Monthly Archives: July 2014

Dear Beverly

*click on title for image

Dear Beverly,

Please excuse the impersonal formality of typing, but I am used to writing ideas in this way. Tapping fingers facilitate my thoughts, while holding a pen slows me down. This is a shame perhaps. Anyway, thank you for the unexpectedly quick reading of my manuscript, <em>Crystal From The Hills, and for generously giving your time to this project. Again, I am truly grateful.
I thought I’d respond to one or two items in your notes, starting with an explanation of the Shadow concept, as that seemed to intrigue you in particular. As you know, or heard from Letha, providing psychotherapy is my day job. Actually, it’s more like an afternoon and evening job, and writing generally starts around eleven at night and lasts for a couple of hours. That’s my life currently. For many years, I have been influenced by psychoanalytically-derived models of psychotherapy, though not specifically Jungian models. In Carl Jung’s concept, the Shadow is roughly equivalent to the Freudian unconscious, with a negative inflection. The Shadow represents the undesirable or denied aspects of self, but also the source of creativity.
A Jungian might interpret Chris Leavitt’s drama as follows: his “Shadows” represent the denied aspects of his self, both from Chris’ point of view, and that of society (It thinks him crazy). I wouldn’t quibble with the Jungian interpretation, but I see Chris more as a victim of recent and chronic trauma. Secrecy, as a way of being in relationships and preserving homeostasis, is simply transported into his present drama. Modern psychoanalysts observe trauma more directly than their Freudian forebears. They assert that survivors need witnesses, external or internalized; therapists or others who will not only acknowledge reality, but in so doing show caring, and hold individuals accountable for responsible action.
Chris is torn between his loyalty to those who compel secrecy, both past and present, and his hidden need for reality. Meanwhile, he hungers for an original “me” that once lived happily without conflict. That aspect of himself is frozen in time, unavailable to his adult self, which is why he craves a return to childhood, and distorts matters of time and age as if they were toys to be played with. Chris is still being bullied by peers. He still has difficulty sharing and playing with others. Like all victims of trauma, he needs witnesses, and though he has some (Aunt Jenny, and more serendipitously, Sweet, or even Costman, Aunt Jenny’s gardner), he is or has been swayed by darker, more powerful models: his ever secretive parents, the innocence subverting, misanthropic Weed. The shadows are witnesses of his own unconscious invention: there to mediate in the space where real-life witnesses have let him down. But it’s not a simple task. Before he can make healthy use of the shadows, he must decide if they are real and beneficent, or imaginary, or malevolent. I think this is the drama of CFTH: a man with an underdeveloped conscience externalizes his conflict, and plays out a war with himself.
Ultimately, I think he is a resilient character. The story’s climax delivers him into reality, where he needn’t further rebel against adulthood with childish action. There seems to be hope for him in the end as he contemplates a re-commitment to his working life, the possibility of working with kids, accessing the child in himself in a more flexible, wholesome fashion. Perhaps he will even have kids one day.
You’ve made numerous comments in the margins of the manuscript, all of which I appreciate. My attention is drawn to the need for a good copyediting, but also a reconsideration of diction in several places, and of ideas, or narrative fragments that are unnecessarily repeated. You also make several important comments about words, actions, and descriptions that seem to not fit the situations indicated. Or the words don’t fit the characters sometimes, especially in the case of Aunt Jenny. My re-write will incorporate this feedback.
You’ve asked about the target audience for the book. This is an area where I am currently getting feedback, both from friends and other writers. This weekend I will be attending a workshop in San Francisco that will focus upon marketing of writing. For the time being, I’ve considered that my audience will be youngish, interested in either mystery or psychological fiction, or the travails of substance users or the mentally ill. At the same time, I hope to find a way to pitch the novel so that readers can identify with Chris Leavitt; not just think of him as disturbed, separate, and therefore different from others. Many will know what it is to be traumatized, alienated or lost in an unconsciously functioning, toxic system, be it a family, a workplace, or a community at large. I think the book will speak to these readers, if I can reach them.

Thanks again. Sincerely,

Graeme Daniels

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Secrets

“A secret isn’t so much what is known or unknown. A secret is that which isn’t talked about.” I’m not sure what the reader will think of this quote. It’s not famous—not as far as I know. It is attributable to me—as far as I know—for I’ve never come across this idea being expressed in quite this way, by anyone else. I first wrote the line in 2006, for an article I wrote for a now defunct newsletter for my local chapter of EBCAMFT. At the time, I was applying a principle to the treatment of families enduring the psychological impacts of addiction; to the rules that govern communication within closed systems, resulting in alienation, broken attachments, and in therapy or drug treatment: aborted or stalemated progress in relationships.
Though not referenced explicitly in The Situation until the novel’s climax, the same principle pervades the emerging story, and even more so the backstory that’s contained in the novel’s predecessor, Crystal From The Hills. It starts with the backgrounds of individuals, within the psyches of shamefaced people that once raised my troubled protagonists, Chris “Crystal” Leavitt, and Bryan “Weed” Tecco. Chris, for example, was born to a couple who, like countless others, fell in and out of love before callow longings had even run their course. Love’s remainder, such as the birth and subsequent parenting of Chris, was a long, drawn out epilogue—the loss of narcissistic fusion was the quiet tragedy of both of their lives. Mother had a lover, Chris intuited, from a mysterious vase discovered in their home’s basement. His clue was the incipient appearance of a “Shadow”—a vision of a strange man in this case—positioned next to the vase, implicating an untold story with muted knowingness. Chris has been dogged by “Shadows”, at least intermittently, ever since, and like his future friend, Weed, has long since fashioned his own interpretations; extrapolated meanings he attaches to secrets and then applies to the workings of the world.
Secrets govern systems, I unoriginally explain in Working Through Rehab, my non-fiction about adolescents in drug treatment settings. Some systems, like gangs, or youth cliques, cannot be controlled, which is either a blessed phenomenon or a disturbing one, depending on your point of view. Kids, I discovered, quite ably police one another in the keeping of secrets. Snitches get stitches, they command, bullying without apology. Or else they threaten ostracism through ever increasing cyber-space sophistication. Few dare to break the no snitching rule, and few adults really know what to do about it, especially if they’ve lived by the same rule.
Ultimately, my fiction, like my therapeutic biases, extols the virtues of whistleblowers, led by a shadowy figure named Jules Grotius (the designer of the game “The Situation” and of course modeled after Julian Assange), and challenges those whose apparent solution to conflict is silence. The disclosure of secrets, and more importantly, my Grotius character’s pronouncement that the paradigm of public discourse must change for the social good, redeems the burdened history of those who have felt marginalized for seeing what they see, feeling what they feel within systems of all kinds: violent, non-violent; hierarchical; those pretending not to be hierarchical. In my life, I have craved belonging, or actually belonged, to various systems, units of society, all committed to one degree or another to unique, internal truths. These units have had different names: family, nation, school, team, club, clique, company, agency, men’s group, treatment team, couple; society. They’ve all had rules and self-proclaimed, distinctive virtues. They’ve all demanded conformity and punished separation. And they all have secrets.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Games

In Working Through Rehab, my non-fiction about kids and drug treatment, I feature a chapter entitled “Play Gone Wrong”, which draws attention to the corrupted pleasure-seeking that leads thousands, even millions of people into drug rehab programs each year. Life is full of games, games in which the rules break down and become bad games, play gone wrong. The phrase makes a cameo in The Situation, as the proposed and later rejected title of a book Bryan “Weed” Tecco has once written on the subject of role-playing video games: his area of expertise. Another cameo is that of an eight year boy, an abandoned child drifting in a hallway of an Oakland apartment building, playing old-fashioned games of cops and robbers, good guys and bad. In both The Situation and its predecessor, Crystal From The Hills, this child makes an appearance, calls for troubled adults to drop adult pretense and play his primitive games, on his terms and by his rules. But those games don’t last long. This kid is likely a future gamer; a drug user, or dealer, perhaps. Alone yet adult-seeking, he’s an attachment disorder in progress, a beta element in a bigger, darker game.
Halfway through The Situation, Weed takes a minute to describe his book, which he imagines—God bless him—that some will be moved to read. His literary polemic is a twenty-something’s take on a tired social commentary: that youth are becoming consumed by newfangled electronica, or worse, that a core of youth is desensitized by repeated exposure to violent themes in games like Grand Theft Auto, Call Of Duty, the Battlefield series, and so on. These games are becoming more popular than film or music, the previous major exponents of desensitization, the media reports. Violence continues to sell, but now it’s more interactive. The fourth wall is penetrated; the audience, once passive and merely ticket-purchasing, is seated at the console, in charge like it’s never been or felt before. Bryan Tecco is as skilled as anyone in this medium, and as such, has earned the right to say a few things, to disapprove from within the ranks. Well, within a speech aimed at Jill Evans, more or less the novel’s embodiment of feminine disapproval, he outlines the way things ought to be in the world of play: there ought to be more room for creativity, interaction…building things, performance. Killing is not where it’s at, where he’s at, he declares to her mild and pleasant surprise.
It’s a curious outcry from Weed, arriving as it does just before a watershed passage in which he pulls a firearm on one of his followers, and ultimately pistol whips him. Moments after, he’s performing donuts in a stolen vehicle, reveling in the kind of reckless driving that would belong in something like Grand Theft Auto. It’s the kind of hypocrisy that prevails when action films conclude with a hero’s plea for peace. For the record, I’d not grudge astute readers calling me out on the same duplicity. However, Weed, you might gather from the outset, has an edgy side to his character: not just pleasure seeking, not even profiteering, but something vengeful, something violent which subordinates a peaceful sensibility. In this way he still realizes his heroic potential, because the audience—his audience that is Jill or his peers, and perhaps you the reader—still like violence. Really. You don’t mind it, so long as it’s not entirely self-serving; as long as it stands up for something, for someone else, presumably someone weaker or less privileged, and doesn’t gratuitously inflate bank accounts. That’s how I cheated, in case you want to know. That’s how I wrote it, thinking you’d accept violence if you saw it in these terms, followed these rules. But please read until the end, because that’s where I change the rules
It also helps if my protagonist is an underdog, and a surprise underdog at that. Transcending his limitations—his un-athletic girth, his lack of Krav Maga knowledge, a reader’s prejudice borne of unflattering characterizations in CFTH—Weed shows that he is poised and capable in a fight; so much so that he inspires the supportive partnership of Jill who, despite her own nurturing front (she’s a nurse and habitual caretaker), activates her own aggressions (and she does know Krav Maga). That’s what circumstances often call for. That was the situation. That is the situation. But it’s not the way play ought to be.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Accidents

 

My twin novels, good friends Crystal From The Hills and The Situation (published 6/29) both begin with accidents—the same accident, but with different conclusions, different, uh, opinions as to what really happened on a last Wednesday in March. Someone died, says book number one, CFTH. Someone’s still alive, says the spoiling follow-up, bringing hope, or denial. Distortions. It’s a problem when two people experience the same event but come away with different ideas, different memories. What really happened? What really happens in drug treatment? In yet another book I claim to know the answer to that question. Who’s in charge? Who gets to decide the truth, the way things ought to be?

Accidents. They’re all accidents, the things that happen in life. They have to be, for to insist otherwise is to say that things are consciously determined: mapped out, overseen, foreseen, and taken care of. Are we being taken care of? When accidents happen, someone is meant to step in and mollify bad feelings, guilt and inadequacy—things we download somewhere between 2 and 5. Someone’s meant to step in and say everything’s okay when we break things or fall down. But what if they don’t? What if those grown ups are gone, or just preoccupied; depressed? We forget the early stuff, the wrongdoings of our bodies, the pre-sexual mistakes of bad touch, upsets in the crib; inexplicable, cosmic aloneness. Do we really want to grow up? Some, like my characters, don’t so they keep having accidents—violent, sexual, toilet-centered, water-based accidents—things that keep us young, hoping to be picked up and rubbed until feeling better. One protagonist’s parents gave him up early, passed him off to another couple, one that tried and still tries to love. The other one’s parents stuck around, but clearly had other things to do, and perhaps should have given him up, broken up with him like women tend to; let bossy yet formidable aunts take over; just disappear, maybe.

Give the kids a break. When they’re men, let them grow down and not up, just a little. “Gimme time,” says Chris Leavitt in hapless climax. It happens too fast, this life of responsibility and mission: like this opportunity that fell upon the lap of Bryan “Weed” Tecco at some point before the text of either novel. The flash drives, plural of drive, drove him to steal, and then head out on a doom-laden drive. Weed had a vision, just like Chris Leavitt, his friend, has visions, and the vision informed Weed that the video game he was expertly testing, “The Situation”, contained elements he recognized: these “Shadows” that the likes of he and Chris see on a regular basis, pointing out truths that no one is willing or able to speak of: about wrongdoings, what’s happening in the world; what ought to happen. Weed has a problem, a God-like problem. He foresees that fallout, the events that will unfold, subverting all that should happen. The problems start when Weed starts to plan: to steal the plans for “The Situation”; to lead his corporate security followers on a chase; to take his friend Chris with him for back up, as if that were something he needed. Maybe human beings should never try to plan things. You see, we don’t it well: planning. All things are just accidents…horrible, wonderful accidents.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Day in Symposium, Part Two

As I listened to several speakers champion the apparently threatened cause of drug treatment at the 2nd Annual Addiction Symposium in San Francisco, I wondered to what degree I was hearing cutting edge opinion. Conventional wisdom is that drug treatment should be thriving, with Parity Laws, Affordable Care Acts, and so on paving the way for expanded services: more spaces in outpatient programs; increased number of beds in hospitals. Third party payers must now think of addiction, or substance use disorders (as they are termed in the APA’s DSM V), as a disease, and therefore pay accordingly for its treatment. But programs aimed at specific professionals, such as doctors and nurses, are under threat, apparently. At least so-called “diversion” programs are threatened, though speakers thought the term “diversion” ought to be threatened (for reasons I didn’t really understand, I should add). Meanwhile, I wondered about the implications for a particular corner of the drug treatment industry, one in which I worked for fifteen years: namely, adolescent residential treatment.

When speaking of access to treatment for doctors, airline pilots, nurses, as well as adults in the general public, advocates tend to speak against discrimination issues: the problem of individuals being discharged from treatment programs because they relapse on drugs, or because they otherwise break program rules, fail to comply with medication regimens; because they exhibit the symptoms of their disease. The mocking that is directed at such intolerant discharges—the would you turn away a heart disease patient who has a heartattack? arguments—remind me of the similar yet more detached observations of journalist/physician Lonny Shavelson in his book Hooked. He likewise decried the strict rules of Therapeutic Communities, and lauded drug courts for working more flexibly with society’s most difficult cases, its most inveterate users. However, it’s strange to me that given the ubiquity of sanguine opinion at the level of medical leadership, that principals of adolescent programs, especially residential programs, don’t weigh in with some counterarguments: most notably, that relapsing substance users don’t just disaffect themselves as they continue to use drugs or refuse to take pills or go to therapy. Sometimes they spread drugs in a program, or threaten people, physically hurt people; harass people, verbally abuse people, staff and peers. Problem? Of course it’s a problem—a problem of safety. And it’s not a problem that can be resolved with a brief course of motivational interviewing, and so discharging—that “discriminating” act against the incorrigible—is not only appropriate for some, it’s necessary.

This issue of how to make treatment safe for everyone (especially kids) is one of the most important topics in my book, <em>Working Through Rehab: An Inside Look at Adolescent Drug Treatment</em>. Who am I to offer opinions? Who do I need to be? I am not a physician. I’m not a recovering drug addict, nor am I a long-suffering parent of a troubled teen. But I am a psychotherapist, and I worked for fifteen years in this complex rehab business that defies soundbites, pat summaries of phenomena. I compiled memories and opinion, and now offer for a concerned readership a nuanced view of what really happens in an average drug rehab.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Day in Symposium

 

Last weekend I attended the 2nd annual David E. Smith symposium on addiction medicine in San Francisco. It was a treatment star-studded event, featuring doctors mostly, plus a few therapists, addiction treatment advocates of various kinds, all congregating (and I sort of mean congregating) to celebrate Dr. Smith, who founded the Haight Ashbury clinics in the sixties, and to reflect upon trends in the addiction treatment industry, many political in nature, and dominantly extolling the disease concept while ignoring anything to do with harm reduction. From Dr. David Mee-Lee, there was an overview of addiction medicine placement criteria: a system designed to help providers assess afflicted individual’s needs and therefore place would-be patients in appropriate levels of care: residential, intensive outpatient, day treatment, etc. There were overviews of the history of addiction treatment and the various models of care, both medical and not, which featured familiar chestnut complaints: the “discrimination” that addicts experience across the spectrum of services, thus adversely impacting treatment outcomes; the ability or even the desire of individuals to access services. I’d heard much of this rhetoric before, which is not to say that it’s incorrect. Doesn’t society realize that addiction is a disease? Would you turn away or impugn patients who presented with cancer, just because they were manifesting the symptoms of that disease: denial, compulsive behaviors(s). You get the idea.

 

On day two, much focus was given to a review of programs specifically aimed at physicians and nurses: meaning, programs specifically designed for medical professionals who present with substance use disorders (“abuse”, dependency, and the range of “axis II” disorders are no longer indicated by the latest version of the APA’s diagnostic standards manual). Dr. Gregory Skipper cited his and others’ studies of the last decade (roughly) which indicated through 5-year follow up measures that these programs are quite successful in terms of treatment outcomes and lasting abstinence from substances. The program standards, as well as the profile of patients, are notable: taut definitions of relapse that provide behavioral guidelines and compel abstinence; urinalysis testing to provide accountability; workplace “monitoring” to assure lack of substance use in the workplace (which many doctors/patients found oppressive, if follow up surveys are anything to go by); mandatory attendance at 12-step meetings; physician-specific support groups to discuss things like the evils of medical boards, the terror of losing licenses.

 

One presenter joked that doctors don’t make good patients in drug rehab. Well, actually they do if these studies are an accurate reflection of what’s happening in these programs. At the symposium, these studies and these physician-specific programs were held up as models for how services might be aimed at the general population. They also serve as a rebuke to skeptics who claim that drug treatment does not work. As I listened to later case presentations, including a fascinating, psychoanalytically-influenced treatment of an adolescent in residential care, I wondered about the application potential of the physician-specific model. Adolescents, for example, have less power in society than adults, much less physicians. Dr. Michael Wachter and a therapist colleague of his spoke of a privileged and “pseudomature” teen whose parents seemed to have abrogated caretaking responsibilities, “empowering” their son with the rights of an adult versus placing age-appropriate limits. Treatment presented a childlike regression, but a reality-check in another sense—a watershed moment that disoriented the parents and teen, but which enabled subsequent growth. The rigor of treatment grounded the family in reality: “This is a 16 year old meth addict,” the therapist kept saying. Still, I asked Wachter if anyone thinks that what works for doctors might work for everyone else: can you imagine installing program elements akin to “workplace” monitoring for teens? What would that look like? Or, can you picture a homogenous interest or vocation-based support group for a population yet to decide upon its future—yet to feel what it has to lose?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized