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Treatment of hoarding induced trauma

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Standards Manual, Edition V (2013) reports that between 2 and 6% of the general population have a hoarding disorder. Once considered a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), hoarding is now regarded as a serious clinical condition co-morbid with diagnoses of depression, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorder, and sometimes psychosis given the delusional levels of denial that hoarders often present (Frost, Stekelee, Tolin, 2011). Hoarders engage in excessive acquisition of items, whether those items have real world value or not, as well as excessive shopping. This behavior often results in living environments that are seriously compromised, if not uninhabitable: blocked entrances and exits, leading to fire hazards; hygiene and safety problems resulting from the acquisition of consumer products, items of supposed sentimental value, plus a plethora of strange items, including trash and feces.

           Imagine the life of someone living with a hoarder. Imagine what it must be like to live in perpetual squalor, or to fear being trapped in the event of a fire or some other emergency, or more commonly, to lack space for one’s own personal belongings. Other consequences include: sleeping in beds that double as storage areas, or losing valuable items because they are buried or crushed beneath a hoarder’s accumulated belongings; discovering beloved animals neglected or deceased, or the discovery of unwelcome creatures, such as rodents.  Imagine having one’s entire household space or the interior of vehicles rendered unusable, unsafe or unhygienic. Partners and other family members are the invisible and sometimes buried victims of hoarding behaviors. Invisible because while traditional treatments for hoarding behaviors have focused clinical attention upon the perpetrators of hoarding, they have focused much less so upon supportive or instructive interventions for or on the behalf of impacted loved ones. Within existing treatment models, there is no established diagnostic criteria nor intervention strategy for the treatment of hoarding induced trauma (HIT), a condition based upon discovery of PTSD symptoms related to similar acting out disorders, such as sex addiction, leading to treatment models like sex addiction induced trauma (SAIT) (Minwalla, O., 2012)

This is a serious omission in the field of obsessive compulsive disorder treatment. Treating the problem of hoarding simply as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even as a disorder co-morbid with mood, anxiety or psychotic disorders, while avoiding the proper diagnosis and treatment of the accompanying abuse of others, constitutes a significant area of clinical neglect. The perpetration of hoarding behaviors entails much more than the pathologically excessive acquisition of items. The condition further entails the maintaining of an elaborate thought system that compartmentalizes a protected reality, a routinized impingement upon a partner or family member’s living space, plus a manipulation of such victims’ reality. Hoarding perpetrators hide belongings in obscure or secret spaces, deceiving others as to the extent of their hoarding behaviors. They make false promises about cleaning unhygienic surfaces, or tidying cluttered spaces, without follow-up on such promises. Alternatively, perpetrators invoke false rationales, such as casting spilled garbage as ‘compost’ merely awaiting appropriate elimination, or normalizing lack of hygiene by comparing the accumulation of feces in common areas to implicitly virtuous, eco-friendly ‘dry toilets’ such as those prominent in emerging world economies. Or, they declare disingenuously that items unused or placed in inaccessible areas will be “used at some point in the future” and must therefore be kept in their existing, congested spaces. However, when real attempts are made by others to tidy or clean household areas, perpetrators regress from glibly-stated organizational goals, are prone to bullying behaviors, which they subsequently deny and indeed project onto their plaintive loved ones, ever assuming the role of victim rather than accepting responsibility. These calculated rather than compulsive tactics result not only in frustration for others, but also a sense of betrayal and confusion, plus a feeling of being gaslighted in a world of relational danger.

Meanwhile, if the rationales employed by perpetrators seem bizarre, the underlying motives for hoarding behaviors may seem entirely inexplicable. This is another area of clinical neglect in the treatment of hoarding behaviors. Though Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been shown to reduce symptoms of hoarding behavior (Gillman et al, 2011), there is little evidence that such approaches unearth the compartmentalized realities protected by perpetrators. These realities include deep feelings of emptiness that are self-medicated by excessive accumulations; distorted and excessive self-identifications with personal belongings, or the behavior of clinging to objects as a symbolic substitute for unresolved abandonment depression. Existing treatment models do little to explain such dynamics to either perpetrators or their impacted loved ones. Instead, partners and other family members are told they have “enabled” perpetrators, become “co-hoarders” by providing or perpetuating the kind of living environments that make possible accumulating behavior. This is like telling a burglary victim that he or she has enabled a thief, become a “co-thief”, via the practice of homeownership and consumerism in a capitalist society. Otherwise, partners and family members are simply encouraged to be patient with hoarding perpetrators, or they are coached to not yell at or criticize them, as if protecting the hoarder from feelings of shame or decompensation were the paramount, if not exclusive purpose of treatment.

Such approaches fail to address the hoarder’s lack of awareness about the real-world impact of their behavior. They express little about the intrapsychic, familial and social underpinnings of hoarding behavior, such as anal personality structure, or gender-based subversive/oppositional reactions to patriarchal norms of property ownership. Perpetrators erect alongside their hoarding behaviors a complex conscious and unconscious system of relational reality that perpetuates a pattern of abuse upon loved ones that is tantamount to human rights violations. A perpetrator’s interior/exterior reality is translational, crosses physical and symbolic relational boundaries in a manner that Laplanche (2005) describes. Living in a psychic vacuum, needing a vacuum of another kind, they induce a like interior/exterior reality in others. Their system of behavior and psychic manipulation denies fair allocation of space to others, not to mention filling space that could be made available to visitors, resulting in social isolation plus the exclusion of outsiders, potential residents, immigrants. It places loved ones in danger while imposing upon overpopulated or housing-limited communities a cruelly ironic waste of personal and collective space.

The hoarding induced trauma (HIT) model is a directive, didactic, and intensive clinical method designed to galvanize awareness in a perpetrator of a complex and destructive pathology. Coordinated clinical intervention with individuals and families, coupled with psychiatric intervention to contain psychotic symptoms, is designed to outline thirteen different areas of distinct trauma suffered by victims of hoarding behaviors, and to confront the intersection of hoarding, personality disorder and distorted social constructs that perpetrators typically exhibit. The hoarding induced trauma (HIT) model aims to comprehensively address and treat the abusive impact of that pathology upon all who live with this terrible disorder. 


American Psychiatric Association, (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition). Arlington, VA. American Psychiatric Publishing.

Frost, A., Stekelee, G., Tolin, A. (2011). Comorbidity in Hoarding Disorder. Depression and Anxiety. October 3: 28(10). 876-884.

Gillman, C.M., Norbury, M.M, Villavicencio, A., Morrison, S., Hannan, S.E., Tolin, D.F. (2011). Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Hoarding Disorder: an open trial. Behavior Research and Therapy, 49 (11), 802-807.

Laplanche, J. (2005). Freud and the Sexual: Essays 2000-2006. Transl. J. Fletcher, J. House, and N. Ray. New York: International Psychoanalytic Books, 2011.

Minwalla, O. (2012, July 23). Partners of Sex Addicts Need Treatment for Trauma. The National Psychologist.

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Pedro and Graeme, part two

So, we ask senior analysts: do you really want to know all the shit we want to say to you as parents/instructors, objects? Maroda (2022) suggests there’s something of a “developmental tilt” phenomenon happening here: Are senior analysts truly responsive to the patient’s needs, or might developmental deficit theories allow a senior analyst to identify with the patient who lacked early nurturing, thereby bypassing that person’s threat as a voracious adult? We can be seen as eager children, but with strong limits defined, we are called upon to perform “mature tasks” as analysts – not something in the realm of the good-enough. What do supervisors want here? This creates a confusion (Ferenczi, 1933) that is only solved if you are seen doing the work the way you are told to do the work, which subjects a clinician to projective identification, because a supervisor can identify with a protoge and be satisfied. In one of our institutes, an ongoing joke circulates about an analyst who thought she was told ad verbatim to tell her patient that what he wanted was for her to “water his balls” like someone would water plants to make them grow. This was a message that a supervisor told the analyst in a humorous and contemplative moment, though what unfolded was an equally humorous incorporation of the supervisor figure rather than an internalization of his thoughts and analytic stance. The analyst actually spoke the supervisor’s exact formulation to the patient, who not surprisingly got up and left, outraged. Examples like this reflect an eagerness to please the adult/parent/supervisor as a vulnerable child would, perhaps even mimicking a supervisor’s expressions. Moreover, supervisors sometimes use their supervising hour to relax between their own clinical sessions, which may create moments where they speak more freely.

So, are principals at institutes going to allow newcomers to change things? Or should we, the newcomers, simply do as we are told? One of us had a one-time consultation with an experienced senior foreign analyst. After discussing eroticized aspects of transference-countertransference pertaining to the case, he commented that we’d have a hard time explaining what was going on in that case to another senior analyst without that person becoming suspicious of acting out behavior within the case’s treatment. Regarding supervision, the foreign analyst observed: “You will have to dance the dance”. Not exactly “fake it until you make it”, but maybe “fake it until they think you make it”.

How false might a professional self become in this kind of atmosphere? Stumbling, hesitant, overworked, we hold fast to illusions, as Winnicott (1951) suggested, of a mediated space between ourselves and our objects, between inner and outer worlds, of fantasy and play, that would serve us well in our training. The capacity for illusion formation enables creativity, makes us participate well, be flexible in our thinking, not fixed in ideas, serving a false position of delusion. We’ve kept hope. Things changed during training without us noticing. Now we might differentiate from former supervisory figures and alter how we separate from objects. We might observe a shift in how we relate to our patients, especially upon their leaving us. We’d feel excluded, dropped even as we eventually let them go, but with more equanimity, perhaps. We’re not the primary objects after all, Steiner (2008) reminds us. 

Disillusionments. Disappointments. We can be rejected yet—in short, fail—or else we can be told “no” with respect to various requests or demands, or worse still, we can be told to wait, or to endure perennial tasks, extra consultations, more work and learning. There is always more, we’ve thought greedily and warily, and it will all seem like a privilege if there is a carrot of acceptance, plus something more still, at the end of a non-linear process. We understand that this doesn’t happen to everybody. The prosaic, tacit basics of inclusion and exclusion: surely, not everyone is enfolded into the analytic community and thereafter practices happily as psychoanalysts. There have always been runts in classes, outliers in groups, haven’t there? We think psychoanalysis doesn’t serve the delusion that it’s different in this respect, though Tucket et al (2008) report that at psychoanalytic federation conferences training analysts speak of their reluctance to reject members, thinking it tantamount to professional murder. Well, it seems we give and receive a taste of blood along the way: fielding reviews with comments that paint with broad strokes and linger in our neurotic minds; meanwhile, we push back with anonymous online feedback, suggestions for how seminars can be improved. 

Some amongst us have been more ambitious, having extended their disappointments and their capacities for illusion to the realm of social unconscious. At the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, a faction of students and faculty collaborated in 2021 on what they’d topically call the Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF) Report. Seventeen pages deep, the report lamented what it termed the “realization that we are implicated in creating an organization that many would identify as racist and elitist. We feel very deeply that this is not who we are or what we are about”. Established in June 2020 amidst the furor surrounding the killing of American citizen George Floyd, the ARTF sought to review policies of the center’s psychoanalytic education division, its procedures and standards, to identify areas of exclusion, inequity, inaccessibility, and racism, and to make recommendations for changes necessary to become an equitable, accessible, inclusive, diverse and anti-racist psychoanalytic community. Among the report’s findings were criticisms of an overly subjective application procedure that rendered applicants susceptible to interviewer bias; that application forms lacked explicit statements regarding anti-racist policies, and that requirements for participation were too rigorous.  

More specifically, the report challenged the use of ambiguous terms like “suitability” and “analytic process” in policy statements, plus the lack of clear and transparent guidelines for admissions as well as the tracking of candidate progress within the program; that step-by-step procedures for recognizing bias in the assessment of candidates were lacking, and that no procedures determined the efficacy of requirements that diverged from those of The American Psychoanalytic Association (ApsaA) or the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA). Within weeks a faculty response was published, bristling in defense of program integrity, and providing data that disputed the ARTF’s premise that recent admissions trends reflected a lack of racial diversity. The call for more transparency, plus so-called “objective” standards further seemed to offend the sensibilities of some. Amid the distance of the contemporaneous Covid crisis, murmurings across Zoom calls bemoaned this would-be “reification” of training standards, plus a general atmosphere of “calling out”, which seems to live in binary opposition to a fear of being called out. Some kind of illusion was under threat. Suddenly, it seemed that an analytic stance of “not knowing”, of neutrality, might be re-cast as hapless denial, or worse, a form of ethical cowardice. In seminars, presenters speak of not knowing, evincing an ethic of humility and calm, speaking to the presumedly like-minded about the value of an analyst’s discomfort. Ultimately, we stir over an aggregate of critiques, challenges, some that insult, others less so, that cut back and forth across contexts. Today, we wonder how many will have noticed the altered flavor, the audacities of candidate complaints pushing back—the upped ante of illusion and disappointment. 


Ferenczi, S. (1939/1988). Confusion of Tongues Between Adults and the Child. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 24:196-206

Freud, S. (1913) On Beginning the Treatment. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 12: 121-144

Gabbard, G.O., & Ogden, T.H. (2009) On Becoming a Psychoanalyst. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 90: 311-327

Junkers, G., Tuckett, D., & Zachrissson, A. (2008). To Be or Not to Be a Psychoanalyst. Psychoanalytic Inquiry 28: 288-308

Maroda, K. (2022). The Analyst’s Vulnerability. London and New York:Routledge.

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Pedro & Graeme, part one

This entry presents memories of training, plus ideas of what training could be. It is grounded in the experience of two analytically oriented clinicians from different countries, with variable training methods and institutional cultures. It is also premised in the idea that psychoanalytic practice is born of rigorous learning, affording patients a deep exploration of their inner lives. It assumes that all psychoanalysts were once candidates in training, and analysands before that, and must learn their discipline with patience, diligence, and courage. Training is therefore the most important aspect of Psychoanalysis. 

Perhaps. Some questions contaminate this supposition. What is the quality of instruction in an accredited program, of supervision? What is the quality of experience within an analytic community that is reflective of localized cultures but not necessarily the broader world that psychoanalysis inhabits. How rigorous are the standards for completion of analytic training, and are those standards changing in some institutes, and for what reasons? Further, is the training experience, locked as it is within a protracted evaluation process, a true preview of the analytic identity, or “voice” that a candidate is encouraged to develop but might not truly develop until after qualification as an analyst occurs (Gabbard & Ogden, 2008). Moreover, seminars, supervision, and evaluation may restrain the gestation of that holy grail that is psychoanalytic identity. That such questions exist suggests a learning experience that invites illusions only to then dissemble them, yielding a pool of psychoanalytic professionals left to their own devices. They have learned theory, become skilled in technique, aware of countertransference reactions as if they were the names of their own children—or so they wish. They have accepted and endured the limits and disappointments of training that mirror the limits and disappointments of psychoanalysis.  

We recall the admonitions of old supervisors, such as one who, in an early seminar, suggested why the process of analysis would be explained in plain terms to analysands, emphasizing the basic recommendations ala Freud (1913), but not what might later unfold.  “You don’t want to know how sausage is made,” the supervisor quipped, implying that exposure to ideas would not only disappoint, but elicit revulsion. Psychoanalysis, we inferred, could get ugly. We recall another senior analyst offering a parody of informed consent: “What sort of person would say that they have read and understood provided information about treatment and had taken the opportunity to ask questions; that they understand their participation to be voluntary and that they are free to withdraw at any time, without giving a reason and without cost. Would they consent if they heard the specialist saying that they might regress to an almost infantile state, that they might find out that part or even most of their lives has been lived as if it were a lie, or that such discoveries would happen in a context where there is no guarantee of improvements (Ferenczi, 1933), and that the process itself might take unexpected turns during an unpredictable duration.

We’ve wondered if we’d be as jolted in our training, given our generally less naïve advancement. After all, we’d arrived at a point in our careers, thinking ourselves ready for a deepening experience. We had undergone several interviews when applying to our programs, explaining to numerous individuals why we wanted to become psychoanalysts. These interviews are the early rites of psychoanalytic training. Under the auspices of standard, we’d come to understand criteria for accepting candidates, like one’s “recognizing the existence of the unconscious”, or the need to demonstrate the “non-existence of too strong splits in personality”. We believe that the anxiety derived from such cloudy requirements can help an interviewer look at an interviewee as being capable (or not) of using the idea of the unconscious in a technical way, or simply as an intellectual idea.  We may not have been ideal candidates ourselves, but we might ask, what are ideal candidates for psychoanalysis? We might not be what institutes want, but are the institutes themselves good enough for us?

At some point we met our fellow candidates and felt varying degrees of envy and competition amid the genteel veneer of mutual respect. We had been accepted, but upon our path forward we would be vigilant about standards of instruction, or the openness of a program’s mini-culture to our influence, not just that of established pastimes. We would complain if instructors seemed to assume that we didn’t know much. We liked to think we had arrived at the Lyceum and had earned the right to be admired, even if we had braced ourselves for a humbling journey. At times, we’d think of ourselves as critics of psychoanalysis, not students. We may not have known how sausage is made, but we had our own ideas, and felt intoxicated by the initial encouragements, all those hearty welcomes and acknowledgements. Peers more senior to us, as well as volunteer mentors, made us feel at home, and reassured us whenever something unknown and strange occurred that the container of training was solid. We found our feet, but kept losing them afterwards, and soon thought this the new normal.

At these moments, further questions surfaced: Were we expecting an unconditional acceptance of the doubts and hesitations that we brought with us as candidates? Had we found a cozy place as we had on our analysts’ couches? One of us initiated his analysis five years before his training started. Is that a significant variable to look at? If a neurotic transference is established and the therapeutic alliance is firm, expecting to find a merely comfortable place is likely inappropriate. But that’s not what happens anyway. We’re not patients when we meet the senior analysts that interview us for training. We are would-be candidates, future members of the institutes that they have invested their time in and worked for. It may seem a hard rite of passage, this interview process, and concordantly, some candidates may be seeking families/communities at the institutes to which they apply. And so, as we experience disappointments, are we free to make them known, for it seems to us that there’s a deep interdiction when it comes to addressing senior analysts with our disappointments. These are the people who assess us, who will validate our ability to work with, and specifically treat people that need help, and that’s a very hard and serious task. Also, there’s an analogy here to a feeling that permeates parenthood: moments when parents have their children go through something that they feel they failed at or struggled to do at corresponding times in their lives.

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Pit Bull Eva

“The same object doesn’t have fixed colors”


“The laws of beauty do not lay in the laws of nature. You can paint it whatever color you like”


“You don’t care anymore?”

“It’s not that. Sorry, I’m distracted. My friend’s child got mauled by a dog yesterday, a pit bull. The child’s injuries aren’t life-threatening, but there’s scarring. A surgery’s planned. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“The scarring. It’s inside and out”

“No doubt. Anyway, red is the only color I can think of today—red, for hate. I hate dogs”

Sylvia parted from Renee, her older brother, moments later, though he promised he’d be back. He was just taking a break. He often took breaks. He would leave now, satisfied, at least understanding Sylvia’s latest bout of torpor. Semi-predictably, near-routinely, she was erratic in her endeavors: At times, she had bursts of creativity, producing numerous pieces ready for exhibition. Then she’d stop, or rather freeze, with every action, every thought even, subject to equivocal pondering. In her art, she liked the idea of an intuitive process, yielding pieces of imagery tied to random thought that would acquire, or not sometimes, context over time, though not without thorough examination. As Renee sauntered towards the exit of her downtown loft, Sylvia called out, thinking her random thought a gift to him.

“Think I’ll paint a portrait of dogged human power—a woman named Eva—Eva Peron, maybe.”

Renee glanced over his shoulder, returned a wry, appreciative grin. Or was it a controlled smirk, signifying concern for his sister’s whimsy?

“Is that an expression of hate?”

“Hmm…partly. Maybe hate transformed, turned to activism”. Now she gave a sly, ambiguous smile: “Do something productive, right? Turn a negative into a positive?”

Renee turned to leave. Once outside the apartment, he dashed down the stairs of Sylvia’s building, taking mental note of its thinly concealed flaws, its just-this-side-of-disrepair quality. It would still be overpriced, he thought, and Sylvia would barely take notice, consumed as she was by impractical, aesthetic matters. Their father would shake his head if he knew—if he were allowed to visit—for he would do nothing but scrutinize the structural flaws of Sylvia’s building. He wouldn’t indulge anything to do with her artwork, except perhaps to inquire when her next exhibition would be and whether she’d make any money off of it this time. Renee’s sensibilities lay somewhere in between those of his father and sister. As a psychologist, he had situated himself in the middle, at a murky halfway point amidst the material world and the realm of art. It was difficult locating himself. He was ever around, ever available, but ever quick to get away and find space. In this way, he was like Sylvia, and their mother, as he came to think of her. She had died in her early thirties, when Renee and Sylvia were preteens. She’d had cancer, was a dogged provocateur of rigid people and their rigid establishments. Like Eva Peron.

Their mother loved their father, but didn’t like him, it seemed—didn’t like her strange choice of a stolid, unapologetic industrialist, a rich man who acted as if ruining the lives of people would make them love him, or at least follow him. Need equals love. The choice had made their mother sick, Renee thought: first mentally, then fatally. Mental illness. It starts in the body. That’s what his education and training had taught him. It returns, he believed, mourning. Repressed desire. Social ills. As Renee left his sister’s neighborhood, shedding its grey and urban, working-class residue, thoughts turned to the revolution he had not joined, only observed from a distance. He drove back to his leafy suburban home in his sturdy, cost-efficient Prius and thought of modest compromises, modest living. He’d make subtle adjustments, taking in his sister’s influence, his mother’s muted memory, but eschewing the radical departures both women had made. A free clinic? Sorry Wilhelm Reich, or even Sigmund Freud. Not working in one of those. A sliding scale? A county services contract with a lesser hourly fee. Yeah, okay. Next, he thought of a woman he’d been dating recently, kept offering him a pill or a gummy bear. MDMA. CBD. Had therapeutic value, she insisted. Surely, he agreed, being a professional. The former was aphrodisiac, she added flirtatiously. He conjured Reich’s orgone boxes, the “orgasmatron” from that Woody Allen film, with Diane Keaton smoking a cigarette after a thirty second immersion. Things weren’t like how they were envisioned a century or fifty years ago. Today, it’s about pharmaceuticals, not magic enclosures, mock sci-fi contraptions.

The substances were meant to mellow them out. Well, they mellowed him out, not that he needed any more of that. He got more of that, too much of that. His date? The flirtation escalated, got aggressive. Rough nails felt like claws. There were teeth in her kisses. He pulled back, glanced at a necklace that was meant to entice but looked instead like a dog collar. “Sorry”, he said, not feeling it thereafter. He was supposed to see her again tonight, was thinking of texting her, begging off with some excuse. His sister’s ill, needs him. It wouldn’t sound convincing. The date would question his backsliding, suggest that he chill out, loosen up his body armor, relax. Relax. He couldn’t, at least not like that. Too dangerous, to let go like that. Too much at stake. Others can chill out, choose what colors to paint objects while he just continued with everything the way it was, with no variations, no new information or changes in the way things are. “It’s her phobia,” he’d say, regarding Sylvia. “She can’t help the panic attacks. She can’t stop the meltdowns when she sees a dog nearby. It’s her neighbor apparently, and they’re not even supposed to have them in her building. A pill wouldn’t help. I’ve gotta go to her, don’t know long it will take. See, I’m the only one who understands because I’m the same way, only calmer. It’s about dogs. We both hate dogs.”

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The worst things you can do

There’s a sequence within the Netflix series The Sandman that I thought was, ya know…worth writing about. David Thewlis has quietly been one of my favorite actors for over a generation now. I remember him as a rising star in the 90s, playing the main character in Naked, a Waiting For Godot-like play on film about an itinerant, intellectual, conspiracy-minded bitter man. He played a less anti-hero like figure opposite Brando in H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau; andlater, he was excellent if lost in a crowd within the Harry Potter series;of more personal interest, he was rumored at one point to play Pete Townshend in a long-mooted film about Keith Moon. Incidentally, he would also have made a great Johnny Rotten (ne Jon Lydon), the great punk/Sex Pistols icon. A terrific actor, he’d be a star if he was better looking. Anyway, in Sandman he plays John Dee, a version of Doctor Destiny from the Marvel series, though in Sandman he is the bastard son of magus Roderick Burgess, is in possession of main character Morpheus’ precious ruby and protection amulet, and in the fourth or fifth episode of the series is an itinerant figure also, having escaped from a psychiatric hospital.

Nevermind so much how all of that came into being. What concerns me here, as in the point of this entry, is a touching and thought-provoking side-plot involving the Dee character and a good Samaritan who nearly runs over him in the street and then offers him a ride, having first deemed him frail and unthreatening. Indeed, he certainly looks that way, and his genteel Englishness furthers the underdog image. Rosemary, the kindly black woman who finds Dee sympathetic, is herself a genuine innocent. Saying she’s heading the same direction, she engages him in conversation as she drives, at first thinking that Dee is a kindred spirit. They confide in each other, reflecting upon harsh upbringings, untrustworthy others, assuming a shared spirit of victimhood and survival. Dee is an able and compassionate listener when Rosemary shares tough luck stories involving men: for example, she was abandoned by the father of her children, and thus left to raise them alone as a poor, working woman. Hearing this, Dee gushes disgust at footloose, wayward men, to which Rosemary concludes, “he was a liar”, in reference to the man in question. Then she adds, “I think lying is the worst thing you can do to a person”, setting up the ironic mini-drama that follows.

Dee’s lamenting ear is authentic, but he unwisely speaks of his own psychiatric commitment and other problems when it is his turn, confessing even to murder at some point, which stills Rosemary. Suddenly, she is re-thinking her earlier pronouncement about liars, believing she has erred in being drawn by Dee’s dithering charm and realizing with mounting horror that there are actually some things worse than an unfaithful husband. Now her needy passenger seems self-absorbed and sinister, like a serial-killer or something, so as Rosemary continues to drive with him ensconced in her back seat, she attempts surreptitious maneuvers with her phone, seeing if she can reach out for help. Soon, a better option occurs to her as she approaches an isolated gas station and thinks to stop and solicit help from a clerk. By this point, Dee has begun to suspect that his increasingly quiet driver and listener has changed her tune, so as she steps towards a station shop, saying she must pay inside for gas, he asks to join her, not quite sure he can trust this good Samaritan after all. Moments later, unaware of Dee’s special powers, which include being able to cause attackers to bloodily explode (a grotesque outcome that is suggested visually but not wholly shown), she asks a predictably terse yet responsive clerk to call 911. Instead, as Dee attempts to escort Rosemary outside the shop, the brutish man behind the counter pulls out a firearm and threatens to shoot. Unfortunately for him and Rosemary, a display of Dee’s power becomes necessary and is carried out, so as they exit the store, leaving behind a grisly scene, Dee admonishes Rosemary, “you shouldn’t have done that”.

Fortunately for Rosemary, Dee has no axe to grind with her, and besides, as he soon explains, he understands why people behave in deceitful ways, why they lie. People are scared, he decrees, empathizing if not exactly pleased with her action. He may have intended a life lesson for his worthy now-hostage, but he soon lets her go, determined to continue a separate mission and not needing Rosemary anymore. In fact, he gifts her the protective amulet he’d taken from his mother earlier, which Rosemary accepts warily, not sure how to make use of it but grateful for Dee’s mercy and parting wisdom. As the two characters separate, the viewer is left with the impression that Dee might trust her once again were they to meet in another context. He even implies as much, so she and us are left with a further message about truth being an ideal, but one that is hard to achieve, which previews the following episode which is entirely about that theme. However, we’re also left with the idea that mitigated judgement for liars is reserved only for those whom we think really have something to fear. For anyone listening to the subliminal meanings of Sandman (not to mention most horror stories, plus little things like cable news and social media), but also the thread of essays that have adorned this blog over the last year or so, that privilege doesn’t apply to a lot of people. It doesn’t apply to sex addicts, for example; it doesn’t mean anyone who has broken promises, the tacit agreements of intimate commitment. Why? It’s nothing to do with modern sexual mores, actually. Rather, it means that human beings basically expect one another to be honest in their daily affairs, with one another—whether they actually live up to this standard or not. But because we created something we call society, and therefore filter thoughts and feelings through a social unconscious, fear is not just a primal state of mind but a modernized neurosis which is subject to our permissions. Fear has become a prerogative.

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The Big Hand of Intromission

A man looks down upon a moth that is fluttering above a carpet surface.

I’m thinking of something I don’t know. I’ve heard of enigmatic messages, and more specifically of something called intromission, as there is nothing happening here that can be called a tenderness. It is simply a reference point to an unknowable moment. My feeling is cold, detached, and tender in the broadest sense because of the gap between my life and that of an imminent victim. A notion of anal-sadistic objects comes to me, cut from a slice of film from memory—an hoary Spanish drama featuring cruel children beating upon a legless cripple, captured upon grainy black and white celluloid. Luis Bunuel: what a childhood he must’ve had to think this was worth expressing. Back to the moth. The fluttering, oblivious creature is an already defined, pre-digested figure. It has no meaning beyond its lesser form, its already brokenness, so the impending cruelty lacks meaning. It, the crushing sudden death, will make no sense to it. Its life will be reduced to a supposed nothing, but its life’s meaning only makes sense as part of a multitude. As part of a species, the moth has a purpose. Alone, separate from its group, its pack, it is asking for its own end.

What was the story here? Why did it separate from its familiar others, and is this what moths do? A scientist would know. This is the kind of question, after all, that scientists do know. If not, they’ll at least have a specific name for the kind of scientist that knows things about moths. Well, it seems to have been searching for food. Nothing surprising there. Don’t blame you, pal. Been there, done that. Feeling peckish myself, though you’re not my type, actually. Anyway, I get it. Sometimes, you have to stray from home, from the breast, to find that sticky globule of sugar on the floor, that crusty residue of bread. Everything that lives has gotta eat, even in the face of death. Last supper, and so on. The difference with us humans is that we think we know when death’s coming. Yeah, we know because we’ve noticed our brethren hit the ground and not get up; some of us have seen them close their eyes and not open them again. At times, if unlucky, we’ve seen one another get eviscerated, annihilated—blown or torn to pieces, and disappear, rendered meaningless. That’s how it seemed when I witnessed something like that in my life. In the human world that’s called trauma. It’s called trauma because we’re invested with something called memory.

You’re lucky, I suppose, watching you enjoy your last meal. You don’t have memory, or fear. You can’t. You probably don’t even have pain. You’re virtually broken, a nothing. This will mean nothing to you, what I’m about to do. Above all, you won’t understand what’s happening, even when you perceive the looming threat in that split-second in which you attempt flight. It will be too late because I have been patient in my cruelty. I have hovered my hand over you and slowly descended to the point in which the final, decisive strike can be made. You have not noticed soon enough. You have been enjoying your meal, your short life and all of its pleasures, and your reflexive, signal danger mechanisms that ordinarily served you to this point have let you down. It’s okay. This was meant to be. You are small, insignificant, and a nuisance, and though it seems gratuitous, I must establish my control, my dominion over this space. See, I imagine that your brethren will be watching off to the side, taking note of the warning. Or not, if they’re as stupid as you—if they’re not paying attention, not learning about power, un-sentient and thus unaware of individual life. Alright, enough of this. This has already taken up enough time in my day. Life goes on. Well, mine will, at least. So long, pal. Try to relax when you notice what’s happening. Your short, brutish life was predestined, and maybe its point will make sense to you at some point. It’ll…wait, what’s that falling down towards me. It’s darkening and huge and…getting bigger. What the

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The Who hits back

Went to see The Who again a couple of weeks ago. Last time? Dunno. They seem to keep coming back, “hitting back” according to the slogans of their latest tour, long, so long after I thought they’d retire. Hitting back on what? I mean, when their tour was announced I thought, really? What’s this about? Money? All those stray musicians needing gigs, plus all that equipment languishing in a warehouse in West London? Legacy? Not wanting the pandemic to end your career for you? Well, I’ll say this: it’s not just a sad, aging cabaret act, which is what I’d feared they’d become once upon a time. Pete Townshend is playing at least as well as he did in 16’ and 17’, the last time(s) I saw them. They were about as good on this night as they were in 04’, the previous outing I’d seen before that—backing orchestra or no backing orchestra. He, Townshend, was already sporting a late-middle age demeanor on that prior occasion: a curmudgeonly genius, then reeling from a child-porn viewing scandal that has tainted him with some—and surely blown his chance at get a knighthood—but it seems to have blown over with most fans. Why? Well, for one thing, because he’s everything his eternal advocate, Roger Daltrey, keeps saying of him: he’s brilliant, ageless, and sturdier than most ever thought he was.

Daltrey’s even sturdier, having taken better care of himself than Townshend ever did—perhaps better than any septarian ever did. He always ate right, drank little, exercised well, and has had lots of sex**. Are they as good as ever? Of course not, though at 77 and 78 respectively, Townshend and Daltrey are a model for any aging performer, especially those of the R n R variety. But lest anyone get lost in delusion, they have long since dispensed with the acrobatics, the insane volume, or the anarchic sub-professional habits and attitudes that once brought them fame but also threatened their careers and lives. As any fan of theirs knows, their original drummer, Keith Moon, rode his talent and reckless personality into the ground over forty years ago, succumbing in the late seventies while the band was in its prime. John Entwistle, the prematurely aged yet venerable bassist, passed twenty plus years later after a similarly drug-induced misadventure, and while the Ox (or “quiet one”, as he was affectionately known) was not quite the hellish desperado that Moon was, his demise was also an indictment of The Who’s original image and ways. The twosome that soldier on since then exudes a much cleaned up relinquishing of their halcyon decadence. Brandy and hellraising have been displaced by purely hydrated water and yoga, probably. Hotel violence disappeared not that long after the guitar smashing, around about the time bell-bottoms went out of style. When they first “retired” back in 82’ and performed a so-called farewell tour, one of their opening acts, The Clash, will already have thought them old-fashioned.

Back then, no one thought rock stars had lengthy careers, so stars that were pushing forty (at that time, that only meant them, The Stones, and maybe The Kinks), still touring and recording hits, were a novelty. Rock and professionalism of the kind that sustains careers over decades were not words that went together in the classic rock era. So, as rock critic Dave Marsh wrote as early as 1980, how have they lasted this long, really? Well, they haven’t, really, at least not constantly. They’ve had many spells on the sidelines, nursing tour wounds and pop biz jadedness. But enough of that stuff. I’ve written about or summarized The Who before in this blog. I even wrote a book about them. Check it out if you like; it’s pretty good, I think. It isn’t popular, doesn’t even have a cult following, unlike The Who in their early days, when “I Can’t Explain” would get to, like, #93 on the charts. Or, maybe that was just in Detroit. I forget. I should’ve researched things like that more rigorously; that way, the book would have been better: its moment in the Kirkus sunshine, on the Facebook afterglow, might have been a tad longer.

Now that I think of it, how do I last? I mean, in what I do for a living, not this writing thing on the side, and even in what I assign to this legendary band whose day-to-day life, as I imagine it, now reminds me of my own, which is an absurd thing to write though it may make sense by the end of this entry. I sort of promise this. But I must preface the parallels with an inventory of my fandom, by which I mean the music side of things, not the folklore: I haven’t stopped listening to Live at Leeds, having sampled all four versions of it by now, for not quite the same length of time as they’ve been available. Meanwhile, that album has almost been superseded in my affections by Live at Filmore 68’, which features, among many gems, a sprawling, insanely noisy, indecently long, chaotic and therefore glorious version of “My Generation”, which they don’t appear to play anymore, perhaps because the tired irony of their singing the line, “Hope I die before I get old”, has at last been laid to rest. As I ponder the catalogue of The Who, which I will do at least one more time before I write something of myself, I’ll declare that I listen to Quadrophenia more than I do Who’s Next—clearly, their best two albums, time now decrees; that Tommy has had a revival in my mind, and so has Who Sell Out, and Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy, but…okay, I hardly listen anymore to the unfortunately titled, It’s Hard. It’s hard to listen to, actually, and I can’t believe more fans don’t tell that joke. Face Dances is under-rated, and so is Who By Numbers, but they’re little more than time-capsuled curiosities these days, so is Who Are You. These albums get a few spins from time to time, but ultimately, each are a bit too flaccid to sustain a presence on the playlist.

The truth of what fans want was in the playlist of the concert. The early stuff is out—they played nothing pre-Tommy, I’m sad to report. “Eminence Front” is apparently popular, and does indeed have a seductive riff to it. But I’d rather hear “Substitute” or “Magic Bus”, or…I don’t know…, “A Quick One While He’s Away”, to give a few examples. I know. Where do I come in?  You promised, sort of, you’re thinking. Well, I compare myself. Now that I’m middle-aged, somewhat curmudgeonly, and perhaps stuck with an analogous playlist of my own, I hit pause on my judgements, feeling an uneasy affinity with my once aging and now aged heroes. They have their routines, and so do I. They have their inspirational flourishes, and I suppose I do as well. But as I travel day-to-day from home to office, think of exchanges, bouts of heavy listening interspersed with reflective thought, I think my chops are polished, and my pacing is indeed sturdy, but…what else? Are there any surprises in the mix? There are plenty, actually, and they do sustain me, just about, alongside copious doses of hydrated water. I just can’t tell you much about them. My playlist, as in my repertoire of everything from gimmicks to moments of inspiration, is a private one, this 300 plus-deep catalogue of essays notwithstanding.

Towards the end of a concert, fans start to get a bit tense, I notice. A rumbling tally occurs of what songs have been played and which haven’t. Suspense rises as the music builds to a climax. What will close the set? Will there be an encore? On the night in question, a supposed curfew prevented the band playing on beyond 11pm, so it’s anyone’s guess what they might have done but for that obstacle. They didn’t hit back on the LA county rules. The Who aren’t like that anymore. Who are they? Yes, it’s a cheap and tired joke, but still worthy of a mention. Who are we? Who am I? it’s the corollary they’ve half-seriously spoken back, inviting fans to muse upon life in between songs. Well, they at least have gotten with their times, by which I mean they’re asking for help in their dotage. I mentioned an orchestra before. Yeah, they had one: a fifty-musician deep gathering that provided depth to their sound, filling in the spaces where only guitar solos used to go. At first, I didn’t like the sound of it. They seemed to drown out Pete’s guitar during the Tommy pieces, and only later did he seem to catch up; perhaps he remembered to turn up the volume on his amp.

For a finale, they brought out a ringer: a sleek, sexy violinist dressed in black leather to play the coda bars of “Baba O’Riley”, one the The Who’s undisputed classics. This bit of getting-with-the-times brought out my jaundiced side. I’ve written before (ya know, that aforementioned book) about The Who not employing the same gimmicks that some of their contemporaries have in the past—that of sexing up the show with glamorous women off to the side, swaying and swooning while in song, displaying for the younger set why we should all get down with the good old boys, Pete and Rog. Pink Floyd did that for a while, so did the Stones. Anyway, the violinist was an excellent musician as well as being requisitely hot, so the final run of notes in “Baba” were indeed thrilling. It was good, though it seemed like a moment lifted from a Hans Zimmer performance, not a rock concert. Speaking of obligation, sometime earlier in the show, just before playing a kind-of protest song called “The Seeker”, Pete played elder statesman, soap-boxing to the crowd a few comments about the social order of the day: we should spare a moment of thought for the homeless in all of their tent cities; we should reflect on how lucky we are to be gathered in a stadium, with most of us not wearing masks, having survived the pandemic. We should think about Ukraine. Then, like the old man at the holiday dinner table, he self-effacingly remarked that he was surprised anyone still listened to him. The audience returned a sympathetic moan, not hitting back, and then the rock and roll returned for a few more songs, replete with inclusivity, post-MeTwo sexiness, plus The Who’s enduring appeal to the pop-digital mediasphere: we still belong here, they proclaim.

**consensual sex between adults, of course, not what Townshend was accused of in 2003. The story that broke that year was initially shocking to fans, but I think most suspended judgement when it was revealed that Pete had accessed a child porn website with his credit card and was subsequently arrested and questioned by police. He claimed to be doing research, actually concerned with child porn distribution via Eastern Europe and seeking to expose pornographers, not to consume their product. He was also doing preliminary work on an autobiography that he completed years later, which featured reflections upon his own child abuse victimization. Pete’s accessing a child porn site was at least an act of naivite and probably hubris, though Townshend never downloaded any imagery. That said, he broke the law so ultimately police gave him a formal caution and, more damagingly, placed him on a sex offender registry for five years. For some, that eventuality stamped Townshend as a pedophile. Since my bias towards him and The Who is well known to my friends, but also because my work with sex offenders is known, I have on occasion been asked to give my admittedly biased and blunt opinion on all this: I don’t think Pete Townshend is a pedophile. I think what this and countless other media-inflated episodes have “exposed” is the widespread idiocy and hysteria that social media platforms.

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Where are you from?

The question wasn’t the first thing the woman said. The first thing she said was hello, coupled with an inviting smile. Inviting, not yet leering. Initially, the question struck me as odd given that I hadn’t yet shown my otherness, as some are putting it these days. She sounded foreign, as I do. We are both distinguishable by sound, not by sight in an ever-race conscious and unconscious world. Did she know? Did she care, really, where I was from? That was the next thing she said, her first query: an invite in disguise. A flirtation, I gathered, perhaps one as old as time.

I’d glimpsed the moment ahead of time having gotten about ten seconds of notice. I was walking towards her, studiously, even ploddingly in the moment, feeling an inkling of exchange. “Uh, I’m from around here,” I replied, returning a vacuous gaze. Now I was studiously uninteresting, hoping to passively discourage. I smiled thinly, circled a finger in the air, suggesting at best an ambient residency. As I turned away, I caught a last glimpse of the woman’s smile, now lingering until a last moment of possibility. I half expected her to unleash a trailing appeal, or else to hurl rejection-inflected insults at me. I heard nothing, so in the moments that followed I thought of other moments—moments of horror, joy, and something in between, that come and go, fleetingly and not—interspersed with fateful decisions.

Prior to the encounter, I’d been daydreaming of news stories from South Africa, and another from Indonesia, about two women killed by predators: the first by a shark, the second by—get this—a python! The first one felt especially tragic because the person was on vacation. How cruel, I think, and then darkly riposte: that’s a real spoiler. She’d decided to go for a morning swim near a beach house and was wading through waist-high water when a Great White speared its way through a wave and bit her in half. Her remains were later found nearby on the seabed. Certainly not something anyone would expect as they plod along amid seemingly quiet water, minding one’s own business. I wonder if she’d been daydreaming at the point of impact.

The second incident occurred during the course of a person’s workday, so somehow that equates in my mind to a more readied, bracing state, and therefore somewhat less of a victimization. Work is a derivative of the hunt, so…guilt? No, not quite. How about the thing about being on vacation, as in being at rest, off one’s guard–the fear of going to sleep. Yeah, that feels truer. The bizarreness of thought is perhaps belied or rivaled by that of the actual story, in which the victim walks into a jungle from her village—apparently a daily occurrence (can’t recall what her job was)—only to be met by the hungry serpent, which then consumes her entirely.  The evidence of this grisly event unfolded following her disappearance, which led to a search of the jungle by villagers and the discovery of the now quite-bloated python, which was then killed and soon dissected, revealing the poor woman’s still-intact body. The stupidity of that snake is rivaled by my own asinine imaginings: did it give itself indigestion? What is the escape plan when you’ve killed an eaten something that is so big you can barely move? Anyway, greed is a deadly, punishable sin, after all.

I know what you’re thinking. The woman in the street with the inviting smile/leering come on is not a predator per se. I did think her a seducer, possibly a prostitute. It wasn’t exactly difficult to walk on from what some might call a “trigger” moment. Instead, it stirred a contemplation of desire and how it is communicated. See, I imagined another kind of unfolding: a scenario wherein I pause, indulge a further inquiry or two, and in so doing I encourage further action. In this reverie I pass a threshold, enter a domicile that is shadowy and unkempt, one-half a house of ill-repute, otherwise a disheveled, multiple-occupant space. From that point onwards, the invitations become blunter. Do I want to have some fun? Yes, I might nod, almost obligatorily. The woman would mention a number, omitting the word “dollars”, plus a body part to signify price and specific action; also, the air of flirtation would quickly subside, perhaps disappear abruptly. She absents herself for another protracted moment, leaving me alone with my thoughts, a premature regret. The lights are dimmed, the stage is semi-prepared, but the pants are still on and the doors are not yet locked, and if I dashed through a wave, I could escape from this escape from something, especially as I eat lightly, for the most part.

Well, none of this is happening, I think to myself amid the fresh breeze and the light, wholesome day. The flirtation: it came and it went like a pest, albeit one with a certain slatternly allure. Where am I from? Where am I going? That’s a better question. I’m choosing…for now. Always now.

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Little Hans

Had a dream last night that the world was different from the way it is. I mean, in a way that I couldn’t put my finger on, but something was missing. Something big yet abstract, kind of, like a way of being, of thinking. The manifest contest (not sure where that term came from) was plain enough, as in not weird. Dreams are weird sometimes, aren’t they? It’s curious that no one ever came up with an idea to think about dreams and what they mean about our psychology. If they had I’d know because I’ve been a psychologist for twenty-five years: I’ve treated kids in school and hospital settings; talked to parents in family conferences; spoken to couples, using the Gottman method; treated adult individuals with conditions ranging from everyday depression, to addiction problems, to phobias—even some psychotic behaviors. The model has been eclectic, employing a range of behavioral theories, but mostly I’m a traditionalist. I know it sounds corny, and some of my peers don’t like to admit this, but at some point, you have to think back to the founders of the profession. You have to acknowledge that the father of modern psychology, William James, knew what he was talking about. Anyway, back to the dream, which was pretty true to life when it came to the physical aspects: the setting was like a school, all modern with its white or off-grey walls, sleek and tidy architecture; its smooth, uncomplicated design, configured so that people could move easily, funnel in and out of spaces like they might swish into a sink-hole. The only thing, as in physical thing, that was missing, was a defined space for the conversation I was having with this group, as in no room per se. The conversation was about a kid with a phobia. It was about a kid we called Little Hans.

             I’m not saying it wasn’t his real name, but there was a sense that it was a pseudonym. No one explained that he was of German heritage, or why his parents kept referring to him as “little” Hans. We stood around in a circle, my colleagues and I, in the middle of this expanded space I’ve described, trying to figure out what to do about “little” Hans, who had a fear of horses apparently, which some thought not a big deal because…well, can’t you just avoid horses? They asked. It’s not like this is nineteen hundred and we need the damned beasts for everything we do. So, while one or two joked about things like that, myself and one or two others focused on the task at hand and took seriously the treatment plan, which we’d need to complete soon and submit to the county so as to ensure reimbursement for the quarter. There was a stranger in the midst, a short guy with old-fashioned glasses, kinda old-looking, who had an accent—possibly a German accent—who kept saying odd things about Hans’ phobia being a displacement of something, though he wouldn’t say of what exactly, and that little Hans’ life was “uncontained” and compared that “phenomenon” to the manner of the discussion, as if that were relevant. I didn’t know where he came from or who he represented. The kid’s family, maybe? Anyway, we sort of indulged his nuisance comments but managed to focus the discussion soon enough, especially on the matter that this Germanic guy was not talking about: namely, what do we do about the kid’s phobia?

             My main idea had to do with empathy. I’m known for this. I can usually find the angle that facilitates empathy, which has a healing impact for the patient. Let’s have litt—I’m just gonna call him Hans—think about the experience of the horse; the horse’s feelings, not his. Hans is nine years old. He can do this. He can consider that the horse is some other horse’s daughter or son—we don’t know if the gender of the horse matters, or whether horses are gender fluid—or whether the horse is another horse’s mother or father…or uncle…or cousin. That was other people weighing in with those relations—a bit gratuitous I thought. We’d gotten the point. Next, I thought we could have Hans make out a pros and cons list: everything that is good or bad about horses, or he could add a section about things he doesn’t know. Meaning, he might not know all that he likes or dislikes about horses. On this point, the German guy, who had gone quiet for a spell, seemed modestly approving. He was nodding tentatively, muttering something about not knowing. Weird guy—named Samuel Friend, or something—he seems to like not knowing about something. We moved on. Someone thought to add EMDR tapping procedures to the mix. Funny, but anytime someone suggests this, they like to mime the action, as if we wouldn’t get it otherwise. Problem is, no one’s had more than stage 1 training on EMDR on that so we’d have to refer out, I think. Can’t do that. A colleague of mine who was in the dream who has a socially conscious angle to most of what he brings to the table spoke of institutional speciesism and the fact that historically horses have been subject to widespread abuse so they are traumatized. Everyone agreed but wondered what that had to do with Hans since he was afraid of horses, not the other way around. He said that’s true but thought his point built upon mine and therefore Hans could be moved on another level to think about the horse’s experience, not just his own.

             Are you suggesting that horses have memories that they inherit from the experience of the species? Asked the guy who I think was named Samuel Friend, who was also bristling at the notion that he was a fan of “not knowing” and saying that not knowing was more the thing of a guy named bionic or something who would emerge years after him. Friend said he thought Hans’ phobia was about a renunciation of his needs for gratification so he avoids going into the street or near any stable where horses are. Okay, by now this guy was really getting on my nerves. What was he on? Was he a psycho, and was he a patient who had slipped into our conversation, or “swished” in from some other place in the clinic, infiltrating our circle? Strange, but for a moment I was starting to think like he did, like there was a meaning to the lack of walls, a partitioned space for our discussion. I could say more, but my recollection of the dialogue gets murky after this, suggesting the dream had stopped, or that I woke up. I can’t remember. Dreams are like that, I notice. They’re always…I don’t know…unfinished. Also, I get the feeling I might be editing this in a way, like I’m adding something, or missing something. Jesus, there I go again, thinking like that guy. By the way, I think he left the circle at some point, sort of drifted off like he didn’t belong—like he was realizing that finally.

I have to snap out of this. I have to deal with “Little” Hans, about whom his family is calling. He’s letting us down, his parents complain. For some reason, riding horses is really important to them, or to the father anyway. They bought this horse for Hans for his birthday. He’s being ungrateful. The father’s the one who’s leaving me messages, sounding very strident; very harsh. Listening to his messages, I’m having another idea: can’t they just shoot the horse, get rid of the problem. But that’s not helpful, I soon remind myself. I should call the father back, let him know we’ve got a plan, that we know what we’re talking about; that we know what to do about Little Hans.

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Fire in the hole

Recommendations for technique. That’s what Freud called his paper on the matter. A bit plain, don’t you think, rather like ‘psychology in everyday life’—another good one. Took him a while, it seems, to gather his thoughts and give some tips on how to do things his way. Can’t believe he wrote it after Totem and Taboo (1912), or Three Essays (1905), or his first big splash into big, meta-thought, Interpretation of Dreams (1900). That’s where he laid out the big ideas**, suggesting that we all have an unconscious that surreptitiously guides the mind; that children have sexual fantasies; that humankind acquired guilt feelings more or less biologically, from a prehistoric moment in time when an incest occurred and a tribal elder was murdered and then cannibalized.


Yeah, back to the present day, to the plainer task of sitting with a troubled person looking for guidance, thinking that an analyst might have answers. Sigmund eventually suggested that his acolytes (meaning his proteges) assume a position of medical authority, with the authority and spirit of a scientist gathering evidence. Worthily, he suggested that analysts keep a relative distant, listen with “evenly hovering attention”, encouraging free association though anticipating resistance, and above all, maintaining a neutral stance. That meant, roughly, not imposing beliefs onto a needy patient. There’s enough of that in religion, Sigmund thought. Others elaborated the idea: don’t gratify, we’re told in training. Don’t assume the expert stance with reassurances, with advice, or even what we might preciously call affirmations. If a patient says, “I went to church and said my prayers” in a cheerful, relieved voice, there’s no need to say, “good for you”, as if they’d otherwise feel guilty about the pronouncement. We’re not behaviorists looking to reinforce what people already think is a sound, healthy way to live. What are they hiding, or even reversing? Freud would have wondered. Sex and aggression. That’s what he was listening for. Of course, people have other needs, but sex and aggression are what people inhibit, or repress, as he termed it. He was right.

Indifference was another word he used to describe an analyst’s stance. A lot of people don’t like this suggestion. Taking him a bit literally, I think. I think my couples’ therapist is bought into this indifference thing, though not in the way Sigmund recommended. Indifference. Damn right she is. Doesn’t give a shit, I mostly think. Caught her looking at the clock after ten minutes in our last session. Can’t say I blame her. Sometimes, when Liz is bending my ear, I’m gone after a minute and a half—sometimes under thirty seconds. The therapist and her get on like a house on fire, like they could give or take me being there. I half expect them to go out for coffee afterwards—that’s when they’d really sort things out. In the meantime, the therapist has got to play her part, which means pretending that she cares about the two of us and that I have a legitimate point of view. A fair amount of nodding conveys this. Not very neutral, an analyst would say. Sometimes, there’s much effusion in the room: arms wave about, moving the air, performing an illusory expansion of otherwise benign principles. Yes, we should have boundaries. We should come up with a pros and cons list about our relationship. There’s so much to unpack here, this woman exudes with tired eyes and a fiercely contained sigh.

She was fascinated by our first visit, and by the “uncanniness” of the situation that brought us to her. Unpacking is right. Packing too, and packing quickly. Funny also, that thing I said about a house on fire, for it was a literal fire in our quite material home that nearly went up in flames because of nearby wildfires that penetrated our indifferent, ungratifying life and upset the homeostatic deadness. Liz and I: we knew we’d get little familial sympathy should this happen. Sure enough, everyone who had an opinion about our woodsy home on the lake warned us of the danger ages ago. Since the evacuation, they’ve not been so much indifferent as smug, though most don’t the half of it. Right now, I’d take indifference or smugness about our current state of transiency, especially as we can go back soon because the fire actually stopped short of our place, but mainly because the fire’s not the real reason we’re seeing a therapist.

But it is an interesting metaphor for your relationship, that therapist observed. A disaster, or a disaster averted, which means an opportunity. I think that’s what she meant, plus the fact that the approaching threat of fire caused an ironic discovery. See, if it hadn’t been for the fire then Liz wouldn’t have been packing things up in a hurry (packing things in a hurry and Liz are not words that go together) and therefore finding photos and letters from an old relationship that I was keeping from her. Very sentimentalist of me, not to mention careless. But I had my excuses, which cued my counter-complaint, which has to do with her cluttering, not my pre-digital era affair-seeking behavior, which—as the discovered ephemera suggests—is not even an up-to-date thing anymore. In that sense, I’m as dead as our marriage. She doesn’t even think I’m having an affair. It’s that I hold on to things, but not her. So, nothing like a disaster to shake things up, some might say. Damn right, I say for a second time. Liz half thinks that I started the wildfire as an attempt to leverage a clean-up; as a protest against her indifferent, cluttering habit. I didn’t, of course, but it’s not a bad idea, I’ve since quipped. In fact, I’m surprised no one has thought of it, or that it hasn’t been mooted as a common arsonist’s motive. When we get like this the therapist’s eyes glaze over, like she’s had enough of us. Her interest in the uncanny, near cosmic events that bring patients to her office isn’t sufficient to help her endure the prosaic disputes of everyday life. There’s little hope for us, I think she thinks. What’s your plan? She drones wearily.

Or, she’s invigorated by an inspiration, thinks there’s something in these metaphors that keep popping up, especially fire. It happened towards the end of that last session. She reached out her arm, like she was prying her way between us, but also aping a movement Liz assigns to me: that of a football player stiff-arming an opponent while in full flight, like the figure frozen on that famous trophy, the Heizmann. It’s what I do to Liz, I guess: I stiff-arm. Anyway, this therapist’s gesture looks like this, so it drew a burst of sniggers from my beloved. Fire. What had we been talkin’ about? The woman asked. What is the meaning of this crisis? Liz held her hand over her mouth, clearly holding something back. I held mine slightly open, as if tentatively waiting for something to enter me: a fire in the hole, so to speak. Fire in the belly, the woman translated, as though reading my mind. And where is the fire between us? Liz and I glanced at each other, at once knowing where this was going. On that we were on the same page. We got it: fire, as in passion, needed to be rekindled. That’s what the fire was really about. That’s what this disaster really means, and so we have a choice. We’re at a crossroads. Jesus, how many metaphors are we gonna stick in this thing? Do we burn still for each other. Gotta stick in this thing. Speaking of which, should we try that again? Liz and I thought. Better tidy things up first, she said.

** yes, yes, Freud’s first major model of the mind was called Seduction theory, and it was a trauma model grounded in the idea that not everyone had an unconscious—only those suffering from reminiscences, meaning sexual traumas that will have been enigmatic originally, subject to repression because they are impossible to understand, but later activated and understood thru secondary sexuality. Are we all traumatized in childhood in this way, to one degree or another? Do we all get messages in infancy that are eroticized in nature, that we simply can’t take in?  

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