Book Review (PAUL NEWMAN: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF AN ORDINARY MAN, A MEMOIR)

I just read THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF AN ORDINARY MAN, A MEMOIR (published in 2022 by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, U.S.A.) the new and fascinating life story of actor, director, champion race car driver, and philanthropist Paul Newman. This is his authorized biography, based on interviews and oral histories conducted and recorded from 1986 to 1991 by Paul’s long-time friend Stewart Henry Stern. After several years of the subsequent transcripts– which numbered somewhere over fourteen thousand pages– sitting in storage, a family friend and some of Paul’s close relatives (such as at least one of his five daughters) finally went through them. David Rosenthal then compiled and edited the chosen ones for this book. The narrative is interspersed with reflections by family members, friends, and work associates, such as Elia Kazan and Karl Malden, to name just two. This helped to enrich the reading and flesh out Paul the person from within his own thoughts and in those of others, making for a creative, robust approach to a complex human being. The several black and white photos throughout further enhance the reader’s sense and understanding of this wonderful, often self-deprecating, man through his lifetime.

Mr. Newman often self reflects quite deeply. He is someone I’ve long admired for his philanthropy, progressive political views, acting talent, and incredible pulchritude. To me, Paul Newman is still one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen in photographs and up on screen. He aged gracefully, both in appearance and, more importantly, emotionally and philosophically/spiritually. I did not know that The Economist recorded Mr. Newman as being the most financially generous person, relative to his income, in the twentieth century history of the United States. He also made the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest champion race car driver. These are two facts I learned from reading this book, the others being more juicy tid bits about certain movies he starred in, some of the people with whom he worked, and his experiences as a political activist and philanthropist. However, there is assorted other information that is not revealed, such as Paul’s cause of death being from lung cancer. He was a very private person, described by more than one individual he knew as being shy. The story bypasses much of the glamorous parties and red carpet events Paul attended, focusing more on his personal and professional life, such as his first marriage to Jackie Witt and second one of fifty years to actress Joanne Woodward. The latter comes across as a soulmate to Paul, the way he admiringly and lovingly talks about her, even though he never uses such a term to my recollection.

Other than the very end of the text, I found Paul’s childhood the most interesting and emotionally powerful to read about. The younger of two sons, Paul grew up in an upper middle income home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a wealthy white suburb of Cleveland. His Jewish father Arthur Newman was alcoholic, working hard at a sporting goods store he cofounded with his brother Joe (a.k.a. J.S.), Paul’s uncle. Theresa, Paul’s non-Jewish, Christian Science member mother, was what I gleaned to be quite narcissistic, tending to fly into sudden rages, sometimes for no clear reason, and viewing and treating her younger son as a pretty “ornament” (Mr. Newman’s descriptor). He did not recall her ever expressing curiosity about him as a unique person with interests and feelings of his own. His parents often loudly fought, sometimes destroying property. With all this domestic chaos and tension, no wonder why Paul and his older brother Arthur, Jr. developed a habit of taking turns banging their heads repeatedly on their dining room wall. Paul described it thus: “We just knocked our fucking brains out. It was our own Wailing Wall. I couldn’t take my rage out on anybody my size, so I took it out against the wall [pg. 6 in the hardcover ed.].” It is sad how Paul’s incredible popularity over his physical appearance fed into the painful “ornament” status first imposed upon him by his problematic mother. I felt for him as he tried to escape this, which, it seems, he finally did (at least somewhat) later in life.

Like his father, Paul went on to heavily abuse alcohol for most of his adulthood, stealing beer where he could while serving in the Navy during WW II, drinking his way through college and, later, when acting in movies. The alcohol assisted Paul in maintaining a largely emotionally detached perspective, particularly due to his deep self doubt and tending to feel like an impostor in many situations. Towards the end of the narrative, he shares how he has “always been in pain, always needed help [pg. 280].” He sought out psychotherapy on “more than one occasion.” It is not clear how helpful he personally found it to be, except with a certain psychiatrist he saw early on after becoming a successful movie actor. He viewed these sessions with the psychoanalyst as not very productive, which Paul largely attributed to not feeling able to introspect well at the time. I’m certain that Mr. Newman needed a more developed type of trauma and recovery treatment, which, sadly, did not yet exist in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

Regardless of Paul Newman’s subjective experiences with psychotherapy, he lived long enough (eighty-three years) to become a more self-reflective, engaged father and husband, devoted friend, and giving individual. As a psychotherapist myself, I’m inclined to think that he eventually found one or more therapists who substantially helped him. More importantly, this man clearly held a deep curiosity about life and a drive to not only succeed but grow in his capacity for empathy and compassion, which he significantly, impressively did. Two of his five daughters basically state these last points in the book, one (Melissa Newman) in the foreward and another (Clea Newman Soderland) in the afterward. It is understandable and very moving, to the point of tears for me while reading the end, how and why his surviving children (having lost his oldest child and only son to suicide) continue to admire and miss Paul each and every day.

On Sobriety and How Less Is Often More

I started abusing alcohol on a steady basis late in life, a few months after turning fifty, to be precise. This coincided with finally “making it.” My husband and I had just bought our own condo. and I was a few years into having my own successful private psychotherapy practice. It all came together, including living near a vibrant town center with a lovely bar and restaurant where I’d hang out with some colleagues and even made a few new friends. For almost five years, I was riding this gravy train of “making it,” lubricated along with wine and mixed drinks, especially on weekends but on my one day off during the week too. In my own way, I was luxuriating after years of having less, believing, a lot of that time, that I didn’t deserve much. I’ve since learned, after letting go of drinking (now over a year ago), that, often in many instances, less is actually more. No alcohol has meant more health and well-being for me and my husband. And there are so many other ways to meet each day in celebration of having “made it.”

Here’s to everyone who’s alive and meeting each day. You’re here. You made it this far and, to those I actually know and like, I’m so glad we’re friends, family, and/or somehow associates in life. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

TV Series Review (V, the 2009-2011 reboot)

I just finished watching V (2009-2011), a reboot of the 1983-1985 TV miniseries and series (which I immediately found dated and unwatchable). “V” stands for “Visitor,” a member of a race of humanoid looking aliens come to earth in “peace,” or so they say. Overall, this newer series is intriguing, amusing, and visually impressive with its state-of-the-art special effects. The show indeed ends on a cliffhanger, due to abruptly being canceled. But, I didn’t find the finale as incomplete feeling as I thought I would.

This production is a playground for conspiracy theorists’ imaginings. I read, however, that the original inspiration for it was Sinclair Lewis’ anti-fascism 1935 novel IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE. And I did see a basic Antifa thread throughout. I appreciated the ethical dilemmas the show effectively explores.

I enjoyed watching Elizabeth Mitchell as Erica Evans, an FBI agent and single mother, who becomes the leader against the villainous Anna (played by the beautiful and compelling Morena Baccarin), high commander and queen of the alien Visitors. In each of their starring roles, Ms. Baccarin is effectively sinister and creepy while Ms. Mitchell is both bad-ass and caring. I was annoyed by the racist overtone tropes of blonde, “good” mother vs. dark-featured “bad” mother portrayals here. Nonetheless, Morena as Anna steals the show time and again.

The overall cast is strong and well-acted, with one exception being Brett Harrison as Sidney Miller, a young scientist who is introduced in the second season. He is brought in to provide tech. support brainpower for the rebels against the V’s but, also, for some comic relief and to represent non-heroic, human vulnerability. While I appreciate the creators’ intentions behind this character and acting choice, I was not impressed with Harrison’s lack of gravitas in the role. I found it difficult to see him as a scientist boy genius. He should remain doing light-weight comedy television, which largely comprises his resume. In this show, Harrison does not believably mix well with all the heavy hitter, dynamic actors around him. A more emotionally skilled and nuanced, slightly grittier actor would have made for a better fit.

The first season had a bit more intensity and plot precision to it than the second, which did manage to pick up steam and focus after the first three episodes or so. I was tickled to see Jane Badler, who stars as Diana, the V’s high commander and queen in the original miniseries and series, reprise her role in this remake’s second and final season. The wonderfully posed archness of queen against queen, with them always wearing fabulous designer dresses or gowns and high heels while standing elegantly within grand, high-ceilinged sets (to emphasize their own highness), made for deliciously campy fun. And the lizard features of the Visitors beneath their human skin disguises were colorfully imaginative, adding to the camp factor, even if there was a bit of copying from the ALIEN franchise.

On Loyalty Binds

From the MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY, this is what is said about the word “loyalty”: “Loyalty implies a faithfulness that is steadfast in the face of any temptation to renounce, desert, or betray.”

The quality of loyalty can be expressed towards another person, a country, a team of some sort, a product brand, etc. The relational context I am particularly concerned with here is between people. An individual can find themself in a bind of loyalty between two other parties whereby they feel somehow pressured to be less connected to one party than the other. Inner feeling states of anxiety and, often, guilt, arise over the sense that they will be somehow betraying one person over another by being also in positive connection with that other. A common example is when a child feels they are betraying their biological parent if they develop a close bond with their other bio. parent’s new spouse/life partner. And that bio. parent may or may not indeed be putting external pressure, however subtle/nuanced, on their child to not become close to the stepparent. Unprompted, children, in their bond with each of their birth parents, tend to already feel internally like they are somehow abandoning their parent(s) by developing closeness with their new stepparent(s). As a young child, I was in a loyalty bind between my bio. mother and former step/foster mother, then, much later as an adult, for a while between my former step/foster mom and current stepmother. Loyalty binds in blended/step families can and do occur for adult children as well.

That all said, loyalty binds can show up between friendships and coworkers, among other social contexts. Some people can be possessive and expect loyalty to them to mean loyalty to another/others has to be less or non-existent. The factors and situations where these binds arise are hard to quantify. Some people can carry around an internalized sense of loyalty binds where none exist, particularly if they grew up experiencing a loyalty bind within their family of origin and/or with a very close friend.

Try and be aware of loyalty binds that arise for people, both actual ones and for people who have an internalized sense of them as automatically accompanying any efforts to be close to more than one person within a social context. As discussed above, these commonly, likely inevitably, occur within blended/step families, such as within my own family of origin. But, these challenges can and do happen in other types of relationships as well. Patience, compassion, and curiosity are good to practice with ourselves and others in these situations.

Internal Family Systems trained family therapist Patricia Papernow is a compassionate and eloquent expert on loyalty binds within step/blended families and on other unique dynamics that arise within these types of family systems. To inform and deepen my work with individuals coping with an array of family histories and challenges, I will be reading her book Surviving And Thriving In Stepfamily Relationships: What Works And What Doesn’t.

“Healing Happens in Relationship.”

My undergrad. clinical and humanistic psychology professor at UC Santa Cruz, Ralph Quinn, said on more than one occasion, “Healing happens in relationship.” He included here a relationship with a higher power besides with another person or people. By extension, I think this certainly can and does apply to a connection one has with a pet, a wild animal, or with all or part of nature for that matter.

(Photo accompanying this post by Sebastian Arie Voortman.)

On Outgrowing Relationships and Experiencing Unconditional Love

A little earlier, over on Facebook, I wrote about how, sometimes, one outgrows a relationship, be it romantic, familial, a friendship, whichever. It isn’t healthy to try and remain in it out of guilt and obligation and/or fear. (I am excluding here those people who are in tenuous circumstances where leaving a problematic relationship is not an immediate option. Privilege and power differentials within and between parties are so often major factors.)

In response, a certain friend replied: “Life is not like a Hallmark movie. Most of the time we spend a ‘moment’ in time with someone. It does not diminish that relationship if it was not FOREVER. Unconditional love is a misnomer.”

I found this response of his interesting and thought-provoking. I replied by saying how I try my best to practice holding and sending compassion for others, including those I have moved on from and them from me. I went on to explain that I think unconditional love can be selectively practiced over those closest to us who we do not grow apart from.

I myself never experienced unconditional love growing up or into most of my adulthood, until I met my husband. Now, I’m experiencing what feels like that between him and myself, though it has definitely had to develop. It’s not about the romantic, passionate “fireworks” feeling, sensation, and thought states. Unconditional love for someone is a comparatively calmer, deeper emotional-sensory inner experience arising from having a sustained, safe outer connection with another, who congruently shares a similar inner emotional-sensory experience with the other. All of this phenomena goes beyond words.

This kind of love comes from one’s core, true Self. For most if not all of us, accessing our own Self takes a steady practice over time, informed by our own personal histories.

The Public Cinema of Senator Sinema

The timing of Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona leaving the Democratic Party and registering as Independent is note-worthy. Three days after Democratic Senator of Georgia Raphael Warnock wins re-election, she makes this big announcement on television and other media of her plan to register as Independent. My initial reaction was of surprise and to think of her as a “spoil sport.” My surprise has since faded away. I already long understood her to be a turn coat sell out. Ms. Sinema has certainly (d)evolved quite a ways, a social worker (which I am too) who once belonged to the Green Party earlier on in her political career. I remember initially having hope for Arizona and, by extension, the rest of the country when she was running for Senate. This federal legislator is such a clear, current example of corruption, yet another person who drank the Kool-Aid of power and succumbed to its addicting taste. Apparently, Senator Sinema’s campaign accepted about one million dollars in corporate Wall Street donations, for which she turned around and did good by those special interests by not voting for more fair, progressive changes to the tax code for us non-wealthy working folk. And she voted against raising the national minimum wage requirement to $15.00 an hour– with her being trained as a social worker, no less. These are only a few examples of her downward change that come to mind. It is sad and frustrating to witness a person in power move so far away from their own humble, human roots.

I sincerely hope someone who is comparatively more progressive than Ms. Sinema will run against her in 2024. I am no political analyst, but I read that one likely reason the senator switched her party affiliation is to avoid the possibility of losing her primary against a Democrat in the next election cycle. I have also read that this switch could work against her. Some Democrat will win in the primary, without Sinema having participated in it, and very possibly gain momentum against her, especially given the legislator’s very mixed voting record in the Senate. We shall see.

While I myself recently re-registered to vote as an Independent or, as it is actually called in Massachusetts, Un-enrolled, I continue to vote mostly for Democrats and never Republicans. In MA, we voters are largely Un-enrolled and tend to vote Democrat more often than not. Hence, MA is about as Blue a state as there is in America.

In the U.S.A., I, and many, long for a system where more than two parties have power and corporate interests stop dictating so much (or probably all) of national policy. So many Democrats in all branches of the federal government continue to kowtow to the corporatocracy right along with pretty much all members of the GOP. Until, and if ever, we have a multi-party system, and big money out of electoral politics (which I have not completely given up hope over this happening someday), I’ll simply vote for, donate to, and root for more progressive political candidates wherever and whenever I can.

Pain Felt For the Dragon

The image is of the painting SAINT GEORGE AND THE DRAGON (c. 1470) by Paolo Uccello. Oil on canvas.

My parents had a print of this hanging in the dining room of the house we lived in for eighteen months when I was seven to eight years old. The image disturbed me deeply at the time (and still does) because I thought the dragon in the picture seemed innocent and passive, undeserving of having its eye and brain gored through by the knight. At that time, I shared how upset I felt for the dragon to my then step/foster mother, who my father never married but cohabitated with for fifteen years.

Movie Review (ESTEROS)

Like many people, I watch movies for various reasons in addition to being entertained. Over the past few years, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have spent a lot of time in my home streaming movies, many of them indies, including ones about gay-oriented love relationships. Recently, it grew crystal clear to me that the adolescent and young man parts of me, these each being who I once was so many years ago, long to witness positive, loving relationships between boys and young men. The physicality of sex as an aspect of that expression of love has been important to see, though prolonged, anatomically graphic detail are not needed. It is more about viewing a balance of warm affection and passion that matter to these younger parts of myself.

I spent my youth longing for, yet fearing and generally avoiding, emotionally-laden physical intimacy with other male peers, a deep-rooted issue stemming from an unstable childhood that I’ve been actively healing for a good while. My husband’s presence in my life since my early forties has been deeply helpful. But, another part of that healing process has been to watch tender, affirming movies about love between adolescent and twenty-something males. Less often, I have also found it satisfying to watch love stories about men older than that age cohort.

A movie in this category of affirming emotional and physical love between young males I most recently viewed is ESTEROS (released in 2016), a warm and thoughtful Argentinian production, directed by Papu Curotto. The story is a simple and beautiful narrative, encapsulated in just eighty-seven minutes. Filmed back and forth in present day and flashback scenes, the movie stars Ignacio Rogers as the adult Matias, Esteban Masturini (adult Jeronimo or “Jero”), Joaquin Parada (pubescent Matias), and Blas Finardi Niz (pubescent Jero). The footage of the two sets of actors seems almost equal, with probably a little more of it featuring the two main characters in adulthood.

After about ten to twelve years of absence from each other’s lives, previously best childhood friends Matias and Jero unexpectedly meet up in a small city, the name of it eluding me. Matias, who lives with his girlfriend, has recently returned to Argentina after having resided in Brazil with his parents since about aged thirteen. The family had left for there due to Matias’ father pursuing a major employment opportunity. Soon, the two young men figure out who the other is and resume their friendship. Sexual and romantic tension between them immediately returns, with Jero taking the lead on expressing this chemistry, as he had originally done when he was twelve or thirteen.

The natural playfulness and comfort between the two boy actors, Parada and Finardi Niz, immediately sets for us viewers a tone of believable pubescent innocence, curiosity, and slowly building passion. Their on-screen chemistry matches that of the young adults, Rogers and Masturini, and steadily builds in intensity at a graceful, credible pace. Pure cinematic alchemy gets created by these four principal personae and their excellent direction. The writing, which is quite simple but succinct and good, adds to this alchemy. None of these males ever seem to waver in screen presence and ability. They are all well supported by a solidly competent rest of the cast, although I admittedly didn’t feel the need to notice and care that much, due to the compelling power of the main four.

I would add that the fifth principal player or presence in ESTEROS (ESTUARIES in English) is the Argentinian countryside, particularly an area of estuaries that abut a farm owned by Jero’s parents. This is the summer getaway the boys go to and begin to explore their romantic feelings for each other, which Jero initiates between them one evening in a bedroom they share. The estuary water, accompanying mud, and wildlife, including verbal references to alligators (or crocodiles? I believe alligators), which we viewers never actually see, underscores the sense of intriguing, somewhat unpredictable, even scary sensuality flowing between Matias and Jero. The former is fearful and uncertain while the latter of the two is clearly more of an early bloomer with his sexual interest and confidence. Such is often the case between and among peers.

The movie’s predictable but believable love triangle is an added layer of tension between Jero’s readiness and Matias’ hesitancy. The latter’s girlfriend, Rochi (Renata Calmon) plays, sadly, an all-too-common, thankless role of unknowingly aiding him in trying to be completely heterosexual, which Matias is not and never was. Thankfully, her character is respectfully, sensitively written as having an intuitive sense that something is very much not right. Matias is not fully present and interested in her as he should be. And so a classic dance of intimacy unfolds, quite beautifully, with all players stepping along through their parts in a mix of relatable struggle and grace.

On Letting Go of Non-Resonating Energy From Others

I have experienced wonderful healing recently via sessions with an energy and sound healer, Katie Rose of Rose Energetics in Killeen, TX (her link here: https://roseenergetics.com). Regardless of what you may think and feel about the legitimacy and value of such a modality, one generally useful nugget of wisdom I’ve found helpful is Ms. Rose’s well-stated truth that not everyone’s energy resonates with one’s own. This doesn’t mean that all or part of another’s energy is bad, it just means it’s not always right for someone else, such as myself. It is simply non-resonant/non-resonating. And vice versa, of course, is the case with my energy not always resonating well for others. This has been so affirming and releasing.

The implications of this understanding are powerful. No longer do I feel the need, out of guilt or some other negative motivator, to remain engaged with non-resonant energy of someone in my personal life anymore, ever. And I don’t need to pursue trying to make my energy resonate with someone else’s. It has been so freeing to clear away this old habit of tolerating and engaging with non-resonant energy(ies) from others. Letting go of or avoiding non-resonating engagement in the first place can and should be un-coupled with polarizing/demonizing a non-resonant other. That is a more nuanced, newer insight I have been coming to.

I have been integrating all this for a good while now, but Ms. Rose’s wisdom (which is not hers alone) has basically cinched the deal, so to speak, further embedding in me this healthy outlook and way of engaging in the world. And I most certainly help my clients come to all this understanding for themselves as well. Now, I’ve got some additional helpful language and subsequent perspective to offer.