Friday, October 19, 2012

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

I was having trouble sleeping last night and was visited by several weird dreams, but by far the most bizarre was the dream involving me having sex with my father. In the dream I was an adolescent, probably around fifteen or sixteen, and my dream father didn't look much like my real father. However, I knew it was him because the scene of the action was the house in Philadelphia in which I lived as a child and we were both feeling anxious that my mother could arrive home at any minute. When I awoke I knew the man of my dream had been my father, despite the efforts of what Freud would have called the "dream work" to disguise that fact. Had the man in the dream resembled my father more closely there's a good chance I would have been startled into awakening. If the purpose of the dream was to allow me to experience a forbidden and repressed desire, awakening would have prevented the dream from attaining that end; as it was I continued sleeping and dreaming until the act reached its climax.

Then I woke up; surprised, but, strangely to me, not repulsed. Surprised, largely because I wasn't repulsed. I remember as  a young adolescent seeing my father working in the backyard in his tee shirt, sweaty and dirty, and feeling something close to repulsion; feeling that he was the opposite of attractive; nearly embarrassing in his working class appearance. What a snob I was! Growing up in a what might be called a mixed class family in America, as an adolescent I would have liked to shed the working class component. If my father, working out in the backyard, followed his preferences, he probably would have been shirtless, but I can hear my mother, calling from the back porch, "Albert, put your shirt on"; feeling the same shame as I. What would the neighbours think?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What have I done to deserve this?

                                             What have I...
                                             What have I done to deserve this?

Perhaps, nothing. While there are situations in which it makes sense to see good things or bad things  happening to a person as a consequence of their own actions, that they deserve the good things and the bad things that resulted from their actions, the inclination to make that connection is often a product of distorted, harmful patterns of thinking; an inclination oriented toward shielding us from similar bad things happening to us and precluding a more empathetic response, such as "that could well have been me".

If you were listening to music in the Eighties you probably recognize the above refrain from the Pet Shop Boys; one of their best songs in my estimation.  It's a refrain that I hear with some frequency from friends and clients; sometimes in its positive manifestations; most frequently in its negative ones. The positive manifestation being the assumption that I must have done something good to be worthy of the goodies in my life and the negative that, if things are going badly, I must have somehow done something wrong.  Those complementary assumptions ultimately rest upon the belief that the universe is governed by some sort of moral code or balance, whereby the good is rewarded and the bad punished.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Love

The recent death of Donna Summer has elicited memories in many folks of places where they remember having danced to her music in the Seventies and Eighties For me and my former boyfriend, Will, that place was most often The Love; usually called simply, "Love"; sometimes referred to as "Disco Luv." The disco itself had no sign outside, so both names were used interchangeably by its clientele, who found the place through the grapevine. It was located on the west side of Guy, in the west end of downtown Montreal, between St. Catherine and boulevard de Maisonneuve (Burnside before the Quiet Revolution), in a three story, typically Montreal, Nineteenth Century grey stone. The building survived until very recently, when it was torn down to make way for the John Molson School of Commerce at Concordia University. Architecturally and geographically, it seems likely that the grey stone which housed The Love had always had the vocation of a drinking and entertainment establishment.

The building originally stood directly across Guy from His Majesty's Theatre; one of Canada's largest and most popular theaters during the first two-thirds of the Twentieth Century.His Majesty's Theater served as a major venue for several ballet, theatre and opera companies and in its mid-life, was known for its productions of Broadway shows. Marlene Dietrich gave a reportedly memorable performance at His Majesty's in the early Sixties, shortly before its demolition; a performance, reportedly, drawing forth a multitude of cross-dressing Dietrich admirers. Those who frequented the grey stone across the street before and after performances at His Majesty's must have been largely of an artistic or theatrical persuasion; a gay crowd in what was known as a gay city; both in the original connotation of the term, as naughty, immoral, and in the later sense, as queer. It's amusing to imagine that Love incarnated within its walls the vibes of nearly a century of perversity.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Quebec Student Strike

Almost never do I blog about current events, but I'm having difficulty understanding why some, otherwise progressive, people I include amongst my friends are reacting so negatively to the Quebec student strike. As nearly anyone living in Canada and even casually exposed to the news is aware, the strike, now having gone on for several weeks, is immediately aimed at preventing a rise in the cost of tuition for Quebec universities. Demonstrations accompanying the strike have certainly inconvenienced many people and have been the occasion for some vandalism; vandalism which has not been directly linked with students themselves; even the police have observed that it has mainly been the work of disenfranchised street kids, who have clashed on an annual basis with the police, specifically around the issue of police brutality. Mired as they are in corruption, neither the provincial nor the municipal
governments are particularly well placed to counsel a path of more considerate, socially responsible actions.

Being inconvenienced, which is understandably objectionable, is not an adequate reason in itself to oppose the student strike. Any public manifestation either for the sake of political expression or as festival or celebration regularly results in inconvenience; inconvenience that is the price of living in dynamic, diverse, democratic society. Such inconvenience, however, when it continues over a period of time, feeds a negativity toward those demonstrating that, in turn, leads irritated folks to reach for other reasons to put an end to them; reasons that sound more compelling than being late for work. It is those other reasons for negatively viewing the student protests, rather than their association with violence or inconvenience, that are most often expressed by my erstwhile progressive friends in their conversations and Facebook postings. Interestingly, although said friends are usually quite independent in their opinions, in this circumstance, they repeat the same criticisms of the student movement trumpeted by nearly the entirety of the Canadian news media, even those usually sympathetic to progressive causes, such as the CBC.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"It's a joke." " How do you feel about that?"

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a colleague regarding a comedian she was just beginning to  see as a client. The situation was presenting issues for my colleague related to the fact that the client had found her Facebook page and that of her current boyfriend and had taken to leaving amusing posts on both of their pages. At the end of one of their sessions, the comedian took out a phone and texted my colleague's boyfriend, asking if he had liked the gift my colleague had given him for his birthday. Understandably, my colleague was quite distraught about what she was experiencing as an invasion of her privacy, knew she should somehow react in a way that was professionally productive and had no idea how that could be accomplished.

Being a therapist, a confused and angry one in relation to her current client, she was tempted to make use of her professional bag of tricks and label the client as narcissistic and lacking empathy; turning over in her mind how she could communicate her negative reaction to what she saw as the inappropriate, intrusive actions of her client in a less judgmental way than her feelings inclined her towards. Her manner indicated she felt rather threatened and had a need to contain the client within a professional relationship that protected her own privacy. Clearly, she found herself engaged in a conflict that was mostly about control; realizing that fact brought us to some interesting reflections related to comedy and therapy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chill'en. A Reflection on Wisdom

In my experience, clients who are torn apart by their own, inner conflicts, or by conflicts with others, often wish for a peace they characterize as being "more Zen"; for the younger amongst them that peace may be described as being "chill", "chilled out" or "cool". Personally, I associate what they are seeking with being more wise, which leads me to embark on what could easily be seen as a pretentious exercise: reflecting upon the meaning of wisdom. Pretentious because it seems to imply that, at the very least, I have some idea of what constitutes wisdom, or that I aspire to wisdom, or, at the very most, consider myself to be wise; the last of which I would definitely consider pretentious.  Were I to propose reflecting upon foolishness, implications that I either aspire to or consider myself a fool would be somewhat less likely to be drawn and less likely to be seen as pretentious.

I suppose that is a reflection of the fact that one of the characteristics of a wise person is that he or she would be unlikely to refer to themselves as wise, which points to a characteristic of wisdom: humility. Someone who felt the need to tell others they were wise would be considered both pretentious and foolish; uttering a statement that self-negates. Wisdom must be recognized and ascribed by another, yet, in many cultures, it is not seen to be particularly rare, but as an appropriate accomplishment of old age. "Listen to the wisdom of our elders" is an oft repeated injunction, especially in societies lacking a written, historical record.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Combatting Sexual Abuse of Children and Social Control

Sex-negative cultures are those which are not comfortable with sexual pleasure being enjoyed for its own sake and which employ the regulation of sexuality as a major means of exerting social control. Cultures within the Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions clearly tend toward the sex-negative, especially in their more primitive, fundamenalist manifestations. Conservatives within both the United States and Canada incarnate that ideology. Recently, there have been two striking illustrations: Rick Santorum, the second most likely Republican candidate for President of the USA, amazingly asserting that sensuality is the work of the devil and a significant threat to the American Way; Vic Toews, the Public Safety Minister in the Conservative government of Canada, promoting his Omnibus Crime Bill as chiefly a strike against the sexual abuse of children and child pornography, even though those crimes represent a very minor consideration of the Bill itself, which contains harsher penalties for growing dope than child abuse.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Birth of Sadness

Given that memory is more than partly a construction of the present, I can't be sure the situation I'm about to describe happened exactly as I recall, nor that it really does represent the birth of sadness of which I spoke in a recent blog. Nevertheless, I know it's a memory that has been with me for decades and it's the one that occurs to me when I think of carrying sadness in my body.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Brain Hurts

One of the hazards of being a psychotherapist or counselor is the fact that being regularly exposed to the intimate dilemmas, worries and sufferings of other people brings with it the potential of touching uncomfortably upon your own, personal issues. I had an instance of such discomfort not too long ago when a client was sharing with me the pros and cons of choosing to leave his partner.  It happened that his significant other and he were in a cross-generational relationship involving about the same age difference as myself and my partner. Although they had been married for over ten years, my client was enunciating his reasons for no longer wanting to be in a relationship with a considerably older man.  Many of those reasons were applicable to dissatisfactions that could readily be experienced in my own relationship.

As a therapist you, hopefully, become attuned to the reality that such a situation, sometimes referred to as one evoking counter-transference, presents a risk to both you and your client. The conversation presented a risk to me because I could easily have slipped into an inner focus regarding my own relationship; a risk to my client because I could have lost contact with his thoughts and feelings and, at worse, begin to dispute his thoughts as a covert way of defending my own relationship. I was able to summon the professional responsibility of focusing on his perceptions and feelings, rather than getting lost in my own or being swayed into attempting to influence his choice.

I'm skeptical that maintaining such a position of neutrality is, in fact, humanly possible and suspect that, somehow, my own feelings of being threatened could emerge, despite my professional attempt to put them aside in our conversation. Further, I suspect that the most likely way my own feelings would emerge would be in bending over backwards not to question his reasons for considering ending his relationship. What happened, in fact, was that he decided to leave his partner and I was supportive of his decision.  We moved into considering how he would go about sharing that painful choice. For several days after I experienced reverberations of that conversation; wondering if my partner had the same reservations about our relationship and that some day we would be facing the same crisis.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Spirit of Christmas Past

Another Christmas passed with only the tree remaining outside on the deck of the cottage, awaiting its turn to be tossed over the side and join the trees of previous Christmases in their own, designated place of composting. Removing all traces of Christmas has been the happiest time of the Holiday Season for as long as I can remember. However, this particular one happened to be especially pleasant as my partner and I spent the day alone together at the cottage. I still couldn't resist getting sick at the start of the Holidays; something that has been a tradition with me since I was a little boy. I enjoyed so much being upstairs in bed, surrounded by my new gifts and the smell of Vick's Vapor Rub, humidifier and aquarium both gurgling away, pleasantly muffling the sound of the family talking downstairs, whom I was too sick to be expected to join.