The Inward Gaze

“A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is. When I speak of writing, the image that comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or a literary tradition; it is the person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and, alone, turns inward. Amid his shadows, he builds a new world with words….To write is to transform that inward gaze into words, to study the worlds into which we pass when we retire into ourselves, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy.” Orfan Pamuk 

I ran across this lovely quote about writing some time ago. While I write — here, in my journal, and in fits and starts on various pieces I hope someday to publish, I struggle to think of myself as a writer. A few years ago, an editor friend of mine told me that the difference between a writer and a person who writes is that the writer works on what she writes, revising and editing and struggling to find the right words to say what she sees or feels. A person who writes — well, that person just writes. For the longest time, I rarely wrote more than one draft of anything and the thought of revising came only when someone else told me I needed to do so. But I took those words of my friend seriously and began to think of what I write as worthy of more attention and energy from me. Of course, now I must learn when to stop and allow what I have to just be as it is, even though it is not exactly what I hoped. Baby steps.

Anyway, recently when I read that quote again, I thought of writing and my own journey as a writer, but I thought also of the process in analysis and therapy. Because it seems to me that he describes that process also. In analysis, the gaze also goes inward and the effort is to transform the images and feelings and memories into words which eventually transform experience and, by opening new possibilities, make change. And we do this work with “patience, obstinacy, and joy” — though the joy sometimes comes late to the experience.

Signs of hope

Yesterday our Governor, Janet Mills, announced the next stages of measures for dealing with COVID-19. While the usual number of people grumbled that restrictions remain in place, still she brought a ray of hope that eventually much of what was will return. Or will it?

 Many speak of returning to normal but the normal we once knew will not be ever again, if only because we now know what it is to live through a life-threatening pandemic, knowledge we cannot bury. And we do not know what the new normal will be because we will still be living under threat of new waves of illness from this virus. And what effect will having lived like this, with daily reminders of the death toll, seeing masks on the faces of friends and loved ones, knowing now that touching each other or our own face can be life threatening? We have all been and continue to be experiencing trauma on a mass scale. What will be the lingering effects of that trauma?

And what of school children missing a quarter of the school year with uncertainty still about how next year will run? In my own family, my granddaughter is a high school senior — all the hoopla attendant to the ending of that phase of school is missing. She is supposed to be off to college in the fall — how will it be open? So many questions and we adults cannot provide definite answers.

New words have entered the collective vocabulary — Zoom, zooming, social distancing among others. We visit even doctors and therapists like me via video conferencing. We wrestle with tired eyes from much more time in front of screens.  A friend and colleague of mine died(not from the virus but that was of course the first question) and a memorial for him was via Zoom.

I have seen among fellow therapists on social media speculation that the new normal may well not focus so much on sessions face to face in our offices, but will remain in significant part on various video platforms and telephone. Telemedicine is not going to go away, especially for people in rural areas.

And will we return to shaking hands or hugging or will we evolve some new way of embodied, yet touch-free greeting?

Certainly the last great pandemic of 1918-1919 left its mark and surely played a role in what became the roaring Twenties. What do you imagine will follow from this?

Please take good care of yourselves. Masks are far from a fashion statement but they help. And even as restrictions are lifted, be out and about with caution. We are a long way from being out of the woods. To help cope with anxiety and fears and other feelings, if you don’t already, start writing a journal. Write down your dreams — I will be talking more about dreams next time.

And please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

For this Sunday- Three Things To Remember

Here we are near the end of April. In Maine, snow is forecast for tonight into tomorrow. Spring snow is not rare here, but this year maybe more than any, it feels cruel. It feels as though spring with green and flowers and leaves on the trees is being withheld from us. So this morning I bring you this from Mary Oliver:

As long as you’re dancing,
you can break the rules.

Some times breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

So find some music that makes you move, and dance. 

What ?

I noticed the other day a help wanted ad for a “behavioral health specialist” — it makes as much sense as that car in the middle of the field. Back in the old days, when I was at the beginning of learning to do what I do, there was no such thing as a “behavioral health specialist” nor a “behavioral health center”. We aspired to be psychologists and psychotherapists and to work  in mental health clinics or in private practice. In the years since the advent of managed care,  “psychology” and “psychotherapy” have fallen out of favor for more corporate and scientific sounding terms like “behavioral science” and “behavioral health specialist”. Think about it — these terms call up notions of scientific specificity. 

Now I don’t know anyone who dreamed of becoming a behavioral scientist or behavioral health specialist when they grew up. There is something about the coldness of the terms, bespeaking laboratories and machines that doesn’t lead to the images that terms like psychology and psychotherapy can create. The word psychotherapy comes from the Ancient Greek words psychē, meaning breath, spirit, or soul and therapeia or therapeuein, to heal or cure. Thus the psychotherapist is the healer or nurse of souls. That feels dramatically different from “behavioral health specialist. 

The realm of the psychotherapist encompasses dreams, wishes, fantasies, art, passions, emotions, thoughts, relationships, myth, metaphor, fairy tales. Like the Roman god Janus, psychotherapy looks in two directions — backwards into the past and forward into the desired future. 

I remember talking with a behaviorist when I was first in graduate school. He told me he was not interested in how people describe themselves or their lives because “self report is unreliable”; he was only interested in observable behavior. Now admittedly this is a pretty radically behaviorist stance but it is the ground for behavioral science just as the ancient Greek psychopompos,  guide of souls, is the ground for depth psychotherapy. 

A Baptist preacher and a Russian Orthodox priest may both be Christian clergy with some common beliefs and a common point of origin, but their ways of performing their sacred roles have diverged enough that they hardly seem part of the same faith. So it is in mental health with behavioral health specialists and psychotherapists. We have a common root but the branches we each occupy have become so far apart that it becomes harder to discern that we are part of the same tree.

Wanting to be wanted

When I was nine, we lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My mother, not an easy woman, thought I would never become a desirable catch, as I was too preoccupied with books. Her poking, prodding, and criticism did not work, so she enrolled me in a ballroom dance/etiquette course. As it happened, that same year, the University of New Mexico was mounting a production of Euripides’ “Medea”. They needed two nine-year-olds to play the sons, but it was thought that nine-year-old year old boys were too rowdy to take the discipline to be in a play like that, so they came to the dance class to pick two girls. I was one of them.

 I remember being fitted for the costume, being taught to walk like a boy and to scream like a boy. I did not know what the story was, but it was fun learning those things.

I finally saw the play all the way through the day of the dress rehearsal. I remember standing in the wings watching. The meaning of the play rolled down the aisle like a dark cloud and swallowed me as I realized she kills her sons. In a moment, I understood what role I was playing. I can remember the hair standing up on the back of my neck and the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  

 I woke up the next day with a fever and by the end of the day, it was clear I had the measles. I missed the whole run of the play.

Fast forward many years to graduate school. Medea continued to fascinate me so I decided to write my dissertation about her. I was struck by how modern her situation seemed. Imagine Medea as a girl, star-struck by the hero, Jason. Her name means cunning or knowing. She is the niece of Circe, granddaughter of Helios, daughter of a king. A powerful woman, a priestess of Hekate. Yet, when she sees Jason, described as good-looking, tall with long blond hair, a Fabio of his day, she becomes infatuated. Jason represents the glory and civilization of Greece, adventure. In order to help him to survive the tasks given him by her father as the price for obtaining the Golden Fleece, she must choose love over duty. In turn, in order to secure her help, Jason swears to marry her. In choosing Jason, Medea breaks the tie to family and home to go with Jason to a land where he is hero and she a barbarian.

Jason wants her, needs her, in order to successfully complete his quest. He is willing to give her what she wants—that feeling of being wanted and a place to hide her power and control. In agreeing to marry Medea, Jason gains everything—his life, the Golden Fleece, his safe return as a hero. In one version of the play, the Nurse raises the important question: “Why must a woman seek a man who seeks his special gold?”. Men with this kind of commitment, more to their quest than to the woman, seem unlikely to match the devotion of a woman like Medea. But she feels wanted, needed and so surely, perhaps she thinks, he must be the one for her.

I hear variations of this story again and again in my office from smart, competent women who spend their days wanting to be wanted and being disappointed time and again. To a degree I lied it myself when I was a young woman. Too often the women seem to see themselves as trophies or dolls on the shelf and convince themselves that whoever chooses them must be the right one, because after all, he is choosing her. And too seldom see themselves as also in position to choose, not merely to wait until being chosen.

Following from Lacan, who asserted that women want to be wanted more than they want to be loved, women too often seek to be desirable rather than to be fully known. Polly Young-Eisendrath explores this “wanting to be wanted” not as the normal outcome of female development but as a problem in her book, Women and Desire: Beyond wanting to be wanted. 

She observes

“The compulsion to be desired and desirable undermines self-direction, self-confidence, and self-determination in women from adolescence through old age, in all our roles, from daughter to mother, from lover to wife, from student to worker or leader, whether or not the affliction is conscious.

Wanting to be wanted is about finding our power in an image rather than in our own actions. We try to appear attractive, nice, good, valid, legitimate, or worthy to someone else, instead of discovering what we actually feel and want for ourselves. In this kind of conscious or unconscious arrangement, other people are expected to provide our own feelings of power, worth, or vitality, at the expense of our authentic development. We then feel resentful, frustrated, and out of control because we have sacrificed our real needs and desires to the arrangements we have made with others. We find ourselves always wanting to be seen in a positive light: the perfect mother, the ideal friend, the seductive lover, the slender or athletic body, the kind neighbor, the competent boss. In place of knowing the truth of who we are and what we want from our lives, we become trapped in images.” (Young-Eisendrath, Women and Desire: Beyond Wanting to Be Wanted, p.3)

Sound familiar?

 

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.