Of late I am reading Bert Hellinger’s book LOVE’S HIDDEN SYMMETRY: What makes love work in relationships (Zeig, Tucker & Co, Phoenix, Arizona: 1998). This book is amazing. I read it with a sense of wonder and delight, a feeling that at last there’s psychological work that deals honestly and practically with the deepest issues of the heart.
I’ve undergone a lot of psychotherapy, most of which I now view with suspicion. It isn’t that I didn’t get a lot out of the work. It isn’t that I don’t see how useful a compassionate witness can be. I grew from my nearly 18 years in therapy, and I have many times taken solace from, and given it as, a caring and non-judgmental presence.
However, there are some serious flaws with the way most contemporary therapy is practiced. To begin with, every shrink I know as a person, not professionally, is completely daft. Why do people become therapists? They want to fix themselves. Let me say, every shrink I know in a secular way needs all the help they can get. I look at these people while we’re socializing and think, Wow. People pay you to muck around in their psyche?
I don’t exempt myself. I was a healer for many years because I wanted to heal my self. That wasn’t the only reason, of course. Just as it isn’t the only reason people become therapists, psychiatrists, etc. They also have compassion. They mean well.
And they want to earn a living. They have a stake in their clients/patients staying crazy, not healing, in order to continue to earn a living. I am a big fan of people making a living, but I wonder about the conflict of interest here. Which leads me to one of the other distortions in modern psychotherapy, which is: it takes too damn long. That benefits the therapist but not the client.
The last few years I was in therapy, my therapist did a lot of the energy therapies with me: EFT, TAT, EMDR. I hear good things about neuro-linguistic programming, too. These techniques work well. They’re quick and elegant, and they cut through the bs like the sword cutting the gordian knot. More and more, it seems to me that all that talk therapy, regurgitating the same stuff about your mom and dad, serves mostly to re-wound people. Say it once, twice if it was a life-changing trauma, then move on–otherwise there’s a very good chance of falling into what Caroline Myss calls ‘woundology.’
Then too there seem to be plenty of people using talk therapy as an expensive and elaborate narcissistic crutch. They go to session as a means for rationalizing the most absolutely atrocious behavior. I’ve seen that a lot: “I have to talk to my therapist,” says someone, before behaving in a way that is criminally unkind.
Kindness matters a lot. Niceness not at all.
So, with these criticisms about psychotherapy, I turn to Hellinger’s family constellation work. I don’t agree with everything he writes. I’m probably never going to agree 100% with anything, including myself, because I use the tools of critical analysis at my disposal. That is, I discriminate: I separate the wheat from the chaff. The highest octave of this ability is discernment, something that modern psychotherapy, in its overly convoluted quest for a blithe blankness masking itself as neutrality, seems to be trying to eradicate from the contemporary mind. I also form opinions. Some are wrong, some are right, and most are strongly held. This is where I’ll quote Dante: “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” And we live in a time of great moral crisis.
In my opinion, Hellinger’s work is some of the most real and authentic work I’ve ever come across. This is a long post, so I’ll continue with why I like Hellinger in another post.
This book is beautifully, concisely written and full of practical advice. Get the book–you’ll be glad you did!
Review of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist by Debra Jaliman M.D.
When I was in my early twenties, my beloved Aunt Judy advised me, “A good skin and a good figure, that’s what a woman needs.”
We were conversing in the kitchen, preparing dinner together, so this bit of feminine wisdom was just a casual mention. But she was in her fifties and still boasted both qualities, so I took her words to heart. They sparked a lifelong commitment to taking excellent care of my complexion and my body. That same week, I undertook a meticulous habit of using sunblock every day.
A few years later, my first pregnancy wrecked my carefully tended complexion. I was enthralled by the wondrous, delicious creature who was my new daughter. I was equally determined to repair the damage done by pregnancy hormones. I had read that a pregnant woman produces more estrogen during the nine months she’s pregnant than a non-pregnant woman does in decades. My face, stippled with pimples and depressions, showed it.
A girlfriend with lovely skin recommended Dr. Debra Jaliman, and I took myself to her office on one of those precious days I had a babysitter. I waited anxiously in the exam room, wondering if the doctor would be able to help me. The door opened and in walked a gorgeous woman wearing a white lab coat over a leather mini-skirt — and a very pregnant belly. I could only applaud her feminine confidence. I knew immediately I’d come to the right place.
My first baby is now a graduating senior from college, and I’ve been Dr. Jaliman’s patient all these years. I have remained in her care for the same reason that I use the multiplication table: because it works.
It was with pleasure, as a happy dermatology patient with a complexion I like, that I requested a review copy of Dr. Jaliman’s book Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist (St. Martin’s Press, March, 2012).
First, let me attest: almost the first order of business in Dr. Jaliman’s office is to ensure proper face-washing technique. After two decades, when I come in for an appointment, she still asks how I am washing my face, and what I am using for cleanser. So, as a long-time patient, let me assure the general reader that Skin Rules meticulously documents Dr. Jaliman’s actual advice. She practices what she preaches in this slim, smart volume.
The book itself is a pleasure to read. It’s concisely and elegantly written. There’s not a wasted word in this book, nor an infelicitous one. Every one of the 77 rules is spare, practical, and instantly understandable. The rules come with product recommendations at all price points; Dr. Jaliman does not expect that her readers are all millionaires with an endless supply of money for dermatological goodies, whether they be procedures or creams.
The tone of this book is as empathetic as it is pragmatic. Rule 42 gently advises, “Don’t Despair If You’re Over Thirty and Breaking Out — Nobody Needs to Know.” Rule 39 reminds us, “Acne Doesn’t Just Ruin Skin; It Can Ruin Self-Esteem, Too — Just Ask Any Teenager.” It’s important to remember how vulnerable people feel when they don’t look their best, how adolescents in particular suffer from that vulnerability, and how much self-esteem can be improved by simply clearing up acne. Some people would like to dismiss dermatology as purely cosmetic, but there’s a deeper level here. Our appearance is inextricably entwined with our feelings of self worth.
Sometimes a medical condition results in skin problems, and Dr. Jaliman notes that in several places. In rule 33, “Legs and Feet Need Extra Care,” she mentions having diagnosed hypothyroidism in patients by observing dry, cracked heels and referring the patients to an endocrinologist. The skin isn’t its own separate, isolated system. It’s integrated into the body as a whole, and often reflects underlying disease.
I’ve set this review within the context of my own feminine beauty regimen, but it’s a book for men, also. There’s advice on shaving, hair loss and tattoo removal.
With a title encompassing the word “secrets,” a reader hopes for the scoop on what’s hot and really works. The book doesn’t disappoint. Rule 61 “Freeze Fat, Don’t Suction It” discusses the latest cryolipolysis techniques, and the machines that really do freeze off the fat.
At the back of the book is a resource section that lists products, injectables and lasers. It’s probably worth it to buy the book just to have this well-researched list of products and procedures that actually work.
This is a gem of a book that I’ll keep handy on my book shelf — unless my second daughter, now seventeen and seeking out her own beauty tips, spirits it away so that I never see it again.
TicToc: Far Shore, Book Three of the After Series by Traci…: Posted First on Blog Critics as Book Review: ‘Far Shore’ by Traci L. Slatton.
‘The heart wants what the heart wants’ seems like such a redundancy. Yet there is that simple truth to the adage where there often seems to be no real choice in the matter….
Drey’s Library blogspot asked me to write a guest post on how I get inspiration. This was fun…. Then my novel FALLEN got an “Excellent!” from Drey. Thanks to Drey for the opportunity and the wonderful read!
drey’s thoughts: Fallen starts off with a bang, capturing your attention right away…
I was flattened against a brick wall, watching in terror as she struggled not to inhale the killing mist that pulsed a few centimeters from her face. If she breathed it in, it would kill her. If she moved into it, or if it moved to engulf her, it would kill her. Dissolve her from within, filling her mind with madness before blistering her cells with heat until she ruptured into steam and water droplets. All that would be left of her would be a splatter of water on the ground and a fine beige powder sifting down from the air.Yikes!! This is so not a world I want to live in–a mysterious mist that kills, rogue bands of survivors who round up women and children for far more nefarious purposes than you could imagine, dwindling food supplies…
It is in this world that Emma Anderson finds herself in charge of her five-year-old daughter Mandy, and seven other children; trying to survive and keep them safe and alive. When she meets a band of men who are seemingly able to keep the mists away, Emma barters for protection for herself and the children. Before she knows it, she’s healing the camp’s sick and making friends. Well, except for a few of the men…
I like Emma. She’s strong, she’s resolute, and she’s fearless in standing up for those who can’t help themselves–almost to the point of getting herself killed. I like that some of the survivors have acquired a new skill, like Emma’s healing.
The plot is simple (survive), the story is moving. I enjoyed reading Fallen, and the realization at the end makes me antsy to find out what happens in the sequel to this first-in-a-trilogy.
drey’s rating: Excellent!
By Traci L. Slatton,
Author of Fallen
This topic fascinates me, because I wrestle with it every day. I am a creative person and I have a lot of ideas for stories. I’m also hungry. I’m starving to write 100 books before they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard and lay me in a plain pine box. Then there’s another consideration: writing is misery. Every page is agony.
Ideas come and I take notes. If I’m walking, I’ll make a voice memo. Usually characters stuck in tense situations, and bits of their dialogue, come to me first. Sometimes I’ll get a palpable feeling-sense of a relationship: the tenderness and eroticism and playfulness and fierceness of it. I also see my main characters in my mind’s eye. With FALLEN, my recent post-apocalyptic romance, I had a vision of Europe in shambles, and a man and a woman who were both very strong and very tormented. She was willing to do anything to keep some children alive, but she was strongly connected to an absent husband. So the premise came to me first. I had a clear sense of the man as good and bad, a leader, a striated human soul. I could feel his essence.
Usually I won’t start writing until the idea threatens to shove bamboo shoots up my fingernails if I don’t write it. That’s when compulsion has set in. The beginning is great fun. It’s a rush. I’ve never been interested in drugs but I always think that the rush of creative energy when I finally surrender to a story must be like the rush of some potent chemical. It’s intense, it’s alchemical, it consumes me. It’s like falling in love, because it’s all I can think about. I walk down the street with scenes scrolling through my brain. I feel alive in a new way.
After that initial rush, the work sets in. Maybe it’s like a marriage at this point. You know, when the honeymoon has worn off and you’re sick of picking up your spouse’s toenail clippings from the coffee table and you just want to throw a heavy wrench at his head. It’s a lot of unglamorous work. Here’s when I mock up an outline of the story, the main turning points, and the character arc. I grapple with the nuts and bolts of story, and the fundamentals of what I aim to do with this particular one.
Best I’ve figured out, and this is an on-going inquiry for me, story is what your main character wants and how they DON’T get it. All story has a common source: it’s an argument for a specific value. And all good fiction has two qualities: 1, it’s about truth but not necessarily about fact, and 2, it is structured around conflict and obstacle.
So I have scenes, obstacles, disasters, bits of dialogue, and the faces of my characters all jumbled up in my brain, and I sit down and start writing the first few chapters. Then I pause to write an outline. I also figure out what value I am arguing for. I am opinionated and I have strong values, which helps. I write out my value on a sticky note and tape it to the side of my iMac.
I also almost always have a clear sense of the ending of the story. With FALLEN, I saw my heroine riding off without her man. I saw her heart-broken and determined. I enjoy writing stories where the stakes are high, so I tweak the plot points to up the ante. How can I push a scene? How can I turn up the volume on a character’s breaking point?
Writing is an arachnoid process: it’s like weaving an intricate web from the silk in my gut. That weaving happens in the back and forth between the vast, oceanic creative flow and the careful structuring of analytical thought. Both are crucial.
I usually do research as I am writing. I’ll pause in the middle of a page and read six chapters in a book, or google around the internet, or send emails to people I know who might have answers. A small plane flies from Edmonton to Le Havre in Fallen, so I emailed my friend Geoffrey, who’s a pilot, to ask him how that would be done. He had some ideas and he emailed some of his friends, too. When I have my answers, I resume writing. If I need to do further research, then, after a day or so, I’ll keep writing and start reading the necessary texts at night.
The end is another rush, because I get excited to torture my main characters more intensely, and so finish the story. Finally I have a first draft. Here’s where I ask a few trusted friends to read and critique. I’ve also found a free-lance editor who is scary smart, and I have her read the draft. Then I go back and revise, revise, revise . . .
The Art of Asking Questions
There’s a scene in the first HOME ALONE, a truly classic movie, where a child of about 5 years climbs into a van waiting to whisk a large family to the airport. The enterprising child besieges the driver with questions. He leans close into the driver and queries him relentlessly about all sorts of matters, a stunning barrage of interrogatory, verbal machine gun fire. The driver’s brain comes undone. He’s left rattled and nettled and hopelessly askew. It’s the first domino that falls in a trail of them, winding up with… a child left home alone to fend for himself during the holidays.
I think of this scene often (and isn’t that what makes a movie classic, the way particular scenes haunt you forever?). This scene comes to mind because I have a four-and-a-half-year old daughter who regularly enacts it. Daughter? Shall I call her the demon imp of questions, the patron saint of why, how, what, and how come?
As I write this, she sits next to me at the dining room table with a pad of paper. “What do we need from the store? Do we need sugar? How do I draw a ‘K’?” she asks. I surmise that she’s making a grocery list, something she’s watched me do a thousand times. “Can you show me how to draw a ‘K’?”
This is only the beginning. As long as she’s around me, and I don’t turn on the TV babysitter, she’s going to come up with questions. “Then what do we need, mama, after milk?”
“Eggs,” I tell her.
“How do you spell that? Do you like my ‘E’? Does ‘G’ have a kickstand like this? Do we need balloons? How do you spell ‘balloons’?”
It’s partly about observing and making sense of the world. The other day she launched herself like a missile into the bathtub and splashed around happily for a few minutes, making an aquarium of our bathroom. Then she turned serious. “Why does the water get higher when I get in? Why can’t I hear my hands when they clap underwater?”
So my hapless husband and I wracked our brains to explain the volumetrics of water to her.
Sometimes it’s about avoiding an unpleasant activity, like bedtime or picking up her crayons. Nothing will elicit a stream of questions like closing the cover of the last bedtime book. “How come the bear in that story has brown fur? Do all bears have brown fur? What about polar bears? Can you really fly all the way to the moon? How far away is the moon? Is the moon next door to the sun?” How long can she prolong the delicious moments of cuddling and conversation, before we flip off the light and close the door to her room?
And, naturally, the questions are about drawing my attention, or her father’s, or that of one of her three big sisters. This little sprite likes to engage with people. She enjoys the limelight. If she can draw us in with a question–she’s got us. She figured that out a long time ago. Not that it’s entirely self-serving. She can maximize the utility of what she’s doing, and suck in our attention while also… making sense of the world.
Most of the time I enjoy my little one’s questions. Sometimes they fry the gray matter rattling around in my cranium, sure. I get tired, I get exasperated, hey, I’m not the Buddha, and I don’t want to put together an explanation of why the sky is blue while I’m trying to make a dinner salad and, simultaneously, explain to my 14-year-old middle daughter why she can’t attend a football party where there will be 18-year-old men.
But often, in response to these questions, I experience the same piquant thrill that I do when I’m traveling. That is, I’m jolted out of my habitual way of seeing the world, and I look with new eyes, and fresh wonder, at the world around me. Isn’t the blue sky a kind of miracle, anyway?
My sweetie doesn’t do what adults sometimes do: disguise judgments as questions. This is the crucial difference, this matter of innocence. Her questions are really questions, not statements, even if they have an ulterior motive of getting me to pay attention to her or of getting her out of eating broccoli. She wants to know, and to understand. So her questions arise out of the innate art of our human core, the art of genuine curiosity.