. If only someone would cancel. You don't get this kind of opportunity every day. Even though a person could easily take one of his or her own books and study every day and should, it's not something everyone does. My world view is that we should learn something every day. It's one of the reasons we mark them off.

And I felt that if I didn't take at least a minute or two here, that it would be an insult to the book. The book says, Here I am.
The least a person can do is open it up.

No one canceled, so forget that fantasy. And by the time I finished with my last appointment, Taanis stared, along with a mountain of correspondence that pleaded, File me. I threw all kinds of notes, insurance claims, messages on pink paper, even coupons and a hair brush into a work drawer. I locked it hoping for time tomorrow to make the calls.

Don't spleen me. I'll get to whatever it is you think I should be working on.

Then I changed back into my biking clothes, lifted the bike off the rack, and was about to put the book into my backpack, when I stopped, made the choice.

Sit down, open the book, take a few moments. Breathe.

I scanned a page, something about washing hands with cold versus hot water while in mourning. Then the phone rang and it seemed to take forever, and knowing I still had another appointment in another office in the very late afternoon, I closed Taanis and packed it away. It was never mine, really, anyway.

I dropped off the book to it's rightful owner, left it in a plastic grocery bag hanging on the front door knob. The person who had lost it wasn't home, which was good, since it saved him the embarrassment of having to thank me, and me seeing his expression of guilt for having dropped a holy book, somehow, in the street. It's not how we treat our books, not if we can help it. So it worked out perfectly, him not being there, for both of us.

I got through the day and later in the evening decided to see if we had a copy of Taanis lying around the house. We have so many books, many with English translations.

Nothing cooking. But I found another, this one Gemara Megillah. The Megillah is the story of Purim, the holiday coming up this Friday (you'll read about it in the Carnival of All Substances very soon, it's a drinking holiday). The Gemara Megillah is chock full of information about the where's, when's and how's of this holiday, and more than a few good stories and arguments about virtually everything and anything.

So I took a look inside (daf 6b, a daf is a page) and found a discussion between the rabbis about chastising an evil person on a day that he appears to be prospering and happy. One rabbi, Reb Yitzchak, says that you shouldn't confront a bad person, but another opinion holds that you should. The rabbis agree in the end that only if you are truly righteous should you confront a bad person. If you're not totally righteous, it's best to leave him alone.

Not bad advice, right? Now here's the odd thing. Earlier in the day I had checked my email and a reader sent me a note asking for advice, not advice from me, per se, but from everyone in cyberspace. He sent emails to all of us, probably.

He needed to know if he should confront a man who was hitting on his wife, making a sexual play for her.

Should one do this? Confront the man/woman who is hitting on your spouse? The perpetrator here is said to be known for this, hitting on women, flirting too much, crossing boundaries. He overtly hits on many married women, too, not just our blogger's wife, even tells their husbands that he really likes their wives.

He's a needler, in other words, to put it mildly.

To me this is the kind of confronting that you don't want to do. You can't be sure where it's going to end. You may get to a point in the confrontation, whereby the asserting turns into aggressing and someone gets hurt.

You risk prison whenever there's violence, you know. I've talked to too many nice guys who spent time in jail for stupid fights that didn't have to happen. The whole process just isn't pleasant, that's all you need to know, really. Just avoid it.

Far easier to completely ignore a needler. Pick up a newspaper and read, show him how much you think of him by pretending he doesn't exist. We generally don't pick up a newspaper and read it while someone is trying to talk to us unless we don't have respect for that person. Or you can walk away. Passivity is the message here. You don't care about him and his shenanigans. He can't hurt you. He's a fool, unworthy of your time.

A woman, surely, should leave the room if she's being hit on and it makes her uncomfortable. She should look away, feign interest in something, someone else, make no verbal or physical response, except perhaps to shrug and sigh at his foolishness, like a mother might to a provocative child. Otherwise, pay NO attention to the provacateur.

What kind of behavior is this, hitting on someone else's wife? Whatever else it is, it's personality disordered, Axis II behavior, and as such, has potential to upset us. It's torture by design. But it's not about the woman, it's not about her husband, they're the victims.

It's all about the one with the disorder seeking negative attention, the one who is flirting with someone else's partner, threatening to steal, making people uncomfortable.
It's the adult version of negative attention. Negative attention is better than no attention at all. You don't give a grown man who wants negative attention the satisfaction. Kids, yes, and we should talk about that. But not grown up people. You don't reward, you don't give him what he wants. That's the only way he'll learn.
If you give him anything, give him my card (or someone else's, much better).

So to sum it up, this doc holds by Reb Yitzchak, even though it might seem gutless to some people. Reb Yitzchak is the one who said, Leave the evil one be, don't contend with him.

But sure, it depends upon the situation, certainly, the context.

And then there's always the thought that maybe you are a truly righteous person, right?

You never know. And that changes everything.

copyright 2008, therapydoc

Carnival of All Sustances: Revived

The thing on the left is a cookie, and the thing below it to your right is a gragger, a noise-maker. We eat the three-cornered cookie, a symbol of the hat of an enemy, Haman, who tried to influence a king to wipe out a nation (the Jews, who else). We make noise with the gragger when we read Haman's name when we read the story of Esther (the real heroine in the story) on the Jewish holiday coming right up. Purim

It's a holiday with permission to drink, ironically. Some feel we're commanded to drink, which is so strange, since as people of The Book, we tend not to get into that very much. The website Judaism 101 tells the story much better than I ever could. There you'll learn that on this holiday, we read the Book of Esther and are commanded to eat, drink and be merry. J-101 writes
According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai," though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. A person certainly should not become so drunk that he might violate other commandments or get seriously ill. In addition, recovering alcoholics or others who might suffer serious harm from alcohol are exempt from this obligation.
Thanks for the pics, 101.

I think you should know that FD uses chocolate, raspberry, and peanutbutter fillings in his hamentashen. And that I don't bake them. Too hard.


I do eat them.

Also, it's my responsibility to tell you that although this is a holiday, Jewish or not, you have no excuse for getting into a car and driving while drunk, for saying things that are harmful while drunk, for messing anything up for that matter, while drunk, even in the name of Mordechai, a heroic Yid. Maybe getting drunk doesn't have to mean being drunk on alcohol or other substances.

Be creative. Drunk with happiness?

Well, no more lectures. We have until Friday for the get drunk loophole to kick in. Once again, many submissions, most just not on topic, sorry, so you won't read them here. But there were a few posts that I liked, so let's take a look.

Let's start by plugging this blog, Great New Books that are a Must Read. Great New Books discusses The Sky Has Fallen, and it sounds pretty great. Maybe I'll check it out.

Carol Gold McKay at Gold Post It, rips into our feel-no-pain culture and why pain medications seem so easy to access, and the potential damage, ala Keith Ledger. I have a feeling it's all much more complicated, CGM.

Stanimir writes about hangovers. I'm not giving any commentary here. Don't drink. Don't get hungover. How's that for an idea?

Celebrity News and Gossip is about Celeb Rehab. is exactly that.

Best yet, someone's quit smoking!

A surgeon lends his personal take on smoking, too, fantastic.

And as long as we're talking tobacco, Charles Philips wrote this poem:
Back from sixty I'm nine

Daddy's at the back door coughing that cough,

you know,

stopped short by wince of stretched stitches on a scar
from recent repair

with my nine eyes I look up at him and ask my whys

tap tap tap on the pack face of a salty sailor

he answers while
stained thumb and finger lifts to light a smoke muffling reply

words spell 'I can't quit'

he spits untipped bits and takes another
Not so cheery, I feel.

Maybe the carnival of obsessions will be more fun.

Happy Purim, btw


The Third Carnival of Obsession

That's a pic of two lovers who committed suicide within days of each other, obsessing the blogsphere with talk of their motivation.

We have an expression that three is a chazukah, meaning it's strong, or makes for a go, so this is the third Carnival of Obsessions, meaning we'll keep this baby going for awhile.

Let's see what we have here. I didn't include any post that tries to sell you something or begs donations, over half the submissions.

People ask me why I bother if that's the case. Because there really are some good ones. Check out my personal fave for today, Petticoats and Pistols. It's about why we collect things.

Always on the look-out for coping strategies and hobbies, one blogger offers hints about stamp collecting. The idea is that if you obsess about a stamp, you won't obsess about losing your job. On the other hand, best to not obsess about stamps on the job, I suppose. Here's another one on stamps.

I felt sad reading about Weight-loss Dude's frustration, and know that many people relate. He says there are thousands of weight-loss sites on the web, which is probably true. One day we'll have to discuss it a little more seriously. Let's try for soon.

Sarah's wondering about her taste in photography, what it reflects about her. Such self-awareness is admirable, I think.

People obsess, you probably know, about traffic to their blogs, and Don Morrison feeds us advice on this topic. That post made the cut.

So did Carrie in the City. She had a dream about her ex. Talk about things that are hard to get out of your head, The ex is at the top of the list.

Mad Kane is writing shower poetry again. It's good when an obsession is clean.

Then there's the tragic, a love and double suicide, the story of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake retold on Singletude. I imagine we'll see it on teev as a docudrama of sorts.

I like Zhakee's addiction to nature in the Sierra Nevada, myself, feel healthy just looking at ther pics.

CG rips into bad fads. Remember shoulder pads? There was one obsession I could live without.

Obsessed about cholesterol? You're not alone and might like this post. Lower the stress, too (not on the blogger's advice list, but a good idea, always).

Joshua's obsessed with relationship connectivity, even cried at a movie about a kid who thought he was a Martian because he didn't connect well (maybe I didn't read that carefully enough). We get so hungry for relationships that we fall for just one look, obsess about people we don't even know. It does happen. Being human is totally irrational.

JWD is obsessed with a groupie, Pamela Des Barres who wrote a book about being a groupie. Oy. But at least it's a legitimate obsession.

All right. That's it this month. Isn't there anyone out there obsessed with a television show? A movie star? Math?


Thursday, March 13, 2008

What Would Freud Say: Eliot Spitzer

I don't know anything about the psychology of dolphins, but lately I've been wondering. No Mrs. Dolphin ever complains to me about Mr. Dolphin and Internet porn or about how Mr. Dolphin lavished hard earned pay on prostitutes.

We were sitting around the Shabbas table last week, FD, me, Little One, the Chef, my S-I-L, and my nieces and nephews, chewing the fat (they have the best pistachios and almonds in Israel) and something came up, some profound political topic, I believe it was the behavior of a major political figure and I blurted out,

What would (name of a 1st century religious-political figure) say?

Confusion reigned. We generally don't talk comparative religions. But I'm pretty much an equal opportunist. They're all good if the rules stop people from acting along the lines of natural instinct, which tends to get us into trouble.

This is all an introduction, you know, to Freud. Freud went with the basic human animal for his model of human psychology. He was a medical doctor.

I've been working on a new paradigm. A paradigm, you might know, is a model based upon tested theory. But there's testing, and there's testing, and in the social sciences, theories aren't always tested so much as adored.

Thomas S. Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) explained to us that as science progresses, what we think of as The Truth, falls away to silliness the moment we find evidence to the contrary. Then we believe in a better truth, a different paradigm.

For example, not all that long ago people used to think that the world was flat.

The interesting thing about psychiatry is that models of The Truth, what we might call psychological paradigms, never seem to die. No matter the progress, the psychological sciences hold fast to any logical theory, which is why if we're not eclectic, we're nothing in this profession.

But if we can talk several psychological languages we'll survive.

When it comes to Freud, none of it ever dies. He proposed a good, plausible, sexy paradigm of human psychology, and no matter how slick the cognitive behavioral therapies, the genetic markers, the twelve step programs, the desensitization therapies, imagery, flooding, gestalt, self-relaxation, hypnosis, EMDR, or family disengagement,
Little Hans, Oedipus and Electra, it seems, will never lose their grip. They should, but they just won't.
Hans was one of Freud's many case studies, a more than slightly scatological young man obsessed with cheese. You should have learned about Oedipus and Electra in your Greek mythology classes in 7th or 9th grade.

When I went to graduate school in the late seventies, Freud's psychoanalytic school still had a firm hold on the clinical social work profession. We were severely doused, ensconced, enamored with Freud, his daughter Anna, and another physician, Carl Jung, the dayanim of psychiatry. (Dayan is Hebrew for judge, but probably works as head honcho. Hero might work in English.)

Eric Erickson, another developmental stage theorist, totally got it that there's an association between toilet training and guilt and shame, so he was my hero.

Any parent who sees the look on the face of a 2-3 year old with a full diaper knows what I'm talking about here.

There are other great historical psychological theorists and I don't profess to know them all. I'm eclectic, as you know, and am not ashamed to admit that I keep Gestalt and Attachment therapies in my pocket and might ask children to draw trees and houses if I need to kill time. If you want good reading, check out Piaget or Theodore Lidz (The Person), icons of their day.

Strangely enough, the names Jay Haley and Sal Minuchin, family theorists, geniuses of relational systems and how they should work, didn't even make it to recommended reading on the syllabi at the University of Illinois in the seventies. They're still second stringers, I believe.

My father-in-law, (O"BS), a family doctor, told me that it would probably serve me well to learn some family therapy along the way. He was a very wise man and I have a son who reminds me of him every day.

Why bring this up now? The pundits keep saying, when they talk about Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, recently indicted for soliciting the services of a high-priced prostitute,
What was he thinking?
So I have to wonder, What would Freud say?

Yes, even though his paradigm has melted away for me like good chocolate, when I think of sex and human behavior, certain Freudian ideas come flooding back. We family therapists smile at Freud and Jung (although that Jungian concept, the collective memory, really appeals to me) and solidly reject the idea that the therapist should be an omniscient nod behind a screen, smoking a cigar, optimally.

But when it's about sexual attachments, it's Freud I turn to for an explanation, and I think you probably could use one, too. So let's trot out some of that old-time psychoanalytic lingo. I'll wait while you go and make a sandwich and grab a little Diet Coke if you want. Food is an object of attachment, if you talk Freud, beginning with breast milk.

Freud might say that using prostitutes for sex, or even using pornography, is an indication that a person is seeking an object attachment* to a two-dimensional woman/man (in the case of pornography) or a three-dimensional woman/man (a prostitute) who won't say no. Having this Good Mother/Good Father resolves nagging rejection/abandonment or castration fears. The object attachment can't say no and doesn't want to, which makes him/her the Good Dad/Mom, and the buyer the good son/daughter for visiting often.

Let's learn more language, shall we? You need to know these things (we haven't really begun, but at least you've got the idea that we never quite get over that first year or two of life). You need to learn more of this language, if only for the crossword puzzles.

Three elements comprise Freud's basic paradigm of the human psyche: the Ego, the Superego, and the Id. (Even at the turn of the century, super had marketing appeal).

Post-Freudian theories have used the number three. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, divides the human personality into three elements, as well: (a) affect or emotion, (b) behavior, and (c) cognition, meaning thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. But let's just look at Freudian stuff today because the cognitive behavioral rationalists wouldn't know what to do with Mr. Spitzer.

For those of you who somehow got through life knowing nothing about Sigmund Freud, let's begin with the guilty part of the human psyche, since I'm Jewish and guilt is our basic frame of reference**. It's the superego that dishes out what we might call guilt. The superego is the policeman/rabbi/grandmother/nice second grade teacher in our heads.

The superego is the structure in the mind that tells us that helping little old ladies across the street is good. Tripping them and taking their purses is bad.

The ego, on the other hand, is the part of the mind that watches everything, even the superego chastising the id, the part of the personality that can't stop the human from behaving with passion and drive, the part that got Eliot Spitzer into trouble.

In a nutshell, it's the id that's responsible. We have to blame the id for Mr. Spitzer's poor judgment. Always, always, always blame your id. You have nothing to lose and you'll be right.

It's more respectable, however, to have a highly evolved ego, one that can control the id. Having a highly evolved ego isn't the same as being egotistical or conceited. The ego observes the drives (the id) and even observes what it, the ego, will do about those drives. The ego does its best at trying to control them, and if it can't, has to integrate behavior, both good and bad, into a cogent sense of self, if that's at all possible.

The ego is the self, It's one's identity.
Whereas the superego meets out unadulterated guilt. It's the part that says, I'm bad if I . . . hurt someone's feelings.. .steal from someone.. . cheat on my wife/husband/the IRS.

We think that having that critical little voice, the one that bops us over the head with You really are bad if you do that prevents crime. For example, in Switzerland, no one checks your bus pass. You can get on the tram without buying one. No one will check. You're on the honor system. The superego is more than religion, the Swiss get that. It's morality and law woven into one.

The ego has to tolerate the You're Bad messages, the mental lashings, and has to somehow integrate badness into the personality. It's much harder being the ego than the superego which merely judges, or being the id, the out-of-control, it-feels-good-so-do-it part of the personality.

The id is basically a foil to the superego. One lives off the other. The superego has to contend with our lust. We have two lusts, actually, one for aggression (anger) and one for sex (love). The id is just energy, the force that make us behave in certain ways. The id says, Punch his lights out!! or Kiss her! Freud called these drives for sex and aggression libido, but knowing that libido is a three syllable word, he condensed it to a shorter, sexier word,id.
The id says, Do it! Guilt is stupid!
We live in a libidinous world. Like I said, Blame the id whenever possible.

Pure energy and self-indulgence. But without it we wouldn't have works of art. We'd probably live in caves. And the Eliot Spitzers of the world wouldn't be the forces for good that they are when they're not diddling around. It takes a certain amount of aggression to get things done like Mr. Spitzer has in the past as a political reformer.

How much psychobabble do we want to get into today? So the id is made up of two energies, or drives, aggression and sex, then what is anxiety? It feels like energy to me.

Anxiety is conflict between the superego and the id. But it's not either, it's not superego, it's not id. It's part of the ego, really, a psychological state. I'm anxious. I breathe fast. I'm anxious.

So just a little more before dessert. You need one more big word so the next time you're at lunch you know how to proceed.

You need this one. Egodystonic.

Egodystonic is an old word, an older concept, really, and it refers to the idea that a person's sense of self (ego) is violated or pained when caught in the act of doing something wrong.

Remember, when the basic drives for sex and aggression, libido or id, get us into trouble, it's your superego that catches you in the act, which sparks psychic conflict and anxiety that the ego has to figure out how to manage.

Freud could have left the rest for commentary, once he laid out these ideas but he got completely caught up in the childhood sexuality business with Oedipus and Electra, like I said, and we'll not go there today. Maybe never, in fact, although I can't promise.

So when a woman comes to therapy because she's thinking of having an affair because her husband isn't paying enough attention to her, yet the thought of having an affair makes her hate herself, that thought is said to be ego-dystonic. The better developed the sense of self and superego, or conscience, the more the pain or ego-dystonia.

So if Mrs. Dolphin swims out to see someone other than Mr. Dolphin, then her tryst does a number on her sense of self, changes who she is, and not in a good way, either.

Mr. Dolphin, however, who might be staying up late looking at other women's breasts on the Internet or calling call girls, isn't calling me. For him, an interest in pornography is not ego-dystonic, not enough ego-dystonic enough to get help. It does feel this way, I'm sorry, politically incorrect though it may sound.

Which is why marriage therapy should probably be the mode of operandi and corrective paradigm for Mr. Spitzer, not psychoanalysis, should Mrs. Spitzer decide to keep him.

Now, when you're sitting at lunch and someone asks, What would Freud say?, a question that that will be burning up the Internet within a few hours, you can say,

It's totally ego-dystonic for some, you know, but not for others, which is a shame, really.
We'll get to the ducks, who I understand are monogamous, another time.

copyright 2008, therapydoc

*All Freudian attachments are basically about breasts as objects of desire; it starts young.
**Guilt is thematic in Judeo-Christian world views.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Shoes, Clocks and Potatoes

I remember walking home from the synagogue in early March several years ago with one of my sons. He was about 22 and had returned a couple of months early from his third year in yeshiva. Usually the kids stay until the summer, finish out the academic year.

I can remember it like it was yesterday. We noted the buds on the trees in the sunshine. He called them a remez, a hint to tchiyat hamaytim, the reincarnation of souls after death. Something from nothing.

Ya' gotta' love religion.

Anyway, we're nowhere near buds on the trees, I feel. But we HAVE to get away from all this depressing stuff, all this talk of death. Don't you agree? It's not good for us.

But how do you get away? In Chicago it's still very grey outdoors and I didn't even leave the house all day yesterday (so not me). The cold felt like an insult and the house wasn't even all that warm. Why would I step out to a place where for sure it wasn't warm?

So I stayed in under blankets and finished up some reading. FD buzzed in and out from shul, and the kids stopped over for some lunch, which is always happy. After dark, FD returned home to find me on my computer. "Getting some writing done?"

Nah, no energy. Lying around all day doesn't do it for me. Just reading right now.

We puttered a couple of hours, did some dishes, tranced out a bit, and our grandson gave us a call from California. He's three.

"Bubbie, when are you coming here? To my house. When are you coming here? I mean, to my house? When?"

Uh, no time soon, sweetheart. Let's SKYPE.

And in no time I had a live rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider. I suggest this to most people who are still recovering from their SADS (seasonal affective disorder). Find a three-year old to sing you Itsy Bitsy Spider. And if he knows the you say potato, I say potahto, you say tomato, I say tomahto song, make him sing that, too. Teach it to him.

Then this morning, after a great hot shower, I snooped around my closet to find something happy to wear. I really felt like I needed a new pair of shoes. You know how that goes, right? The last new pair of shoes I bought were boots. And although ordinarily that might have done the trick (it IS still 30 degrees out there, maybe less, we're talking Fahrenheit), today the boots only made me feel worse.

They're SKI boots. You have to see what I mean. They fit on a wooden platform that attaches to my new used cross-country skis. Although they look and feel fantastic, my patients would look at me like I was out of my mind if I were to wear them to work.

So I settled on a uniform and breezed down to the kitchen and thankfully, FD had made a good pot of strong coffee (we go 50% decaf, we're old). I flipped on the TV to make sure I hadn't missed any more serious death and destruction while trying to get a good nights rest. Sundays are tough days at the office.

More student coeds murdered, two separate cases. Gorgeous girls. The killers are identified. Well. I guess that's good? Two young boys dead off the coast of Washington, one trying to save the other.

I flipped it OFF. What's a remote for?

Anyway, today is Spring Forward with the Clocks Day, and spring is a new lease on life. And speaking of clocks, I never did tell you about Switzerland. In Switzerland, I imagine that every clock known to man simply FLIES forward, that each tick and tock can't wait for events like DST (do they even have daylight saving time in Switzerland?). If so, it must be so exciting. All those clocks, jumping at the bit.

On your mark. Get set. Go!

Switzerland made me crazy is the truth. Everywhere I looked. Clocks. Large clocks. Small clocks. Medium clocks. But mostly LARGE clocks. Everywhere. All set exactly to the same time. I couldn't have missed my flight if I had a paper bag over my head.

But here in Chicago it's not that way, and confusion will totally reign, I'm sure, until everyone figures it out, Spring Forward, Fall Back. And I'll have to patiently go with the flow and tell folks this:
Actually? I can't reschedule you. There's no time this week.
You see, somewhere, somehow, I have to buy myself a pair of shoes.

copyright 2008 therapydoc

Friday, March 07, 2008

More School Killings

This is not the Red Sea. It's the Mediterranean. The Gaza Strip and Israel share the beach.

The killings are in Israel this time. My cell phone rang and rang as I saw patients yesterday. I knew. It was my mother wondering. Which Yeshiva, exactly, is it that Little One attends? (In her defense, the names of the schools do sound alike sometimes).

I heard about it from a patient. She came in for her appointment strolling her baby and told me, 8 students murdered in a Jerusalem seminary. I gasped and got on-line (what would YOU do?), cried for a moment, controlled myself, stifled what I wanted to say, Animals. Or maybe I said it.

I know the school. A friend of mine teaches there. I know the neighborhood. I have cousins there.

What gauls me, believe it or not, is the celebrating of death in the streets of the Palestinian territory, the Gaza Strip. What is this? How does an entire people celebrate the deaths of students, the deaths of the innocents?

They dance, they say, because these murders are retaliation for an Israeli military operation in Gaza in which Israelis targetting terrorists. The Israelis, once known for espionage, assasinate known terrorists. It is the only way they know to win this war. Otherwise it's back to destroying empty buildings again.

But CNN tells us:
. . .Dan Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN he saw no connection between Thursday's shooting and Israel's operations in Gaza.

"This is not a story of retaliation," he said. "These people have been terrorizing Israel for years, have been carrying out suicide bombings and indiscriminate attacks for years."

Gillerman said the Security Council should condemn the attack. "They they are so, so quick sometimes to criticize Israel for defending itself. I would like to see those members convene as we speak in order to condemn this in the strongest possible terms."
FD said to me when I picked him up last night, "A copycat of the Northern Illinois University massacre?"

Except that I think Kazmierczak was mentally ill. These Palestinians are homicidal. If the man who murdered children yesterday had been taken alive (and there is no one thinking that ever possible, this was a suicide mission) he would go to jail. Kazmierczak would get medication and a very long stay in a hospital.

Our story is like this. When the Jews fled Egyptian slavery, the Egyptians, sorry to have ever let them go, chased after them.

The Jews reached the Red Sea. The bravest jumped right in to swim across, but the Old Mighty, impressed with his bravery, parted the waters for the rest of the nation. The Jews crossed on dry land and the Egyptians followed, but The Old Mighty released the waters, let the Egyptians drown.

The Angels began to sing at the deaths of the Egyptians. The Old Mighty got angry and chastised them. "My creatures are dying and you sing?"

Sure, you can say, That's just a story.

But it's the way we think. The Jewish people don't sing when people are slaughtered, not ever. We cry when people die. I believe, when it comes down to it, most of us don't feel good about the assassinations of terrorists, either. We wish it would all stop.

May the mourners be comforted in the Gates of Zion.


Thursday, March 06, 2008


Something happens to me when I'm with teenagers. I regress. My already tenuous boundaries are undone. There's something so seductive to me about the humor, the audacity, the in-your-face challenge, the total disrespect for established mores and boundaries.

They wouldn't be there, established mores and boundaries, if they didn't stand up to tests, would they?

So it goes that a few weeks ago my friends asked me out to a movie. Sure, but it's gotta' be light, I say. No strangulations, rapes, car explosions or buildings falling on infants. (they know I haven't the stuff it takes to digest these things) Oh, and nothing that makes me think. Maybe go without me.

We settle on Juno. Juno MacGuff is 16. Her parents are divorced and her mother has a new marriage in Arizona and three replacement babies. She sends Juno a cactus every Christmas.

Juno (Ellen Page, you can watch her all day and you do) is living with her father (J.K. Simmons. You remember him from Law and Order, the psychiatrist) and step-mother (Allison Janney, who steals this movie) and their little 4-year old girl. I can't remember what they call the 4-year old but it's just perfect, right on the money for a 4 year old, which tells you how smart this movie is. It's hard to be right on the money with a 4 year old.

Juno, pregnant, has just visited the man who is going to adopt her baby. His wife is out shopping. She sees nothing wrong with visiting Mark of Mark and Vanessa, or listening to Mark's music and watching his slasher movies, even if Vanessa isn't at home. Vanessa's the serious one, but Mark is just a big kid at heart. We learn that he, like Juno, isn't ready to be a parent, either.

And Mark sees Juno as adults see budding adolescents, intelligent, honest, fresh, full of life, sexually unbounded. She reminds him that youth is limitless like the sky, whereas parenthood is clearly an earthly, work-intensive, sobering, responsible endeavor. Juno is ditching parenthood, and this is beginning to makes sense to Mark, too.

So Juno comes home late in the evening after visiting Mark, and her step-mom, Bren, the voice of reason, asks, "Juno, where have you been?" Juno tells her and Bren spits out something on the order of, "That's so inappropriate. You need to have some boundaries in your relationships." It's clear Juno hasn't a clue what she's talking about.

The sublime beauty of this developmental age.

It makes sense when you think of adolescence as a time in which the person's chip (brain) is growing exponentially, abstracting and firing faster than ever before. Add that to a sexuality that is screaming for attention and explanation, and a searching personality that, like a virus, seizes upon alternative, ever more seductive hosts. The process of establishing boundaries feels artificial and anti-growth.

Growth knows no boundaries. And yet, of course, Juno's step-mother Bren is right. Juno shouldn't be slow-dancing with the man who is going to adopt her infant and raise it along with his wife. But Juno's naive. She can't see herself, certainly not nine months pregnant, maybe not at all, as someone who arouses men, as someone who could wreck a marriage, snap it in two.

If you don't know the plot, Juno decided one day that it was time to have sex with her boyfriend. They're best friends for a year. She gets pregnant that first and only time (so not unusual with adolescents).

The kids have the following conversation soon thereafter (it's not verbatum):
Juno: I need to tell you something. I'm pregnant.

Paulee (Michael Cera, always wonderful, so sincere, delightfully adolescent): Like with a baby?

Juno: Uh, huh.

Paulee (concerned): What should we do?

Juno: Well, like, I was just thinking I'd nip it in the bud before it gets worse because they were telling us in health class about how pregnancy leads to infants.

Paulee: Yeah, that's usually what happens with our moms and our teachers.
They both understand, very well, that they're not in that place. They're not where their moms and their teachers are, emotionally. They're not ready for parenthood.

She goes to have an abortion but can't go through with it, returns home to tell her parents that she's pregnant and has decided to have the baby and give the thing away. She found Mark and Vanessa in the shopping mall Super Saver.

The scene is wonderful, a true screen classic (of course you should see this movie, if you haven't already, it's well-directed, well-produced, and the music, scrumptious). Ultimately Dad soberly admits to Juno,

"Junebug, I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when."

She replies, matter-of-fact, "I don't really know what kind of girl I am."

But she knows one thing for sure, she's ill-equipped to take care of that baby, and has found Vanessa (Jennifer Garner at her loveliest), who is supremely equipped, ready, willing, and full of love, to do the job.

And to me that says it all. Juno's real intelligence is knowing that there are things she really knows so little about. She knows she's supposed to be a child, not a mommy, supposed to be playing her guitar and kicking cans, not rocking in a rocking chair. That's what her stage of life is about, growing up, having fun, establishing an identity.

She ends the conversation with Paulee that I quoted above, "I wish I hadn't had sex with you."

"Who's idea was it?" he asks. He really can't remember. They stumbled into this, and they're stumbling out. Whose idea was it? Whose responsibility?

Oh, but adolescence should be free, there shouldn't be too much responsibility. Kids should be free to grow, to learn, to study, to get to know one another, get to know themselves, their bodies, to test out their social skills, establish leadership potential, get a grip on their lives past so they can take those meaningful steps forward.

Juno gets this. She knows that she doesn't have to be sure of anything at sixteen. She doesn't have to know what kind of girl she is, exactly. She's in process.

Such an enviable position, no? Why would anyone want to hurry that, choose to prematurely skip out of that license to grow, that license for silliness and abandon, introspection and exploration? Why do anything that could blunt that freedom?

What did she say? I wish I hadn't had sex with you.

THAT'S the message you want to send to your teenagers. No need to grow up so fast, have fun while you can. Play as much basketball, eat pizza, see as many movies and learn as much HTML as you can. Learn Spanish or Italian. Get a job and visit Broadway with your friends with the money you've saved.

Or perhaps sit down together and watch this gem of a film. And go ahead, talk about sex. Use the word. It'll set you free.


Separation Anxiety

Probably like the rest of you, at the vacation's end, I'm happy to be getting home. I look forward to getting back to work, sleeping in my own bed, making my own coffee.

Except when I leave Israel. Then I'm sad. As I pack up, sad. On the way to the airport, ditto. I look out the car window and see the land of Israel (green once a year, this time of year), feel the love of family and friends coursing through me, and I know I can't come back "soon" not soon enough. It takes me a week to recover emotionally, sometimes more.

Okay, a story.

I'm teaching research to doctoral students and while in Israel last week, on Page 2 of the Jerusalem Post, lucked upon a really great teaching study on post traumatic stress.

Journalists love to quote "the research" which is why you really have to read what they say very skeptically, very critically. They're journalists, not researchers, and they're looking to sensationalize whatever it is that is very likely not sensational.

You've heard about lying with statistics? There are so many ways to pervert research findings to sell newspapers. You don't even have to use the statistics.

Anyway, back to the story. I teach on-line. And even though I'm on vacation and had told the dean about my trip months before show time, he couldn't see why I couldn't teach the class from Israel. But you should know, and the dean does not, that to teach on-line you need really fast internet and a powerful computer, which is why half of my students don't even "show up" in the virtual classroom while I'm in Chicago. I can hear them (audio's less tricky) but the little window of video that's supposed to represent each human in the virtual classroom only rolls for about sixty percent of the class. But okay, I won't tell.

Just in case I had some technical difficulties, in case things didn't go so well at my end of the world, I put a group assignment up on the class blog so that class would go on, with or without me. The assignment described Professor Shrifra Shragi’s research at Ben Gurion University.

I lifted Dr. Shragi's findings and methodology for teaching purposes from Page 2 of last Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post and asked students to work together to answer my mundane researchy questions.
What do you think is the research question? What are the hypotheses? What kinds of statistics do you think the investigator used, etc., etc.
Let me tell you about the study (as much as we know, and remember, perhaps that's nothing at all).

Professor Shragi had an interest in post traumatic stress and the variables that might mitigate it. She found three natural groups of teenagers living in different places in Israel. The first group lives in the north of the country and experienced rocket and missile fire during the Second Lebanon War two years ago. That war lasted a little over a month. The sample of teens in the north of Israel heard or saw continuous military bombardment of their homes, fields, or cities during that month only.

The second and third groups of teens both live in the west of Israel bordering the Palestinian territory of Gaza. They're either in (a) the city of Sederot, or (b) nearby kibbutzim, rural communal farms where they share meals, rotate jobs, and produce the livelihood of the kibbutz as a cohesive unit, as one big communal "family."

The context of violence in the west of Israel (where the second and third groups live) is different from that of the north (where the first group lives). People who live near Gaza, either in the cities of Sederot or Ashkelon, or on the kibbutzim, are targets of Hamas missile fire that is on-going since 2006, since the Palestinians gained control of the territory of Gaza.

The Israelis evacuated Gaza for peace in 2006, leaving homes, synagogues, kibbutzim (some very lucrative farms, well-irrigated and lush, we used to visit), and other livelihoods. They left for peace, to give Palestinians a go at self-rule. The Palestinians subsequently elected the terrorist organization Hamas to govern themselves.

Hamas, as a terrorist organziation among other things, avows to push the Israelis (Jews) out of all of Israel. Russian missiles are delivered to Hama by land and by sea, either via Egypt or the ports. Hamas conducts a war of attrition, tries to wear down the Israeli people by pitching missiles at them, sometimes 40 to 50 in a day. Israelis consider the very modest death toll nothing short of miraculous, divine intervention. But living with this is wearying and it will not let up. Why should it? The logic on the part of the enemy is good. If the Israelis are miserable enough, perhaps they’ll leave the western cities and towns, too.

It would be like the fourth of July every day in America. Except when the fireworks land on your roof, you lose your house.

Thus Dr. Shragi's interest in post traumatic stress fits in nicely for this population. She's got her sample and a control. It's brilliant and her findings are fresh and important.

What are they?

Teens who live in Israeli kibbutzim, the communal towns, indicate that their sense of identity and purpose helps them get through their anxiety and fear of missile fire. Knowing who they are, why they're there, buffers the effects of trauma.

Identity and purpose.

Okay, so I really like this study.

I taught the class, and after my lecture, I had the students work with one another on the assignment while I took a break to get a glass of water and gaze at my brother-in-law's (the Chef's) fish tank. He's done a great job. The Chef and I chatted awhile about politics and what to do about Gaza, and then I returned to the "class room" at his high-speed computer.

"Any questions?" I ask.

"Uh, Dr. ____," says the spokesperson of the group. "We DO have a question. We’re not quite sure how to ask, or if it’s appropriate to ask or what. Like, it's a personal question. But is that okay to ask you a personal question?"

"Sure," I say, "Shoot."

"It seems like such a dangerous place, Israel! Aren’t you afraid? Why are you there!? And are you coming home soon?"

"Oh," I say. "Why am I here? Isn't it dangerous? Well, no, I don't think so." And without skipping a beat, "Let's say it's got everything to do with identity and purpose."

copyright 2008, therapydoc

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Waitress

Sometimes I think I should put up restaurant reviews on this blog. Except I rarely eat out.

The reviews would be different, of course. Like I'd leave out the food part.

For example, yesterday I had the pleasure of taking my niece out for lunch in the German Colony. She chose a fine french (kosher) sidewalk cafe.

The waitress is the hostess and busboy, too, and gently guides us to a table by the window. She changes the table cloth while we wait and we sit down. I can watch everything from where I'm sitting, it's perfect.

She's of medium build, wearing black slacks and a black blouse that's a little too big. Her hair is dark, skin pale, and her eyes are that chocolate brown that draws you in. Seems to me, however, that she's forcing herself through her day, not smiling particularly, and is avoiding eye contact.

Except she knows she can't, because she has to do the job and seem friendly and helpful. That's the job, right? And if you want gratuity that's gracious, that's what you do.

Now, I've got a touch of whatever is going around, and only want a bowl of soup, but FD and my niece order nice lunches. There's no way that even healthy I could have had more than that soup, a marak kruvit, cauliflower soup, light but believe me, not so light.

We caught up on life and I suggested dessert. The tarts and mouse beckoned us, and we settled on a lemon meringue and creme broulet. The waitress, I see, is sipping from a glass of red wine at the counter.

I'm not used to this, but it makes me feel bad. We savor the sweets, pay the bill. I tip a little more than usual.

Out on the sidewalk I turn to my niece. "She seemed so TRAGIC, no?"

Yes, she agreed. You noticed, too!

A different kind of restaurant review.


February the Leap Month of Back 'acha

Who deigned to be associated with this blog?

Well, there's Jack, who lists me as a character in his cast of characters (those California bloggers are always thinking this way).

A Mother in Israel and I have been chatting and that interview is up on her blog as we speak. I couldn't have pulled it off if I hadn't been on vacation. No guts, as you know. Check out Mom on her smart and informational blog.

I'm not going to lie, it got a little personal.

And ever since I posted about that woman who busted her boyfriend out of jail, leaving the jaildogs to fend for themselves (she trained inmates at the local prison to train dogs that might otherwise have been destroyed, then took the high road with her jailbird lover), dog bloggers are good with me, and of course, I'm good with them.

So here's Neil's collection of posts, check him out at Natural Dog, naturally. But for cats, specifically, and how to deal with them when they need baths, you have to go to Cat in sight. Which you should, if you have cats.

Some people are brave, some strong, and sometimes they write well, too. You might consider this interesting blogger who posts on the hows and whens of telling other people about not-so-obvious physical problems. I'd say it would take trust to do that, and guts. Check this one out at Brass and Ivory. Excellent, excellent post.

Mark Rayner's always got something cute to say at The Swib. He's a satire-monger.

And for shaking the family tree, try I Want to Change My Family Tree.

We've been there before, why not try it again?

Estee is an artist I happen to really like.

Then there's Andrea Hess, Intuitive Consultant, at Empowered Soul Blog. I sense good things here.

And again, great writing on the blogosphere never ceases to make me happy. The personal blogs hook us with the stories because truth really is better than fiction. Check out the Doctor's Girlfriend, volunteering at the hospital, leading with heart.

As long as we're doing medical blogs, RehabRN has plenty to tell you.

Beachbums abound, head for SeaSpray, and take her with a grain of salt (this is my attempt at a pun).

Should you have a sincere hankering to see the Loch Ness Monster, 24 miles long, and who could blame you, check out Addy's blog.

As long as we're on a water theme, there's Pollywog's Pond. She lets kids blog there, so it feels young there. And she let me bark at the carnival, to continue the dog theme.

Nursing Voices has several poignant thoughts and stories. I like these kinds of things, poignancies and am proud that she included me, a non-nurse, in the care-taking genre. The blind leading the blind, seriously.

There's the best in making money on the web, at WebDosh, I'm not quite sure what the Dosh means, but it sounds so Hebrew, seriously.

Angie's a personal blogger with a nice sense of humor, thanks for that, Ang.

NotFaintHearted has the goods on technorati and links, or perhaps technorati has the goods on her, we're not sure, but thanks NFH.

And yet another new friend, Leora, writing well and enjoying it. Is it an addiction? Just ask her.

And you have to visit Birches, a whacky mix of poetry and would you believe, basketball. Makes sense if you think about it.

This time, this space. . . what else do you need to know?
And Fitbuff would be not stay fit were it not fitting for him to post about fitness. Say that 10 times, fast. Nice pic, btw, FB, of the Monday Carnival. I love it.

And if you've ever wanted to read this blog in another language, you have to see this. Health in Action posted How to Choose a Therapist on her blog in German. I think it's German. I'm so flattered, seriously.

Kellen's Corner liked that post about leaving your religion at the door, meaning the therapist leaves his or her religion at the door when doing the job. Surely a doc can't separate the self , particularly, but it's not something you talk about.

A stamp collector somehow found the post on Obsession! Probably because there's a STAMP on the post, the only pic on the post, actually. If you're a stamp person, check this out.

and that's it for today. Guess what? March means spring!