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.

Brief Thoughts on Elitism

As a white professional with a higher degree, I have grown more aware over especially the past three years how I am 1) perceived by some as elitist and 2) have inadvertently participated in reinforcing that unfortunate but sadly somewhat accurate view. For one thing, I was raised to value higher education above all else. Those who didn’t achieve it like I finally did (thanks to all of my privilege to access this resource) were somehow inherently lacking. Hence, it was deeply implied, they were inferior. Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth. I do my best to live from this clearer understanding and value everyone with their natural intelligences, be they formally educated or not. We all need to live and walk from this place of awareness, not simply talk from it.

Brief Thoughts on Love

I’m glad I waited until later in life (early 40s) to meet and marry the right companion. My husband and I grew up seeing so many people around us either stay in bad marriages (such as his parents’ fate) or go through a series of toxic to so-so unions before finally finding a harmonious match (as has been my father’s path).

And for those who are single, which I was for most of my life, may they be happy, enjoying love in all the many ways it exists in relationships.

It intrigues and sometimes amazes me how we all start out as children so naturally understanding of and living from love only to then grow up and work on having to find our way back to that same perspective and way of being in the world.

Detoxifying From Watching Women Slapped

I grew up watching a lot of old movies and TV shows (reruns by the time I was viewing them) in which a recurring scene was that of a man slapping an upset woman to calm her down, bring her back into a more rational state of mind. It was the quick formula solution to stop her from being “ruled by her emotions.” This always felt upsetting, confusing, and deeply wrong to me. Fortunately, I never saw my dad do this at home to Mom, or other friends or family members act this way with their close women loved ones. Anyway, as a child, I felt such a dissonance, that of being deeply disturbed by this violent act against a grown woman on one hand while somehow wanting to trust that the adults– in this case, the men– new best what to do in this particular dynamic. It is interesting how I don’t remember men getting slapped by women in response to expressing strong emotions. The stereotype and expectation was that men aren’t “overly” emotional like women. And when and if they are, they must be promptly straightened out. Some man would sometimes slap another in some screen drama to “shape him up,” but this seemed rarer. I do remember a scene in STAR TREK TOS, whereby Captain Kirk repeatedly slaps Spock, when that latter is in a particularly sad, shame-filled state. That felt wrong too and very dissonant with the bonding moment that was supposed to be underscored between these two life-long close friends in such a pioneering TV show. But then bonding through violence never made clear sense to me. I always thought intimacy was about honoring emotional expression, so long as it’s not abusive/harmful, towards developing a sense of closeness with another.

The media has such a way of perpetuating and shaping stereotypical behavior, including such awful, wrong gender biases. There is an old, rigid arc of emotional expression patterns so many movies and television shows would perpetuate and which I’ve had to detoxify from during my adulthood. Seeing women getting slapped by supposedly well-meaning men is one of those particular image arcs I’ve had to get over. Thank the gods society at large finally no longer tolerates portraying such ugliness in moving pictures as a matter of course. That kind of imagery alone was and is blatant validation of violence against women and against those who “act like” women, i.e., show their emotions in response to feeling vulnerable– be through states of fear, shame, sadness, anger, etc.

In America, we still have a long ways to go as a culture with treating women, non-binary folks, and *explicitly* expressive sensitive men with care and respect in the face of strong emotions. But, there has been progress, thank goodness. The apparent fading away of routine slaps in the face to mostly women and some men “acting like women” in newer movies and television shows (made roughly within the last forty years or so) is an encouraging marker to this being the case.

On Healing From My Past

As a person, I am many roles and attributes– husband, brother, son, friend, psychotherapist, gay man, eclectic Pagan, movie lover, writer, sensitive, empathetic, introspective, caring, imaginative, sometimes overly-critical, and many more things. What I also am, though it is not a central identity for me, is someone who survived a relatively/moderately traumatic childhood. (So many people have survived their childhoods, which is nothing to necessarily brag about– though one can if they wish– or be ashamed of. Probably each and every one of us can say we survived at least something during childhood.) This included divorce of my parents before I was five and much uncertainty thereafter, due, in part, to frequent moves and having to adjust to several new schools and living situations.

Shortly after my parents’ divorce, my birth mother gave me up to my father and his second wife, having found herself, through no real fault of her own, overwhelmed and ill-equipped to be a single parent. I’m also convinced she was hoping I would be a duplicate of her older brother, who she idealized while watching him fill in as surrogate spouse to their mother, my grandfather largely away from home as a career Marine during much of her childhood. What my mother got with me, however, was something very different than my stoic yet caring uncle. She didn’t quite know what to make of me when I left toddlerhood. My emotional sensitivity and fascination with her high heeled shoes, long hair, and makeup made her uncomfortable.

Other unpleasant to even very painful difficulties arose after this initial trauma of divorce and later what I experienced as abandonment by my birth mother. However, simultaneously, I was also thrilled to finally go live with my father and the woman I would soon call “Mom.” Being a sensitive gay child on the non-binary spectrum (in my case, identification with feeling partially, but significantly female in a physically male body) became an added challenge. Most of the community I grew up around was quite intolerant of such differences. I was bullied throughout much of school, especially during sixth through eighth grades. I inherited a propensity for an anxious, highly reactive temperament. This, combined with my early personal history, resulted in some pretty serious anxiety (both generalized and OCD) and long bouts of depression throughout adolescence and much of my adulthood. Looking back, there is no doubt that I suffered from PTSD as a child and adolescent as I lived through deep relational disruptions and repeatedly perceived threats to my safety, with a good share of these perceptions based on actual reality.

After many years of effective psychotherapy, particularly a combination of Internal Family Systems work and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and increasingly mindful living, I’m glad to say that I haven’t experienced any clinical depression for almost nine years. I have been fortunate to not require sustained use of prescribed medication, although I did go through some short trials of assorted antidepressants (with misery-inducing side effects resulting each and every time) and long-term use of a benzodiazapine (Klonopin) for the anxiety. However, I was even able to give that drug up completely about seven years ago. Being free of the need for any prescriptions has been a relief, yet I also honor and understand those who find help in maintaining a regimen of psychopharmacological meds. We all must try and do whatever is necessary for our well-being.

The chronic, generalized anxiety and OCD will always be what I contend with to some degree. They are part of my body’s lot in life right along with some other health vulnerabilities, such as high cholesterol and skin that occasionally produces melanomas (only two thus far in twenty-seven years, both in situ/stage one, thank the gods) requiring prompt medical attention. But, my OCD has lessened in intensity enormously, having last been seriously bad for an extended period when I was fifteen years of age. I realize now that the OCD was intensified at the time by assorted stressors, including a reaction to an accumulation of traumas. Now, it’s something I chuckle about and bond with others over as they describe to me the unique little quirks of their own OCD. As for the generalized anxiety, I think it’s debatable whether I actually clinically suffer from it any longer. My day-to-day intense, chronic worrying has largely decreased. Ten years ago, I wasn’t certain I’d ever reach this level of inner peace I feel today. Mind you, I still have quite a ways to go on that front. Finding and living within inner peace most or all of the time is a lifelong effort for so many of us, perhaps even for most save for a very few (like the Dalai Lama, among others). My nature being what it is, I’m still to a certain extent what others would call “high strung.” That and growing up with having to cope with frequent disruptions to my sense of security as a child, I’ll likely always tend towards initially catastrophizing in the face of change or new difficulties. But, I am able to more quickly step away from such negative thinking and feeling, instead of getting stuck and bogged down in it so often like I used to do. I’m confident I function within the average range of the general population when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and life changes, with me being somewhere in “normal range” on the broad bell curve, for what that’s worth. For certain, I’ll never be fully “normal,” whatever the hell that even actually means. Mentally healthy and adjusted, on the other hand, well, I am definitely more that than not and it’s wonderful.

These days, it’s been about maintaining all the healing I’ve done for my psyche/inner system of parts while continuing to release some remaining deep-down pain from my past as I live more and more freely in the present. I’ve manifested most of my life dreams I started having as a young teenager, namely that of having a psychotherapy career, owning my own home in a pleasant neighborhood, and being married to a fabulous, loving man. I continue to live them each day, for however long I’m meant to do so. All I, and we, really have is now. I enjoy building from the wondrous now.

I’m starting to live into another big dream of mine. This simply is to commit to writing more often than not and see wherever that takes me next in this incredible journey called life. If I publish anything I produce, that will be a cherry on the sundae at this point. At least I’m writing and some people are reading it here on my blog, which I’ll do my best to have exist long after I’m gone.

A fact is, we all had, and have, our unique challenges in life, including, for a lot of us, mental health challenges, and often very serious ones. These are nothing to be ashamed of any more than the plethora of medical problems people live with and can finally freely admit to having more often than not– at least compared to when I was younger and when my parents were children. Being human is to be born into a body and mind with so many vulnerabilities and difficulties, arising from enduring tough environments, genetics, the inevitability of aging or some combination thereof. It’s our resiliency, including deep capacity to heal, that gets us through and never ever ceases to amaze me, both that of others and in myself. And it’s in mindfully sharing who we are, how far we’ve come, and whatever we are going through– good, bad, indifferent– that affirms what being alive is all about: connection. Connection– bit by bit– in ourselves to who we are and trusting that is enough. Connection with others and their wonderful, good enough selves, no matter how wounded in body or mind, so long as one’s wounds allow for genuine connection to come through, however limited initially. And, of course, connection with the rest of the world around us, nature, the All.

I used to think I was basically just my wounds and was worthy of so little, anxiously, shamefully, and sadly hiding away from a lot of life. But, I see now how we need not be defined by our wounds or imperfections, none of us. (And those who seem to intractably, pervasively live and act out from just their pain are, well, ultimately the most challenged, but I refuse to give up all hope on even them.) However, out of our efforts to heal from these injuries and foibles, we can find opportunities to derive wisdom and access to more compassion and other virtues, both for ourselves and others. This healing includes releasing shame, particularly the shame of assorted false beliefs that boil down to the thought we somehow only are our wounds or perceived flaws, victims of our worst experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth. As psychologist Richard Schwartz has written extensively about, what we actually are at our core essence, or Self, consists of calmness, courage, creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, and connectedness. And that makes it all the worthwhile to share in this journey called life, finding out, while doing so, that we are all– not just us, alone– imperfect in body and mind but uniquely wonderful, lovable Selves anyway, and always were.

On My Love of Different Movie Genres

I’ve been fascinated with movies since I was a young child. I’d be the one in 2nd grade at school watching a film all the way through, with rapt attention, while peers around me had long become bored and restless.

Having always loved this form of mass entertainment, there are different genres I don’t care to watch, such as combat-oriented war movies, which I used to tolerate viewing now and then when I was younger. I do occasionally enjoy a well-done war-time film that focuses on dynamics away from the actual battlefield. SCHINDLER’S LIST comes to mind here.

As with combat war movies, the same goes for Westerns with me. I’ve probably truly enjoyed no more than I can count on both hands, possibly only on one, and just when I was much younger. The cinema in general was still so novel an experience until roughly around my early 30s. Since then, it’s taken more for a movie to feel novel and, hence, interesting enough for me to want to see it. The old American frontier is a huge mythology of wonder for a lot of folks, particularly, it seems, for those older than myself, though many males in my age group also appreciate that world. But, it’s one to which I honestly can’t relate. All the gun-related violence and accompanying machismo turns me off. My being gay and not fully gender binary factors into this, I admit. I’m immediately an outsider to this onscreen universe. Even so, ultimately that genre tends to glorify the gun via having it be the central means of power and conquest, so tiresomely destructive in a raw, ugly way. We’re seeing these days what gun worship does in our culture. I also have no interest in spending my precious free time filling my physical vision and brain with more toxic masculinity. I already have to navigate it somewhat in my day-to-day life as it is. A certain very troubled man in power comes to mind. No thanks.

As an extension of Westerns, the modern, male-focused action films (including police-oriented ones) largely elicit the same response from me. They come across as Westerns placed in current times. The one exception and admitted guilty pleasure of this category I do watch are the James Bond films (*ducking for cover now from possible judgment by certain readers*). They are fantastical enough that they cross over into fantasy instead of just hard core action. That said, I’ve always viewed them with a mix of emotions, disliking their awful sexism and some of their violence. And the latest James Bond (Daniel Craig, himself a talented actor) is too much of a muscle-pumped brute for my taste. Gone is the suavity of Connery and Moore, the latter being so refreshingly funny, and the Bond I came of age watching. It is encouraging to hear that the next James Bond after Craig retires from one more upcoming film will be a female. Such a change is long overdue.

There is a rare exception I make for the martial arts sub-genre of action cinema: the small canon of Bruce Lee films. As I’ve written elsewhere, I watch him for his beautiful form and dance, which come across to me as artful and fantastical. Lee transcended the genre he worked within and I don’t know if anyone will ever accomplish what he did as a performer. CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON comes close, though that was all due to beautiful cinematography and costumes, interesting special effects, a good storyline, and competent acting. No single actor embodied the main energy or center of the world in that film like Lee did in his projects. And I have no interest whatsoever in watching what seems like overly-stimuli packed modern martial arts films. I find them too fast, busy, and even noisy. (Same goes for me with Anime in general, though I have enjoyed a few earlier produced exceptions, such as 1983’s BAREFOOT GEN.) Any graceful martial artist seems to get lost for me among all the mishegas of such pointless on-screen distraction.

I’ve rarely enjoyed violent horror films, particularly slasher ones, which, on the whole, I’ve never liked. The rare, well-done sci-fi fantasy horror productions, such as the first two and the fourth ALIEN movies, are watchable for their beautiful, dark aesthetics alone. But, then, I’ve always appreciated monster movies, which can artfully externalize the shadow sides of the human psyche, including our deepest fears and inner rage that all of us have surely felt in life as an initial, primal response to adversity.

I will sometimes take time to see early period dramas, depending on the historical period portrayed. Good acting and beautiful costumes also help me decide with what to watch in this category. However, if a lot of violent war scenes predominate in such productions, I tend to hesitate with consuming them. I’m not fascinated by war as I was somewhat when I was young. The less people at large give mind space to war, the more it will fade away as an overly repeated option to solving social and political problems. I’m simply committed to de-intensifying war images in my psyche as best I can because it feels like the right thing to do. Real life and non-movie media emphasize war to fill a lifetime, and then some, as it is. Still, I acknowledge the titillation war images elicit for so much of the public, including consuming them in their movie watching. Sigh.

Romantic and screwball comedies I enjoy on occasion, but they simply are far less compelling and interesting to me than the usually more imaginative, cinematic science fiction, fantasy, and, to a lesser extent, action adventure (e.g., James Bond) shows. Since I tend to see movies with the intention of being transported somewhere and inspired from aspects of my day-to-day life, I naturally gravitate towards these other-worldly performances.

I’ll sometimes see suspense and mystery movies if the storyline is intriguing enough and stars actors who I particularly admire. My imagination has to be captured by such projects, and that is hit or miss with this genre. It’s simply a cinema universe that doesn’t consistently interest me as much as the comparably more flexible fantasy and science fiction ‘verses do.

I used to enjoy many animation features, including most of the Disney ones. I still have yet to see some of those older productions, which I intend to in time. The Disney and Pixar cartoons from the last twenty years or so often annoy me with their puerile humor, which I’ve simply outgrown. Still, some are heart-felt, enjoyable, and imaginative all at once, such as WALL-E and ZOOTOPIA. What I personally experience as a loss in these computerized productions is the natural and subtly rough, unpolished aesthetic that hand-painted animation conveyed from earlier times. That look is more life-life compared to the overly clean appearance of these newer images on screen. The latter convey a certain mild sterility about them that keep me at a distance, ever reminded that I’m watching a movie.

Of worthy mention here are biographical movies. When done well, and if the subject is of interest to me (such as old-time movie stars and/or singers), these screen gems encapsulate the basic, beautiful essence of a fascinating, compelling life, this being yet another window into a very different world than my own.

Then, there’s the often quirky, off-beat indie art films. They are also hit or miss for me, but often hits. I’ll always have head room to view those, though time and convenience often don’t allow seeing as many of these as I’d like. There is no nearby theater where I live that regularly shows many indie (including foreign films) and arthouse productions, let alone for more than a day or two. Same goes for old-time classics, of which there’s a plethora that I treasure. Fortunately, in earlier years, I lived near movie houses that showed a lot of indie, art, and classic films, which I took advantage of. I’ll always be grateful for that. I’ve also viewed a lot of great oldies and indies on video, DVD, and YouTube over the years, and will continue to do so via the latter two means and, perhaps, streaming someday as well. But, none of these options quite replace the all-encompassing large screen medium I enjoy most for fully experiencing a movie.

I haven’t exhaustively covered all of the extant movie genres and sub-genres, the latter of which there are so many, including those that don’t quite fit into any particular category. But, I’ve discussed the ones that especially come to mind for me within such an often magical form of media. In this time of home convenience where small screen streaming is the zeitgeist for the masses, long live my first love of entertainment: the classy big, silver screen.