Saturday, February 28, 2004

Group Therapy: February 28, 2004


Hey, buddy. You know, these letters to you are about the only thing that I find meaningful in my life. A little pathetic, don’t you think? Well, almost the only thing I find meaningful. There’s also “Mozart.” I love “Mozart.” Did I ever tell you about the time my father caught me, alone, listening to Mozart? That was a wild scene!

This morning I had an intimate moment with “the little man from Salzburg.” Ah, Mozart! Wherever he held out his hand, the highest art arose!

Psychoanalysts place great emphasis on what they term “the repressed.” According to psychoanalytic theory, it’s what you are not aware of consciously that directs your life: directs your behavior, your passions, your hatreds—your love of Mozart or “Mozart.”

I believe that too, ardent Freudian that I am.

But I have my own theory. That there’s something to be learned from looking back over the trivial things in your memory. When I look back over my conscious memories, I’m always struck by the possibility of something significant in the fact that I actually remember something. Why that thing?

Let’s say you had a teacher in college. You reflect on your recollections of him. You saw him perhaps 30 times over the course of a semester. He went on mindlessly about this or that. You end up forgetting most of what he said. But a few recollections, a few trivialities, remain. Why? Does that happen to you? Have you ever thought: “There must be some reason why I remember that one thing he said and very little else.”

I had a history teacher in college, Dr. Gerald Eggert. That was at Penn State. I took two courses he taught. History 21 (“U.S. History from Reconstruction to the Present” – the present being the Nixon era, of course) and a course on the history of the American worker.

An anecdote that Dr. Eggert told in History 21 about FDR came to my mind recently, since I’ve been in group. I associate the anecdote to the statements of one of the group members that I’m just an actor—a person who says one unbelievable thing after another, a person who undermines his own credibility.

Dr. Eggert told a story about FDR holding a meeting with one of his advisers, Harold Ickes. Eleanor was present. At the conclusion of Ickes’ presentation, Roosevelt said: “Harold, I agree with you one-hundred percent.” Ickes leaves, and Harry Hopkins enters. Hopkins presents a set of ideas to the President that are the direct opposite of Ickes’ presentation. At the end of Hopkins’ presentation, Roosevelt says to him: “Harry, I agree with you one-hundred percent.” Hopkins leaves. Eleanor, incredulous, turns to the President and says: “Franklin, Harold Ickes said one thing and you said you agreed with him. Then Harry Hopkins came in here, said the total opposite—and you said you agreed with him. Franklin Roosevelt said: “Eleanor, you’re right. I agree with you one-hundred percent.”

Why did I recall that? Maybe I am just an actor—or maybe presidential material.

I used to be a big fan of Johnny Carson. Remember him? I used to watch the Tonight Show all the time.

Of the countless jokes Carson told over the years, I can remember only one. It was in 1989, I suppose. The Berlin Wall had just come down. Carson said: “The Berlin Wall’s come down. What could happen now is that West Germany might re-unite with East Germany—and you’d have One Big Germany. And wouldn’t that be a dream come true?”

I remember in History 19, Claire Hirshfield (The Greatest Teacher Penn State Ever Produced) spoke so dramatically about the unification of Germany, in 1871. Before 1871 “Germany” had comprised a collection of independent states. Prussia created a unified German state in 1871 under Bismarck. Dr. Hirshfield said that the other European powers were horrified. Almost overnight, a new and powerful state—Germany—appeared on the scene, upsetting the existing balance of power in Europe. (And they were right to be afraid! One Big Germany).

In group I’ve been irrationally preoccupied with the idea that my entry in group upset the existing balance. I talked about that. The group said it wasn’t so. The group members explained that there was a lot of arguing and dissension before I arrived. I said I was curious about how the group dynamics changed at the point I entered. Everybody thought that was an odd idea. I attributed the idea to my being the youngest child in my family, born six years after my older sister. I said I had the idea that I had upset the family dynamics upon arriving on the scene. It’s an idea that is somehow satisfying to me but not objectively verifiable. It’s fundamentally an irrational idea. But the idea has a power over my imagination: the idea that everything was going smoothly and swimmingly. Then it was like “Oh, Christ! He’s here!”

My older niece, when she was young—maybe about 6 years old—said: “My mother (that is, my older sister) says she wishes you were never born.” I can imagine Napoleon III saying the same thing about the German Reich!

I just have the feeling that my identifications and my recollections validate the importance of the idea for me it’s important to see myself as a “an emergent collection of fragments,” a new entity that upsets the existing order. I wonder what Claire would say about that? Claire knows everything.


One of the group leaders, Nicole, is a bright young lady. She got her bachelors degree from The University of Pennsylvania. (Dr. Hirshfield got her Ph.D. from Penn). Debra’s undergraduate degree is from George Mason—I mentioned that. I tend to repeat myself. Chuck Reischel likes to point that out all the time, the fact that I repeat myself—with the implication that I’m a tad off my rocker.

Anyway, for some reason Debra and Nicole—two bright young ladies—have brought to mind someone I hadn’t thought about in some time. Lilliam Machado, Esq. Lilliam was a paralegal at Akin Gump in the late 1980’s—during the Reagan Administration. She was assigned to the labor group, and directed the Eastern Airlines document production project. I could tell very early on that she was extremely intelligent. I mean intelligent in the extreme. She was bright and delightful. Very reasonable. She seemed to have a keen eye for people; an understanding of people. (If she were a man, she could have been one of my selfobjects). I worked for her, during my early days at Akin Gump. We got along quite well. I don’t think she found me violent and disruptive, or difficult to supervise. But I was in my pre-morbid state at that time. Make no mistake: by the time my employment ended I was in fact disabled by severe mental illness.

The thing is, Lilliam Machado seems so different from Nicole and Debra. I just don’t see the brilliance in Nicole and Debra that I saw in Lilliam. Oddly, despite the fact that Nicole and Debra are psychologists—Lilliam Machado’s “people knowledge” seemed superior to theirs.

Here’s the lowdown on Lilliam. She entered law school in the fall 1988. “I told my husband, ‘Luis, when I start law school—no more sex. I can’t handle both law school and sex simultaneously.’” Yes, she said that. Poor Luis. She went to Boalt Hall, I think. That’s the Harvard of the West Coast.

Machado, Lilliam
Law Office of Lilliam Machado 1101 30th Street NW Suite 500 Washington, DC 20007 Telephone: 202-625-4349 Fax: 202-625-3336 E-mail: llmachado@aol.comAreas of Practice: labor and employment managementI am willing to serve as a resource to D.C. Bar members on the following law practice management topics: client development/marketing; personnel management; starting a solo practice

Check you out later, Brian. When are we going to do lunch, buddy? I’m still waiting.

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