Good mockingbird sex! Anyone?

The line for the pharmacy snakes down Warburton Avenue in Hastings-on-Hudson. We’re all buying the same thing — earplugs — in case they work better than smothering yourself with a pillow against the mockingbird that downs a double espresso at 3:45 every morning and then begins singing at 4. We’re not quite as desperate as he is, but we’re getting there. He’s just gotta have female mockingbird tail, stat. He’s like an 19-year-old boy. This mate-to-be of his is taking her time, like an 18-year-old girl. Note that I had to change their ages so that you wouldn’t worry about illegal things happening between these crazy kids. I was going to make the male mockingbird 18 and the female 16, but that would be against New York State law. Anyway, we are all hoping she hurries the heck up, because we can’t sleep. But she is playing really, really hard to get — or hard of hearing — neither of which can be good for the mockingbird gene pool, but who am I. She lives maybe in a maple tree in New Jersey, on the other side of the Hudson. Maybe she can be 16 in New Jersey — but they’re probably going to mate in New York, so it’s moot. Anyway, she’s got several manic singers to choose from, is my guess, and she just, you know, isn’t sure. She’s a libra. They’re all so earnest, these suitors, and she adores the flirty serenading she gets this time of year. Make ’em beg, she read somewhere.

So our guy shrieks louder every morning. His genes are on the line, and he’s just gotta have it.

Sex! Sex! Sex! You know you want it! You know you want it! You know you want it! I want it! I want it! I want it! Pick me! Pick me! Pick me! Sex! Sex! Sex! Over here! Over here! Over here! Over — wait a second while I fly ten feet to my left — over here! Over here! Over here! Sex! Sex! Sex! You know you want it! You know you want it! You know you want it! Good mockingbird sex! Good mockingbird sex! Good mockingbird sex! But I can sing all the songs, so I’ll take anybody! Anybody! Anybody! Come one, come all! Come one, come all! Come one, come all! Anybody? Anybody? Anybody? Sex! Sex! Sex! Pick me! Pick me! Pick me! Stella! Stella! Stella! Over here! Over here! Over — let me go back to that first branch — over here!

Duplicate that paragraph five hundred times and you have the morning voiceover that awakens the good citizens of at least two adjacent apartment complexes on the otherwise tranquil east side of the Hudson. We have all been awake since 4, and it shows on the faces of the people at Greenleaf Pharmacy.

I’m tempted to continue his song, cause this is all verbatim, directly transcribed from this morning’s songs, so it has that scientific interest factor. But I think you get the main idea, and I’m next in line.

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scratching the lion

I caution everyone to walk around the dead lion on the floor. It is wrapped in an old wool blanket, dream-similar to the one mom had on her childhood bed and which we now have in storage. The lion seems dead, but you never really know with predators. When it leaps at me, I am alarmed but only dreamly so; surely this will be the end. I am wondering if I will be swallowed whole or slashed into bloody ribbons. I look out from inside the lion’s mouth — I am well down his throat by now. So. The end will come this way — I shall be engulfed soon.

I have a moment before the full swallow to reach toward the lion’s arm. I scratch it firmly but tenderly, like you would scratch a friendly cat that walks toward you as you stroll by its yard. You’re affectionate, but you want to be clear about who’s the dominant species. The lion calms, purrs, lets me go, lets me go on scratching. It begins to talk to me, dream talk from one mind to another.

Is this good? I ask.

Yes, the lion says quietly. There is both peace and sadness. This is how my mother used to scratch me. 

I take one of its forearms in my hands and lick the fur. From elbow to paw, I am lapping the lion’s fur gently.

Yes, the lion says. That’s how she would calm me.

************

What the heck was that about?

I seem dead, but I am fierce, and I can eat you alive. I can eat you alive! I CAN EAT YOU ALIVE! I CAN EAT YOU ALIVE!

That’s how gestalt therapists work with dreams. You identify with some element in the dream, and then speak as if you were that element. I’m a sidewalk. I’m made of concrete and nothing can hurt me. or I’m a sidewalk, and I have flecks of mica in me. I reflect light. or I’m a sidewalk. No one notices me. Whatever the identification, the idea is that if you stay with it, bring it into the present tense, make it big, find it in your body, change everything to being about you, you’ll complete something within you that is incomplete. No one notices me. Where is that feeling in your body? Here, in my belly. Make that feeling stronger. Soon you’ll come to: Notice me! Who are you talking to? My dad. Say that to your dad. Louder!

You know. All in a day’s work.

I’ve been having trouble identifying with this sweet dream lion, though. I am eating myself alive? I suppose there are days when that’s true. But that path of association seems like a false lead.

I don’t feel like I could eat someone else alive. I hardly ever get to feel fierce. I HARDLY EVER GET TO FEEL FIERCE! I HARDLY EVER..hmmm. Let me just scratch a little note-to-self about that one.

I work my way to this:

Something fierce and powerful has me in its jaws. It is afraid. I am afraid. I am reaching to touch that thing, to comfort it. I scratch it firmly. I am in charge. I scratch tenderly enough, too, to convey love. The powerful, frightened thing can rest. I can rest. I am strong enough. I am tender enough. I am strong enough. I am tender enough.

Hmm? Where do I feel that? I feel that in my chest.

Rooooooaaaar!!

silent retreat

And coming off a day-long silent retreat. And our facilitator speaking only in gerunds. And wondering why for so many years of my life gerunds are seeming to be something important to be knowing about, and discovering that no one is knowing what they are being and beginning to be wondering if I am even using the correct part of speeching. And feeling sad about that. And promising myself to be looking up gerunds sometime soon, but staying in the present moment.

And being unable to resist looking up gerund, and finding, and chagrinning, that the correct term is being present participle, and that grammarians are sometimes even eschewing the term gerund because no one is abling to telling these things apart.

And being the mountain. And doing a lot of that yesterday. Being the mountain. And noticing that it is taking me most of the exercise to be choosing a mountain, and kicking myself when I finally am settling on Mt. Monadnock, naked Mt. Monadnock, and discovering that the exercise is drawing to a close. And quickly being the mountain, just in time. And being Mt. Monadnock, and finding it being good.

And turning our attention back to the breath. And finding that being in silence is not being hard for me. And enjoying my inner conversation as much as I am generally enjoying outer conversations, except for when conversing with you. And deciding to be conversing with you. And typing to you. And turning our attention back to the breath. And going outside now to be being Mt. Monadnock, walking in the sun shining.

the therapist’s notepad

Every therapist has a notepad within reach, just in case. The very first session, when someone is emptying out the whole giant suitcase of their life, tons of stuff tumbles out. You have to write a lot of notes that session because otherwise it’s a huge pile of underwear, torn sweaters, and unpaired socks, and nothing in the pile is familiar to you yet. If you don’t write it all down that first session, you run the risk of having to ask the next time they come in, “Sorry – which parent did you say died last year?” That’s just terrible form.

Before you see the person a second time, you carefully study the notes you took, like a new song that you’re going to be expected to sing from memory, a cappella, at 10:00 that morning. Usually I do this over breakfast: “Okay, she has a new puppy, regrets it. Her husband is away a lot, and what was she thinking getting a puppy. Oh, right — she’s the one whose sister is being a jerk. Dad not well. Mom died last year.” It takes me a couple of sessions to completely separate out this new person from that new person, too. If you have a few brand new clients, you quiz yourself a little bit as you heat the water for tea: Is Michelle the one with the passel of little kids, or is she the one with twin teenaged boys?

As soon as possible after that first session, you write down all the details you can remember, filling in the gaps from your scrawled notes. Otherwise, I’m sorry to say, a lot of it evaporates. You may be able to have lunch before doing “intake” notes, but whatever you do, don’t go to bed for the night before you’ve done them. By the morning, you will just have remembered that you saw a new person and they seemed to be nice, but a little sad. Or was it anxious? You remember they talked about…something, and it was a really poignant and meaningful conversation, but everything else is lost.

After the first session or two, though, you don’t use the notepad much at all, unless you’re That Kind of Therapist. Once you know the client, their narrative has a place of its own, and you recognize the items in the pile as belonging to Michelle or Luana or Bob, so you can put it all in their respective newly-built cubbies. The notes you keep help put each cubby together, but the notes are a tool, not the cubby itself. The cubby is in your mind. Are you building one now for all this?

I do reach for the notepad when a client tells me they’ve changed their medication, because I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re supposed to do. In case all heck somehow breaks loose, I am supposed to have known about their medication. While I’m writing I have a thoughtful expression on my face that says, “Ah. Yes. 25 magillagrams of PerqMeUp®. That’s a sensible amount.” Some of the drugs I’ve never heard of – they continually come out with new models of various meds, and they all have model-ly names, like Lexus and Impreza. That night you have to google these things to figure out if the new model is known for its turbo drive, as you’d find in most anti-depressants, or emphasizes its brake system, as with anti-anxiety meds and, er, related car models. Maybe I am getting too technical here.

I also keep the notepad close by so I can draw some of my favorite diagrams when the moment is right. It’s more compelling to draw it fresh for each client, so you do. You want to give the client a feeling of “this only applies to you in your special circumstances at this special junction in your life, so I have drawn it for you because it just leapt to my mind while I was listening deeply to you.” It would be easier to say, “Turn to page 2” in my 5-page book called Diagrams That I Tend to Refer to. But it’s so much more real when we take a moment to watch the therapist try to write legibly around a circle with arrows showing continuous motion.

The client file, where you keep all your notes as time goes by, is supposed to be so you can track “client progress,” but the main function for me is to keep track of what we’ve talked about, largely so I don’t ask any of the same questions or use the same clever analogies again. I have a couple of client files where I have made a note to myself: “Do not use the kite analogy again! You’ve used it twice!” Also, with good notes I can remember to say, “How did your son’s science fair project come out?” and seem like I have both a mind like a steel trap and a heart like a loving parent.

When I hear something that I want to write down for other reasons, I need to wait until they’ve said something for which I can legitimately pick up the notepad. The client says: “We were watching Curb Your Enthusiasm – oh, my god, that show is so funny – and my mom called to say my dad had collapsed.” I am concerned, of course, and listen carefully for what came next — how her dad is, how distressed she or anyone in her life might have been. But I’m also holding in my mind the name Curb Your Enthusiasm. want to get it out of my mind, but I have to put it someplace first. Laura and I are in the market for a good comedy, and maybe this would fit the bill. When the client says, “So I guess as heart attacks go, it was fairly mild, but it was really scary,” I say with sincerity, “It must have been,” and I reach for the notebook and write “Dad  ❤ .” Next to it I write “Crb Enth.”

Then there are things that clients say that just must be recorded. You can’t widen your eyes too visibly – they teach you how to control this reflex in grad school, but it takes practice. The notepad is useful here—it provides kind of a written widening of the eyes or raising of the eyebrows. When a client recently said, “Last week, my sister literally threw me under a bus,” for example, I was able to maintain my composure and say, with warmth and concern, “How so? What happened?” But I was distracted until I could finally get the notepad — I had to wait until she said something that seemed worthy of the notepad — and jotted down “literal bus.”

The same goes for the person who said, “Some ice creams are 100% air.” This side comment was wedged, like a poppy seed between two molars, into a story about her son’s struggles and a spreading depression in the family. The notebook says “Son ADHD — fam sad — ice crm 100% air.”

You can see and, I hope, empathize with the fact that concentrating on the client’s narrative takes some extra energy when you are stopped short both by, say, an image of her being thrown under a bus, as well as the burning desire to tell someone, probably your stickler-for-correct-language daughter, about this gem. Here, if I could, I would draw a diagram of how this works psychologically, this visibly patting your head while surreptitiously rubbing your stomach. It’s not easy, and I wouldn’t suggest trying it at home. You need a license to do this work.

beloved adult child

Laura is What Is Known as An Adult Child of an Alcoholic — WIKACOA. These people often lived in homes rigged with laser beams that a kid could trigger with the wrong answer, the wrong thought, the wrong feeling, the wrong moment to be in the room. And of course the kid — often it is one kid (it was in her family) — that kid was blamed for setting off the alarms. The whole thing made the kid jumpy in some ways — both literally: for a good private laugh, be around Laura when a loud noise goes off — and speculatively: for a good head shake, ask her what she was thinking when that motorcade zipped by one nice spring day in Washington, DC (best sit down; there will be details, and it ends badly)– as well as extremely sensitive to cues from other people, who maybe have set a laser beam somewhere and maybe have a “tell.” This training-by-alarm cost Laura peace of mind (oh, that), along with her ability to let others take responsibility for their own messes.

WIKACOAs tend to have been raised with very wobbly guidelines – one day the rules were crazy strict and the next there were none at all — like maybe your mom was making you shoplift for her, you know? So one minute you are swimming along and the water is safe and refreshing, and the next there’s a shark that you feel a desperate need to make happy and docile. Or was it laser beams? It was all kind of hair-raising, apparently. She certainly became exquisitely attuned to the smell of shark, I can tell you that – and laser beams, which most of us can’t smell at all.

All that said, and here’s the thing: it can be a sweet deal to marry a Healthy Adult Child of an alcoholic, and I would not trade mine in for a normal person with only normal emotional intelligence. A HAC can be tremendously sensitive to what you’re feeling — and they really want you to be happy, which is usually awesome. Being happy becomes your only real job, and I tend to excel at that, so she thinks I’m great. When my spirits flag, she drops everything to serve as a backup generator. This is only occasionally annoying — as in the times when you just feel like being pissy and want to be free to enjoy that.

This kind of sensitivity to how other people are feeling, though, means that it’s sometimes hard for WIKACOAs to tell where they end and you begin. Laura has never, for example, had to go to the trouble of smoking weed herself. Someone around her takes a hit and she is instantly buzzed. She gets extra witty, but in a spacey way. She misplaces things and thinks it’s funny. Her eyes are a little glassy, in an attractive way. All without damaging her lungs or having to deal with a weird little headache in the morning.

This boundary disturbance, as we say in the biz, cuts both ways. WIKAOCAs project their feelings onto the people around them – more so than the rest of us, who do it all the time, except when we don’t. So if Laura’s grumpy, she thinks you probably are, too. Eventually you are, because you know how that goes. And if she’s feeling good, she might say something like, “On a scale of one to ten, how are you doing– 8?” before you have a chance to figure that out for yourself.

Laura will take a bit of food from her plate and offer it to the cat, saying, “Juni wants a bite of this.” That’s not generally true, but it’s nice of her to notice that the cat might feel left out from our meal. Noticing when people (or animals) might feel left out is another thing Laura is good at, because she was, in fact, left out a lot as a kid. It took me years to convince her that I rarely feel left out, and that that’s not what’s going on for me when I’m cooking, or reading, or stepping into the shower.

When the upper level atmospheric disturbance of projection meets the lower pressure system of mixed messages down at ground level, WIKACOAs create little relational weather systems. Laura came home having bought Juni some catnip, for example. “Somebody ought to be going wild around here,” she mutters as she sprinkles catnip onto the nice silk carpet. I step aside from that double-edged projection (what — I’m not going wild enough? is that it?) and watch the cat roll around in the catnip, under a luxurious spell. Eventually, Juni gets fagged out enough to just lie on the carpet, her fur flecked with catnip.

“Good God, Juni! Look at this mess!” says Laura next time she walks into the living room. She picks up the boneless, dopey cat. “You’re going outside, Missy!” she scolds. “You’ve just been lying around all day.”

I’ve tried to help Laura be more aware of when she is projecting onto the cat, but the closest we’ve come was the time she said (to the cat, mind you): “You’re thinking, ‘Stop projecting all your feelings onto me!’” I had to break the news to her gently but firmly.

No, La. No.” I said, “The cat is not even thinking that.”

a sabbatical and a blog walk into a bar

I considered naming this blog OtherwiseIWouldntDoAnything, underscoring that I had better create a blog or else I won’t write. It’s really no more of a mouthful than PrefersOwnCompanyExceptYou, but I scrapped it because it’s less accurate.

Because I do do* stuff. Oh, yes, I do. It’s just that my accomplishments tend toward the miniature and the solo. My goals are things like: mail Ting the CD of the great story that is narrated so badly, because she’d find it excruciating to listen to, too. Or “work” on ukulele chords for awhile. Cook a good supper. Listen to the course I bought on Big History. That last one already feels like homework, tipping precariously toward the meaningful at the sacrifice of my freedom.

My dilemma is how to do something meaningful with this sabbatical — without sacrificing my freedom. Freedom is likely to trump meaning this year, maybe this lifetime. And I agonize over this.

If only there were meaning in chronic guilt.

*don’t get me started!

WAVE2ME

I’m embarrassed at how bossy my car’s bumper stickers are. For years I’ve been nagging fellow travelers to “Eat More Kale” and “Think Good Thoughts.” Who do I think I am? As if that wasn’t intrusive enough, when we moved to New York this summer, I had to do the ridiculous thing of getting a license plate that demands: WAVE2ME. The dark blue writing on a pumpkin orange background could hardly shout any louder.

The thing is that I hardly ever drive this car. It spends nearly all of its time in the parking lot, just waiting, its little WAVE2ME eager but invisible. It’s like when I was in kindergarten and I told my mom, somewhat forlornly, that Mrs. Egan hadn’t ever picked me to take the wagon down to the cafeteria to bring the milk for snacktime. Next time Mom came to the school, she asked Mrs. Egan about it. Mom had to have done this in an extremely gentle way; she was courageous, but very, very gentle with her delivery. Not so Mrs. Egan, who said, in an almost mocking tone, “She’s never raised her hand!” This is the teacher, I will say here so that it is on the record, who called me stupid and who was big on mocking tones in general.

I’d never raised my hand, but I’d sat up straight, day after day, eyes bright, looking as eager as I possibly could. “Pick me!” my whole body was saying. And she never freaking did.

But beastly Mrs. Egan aside, there’s a little bit of the same thing going on with the license plate waiting in the parking lot — can you see?

In the interest of research: We’re holding steady at 4 sets of waves elicited. Only guys have followed my license plate’s directive so far. A carload of young men, possibly in altered states of mind, waved at me on the New Jersey Turnpike. A moment later, likely inspired by the many-armed Jeep that had just gone by, another guy gave a little toot and waved as he passed. Then there was the older man getting out of his pickup at Home Depot, and last week, the guy smoking a cigarette on the stone wall near my parked car. The pedestrians felt a need to explain. “I’m waving to you,” they’ve both said, though not with a lot of élan. I’m told guys have a hard time expressing élan, which must suck.