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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities, Book, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones


Book Review

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones


An American Marriage is a novel about a young black couple who get married who are from different social classes. The wife, Celestial, comes from a wealthy upper class family while Roy comes from a working class family. They both are college educated but coming from different backgrounds seem to have different values, beliefs, and preferences.

Roy gets arrested and is falsely accused of rape and sentenced to twelve years in prison after the first year of his marriage to Celestial.

Celestial stops visiting Roy after about three years saying that she can’t live like she is, as a single woman, while Roy, her husband, is incarcerated. Celestial has taken up with Andre her childhood friend who also was Roy’s best friend and is the person who introduced Roy and Celestial to begin with. Roy is released after five years when his case is overturned on appeal. Roy’s homecoming to find that Celestial and Andre are planning to marry when Celestial sues Roy for divorce brings the plot, the love triangle between Celestial, Roy, and Andre, to a climax.

The ambivalence each character experiences about these love relationships creates the creative tension that gives this novel its appeal.

The subplot deals with the injustice of the criminal justice system as it pertains to prosecuting and incarcerating black men and the damage this does to families and the communities beyond the injustice done to the alleged offender.

Tayari Jones is a good writer but the story is a bit like a soap opera. The moral of the story is a muddle. Whether Roy and Celestial would have made a go of their marriage had Roy not been incarcerated is hard to tell. It may have dissolved anyway, but after a year of marriage the bond was not strong enough to weather the enforced physical separation.

Celestial and Roy had talked about having children but had put it off. Had they had children one would wonder if this would have made a difference.

Why the novel is entitled “An American Marriage” is not clear. What makes the marriage between Celestial and Roy “American” is never addressed. The dynamics of the plot involve an African-American couple, but would be similar if the couple were white, or Hispanic, or Asian.

Reading “An American Marriage” reminds me Stewart O’Nan’s novel, “The Good Wife” which has a similar plot except the wife is pregnant when her husband is incarcerated and she stands by him and raises their child for 28 years.

An American Marriage gets a 6.5 on the MBH 10 point scale.


Saturday, May 25, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - "You Choose" by Linda McCullough Moore



Chapter three
Where do divorces come from?

Linda McCullough Moore writes in her story, "You Choose" in her book of short stories, An Episode of Grace, on pages 1-2,

I turn the wipers to fast swish and purse my lips and hunch my shoulders, as though these nods to ritual and posture might give me better traction.

“Where did this weather come from?” I say.

“Heaven,” Adam says. “God. Same place as every weather.”

Adam is six and the only member of our family who is unfailingly religious.

McCullough Moore, Linda. An Episode of Grace . Thornapple Books.pp.1-2

Comment:

Is Adam’s comment about the weather coming from God because he is “unfailingly religious” or because he is still innocent and hasn’t been corrupted yet by the socialization and conditioning of society?

Linda McCullough Moore always seem to inject a spiritual consciousness in her writing which makes it full of grace. The title of this book of Moore’s short stories is entitled, “An Episode Of Grace” and here, in this first story, as the family gets stuck in a snowstorm on their way to meeting with the children’s father so that he, and their mother, driving the car, can share with them the news about the death of their marriage, their intention to divorce, and breaking up the these two young boys family as they have known it, we read about a moment of grace which the mother calls "religous.".

The mother’s question, “Where does this weather come from?” is more than just a question about the weather. It is a question about the purpose of their journey, the purpose of their intended mission, the purpose of life.

Dr. Freud taught us about the unconscious mind and that what we think we are doing consciously often has little to do with what our deeply held  unconscious  thoughts and feelings are.

Our will and God’s will are often two different things. The joke pointing to this truth is “If you want to hear God laugh, tell God your plans.”

The mother’s question, “Where does this weather come from?” can be said in many ways such as merely a comment on the fact of the matter, or a sigh of victimization, and perhaps with a laugh at the absurdity of the situation with their trip being disrupted in an uncontrollable way.

Adam, at the age of six, still thinks about situations with a concrete innocence that still believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Adam reminds me of the little about a young boy in Sunday School drawing a picture. The Sunday School teacher asks him, “What are you drawing?”

The little boy says, “I am drawing a picture of God.”

The teacher says, kindly, “Well, nobody knows what God looks like.”

The little boy says, “You will when I am done.”

The mother chalks up Adam’s comment to religiosity. It might be better understood in terms of his stage of cognitive, social, and emotional development. Adam is still innocent and thinks that the weather comes from God. When he is told about his parents’ divorce, where will he think that comes from?

To be continued.


Friday, May 24, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - "The Maid's Story" by Adam O'Fallon Price

The story in the June, 2019 issue of Harper's Magazine is "The Maid's Story" by Adam O'Fallon Price.

The story is about a hotel maid, Hannah Kohl, who is afflicted with kleptomania and steals small items from the hotel guests' rooms. Hannah steals a ruby brooch, a piece of cheap costume jewelry, from Annette Gerson who was staying for a few days on vacation with her husband and two children.
Hannah is terrified of her thefts being discovered and being fired from her job.

When Mrs. Gerson catches Hannah stealing her brooch, Mrs. Gerson enters into a scheme to blackmail Hannah into coming to her home and staying over night by offering medical care for her son, 8, suffering from polio.

As the story progresses Mrs. Gerson sexually molests Hannah and then manipulates the situation so that Hannah is fired from her job and has little choice but to move to Manhatten and become a live in nanny for Mrs. Gerson's children.

In this age of #MeToo, this is a story of sexual exploitation outside of the usual male/perpetrator - female/victim motiff. In this story a female becomes a perpetrator in a lesbian assault. What makes the story work is the class difference of a rich women preying on a poor one.

While sexual abuse makes the news and public outrage is fanned, class differences which often make the exploitation possible are overlooked. What appears to be sexual exploitation could not occur if class differences were not part of the situation.

As is so often the case from a psychotherapeutic perspective, the sex is the minor part of the offense in which domination, exploitation, and abuse of power is the root evil. Domination and subjugation robs the person of his/her right to self determination and agency.

This is how the story ends.Hannah Kohl is called into her supervisor's office and fired. She is told there is a message for her at the hotel desk to call Mrs. Gerson.

"How horrible," the woman's voice boomed in response to the news of her termination.

"Yes, I was reported."

"How horrible," she repeated. "Well, perhaps this is kismet. Mr. Gerson and I have just been discussing the need for a live-in nanny. I have so much to do, and only so much time-" she went on, but the maid was only half-listening, aware of herself as a guest watching might have aware of her: a slight woman in a sweater and long skirt and cheap brown shoes, shoulders shaking, bent over the desk in a posture of utter submission.




Thursday, May 23, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - overview

Medical humanities

Psychotherapeutic humanities
There are many activities that are involved in training psychotherapists. The main activities are academic learning about various aspects of human functioning: biologically, psychologically, sociologically, spiritually. The disciplines of study are varied and many.

Aside from the academic learning comes the practice, through internships, and later through clinical supervision, which consists of discussing one’s work with a more experienced psychotherapist. Learning for a psychotherapist is ongoing and lifelong.

One of the activities that may provide the most learning is the study of the psychotherapeutic humanities, a branch of the medical humanities,  which are the arts such as novels, films, plays, art, and music. The humanities have much to teach physicians, nurses, the psychotherapist, and other human service workers about human nature and life.

On Markham’s Behavioral Health we describe works of art which are helpful in our understanding of human nature and our lives. It is this understanding that contributes to the maturity and wisdom of the psychotherapist.

Over the next few weeks, material from Linda McCullough Moore’s book of short stories, An Episode of Grace will be discussed. It would be informative and enjoyable if people were to read the book and join in the discussions by commenting on the articles posted.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - Do we own our children or lease them?

Linda McCullough Moore writes in her story, "You Choose" in her book of short stories, An Episode of Grace,

My windshield is all but whited out before it occurs to me it’s snowing. I’m getting to be so slow on the uptake. It takes a snowplow broadsiding me for snow to capture my attention. 

“Wow,” Jonah sings out from the backseat as the car in front of us attempts to brake and skids into the empty passing lane. 

“Awesome. That rules.” 

Jonah is eleven and things either “rule” or they “suck.” 

I can’t decide which word I dislike more.

McCullough Moore, Linda. An Episode of Grace . Thornapple Books. Kindle Edition.

Reading this passage, I smile. Jonah is eleven which puts him in sixth grade, the first year of middle school. The power of the peer group starts to exert itself and kids pick up the slang words of their generation. This makes them part of the in-group and fosters a sense of belonging in a group outside of the family of origin.

Slang sets its speakers a part. Slang is a sign of membership and separates the child from his/her parents and family. The narrator, Jonah's mother, doesn't say what she doesn't like about the words that Jonah is using. We can speculate that they are not the same slang words she used in her middle school years and so they seem foreign to her and therefore objectionable.

Jonah's use of his generation's slang is an apron string being cut, a pulling away from a mother-son bond and attachment and could it be that mother feels somewhat jealous, competitive, left out, and sad?

It is hard for some parents to watch their children grow up and leave them which ultimately they must if they are to develop a healthy self sufficiency and autonomy. As one person put it, Our children are not our possessions. We don't own them. They have only been leased to us temporarily by God.

This is a second article on "You Choose" by Linda McCullough Moore.

To be continued

Book - The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband

Wondering how to handle a marital relationship when one of the partners has Asperger Syndrome?


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Psychotherapeutic humanities - When to tell the children about the impending divorce?

Linda McCullough Moore's book of short stories, An Episode Of Grace, begins with the story entitled, "You choose," which begins with this paragraph:

"I’m driving on Route 91, going ten miles over the limit, on the way to my divorce, or, at least, to its announcement. My husband Jake and I decided we would tell the kids tonight. We’ve waited way too long. Our marriage died of natural causes years ago. We are planning that our children will be shocked beyond surprise, but we both know better. Any hesitation that we have about telling them isn’t fear of their surprise; it’s knowing that once we say the words, out loud, to them, it will be official, carved in stone, irreversible. But, of course, that’s what we want."

The childrens' names are Jonah who is 11 and Adam who is 6.

Of all the questions I get asked as a couple counselor and a family therapist by people going through a divorce are when and how to tell the kids?

My stock answer is "Don't tell them anything until you know specifically what the plan is unless they ask."

Kids being narcissistic in a healthy way first ask when told their parents are separating is "What's going to happen to me?" Parents need to have the answer to provide the child with whatever sense of security and predictability they are able.

The narrator in this story has her plan in place and has coordinated the telling the children with her husband and is on her way. But as she travels to the meeting with the children she gets stuck in a snow storm and as the various events unfold her ambivalence was divorcing her husband grows in poignant ways.

The ambivalence partners usually feel about a break-up with the concomitant anger, sadness, fear, hope, sense of failure and regret, are things the therapist witnesses and, hopefully, clarifies with the client(s) into some sort of coherent story that makes sense to themselves primarily and then to others affected.

The key question, often overlooked, in the emotional turmoil is, "What is the purpose of this relationship?" The genuine answers to this question usually lie at an unconscious level that the individual is not aware of and doesn't understand.

The understandings of one's motivations, choices, and responsibilities are key to growth towards greater maturity so that the individual does not jump from the proverbial frying pan into the fire and engage in what Dr. Freud called the "repetition compulsion" to merely re-enact the same scenario over again.

The narrator of the story recognizes that telling the children about the impending divorce is a milestone in the process which she determines as a point of no return. It is an action which will make the rupture permanent and complete. The finality and the closure seems to heighten her apprehension about the decision to divorce rather than mollify it and liberate her.

You choose is a great story and much can be learned as we puruse our study of the psychotherapeutic humanities.

This is the first article on "You Choose" by Linda McCullough Moore.

To be continued


How media spreads false information.



Editor's note:

False information is toxic in the societal consciousness. False information distorts community norms and atittudes contributing to societal dysfunction. The computer meme is "garbage in, garbage out."

Just as we are aware of the idea of "caveat emptor", let the buyer beware, in our economic interactions, we should be aware of media distortions and strive to be "media literate" so we can develop immunity to toxic misinformation.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Self regulation lessons with Cookie Monster

Holding anti-immigration extremists accountable in Arivaca, Arizona


There is increasing evidence that Trumpism, hating the other, has brought out the worst in American democracy.

There is growing evidence that hate speech and hate crimes are on the rise.

Local citizens, however,  have organized and resisted and held white supremicists and vigilante groups accountable.

One such example is Arivaca, Arizona. You can read about it in the May/June, 2019 issue of Mother Jones in an article entitled, "Not In My Backyard: How One Arizona Desert Town United To Fight Off Anti-Immigration Extremists" by Eric Reidy.

For more click here.

Editor's comment - Many of my clients are demoralized and depressed by the immoral and unethical behavior of their leaders and fellow citizens. It is not mentally healthy to see oneself as a victim.

There are many things that individuals, small groups, and communities can do to resist the immoral and unethical policies and behavior of Trumpism which is defined as the scapegoating of the other.

When bullying and scapegoating is occuring it is very important for the audience, whom the bullies are playing to, to call it out and refuse to support it.

Megan Davern, a bartender at La Gitana in Arivaca, Arizona did just that. Her witness is prophetic and should be emulated to create a world with more justice, equity, and compassion. Every person has inherent worth and dignity and deserves respect. Megan is a brave and courageous woman as are her fellow citizens who took action to limit the activities of the anti-immigrant vigilantes.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

How the media spreads false information



Editor's note:

False information is toxic in the societal consciousness. False information distorts community norms and atittudes contributing to societal dysfunction. The computer meme is "garbage in, garbage out."

Just as we are aware of the idea of "caveat emptor", let the buyer beware, in our economic interactions, we should be aware of media distortions and strive to be "media literate" so we can develop immunity to toxic misinformation.