Looking Ahead

That image is of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings. We see he has  two faces in order to look ahead to the future and to look back to the past. New Year’s Dayis the province of Janus, as we look back on the year just past and forward to the new year ahead. 

If you are inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, I am sure you already have a list of things you are vowing today that you want to do or accomplish in the year ahead. You have no doubt done this before and likely will do it again. If you are like me and most people I know, those resolutions tend to fall by the wayside in the twists and turns of daily life and by year’s end, they too often have become something to feel guilty about — the weight not lost, the gym rarely visited, the projects languishing in a corner somewhere.

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago, when I realized that resolving the same things year after year because I had not met what I had resolved the previous year was no accident, it was meaningful. Most of the time the resolutions were about something I thought I ought to do or change in order to become some cultural approved version of being a better person. When my ex-husband and I realized we had never gotten past day 6 of Miss Craig’s 21 Day Shape-up Program, on any of the half dozen or more times we started it, I knew that we never would — because we didn’t want to do it!

So this year I suggest you try something different. Don’t make one of those resolutions. Instead, starting today, try paying attention to what you feel, including what you feel in your body. Give yourself the gift of your attention and loving care. Maybe write in your journal about what you are feeling today — about where you are in your life, about the year just ended, about what you have learned this year. Use the camera in your phone and take a selfie to see yourself today. Take a bubble bath. Or go for a walk. Cuddle with your pet — and/or your partner, your kids. Make a cup of tea and survey the landscape of your life and see what you like and what you don’t. Give to yourself.

Bringing parts together

I used to have a section of this blog devoted to knitting. I am an avid knitter and always have multiple projects in process. Then someone suggested to me that I should focus just on professional material or maybe it was that I was feeling self-conscious. At any rate, I took down the knitting portion.

Then I remembered this quote from Marie Louise von Franz on knitting :

Everybody who has knitted or done weaving or embroidery knows what an agreeable effect this can have, for you can be quiet and lazy and also spin your own thoughts while working. You can relax and follow your fantasy and then get up and say you have done something! Also the work exercises patience…Only those who have done such work know of all the catastrophes which can happen — such as losing a row of stitches just when you are decreasing! It is a very self-educative activity and brings out feminine nature. It is immensely important for women to do such work and not give it up in the modern rush. (The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Spring Publications, 1972, p. 40)

She makes it clear to me that knitting, like painting or writing, has its place in this process of self-discovery that I am so much engaged in, for myself and with my patients.

Knitting, among other things, is one way I understand my work and my life. My office is at home, in the middle of my domestic life. I have a basket of yarn in my office — because I think it is beautiful. I also have there art supplies on the table I use when I attempt to paint.  I used to fantasize having a house that had a big kitchen with a fireplace and I would see my patients there, in front of the fire, sitting at the table and drinking tea. Because for me the kitchen is the place of transformation.  There are things in my professional life that I want to explore more deeply. But those things have grown out of ordinary life — aging, figuring out what it is to be a woman, working at my story, embodiment, dreams all of it.

When I was in my 20’s, in the heydays of second wave feminism, I always felt I had to hide my interest in things domestic. To acknowledge having a domestic life — cooking, knitting and the like — was all but a betrayal of what we women were striving for: to be taken seriously as thinkers and doers and not be relegated only to hearth and home. I don’t think my friends in graduate school then even knew I loved to cook or that I knitted and crocheted and sewed. And when I got married, it was a point of honor that I do half of the work around the house and not a bit more.

But that was then. And in the course of growing older and growing up more, I seem to have lost that need to split my life as I did. Maybe this is the gift of third wave feminism to women like me — that we can bring the parts of our lives together. And in mending the splits in our lives, perhaps we can move toward mending  splits in our husband’s and son’s lives as well.

As Jung says:

Individuation means becoming an “in-dividual,” and, in so far as “individuality” embraces our innermost, last and most incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as “coming to selfhood” or “self-realization.” (C.G. Jung, CW 7, para. 266)

Awaiting the return of the light

Here in Maine we have just 8 hrs and 50 minutes of daylight today, the shortest day of the year. As I write this, just after 1 o’clock with overcast sky, the light is a little dim. Lights turned on. It’s a good day for candles and knitting or reading or just being cozy as we await the return of the light.

When we go into the woods

Into the woods

Starting therapy is a lot like going into the woods in fairy tales. We go together into territory that is both like and very different from ordinary daily life. But sometimes people are casually dismissive of therapy,  that it is just good listening and if friends could learn good listening skills, then therapy wouldn’t be necessary. Certainly listening empathically can and does provide catharsis and catharsis is an element of therapy. But it is only an element, not the whole thing.

When I enter a session with a patient I endeavor to do so without memory or desire — which is to say that any day as I meet with my  patient, I put away thoughts about this blog, about my husband’s latest project, about other patients, and about our last session with each other  and I prepare to meet her in the moment and without an agenda. I wait for her to begin and allow her to set the agenda for our time together. I follow the thread of her concerns and as I do so, bits and pieces of the other times we have met come to mind. I hear more of her themes and as we go along I am relating them to themes I have heard from others and what I know about such themes. I am aware of issues in her life that have led to her personality being structured as it is — this is a clinical piece where I touch into my database of experience with people who have similar histories and who have had the constellation of issues in their lives that she has has and what I know from more theoretical material as well.  I challenge a bit here, ask a question there, offer a suggestion, share a personal experience. I watch as we do our dance of of speaking and listening and I see when an interpretive arrow hits the mark and when it misses.

I am patient with hearing the same story told many times over the course of our work together and I listen for the subtle ways it changes as we explore the nooks and crannies of her life, how she begins to see herself in her life a bit differently and sees others a bit differently as well. The story in its basic outline remains the same but it changes as well in nuance and color and emphasis.

I bring to my work over 40 years of training and experience, many years of my own personal therapy, 10 or more years of supervision by masters in the field, and 70+ years of my life experience. I do not ask nor in any way expect my patients to reciprocate with me and listen to me and my issues. I have no agenda for what they should do. No subject is off-limits, including the full range of feelings they have about me.

What I do is well beyond empathic listening, though that is part of what I do. And while I agree that anyone benefits from being able to talk about feelings with an empathic listener, I do not think that listening alone is sufficient for dealing with a wide range of the things people bring into therapy. For some, it is about a corrective emotional experience, for others a chance to look at their lives with a person who is not entangled in that life and can be neutral, for still others it is where deep psychic wounds can be opened  so that they may heal. It is also a place where we can pay attention to dreams and symbols and archetypes and fantasies and discern the pattern of meaning in a life.

It is hard work. It is sacred work, I believe. 

Better to be bad than weak

Some years ago I read Harry Guntrip’s Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations, and the Self. I often think of something he wrote in that book, that many of us would rather be bad than weak. Now that seems paradoxical at first but think about it — it is often more satisfying to believe that we, in our “badness” ,create the behavior in others that bothers us, because that way, if we become good, then they will change too.

If my mother treated me badly because I was bad; if my lover is abusive because I am not good then all I have to do is change, become good and then I will have the mother I wanted, the lover who will cherish me.

But if I have no control over my mother’s behavior or my lover’s abuse, then I have to live with knowing that I cannot change them, that I have to deal with who they are as they are.

To accept that I cannot determine the behavior of others means I must be more aware of my own choices and what drives them. I have to surrender my illusions about my power to control others.

My Book

One night over 20 years ago I sat in my friend Pauline’s living room as we talked about our wishes and hopes for our futures. I was recently divorced, my kids were almost grown and I had this great empty canvas of a life ahead of me. I heard myself say to Pauline that I was going to write a book. I had no idea what that book would be about or when I would write it, but the desire to write it came into my awareness that night.

My book, The Fat Lady Sings, published by: Karnac Books, March 2017:

Contents:

• The silent woman 


• Life in the panopticon 


• The war on obesity: a cultural complex at work 


• When a body meets a body: fat enters the consulting room 


• Dancing with Marion Woodman: searching for meaning 


• Woodman, my mother, and me 


• Woodman and anger, food, eating, and control 


• A last look at Woodman 


• Memory, shame, and the fat body—pulling it all together 


• My body, my self: toward a theory of fat and trauma 


• Back to the consulting room: blind spots and remedies 


• Coming out as fat 

Reviews:

The Fat Lady Sings is a superb and compassionate work for anyone who cares about eliminating prejudice, hearing what is unspoken and unspeakable in our society and for the future of psychotherapy itself. The “fat complex” as Cheryl Fuller profoundly demonstates, afflicts all of us. It leaves ‘fat women,’ in particular as one of the most reviled and misunderstood of social groups. Just as there is no feminism without the elimination of sizeism, so there can be no true psychotherapy unless the ongoing social traumatization of the fat body is given its due. The Fat Lady Sings is scholarly, provocative, revisionary and revealing. It is a song that psychology needs to listen to and to learn.” –Susan Rowland (PhD) Chair: MA Engaged Humanties and the Creative Life, Pacifica Graduate Institute, USA. Author Jung: A Feminist Revision (2002); Remembering Dionysus (2017).

“As a writer, it is my job to create interesting characters, which means by definition people demonstrably unlike others. As the mother of girls, I also have worried about the cultural messages that bombard us from all angles. Much of what Cheryl Fuller deals with in The Fat Lady Sings speaks to all people, fat or thin, genetically predisposed to pulchritude or psychologically traumatized into becoming a plus size. In a world where the civilized know not to divide and categorize based on difference, the obese are still a target for ridicule, torment and pity.

This is a beautiful book, leading us gracefully through a sensitive exploration of how it is to live in the spotlight to the judgment of others and ourselves. Fuller’s clarity and candour makes it possible to discuss the energy required to deal with the trauma, societal dismissiveness and the inevitability of our bodies to rebel from uniformity.

I grew up and have lived all my life in a post-voluptuous world, where the “full-figured girl” was no longer valued. If even one of the doctors who added mention of my weight to my various symptoms during a consult throughout my life could read and learn from this book, the world might be a better place for all of us.” —Janice MacDonald, bestselling Canadian author

“In this book the fat lady sings and keeps on singing. Far from over, she’s just beginning. What a pleasureable, enlightening song affirming life, her life. A contagious feeling the reader grows with as well. The author won me with her first sentences and took me with her the rest of the way.

The work is at once sophisticated, acccessible, helpful, freeing. Fat people will benefit in ways rarely felt or encountered but so will people of any  build. This is a friendly book that has a way of melting degradation, rejection, second class citzenship, pressure to be someone or something else that deforms.

One feels human value giving birth to itself in ways that lift and add. No apologies or self-immolation, but a voice that touches and makes you feel more alive because of its self-expression.The body writes itself and you feel more real in the process. What a relief to identify with a voice making room for itself, sharing capacity to be.” —Michael Eigen, author of Under the Totem: In Search of a Path, The Sensitive Self, and Faith

“This book has the potential to be revisionary in sparking a reimagination of fatness from a psychological perspective.”  ~ “The Fat Lady Sings: A Psychological Exploration of the Cultural Fat Complex and its Effects”, by Cheryl Fuller, London, UK, Karnac, 2017  Review by Paula M. Brochu Fat Studies Vol. 7 , Iss. 1,2018

Days of my life

I am a journal keeper.

For the last 45 years I have started most days the same way I did this morning

A cup of tea, a cat on my lap, my journal and my pen. I write the date, then any dreams I remember from the night before. Associations to the dream. The maybe just what I hear and see — this morning there was birdsong, and the water in the harbor calm and unruffled by wind. And it is not snowing! My journal is a container for my thoughts and feelings, wishes and hopes, dreams, continuing work in analysis. A reader would not learn much if anything about my outer life or events in the world around me. My journal is very interior.

My Journals:

I am a bit picky about my journals. I want unlined paper so that my handwriting can vary with mood and feeling rather than be constrained by lines. I want the blank book to be attractive so that it signals that it is something important to me. Others I know use spiral notebooks or loose sheets of paper or type on their computer. But for me, I am more inclined to write and maintain my journal keeping practice with the kinds of journals I hav chosen. I always write with a fountain pen. I like changing ink colors, the way the marks made by the pen appear on the paper. There is something tactiley pleasing to me in the combination of fountain pen and good paper. This is just what works for me and says nothing about how others should tend to their own practice.

After 45 years writing this way, even though there have been a few periods of not writing, needless to say I have a lot of filled journals. What on earth do I do with them now and what do I want to happen to them when I die? That is a question I wrestle with a fair amount. Because they are so interior, there really is nothing to inform historians or archivists and I am far too little known for my papers to be of interest. What about my kids, you might ask. As much as they love me, I really can’t see them being particularly interested in what I have written in journals. 

Art Journaling:

I have found something I can do with a few of them. I can re-purpose them as art journals. A bit of matte medium and clear gesso and I can make pages that I can then use. Here is what I have begun –

At the rate that I work in this one, I am unlikely to do much more than complete this volume, much less make a dent in the pile of use volumes I have. In the meantime this feels good. And every morning I start by writing and soon will begin yet another volume.

journal page image
Journal to art journal
Converting a Journal to an art journal
art journaling
A bit of gesso and gel medium and away we go.

What is the myth?

What is the myth?

It is often the case that at midlife and beyond  life calls us to look again at who we are, what we have done, what we believe in. This is prime time for discovering what is the story we have been living; as Jung put it — 

I asked myself, “What is the the myth you are living?” and found that I did not know. So…I took it upon myself to get to know “my” myth, an I regarded this as the task of tasks…I simply had to know what unconscious or preconscious myth was forming me.”

Human beings are narrative makers. We remember ourselves and our lives in stories — stories we tell our friends, family, strangers, ourselves. When a new patient comes to me, I say “tell me about yourself” and await the story of this person’s life and how it has brought her to me. And if we work together for some time, that story will change so that the story she tells at the end will be recognizable as hers but different in some ways from the tale told at the beginning.

“The universe is made of stories – not atoms” —   Muriel Rukeyser

So, we swim in a sea of stories — our own and those of the ones around us. And we shape our lives around the story we tell ourself is ours, the story that we live. Think of a person you no doubt know whose life could be summed up in the song title, “I would do anything for love” — can you begin to see the story he or she is living? And how might that person be able to change the course of the story, write a new chapter if only she knew it was what she is living?

“The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it….” Jules Renard 

Exploring personal myth is one way to discover the story. 

In the last 20 years or so, a number of books have been written on the subject of personal myth. Of the lot of them, 2 stand out for me as better than the rest:

James Pennebaker: Writing to Heal — Pennebaker, a social psychologist, has done considerable work examining the healing potential of writing. 

Sam Keen & Anne Valley Fox: Your Mythic Journey —  this book encourages the reader, through writing and reflection using question drawn from the work of Joseph Campbell, to uncover our story and explore its meaning.

I am never entirely happy with self-help books. In order to appeal to a large audience, in my view, they lose bite in favor of what is palatable and likely to engage masses of readers, rather the same way that the food from Taco Bell is suggestive of Mexican food but lacks the complexity and range of real Mexican food. So think of these books as a way to do personal myth, lite. Digging into one’s life, looking at Shadow as well as Persona, takes time. Plus all of us are at best reluctant to look into the corners and under the rocks where our darker or less acceptable aspects lurk. That said, these books offer a palatable way to begin to look at personal myth and may whet appetite for looking deeper.

Memory and Magritte

I first saw Magritte’s “La Memoir” or “Mnemosyne” on a book jacket 20 or more years ago. She is an arresting image, Memory with a wound to her head. Is it memory bleeding out? Will memory be lost if the wound is not bandaged and the blood flow stopped? Or does she show the wound to the head that any of us has from one or another childhood insult or injury? Does the effort to re-member heal the wound and thus stanch the bleeding? Save the memory? And what about the bell and the leaf — are they bits of memory? Has she forgotten? Did she ever know? Are we all surrounded by artifacts of memory that if we can only see them will allow memory to heal?

With Magritte’s Mnemosyne, we can consider the possibility that the blood is an image, a  memory, memory sticking the colorless face of the woman, the only sign of life we see of her.  As mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne would give birth to spontaneous impulses toward speech, song, art, dance, poetry, and other manifestations rendering the numinous visible and experiential — not just spoken of but enacted, enacted here in the splash of red on her head.

Think about a vivid dream you have had. When you write, it becomes something other than the dream. It becomes a text, an adaptation of the dream, but the dream, consisting of images, cannot be fully and accurately captured in words. The same with memory. The experience remembered is not a record, faithful in every detail. The memory is particular to the rememberer. Even in a family, the same event can and often is recalled differently by parents and children, even by siblings.