I am unapologetically hubristic about my bithday you see, my birthday is the best birthday of the year, certainly not because it is my birthday, no it’s the best because it is 3.14 and that is Pi day. My birthday is about circularity and irrational numbers, and, of course, pie. This birthday even more better than a usual Pi day. Today I am going to Harvard’s conference on Achieving Healthcare Leadership and Outcomes through Writing and Publishing, I’m going to pitch my book to a room full of agents(yes, I brought pretty good batch of fear with me).
Beyond all that fun, I’m celebrating my Boston birthday by dining with Wendy, Nina, Jamie Cat Callan and her friend, Kirie. I’m so excited to have a dinner with some of my favorite women. Really, this is the most fun I can imagine. I’m so excited to see where this next circle of 3.14 will take me.
Today I will sit and learn about writing. And I will sit a round table and share a meal with women I love and who laugh and inspire me. And maybe the day will end with piece of cake or pie or some other Circular sweet. There will be lots of fun and learning and laughter—those are my favorite things. My blog is also one of my favorite things—so I wanted include it in the circle of my day. So also love Lily and Keith, so they are here too. Hey, it’s my birthday and I get to do what I want to beccause it’s my birthday.
Last night Keith and I were going to dinner and I was driving there, only I didn’t know where there was. I asked him where we were going. “I don’t know,” he answered. “Well,” I said somewhat seriously, “then I will just keep driving until we figure it out.” Keith tried to be helpful by telling me all the places that we could go. He named all the places that we usually go to. As he listed the options I was dissatisfied with all of them. I didn’t want to go to Glendale or Pasadena. And I certainly I didn’t want to go to Zen Sushi for the ten-millionth time. “You knew last night what you wanted. It was easy when you knew what you wanted.It was easy.” The other night I knew I wanted a baked potato and a salad for dinner. It was easy. I wanted it and we went and got it.
This little experience of ‘destination unknown’ got me thinking about the bigger experience of knowing where I’m going and how it is a whole lot easier to get there if I know what I want. I know that sounds extraordinarily obvious and I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to leave my post and going off to see what Justin Bieber is Tweeting. But before you do, let me try to make my case in more than 140 characters that even if you don’t think you know what you want that you actually really do. I know that knowing what we want isn’t always so easy. There are a plethora of reasons we don’t let ourselves know what we want. Wanting can be uncomfortable. If we feel the want then we feel the lack. That lack can create uncomfortable feelings( grief, depression and despair) and so we deny the wanting. Also, if we feel like we can’t have it because we are “too” something ( too old or too lazy or whatever too-too you turn to) or that someone will stop us from having it, then again, we press down the desire into our unconscious. And, there are somethings that no matter how hard we try we can’t have them( in my story that would be baby)….but there is a value to looking at that we can’t have and discover if there is a deeper want that can actually be met.
I am a big advocate of asking my patients what they want, or for that matter asking friends, family and people I get in conversations with in the nail salon, as knowing what we want most tells us so much about us. As -Arsène Houssaye. said,”Dites moi qui vous aimez et je vous dirai qui vows etes.”( ”Tell me who you love and I will tell you who you are.”). Our desires inform us of so very much about us, they reveal our wounds, insecurities, and our deepest soul desires that we might not dare to say. Even the seemingly most insignificant desires can be loaded with meaning. My desire for shoes, skincare and lipsticks are NOT just about those things. There is a story that goes with the desire. I have a narrative about who I will be with each and every object I desire. As does everyone, a cigar is never a cigar and a desire for a new handbag is never JUST about the handbag.
If I asked you for a list of what you wanted most, could you tell me? Do you know what you want most? I believe, whether you can name it or not, that you do. I believe that you know exactly what you want. Forgive my inflation, but I feel sure that if we were sitting across from each other and I asked you the right questions that I could get you to tell me what you really-really-really wanted( that is, if you trusted me and KNEW that I would not malign you for your wants, which I assure you I wouldn’t). Maybe you wouldn’t admit them right away, but just having the conversation about what you want most would likely make you aware of your top two unspoken desires.
If you did tell me, perhaps you’d write off what you really want as silly or ridiculous and implausible, as a sort of disclaimer of your deepest dreams, and tell me that you know that what you want is unattainable, but I bet you know it. Knowing what you want is a really good first step. Truly, it is easier to know I want a potato for dinner than it is to drive around saying no to every suggestion I am given. And, yeah, it is easier to know that I want a potato than it is to admit I want something that is going to take hard work, determination and risk in order to achieve.
In January, after reading, Dorothea’s post, “Ready or not—Intentions 2013“, that I had a bit of break through about what I wanted. Yes, I have a long and, to my mind, an impressive list of accomplishments that I achieved in 2012.I almost always know what I want to do, be an have, even if I ignore that wanting. However I wasn’t focused on what I really-really-want. After reading Dorothea’s post and her previous post Intentions check in 2012 I was a bit unsettled, I took a new list of my goals for 2013 and I found them too broad and too unfocused. In wanting all of those things I felt sure that I was diluting my focus. I wanted a list like Dorothea’s. I wanted 2013 to be used in a way that felt meaningful and significant and as nice of a goal as redecorating the kitchen is it is not what I really, really want—that is not a goal that enlivens me or gives me purpose. So after reading Dorothea’s inspiring post I wrote a new list.
My post-Dorothea-post list was very different. It was mean and lean and clean, only 25 objectives versus the 250 item list I had pre-Dorothea. One thing significantly different about the new list was that all the items on the list feel hard to claim. They feel scary and too much and, I think, that is exactly how I know they are right for me. What we want most almost always feels ‘too much’, we dare not dream it. I had a good friend who was incredible at doing makeup. One day she whispered to me her greatest hope, “I wish I could be a makeup artist.” “Are you kidding?,” I replied. My friend immediately inferred from my gobsmacked reaction that I was saying that there was no way that she could make that dream a reality, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. She wore her dream on her face and all she had to do was to march herself down to the MAC counter and she would be one big step closer to making her dream a reality. But for her it felt impossible. She didn’t see how close she was to making her dream happen. I assured her that she could and that she would be amazing at it. Sadly my assurances weren’t enough. She was too scared to risk having her dream not come true and so she chose not to try. Today she is an office manager. I see this over and over again in my work and in my life, people’s dreams are so close they can touch them and yet they dare not make the call, take the step, or ask their friend in “the business” about “how to break in”. Just that one question could open the doorway to their dreams and they don’t dare. And it isn’t just about “them”, I do it too.
Part of my anxiety about naming one of my intentions is that I feel like I have had this goal so many times before, in different forms, and that something in me has stopped me each and every year. Even as reminders of previous failures to produce paraded through my mind, I knew I wanted it just the same. I wanted it more clearly and strongly than I did that stupid baked potato that I was willing to drive cross town for. The intention was, ” I will complete the book proposal for my self-help/memoir ,”What happens when dreams don’t come true and how to live happily ever after anyway” and submit it to agents.” Even to write that here on the blog, where I know I am among friends, makes my heart race a little as I wonder if you will judge me for daring to write it down. And even as I type that I know I am projecting my self-judgement onto you. What do you care? You, lovely you, likely want to see me succeed. Your not judging me, are you? If you are, could you not tell me. I think I ‘d rather not know.
The other scary thing about really getting clear about what you want and where you want to go is that you have to do stuff in order to make it happen. That wasn’t always obvious to me. There was a time that I thought that writing it on a list and saying a few affirmations was enough, happily that was a long time ago. Now, happily, I understand that it takes work to actualize intentions. Everyday I ask myself, “what small action can I take towards this goal, no matter how small.” And when I have gone two days without taking an action I think of what I tough-love writing teacher I had taught her students about goal setting, “Write all of your goals on an index cards, a goal for each card. Go through the cards everyday and write down one action you took towards the goal. If at the end of the week you have not taken an action on a goal then say out loud: “I don’t want to achieve this goal” and then tear up the card.” Okay, her advice is a bit tough. I haven’t actually written any of my intentions on index cards. But everyday when I review my intentions and I find myself procrastinating on sitting down and working on my proposal, I do think of the index cards and I ask myself if,with my lack of action, I am actually telling myself that I don’t want to achieve this goal. This thought, especially if it happens two-days in a row, almost always gets me moving.
With hindsight and eight-hours of sleep, I think that I actually did know what I wanted last night when we were driving around. I was extremely tired when I got home. I don’t think I really wanted to go out. I didn’t know it then. I just knew that when I asked myself where I wanted to go for dinner that “nowhere” is the only answer I got. And, I can see, again with hindsight, that “nowhere” is actually an answer. I didn’t really want to go to dinner. I wanted to put on flannel pajamas and watch Downton Abbey( again). I was actually too tired to eat or to chew or even to get undressed( I may or may not have slept in the sweater that I wore to dinner). Yes, I know I needed nourishment. But I also needed to not sit at a table and look at a menu and talk to a waitress.
As a therapist I am not in the habit of prescribing movies, but this is a movie that I have been prescribing with such frequency that one might think I was getting pharmaceutical company kickbacks. The movie, that is a mental health must, begins with Pat Solitano, magnificently played by Bradley Cooper, in a mental health facility. He is there because he has bipolar disorder and because he violently attacked his wife’s lover. Pat is determined to get his wife back. He is going to lose weight and he is going to be a better person. And, in an effort to better know his wife, he decides to read all the books on her high-school english syllabis. He is trying to prove to Nikki, his estranged wife, that he is lovable. I’m not going to ruin the movie for you and so I will say no more about what happens. I want you to see the movie and then I want you to come back and tell me how much you loved it and then I want to meet you for coffee and talk about each delightful moment and all of the incredible performances. I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago and I am still enjoying a Silver Linings Playbook hangover( Bradley Cooper pun intended) and I can’t quit thinking about the deeper meanings that the film offers.
The way that I define for myself whether I love a movie is whether or not is if I completely forget about my life for the two-hours that I am watching it. It is a rare movie that makes me forget that I have dry cleaning to pick up or a bill to pay or its dialogue goes uninterrupted by a nagging thought that I might have forgotten to give Lily her heart worm medicine this month. Silver Lining Playbook was not such a movie. That said, even though it had me thinking about my own life it was the BIG life issues that I see in my practice and not the little piddly issues like “Did I remember to DVR Homeland“? Silver Linings Playbook had me thinking of bigger issues in my life and in the lives of my patients and I was simultaneously engrossed with the film and seeing similarities in my life. The theme that I and, I would imagine, so many resonate with is the feeling of “If I become what they want me to become then I will deserve love.” This movie’s answer to the question of “If I become what they want me to be will they love me?” is maybe. Maybe they will love you. But maybe you don’t need to change. Maybe who you are right now in all your messed-up messiness is worthy of love. And maybe you don’t want them after all.
In my years of practice as a psychotherapist I have seen so many people who sit across from me and try desperately to convince me that they need to change to be loved and I sit there and I listen to them and I try and understand and have compassion for the urgency in which they argue for their unlovableness and yet all I see in front of me is how profoundly lovable that they are right now. Sure, many of us could benefit from some change—but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve love right now. We do. And it is so easy for me to see that for my friends or patients or Pat Solitano, however it can be a bit more difficult for me to see it for myself. I, like maybe you, have a list of things that I sometimes use as an excuse to see myself as unworthy. If I was fitter, more successful, or more x,y or z then I would be more lovable. But it’s all a rouse, I know it is. The people who really love me don’t love me more when I have a lower body fat percentage. No one who really loves me asks for an Excel sheet as a means of determining my worth, and yet I still often strive to prove my lovability. And when I don’t feel like I am lovable, for example, last Friday when I was possessed by PMS demons and was on a diatribe of self-loathing, I, in those moments, don’t let love in. I push people away with an aura of indifference. But the truth is that I am not indifferent at all, I am just, in those moments, convinced that I am not good enough or smart enough or whatever enough, and so I self-protect by pushing others away—not a good strategy.
I love Silver Linings Playbook for so many reasons. I love that it reminds us that the really interesting people are not the one’s who seem to have it all together. Tiffany is lovable exactly for the reasons she’s sure she isn’t. Pat is lovable and interesting because he is honest and raw and broken and entirely himself. The people who love him are also broken and crazy and not at all perfect. But really, who is perfect? Who are these perfect people who require us to be perfect? I don’t know them. And I really don’t want to know them. I like the broken and crazy people who are honest and raw and courageous, those are my people. I like them. No, I love them.
I am always telling patients that it isn’t that exciting or interesting to love the perfect. Loving the perfect doesn’t require anything of us. And if I was perfect it wouldn’t seem so amazing that Keith loves me as he does. He loves me even though I am somewhat challenging and difficult and (in my words, not his) a bit overly-emotional about things. But he loves me even though I am those things and it makes the love more meaningful. What I find more amazing is what I might describe as my most unlovable parts, he sees as delightful. He loves my smile lines and asked me to never to put filler in them. I was baffled by this and yet I can’t tell you how much I LOVE his smile lines. There are three beautiful and perfect smile lines that frame his smile. Whenever I see them I melt. Those lines tell me that he has lived a life that allowed him to smile enough to earn those and that makes me happy. There are other things about him or me that others might want us to change, we however find most of our crazy to be sort of cute and endearing.
So, dear and lovable you, do you think it is better to be loved for imperfections or for perfections? What unlovable thing has someone found lovable about you? What about you did someone love that you had previously thought was unlovable? Go and see this movie and see if you see yourself at all in it. See if you tell yourself that you need to change to be loved and maybe challenge that notion. And, if you don’t that is okay too, you are still lovable—-just as you are.
It’s been a long time since I seriously kept a journal, a long time. Today I cracked open an old journal that I began back in October 2007. I only wrote three pages in this THICK and unused journal. You know why? Because I began this journal the same month that I began this blog. Well, in my list of summer goals( yes, I have summer goals) I have decided to add journaling to the list of activities I would like to accomplish this summer.
The list includes the following:
1. Get a ping pong table.
2. BBQ more ( I am crazy for grilled vegetables and I am not crazy enough to keep paying the $10 a pound that Whole Foods charges me for them).
3. Take tennis lessons. (The French Open really got to me).
4. Swim, and get a swim cap that I can fit all of my hair into.
5. 1,3, and 4 are all about the goal of trying to have more fun. I work a lot and I love my work. I love my work more than I can say. That said, I could and should try and do something other than go to dinner and watch House Hunters as my sad excuse for leisure activities. I can’t espouse balance and self-care to my clients if I am not going to make the smallest effort to attempt it myself.
6. Get a summery fragrance. I am thinking of trying Bobbi Brown’s Beach. I love that it smells a little bit like Coppertone suntan lotion. A sprtiz of that and a Popsicle on the patio and I will have the makings of an instant summer-tastic staycation.
7. Read something trashy. Maybe I will stop my Spring-time survey of personality disorders and I will read The Hunger Games or this Shades of Gray that my hairdresser told me about.
Journaling will come back to me faster than my forehand(it has been over 20 years since I attempted tennis). I know how to do this, serving on the other hand is something I never really mastered and likely won’t. I journaled since I was seven and I got my very first diary with a key on it. I have decades of experience writing only for me and not for an audience. I journaled through decades, and disasters and experimented with forms and formats. I read the journals of Nin and Plath and I kept writing and dreamed that someday all this writing would turn into something more and that my life would to( much of my journals involve wishing for some other time and some achievement that would make my life worthwhile).
Only with the journal I won’t get any comments, like I do on the blog, as no one will have access to my private and tangential rants—and that is both good and bad. In my private writing I tend to allow my complexes and opinions to be absolute. I write in the language of splitting, “I hate this” and “I love this” are key phrases in the discourse of my diary. However when I blog I tend to be more objective, even in my subjectivity I know you are there. And knowing you are there changes things and it mostly makes me a better writer and a better person to not let the ranty part of myself have too much room. Um, why exactly did I want to journal again?
Well, in a journal I can be insanely honest. I can write things that I don’t want you to know about me. I can write without wondering who will read what I just wrote and what they will think. I can give voice to my petty fears and baseless anxieties and I won’t have to worry about having to warn someone that I don’t REALLY feel that way and that I am just venting. It actually sounds pretty good and maybe even important( I have a few rants in me at the moment).
I suppose that I do need a place to let my thoughts have free reign and not have to edit. Therapy is a great place for that, however it is only one-hour a week. Maybe I even want to have a hissy-fit or two on the page and then move on.
Recently I was watching “Girls” on HBO( And I do love that show) and one of the characters had her diary violated. Her roommate’s boyfriend read her journal and he discovered all kinds of things, not the least being that her roommate (his girlfriend) is not in love with him. When confronted with the black and white facts of her journal, the wounded boyfriend makes the case to his girlfriend, “it is a journal; no one lies in a journal, that is the fucking point.”
But he is wrong. People do lie in journals. People overreact in journals. People spew. I spew. I dramatize. I say that I hate things and that I love things and I catastrophize in a journal. On the first page of my journal I have the following disclaimer: “If I am dead and you are reading this please know that I wrote in this journal when I was bored, anxious, depressed and possessed by complexes. It is best not to take this as a real and valid document of my feelings. If I told you in my non-journaling life that I love you it is best to believe me. If I wrote in this journal that I wanted to leave you and run away to the Himalayas— it is not true. Seriously, ignore everything in here that you are about to read and just remember that I love you. Okay?”
I miss James Hillman. I really do. I just saw a friend last week, a fellow therapist, who is the person who talked me into talking to Hillman the last time I saw him. The minute I saw her I greeted her with the following, “I thought of you when Hillman died.” I know that “hello and “how are you” are more customary, but this woman greeted me with the same, “I know, I thought of you too.”
When you love someone as deeply as I love Hillman it can take awhile before you are willing to fall in love again. You may even defend against love and swear you will never-ever-ever find it again. But one day you do. One day you are reading a book and you find that you must immediately go to Amazon.com and order every other book that this person ever wrote. And, dear readers, I have found such an author. Let me introduce you to Adam Phillips. Adam Phillips, the author and British psychotherapist, is a genius. I had several of his books in my bookcase for several years and I hadn’t read them. Just recently I began to read “On Balance” and I lost mine and I started Googling him( which is a bit ironic as Adam is a conscious technophobe who eschews cell phones and emails in favor of a less wired and more inspired lifestyle).and I found this interview that I have watched more times than I care to admit. But trust me, watch this and really think about what he says and it will change you( well, it changed me…and it made me fall in love with thanatos all over again). This is a whole lot of important stuff in only six minutes and eight seconds. If you can’t be bothered to watch it and rather read, then I quote from his New York Times Interview in which he discusses the Psychoanalysis of pleasure and frustation:
One of the obstacles is the demand that we be happy, that we enjoy our lives. I think it’s a huge distraction, and it’s very very undermining, I think. So, living in a quasi-hedonistic culture, I think it’s a big problem. It’s wrong because, if we are to make this crude, in the old days whenever that was, there was an internal injunction to be good. Now the injunction is to be happy, or to be enjoying yourself. And the reason this is a distraction is because life is also painful, in other words—and it’s a very simple thing and its very obvious—and it starts in childhood—which is that if someone can satisfy you, they can also frustrate you. This is ineluctable, this is structural, it is never going to change. This means that everybody has to deal with ambivalence. They are going to have to deal with the fact that they love and hate the person they love and hate.
What we are continually being sold are possibilities for pleasure…as though all we want to do is get away from the pain and increase the pleasure. I think this is a very impoverished view of what a life is, even though every life has something to do with the pain and the pleasure. But there’s a difference between evacuating pain and frustration and modifying it. And what we’re starved of now is frustration. There isn’t a really powerful account of the value of the state of frustration. It’s as though we are phobic of frustration. And as soon as there is a moment of frustration, it has to be filled with something. It’s a bit like the mother who overfeeds her child—she does that stop her child from having an appetite, because the appetite is so frightening.
I think that it would be possible to have pictures of good lives that are not set up to make one fail. So that a more realistic idea, as opposed to ideal, is one that is genuinely attainable…Ideals create a sort of fight-or-flight. Either you run away from it, you get rid of it, and produce a new one, or you comply with it, or you battle with it. I would be interested in people producing fictions that are discussable, that are realistically possible, rather than humiliating. Because the other thing about cultural Ideals is that they are set up to humiliate us. So that the fictions would be non-diminishing, they would be genuinely possible, but they would keep alive the idea that we don’t know who we might become, and that who we want to be is very important.
Giving up on happiness. Accepting frustration. Fictions that are possible. If someone can satisfy you they can also frustrate you. Brilliant, huh?
You know that game, Psych professors and/or team building coaches assign it a lot, it’s a game where you have a piece of paper for each person in the group and everyone writes what they think of the others in the group. Mostly people use one word adjectives, words like ‘Funny’;'Kind’;and’Outgoing’. I remember playing this game in grad school. The word that many people used to describe me was “smart”. It was a bit of a shock to see that I had tricked so many people into believing I was intelligent. I knew better. I knew I was just hard-working and motivated. People were confusing my perfectionism and my willingness to read everything on the suggested reading list as ‘smart”. I’d hoodwinked them, I told myself.
It took some time and continued hammering by friends, faculty and even Igor to talk me into owning the identity of a smarty. Now if I played that game and people wrote the word “smart” to describe me it wouldn’t seem so ego dystonic( just FYI: fancy words are useful if you want to trick friends, faculty and anyone else that you are smart. I had a supervisor whose opinion of me entirely changed when I described the weather as being “autumnal”. In her mind I went from an ordinary intern to a Mensa member just with the use of an ordinary SAT word).
There are words that I know I am assocaited with. ‘Therapist’, ‘Blogger’, and ‘Writer’. These are what I do. I’m okay with these words. It’s more the adjective words that I am more uncomfortable owning. Some more so than others. There are a whole series of words that my boyfriend uses to describe me that I would NEVER utter about myself. Seriously. Nothing will ever get me to reveal his adjectives for me. Well,okay…there’s a few that I can share. Other than the inutterables, he also calls me ‘smart’ and ‘funny’(I blush a bit at admitting that to you as I fear that as soon as you read that you will say, um..”but she’s really not that funny.” I may not be to you but it is a word that those who love me tend to use that word when describing me. Other words I indetify with that are not about me but more about my preferences, words such as: “leopard”, ‘Morrissey’, ‘Lily’, and ‘Psychoanlaysis’ are all words that are associated with me. And then there words that are inadvertently part of my identity, words such as ‘infertile’,and ‘childless not by choice’.
Yesterday I was looking at the words that people Google that get them to my blog, thanks to Statcounter. And yesterday two people found my blog by searching the term ‘bitter and infertile’. Ouch. Those are not words that I want to be identified with. I will own infertile. I recoiled in horror when considering bitter. It tasted bad in my mouth. I spit these words out and refused to digest them in an act of self preservation. I reacted in similar way when my mother used to call me “strong”. She always called me strong when I had just endured some attack to my self and she brought the word out in order to stop the outpouring of emotion that the attack unleashed. “Stop,” she’d say, “Your strong.” The context of her use of the word made me reject it. But the truth is, she’s right, I am strong. I am strong enough to feel my emotions, even if my doing so, on occassion,makes other people uncomfortable.
The other words my mother used, or should I say overused, to describe me were “too sensitive” and “too analytical”. I have also taken these words which were intended as a condemnation and have decided to own them as a strength. She’s right; I am very analytical and I am also very sensitive. Both of these qualities are, at least in my mind, strenghths.
My father’s favorite word for me was “quitter”. It was a word that took me a long time to overcome, but I didn’t quit until quitter quit being a part of my identity. He’s right, I did quit taking guitar lessons. However, I didn’t quit going to college. I didn’t quit grad school. I stuck out 3000 hours of intern hours that were required to become lisenced. I’ve been blogging for four years. I stayed in my marriage for nearly 20 years. So, yeah, that quitter identity is not one that fits. Sorry, Dad.
If I had to pick five words to describe me (or at least my more positive aspects), I’d choose the following five words:
5. Courageous(not in a physical sense but in an emotional sense)
So, are you up to giving me five? Who are you in five words or less or more? I’d love to know. After all, I am curious.
My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .