And Now, For Someone Completely Different











I love “characters” – always have. I think that’s one of the reasons I love movies so much, because you get to see people who stand out from the crowd, people who surprise you.

I remember years ago, when I used to work at an alcohol rehab facility, there was this guy, Augie, in the program, from “back East,” who could have been straight out of the cast of Guys and Dolls. He used to talk about “hangin’ out on the stoop,” being a numbers runner out of a candy store, and collectin’ for loan sharks. Well, as he got older, all his children moved out West to a ‘better life,’ and they finally convinced him to make the move, too, because his health was failing. The ‘kids’ found a “wonderful, clean, safe” place for him –  a small trailer park in Rohnert Park, outside of the Bay Area.

It seemed ideal.

On paper.

Well, Augie was lonely, out of his element, and bored stiff. When he tried to talk to the ‘squares’ in the trailer park, they didn’t get him at all, nor he them. Finally, to obliterate the endless days, he started drinking, and didn’t stop until he was picked up one Sunday at two A.M. by the cops, comatose, in the middle of a busy street.

One day, and I’ll never forget it, in the group I ran at the rehab facility, Augie, who hadn’t said a word until then, suddenly broke down in tears and said, “Back East, I was a character. Here, I’m just a freak.”

I’m glad to say that, with help, Augie did stop drinking, and eventually moved to North Beach, where he could put his ‘character’ to better (and more appreciated) use among a slightly more bohemian crowd than the Rohnert Park trailer set. He became a bartender – and a sort of unofficial greeter and drawing card – at a local old-time watering hole, and stayed sober for the rest of his life.

The thing is, you meet characters when you do therapy too; like with movies, it’s one of the reasons I love this work – and once in a great while, you meet someone who’s a character and a therapist all at the same time. Someone like Nelly.

But first let me give you a little background. When you’re a therapist, you see a lot of therapists as clients. For one thing, they’re interested in therapy, for another, most of them need it (sorry, my esteemed but problematic colleagues!), and for yet another, they can sometimes come at the times you have available, the times other people cannot. And since patients talk about their work lives, and therapists’ work lives are about doing therapy, well . . . you hear a lot of funny, crazy, heartwarming, odd and puzzling stories – well, no, not all of those qualities in one story, of course.

But then, on second thought . . .

I had been seeing Nelly, a psychologist beginning a private practice in Oakland, for about a year. Sometime in the late Eighties, she had come to me to help her get through her last year at a local psychology doctoral program. Therapy supervision is a required part of becoming a therapist, and doing therapy and being supervised both tend to bring up ‘issues’ for candidates. In the case of Nelly, her supervisor, an older woman whom I knew of from my years in the therapy community, had “strongly recommended” that Nelly get some therapy herself, to help her iron out a few psychological wrinkles that had come up in her supervision.

Ah, Nelly, Nelly, Nelly –  I could go on and on with psychological jargon, to explain her ins and outs, but I’ll spare you all that and just speak in good old American:

Nelly was a real trip.

And I mean that in the fondest way. She was South American, and anything you can imagine about American stereotypes of South American women, well, Nelly was it. She was flashy, extroverted, ‘out there,’ funny, charming and at times overwhelming.

Think Evita Peron.

You’re getting warm.

Now think Charo.

You’re getting warmer.

Now think Carmen Miranda.

You’re hot!

Nope, Nelly was certainly not the traditional ‘therapist type,’ but she had some wonderful things going for her, too: a warm heart, a high, lively intelligence, and most delightfully, a great sense of humor, including about herself. Sometimes, during her therapy sessions, when she was proclaiming things, throwing herself around and ‘on a roll,’ I’d give her a certain look, and she’d throw up her hands dramatically and laugh, in her thick accent,

Jes, jes, I know dees: I am in Diva Mode, no? Bueno!

Well, jes, jes, she was in Diva Mode much of the time, but no one else could make Diva Mode as charming, or as fun, as Nelly; it wasn’t posturing, it wasn’t a put-on, or a pose, it was her. Most women therapists dress modestly, neutrally, even – well let’s face it, dowdily, only pepping things up with the occasional hoop earring, paisley scarf or long, flowing skirt – a friend of mine once called it, “the half-Gypsy look.” But Nelly – to her, skimpy was the norm, tight the standard, and short the rule. She wore high heels, low-cut tops, and things that dangled and clacked all over the place. Not to allure, or provoke – it was just Nelly being Nelly.

Well, you can imagine how her ‘personal style’ went over at the Elite Institute For Impressive Studies, as I’ll call the training program she was in. The Elite was “juuuuust a bit self-important,” to paraphrase Bob Uecker in Major League. They fancied themselves direct descendants of Sigmund Freud, even though the only thing they really had in common with Freud was a smelly couch.

The accepted ‘mode’ around EIFIS was low-key, inhibited, and intellectual, what some (not I, of course) might call “having a stick up your butt.” At EIFIS, it was always important to use jargon instead of plain English: you didn’t say, “The patient made me feel nervous,” you said, “There was a great deal of attributive projective identification going on in the transaction.” And as for expressing your own, measly feelings? Why do that when you could dress them up in fancy words and ten-dollar concepts, and put them in the mouths of Bion, Melanie Klein or Winnicott?

But, that wasn’t Nelly’s way – not by a long shot. She once scandalized her supervisor by reporting that, in the presence of a very virile young male client, she fanned herself and said, “Whew – you are one hot potato!” (Actually, Nelly thought the supervisor would be impressed by her knowledge of American slang!) Another time, she was working with a very repressed young woman, and when the woman asked Nelly, “What’s wrong with me anyway?” Nelly stood up, did a bump-and-grind on the office rug, and said, “Nothing – you just need a leetle more of theese!

Every practitioner needs to find his or her own way of doing psychotherapy – because at its best, psychotherapy is the most personal of art forms. But most people struggle to find their voice, that perfect amalgam of what everybody else is doing, and what they and they alone can do, the ‘way’ that they can claim as their own, signature style. And it’s best when they can use all the theory, tradition and lore – the stuff you learn in grad school – as a sort of armature on which to hang their own personal strengths, quirks and novel approaches.

However, in the case of Nelly, I’d say her only ‘struggle’ was in even allowing psychological tradition to find a seat at the party. She came to the profession with her own fully-formed ‘approach,’ which I always called psychoaNellysis – a mixture of Catholic philosophy taught her by the nuns, folk wisdom from her mother and aunts, reading (she claimed that if you just paid close enough attention, Jane Eyre would teach you everything you needed to know about life – oh, and that it was a much better book in Spanish), and life experience she had picked up along the way.

And by life experience, I do mean Life Experience: she had been married twice, once to a deadbeat sometime drug dealer, and once to a professor. When she was with the drug dealer, she had worked as a, how-you-say, call girl/masseuse/sex worker in Buenos Aires for a number of years, where she learned, and I quote, “many, many especial things about the mens,” and also an awful lot about what men think about women, from her customers talking about their wives and girlfriends.

Actually, there is a rather long tradition of women sex workers becoming therapists – I’ve worked with a number of them (as patients, that is) – although that fact might come as a surprise to their colleagues and patients. The truth is, many of the same skills are required in both professions: in fact, a young woman patient of mine recently laughed, “You listen, you understand, you make me feel more powerful, and I pay you – in some ways, you’re nothing more than a prostitute.”

To which I replied, “Then I’m going to be a damn good one.”

I’m quite sure Nelly was a ‘damn good one,’ in her day, and in fact it was one of her customers, a university professor, who told her that she was too smart to be making a living in bed, that she should, and could, return to school and finish her education, which she did, taking top honors in her university before coming to America for graduate school in the Bay Area.

I loved to tease her, saying, “You mean they have higher education in Argentina?” upon which she would launch on a rant about how superior Latin culture is to ours, saying about America, “Jew don’t even talk to each other! Jew don’t even look at each other! Jew don’t even touch each other!”

To which I would say, much to her consternation, “Yeah – and the Gentiles are even worse!”

Well, Nelly barely squeaked through her supervision at EIFIS, and once I even had to talk to the supervisor I mentioned before (at her request), to explain that when she was lively, extroverted and sassy with her clients, she wasn’t “acting out,” but just being herself, and that it wasn’t for lack of self-control that she did so, but rather that it was an integrated, grounded way of being that worked for her – and for her clients. And I might add that, somehow, clients almost always managed to get better under her care. The supervisor said, “But we wouldn’t let anyone else get away with this – it’s not consistent policy,” to which I replied, “Well, if anyone else did it, it would mean they were out of control, provocative and lacked boundaries, but with Nelly, it’s just her way. She’s coming from the right place, and her clients know it, so it works.”

To her credit, the supervisor, a diametrically opposite personality (someone who some, not I, might say had a stick up her posterior, too), did eventually agree that Nelly’s ‘way’ worked for her, even though if therapy students were to see one of Nelly’s sessions, it would have to be accompanied by a banner saying, “Kids, don’t try this at home!”

Nelly did graduate, and started a thriving and effective private practice – specializing in Latin women – and eventually even became a supervisor at the EIFIS, and I think everyone who met Nelly or worked with her was the better for having been exposed to her own special brand of flightiness, charm, warmth and wisdom.

We talk a lot about “diversity” nowadays – and by this we mean the inclusion of differing races, nationalities, creeds and genders. But we also need to treasure and protect the ‘characters’ in our society – people like Augie and Nelly – for they are a national resource that has much to teach us, especially in this homogenizing age of ours.

So, to all the characters out there, I say, on behalf of Nelly, “Jew can do it!”













Note: All clinical vignettes herein are significantly altered to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.

The Devil’s Food Made Me Do It!










Overheard exultation, uttered by a rather large woman, at the Chinese restaurant: “Woo hoo: I’m 0-for-sugar!”

Is there anything more vexing, more trying, more frustrating, more humbling, let’s face it, more (neologism alert!) failurious, than trying to lose weight? Yes, I know, Americans are the fattest people on earth: we’re gross, we’re out of shape, we’re tub-meisters altogether, we’re earth-whales, waddling along the sidewalks with our thighs shaking and our butts bouncing. But dude, how many Congolese, or Eritreans, or Nepalese have to soldier abstemiously past huge and affordable displays of Little Debbie’s Honey Buns, or Triple-Stuff-Mint-Almond Oreos, or Haagen-Dazs Rocky Road Extra, every day at the store, like we do? Let’s see an Iraqi kid go 0-for-sugar when he could dive into a German chocolate cake just by flipping it into his shopping cart! Hey, a little help here: can’t we get some “degree of difficulty” points for doing as well as we do, in an environment where every fattening thing on earth is not only available to us all day every day, but shoved in our faces 24/7 by the best advertising that money can buy?

Not to go all baseball on you, but Mike Mussina, a former Major League pitcher, didn’t get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame recently, because he ‘only’ won 270 games, but for god’s sake, he pitched in the American League East, the toughest division in baseball, his whole career: give me a break! That’s called Difficulty – and it counts!

Remember in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, when Howard, the old, wizened prospector, whom Humphrey Bogart said was “part mountain goat,” ended up being revered as a living god by a group of local Indians, living the life of Riley, lying in a hammock all day, brought food and libation by rotating shifts of beautiful native maidens? Every time I see that movie I think, “Yeah – how wizened would he be after a year of that kind of life? Would he be a mountain goat or a bloated old porker?”

Are people in other countries leaner and more fit because they have more will power, and healthier diets by choice, or just because they don’t have the opportunity to stuff themselves with white bread, macaroni and cheese and barbecue potato chips? Americans are like that old joke about why male dogs lick themselves: because they can!

So please, God, can’t we please get some ‘points’ for what we DON’T eat every day? I mean, yesterday I turned down an ‘artisanal’ moon pie at the coffee place, some Cheetos left behind by my son’s friend, and a whole jar of marshmallow ‘fluff’ I happened to spy in the pantry, late at night. God damn, I want some CREDIT for those turn-downs: they were hard!

See, in baseball, if you’re batting, and the pitcher throws one, but you decide it’s bad for you and you don’t take it, it’s called a ball! It counts ‘against’ the pitcher, and puts you in a better position in the at-bat, going forward. So when I decide something’s bad for me and I don’t take it, why can’t I get a ball called against the gods of eating?

Look, its simple, here’s how it should work: I bypass the entire bakery section at Safeway while I’m shopping for an apple and a salad, then later on, at home, when I want a piece of cherry pie, the gods go,

“Well, my boy, you racked up at least five thousand NEGATIVE calories by manning up and strolling past an entire food section there, including eclairs, cakes, bear claws and apricot Danishes, so sure, go ahead and pig out on that cherry pie, and it won’t ‘count’: no harm, no foul.”

Right? Now that would be fair! That would be equitable! But no – no such luck for those of us who, when Life give us lemons, we eat lemon tarts, lemon meringue pies, and lemon bars.

Now, let’s talk about trying to help people with eating disorders. Just the other day, my Linked In site sent me a job offering at a local hospital with an Eating Disorders Clinic. The job description must have repeated the following at least ten times:

“Must be skilled and knowledgeable in research-proven, evidence-based methods of treatment; CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy).”

In other words, if you have a heart, an original thought, or even don’t know shit, but are willing to let the patients teach you what you need to know, don’t apply, sport!

But, my dear Eating Clinic, aren’t you leaving out a few high-level areas of expertise? How about FBT: Fat Banishment Therapy? Or SOW: Systematic Oreo Weaning? Or PSAT: Pastrami Sandwich Abatement Therapy? Now those might actually help real people!

But, all kidding aside (well not completely, because that would be cruel and unusual), what does actually help real people? Well, Surprise: it can’t be scripted, or reduced to a formula, or force-fed to every mental health graduate student in the land.

What actually does help people is taking them, and their individuality, seriously: not giving them “tools,” but helping them create a life worth living. After all, it’s not all that mysterious why people get hooked on heroin, or get drunk every day, or stuff themselves with raw cookie dough in the middle of the night: in some way, their life SUCKS, and it feels better to get ‘out of it’ with some substance or other, than it does to ‘be there’ for life.

Sure, there are physiological and biochemical factors that we don’t fully understand yet, and maybe never will, that might tell us why some people who are miserable don’t get hooked on anything, or why someone who actually has a pretty good life throws it all away by becoming an addict of some kind – but overall, it’s pretty clear, when you work with addicts, why they are longing to check out: they can’t bear their life ‘straight.’ It’s not tools or behaviors they are lacking – it’s capacities: the capacity to care and love, to take in the love of others, to be involved without feeling overwhelmed, the capacity to know who they are and who they are not, to take care of themselves without feeling guilty, to care for others without feeling drained, to find their passions in life, and to avoid toxic environments and people.

To find out why you are here on earth, and to pursue that ‘calling’ (and that means much more than just your job): that’s what makes a life worth living. People who have fallen into addictions either never had, or don’t currently have, the capacity to ‘use’ other people to support them in finding their place in life.

I’ve said it before in this space, but it bears repeating: a big part of why the Anonymous programs work is that they force people to tell their story to others, to hear that others have similar stories, to accept help, and ultimately to give back help. In other words, it HUMANIZES people, it welcomes them into (or back into) the human race, in a way they were denied before. It forces people (as does psychotherapy) into realizing that there ARE people who care, who are rooting for them, who are walking the same road; and man, this helps – it helps a lot!

The Anonymous programs are NOT intended as a way to ‘just quit’, because ‘just quitting’ is a doomed proposition – it doesn’t take into account that a life, even a ‘sober’ life, lived in isolation and secrecy, in an attempt at total self-sufficiency and self-reliance, is not worth living.

And this brings up yet another issue that traditional therapists often do not realize: ‘just’ psychotherapy is not enough, either. An addict needs more than just someone to talk to once a week. Sure, you can do amazing things to help people recognize, and claim, who they are, to give them an experience (sometimes, their first experience) in trusting another human being, in feeling cared about, in being understood, but it is not enough. They need to engage with, to be involved with, others who are fellow-travelers on the path of addiction, to compare notes and see their similarities with others of their ‘kind.’ They need the cross-fertilization of both therapy and a ‘program’ – to work on their therapy issues with others, and to bring their issues in the program back to the therapist.

In this way, the program serves almost as a halfway-house family experience, and it is very clear that people will often re-experience in the program the same things they felt in their families: being left out, not being understood, being abandoned, being ‘told what to do,’ feeling different in a way that hurts, and unique in a way that isolates.

It is the job of the therapist to push back against these forces, to put them in historical context, to provide insight and perspective, so that the person can go back ‘in the trenches’ and work them out with others, in a way they never could with their families, instead of resorting to non-interactive means (drink, or drugs, or food), as they have before.

And it is this back-and-forth work (therapist>group>therapist>group) that is so powerful and helpful in working towards a real and meaningful life that is worth being there for.

So, even though I am still mad that we don’t get credit for what we don’t eat (You know what I mean God – stop ducking behind that cloud!), and that we (i.e. fat Americans) are unfairly compared to other, more food-deprived countries, and thus I am playing this game (a.k.a. Life) ‘under protest,’ I still feel that if we all work together, give a damn about each other and tell the truth, we stand a pretty good chance of ignoring the siren call of that apricot Danish that’s wiggling its hips at us in the Bad Boy aisle.

Hang tough, people, and hang together, for together we all have a chance to be 0-for-sugar.





Note: All clinical vignettes herein are significantly altered to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.











Readers of my blog sometimes tell me, “Wow, it sure is obvious that you love words.”

Well, they’re right.

I love words, and I love language. I love finding new words that I don’t know, and old words that I’ve forgotten I ever knew. I love funny expressions, regionalisms, and idioms. I love hearing the foreign-born try to wrangle English, and I love hearing the American-born mangle it.

I love hearing, “I’m gonna try a new tact.” (Well, a little diplomacy never hurts, right?) I love hearing, “I was chomping on the bit.” I love it when someone says, “This sore throat is killin’ me – I gotta pick up some lozengers.” (When he was little, Nick used to call ’em, “lollengers,” which I like even more.) How about, “He asked me out to a movie, but I demured.” (Accompanied by eyelid-fluttering, I presume?)

Then there are the delightful malapropisms you hear, if you listen closely – creative word-stews that people cook up, including a former patient of mine, who said about a co-worker of hers, “He said something that was just so funny – you know, a malapoop.” The French word for diarrhea, perhaps?

The other day, I was at the Chinese restaurant where I often eat lunch. There’s a new waitress there, who’s the very exact, very dogmatic type. When I come in, she approaches me, sweeps her arm out ahead of her and tries to ‘guide’ me to a table.

And every day I tell her, “That’s alright – I’ll seat myself.”

And what happens the next day, and the next, and the next? “Welcome, sir, may I seat you?”

It reminds me of that old Donald Duck cartoon, where he’s in the museum of ‘modern’ things, and the Robot Butler says, “Your hat, sir,” and takes his hat, upon which Donald produces a new hat from his sleeve, and the robot doggedly persists, “Your hat, sir,” and Donald produces yet another hat, and they repeat the whole thing endlessly, faster and faster.

But I digress – one of my personality characteristics, I’m afraid. I’m definitely not the exact, dogmatic type: I would call myself Impressionistic. My friends would call me scattered, tangential, and absent-minded. Oh well, if they want to sacrifice the richness of complexity for the banality of exactitude, that’s their loss. In fact, that reminds me, didn’t Emerson once . . .

Oops, sorry, we were talking about something, weren’t we?

Oh yeah – words.

And we were talking about somewhere, weren’t we?

Oh yeah, the Chinese restaurant.

So I was sitting there at the back table (where ‘they’ would never seat you!), just behind two young kids and their father, the only other customers in the place. The little girl, I’d say maybe three years old, was sitting next to her Dad, both of them facing away from me. And the little boy, facing me from across their table, was maybe five or so.

They were quiet for a long while, as they attended to their plates. I noticed the Dad was definitely looking pretty beat: had he had ‘sole custody’ of the  kids for a few days, over the Christmas holiday? I’m pretty sure I heard them telling him, “Mom this,” or “Mom that,” which told me he probably wasn’t with ‘Mom’ anymore. I could definitely relate to the whole being ‘beat’ thing, though: I had been that solo Dad enough times in my life to recognize ‘the look.’

Well, anyway, suddenly the little girl broke the silence, declaiming, clear as a bell, “Apparently, I’m done eating.” Uh oh, the ‘little genius’ type, without a doubt.

The older brother immediately shot her a sulky glare. Two long beats went by until he asked the Dad, “What’s apparently?”

Dad sighed wearily into his noodles, “Oh, like – it seems like.”

Well, I could see the boy working on it, planning his older-brother, one-upsmanship move. Finally, he announced, grandly, “Apparently, there’s a hundred people in this restaurant.”

The little genius immediately shot back, “No, there’s only four – including that man behind us.”

Damn, she was good! But the boy, with an evil grin, riposted, “Well, I said, ‘apparently.'”

Check, and mate! He had her, for now. Six months earlier, she wouldn’t have known the word ‘apparently’ at all, and six months from now, she would have instantly destroyed his position, but for now, he had her.

Oh, and that wasn’t the end of it, either. The boy, in triumph, plowed through his meal quickly, then started to get very, very antsy. The Dad said, “If you can’t sit still at the table, stand over there,” pointing to the aisle between them and “that man behind us,” as the little genius had so aptly dubbed me, without once turning around.

The boy did as he was told, and for a while he stood there, fidgeting up a storm. Finally, this exchange took place:

Boy: I’m boring, cuz I’m done!

Dad: Use your quiet voice!

Boy: Don’t you have any kids’ apps on your phone?

Dad: No.

Boy: Then what do you expect me to do, since I’m full?

I couldn’t keep from chortling out loud, at which the little genius turned around to me and said, “That’s funny,” to which I said, “Apparently,” which got us both giggling again.

As I’ve said before, there’s nothing better than a kid who gets your jokes!

Here’s a ‘word’ story on me: At UCLA, when I first realized that I couldn’t see where being an English major was going to get me, and got the idea to become a psychologist, I talked to a young psychology professor of mine about the field. He asked me, “So, what do you want to do in psychology?” I said, “Oh, just see people, I guess – you know, help them?” He nodded, then said, “So you should probably go into clinical psychology.” I said, “Do they help people?” He said, “Yes,” and that was the sum total of all the ‘career guidance’ I ever received from anybody.

Oh, except for one thing. You see, I chewed on that conversation for a while, and it all sounded fine, except for one thing that was bugging me, that only occurred to me afterwards. The next day, I checked the professor’s office hours and came by his office. I waited while he finished up with a couple of other students I recognized from my class. Finally, he waved me in and I sat down. This was the entirety of our conversation:

Me: You remember our conversation from yesterday?

Prof: Yes.

Me: Does that mean I have to work in a clinic?

Prof: (Laughing) No.

Me: Thanks.

So, I got up, left, and just sort of took it from there. I never did work in a clinic, and for most of my career, I got to work in a real nice office, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like people would respect me as much if I called myself a Real Nice Office Psychologist, so I guess I’ll just stick with Clinical.

In junior high, we had this principal who actually had a Doctorate! Yes, he wasn’t just a ‘Mister,’ he was a ‘Doctor’! And once a year, we would have an assembly (Yay: no class! Sorry, that just slipped out), where he would get up in front of all of us and say stuff. You know, just regular principal stuff. You had your ‘warning’ stuff, like about smoking, and skirt length, and talking in the hallways, and being a good citizen, and then you had your ‘rah-rah’ stuff, about how our school was wonderful and amazing – a ground-breaker, a trailblazer and all, and about how you should be proud to be part of it, and sign up for shit stuff like hall monitor, and bike safety duty, and get good grades, and that if you do enough shit stuff like that, how you might one day win the Madison Award, which was, obviously, this thing you got if you got good grades and did tons of service and were a kiss-ass good citizen and all.

Well, he went on like this for quite a while, like principals seem born to do. I mean, put me up in front of a bunch of junior high kids like that, and I’d probably just say, “School holiday today! Any questions? Dismissed!” And that’s why I’m working in a Real Nice Office, and not running a school. But principals – hell, they all know instinctively how to ladle out that stuff like it’s chicken gumbo.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t listen, really, to anything the Good Doctor was saying. I just waited, patiently, for him to say, “on there.” What do I mean? Well, this would be an example: “Now, I want to make certain you all understand that we will tolerate absolutely NO talking in the hallways . . . on there.”

See what I mean? He was a compulsive “on there”-er. Not every sentence, but a whole bunch of sentences, were completed by the gratuitous addition of an “on there,” and for me, it was important to note each one, because THAT’S what made his speeches interesting. And after awhile, listening to his “on there’s,” well, it kind of made you want to tack a few of ’em on to your own sentences – you know, just to add a little doctorly gravitas to the whole proceedings?

So, after you left those assemblies, for a few days you might find yourself walking down the hallways and saying to yourself, “Wow, look at that short skirt. That’s not even regulation length . . . on there,” or perhaps, “Damn, I hope Westervelt doesn’t give that essay homework again . . . on there.” See what I mean? It becomes a mental habit, a fun and easy way to sort of round out your personality a little, and give your personal musings a little more oomph . . . on there. Oops, sorry about that.

Language and words – they’re always there, always around. It’s a wonderful thing, and a blessing, to be ‘into’ things that are always around, that can supplement real life on a regular basis. For my Dad, it was birds. Think about it: wherever you go, there are birds to look at, to identify, to look forward to. Rare birds, favorite birds, birds that “aren’t supposed to be there,” something to share with other bird-lovers, a reason for outings, trips and even pilgrimages.

Me – I love baseball, and reading, and classic film noir, lots of kinds of music, and World War II, among other things. And I love words, and language, and what we do with them. No, it’s not a pedantic thing with me: though I might rail at a misspelled billboard, I don’t say it betokens the ruination of our culture or anything, and though I do shake my head when yet one more person on TV says, “butt-naked,” instead of “buck-naked,” I don’t build a wailing wall about it. I mostly have fun with it, doing crossword puzzles and noticing and appreciating special, wonderful uses of language as much as I get a kick out of incorrect usage.

When Dylan Thomas describes late Christmas Eve in his childhood bedroom as, “the close and holy darkness,” well, to me that’s scripture, plain and simple. And in the film noir,The Brasher Doubloon, Philip Marlowe, the private detective, and the police lieutenant have the following conversation, after the cops suspect Marlowe is mixed up in a murder:

Lieutenant: You’re smart, Marlowe, but don’t try to be too smart.

Marlowe: Alright, Captain – I’ll try to be just smart enough.

Now, to me, that’s beautiful.

So you see, even though I ended up becoming a Real Nice Office Psychologist, I guess, apparently, I never really got over being an English major . . . on there.

























Note: All clinical vignettes herein are significantly altered to protect patient confidentiality and privacy.