Monday, August 30, 2004

Brain Gender


August 30, 2004

Hey, buddy. How did the last weekend in August find you? Did you find it? Yes, the penultimate weekend of the summer has come and gone. Just one more summer weekend left--Labor Day Weekend.

So what did you do this weekend--anything unconventional? Anything Conventional?

Last week was a homo sapien-free week for me. No human contact of any kind. No contact with any native Hebrew speakers. The Mad Monk took sick last Wednesday, so I had no psychotherapy session--if indeed I've ever had a psychotherapy session with Dr. Bash.

I did run into three CPKniks this past week. I saw Charles in the CVS on Saturday. I saw Velma (is that her name?), the Caribbean lady, last week on Connecticut Avenue, and I saw one of the Friends of CPK; she wasn't hawking Tee-shirts or other CPK memorabilia. By the way, buddy, did you ever think of mending fences with me with a CPK Tee-shirt? That would be a nice gesture, assuming you're capable of nice gestures.

But yes, I had no session with The Mad Monk. To tell you the truth, I feel the way Jay Leno must have felt on Saturday January 20, 2001. Remember that day? It was a Saturday. A cold, stormy, snowy, rainy Saturday. Inauguration Day. The end of the Clinton Administration and the beginning of the reign of George II. Jay Leno must have been relaxing at home thinking, "What the hell do I do for monologue material now? Without Bill Clinton, I'm sunk! Clinton jokes comprise three-quarters of my material." Yessiree, Bob. Clinton and his whole dysfunctional mishpachah provided an endless source of amusement. Unfortunately for the humorists of this world, George Bush comes from a good family. A wealthy family. Sure, he served as Governor of Texas, but that was an aberration in an otherwise nongubernatorial background. His father was President of the United States and his grandfather was a U.S. Senator. Texas governors are a different breed, anyhow. Yes, George Bush comes from good stock; would you want a president with less impeccable genetic credentials securing the homeland? For Jay Leno, the weekend of January 20, 2001--the end of the Clinton era--must have been a real downer.

Yes, I know the feeling well. Without Dr. Israella Yafa Bash, what is there to talk about? Nothing, really. This letter is going to be a brief one, buddy. Of necessity.

I did something Conventional this weekend. I was rummaging through the trash in my building, and I came across the August 25, 2004 issue of "JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association."

August 25, 2004 was Leonard Bernstein's birthday, by the way; the maestro would have been 86. You know, Chuck Ruff's mom, Margaret Carson was Lenny's press agent. I wonder if Jeffrey and Ellen know that? I wonder if they care?

Anyhow, the medical journal belonged to John Edwards. John D. Edwards, M.D. (apartment 243, 3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW)--not Senator John Edwards, Esq., the current Democratic candidate for the office of Vice-President of the United States.

What was I talking about? Ah, yes! The gene-pool venue. Page 981 of JAMA had an interesting review about a recently-published book concerning the issue of homosexuality, titled "Brain Gender," by Melissa Hines. If you recall, according to The Mad Monk, homosexuality is a result of a simple genetic abnormality: the fag gene.

Leonard Bernstein and another one of Margaret Carson's clients, Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, are both fag gene carriers. By the way, Margaret Carson seems to have had a lot of homosexual clients. You'd have thought her son, Chuck Ruff, would have been a little more sympathetic to homosexual imposters like myself. Strange world, isn't it? Chuck Ruff was convinced my ideational proclivities were associated with a risk of violence that rendered me unsuitable for employment. I shouldn't criticize Chuck Ruff. He's no longer here to defend himself. Not to mention the fact that I wouldn't want to offend Chuck's law partners, Jeffrey and Eric.

In any event, the book "Brain Gender" is way off base. It claims--astonishingly--that homosexuality is the product of a complex interaction between genetics and the developmental environment. Now that's just flat-out wrong. Everybody knows that homosexuality is genetic. People who come from good families--good genetic stock--never develop perverted proclivities. They don't have the genetic make-up (no pun intended) for it. "Genetic Makeup"--That's a new line from Helena Rubenstein, if you didn't know.

The book review opens: "Differences between men and women, boys and girls, and male and female animals have been classically described as 'gender differences' for socially determined factors and 'sex-differences' for biologically-based factors. After reading 'Brain Gender,' by Melissa Hines, one will recognize that these distinctions are essentially meaningless."

The review concludes: "This timely piece of work cuts through the well-described 'cognitive schemas' of many researchers and theorists in the fields of sex and gender differences and brings these areas of inquiry up to more modern realities: 'genes affect [gonadal] hormones that affect behavior,' and 'behavior [or experience] affects [gonadal] hormones that affect gene' expression and regulation. Thus, sex differences and gender differences are not two categories but are part of an interacting and bidirectional continuum--the essential lesson of this book."

Of course, I'm not supposed to be reading technical material. According to Dr. Bash, I don't have the capacity to understand technical material; I should confine my reading to romance novels and detective stories.

An explanation of homosexuality that comprehends environmental and genetic factors is all too complicated, don't you think, Brian? I'm sure Dr. Bash would say it's too complicated. The simple explanation is usually the correct explanation. I'm with Dr. Bash: "Homosexuality is genetic. Good families--good genetic stock--produce normal, heterosexual populations." George W. is a real man because his daddy is a real man; it's genetic. It's those good Republican genes.

For The Mad Monk, simplicity rules. For example, according to Dr. Bash, my social problems can be attributed, in their entirety, to my simple "fear of rejection." Fear of rejection. That explains everything. Any other explanation--any explanation that includes additional variables--is simply too complicated to be credible. Makes sense to me. Who can question The Mad Monk, anyhow?

I worked at Akin Gump for three-and-a-half years. Everything was going swimmingly. Then one day I decided to approach Earl Segal--throwing "fear of rejection" to the wind--and ask for a job promotion or a change in office assignment. It was at that point that I set in motion a chain of events that led to my job termination. Within a week, I was gone from the firm. Talk about a lack of income security! Chuck Ruff would later affirm that Akin Gump's senior managers had determined that I suffered from a serious mental illness that might be associated with a risk of violence. Yes, my "fear of rejection" explains that, doesn't it? Let's not get too complex in our explanations! Let's not introduce the notion that a phenomenon can be the product of a complex interplay of variables. That's just silly and a waste of time.

I've spent eight years now--EIGHT YEARS!--with the District of Columbia Department of Mental Health looking for a simple, economic explanation for my psychological difficulties. The propitiation of my psychic ills has yet eluded my therapists, but why waste time thinking about complexity when you can waste valuable time ignoring complexity in favor of emphasizing simplicity?

There is just so much false information and misinformation floating around out there. There is so much information out there in the real world that contradicts the unquestionable wisdom of The Mad Monk! Any information that contradicts The Mad Monk must be wrong. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Did you happen to catch the ABC-TV newsmagazine "20/20" last week? ABC-TV reporter Lynn Scher did a piece on Internet porn. The story delved into the world of male internet porn addicts. Lynn Scher interviewed one guy who spent five hours a day on the Internet, surfing porn sites all the while going on maneuvers with General Bonaparte. He had been happily married, but his wife divorced him. He had cut his "shore leave" with his wife down to twice a year. The guy came to prefer visual Internet stimulation--combined with military maneuvers "avec le General"--to getting it off with his wife. According to Lynn Scher the case is not all that unusual. Seems there are lots of guys out there who've shunned the real for the virtual. One guy said: "I don't let reality interfere with my fantasies."

That flies in the face of Dr. Bash's wisdom: "You are obsessed with Brian, Mr. Freedman, because you are socially isolated. You would give up your fantasies about Brian if you interacted with real people: made real friends. You rely on fantasy because your life is so empty." Why are there men out there who are shunning real women-actually giving up relationships--to spend time with visual images of women, that is, fantasies of women? I'm sure The Mad Monk can explain. She has an explanation for everything, and the great thing about Dr. Bash is--all her explanations don't need to be rational! After all, she's a District of Columbia employee.

I had an interesting experience yesterday, outside my local supermarket. I espied an attractive young lady carrying a bag of groceries. She was wearing a short skirt. She put the bag down to inspect the bag's contents. She leaned down, bending her knees, which were parallel to the ground. Her legs were spread. And yes, I secured a sight of the homeland. Covertly. Excitedly. It was a sight to behold. The world of ladies panties and what they conceal! Sin-sational!!

But, in the end, the way I see it--who needs sexual arousal with a real women? If the only thing you can say about another person is that she arouses you sexually, you really aren't saying much. Who needs sexual arousal with a real woman when there's so much more to life? Really--who needs real women at all? Give me a fantasy buddy and the Internet, and I can dispense with women. Real women.

I've got you, Brian, and that's all I need. It's just you and me, buddy.

That brings me to another one of The Mad Monk's unquestionable truths. A few weeks ago, I asked Dr. Bash if she had any other patients who had imaginary friends. She said: "No. That's usually something you only see in children. It's usually lonely children who create imaginary friends."

Funny thing. The other day I thought of something I hadn't thought of in a long time. It's quite remarkable, actually. In point of fact, my father had an imaginary friend. When I was a small boy, my father used to entertain me with tales about his exploits with "Slippery Jim," a character my father created in fantasy. "Slippery Jim," in my father's imaginary creation, worked together with my father at his place of employment. He was a teenager, I suppose. My father's alter ego. He used to get into all kinds of trouble, all kinds of mischief. My father talked about "Slippery Jim" all the time.

My father would use his fantasy relationship with "Slippery Jim" as a pedagogic device with me. He would teach me about the world and the perils of defying authority by reference to "Slippery Jim:" his misdeeds and his close calls with the authorities. "I told Slippery Jim not to do 'such and such,' -- he didn't listen -- and he got into a lot of trouble. You see, he didn't listen to me and he regretted it. Let that be a lesson to you, Gar."

I really believed there was a "Slippery Jim." My father used to arouse my jealousy. Yes, I was jealous of my father's relationship with "Slippery Jim," and my father used to play upon that jealousy.

The houseboat! What, you may ask, was the houseboat? It was a wonderful thing. My father used to talk about the houseboat he was going to get one day. It reminds me now of that line from Leonard Bernstein's musical "Candide," -- "We'll buy a yacht and live aboard it, sailing in luxury and stylish charm."

"We'll get a houseboat, Gar, and go sailing out on the ocean. Just you and me. We'll leave your mother and sister alone, here, at the house. It will be just you and me, buddy. We'll go sailing together and live out on the ocean on the houseboat. Just us men. We won't need any women. But you'll have to behave, Gar. If you don't -- if you don't listen to me -- I'll take Slippery Jim with me instead of you. It will be just me and Slippery Jim. But if you're a good kid, I'll take you with me, and it will be just you and me, buddy." I actually believed the whole tale of the houseboat and "Slippery Jim." Just like some kids who believe in Santa Claus.

Come to think of it, it was a lot like Santa Claus. "If you're a good boy, Santa Claus will come and bring you a lot of presents. But if you're not a good boy, he won't leave you anything." Parents and their bag of pedagogic tricks! For me and my father it was "If you're a good boy, I'll take you out on the houseboat with me -- it will be just you and me -- but if you misbehave, I'll take Slippery Jim, and I'll leave you behind."

Only lonely children create imaginary friends? Well, that's Dr. Bash's theory. And who am I to question The Mad Monk?

Oddly enough--or "oddly enough"-- my father used to employ another fantasy to try to keep me in line. I was not the most obedient of kids, as you can guess. Sometimes my father would go to the front door of our house. He'd ring the doorbell, and proceed to have a conversation with an imaginary police officer! Sound familiar, buddy? "Yes, Officer, there's a boy here; his name is Gary. Yes, he's been misbehaving. He won't listen to me. You want to talk to him? You want to arrest him? I'll go get him. What's that? You say if he behaves himself, you won't arrest him? He can stay here and not go to jail if he listens to his father? I'll tell him that, Officer. So, if he listens to me, behaves himself, and doesn't cause any trouble--he can stay here. You won't throw him in jail. I'll make sure I tell him."

Was I terrified! I really bought that crap.

Be that as it may.

It's just you and me, buddy. You're all I need. If you want to get together for Labor Day, you have my number. We--you, me, and Jerry (and The Old Buccaneer)--can celebrate the 30th anniversary of ERISA together if you want.

Do you know if Malcolm and Earl have talked to The Old Buccaneer recently? I guess my buddy Glenn Fine doesn't know The Old Buccaneer is Jeffrey Orchinik, Esq.--he practiced at the law firm in Philadelphia where I clerked (Sagot & Jennings). He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in psychology. Top that, Mr. Fine!!

It's been great, buddy. And remember--The Mad Monk rules. She is the mikvah of wisdom. She's never wrong. And how do we know that? Because she says so!

P.S. Parting message for Glickman. Listen, pal, if you have any dealings with Mel Gibson, be sure to stand your ground. Don't let that bugger charm you senseless with those pretty blue eyes of his.

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Therapist -- A One-Act Play About Nothing


August 23, 2004

Hey, buddy. Well, today is Precedent's Day. So I've decided to do something that has no precedent. I've decided to present a one-act play I've written, "The Therapist," a play about nothing (in the technical, Seinfeldian sense). It's unprecedented, baby! The play is based on my recollection of my last session with The Mad Monk, on August 18, 2004 (with a few interpolations, which are indicated).


[DR. BASH]: Are you still obsessed with Brian?


[DR. BASH]: Did you write him a letter this week?

[FREEDMAN]: Yea. I wrote him a letter, on Monday; it was almost nine pages.

[DR. BASH]: What did you write about?

[FREEDMAN]: It was about Napoleon. You know, Sunday was Napoleon's birthday.

[DR. BASH]: How did you know that?

[FREEDMAN]: Napoleon is a hero of mine.

[DR. BASH]: So you read about that before. So you wrote to Brian about Napoleon.

[FREEDMAN]: Yea. I wrote about Napoleon and you, Dr. Bash. I tell Brian a lot about what we talk about here.

[DR. BASH]: You write to Brian just once a week?

[FREEDMAN]: Yes. At the central library, the Martin Luther King Library, downtown. I go down there. I take the subway. Actually, I go down there partly in hopes of seeing Brian. You know I saw Brian down there on a Monday a couple of months ago, so I figure I might run into him again on a Monday.

[DR. BASH]: What is Brian's last name?

[FREEDMAN]: Brown. Brian Brown.

[DR. BASH]: (laughs heartily).

[FREEDMAN]: Why is that funny?

[DR. BASH]: Maybe it's just me. I think it's a funny name.

[FREEDMAN]: Brian Patrick Brown.

[DR. BASH]: If you got involved with people, you would give up your obsession with Brian. If you made a friend, he would replace Brian in your thinking.

[FREEDMAN]: I'm not so sure about that. I don't think that reality will necessarily obliterate a fantasy. A fantasy can endure even after the wished-for thing is attained. For centuries Jews prayed to return to the Land of Israel. Then the State of Israel was founded. Some orthodox Jews refuse to recognize Israel, the reality, and still pray for, or fantasize about, returning to Israel, even though in reality the State of Israel actually exists. For some Orthodox Jews, the reality of the State of Israel didn't obliterate the fantasy of return.

You know the Hasidim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews? They don't believe in the state of Israel.

[DR. BASH]: Now they do. They used to not recognize Israel, but they do now. There was a rabbi a few years back. He urged them to move to Israel.

[FREEDMAN]: Rabbi Schneerson?

[DR. BASH]: Yes, that was his name. Anyhow, today Jerusalem has a large population of Hasidim. They call them "The Blacks" because of their black clothes.

(At this moment Freedman has a paranoid idea. Dr. Bash earlier laughed at the name "Brown," and now The Therapist refers to the Hasidim as "The Blacks." Freedman has an idea of reference that Dr. Bash's allusions to the colors black and brown symbolically concern the issue of race, and specifically the problem of racism at Freedman's last place of employment. Freedman's idea of reference, like all ideas of reference, is invisible. Dr. Bash does not know that Freedman is having an idea of reference. Only the judges of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals can actually "see" an idea of reference. To ordinary humans, ideas of reference are invisible to the naked eye.)

[DR. BASH]: The Hasidim have bought up half the real estate in Jerusalem. They have their own political party. They see to it that no laws are passed that are contrary to the Bible.

[FREEDMAN]: In Jerusalem.

[DR. BASH]: Yes, in Jerusalem.

[FREEDMAN]: Years ago they didn't believe in Israel. There are two factions of Hasidim. The Lubavitchers and the Satmarers. One believes in Israel, the other doesn't.

[DR. BASH]: Now they both recognize Israel. But in your case, you created your own restrictions. You have cut yourself off from what is available in the world by your own actions. It's different from a religious restriction.

[FREEDMAN]: Yes, in my case it's guilt.

[DR. BASH]: What do you feel guilty about?

[FREEDMAN]: Nothing. It's unconscious guilt.

[DR. BASH]: But you must feel guilty about something.

[FREEDMAN]: No. Nothing. It's unconscious. Freud talks about unconscious guilt.

[DR. BASH]: But even Freud, I'm sure, would say you have to feel guilty about something.

[FREEDMAN]: No, nothing. Unconscious guilt is guilt about nothing.

[DR. BASH]: It has to be about something.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: Let me read to you what Freud wrote in "The Ego and the Id." He writes: "In the end we come to see that we are dealing with what may be called a 'moral factor, a sense of guilt, which is finding its satisfaction in the illness and refuses to give up the punishment of suffering. We shall be right in regarding this disheartening explanation as final. But as far as the patient is concerned this sense of guilt is dumb; it does not tell him he is guilty; he does not feel guilty; he feels ill. This sense of guilt expresses itself only as a resistance to recovery which it is extremely difficult to overcome. It is also particularly difficult to convince the patient that this motive lies behind his continuing to be ill; he holds fast to the more obvious explanation that treatment by analysis is not the right remedy for his case."

Freud goes on to explain, Dr. Bash, that a major issue in treating patients where the overriding issue is a sense of guilt is whether "the personality of the analyst allows of the patient's putting him in the place of his ego ideal." Patients who suffer from guilt--unconscious guilt, "guilt about nothing," require something -- some idea or person or other gratification -- that will act as a "counteracting force of a similar order of strength" as the sense of guilt that is causing the patient's suffering. Imagine a person who is badly in debt; he feels rotten. A rich banker comes along and agrees to provide an unlimited line of credit to the debtor. The banker acts as a countervailing force to the debt; the banker relieves the debts, and the debtor feels relieved psychologically. To paraphrase a well-worn phrase, the banker pays the debtor's "debt" to society.

My idealized fantasies about Brian, or my other friend (Craig), or other people who I've idealized in the past, act as such a countervailing force. What my fantasias about Brian counteract is not loneliness resulting from a lack of social relations; my obsession with Brian counteracts an intrapsychic sense of guilt, a kind of psychological sense of indebtedness. My obsession with Brian is probably not a substitute for social relations; it counteracts psychological distress, rooted in an unconscious sense of guilt that is grounded in structural defects in my ego. The issue is intrapsychic structures. Ask Stanley Greenspan.

Well, what do you think about all this, Dr. Bash?

[DR. BASH (interpolation)]: It sounds like a lot of sound and fury signifying Nothing.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: Exactly!!

[FREEDMAN]: What about at Pesach in Jerusalem? What do Jews in Jerusalem say at the Seder? Do they still say "Next Year in Jerusalem?"

[DR. BASH]: Yes! (Dr. Bash intones "Next year in Jerusalem" in Hebrew.) They say: "Next year in Jerusalem."

[FREEDMAN]: You see, there's a case where a gratification in the real world does not negate a fantasy. They still say "Next Year in Jerusalem" even though they are now living in Jerusalem.

[DR. BASH]: It's a tradition. They want to keep alive the history of the Jewish experience.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: Obsessions are a tradition with me. Even if I make a friend, I'll still have obsessive fantasies that relate back to the internal psychological thing that causes my obsession with Brian. What I don't see is this. If you see it, please explain it to me. I don't see how a gratification in the real world will obliterate a fantasy or obsession that is a product of an internal structural defect. It seems to me that whoever, whatever person I get involved with in the real world, I will become obsessed with him. We saw that with my old friend (Craig). I interacted with him, but I was obsessed with him. Freud was obsessed with Fliess. Freud was happily married at the time. Freud's obsession with Fliess was not a product of interpersonal loneliness; it was a product of intrapsychic structural issues in Freud.

[DR. BASH]: Did your sister marry a Jewish guy?

[FREEDMAN]: Yes. But they sent their daughter to a Catholic school (like Albert Einstein's parents!).

[DR. BASH]: I guess it was so she could get a better education.

[FREEDMAN]: But there's no chance to meet other Jewish kids.

[DR. BASH]: That's true, there's no chance to meet other Jewish kids. I would imagine there are very few Jews in a Catholic school.

[FREEDMAN]: They had a friend, my sister and brother-in-law, had a friend who had a barbecue on Yom Kippur.

[DR. BASH]: That's stupid! Why did they do that?

[FREEDMAN]: To show their contempt for the Jewish religion. They thought it was funny.

[DR. BASH]: So they're those kind.

[FREEDMAN]: You know those kind of Jews?

[DR. BASH]: (disdainfully) Yes. (pause.) Do they have boys?

[FREEDMAN]: No, two girls.

[DR. BASH]: Did they have a Bat Mitzvah? A Confirmation?


[FREEDMAN]: They celebrate Christmas. With a tree and everything. I bought them a Menorah and a Mezuzah.

[DR. BASH]: Do they use them?

[FREEDMAN]: How do you use a mezuzah?

[DR. BASH]: You nail it to the door. Do they use the Menorah?

[FREEDMAN]: Yes. But I was the one who bought it for them. I nailed the Mezuzah to their door.

[DR. BASH]: Did your sister convert?


[DR. BASH]: You see, that's why he married her. They're alike. People marry people who are similar to themselves.

[FREEDMAN]: Maybe I should try to be friends with a Jew instead of with Brian. Brian is an Irish Catholic. I think he goes to church every Sunday. (Dr. Bash smiles.) He's very proud of his Irish heritage. Maybe I should be friends with somebody who I have something in common with in terms of my heritage.

You know when I go to sleep at night, I lay down, I turn out the light and I say out loud "Good night, Brian." Sometimes Brian doesn't hear me. And I have to repeat. "Good night, Brian!" And Brian says, "Good night, Mr. Freedman." He calls me "Mr. Freedman."

[DR. BASH]: You are the author of that.

[FREEDMAN]: I know. I made it up. But I think it's funny. Brian used to call me "Mr. Freedman" at the library. When I was leaving the building at night, I would say, "Good night, Brian," and he would say "Good night, Mr. Freedman."

[DR. BASH]: Why do you think he calls you "Mr. Freedman?"

[FREEDMAN]: He wants to pretend he doesn't know my first name. But he knows it.

[DR. BASH]: Of course he does.

[FREEDMAN]: Brian likes me.

[DR. BASH]: Brian doesn't like you. He calls you "Mr. Freedman" as an act of formality. He wants to keep things at a professional level. He's trying to show you that he doesn't want a social relationship with you. He doesn't want to be your friend. If he wanted to be your friend, he wouldn't call you "Mr. Freedman."

[FREEDMAN]: I just think there's something relating to something infantile about my obsession with Brian. Something that happened to me in infancy, at a pre-verbal level. You know--and I think this is very significant--you know I love Wagner's music. I've loved his music since I was eleven years old. It's never changed. The feelings I have for that music. And the feeling is one of ecstasy. It's this beautiful feeling of ecstasy I feel. I never fail to experience it. And I have those same feelings when I think about Brian. And I can't put it into words. It's as if I experienced some bliss at an age before I had acquired language, but I felt something, and I can remember it in some way. I simply can't use words to describe that feeling. But I can experience the feeling. It's a beautiful thing. The fact that the feelings are the same when I hear Wagner's music as when I think about Brian or other people who I've idealized, suggests to me that the feelings relate back to the same experience. I try to recapture that feeling.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: It is my sublime moment. My moment of bliss. My "glorious moment." I keep thinking I'm like the Rat Man. That was one of Freud's patients. Of all the patients of Freud I've read about, I think I most resemble the Rat Man. His real name was Ernst Lanzer. He was very bright. A lawyer. Freud liked him a lot; he even invited him to a family dinner. Lanzer was tormented with obsessive ideas and bizarre associations. It's the same way with me. Did you know--I never told anybody about this before, so you wouldn't know--I am constantly hearing "Meistersinger" in my head. It's been that way for years. Every time I think about these people I idealize, like Brian, I hear "Meistersinger." It's that particular music that accompanies my obsessive thoughts. With my old friend, the musical accompaniment became really intense. I thought about "Meistersinger' all the time. I couldn't get that music out of my head--for years. It's as if "Meistersinger" and my idealized "friends" were soldered together in pairs.

[DR. BASH]: You know, Wagner was Hitler's favorite composer.

[FREEDMAN]: Yea. You know, they never perform Wagner in Israel.

[DR. BASH]: I know.

[FREEDMAN]: Did you ever hear of the conductor Daniel Barenboim? He conducted a Wagner piece not too ago, in Israel. He had to sneak it into the program. The Wagner piece wasn't listed in the printed program. So he was able to perform the music without anybody knowing beforehand. There was a big protest about that afterwards. I guess some people walked out of the concert.

[DR. BASH]: They'll probably never invite him back. Is he the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic?

[FREEDMAN]: No. Chicago.

[DR. BASH]: Who did you have an obsession with before Wagner?

[FREEDMAN]: Benjamin Franklin. You know, the Founding Father? I was obsessed with him from about age nine or ten, till I discovered Wagner.

You know, I was thinking about something a few days ago in connection with Wagner. I was thinking about what happened to him when he was fifty years old. I'm fifty now. At that time Wagner was at the lowest point in his life. He was debt-ridden.

(The sophisticated theatergoer will know that in the German language the word "Schuld" means both "debt" and "guilt." The reference to "debt" in connection with Wagner relates back to the reference to "guilt' earlier in the dialogue.)

Wagner was being hounded all over Europe by creditors. He lived on the run. He would have been sent to jail if he got caught. He was very depressed. He was considering suicide. He saw no way out of his problems. He had several operas, manuscripts, he had written, in his suitcase. They hadn't been performed. It seemed that they would never be performed. Then a miracle happened. Truly a miracle. The King of Bavaria at that time was a Wagner enthusiast. He summoned Wagner to his court, and paid off all his debts. The King awarded Wagner an annual stipend. I'm thinking maybe my obsession with President Clinton relates to my wish that President Clinton will rescue me.

[DR. BASH]: Bill Clinton only cares about Bill Clinton.

[FREEDMAN]: Yes, he's a narcissist.

I think maybe whatever it is that determines my obsessions and ecstatic feelings also determines my social problems in bonding with people.

[DR. BASH]: What about the synagogue, Adat, Adas, Adat Israel? You should get involved.

[FREEDMAN]: You think I can make friends?

[DR. BASH]: Yes, with people at the same emotional level as you. You know, people develop relationships with others who are at their emotional level. Mature people develop relationships with each other. Immature people develop relationships with immature people. And it has nothing to do with intelligence. You can have an immature person who is very intelligent; he will bond with an immature person. You can have a mature person who is just average intelligence; he will bond with someone who is mature.

[FREEDMAN]: Yes. I've read about that. Did you ever hear of the pianist Vladimir Horowitz?

[DR. BASH]: Yes.

[FREEDMAN]: He was a musical genius, you know. But they say that he was like a child when you talked to him. He was involved with the piano since he was a small child. He was a prodigy. So he never learned how to interact with people. He never gained the maturity that comes with that interaction. So he remained a child.

[DR. BASH]: It's a shame when that happens. That wouldn't happen nowadays.

Your problem is you have a fear of rejection. You need to overcome that.

[FREEDMAN]: I have reason to fear rejection. Brian called the police on me.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: I think I have a fear of rejection. But more important, I think I have a fear of loss. I anticipate loss. It's as if I'm struggling to find, I yearn to find, something permanent in a relationship. "Auf Zeit und Ewigkeit," as Hofmannsthal wrote. I fear loss. They say that's typical in guilt; typical in cases where people suffered loss in childhood. Studies of Holocaust survivors show that they have a fear of developing relationships with people, because they fear the pain of losing the person. I identify with that strongly. I want things to last forever--like Faust!

"One common problem in the survivors of the Holocaust," notes Israeli psychiatrist Hillel Klein, "is a profound fear of getting to love someone. Having lost most, if not all, of their early love objects, they now fear that to love anyone means to lose them and go through the pain all over again. Since they have not been able to work through their losses, such a situation threatens overwhelming depression."

It's a psychological consequence common to all persons who have suffered significant emotional loss in childhood; it's not a psychological problem limited to Holocaust survivors. The experts say that "pathological mourning and schizoid detachment are the consequences of early and severe loss; the ensuing withdrawal from all relationships due to anxiety over future loss and guilt over perceived destruction of the object results in further frustration of emotional needs and dissociated lack of awareness of needs."

[FREEDMAN]: You say I should go to Adas Israel, but, technically, under the Conservative Movement, I'm not even Jewish.

[DR. BASH]: You could convert. But I don't know how they do that nowadays.

[FREEDMAN]: I have a confession to make. Do you promise you won't get angry?

[DR. BASH]: What?

[FREEDMAN]: I wrote a letter to the rabbi. The rabbi at Adas Israel. Rabbi Wohlberg.

[DR. BASH]: You are self-destructive.

[FREEDMAN]: Self-defeating.

[DR. BASH]: Self-defeating, self-destructive. You are self-destructive.

[FREEDMAN]: I told him about my loneliness. How I like Brian.

[DR. BASH]: Why did you tell him about Brian?

[FREEDMAN]: The synagogue is only a couple of blocks from the library. I thought maybe he knows Brian.

[DR. BASH]: He doesn't know Brian. Or maybe he does visit the library, I don't know. Maybe he thinks you're homosexual.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: (aside) Maybe he thinks I'm the Governor of New Jersey, out to double his wardrobe!

[FREEDMAN]: I just think my life is hopeless. So I turn everything into a joke. Everything has a game-like quality for me.

[DR. BASH]: You are self-destructive. Why did you write to the rabbi?

[FREEDMAN]: I thought maybe he would call me.

[DR. BASH]: Did you give him your number?


[DR. BASH]: He won't call you. He's not going to look up your number to call you. Why didn't you give him your telephone number?

[FREEDMAN]: I wanted to play hard to get. (pause.) I thought maybe he would call Brian. Maybe he knows Brian, and maybe he would call Brian. I hoped for that. That the rabbi would call Brian. They are in the same neighborhood. (pause.) I told the rabbi I knew somebody in his congregation.

[DR. BASH]: Who?

[FREEDMAN]: Glenn Fine. You know, the guy who works at the Justice Department. The Rhodes Scholar. We both worked at Hogan & Hartson, the law firm, in 1985--well, it's almost twenty years ago.

[DR. BASH]: Time flies.

[FREEDMAN]: Fine is a big contributor to the congregation. I saw Fine's name on the Internet. The synagogue's newsletter lists Fine as a "major contributor."

[DR. BASH]: The rabbi probably does know Fine if he's a major contributor. In any event, go to the synagogue. You don't have to talk to anybody. Just sit and watch. Nobody knows you. The rabbi won't know you, unless you introduce yourself. Don't introduce yourself. Maybe you'll meet a woman there. You don't have to be friends with a man. You can be friends with a woman. Just go and observe. As I say you don't have to speak to anyone.

I see our time is up. (Stands and walks Freedman to the door.) Have a good week.


Well, what did you think, Brian? Am I Arthur Miller, or am I Arthur Miller? I guess you'd have called the cops on Arthur Miller. "Officer, he uses the word 'Death' as part of the title. See, Officer, 'Death of a Salesman.'"

Be that as it may. Have a good week, buddy. Tell Earl Segal that I'm still out of touch with realty.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Under the Boardwalk


Hey, buddy. I write to you once again from my exile: an unquiet oblivion made all the more unquiet by these very letters.

How's it going? Another August 15th has come and gone. Yesterday was Napoleon's birthday. Did you rise to the occasion?

Listen, buddy. I like you. I really, really like you. In a nongubernatorial way, of course. That's a little party humor. A little Jersey Democratic Party humor. Who ever said a Jewish kid and an Irish-Catholic kid couldn't be good friends? I mean really, REALLY good friends?

Well, it looks like the party season is upon us, here at 3801 Connecticut Avenue. Mardi, the front-desk manager, is going all out arranging a party for the residents that she is tentatively scheduling for Saturday September 19. She's planning this as a chance for residents to get to know each other.

Mardi has been thinking about the idea of making the party an ice cream social. What the hell is an ice cream social? Mardi was talking to David Dickenson about having an ice cream social. (Dickenson, if you remember, is the lawyer, who, because he is a lawyer, can't be friends with me--according to The Mad Monk.) Even David Dickenson was baffled. Ice cream doesn't sound like something you could serve with beer. If you can't have beer, what's the point of a party? Who wants to get together over a plate of ice cream? This isn't the Creamery at Penn State.

I'm a lot of fun at parties, did I ever tell you that?

I think I told you the story about the Christmas party I attended at my old place of employment, back in Philadelphia--The Franklin Institute. This was back in December 1977. I was a mere youth of 23 at the time. I was besotted. They didn't serve beer--or ice cream. I was drinking gin and tonics all night. The effects of gin can creep up on you, after a time.
The party was held in the Rotunda of the Franklin Institute: a massive, classically-designed space that features a huge statue of Benjamin Franklin. I tried to climb on to the statue. Climb up the statue, actually. I guess if you had been there, you would have called the cops on me, buddy, and had me kicked out. Or had someone else call the cops for you.

One of the employees, a middle aged-gentleman named Jack Byk, sorted the whole sorry mess out. Jack Byk was a computer expert at The Franklin Institute Research Laboratories, where I worked. He was a native of Vienna, Austria. I don't know if he spoke Spanish. We got to talking. Mrs. Byk was also there.

Some time later, Jack Byk said to me: "Do you have any friends?" I lied. I said yes. He said: "That surprises me. The way you talk. Your interests. I have kids your age. You have nothing--absolutely nothing--in common with them. You wouldn't fit in with my kids or their friends at all." Yes, that's a lifetime problem for me. I'm unique. Too unique for my own good. I'm not a mixer. I'm like straight tonic water. Who drinks straight tonic water?

You know the British don't add ice to their gin and tonic. Only the Americans do that. Americans live dangerously, I suppose. Queer, though, don't you think? But that's neither here nor there. I've been thinking about the four Stanleys of late. Everybody should have at least four Stanleys in his life. Well, I've had mine.

February 1972. My sister and brother-in-law had a party at their apartment for members of my brother-in-law's family. I was 18 years old at the time. I was in my first year of college. I was chatting with the wife of my brother-in-law's maternal uncle, Stanley Weinstein, M.D. Dr. Weinstein was an internist who died in about 1980. Dr. Weinstein was a proud graduate of my high school, Central High School -- where he was a member of the German Club and a Barnwell recipient. (That's an academic award). I don't know if he spoke Spanish. Dr. Weinstein got his M.D. at Jefferson Medical College: Murray Cohen is the head of trauma surgery at Jefferson. Murray Cohen is Fredric's brother, the French-speaking mohel who dabbled in presidential politics. Am I getting a little too loose with my associations?

In any event I was talking to Dr. Weinstein's wife, Janet. Janet Weinstein later told her sister-in-law, my brother-in-law's mother: "I couldn't believe he was only 18. He talked like an adult. I've never talked to an 18-year-old who talked like that. He sounded so mature and knowledgeable." The Weinsteins had three sons. One son, Michael Weinstein, Esq., is a tax attorney in Philadelphia. I think Malcolm and Earl talked to Michael Weinstein about me back in 1992.

October 1987. I was working at Hogan & Hartson at the time. I went to a "wine and cheese" party (not a beer and ice cream party) at the Capitol Hilton that was sponsored by the temp agency that I worked for at the time. I took Cindy Rodda with me. Cindy Rodda was a full-time Hogan employee who I worked with.

It just happened that there was a reporter at the Capitol Hilton from "The Voice of America." He was interviewing the guests (all temporary agency employees) about The Wonderful World of Temping in America. He was doing a story for "The Voice of America" on the phenomenon of temporary work. I guess people in other countries would find that an exotic topic.

I spoke to the reporter. He thrust a microphone in my face. You know, the whole deal. I talked and talked about temping. The whole world of temping. My experiences temping, and so forth. The reporter was wowed over. He said: "I have never talked to anybody like you in my life. You are the most unusual person I have ever talked to. You know, I think I'm going to lead my story with my interview with you. You're going to make this story!"

Yes, people find me to be a tad different, if not a tad askew.

January 1990. I had my first psychiatric consultation with my old psychiatrist, Stanley R. Palombo, M.D. He asked me about my background and so forth. He asked me where I went to college. I said, "Penn State." "Why did you go to Penn State?" he asked. I thought the question was odd. I didn't know what to say. He asked: "Was it for financial reasons?" I said: "Yes." Financial reasons were as good as any other reason. I inquired about why he asked such a question--a question that seemed to me rather odd. He said: "It's the way you talk. I thought you would have gone to one of the finer private schools." Who the hell did he think I was, Glenn Fine? Two degrees from Harvard, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and a future at the Justice Department as a presidential appointee? No way, man. Dr. Palombo himself is a graduate of Columbia--one of the finer private schools in upper Manhattan.

I have a remarkable talent for making myself sound smarter than I really am. It's a gift. 1972. The year of Watergate, the Nixon-McGovern presidential campaign, and the Munich Olympics. Mark Spitz and all that.

Remember Watergate? The president's aides made an illegal back-door entry and the whole thing snowballed into extortion and hush money. At least Nixon kept the whole thing presidential. Nixon wasn't governor material. He proved that in California in '62. Ask Len Garment; he'd be the first to say, "Nixon was not governor material."

In the fall of 1972 I entered my second year at Penn State. I took an introductory course in public speaking and swimming. Public speaking is a required course at Penn State. At Penn State students also have to pass a swimming test in order to graduate. Don't ask me why. Query: How many swimmers has Penn State ever sent to the U.S. Olympic team? I can remember the locker room after swim class. Things would get a little gubernatorial with Bruce Stein, lathering up General Bonaparte; Stein had a very public relationship with the little man from Corsica. (By the way, did you ever wonder where Napoleon stuck his hand when he wasn't in uniform? Now that's a mystery that needs some investigating!)

The public speaking course I took was taught by one Stanley Cutler, a young fellow who was himself a Penn State graduate. The whole course was really a course in Stanley Cutler. He had a gift of the public gab--as you would expect--and his favorite topic was himself: his likes and dislikes, his opinions about the world at large, and so forth. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Stan Cutler was a lot like Bruce Stein, but without the lather.

In point of fact, Stanley Cutler was an ideal candidate for psychoanalysis. I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean that the way a training analyst, an analyst like Stanley Greenspan, would mean it. Cutler would be an ideal patient for a candidate-in-training: an easy, but rewarding classic neurotic. Cutler had a lively inner life, but he was strongly object oriented. He had a strong libido that was expressed in rich and varied sublimations: his orality was expressed in his professional work (as an instructor of public speaking); his phallic tendencies were expressed in his competitiveness and (controlled) performance anxiety. He had strong exhibitionistic/voyeuristic tendencies; he loved to perform in front of an audience, as well as watch and evaluate the performance of others.

He was fascinated by the quality of charisma: the ability of an individual to capture the interest and attention of a group of individuals. He spoke of Jack Kennedy's charisma in terms reminiscent of Lance Morrow's observations in "A View from the Shore." Cutler talked about how Kennedy, walking into a room, would arouse the curiosity and awe of the audience. There was something electric about Jack Kennedy, Cutler might have said; it was as if he altered the chemical structure of a room simply by entering it. Thirty-two years later, I still remember (or think I can remember) "Olam Cutler," as my Hebrew-speaking friends would say. "The World of Cutler."

Cutler said he thought Sally Struthers had a hot body. Struthers was the actress who portrayed Archie Bunker's daughter on the TV show "All in the Family." I don't even remember the character's name played by Struthers; Archie Bunker used to call her "Little Girl." "All in the Family" was a popular show in the fall of '72. Cutler himself was married and had a little girl (she liked to masturbate, so Cutler reported). Yes, it may have been introductory Public Speaking, but it was an advanced course in Cutler.

He said he liked classical music. His musical tastes didn't seem too sophisticated, though. I think he said he liked "Finlandia," by Sibelius. That piece is what you'd call a "potboiler." At one point he said he was selling his car. A student voiced an interest in buying it. Cutler told the student he'd have to arrange the financing. That was the end of the discussion. Cutler struggled with a cigarette addiction. He had to have a cigarette at certain times. He said his wife was nagging him about quitting. Say what you will about cigars, Professor Freud, but sometimes a cigarette is more than just a cigarette.

I think he mentioned that he had a brother who was a medical doctor. And that he had a scar from an old football injury--in a private place. Or maybe that's my confabulation. Mark Twain once remarked that the older he got, the more vivid the recollection of things that had not happened.

Incidentally, I can remember only one other student who was in that class: Joe Kaplan. Kaplan used to carry a copy of the U.S. Constitution around with him. Kaplan is now a practicing attorney down here in DC: the named partner in Passman & Kaplan. Joe Kaplan was active in student politics. Presidential not gubernatorial.

Be that as it may.

Cutler's students had to give three speeches. The first speech was expository. I recall the speech I gave concerned the energy crisis and alternative fuels. Cutler said the speech was overly-dense with facts; the speech contained too many facts for an audience to assimilate. He gave me a grade of B.

The second speech was intended to be argumentative. I spoke about organized labor. The speech was pro-labor, the type of material that goes over big in the Northeast--states like Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey. Who knows, if things had gone a little differently for me, I could have had a chance in gubernatorial politics. Shaking hands with the unemployed, and all that.

Cutler was very impressed with the speech. He said it was the best speech he'd heard a student give for at least the previous two terms, or something like that.

The third and last speech was a "speech about nothing." "Nothing" in the technical, Seinfeldian sense; not nothing in the common, colloquial sense. I talked about happiness: how elusive happiness is. I offered the notion that the way to avoid disappointment in life is not to seek happiness, but simply to enjoy the happiness that life brings our way. Yes, even at the age of eighteen I was a pessimist. "I should have known there was already something wrong." An eighteen-year-old kid who quotes Spinoza. Baruch Spinoza. One of the great socially-maladjusted misfits of Western Civilization. He lived out his years in total seclusion after he was excommunicated by the rabbinical authorities in Amsterdam. Spinoza was a radical free-thinker whose ideas about religion made him persona non grata in the local Jewish community. Yes, Spinoza got himself banned from his local synagogue. The branch-rabbi called the municipal authorities and had the guy kicked out. But not just for six months; the ban was permanent. It was a devastating loss for Spinoza; he liked his rabbi. I mean Spinoza really, really liked his rabbi. The older man had been a second father to the young radical.

In any event, I remember Cutler's comments at the conclusion of my "speech about nothing;" they were positive. He gave me an "A." Cutler made the unforgettable humorous observation: "You must be a lot of fun at parties." I am, buddy. More than you know!

Something interesting happened in my next class that afternoon: Miriam Groner's Biological Sciences class. A student in Cutler's public speaking class was also taking Dr. Groner's biology course. He called out to me in Groner's lecture hall: "You are weird, man. You are so weird." I guess my thinking was too radical for the kid. My references to Spinoza sent him over the top. I see that particular minute experience as paradigmatic. I see myself as having what is called in psychoanalytic circles as a "high transference valence." My thinking, my behavior, the things I say are so totally my own, so independent, so unconventional that they have a polarizing effect. Some people have a strong positive reaction. Stan Cutler, for example, loved my speech. The tough politician, Joe Kaplan, smiled at me during the speech (that's why I remember him, I suppose). Other people--or at least one other person--had a strong negative reaction. Maybe I'm like Richard Nixon; people either loved Nixon or hated him--intensely.

Cutler was a big George McGovern supporter. McGovern was the Democratic candidate for the office of President of the United States in 1972. "If only he could do something about that immobile upper lip," Cutler once said. Cutler was one of those radical, anti-Nixon, anti-war freaks. Though I remember an observation he once made about President Nixon. It was odd. As of the fall of 1972, it was not known what, if any, involvement Nixon had in the Watergate affair. Cutler said with absolute confidence--despite his opposition to Nixon's politics--"Richard Nixon is an individual of the highest personal integrity. He had nothing to do with Watergate, I can assure you of that." Would you trust a used-car salesman on the encomium of Stanley Cutler? What Stanley Cutler did not know--what no one could have known in 1972--was that Nixon would eventually be driven from office in disgrace, and that this strange, tough, determined, brilliant man would make a comeback from physical illness and mental injury as dramatic as Napoleon after Elba, emerging in later years from his self-imprisonment to confound his critics and enemies.

Running for President is no one-year crash effort, but a way of life extending over a number of years. It is a grueling, debilitating, and often dehumanizing ordeal that exacts an extravagant price not only for winning but also for the mere running and losing. A marathon obstacle course, it consumes time, money, and humans like some insatiable furnace.

As Len Garment would say: Running for President is actually a lot like a course of treatment in psychoanalysis. Believe me, Garment knows.

Ah, yes! That reminds me. My last session with The Mad Monk, Dr. Bash. "Dr. Bash," I opened, "here is the name and telephone number of the rabbi at my local congregation, Adas Israel. Maybe you could call him." "Why would I call him?" asked Dr. Bash. "Maybe he could tell you about the social events at Adas Israel, things that I could get involved in." "No," said The Mad Monk, "you'll have to call yourself. You don't have to talk to the rabbi. Talk to somebody in the office. She'll tell you about the social events. I think they have something every Friday night. You could go there on Friday night. People come from all over. Baltimore, Virginia. They get a large crowd of people. Five-hundred people, something like that. Out of all those people you can find somebody to be friends with."

"But Dr. Bash," I said, "maybe Rabbi Wohlberg speaks Hebrew. The two of you could speak Hebrew together." "Oh, big deal!" said The Mad Monk.

We then got into a learned discussion concerning the Hebrew letter "tav." "Dr. Bash," I asked, "what does 'Adas' mean?" "Adat," she said, "it means 'nation.' The Nation of Israel. It's Adat. Not Adas. You know the Hebrew letter 'tav?' It is pronounced 's' in Yiddish. But in Hebrew it's 't.'. I don't know why they call it 'Adas' instead of 'Adat.'" I commented: "You mean like Shabbat and Succoth." "Yes," said The Mad Monk. "Shabbat is the Hebrew pronunciation and Shabbos is Yiddish. Succoth is the same."

You live and you learn.

"Anyway, if you go there on Friday nights, you don't have to talk to anybody. Just go," said Dr. Bash. Actually Dr. Bash's comment is less comforting to me than it appears or was intended. Those were the very words Dr. Bash used to encourage me to go to group therapy. "Just go. You don't have to talk. Just sit and listen. When you're ready to talk, you can talk." The reality was different. The group leaders, Nicole and Debra, said at the outset that it was an active group. That everyone was expected to participate. A group member was not permitted to simply sit and not participate.

Back in the summer of 1978, when I was 24 years old, I went on a group tour to Italy. I didn't talk to people. They thought I was weird. I sat next to an older couple on the plane over to Italy. One day I happened to be walking behind them. Another group member said to the couple: "You see that young man walking behind us?" "Yes," the lady said disdainfully, "we sat next to him on the plane." "Why would anyone go to Europe alone?" "He looks like he's too smart for his own good." So much for just sitting silently and not talking.

There's an irony about my social relations and social difficulties that Dr. Bash is not picking up on. A polarized quality. You'll notice that she keeps encouraging me to get involved with other people; particularly people in groups, such as group therapy or at Jewish functions. She holds out the possibility that I can get along with people and form relationships. In her mind the future is full of possibilities.

Yet my past interactions have been notably disturbed. I was thrown out of group therapy in March 2004. I was fired from my last job at Akin Gump, where I was alleged to have been potentially violent. I was fired from my job before that, at Hogan & Hartson. I was banned from my local library in April 2004; the police were summoned to escort me out of the building. I've had difficult or dissatisfying relations with all of my psychotherapists since 1992. Yet, Dr. Bash reacts to my pessimism about my social difficulties as if those difficulties carry no implications at all about my potential for social adjustment. "I can't make friends," I say again and again. And again and again Dr. Bash says, "But did you even try?" "Don't contact Brian!" "Don't call Nicole!' "Don't call Earl Segal or any other attorneys at Akin Gump!" "Call someone at Adas Israel!" You see how polarized this world is? I'm continually getting thrown out of environments; it's rare for me to leave an environment voluntarily. That's not entirely normal. Hasn't Dr. Bash herself noticed the polarity of the injunctions she directs at me: "Don't call those people, they don't want to have anything to do with you!" and "Call these other people, maybe you'll make a friend!" Oddly, Dr. Bash talked about employment. She referred to my not working and the fact, as she put it, that "I don't want to work." What's odd is that this particular session is our tenth. For the nine previous sessions, she said absolutely nothing about my working. When I met her in her capacity as my case working in May 2003, August 2003, and December 2003--that's all she talked about. "You need to get a job. You are employable. It's a sin in the Jewish religion not to work." Then when I started to see her in therapy in June of this year she said nothing about work. Yet at this session she mentioned my getting a job. It just struck me as odd. She made the comment: "You know, it can be harder to make a friend than to get a job." Whatever that meant. Actually, it's harder for me to make a friend than it is to hit it big at the Maryland lottery. But that's another story.

"You know, Dr. Bash," I said, "something that bothered me about Nicole in group therapy was when she said I seemed content with my life. Why did she say that? I found that so disturbing. I'm absolutely miserable. I long for some kind of connection with someone. My life is painful for me. How could she say I seemed content with my life?" "She's just a student," said Dr. Bash, adding, "it takes many years of experience to be a psychologist." I said: "But even a layman would know that somebody who is totally isolated, who is obsessed with an imaginary friend, who writes letters to an imaginary friend, has to be deeply troubled, very much in psychological pain." "She's just a student," repeated Dr. Bash.

"You said last time that you thought I was different from other therapists. What did you mean by that?" "Well, Dr. Bash, you tell me what I should be doing. You tell me to make friends, and so forth. Other therapists were not so coercive."

"Did Palombo tell you what to do?" "No, not socially. He didn't try to coerce me into making friends. But he tried to encourage me to get a better job. I was working at the time. I had a law degree. He thought I should practice law instead of working as a paralegal."

"What about Sack? Did he tell you what to do?" "Well, I only saw him three times. But in those three sessions, he didn't tell me I should be doing anything. He was more purely psychoanalytical."

"The last therapist I saw, the one at GW (Meghana Tembe), was totally non-directive. She never told me I should be working or that I should try to make friends." Dr. Bash said, again: "She was just a student. She doesn't even have her degree. In fact, she when she left GW this spring, she went to Baltimore to continue her education with another program." The reference to "Baltimore"struck me as odd. Note that at the beginning of the session, Dr. Bash mentioned that people come from all over (Baltimore, Virginia) to attend functions at the Adas Israel Congregation. That's something I always notice: when people refer to the same thing in different contexts. Why Baltimore?

"Dr. Shaffer didn't coerce me to do anything, Dr. Bash." "She probably gave up," said The Mad Monk.

"I don't think I can make friends." "But you never tried," said Dr. Bash. "My relations with my therapists must say something. The fact that I typically don't like them. The fact that even when I like somebody, I find some excuse to quit, like with Dr. Palombo and Dr. Sack." "Why did you quit Dr. Palombo?" "Well, I had seen him for about a year. And I suppose that I wanted to get closer to him. I wanted a closeness with him that was not feasible given the nature of our professional relationship. I couldn't take that strain in our relationship. So I quit." "And Dr. Sack? Why did you quit him?" "I thought he was talking to Malcolm and Earl." "Dr. Bash, what do I tell people at social events when people ask what I do. You know, they always ask that. 'And what do you do?' What should I say?" The Mad Monk replied: "Tell them you're between jobs." Maybe I should tell them I'm between commitments. I guess if I really want to impress people I could tell them I've been a patient at some of the finer state hospitals: Bellevue, St. Elizabeths.

But seriously, Brian, that's one of the reasons I would like to be friends with you. I feel you know me already, you know my whole history. It's like you're the Claire Hirshfield of Gary Freedman; you know the whole history of my campaigns "from Egypt to Borodino," as Claire would say. I don't have to deal with that "getting to know you, getting to know all about you" crap. Getting together with you would be like putting up a pre-fab house. All the hard part is done already. You just sit down and--"voila!" as Fredric would say. Talking to you would be like talking to a brother.

A few weeks ago, I asked Dr. Bash to call you, Brian. She said, "No. A friendship can't be forced." What I find interesting is that Dr. Bash has no qualms about coercing me to do things. She thinks she can force me to make friends. Believe me, it won't work.

"Dr. Bash, are there homosexuals on the kibbutzim in Israel?" "No. None." "So there are no boys who grew up on a kibbutz who became homosexual?" "No. There are no recorded instances." "So," Dr. Bash, "doesn't that support the notion that homosexuality is environmental. That it arises as a result of the effects of the family environment on a boy?" "No, homosexuality is genetic," said Dr. Bash. "Do you know what genetic means?" asked Dr. Bash. Do I know what genetic means? I wrote the book!

"Do you consider yourself homosexual?" asked Dr. Bash. Actually, I rarely consider myself at all. "You know who started the Kibbutzim?" asked Dr. Bash. "It was idealists who cared nothing about money. They came from Russia and elsewhere. They wanted to create an ideal society. All the early leaders of Israel started out on the kibbutz. David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir--she lived in the United States, but she was originally from Russia or somewhere--they all started out as members of the kibbutz. They were all idealists. Some of them came from rich families originally. From rich families in Europe. Good families. But they gave it all up to live on the kibbutz. Some of them even walked all the way to [Palestine]."

The Mad Monk was hinting at the (fundamentally bizarre) argument (or confabulation) that because the founders of the kibbutzim (who also included the early political leaders of Israel) came from "good families," without any genetic tendencies to homosexuality, they passed on their genetic purity to subsequent generations of kibbutzim. Hence, the lack of any recorded instances of homosexuality on the kibbutz. I wonder what she was really saying, analytically speaking? (Not to mention the burning question: "What the hell is going on in Trenton, New Jersey?")

You never know what incredible things you'll learn when you first step foot in Dr. Bash's office. I have to tell you, Brian, in my twenty-seven years of psychotherapy, this is the first time a therapist has ever mentioned the name of Israel's former Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol. No, really, buddy. I'm serious. The subject just never came up. Can you believe that? "So I start with a new therapist in September." "Should be. The new residents start in September." "You know, Dr. Bash, I'm looking for a male therapist." "I know," said Dr. Bash softly, her voice trailing off.

"I just wish I had a brother instead of a sister," Dr. Bash. "A brother is no better than a sister," said Dr. Bash. "I mean symbolically. I wish I had a friend who would be like a brother to me." "Did you write a letter to Brian this week?" asked Dr. Bash. "Yes. I wrote Brian a ten-page letter on Monday. I write a lot about you, Doctor."

The Mad Monk asked me if I planned to take a vacation. A vacation from what? From my fantasy camp of a life? I should shell out money to go on a vacation so I can get away from Washington where I do nothing? I can do nothing here. For nothing.

"Dr. Bash, I was thinking, I could visit Israel and stay there with your relatives." "My relatives? No way!"

"You know, Dr. Bash, Dr. Sack died almost exactly a year ago. He died on vacation." "Oh," said The Mad Monk, "it's terrible to die on vacation. How old was he?" "Sixty-nine." "Oh, that's young." (It's actually four years past retirement age, according to Dr. Bash's reckoning. Remember a few weeks ago: "Malcolm Lassman is 65? He must be retired. His son must have taken over his practice.)

"Oh, I forgot to mention, Dr. Bash, but I saw Charles last Friday, Friday August sixth. You remember Charles, the guy who's in charge of the circulation desk at the library? He was very friendly. He said: "Hi, Gar. How's it goin'?" That's more than I get from you, Brian. You need to be spending more time with Charles. You might learn something about being a human being. "They're having a party in my building in September, Dr. Bash." "That's because people go on vacation in August. You need to get in touch with Adas Israel." "Well, I'd like to go to the party in my building first, and see how I get along with a small group of people." "How many people will be at the party?" "Well, there's about 120 units in my building." "Oh, that's big." "So, maybe there'll be about 50 or 60 people at the party."

Gotta run, Brian. But not for Governor of New Jersey or anywhere else. Gotta make plans for the party. I'm a lot of fun at parties, Stan Cutler's sarcasm notwithstanding. Check you out next week, buddy.

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Personal Trainer


Hey, buddy. How's it going? Just give me the facts, man. I just want to know, in point of fact, how you're doing? Mind you, no bloody metaphors!
I don't mean to sound like Jerry Seinfeld (not that there's anything wrong with that!), but what's up with personal trainers? What is the psychology of the personal trainer and the people who hire them? I don't get it.
There's a guy in my building, a Newmanesque, portly fellow. I doubt he's a U.S. Postal Service employee, though. He lost some weight with the help of a personal trainer. The trainer used to come to my building a few times a week. Tubby and the trainer would work together in my apartment building's fitness center. Tubby would work out on the treadmill, the trainer standing at his side. The trainer would tell Tubby to increase the speed, slow down, or stop altogether and get started on another activity. Like Tubby couldn't do that on his own? He needs to pay somebody to tell him what to do? Could anyone please explain this to me?
I can't see paying some purported Sports Authority to tell me what to do. It's like, "Look man, I'm the Sports Authority. There's a right way to work out and a wrong way to work out. I'll teach you the right way. I'll show you what you've been doing wrong. I'll motivate you." Who needs that? I certainly don't.
I work out every day. Forty minutes. I work out strenuously. I sweat like a pig (actually pigs don't sweat, of course; they don't have sweat glands--it's a bloody metaphor). I'm in good shape; my blood pressure is consistently about 120 over 70. I never fail to work out. If I don't feel well, if I'm tired -- whatever -- I get my ass into the fitness room and I work out. I know that when I'm done working out, I'll feel better. That's my motivation. I take two days off--Saturday (Shabbat, as The Mad Monk would say) and Sunday.
I was reading in a recent issue of New York magazine that even Bob Morgenthau, the Manhattan D.A.--the tough-as-nails Manhattan D.A. for life (or for eternity, as it looks right now)--has a personal trainer come to his apartment once a week. Can you imagine that? Serial killers don't intimidate Morgenthau, but the guy's afraid of a treadmill!
I've been working out every day now, just about, since April 1986. I can remember I started working out every day while I was working at Hogan & Hartson. It was the week my supervisor, Sheryl Ferguson, went to Ixtapa, Mexico on vacation. She had a rotten time. But I enjoyed my workouts.
I can be incredibly lazy and unmotivated in many ways, in many areas of life. But, in other ways, I'm a highly self-motivated person.
Law School. My first year of law school was 1979-1980. I spent my first year of law school in Spokane, Washington at a third-tier law school. Too many alcoholic conferences in college with my old professors in my undergraduate days; my academic record was none too stellar. In any event, I spent my first year of law school three thousand miles from home, in Philadelphia. I had no friends, no family, no support of any kind. I didn't make any friends in law school. I was a hermit. The Hermit of Spokane. My mother died in the beginning of January 1980, the start of my second semester, first year. You know how rough the loss of mama can be for a "laughed-at mama's boy." So there I was. Three thousand miles from home. No family, no mama, no friends, no support. The pressures of law school. And, of course, I was struggling with severe mental illness.
I completed my first year in the top 15% of my class. The Chief Justice (Bob Strauss's poker buddy, Wild Bill Rehnquist) finished law school in the top 15%, too: impressive, huh? I just plugged along. My grades were good enough that Temple Law School in Philadelphia accepted me as a transfer student, second year. I transferred to Temple, where I got my law degree in May 1982. By the way, Temple accepts precious few transfer students. Ask Bob Reinstein, the dean at Temple Law. He'll tell you: "We accept only a handful of transfer students."
My point? I did that on my own, without emotional support, encouragement or persuasion. I was motivated to go to law school, on my own. I was motivated to complete law school, despite my tribulations, on my own. I didn't have, or need the help of, someone to motivate or encourage me.
Other examples. Last year, I had a few extra pounds. I wanted to lose weight. I settled on a diet routine and I followed it. I lost about 20 pounds.
I used to be a heavy cigarette smoker. At one point, back in 1993, I decided it was time to quit. I quit: no patches, no drugs, no motivational programs. I just quit. I haven't touched tobacco in eleven years.
I had a bit of a drinking problem a few years back. I was drinking a six-pack of beer every day. Robby can confirm that. You know Robby, at Cleveland Park Wine and Liquor? Anyway, I thought: "Man, this is getting out of control. In another few years, I'm not going to have a liver." I cut back on my own. No Alcoholics Anonymous. No motivational programs. No family member telling me I better quit. I made a decision, and I carried it out. That was it.
Back to my original point. Personal Trainers. What is the psychology of the person who needs another person to tell him to work out, or do anything for that matter? Don't ask me. I have no idea. The concept is totally alien to me. It seems to me that you can divide the world into two classes of people: self-motivated people who do things on their own and unmotivated people who need encouragement and actually benefit from encouragement. We live in a world of sheep and shepherds, as it were.
Be that as it may.
What I've come to see is that The Mad Monk, my psychologist, sees her role as being that of a personal trainer. She sees her role as being the person who will badger, coerce, encourage, persuade, and exhort me to do things the right way. "You need to work. You are employable. It's a sin in the Jewish religion not to work." (Am I even employable?) "You need to join a group. You could benefit from group therapy." (Didn't group therapy turn out to be a disaster for me?) "You need to publish your book. You need to work on your references, your bibliography and your table of contents." (Is my book even publishable?) "You need to get involved with people. That's the only way you'll make friends." (But do I even have a capacity to make and maintain friendships?)
Fundamentally, Dr. Bash functions as a personal trainer. She's trying to get me to do what I need to do to meet my goals. But she herself doesn't really help me in any way with the intrapsychic problems and limitations that impair my interpersonal functioning. In her mind her role is simply to motivate and encourage.
Do I need a "personal trainer?" Can I benefit from a "personal trainer?" Furthermore: What is the reaction of a self-motivated person to a personal trainer? I suspect it's not positive, to say the least. If a personal trainer tried to motivate me, my reaction would be: "Listen buddy, why don't you just back off. I don't need any of your f*****g advice. I'll do this the way I want to do it. If I need your help, I'll ask for it." How do you think Donald Trump would take to some interloper telling him how to run his business? Do you think Donald Trump listens to Tony Robbins' motivational tapes in his spare time? I don't think so.
My feeling is, I may screw up my life. But if I do screw up my life, I'll do it my way. I'm a self-motivated, self-destructive fool.
Returning to the metaphor of the overweight person. There are personal trainers and there are cosmetic surgeons, who do liposuctions, tummy tucks, and gastric bypasses. When I started to work with Dr. Bash, I thought I was getting a "cosmetic surgeon" who would do something. Actually do something. Turns our she's just a personal trainer. That's what supportive psychotherapy is. It's a motivational program. Unlike psychoanalysis. In analysis or psychodynamically-oriented psychotherapy the therapist does something. He provides an atmosphere for self-exploration and development of the self. Dr. Bash provides nothing in the way of a therapeutically-salutary environment. She does nothing but tell me what I need to do. But the bottom line is, I already know what I need to do.
I already know that sitting alone in my apartment is not going to help my social life. I know that the only way I can have any chance at all of making friends is to place myself in social situations. What kind of moron wouldn't already know that? So we have The Mad Monk telling me: "You need to get involved with people, you need to find a place where people congregate--such as a synagogue (reform, conservative or orthodox), a place where people speak Hebrew, a place where people eat food," and so forth. Like I don't already know that? The fat person knows he needs to lose weight. He knows that diet and exercise are the only way to do that on his own. But it's also recognized that some people can't lose weight with diet and exercise alone, and that hiring a personal trainer will not motivate some people who suffer from obesity. For some people, some intervention into internal functioning is required. Hence, the gastric bypass. Have I mixed too may metaphors here? Have I become lost in a maze of metaphors--contradictory metaphors? So be it!
At my last session with Dr. Bash, I presented to her what I call my "Statement of Principles." I read to her a series of statements about myself: "non-negotiable" points, as it were, about my psychological functioning. I wrote the statement in order to deal with the extreme frustration I experience with her week after week: the frustration of having to deal with her endless exhortations. "You need to do this, you need to do that."
This is what I told The Mad Monk.
1. I am totally isolated socially.
2. I experience my social isolation as extremely painful and distressing.
3. I have a lifelong history of social isolation, shallow social relations, or difficult social relations.
4. I like few people; I would prefer to be alone than socialize with people who I do not genuinely like.
5. I will not develop social relations simply by mingling with a random group of people. I am bashful, oversensitive, sincere, and melancholy. I require solitude, but I value friendship, which I consider a "sacred relation." See Arieti, S. "Creativity: The Magic Synthesis," at 345 (New York: Basic Books, 1976). How does a person with my personality qualities make friends by mingling in a random social setting?
6. I have severe personality problems.
7. My social needs, limitations, and capacities are determined by my intrapsychic personality problems.
8. Of all the therapists I have seen since 1990 (and I've seen many), I genuinely liked only two: Dr. Palombo and Dr. Sack, both psychoanalysts. Even in the case of these two individuals who I liked a great deal, I found it impossible to sustain a relationship. I quit my therapy with Dr. Palombo after one year; I saw Dr. Sack only three times because I thought he was communicating with Earl and Malcolm. In effect, I experience emotional distress even in the company of optimally empathic individuals. This is far more serious than simply "a lack of social skills."
9. I had very disturbed relations with several therapists; in 1996 a social worker tried to throw me out of her office (after I began to argue with her).
10. In 1989 I consulted my Employee Assistance Program provider (Sheppard Pratt). The social worker (who recorded her opinion that I was "a brilliant man" in her case file) made a psychiatric referral mindful of my personality needs. She referred me to Floyd Galler, a Harvard M.D. (and a personal friend of Dr. Palombo--Dr. Palombo and Dr. Galler did their psychiatric residencies at Harvard together). (The social worker's name was Kathleen Kelley.)
11. I experience my relationship with you, Dr. Bash, as a strain.
12. I like Brian. I would accept Brian as a friend (to whatever degree he would feel comfortable with me). (Definitely no touching or rubbing!)
13. I believe that Brian likes me a lot more than his manifest actions indicate.
14. I would accept other people as friends.
15. I do not know how to meet people who I could befriend, based on my specific needs, limitations, and capacities.
16. Re: therapy-- I have firmly held ideas about my personality that will not change through persuasion or exhortation. I view the mind as being far more than simply a collection of consciously-held ideas that can be changed through persuasion.
17. People who I would accept as friends are:
Eric H. Holder, Jr.; Glenn Fine; Craig W. Dye; Jesse Raben; Brian Brown; Ari (The Jewish Kid); Captain Brad Matthew Dolinsky; or other persons of like persuasion.
18. It may be that I do not have the psychological capacity to form and maintain social relations. The evidence, in my opinion, is inconclusive.
So much for my Statement of Principles. I had hoped that my statement would place my dialogue with Dr. Bash on a new, meaningful level.
But her response left me crestfallen. Big surprise! What do you think the first words out of her mouth were? "Did you ever think of joining the Rockville Jewish Community Center?" Now she has me traveling to Rockville to meet people. Aren't there people in Washington? My question is: Do they speak Hebrew in Rockville? Because if they don't speak Hebrew, what's the point? I thought: "This is it. This is utterly hopeless. Everything I just said went in one ear and out the other. The Mad Monk failed to address any of my concerns--all valid concerns--and fell back on the same old saw: "Interact with people, and you'll eventually make friends." How many times do I have to repeat this? "Interacting with people is a necessary condition to making friends. Interacting with people is not be a sufficient condition to making and maintaining friends. Intrapsychic factors can impair social functioning."
I've come to see that Dr. Bash confuses an inner sense of alienation with feelings of loneliness and isolation. A sense of alienation will impair social relations; affiliation with others will not overcome a sense of alienation, however. The notoriously alienated writer Franz Kafka was unable to overcome his existential sense of isolation even in the presence of his several close friends.
How have I decided to cope with The Mad Monk?
I made a commitment to myself. "I'll just talk about Brian. I'll do to her what she does to me. She drives me crazy with her impenetrability. I'll do the same to her." In fact, a few weeks ago I pointed out to her the symmetry in our behavior towards each other. "You know, Dr. Bash, you complain about my obsession with Brian. You tell me that Brian and I will never become friends and that I should stop talking as if Brian and I will become friends. Well, you do the same thing with me. I am not going to change simply in response to your attempts at persuasion--that's not what psychotherapy is about. And yet, week after week, you rely solely on persuasion, knowing that nothing's going to come of it. We are mirrors of each other. My behavior is a parody of your behavior." She didn't get that point either.
The Mad Monk glanced over at a calendar on the wall. "Look," she said, "it's almost September. Next month will be Rosh Hashanah. Why don't you call your sister. Rosh Hashanah would be a good opportunity to get together with your sister." (Keep in mind: according to Dr. Bash I'm not Jewish. But that's another story).
I haven't talked to my sister in eight years. As far as I know my sister may have moved to Hong Kong. I'll tell you this, Brian, I'm not flying to Hong Kong for Rosh Hashanah. Do they speak Hebrew in China? You have a sister, don't you, buddy? It's pure hell. I wish I had a brother. Don't you ever wish you had a brother?
I told Dr. Bash that I thought my sister got me fired from my job. "The things my sister told Malcolm and Earl got me fired from my job," I said. "Your sister (in point of fact) didn't get you fired from your job," replied The Mad Monk. Notice that Dr. Bash interprets my statement in terms of factual rightness and wrongness, instead of looking at the psychological implications of my statement. My statement indicates (as with Drs. Palombo and Sack) that I have paranoid ideations even in relation to optimally-empathic persons, here a sibling. Shouldn't Dr. Bash be giving some consideration to what that implies about my ability to relate to complete strangers at The Rockville Jewish Community Center? Dr. Bash seems incapable of putting the pieces of the Freedman puzzle together and seeing me as a unique person with distinct limitations and pathology. In her eyes I am a generic socially-isolated person who can benefit from interacting with others. What's the evidence that I can connect with other people?
In seeming exasperation Dr. Bash said: "Well, soon it will be September and all this will be over with. You should be assigned to a resident in September." I noted silently at this point: "Dr. Bash referred to the month of September in two different contexts: (1) getting together with my sister at Rosh Hashanah and (2) the fact that I will be transferred to another therapist in September." I wondered what that signified.
Dr. Bash said she viewed my "Statement of Principles" as a positive step. She said that months earlier I said that I didn't want to change, but now I recognize the importance of change. I disagree. I've always wanted friends. I've always wanted to change. But friends on my own terms; change on my own terms. Certainly, I am still adamantly opposed to submitting to Dr. Bash's exhortations. Believe me, I'm not traveling to Rockville! I fail to see how my statement indicates a desire to change. I'm mystified.
I wonder if Dr. Bash has any appreciation of the concept of triage. I don't think so. Murray Cohen (Fredric's brother) can explain. The bottom line is, maybe the odds are that I can't change. Maybe Dr. Bash is just making matters worse for me by encouraging me to do things that will not result in any positive outcome. Perhaps she simply arouses my frustration by raising my hopes. Certainly, her act of encouraging me to join group therapy, which had disastrous consequences, did nothing more than raise my expectations then frustrate them. I think Dr. Shaffer, my previous therapist, had the right idea. It was as if Dr. Shaffer's thinking was: "Right now he's not ready to change. I will provide an empathic environment for him where he can vent his feelings every week. When he's ready to change, he will change. I will not coerce him. It will not be healthy for him." My condition remained stable during the entirety of my treatment with Dr. Shaffer (1999 to 2003). I stopped seeing Dr. Shaffer in February 2003. Two months later, in April 2003, I started writing these letters to you, my empathic buddy. And the rest, as they say, is history. I was assessed for commitment to St. Elizabeths in March 2004, following the disastrous results of my entering group therapy consistent with The Mad Monk's recommendation; I was escorted from the library by the police in April 2004 following Dr. Bash's act of holding out the possibility of a real friendship between you and me ("Maybe you and Brian could go to lunch together," said The Mad Monk in March 2004).
Be that as it may.
The Mad Monk then tried her hand at psychotherapy. "When you contemplate the possibility of entering a social situation, what feelings do you have?" I thought for a moment, then responded: "Futility. I have a feeling that it will be futile. That nothing good will come of it. I have feelings of my hopes being raised by the possibility of meeting people I might like, but also I have the firm feeling that it's all futile--and I have a tormented feeling." Is that not an analytically cognizable statement?
You've heard of the line, buddy, "like a kid in a candy store?" My feeling about entering a social situation is -- "like a diabetic kid in a candy store." I feel simultaneously a craving but also a tormented feeling that it's all futile. Doesn't that mean something?
Almost grotesquely, Dr. Bash dismissed my response and offered the suggestion: "Do you feel fear, would you say you feel afraid to enter a social situation." I said (with a crushing feeling of frustration): "No. Futility." The Mad Monk replied: "I know, you said that before. But I want to get to the idea of fear." I said (holding back my anger): "Dr. Bash, you asked me a question. I gave a sincere and thoughtful answer. An answer that's worthy of further inquiry. You simply dismissed what I said, and interpolated your own agenda. (pause.) I JUST WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH BRIAN!" (As I said, I stave off madness with references to you, Brian.) "You see how you use Brian to avoid dealing with feelings you don't want to deal with," said The Mad Monk. Indeed! Actually, I felt like telling The Mad Monk at this point that she's an imbecile; but I thought of you, buddy, and I kept my cool.
I suppose I was wrong. I thought I felt futility. But according to Dr. Bash I felt fear. She must be right about what I'm feeling. She's the professional authority; I'm just a layman--a mentally disturbed layman at that. That reminds me of an anecdote about Goethe. There was a biographer of Goethe who, in the face of Goethe's claim that at a certain time he had dearly loved a certain lady, remarked in a footnote: "Here Goethe is mistaken." Even geniuses aren't always factually right, you know. But what about the issue of futility? Is there no psychological significance to a patient's report that the prospect of a social situation arouses feelings of futility? No doubt there are any number of possible psychological determinants of feelings of futility.
I'm just a layman, not a professional authority, but just off the top of my head I can cite one possible prototype in childhood for overwhelming feelings of futility in adulthood: feelings of futility as they relate to the prospect of social relations.
That possible prototype would center on the so-called rapprochement phase of development. Greenberg and Mitchell write: "The advent of rapprochement places a new set of demands on the toddler's mother. From her point of view the onset of this phase may appear to be a regressive development. The child who a few months before had appeared to be so independent, and so content in his independence, has become more needy, more anxious, more demanding. How should she respond? What she does will depend on her conscious and unconscious attitudes toward both symbiosis and separation. Some mothers welcome the opportunity to reimmerse the child in their own caretaking and in their own body, thereby stifling the drive toward separateness. Others reject the child's new dependency in the belief that 'he's a big boy now,' overlooking the legitimate needs of the subphase. [Margaret] Mahler stresses repeatedly that the mother's reaction at all subphases, and particularly during rapprochement, decisively influences the final outcome." Object Relations in Psychoanalyst Theory at 279.
Might not a mother's failure to respond to the child's phase-appropriate dependency needs--his legitimate needs for narcissistic nourishment--promote tormenting feelings of futility in the child about approaching mother for the gratification of his emotional needs? Might not such a child learn to take refuge in the "splendid isolation" of his own world of fantasy?
There is a tight fit between the implications of Mahler's ideas about rapprochement and the paraphrase of a statement of Shengold's that I offered in an earlier letter: "The emotional connecting necessary for embarking on social relations is initially more than soul-murdered people can bear. They learned as children that to be emotionally open, to want something passionately, was the beginning of frustrating torment. The deeply ingrained bad expectations are felt toward parents and all "grown-ups" [and are later felt toward the peer group and potential friends]." Shengold, Soul Murder at 312.
I told Dr. Bash that I had no respect for her professional opinions. "None at all?" she asked. "No, none," I said. "Well, if you don't want to accept the opinion of a professional . . . "
You know you're in deep s--- when the therapist starts pulling rank: "I'm the professional, you are just a layman. Who are you to reject my opinion?"
I very much need the acceptance and corroboration of people I respect. I want desperately to have ties to a knowledgeable therapist. These connections give me narcissistic nourishment, and when I don't get it, it's a terrible strain for me. I feel I'd rather write these letters in solitude to an imaginary friend than talk to Dr. Bash. Here, on the quiet page, I am master. Here I can express my thoughts. Here I don't have to concern myself with the rightness and wrongness of my ideas. I can simply express my thoughts and feelings, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of an intrusive Other.
By the way, Brian, I was thinking about how dubious Dr. Bash's ideas are concerning the weight of her opinions, and her dismissal of the contrary professional opinions I offer to her on the grounds that I probably "do not understand technical material."
Ask Bob Morgenthau or Bill Rehnquist about the following. Our legal system empowers jurors to make life and death decisions about the accused based on the assessment by jurors (all laymen) of contradictory expert testimony. Let's say that in a capital case, the jury votes to acquit on the grounds that they accept the testimony of defense experts and reject that of the prosecution. What action could the court or the prosecution have taken before trial to insure that the jurors might be able to assess expert testimony "correctly?" NONE AT ALL. Can the jurors be required to take psychological testing to determine their mental fitness? A resounding "No!" Can jurors be required to take IQ testing to determine whether they are intellectually fit to assess expert testimony? A resounding "No!"

This notion that Dr. Bash has that she's the expert and that I have to acquiesce in her professional opinion is nothing more than an expression of her own grandiosity and her conventional notions about authority. Further, Dr. Bash's notion that any conflict between her opinions and my references to technical material must be resolved by imputing a lack of understanding to me of technical material is more grandiosity. All she's saying is that she is always right. That is, no professional person could possibly publish any material that might conflict with her opinions. It must be I who misunderstands the published material. My advice? Go to a courthouse, lady. I remember Ellen once saying: "I've heard enough contradictory testimony by psychologists during my years on the bench to fill a thousand kreplach!" Simply because Dr. Bash is "the authority figure" in our relationship means nothing to me. My notions about authority are unconventional.

Now to my great discovery. This past week I thought of something about The Mad Monk that I never thought before. To me this insight explains a lot about my feelings of frustration in dealing with her.
Psychologists distinguish between what they call "divergent production" and "convergent production." Tests that permit only one right answer, such as a math test or the SATs, would be said to assess convergent production. Tests that are open ended, that permit the test subject to answer in any way--such as the Rorschach test--would be called tests of divergent production. In convergent production, the answers are assessed on the basis of "rightness" and "wrongness." In divergent production, on the other hand, the responses are neither right nor wrong; the responses are assessed in terms of meaning. That is, what does it mean that the test subject responded in a particular way.

"Convergers, who tend to specialize in the 'hard' sciences, or possibly in the classics, have the kind of intelligence which shows at its best in conventional intelligence tests of the kind in which there is only one correct answer to a question. They are less good at 'open-ended' tests in which a variety of answers are possible. In their spare time, convergers pursue mechanical or technical hobbies and show comparatively little interest in the lives of other people. They have conventional attitudes to authority, are emotionally inhibited, and seldom recall their dreams. Divergers, in contracts, choose the arts or biology [note that traditionally psychoanalysts have a background in medical science] as their preferred subjects. They are less good at conventional intelligence tests, better at open-ended tests where creative phantasy is demanded. Their spare-time activities are connected with people rather than with things [note that while I'm socially isolated, I write about people; the Unabomber, a socially-isolated mathematician, wrote about technology]. They have unconventional attitudes to authority, are emotionally uninhibited, and often recall their dreams." Storr, A., Solitude: A Return to the Self at 89-90. What I have observed about Dr. Bash is that she continually, if not invariably, assesses my statements in terms of rightness and wrongness--that is, as if my reports were convergent productions. And, of course, in Dr. Bash's assessment she's always right and I'm always wrong; she's the authority figure, in the conventional sense of things. In many, if not most, instances my statements call for an assessment of meaning; that is, my statements should be seen as neither right nor wrong, but rather as expressions that call for interpretation of meaning. A good example: Dr. Bash asked at an earlier session, "What would you like to do with Brian if he were your friend?" I said: "I'd like to maybe just sit on a park bench and shoot the breeze with him."

Dr. Bash interpreted my statement as convergent production, and looked for a way to assess my statement in terms of rightness or wrongness. "That's not [IN FACT] a friendship. What you are talking about is [IN FACT] an acquaintance. Do you have a dictionary at home? Look up the word 'friend' and look up the word 'acquaintance.' YOU'LL SEE I'M RIGHT."

"In point of fact," if I may be permitted to say that, my statement "I'd like to sit on a park bench and shoot the breeze with Brian" is a convergent production--an expression of my wishes, conflicts, and prohibitions as they relate to my notion of friendship, however warped that notion of friendship is. The statement calls for an interpretation of meaning, not an assessment of factual correctness. You don't say to a Rorschach test subject, "You say that looks like a horse, but most individuals--the jury of public opinion, as it were--say it looks like a butterfly. I'm sorry, you answered incorrectly. You need to change the way you view this inkblot." The Rorschach, as a test of divergent production, calls for an assessment of meaning not an evaluation of factual correctness. The divergent production of the Rorschach test subject is a non-factual universe of pure projection; yet that universe is psychoanalytically cognizable. Likewise, a patient's report in psychotherapy calls for an assessment of meaning. The psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson reports that during his training a senior analyst offered advice on how to work with a paranoid patient: "the universe she is taking you into is a [projective] paranoid universe. You must float along with that paranoia. Do not seek to stop it or even to understand it or you will break the spell." Final Analysis at 100.

What frustrates me is Dr. Bash's exquisite ability to rechannel or redirect my divergent productions into the appearance that they are in reality convergent productions that call for an assessment of factual correctness.
At the most recent consultation I said that I suffered from attachment problems. I simply do not connect with people. I attributed my feelings of futility about embarking on social relations to my possibly having experienced emotional loss or frustration in childhood.

I said that I was attracted to psychoanalyst William Niederland's notion that individuals who experienced significant emotional loss in childhood tended to react to even trivial social frustration or the prospect of social frustration as if they faced something overwhelming. "When did you suffer emotional loss in childhood," asked the Mad Monk. "Well," I said, "I mentioned that I lost an early attachment object (my maternal grandmother) when my family moved from my grandmother's house, where I had lived for the first six months of life." Dr. Bash proceeded to focus exclusively on factual issues:

1. Perhaps I misunderstood technical material that attributed importance, as a matter of fact, to the first six months of life.

2. I did not in fact lose my grandmother; she continued to visit me.

3. I do not in fact remember the first six months of life.

(A competing expert might testify that Dr. Bash ignores the fact that pre-verbal (pre-representational) experiences are significant--and will be expressed in therapy in the form of disturbed affect or "acting out" and not as verbal representations. When I told Dr. Bash that I got into an argument with a social worker in 1996 ("acting out" behavior that might have related back to my infantile experience) and that the social worker tried to throw me out of her office, Dr. Bash replied: "Maybe we should take a look at that. MAYBE I CAN TELL YOU WHAT YOU DID WRONG.").

And my concerns about attachment difficulties? What happened to my "feelings" about my attachment to significant people in my background, which is undeniably a significant issue for me? My feelings got lost in a maze of factual assessments by Dr. Bash. Perhaps I'm wrong about the importance of my relationship with my grandmother. That particular fact does not vitiate the importance of an attachment disturbance in my psychology. The problem is that anything I talk about will be assessed by Dr. Bash in terms of factual correctness.

Well, buddy, I'm facing a new week. Am I feeling futility or fear? Just the facts, man. Maybe I'm sensing futility. Or would I, in fact, be wrong? Maybe it's fear that I feel? I need you to tell me what I'm feeling, damn it! I can't feel my feelings correctly without your advice. Am I right or wrong?
Check you out next week, Brian. You've been a good sport!