Sunday, July 31, 2011

When Mom Behaves Badly

I generally feel that I exemplify good behavior for my child. While there may be some tight ass conservatives out there who don’t like my big ass liberal mouth, I am genuinely a nice person. Even a well spoken person. I try to be polite and kind to everyone. I like to think that much of my small child’s charm and social grace is a reflection of what I’ve taught him. And he is friendly to everyone.

But there have been many times, of late, when I am concerned by the poor example I’m setting for my child. Things have been coming out of my mouth when I’m behind the wheel of our small car, things I say most of the time in a lowered tone, but occasionally in a fear and adrenaline induced outburst.

Things are very hairy around here, traffic wise, in my small island town. This is the month when everyone wants to be here, and it all becomes a game of survival of the richest. It is the law of the land in terms of traffic rules. No stop signs anywhere and narrow old streets are the pride of the community, the proof of our historical integrity, but also the pudding in our lives in August that slows everything down and turns the civilized into beasts.

My god, the look on my child’s face. The look of disappointment when I transgress. When I fall into this fit of name calling using rude words that start with a and j. It’s like he doesn’t recognize who this is. This is not his mama.

And thank heavens, so far, as if he knows, this child of almost two who repeats everything his parents say has not repeated my occasional traffic induced swearing. He has only repeated certain perfectly acceptable phrases like “Slow down,” and “Stop sign.”

We’ll see how long I get away with this. Because I mutter, growl, honk, and much worse. I’ve even flipped the big fat bird out the window when some j-e-r-k in a red BMW convertible whizzed around me as I was turning into the hospital. A lady coming out looked at me in utter horror.

Yes, there it was, me looking like the jerk because I reacted to the jerk. You can’t let them get a hold of you. You really can’t.

But it’s really hard. Especially around here. And every year it gets a little wilder, the driving, more and more cowboy rodeo and we’re out there in our smallish car surrounded by massive SUVs armed with kids and wives and credit cards and dads getting their week to shine and heavy on the gas and soft on the brakes.

So out comes Augusta, my alter ego. She’s a bitch in high heels, a broad in mirror glasses behind the wheel of a Dodge Durango or an Excursion or some such version of a living room on wheels rigged with wifi and surround sound and Connecticut plates. She won’t stop to let anybody in. She leans on her horn She gets her way, but she’s not nice about it. She’s not really anyone a person should aspire to be. And I can tell that my child is confused and baffled by Augusta.

So I am making a promise to Cayce and to myself to keep Miss Augusta at bay. So shoo, Meanie. Hex on your gnarly self. Sca-dattle. And Septemba, with your milder moors, will you get here already?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Fifty Minutes of Me Time

Probably the biggest impediment to the therapeutic process is resistance. Consciously or unconsciously, none of us likes to be pried into too much. Our psyches have a way of putting up road blocks, preventing access to that inner truth that we are trying so desperately to uncover. The id and the superego, forever at odds, duke it out, keeping one another in check.

While a big part of me is available to therapy, and really trying to put my best foot forward with it, I have my own kinds of resistance. Not usually being able to part with my son long enough to have a truly focused one-on-one is a manifestation of my resistance.

Doing therapy with a toddler in tow is a wee distracting. After my child on several occasions ransacked the office, moving on from the stuffed bears, which were fair game, to the business cards, the brochures, the meditation bowl and mallet, the keys and the CD player stacked with the New Age music, the candies wrapped in foil … we decided to take the dog and pony show outside. At least if the baby was in the stroller we could focus on the conversation. Or so it seemed.

Until summer came and the neighbors were all outside and there I was hanging my dirty laundry out to dry in front of whoever was within earshot. You know, I’m an actress. I don’t have a quiet voice. Add to this the heat of July and the fact that my guy is no spring chicken and tends to sweat and even pant a little bit and I am made overly aware of his fragility and then, as a testament to this idea he bursts out with a random comment about the surrounding architecture.

And here we have a real conundrum. The hard thing about resistance is that it’s not necessarily just one way. Through transference, a well-known process by which the therapist gets into his own subjective and unconscious role playing, a therapist may put up a great deal of resistance as well. I have come to the conclusion that there is something about me that my therapist finds deeply intimidating. I remind him of his mother, or something. It is really not very productive as a patient to feel that I intimidate my therapist. No, this whole scene could really backfire on me if I am not careful.

Ever since I told him that I didn’t want to spend my hour chit chatting about what was playing at the local theater, he has, I feel, been rather unfocused and unresponsive toward me. I still remember the look on his face when I said it. Crestfallen. You would think I was telling him that a mutual friend had died. My god, and I was only warming up! Is this what I will get when I push him?

Another huge obstacle to the therapeutic process is lack of confidentiality. On a small island where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, confidentiality is hard to maintain. When I did therapy in NYC, my therapists had waiting areas, usually shared with other therapists. When I crossed paths with someone coming out, I had no idea who they were, and I had know way of knowing whether they were the client of my therapist or of someone else. This arrangement helped to preserve the sanctity of the therapeutic relationship. One does not really like to think about their therapist with other clients, even though we know, rationally, that we are just one of many. The therapeutic process demands us to be able to feel as if we are the only one, the only one that matters, at least. For this reason, a good therapist will keep a very tight schedule, to minimize the chance of clients crossing paths. They will usually allow a ten minute window between sessions in their schedule. Hence the fifty minute hour. It’s worth losing those ten minutes on the couch to feel that those boundaries are clearly maintained.

Anonymity and boundaries in therapy on a small island can be a little more complicated. In truth, they have been largely lacking since I started my therapy over a year ago. I have often arrived to my appointments at the one-office cottage on time to find another car in the driveway. I then must drive down the road, turn around, and wait on the side of the road till I see that car leave. On this island, people are often recognizable by their cars. So this situation is less than ideal. And when I leave, there is often a car hovering by the roadside at the end the driveway. How do I know that some stalker dude doing therapy as part of his sentence is not watching me, memorizing my plate number? Once there was a client standing out in the yard by the time my child and I were leaving the office. He was sweet with the baby.

Later I saw him outside the courtroom with my therapist when I showed up for jury duty. He saw me, too. Later, the whole jury was dismissed because, according to the bailiff, the accused had “backed off” when he saw the jurors show up. Didn’t he expect jurors to show up? Maybe he didn’t expect certain jurors to show up?. Poor guy… little did he know that I was hoping to use our mutual therapist as an excuse to get dismissed.

That situation didn’t deter me, but when I arrived to a recent appointment late and found two other cars in the driveway, I found myself reeling. Granted, I was a half an hour late. My car battery was dead, and I’d been at the beach and didn’t have a phone to call him. But I had just confirmed the appointment time on the phone with him that morning. I couldn’t believe he would be so swift to put someone else in my place. To use a favorite expression of my partner’s, would he jump in my grave that fast?

If you think I’m overacting, this was the second such occurrence. On a previous occasion, months prior, I had been running late and passed him on the road with someone in the passenger seat of his car. I feel that if this is my time, then this is my time, and running late on occasion is just part of it.

I wrote him an angry email saying that I felt that he couldn’t handle his feelings of rejection if I was running late.

He wrote back saying we could discuss it at our next appointment. I wrote back with further complaints. He wrote back saying we could discuss it at our next appointment. I balked, at first, and didn’t respond. Finally I acquiesced to his terms. A next appointment. And so it continues. My quest for enlightenment in fifty minutes (or a half an hour) of me time.

Monday, July 4, 2011

America the Beautiful

Happy Birthday, America. I am thinking today about what makes this country great, and also those places that people never look at very closely where the flag and all it represents is actually quite tattered. We talk about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We think about our fallen soldiers. They went willingly into the fray, and died as martyrs to our cause of freedom. Their families will go to their graves today, to lay down a small flag, or a clutch of carnations. Someone will say a prayer, someone will put a hand on their heart. An ache will ripple through the bodies of those left to remember. The news will show their faces today, the faces of the young men and women recently fallen. The voice of a mother or brother will share a glimpse or two of their stories, their remembered humanity, as the screen flashes their faces in uniform.

I’m thinking about our unsung heroes, the civilians who fall every day without pomp and circumstance, without Taps, without a holiday celebrating them. They too are the shoulders on which we dance. I’m thinking about the veterans who return home to disrepair, whom we leave to suffer PTSD. I’m thinking about the blown off face of the man we can’t look at. I’m thinking of the harried and overworked civilians, the families put through the ringer of daily survival. I’m talking about the people who fall prey to alcoholism and mental illness and divorce.

I’m talking about my sister, an I.T. security worker at a large law firm, who took her own life last year. Her face will not be flashing up on any screen, with a memorable anecdote about how sweet she had been in her youth.

My sister also fell in the line of duty. She fought on the front lines of our recent banking wars. Rather than being honored, her face has been erased. It has come to my attention that Gaby’s Facebook page, which will go on for posterity post mortem, no longer bears her picture. She has been reverted to a generic “female silhouette”- the white shape with the bob do. Of course, all of her notes, her status updates, remain: the depiction of a woman going right out of her mind. A woman who is no longer a woman at all, but an empty silhouette.

The reason Facebook has removed my sister’s profile picture is quite evident. The picture was from her job. It bore the name of her firm across the bottom, beneath her pinched, over-serious demeanor. Clearly the firm did not want the bad PR, to be associated with a crazy person. A person who described her hallucinations in all their twisted glory. A person who would be incarcerated in the HR Office when she couldn’t grasp that her time was up. Who was incredulous once she was cuffed and spit in the face of the cop. A person who spent three weeks in a psyche ward, refusing medication, and then was released, only to take her own life.

My sister fought in the front lines of a New York law firm during the biggest banking debacle of our time. She worked on the fortieth floor. She took her job seriously. The fact that she used the picture from her firm for her profile picture suggests how important her work was to her. She was charged with confiscating the files of attorneys about to get the axe. She held her poker face through wave after wave of layoffs. She watched as her friends, who had much greater longevity with the firm than she did, were quietly put out to the streets.

When my sister’s time came, she would not go quietly into that good night. As the IT Manager, the go-to person who battened down all the hatches as the firm weathered tidal shifts in their loyalties, she waited for the time when the spotlight would turn on her.

That kind of pressure could get to anybody. Well, it got to Gaby, all right, an incredibly intelligent person with a lurking mental illness. She went from being one who preached the dangers of the internet to one who exploited the internet’s dangers, and used it to exorcise her madness. My sister went nuts with an audience, on a social networking site. She remains there on her wall like a butterfly pressed beneath glass. But what a freakish, faceless specimen they have allowed her to become by removing her profile picture.

So I want to take this special day to honor the everyday, unsung heroes who are breaking under the pressures that our fucked up social structure puts on them. We value work over family, war over love. We value those who are young and whole, and turn our eyes away once they are broken. Let’s look in the mirror today, as we enjoy our watermelon and our ice cream and our fireworks, and think about what we can do for those who are hurting, both far and near. When I glimpse my loved ones’ faces in the glow of the sparklers tonight, I will think of those who are no longer able to taste this happiness. And I will make a wish upon a falling ember that their lives and deaths will be remembered.

Yes, let's remember the soldiers who fought for our freedom. But let's also remember the everyday heroes among us, the fathers, and sisters and friends who fought or are still fighting the good fight, the fight of love and loss and struggle, the fight of the family, the fight of our souls, the fight of the fragmented trying to become whole. We are America the Beautiful. But we are also America the Broken. Let’s begin to own that, too.