Monday, October 31, 2011

A Hobo on Halloween

          "Trick or Treat."  Tonight on Halloween, the Eve of All Saints, children will dress up, not to look like saints, but to look like witches, goblins, fairies, and devils.  Here in our neighborhood I'm looking forward to a goodly complement of Super Marios, Bart Simpsons, Pokemons, Darth Vaders, Barbies, princesses, soldiers, Tim Tebows, Obamas, and because we're in Laramie, Wyoming, surely a cowboy/cowgirl or two.

            When I was their age (I know, I know.  "You were never my age.") I always wanted to be a hobo.  Why?  Well, first of all, it was easy.  It was during The War and like most of our neighbors, we didn't have much.  Being a hobo was easy.  I would just go down to the basement and grab a hunk of coal out of the coal bin.  After blackening my face I'd get an old pair of overalls or dungarees - torn was best - and have Mother give me a swatch or two of cloth from the rag bag.  I'd pin one on my knee and another on my seat and I was ready to go - almost.  I had to get a stick from the woods behind the house and tie my red bandana to it, stuffed with old newspaper.  One of Dad's old hats - crushed - would complete my authentic costume.

            The other reason I liked being a hobo was the romance of it all.  I could imagine hopping a boxcar and going wherever the train took homework, no worries, no chores...just the fun of meeting other hobos along the way.  Come to think of it, I still like that idea.  Maybe tonight...

            What did you like to be for Halloween?  And why?  Please comment below.


Monday, October 24, 2011

On Closing the Cottage

Fall's a fickle time of year
Not like summer, bold and clear,
Who keeps his promises as told
Not sometimes hot, then quickly cold.

And winter, too, will let you know,
"Get out your coat; it's going to snow
I won't warm up for quite a while
So dress to fight the frost in style."

With summer and winter, and even with spring
Your love affair is an honest thing,
But autumn's the time when you have to beware
Of a whore that can make your heart despair.

So Sonder's fort sits on the hill;
The fortress built with childhood skill,
Where he and Odin fought brave wars
With pines cone shells and aspen swords.

Abandoned ammo in a pile,
With swords they'll leave for a little while.
One autumn soon - ah, time will tell -
They'll leave their childhoods there as well.

And Larson's chin may still be wet
Where once s'mores were lapped by tongue
Between the laughs and giggles best
Appreciated by the young.

The fishing rods are in their rack.
"Don't worry, trout; I'm coming back;
I'll see you in the spring and then
We'll wage our contest once again."

The bags are packed, I've closed the pipes;
I've checked upon the space below
And boarded up the vents against
The winter winds and blowing snow.

I see her staring from the door
To where her humming birds would feed
And to the trees where jays would soar
For whom she'd kindly leave some seed.

Summer doesn't last, I know.
I sigh, "Sweetheart, it's time to go."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What's a "tween?"

Writing for tweens?  What's a "tween?"  Wikipedia calls it "the stage between middle childhood and adolescence...."   Don't you sometimes wonder whether developmental psychologists are just inventing these categories?  Prenatal, perinatal, infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, (early, middle and late) pre-puberty, post-puberty, pre-adolescence, adolescence, youth, young adulthood, emerging adulthood.  Are they making this stuff up?   I don't think so, at least not in the case of the tween.   Just ask a parent of a ten or eleven year old.  Or a fifth grade teacher.  These "tweens", they'll say, are a different species.  Advertising and marketing firms know them as a special target group.  Defined as a stage between two other stages?  Hmm.  (A student once defined adolescence as the stage between childhood and adultery☺) 
I think the best definition of a tween, though, can be found in a poem by A.A. Milne.  Given the illustration, he probably didn't intend for the poem to refer to this age group, but somehow it seems to fit.  What do you think?   Here's the second verse: 
Halfway Up the Stairs

Halfway up the stairs
Isn't up
And it isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery,
It isn't in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn't really
It's somewhere else

 By A.A. Milne

Friday, October 7, 2011

Writing and Psychotherapy: Is there a connection?

Yesterday I read a fascinating blog by Cricket McRae who suggested that a novelist should dig deep into their own experience in order to understand and present their protagonist accurately and convincingly.  As I said, I was fascinated.  Perhaps it was because I had just the night before finished my first book of McRae's, Lye in Wait.  The thing I liked most about that cozy mystery was her delineation of the characters, especially the protagonist and her house-mate.  I felt I knew them, knew how they would react in situations the author did not pose, knew how I would interact with them were we to meet, etc. 

Reading her blog about creating characters, I wondered how much of her own projections went into her protagonist.  Similar occupations, similar interests, etc., but what about at a deeper level.   

Years ago while on a post-doc at McGill University and working at Montreal Children's Hospital as a psychologist,  I asked a supervisor, Sam Rabinovitch, about the treatment of depression in a parent.  Our conversation went like this: 

Sam: "Have you even been depressed?"

Me: "No, I don't think so, not what you would call clinical depression."

Sam: "Have you ever mourned, grieved, been sad?"

Me: "Yes, of course."

Sam: "Then use that experience.  You can magnify those feelings and capitalize on them.  You now know your client better and have a better idea of how she feels.  Only in that way are you going to be able to help her." 

He never once used the terms "countertransference," or "empathy," but simply asked if I could bring my own experience to the task of understanding my client. 

Years later I was invited to watch rehearsals of a local theater group in Lansing, Michigan.  I sat with the director and was intrigued by the same phenomenon.  I thought his relation to the actors was similar to that of a psychotherapist with his client, helping them to go deep into their own experience to portray the person they wanted to be, in this case the characters within the play. 

George Kelly, at Ohio State, had taught us about the use of role playing in psychotherapy, namely, getting the client to be conscious about playing the role of the person that they wanted to be but felt they never could.  "Come on," he would say to the client with social anxiety, "you like to act.  This won't be you, of course, but just pretend for a week to be a social butterfly.  How would you do that?"  Once he had them articulating the behaviors that would characterize a social butterfly - behaviors that would not at all be in their normal repertoire, they would give it a try, but only after they had Kelly's reassurance that he understood that this was not who they really were.  It was just an act.  The results were often dramatic.  The client with social anxiety would find there were parts of the "social butterfly" that she felt very comfortable with, and would end up incorporating into her own identity. The self-doubting, autocratic boss would discover the ease of being a nurturer.  And so on. 

Now, after reading Cricket McRae's blog, I realize that the novelist must be doing the same thing, namely reaching within to give voice to their characters, but I wonder if there is ever a concern that the story might become too autobiographical, or the author might reveal more about him or herself than intended.  In psychotherapy, self-disclosure of the therapist is a tricky business.  Too little and the client might just as well be working with a tape recorder.  Too much and the therapeutic relationship morphs into a friendly social engagement.   

My question is this:  What is the best balance in the triangle where author, protagonist, and reader are the three vertices?