Thursday, September 25, 2008

An Analytic Hour

A troublesome (aren't they all?) new patient, thirty-seven years old, raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father had a typical petty bourgeois Jewish Orthodox background. The patient's mother was a Polish-Catholic. He is highly intelligent, a compulsive talker, extremely narcissistic and exhibitionistic. He hides his intellectual arrogance behind ironic self-deprecation. He cannot stop his diarrhea of talk, because it is his way of denying his essential constipation - his total inability to give of himself. His working for a large, prestigious law firm in the capacity of a paralegal (the patient trained as a lawyer) is not only a denial of his own failure to assume responsibilities, but reflects his inner feeling of guilt that only in a state of misery can he find a perverse fulfillment in life.

He gave me no chance to explain what psychoanalysis is all about, claimed to be very familiar with it, and proceeded to show that he lacks even the slightest understanding. He seems to think psychoanalysis is a self-serving rattling off of complaints and accusations leveled at others and oneself, instead of recognizing the serious introspection and contemplation it ought to evoke. He is capable of neither of the latter, because he feels he is so worthless that he cannot be serious about anything that touches him -- not his own self, nor his family, nor those he works with. He wants to do everything himself without any relation to, or contribution by, another person, in a typical masturbatory phallic fixation. He permits no one, including me, to make any contributions to his life.

Obviously, he has spent years at his self-justifying ruminations, where even his self-criticism is meant only to show how shrewd and honest he is about himself. Mainly the self-criticism serves to let him go on exactly as before without internalizing his guilt to the degree that he would need to do something about it; it serves him to avoid any need to change. He is convinced that to rattle off in this way becomes psychoanalysis when he does it aloud with me listening. Despite his long account of all that went wrong in his life beginning with infancy (!), there is absolutely no realization of his sickness -- his complete inability to relate to another person. How can he, when all he sees of the world is his own projections, which he is certain are true pictures of reality? He sees psychoanalysis as one vast catharsis, without the need for any deeper insight or internalization. Everything is just one huge ejaculation.

I doubt if he can establish even the minimal transference that would enable him to analyze. Probably his selecting me for an analyst typifies his unwillingness to give up his bondage to his Jewish past. I wonder if I should have insisted that he go to a gentile analyst. I may still have to transfer him to one. In our brief talk before treatment began, I asked him why, given his feeling that his troubles originate, in part, with his identification with his father's Orthodox Jewish background, he selected me, as his analyst. He could not understand my point, saying that no gentile analyst could ever understand him. He speaks as if the issue were finding an analyst whose sympathy and understanding are endless, as were his parents' -- not his own coming to understand himself. His selection of me for an analyst suggests that deep down he does not want to transcend his own background, and so chose an analyst who will not alienate him from what he pretends to hate, but without which he feels there would be nothing left for him or his life. It remains to be seen whether we can overcome this handicap. Since he thinks his need is to spill out, uninterruptedly, I shall let him, for a full week. Then we shall see if he can stop the spilling long enough for analysis to be possible.

He carries on as if to convince me that all the cliches of a spoiled Jewish boyhood are indeed valid: the overpowering, overindulgent, overprotective mother and the ineffectual father. Essentially the hour was one long alibi. I am to understand that if he cannot meet life, cannot relate to another human being, it's not how he construes things, but because of his parents and their background, along with two specific traumata. He is a master of the alibi, and like the clever lawyer that he is, he plays both sides of the street. He blames his misery on both kinds of trauma: the physical (an injury to his oral cavity -- at age two-and-one-half!!) and the psychological (his mother's lack of empathy). He must be certain I will see him as the suffering victim, no matter what kind of theories I hold about physical or emotional trauma as causing behavior like his.

Actually, it is not traumata, but only his disgust with himself, that forces him to defeat all those who love him (his parents, his potential friends, etc.).The tirade against his parents, especially his mother, is uninterruptible. A few times I indicated the wish to say something, but he only talked on more furiously. His spiel was like a satire on the complaints of most of my patients, and on the tenets of psychoanalysis: a satire on the dominating and castrating father, and a mother too involved in herself and her own life to pay much attention to her son. This extremely intelligent young Jew (or half-Jew) does not recognize what he is trying to do -- by reversing the oedipal situation, he is trying to make fun of me as he does of everyone, thus asserting his superiority over me and psychoanalysis itself.

His overpowering love for his mother is turned into a negative projection, so that what becomes overpowering is the mother's love for him. Overtly he complains that she would never let him alone, was all intrusive -- behind which lies an incredibly deep disappointment that she was not even more exclusively preoccupied with him. While consciously he experienced everything she did as destructive, behind this claim is an incredible wish for more, more, more. His is an insatiable orality which is denied and turned into the opposite by his continuous scream of its being much too much.

Even the most ordinary, everyday request from his mother, such as her reminding him to send a card on his father's sixty-sixth birthday, is experienced by him as the most unreasonable demand, forcing on him a life of guilt and indebtedness to his parents. Whatever the mother did for him was always too little; the smallest thing she requested was always too much. After listening all day to the endless complaints of patients about mothers who were never interested in whether they did or did not eat, whether or not they defecated, whether or not they succeeded in school, it should have been refreshing to listen to an hour of complaints about a mother who did exactly all that -- but it was not.

It was so obvious that he felt cheated at not being given enough. No doubt he is tortured by memories of his past, and by his present inability to be a man and enjoy normal sex. But he certainly makes the most of it, and nowhere do I see any effort on his part to free himself of this bondage to the past. Obviously be expects my magic and that of psychoanalysis to do this for him. An important clue, to be followed up later: he is fascinated by his father's constipation, which is so stark a contrast with his excessive masturbation and incessant, diarrhea-like talk. This seem like an interesting fixation at the phallic level, as though the father's constipation has made him so anxious about his own ability to produce that to compensate, he produces without interruption -- whether by masturbating, talking, writing letters, or intellectual productions and achievements. If he does not learn to hold in and store, but continues this indiscriminate discharge, analysis will certainly fail.

If I were to give a name to this patient after this first hour, I would call him "The most unforgettable character I've met." This is not because the patient thinks this designation is true of his mother, as he sees her (as is so of everyone and his mother) but because, while he wishes to believe the foregoing, his major effort is to impress me with himself as "the most unforgettable character I've ever met." Poor soul. Instead of trying to get from me the help he so desperately needs, he tries to impress me with his uniqueness. Everything he accuses his mother of, he is himself, in the extreme. She exploited him because she loved him so much. He exploits everyone because he loves no one.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Daily Spaghetti

Nineteen-eighty-four was the Year of Spaghetti.

In 1984, I cooked spaghetti to live, and lived to cook spaghetti. Steam rising from the pot was my pride and joy, tomato sauce bubbling up in the sauce-pan my one great hope in life.

I went to a cooking specialty store and bought a kitchen timer and a huge aluminum pot, big enough to bathe a German shepherd in, then went around to all the supermarkets that catered to foreigners, gathering an assortment of odd-sounding spices. I picked up a pasta cookbook at the bookstore, and bought tomatoes by the dozen. I purchased every brand of spaghetti I could lay my hands on, simmered every sauce known to man. Fine particles of garlic, onion, and olive oil swirled in the air, forming a harmonious cloud that penetrated every corner of my tiny apartment, permeating the floor and the ceiling and the walls, my clothes, my books, my records, my violin, my bundles of old letters. It was a fragrance one might have smelled on ancient Roman aqueducts.

This is a story from the Year of Spaghetti, 1984 A.D.

As a rule, I cooked spaghetti, and ate it, by myself. I was convinced that spaghetti was a dish best enjoyed alone. I can't really explain why I felt that way, but there it is.

I always drank tea with my spaghetti and ate a simple lettuce-and-cucumber salad. I'd make sure I had plenty of both. I laid everything out neatly on the table and enjoyed a leisurely meal, glancing at the paper as I ate. From Sunday to Saturday, one Spaghetti Day followed another. And each new Sunday started a brand-new Spaghetti Week.

Every time I sat down to a plate of spaghetti--especially on a rainy afternoon--I had the distinct feeling that somebody was about to knock on my door. The person who I imagined was about to visit me was different each time. Sometimes it was a stranger, sometimes someone I knew. Once, it was the girl with slim legs who lived down the hall, about whom I had taken a fancy, and once it was myself from a few years back, come to pay a visit. Another time it was William Holden, with Jennifer Jones on his arm.

William Holden?

Not one of these people, however, actually ventured into my apartment. They hovered just outside the door, without knocking, like fragments of memory, and then slipped away.

Spring, summer, and fall, I cooked and cooked, as if cooking spaghetti were an act of revenge. Like a lonely, jilted girl throwing old love letters into the fireplace, I tossed one handful of spaghetti after another into the pot.

I'd gather up the trampled-down shadows of time, knead them into the shape of a German shepherd, toss them into the roiling water, and sprinkle them with salt. Then I'd hover over the pot, oversized chopsticks in hand, until the timer dinged its plaintive note.

Spaghetti strands are a crafty bunch, and I couldn't let them out of my sight. If I were to turn my back, they might well slip over the edge of the pot and vanish into the night. The night lay in silent ambush, hoping to waylay the prodigal strands.

Spaghetti alla parmigiana

Spaghetti alla napoletana

Spaghetti al cartoccio

Spaghetti aglio e olio

Spaghetti alla carbonara

Spaghetti della pina

And then there was the pitiful, nameless leftover spaghetti carelessly tossed into the fridge.

Born in heat, the strands of spaghetti washed down the river of 1984 and vanished.

I mourn them all -- all the spaghetti of the year 1984.

Seconds, anyone? Click here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Police Raid

Anyone who watches even the slightest amount of TV is familiar with the scene: An agent knocks on the door of some seemingly ordinary home or office. The door opens, and the person holding the knob is asked to identify himself. The agent then says, "I'm going to ask you to come with me." They're always remarkably calm, these agents. If asked "Why do I need to go anywhere with you?" they'll straighten their shirt cuffs or idly brush stray hairs from the sleeves of their sports coats and say, "Oh, I think we both know why." The suspect then chooses between doing things the hard way and doing things the easy way, and the scene ends with either gunfire or the gentlemanly application of handcuffs.

Occasionally it's a case of mistaken identity, but most often the suspect knows exactly why he's being taken. It seems he's been expecting this to happen. The anticipation has ruled his life, and now, finally, the wait is over. You're sometimes led to believe that this person is actually relieved, but I've never bought it. Though it probably has its moments, the average day spent in hiding is bound to beat the average day spent in prison. When it comes time to decide who gets the bottom bunk, I think anyone would agree that there's a lot to be said for doing things the hard way.

October 12, 2004
I had been acting out wildly for the past several months.
I felt a simmering rage since my job termination in late October 1991 by a local law firm.
I had been defamed, seriously defamed by coworkers, supervisors, and even senior management attorneys.

Rumors had been spread in the firm that I was potentially homicidal. One coworker had confronted me with the bizarre accusation, "We're all afraid of you, we're all afraid you're going to buy a gun and shoot everybody."

In August 1998 two federal special agents of the U.S. Capitol Police forced their way into my home, and based on mistaken identity had accused me of having threatened to go to Capitol Hill with a gun and shoot two federal officers at point-blank range, execution style. I was told that I had been placed on a list of potential terrorists, another case of mistaken identity that had its origins in reports made by my former employer that I suffered from serious mental illness and that I was potentially violent.

In April 2004 I was banned from my local library. The library manager Brian Brown summoned Police officers who escorted me from the building. The library manager had found a letter I had written in which I expressed my anger about having been defamed at my former place of employment. I wrote, "people will pay for my pain." Those were the offending words. "People will pay for my pain." For that I was banned from the library for the next six months.

In August 2004 I had started to write letters to prospective employers inquiring about job opportunities. The letters were cynical parodies of job inquiries. I described my history: the allegations that I was potentially homicidal, the police raid at my apartment, and the ban on my access to the public library.

I knew that eventually I would get a visit from the local police or federal agents. No one could get away with writing letters of the kind I had written indefinitely. Someone would eventually put a stop to my activities. I knew that. I used to lay on the couch in my apartment in the evenings and every time I heard voices or footsteps in the hall I was convinced it was the police. I lived in that state of suspense for several weeks.

Columbus Day. October 12, 2004. I was sitting in the lobby of my apartment building. The lobby has a full-length window that looks out on a driveway that leads up to the building.

A police car drives up to the building, which I see from my seat in the lobby. The front-desk manager of the apartment building goes outside to inquire. "We're here to see a Gary Freedman. We're waiting for backup." "Backup!" says the front-desk manager, incredulously. "Mr. Freedman is a very gentle man, that's him sitting in the lobby." The police look at me from their patrol vehicle.

The police cars start to arrive, one after another. Five in all. Ten police officers of the Metropolitan District of Columbia Police Department arrive on the scene. In addition, four FBI agents show up. Fourteen police officers and federal agents in all.

The police enter the lobby. "Are you Gary Freedman?" "Yes," I say.

"Did you write a letter to St. John's University, a job application?" "Yes."

"Don't you know you can't write a letter like that to someone?"

The police frisked me for weapons. They escorted me back to my apartment, at my suggestion. Apparently that allayed their concerns to some degree. They no longer believed they were dealing with a homicidal maniac, but a severely disturbed individual. They didn't ask to search my apartment.

"Here," I said. "Here's a copy of a brief I wrote defending my position against allegations made by my employer that I'm a dangerous person."

"Who wrote this for you," the police asked.

"I did." An officer leafed through the brief that I had filed with the DC Court of Appeals. "Apparently you have your lucid moments." Yes, they thought I was crazy.

"I have clothes in the laundry room. I'm doing a wash. Can I go downstairs to get my laundry?" "No. We're certainly not going to let you go anywhere."

"This matter needs to be resolved," I said, referring to the allegations that I was potentially violent and homicidal. An officer said, "This is going to be resolved. Believe me, this is going to be resolved today!"

A police detective questioned me. "How can all these people say these things about you and none of it is true. Some of it must be true." There were two officers and a detective in my small studio apartment. The other officers and agents waited in the hall outside my apartment. Some were in the lobby.

An officer walked out of my apartment to talk to officers in the hall. They reached some kind of decision.

I didn't volunteer any information. They didn't read me my rights. I knew I was not going to be arrested. If they were going to make an arrest, they would Mirandize me. What were they planning to do?

"Come on. We're going," an officer said to me. I walked out of my apartment, and locked the door. I was led up to the lobby. "Is everything all right?" the front-desk manager called out to me.

I was led to a waiting patrol vehicle on the street in front of the apartment building. An officer handcuffed me. "This is just protocol. We don't think you're dangerous."

I was taken to DC General for a forensic psych exam. It was called a transport. We arrived at the psych ward of the hospital, where the handcuffs were taken off. It was early afternoon.

I was assigned to admitting. Someone took my valuables. I was given a hospital bracelet. A nurse took my blood pressure and temperature.

A brief time later someone questioned me about the letter I had written. The letter that had landed me in the hospital. "How do you know I'm not just a scam artist?" "A scam artist? the man said. "How so?" "Maybe I just act crazy to keep my disability checks flowing. Maybe there's nothing wrong with me. Maybe I just act crazy as part of a scam on the Social Security Administration. Well?" "That's what we're here to find out," the man said.

I was told to sit in the waiting area. A television blared in the room, while security agents monitored the patients. Some were asleep on couches. Others mumbled incoherently, or stared into space.

I wasn't scared. I thought, "I'll talk to the psychiatrist and then they'll let me go."

The hours passed. "Do you want something to eat?" a security guard asked me. "No," I said.

I waited and waited. I watched the psychiatrists, the patients, the security guards. I ignored the television. How long can this go on, I kept thinking.

It was now about eight o'clock in the evening. Finally, I was led into a small room by a psychiatrist, a Dr. Martin. She was a psychiatry resident. "Why did you write the letter?" "Why did people say these things about you?" "Have you ever had thoughts of committing a violent act?" "Are you seeing a psychiatrist?" The doctor's questioning was polite. Her demeanor was casual. Though I knew that meant nothing. She could just as easily decide to commit me or let me go.

The questioning lasted about thirty-five minutes or so. The psychiatrist left the room to consult with her supervisor. She returned. "We have decided not to make a commitment." The wait was over.

I was allowed to leave. I kept thinking:"Am I now free. Really free?"

Fortunately, there was a Metro station about two blocks from the hospital. I took the subway home. By about 9:30 that evening I was back at my apartment.

Though it probably has its moments, the average day spent in hiding is bound to beat the average day spent in confinement. That I now knew with certainty.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Despairing Letter to My Sister

I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy, and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil, I have no friend: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate in my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavor to sustain me in dejection. I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling.

I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine.You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans. How would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What I'm Looking for in a Friend

What am I looking for in a friend? I suppose I'm looking for someone like the actor David Duchovny.

Goethe once said: "In the end, every idea is just a fart." I suppose great minds run along the same paths. Everything is just a collection of body functions. As David Duchovny once said about acting: "The human part of acting is all about basic body functions. Basically, the less complicated you are, the more primary your motivation is, the better actor you are. You take it down to the basics: eating, pissing, shitting, fucking. Those are the kinds of emotions that read. They're strong and good. They come across."

I guess, in the end, I'm looking for an intellectual relationship. A friendship with an intellectual guy, -- maybe Ivy, like David Duchovny -- someone with whom I can discuss abstract intellectual ideas. You know Duchovny got his B.A. in English from Princeton and was working on his Ph.D. at Yale when he went into acting. His dissertation at Yale was going to be titled: "Magic and Technology in Contemporary American Fiction and Poetry." Now that's what I'm looking for in a friend. A healthy taste for the intellectual and abstract.

Not that there's not another side to Dave: a homely, earthy, bawdy, Holmesean side. A world of eggplant and penises. Here's a description of David Duchovny eating lunch during a break in filming a movie, back in 1999: He's wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He is relaxed, affable even, playing a guy shooting the shit with a friend in a corner booth of a diner. He probes the contents of a Styrofoam container, the daily special from his favorite vegetarian restaurant, driven by special courier to the set, near a national park in Calabasas, an hour northwest of Hollywood. "Oh, my God," he says with mock horror, poking at a large eggplant, skinned, in a viscous brown sauce. "I think I've found John Holmes's penis!" That's John Holmes, the porn star -- not Oliver Wendell, although exactly how covert Justice Holmes's private side was remains a mystery. He might have done some porn in his day, though not videos, of course.

Duchovny's humor is your typical elevated Ivy humor -- Princeton, Yale, Skull and Bones humor -- wry, abstract, witty and urbane. A typical Duchovny joke: "I don't want to brag about the size of my cock, but I just got a sex change and a guy was fucking me the other day and he said: You have the biggest pussy I have ever fucked!" That's real Captain Vagina, Columbia University humor.Yes, that's what I'm looking for in a friendship. Wry, urbane, witty asides offered up amid intellectual abstractions concerning eggplant and penises. It's just so hard for me to find friends I can commune with on my level. Besides, eggplant is out of season right now.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Between Fear and Hope

Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged must end in disappointment.

I fear disappointment. I tremble before the prospect of disappointment. My early years sensitized me to dashed hopes, and the inevitable disappointment that followed. Today I shrink from life, lest I be seduced by hope, only to experience that hope evaporate.

I fear that psychotherapy holds out hopes for me that cannot be realized. Those who have been subjected to attempts at soul murder require one quality from the therapist or analyst above all others: patience. It is not hard to understand why change must be slow: there is so much distrust. The emotional connecting necessary for insight is initially more than soul-murdered people like me can bear. I learned as a child 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." The distrust is based not only on the projection of "bad" feelings (derived from the aggressive drives and the inevitable frustration of wishes), which give rise to intimations of losing control and a terror of being overwhelmed by feeling. Such fears beset every child in the course of development; they also lurk in our subsequent fantasy life (although their intensity varies with the individual).

In addition to this, the distrust of parents and the entire affectively charged environment is based for soul-murder victims on experienced reality. I was abused and neglected and have learned a lesson: if I cannot trust mother and father, whom can I trust? So a really meaningful alliance with the analyst takes a long time to develop, although at first it may appear that one exists; in therapy I am likely to behave in an "as if" fashion, to posses a facade of relatedness that combines compliance to what is usually expected with a provocative defiance that has a gamelike quality for me. People around me must not matter too much.

And so I live in fear of hope.