A Strong Hope

In regards to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis here in the United States, my frustration and sadness over not only the lack of presidential leadership but absolute detrimental, minus leadership from out of the White House are felt acutely of late. But, these feelings are placed right up against a strong hope that solid leadership from other quarters, including by some governors, congresspeople, doctors, nurses, and many others around us will somehow be enough to see us through.

All in This Together

Three days ago, I started posting short videos of myself on Facebook, where I talk to my friends and, by the second one (of three at this writing), anyone in general. Due to this pandemic pandemonium, as I’ve been calling the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve felt a need more than ever to be seen and heard, connected and not alone. In a span of five days, my mood state has especially soared up and down, hopeful some days, discouraged the next. I’ve made it my clear intention to remain open to the new possibilities arising from this strange, distressing world situation. This has already borne out some positive experiences and understandings, for which I’m grateful. However, with so many drastic changes happening at once, I find adjusting to them a mix of intriguing, surprising, fulfilling, scary, and unpleasant. Hence, why some days feel better than others. I think this is to be expected. Many of us are undoubtedly experiencing a similar see-saw of emotions.

Just a short while ago, I was soberly reminded of how people besides myself are feeling painfully challenged. Standing first in line with a shopping cart, purple rubber gloves covering my hands to protect me from the corona virus, I waited with several others for our local Trader Joe’s market to open for the day. A sixty-something-year-old woman took a cart and then stood near the entrance, opposite the queue of people. I mentioned to her that the line started over where I stood, to which she angrily snapped, “I understand, but I’m not getting in it! Everyone will be able to go inside anyway!” A short while later, a worker came out to place disinfectant wipes by the carts. He turned to the woman and matter-of-factly reminded her where the line was in order to enter the store. She let fly some “f” bombs at the man and explained that she comes to the store every week, recently had a knee replacement, and would let other people go by to get inside. She just was not going to go all the way down to the end of the line. I chimed in, “So do we,” in response to her fact of frequently shopping at T.J.’s. She then swore at me as well. I gestured with my index finger before my mouth, releasing a “Shhh.”

I take no pride in how I responded to this woman. There I was, not only speaking for myself (as, indeed, I do shop at Trader Joe’s every weekend), but presumptively for the twenty or more people waiting behind me. Such an angry and seemingly entitled response evoked my own “us against you” reply. Having been bullied at school during a good share of my childhood and adolescence, I know all too well how it feels to be singled out and “put in my place” by a group. But, that said, I spoke this morning from a protective, reactive part of me I rarely ever express, getting caught up in this poor woman’s polarizing, angry part of her psyche that spoke from actual pain and difficulty she’d been enduring.

In a short while, I found myself thinking how it was sad this older (than I) woman felt such a need to lead in public from a place of vitriolic anger. Perhaps she could have explained to the Trader Joe’s employee and the rest of us there that she was experiencing some difficulty from having her knee recently replaced. Would it be alright if she didn’t wait in line, but enter the store first so she could then get off her feet that much sooner? This I would have understood and compassionately permitted. She was probably at least sixty-five years old. And gods know what else was going for her in addition to this world health crisis. I wouldn’t be surprised if the worker would have allowed her inside right away, perhaps even a bit sooner than the rest of us. After all, I’ve read about some stores allowing elderly individuals to come in and make purchases an hour or so before the mad rush of shoppers flood in. Of course, all of this is mere speculation, since the scenario did not happen that way. Very likely, the angry individual had already been shamed elsewhere for simply having needs, be it recently and/or repeatedly in her distant past. Clearly, this particular morning, she felt an inner pressure to lead her life as if prepared to fight against the rest of the world. I’ve certainly been there too now and then.

I came away from my shopping trip reminded yet again, more than ever, that many human experiences are greatly shared, including ones that have yet to arise in the future for some. Such circumstances and events have simply not occurred for those people– yet. While it wasn’t me in the moment feeling particularly hurt inside to then harshly defend with anger a deep sense of vulnerability and intense need like this woman customer clearly was going through, it certainly has been me in other instances. If I live long enough, my body will remind me too that I need to get off my feet sooner than those who are younger or have stronger knees. But, I trust I will do all I can to set my anger to the side and lead with a gentler voice and words to advocate for my needs. With age has come some wisdom for me to draw from, should I choose.

Reflecting on standing in that store line, I recall looking behind me more than once at the growing stream of people waiting in the bracingly cold wind of early spring in Massachusetts. We were all in need, coping as best we could in the face of incredible uncertainty, there to get food and other basic supplies. I was impressed with how well-behaved everyone else was being, each and every person undoubtedly filled with concerns about their own and their loved ones’ future. Yes, I was at the head of the line, but well aware how we are all in this together.

Addendum update: Since the above writing, a mandate by the Commonwealth of MA went into effect whereby people aged sixty and older must be allowed the first hour each day of shopping in a grocery store, at the exclusion of everyone else who is younger. The disgruntled woman customer I wrote about can rest easy from now until this pandemic crisis is over whenever she waits in line, first thing in the morning, at Trader Joe’s. She has been fairly and duly accommodated. I hope for her sake that this makes her life a bit easier, enough to hopefully begin to facilitate improving her behavior in public.

Keeping Perspective, Staying Open

Previously, I wrote about the economic strain the COVID-19 virus is and will be causing across the U.S.A. For me, as a psychotherapist in private practice, I’ve had to stop seeing people in person, per the need for social distancing to remain uninfected, towards “flattening the curve” of overall infection rate. This week, I’ve just started to feel the economic effects of doing this. Even with the remote/teletherapy option I’m offering to everyone on my caseload, more of my clients than usual are canceling their appointments. This is to be expected, given how the pandemic is upending people’s lives. In response to this precipitous drop in revenue, I’ve already started to tighten my budget where I can. I’m not a big spender, so there hasn’t been a lot to trim back. Fortunately, I’ll be able to pay a smaller amount for my next quarterly tax installment, due in June, since I’ll be making less money. Still, anxiety about my financial future lurks around the edges inside me, reinforced by the knowledge that my retirement savings in the stock market have been shrinking of late. I know these money worries are arising for many people.

Others have it a heck of a lot harder than I do. There is still so much I have to be grateful for.

This new normal is bound to go on for months. What is already quite challenging is the restriction in movement to which I’m having to adjust. My husband and I would probably still be out to dinner somewhere on our Tuesday date night. Of course, this can’t happen anymore, except at home. Just watching Petula Clark sing “Downtown” on PBS a short while ago felt oddly sad.

I’m curious to see how I evolve in response to these big changes in life and routines. I think a key plan here is to do all I can to live from that place of open curiosity as much as possible. And I need to remember to treasure the small and large expressions of beauty to be found everywhere, including what the advent of spring offers. I just need to keep my eyes and heart open to readily notice it all.

Facing the Inevitable

Inevitable reality cascades over me. Recession is surely on the way as part of having such necessary mass social distancing going into effect. I have felt so fortunate to live in a thriving area of commerce and culture. But, local restaurants and other retailers whose owners have business loans and/or personal home mortgages will be– or already are– strained around keeping up with their monthly payments. Given that a large percentage of them probably at least have mortgages, this will soon be a large-scale problem, with banks and stock markets reacting to this strain. Employees of these businesses will then (or actively are, I already imagine) be cut back drastically in response to such huge slow-down of public purchasing of goods and services. Sales of online products and physical necessities have and will increase exponentially, until spending money runs out for a significant percentage of consumers whose employment has been adversely affected by this global crisis. Not everyone can simply work online from home. Already, I myself have shelved my upcoming plans to make a certain large purchase in the next few months or even probably this year.

Here in the United States, leadership at the federal level has been extremely lacking, unquestionably. The only high up elected official who seems truly capable is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But, even she is not quite enough. I am grateful for some degree of state level competency where I am. Again, it seems to be too little too late, though. To my understanding, we could and should have had successful containment during an earlier window of time that is now long closed.

I do not mean to sound fatalistic or complaining, because I have faith we’ll get through this, except for those who will die of COVID-19 and/or economic-related fallout. At this point, it’s all about mitigating bad outcomes. People– myself included– will need to help those who are especially isolated and/or economically impoverished by this TWILIGHT ZONE of a situation. It is going to be very rough for a while before things get better. In the meantime, I’m well aware there are lives to keep safe– our own and everyone else’s around us. And, with me as a psychotherapist and my husband who works in customer service at a small community bank, we each signed up to be on the front lines in our own ways.

Take care, dear readers, both of yourselves and those around you. There are solid safety guidelines out there for avoiding infection and spread of COVID-19. Please follow them responsibly, while also helping those you know (and don’t know) who may especially be in need.

Compassion, Patience, and Non-judgment, Please

In these stressful times with such a lack of formal leadership from the top in the U.S.A., I urge compassion, patience, and non-judgment for ourselves and others as we each go about deciding how to cope (or not) with the Corona virus outbreak among so many assorted challenges. Remember, everyone’s life history and situation are unique. And within this request for compassion, I mean that to include being mindful each day of all those with whom one will be in close contact. For, no matter how healthy and low risk oneself may be, elderly and immunocompromised people are especially vulnerable to this fast-moving, potentially lethal (to them) illness. Thank you and be well, dear readers.

Movie Review (SEBERG)

Actress Kristen Stewart has a way of occasionally choosing interesting parts in movies. For me, her portrayal of 1960s and 70s actress Jean Seberg in Amazon’s production SEBERG is her most intriguing and dynamic role yet. However, I freely admit to having not diligently followed Kristen’s career. I’ve seen her in less movies than I can count on both hands. That said, Ms. Stewart’s natural brooding quality is effectively congruent with this particular film’s main subject. I sense that she has come into her own as a fully mature actress through playing the beautiful, complex, and troubled Ms. Seberg.

Loosely based on Jean Seberg’s life from 1968 into 1972, the story focuses on her involvement with the Black Panthers, subsequent surveillance and persecution by the FBI, and eventual mental decline. Departing Paris, France in 1968 to star in the musical Western PAINT YOUR WAGON, Ms. Seberg meets studly civil rights activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) while flying to California. Out of ennui and wanting to be a part of something far more meaningful than a frivolous movie project, Jean promptly inserts herself into his life and that of the Black Panthers, bankrolling their cause.

Depending on the time of day, the interior scenes of Jean’s Southern California home, with its many floor to ceiling windows, are filled with a dim-lit to sunny ambiance. Shortly after she has met her lover-to-be Hakim Jamal, we view her lounging languidly in a thin negligee, clearly bored and lonely, Ms. Seberg’s much older husband (novelist and film director Romain Gary, played here by Yvan Attal) having opted to remain with their young son in Paris. I immediately thought of a lovely bird in a gilded cage as well as a woman being spied upon and secretly admired.

We viewers are immediately drawn into being voyeurs of a glamorous film star who is ready to throw caution to the winds. Enter the movie’s leading man, young and gorgeous FBI agent Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell), who is assigned to spy on Ms. Seberg because of her new affiliation with the subversive Black Panthers. Solomon becomes obsessed with his subject, spending hours photographing her from a surveillance van and listening in to her conversations, which are being taped. O’Connell is very convincing as a man conflicted between duty to job and country on one hand with his desire of and growing concern for the daring, exquisite Seberg on the other. Everyone else around him in the FBI are either impersonal colleagues or unsympathetic bureaucrats, particularly his brutish work partner Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn) and seemingly neckless and heartless field boss Frank Ellroy (Colm Meaney). This leaves Solomon feeling isolated. He draws comfort over being consumed with his sexy, vivacious work project as he surveils her day and night. Periodically, Jack comes home to his increasingly alienated-feeling medical student wife Linette Solomon (Qualley).

I was struck by the frustrated passion Seberg and Solomon each experience in their differently constrained lives. The former tries to have fun while doing good for others in an increasingly untenable circumstance of tensions. These are fueled by her appearance-oriented fame and related loneliness and dissatisfaction coupled then with her being swept up in fighting the good, meaningful fight against racism. But, among the Black Panthers, Jean stands out like an elegant giraffe fraternizing with, well, panthers. Her wealth and white beauty are used against her, resulting at one point in a tense exchange with Hakim’s angry African American wife Dorothy Jamal (Zazie Beetz), who has been tipped off to her husband’s infidelity with Seberg. We are reminded here of the very real social tensions existing between white women in a higher income bracket and women of color with less resources and privilege. The former mean well but often can be unaware and insensitive over how they choose to go about doing their good deeds with and for their oppressed sisters/peers.

Agent Solomon finds himself contributing to others’ problems more than not in the name of patriotic duty. His naive idealism becomes dirtied, as foreshadowed in an early scene whereby Solomon fishes out of the kitchen trash his 1941 published #1 issue CAPTAIN AMERICA comic book. His wife Linette (Margaret Qualley) had thoughtlessly thrown it out. As the drama steadily unfolds, the preoccupied and frustrated Solomon grows angry and guilt-ridden, which Jack O’Connell powerfully conveys.

Seberg’s lover Hakim is somewhat fetishized here by her, the “Mandingo,” or muscular, well-endowed black man representing forbidden fruit for a white female and the sexual rush that goes with courting potential danger, including deep shaming. The reverse is also true for Hakim cheating with a white woman. Such a transgression– even wrongly suspected– historically brought on lynchings of black men. The doomed, taboo affair is presented tenderly, with Jamal portrayed sympathetically in this film.

From what little movie footage I’ve seen of Jean Seberg (having only viewed her very early film THE MOUSE THAT ROARED all the way through), she was clearly a sensual and striking woman. With a similar look to the older Audrey Hepburn, who was also waif-like and often wore her hair short, Seberg’s sexuality was more bold, which suited the establishment-bucking late 1960s and early 70s. Sadly, her movie projects became pedestrian, unremarkable during this time period, Hollywood offering her mediocre fare after she had done avant-garde and more vibrant projects (e.g., BREATHLESS) in Europe. It is no wonder this intelligent, sexually precocious and liberated actress sought excitement and meaning in her life off-screen.

Jean’s growing paranoia is clearly justified in SEBERG. Those around her, such as her husband Gary and agent/handler Walt Breckman (Stephen Root), are initially skeptical of Jean’s assertions that her phones and house are bugged. She turns to alcohol and pills to relieve her mounting stress.

To be clear, this is a white-centered movie where African Americans and their fight for equality are a back-drop and support to the story about a very privileged Caucasian woman who is part of the white run Hollywood establishment. If Ms. Seberg had, say, ventured instead into white, anti-war hippie culture, the movie would be very different, including probably completely devoid of African Americans, except as incidental bystanders. The one Latinx individual in the film is the actress’s housemaid, a reminder that Jean actively participates a-top the economically racist social order. Obviously, this movie is deeply tinged with racism. Yet also, in refreshing contrast, African Americans are portrayed sympathetically, with the positive community-building efforts of the Black Panthers getting show-cased here. For once, this social activist organization is fleshed out more for what it truly was instead of being negatively shown, yet again, as simply comprised of scary domestic insurgents or terrorists to be quelled, which the mainstream media unfairly portrayed them as being, ad nauseam. With the current existence of Black Lives Matter, the parallels to the Black Panthers make SEBERG feel quite currently relevant for me. It is the FBI with its shady COINTELPRO that is villainous in this story. And with the current White House administration pushing vicious smear-oriented agendas on as large a scale– if not larger– than this now defunct Intelligence program, the movie is relevant to the present day in that respect as well.

Jean Seberg died at forty years of age under suspicious circumstances, some seven years after the year SEBERG concludes. This screen drama is psychologically gripping and aesthetically pleasing, the assorted music of the era comprising a pleasant sound track. Many of the clothes Kristen Stewart wears for her role are fun to look at. There are a few moments where the actress seems uncannily like Seberg, particularly around the eyes and in some facial expressions. Her face and that of Jack O’Connell’s are the real stars of the film, both often like beautiful live paintings or landscapes of shifting emotions. The well-done lighting further enhanced this effect of them over me the viewer.

The late 1960s are a fascinating time for me and SEBERG effectively conveys a slice of the upheaval and sensibilities of that brief but loaded period.

The entire cast is excellent, but, in particular, Kristen Stewart and Jack O’Connell do solid, thoughtful, and noteworthy performances in this little gem of a biopic.

Feeling Through Disappointment

Speaking for myself but also, I suspect, for others, many of us are simply needing some time to feel through our disappointment before we “suck it up” (a shaming expression I’ve always viscerally detested) and move along in lock step with the corporate Democratic establishment to vote for a candidate many of us find lackluster, uninspiring, and/or other unsavory adjectives.

Humans have feelings that, for the benefit of overall health, should be felt and expressed. And only then can clear, right action(s) be more readily and sensibly taken.