Monthly Archives: January 2021


Timing. Time. When do you bring something up? Meaning, when do you bring something uncomfortable up? These are procrastinator’s questions, designed to preface rationalization, make okay that not saying something thing. Regardless of context, the beginning is an unpopular moment for the uncomfortable thing to say. It’s a losing strategy, destined to turn off customers, clients, would-be sexual conquests, or would-be non sexual conquests that are nonetheless ones to make nice with.

The dating ritual illustrates this principle most recognizably. Though we are intrigued by stories of bad first impressions, couples who first hate each other only to then…ya know, more standard, more ordinary are flashes of attraction that are flavored with toothy smiles, lingered eye-contact, adult cooing and humming sounds, followed by a stretches of forced politeness when the buzz starts to wear off. Takes us back, doesn’t it? To some previous time in our lives, I mean. No, I don’t mean the teen years necessarily, or the time you met your partner for life. Nor do I mean any of the other episodes that began similarly but didn’t work out with happy or unhappy sustaining. Actually, it would seem that the template of infancy is what matters here most. Nothing socially uncomfortable then, just a come-down from that grotesque ordeal that was arrival, followed by blurred vision, a hateful cold, plus an audience of intrusive gazes, all from people who’d been around for a while, having had the advantage of a head start. Yes, they’re happy to see you—too happy, in fact, as they won’t stop staring, opening their mouths, expecting an imitation, something that follows what they offer and makes them feel good.

Thank God we don’t remember that moment, that beginning. Good job that everyone kept it positive back then, not mentioning the difficult times. Everyone spared our feelings while we were seriously having feelings. If something’s not right in this spell the ones who’ve been around longer—the elders we’ll call ‘em—keep it to themselves, telling you the right things, making those faces and such. Quite rightly, they think you won’t get it, the uncomfortable thing that’s happening, or might yet happen. Still, they are pretending from the start, knowing the product (the world) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be but thinking you’ll glean something over time from sights and sounds, as if you’re already discriminating what’s good from bad. Isn’t it all bad, actually? I mean, it’s gotta be worse than that warm inside we once came from. Again, good thing we don’t remember these things, but that doesn’t stop us from repeating experiences. In fact, it’s because we don’t remember that we keep repeating; that way we might remember. We think. Repeating: it’s a human thing; it’s what we do. So, we don’t like new places, making adjustments. New places are invariably colder, less organized, disorienting. Okay, not always, and we do like novelty, quite contrarily. Shouldn’t be so negative because we don’t really know what we’re doing. Ha-ha. Funny, humor is meant to help with discomfort when we’re older. It…what’s the term…breaks the ice. See, told you things are cold at the beginning.

The truth of the uncomfortable needs time to settle in. We need time to develop, get used to the surroundings, find our feet (literally, once upon a time), and notice what the rules are. In the beginning there are no rules: that’s what’s so great about beginnings. We were just getting started, getting to know who is who, or who’s in charge of the goodies. It’s all good, not bad, actually. See, I’ve changed my mind, performed an apres-coup or something. You’re great, I’m great. That’s how it’s supposed to be, because we can barely grasp, or tolerate anything less than lies. That’s how it is in the beginning, when you start something, which differs from a later state of affairs when you choose to pass things by, look for options because you know more. I know. Originally, we had no choice in the matter. We were stuck with who we were matched with, who we emerged from. It’s not like we could swipe her or them, find those feet in no time, toddle on down to the maternity ward and hit on another candidate. We got what we got and we had to wait for the skills to embed before we could say something about it—you know, something about the uncomfortable.

We were beaten to it. The elders, the ones we got assigned to in the beginning, started telling us the uncomfortable stuff at some point. Timing. Did they pick the right time? I mean, we sort of brought things up first, but mostly in a wailing, chaotic way that cultivated their skills but often left us feeling understood, which taught us frustration, I suppose: a not good, as in uncomfortable experience, and we kinda brought that up. But our messages were facile, generally boiling down to a single word: more. We were omniscient, thought the world was our oyster, not even knowing what oysters were. Point is we weren’t very realistic. It was all about more: more milk, more holding, more sleep….more cooing love. This no, don’t, and stop stuff was confusing when it later arrived and took over after the first year. That negative, omniscience-diminishing stuff picked up and gathered momentum, and it didn’t stop as much as get interspersed with periodic yeses, go-aheads, or alright then expressions when the elders were tired or uncaring. Power. It seemed to come and go, and evolve; that is, it added complications, like feeling bad if getting our way, which was supposed to feel good—which only felt good in that first year—only to then alter, get poisoned by new concepts like guilt and shame. The elders: they later installed things that made things more difficult, though these things were meant to help in the long run.

And all this hasn’t stopped after a long run. We look back. When did it all really start? Well, no one seems to know when and how we all started getting primed for the uncomfortable, because it didn’t happen from the start. We’ve established that. When did we start having fuller experiences, as in a fuller range of feelings, like joy, fear, and frustration, which might all be there from the get-go, but also guilt, love, hate, fear, shame, and envy? All there, said Klein. Maybe Lacan. When did we start noticing how others felt? The theorists disagree, but this guy Schore who works his ass off gathering the studious work of neurobiological research once wrote that much of this starts happening towards the end of our first years. Towards the end of the first year of life: that’s when we really get birthed, we think. I think. Nine months, matching the gestation period in the comfortable. Go figure. And let’s take it one step further, because maybe this template fits all later phenomena: it’s how long before a fuller range of feeling can be understood and tolerated. It’s how long you should prepare before talking about problems in a relationship. Barring something even an infant might get in trouble for, it’s how long you should get on a job before getting fired. Nine: it’s the number of months that pass before you know anything.

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Charlie Brown and the circles in my mind

Holidays ordinarily bring life to a standstill. This one? This one climaxed a year of stand-stills: a year of lockdowns, restrictions, stop and start activity. No, don’t, and stop: that’s how I’ve explained to some the stage of toddlerhood, marked as it is by negativities that rudely follow the blissful, omniscient state of infancy.

             Are we toddlers? Have we awakened from a sleep-heavy first year—a year that stretches backwards, figuratively, Biblically, over an indeterminate spell—in which we take for granted that all needs will be taken care of. Or, if that’s not quite fair, we surely thought that our freedoms, our day-to-day activities would not be impeached: that our rights of assembly, to attend church services, concerts, sporting events; that our right to watch movies in the dark with others would be allowed. That no one would say of these pastimes…no, don’t, or stop.  I’m not complaining. In my work, the proscription meant that I couldn’t see patients in my office as I typically do; that I’d have to speak to them by phone, or else by Skype, or preferably by the break-out communication star of 2020, Zoom. And no one did insist that I couldn’t see anyone live. I did, and most of my patients cooperated, thankfully. It hasn’t been easy, this necessary deference to an unprecedented public health crisis. Some have struggled, and some have dropped out of therapy because the adjustments were too unpalatable, while others continue by phone or Zoom from their homes, of from the front seat of a truck, which has been uncomfortable for them, if required in order to maintain confidentiality.

             See, ordinarily that’s my job, to protect privacy. And when I can provide a nice, private office with thick walls and a white noise machine on the outside of them, it’s not a problem. But that wasn’t 2020, now gone (Thank God), though the restrictions persist. For how long? I don’t know. Vaccines beckon and therefore so does a return to the traditional therapy lair, but along the way something interesting has occurred. We, meaning most of us, adjusted. We, meaning myself plus my patients have gotten used to talking but not sharing the same space; to gazing across a screen, sometimes fretting that the “connection” is unstable, but mostly keeping contact. And sometimes it’s only contact, or it’s limited. It’s been harder deepening the process without the live presence, without the sense of two bodies and minds impacting one another, trapped (sort of) in the same physical space. But the work continues; the needs must persists, with people still needing to talk and feel listened to, with no one else listening in…hopefully. With privacy guaranteed or not, my patients keep coming, so to speak, to make use of what I offer, what I do.

             And I did what I did without much of a break, mostly because travel plans were thwarted throughout the year. I know. Poor me. With thousands losing their lives, and thousands more losing their jobs or businesses, I can hardly expect sympathy for simply not having much time off, but it is the reason why the Christmas break, carved out as it was with a five-day halt, felt so…disorienting. Something familiar: the end of the year often feels centrifugal, with days speeding up as though spinning like a reel towards a central pole—the end of something.  This year was that only with fewer trips to brick and mortar stores, though the gift-buying ritual was otherwise the same. But the Christmas Day halt was more stifling than ever. It felt like a grinding impasse in the form of digital overload, delivered food, and non-stop image entertainment. For solace and nostalgia, I bypassed cable TV offerings and reached into the past, unshelved my favorite DVDs, ranging from the lengthy, turgid, yet masterful Fanny & Alexander (or Christmas plus Hamlet in Sweden, as I like to call it), to the impish and whimsical Charlie Brown Christmas special.

             Historically, what I have liked about the famous 20-minute cartoon is its somber yet friendly depiction of children acting beyond their years, contemplating wintry loneliness, the needs of a group, plus sympathy for an underdog…a tree. Beyond that, I like to think of myself as being a bit like Charlie Brown: a bit lonely, a lot weary, like he has loads of responsibility, staring out of a window that he doesn’t own, gazing at snowflakes. Save for the fact that I own a mortgage and have actual responsibilities, this image fits my mood when I’m in a solipsistic and doleful state. What I don’t notice so much is the cartoon’s opening sequence, despite some wistful caroling that I do like, in which a minor character—an unnamed girl—skates on ice in flowing figure eights or circles. The camera follows her as she spins, carefree and skillful, away from a pack, but followed by Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s iconic, mischief-making hound. Circles. I notice as I noticed, or I noticed that I notice, that I think a lot about circles in a mythic, non-mathematic sense: see, it will be apparent to anyone who reads what I write (and that isn’t many readers, so far) that I think history, both personal and global, is circular. The problem, and the challenge, as I see it, is to perceive the incremental steps forward, and sometimes backward, when objects, including people, move circularly. No sentiment here. No optimism or pessimism, even. Rather, this is about a smidgen of truth within a platitude, and what is ultimately a trite piece of entertainment that has pedigree in some myths, events, and literature that I could mention, and many more that are outside the scope of my knowledge. But never mind that now. For now, amid dying 2020 and newborn 2021, I’ll stick with Charlie Brown and the circles of my mind.

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