Reading: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

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If you enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd’s first book, The Secret Life of Bees…and who didn’t?…you will want to read The Invention of Wings.

The novel is set in the early 1800s in South Carolina.  Young Sarah is given the gift of a slave, named Handful, for her 11th birthday. Beginning her lifelong career as an abolitionist, she tries to ‘return’ Handful to her parents, but is unsuccessful. Handful becomes her personal slave.  The novel is narrated in alternating chapters by Sarah and Handful. Sarah is not able to become the lawyer she wants to be in order to fight for the abolition of slavery because of the sexism of her time. Handful documents her grizzly travails with her ‘real owner’, Sarah’s mother, as well as her heartbreak of being separated from her mother…always trying to find her. The novel is based on the real life of Sarah Grimke, who came from a slave-holding family in Charleston, moved to Philadelphia and became a Quaker, spoke out against slavery and stood up for women’s rights. Handful is an imagined character, whose life story and point of view is what moves this novel. The book is riveting.  The story spans 35 years and you cannot wait to find out what happens in the end. Even if you think you know… you don’t!

 

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Thinking: Do you want to see another Woody Allen film?

annie-hall-club-glasses-movie-subtitle-woody-allen-Favim.com-65170I have seen most of Woody Allen’s movies starting with Take the Money and Run in 1969. I used to be crazy about him, and I  have certainly laughed my head off many times.  I have not enjoyed many of his recent movies, with some exceptions. Last year’s Blue Jasmine did not go down well with me. Here is my review from last year:

In Blue Jasmine, Woody’s take on social class loosely using the structure of  Tennessee William’s play, Streetcar Named Desire, he reveals contempt toward the working class.  The film’s main character, Jasmine, played by Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, is a socialite brought down from riches to rags by her Ponzi scheming husband. For most of the movie we watch Jasmine’s narcissistic fits of rage and near-suicidal deterioration.

I could not help but see the character of Jasmine as Woody’s projection of ex-girlfriend/wife/mother of some of his children, Mia Farrow…in particular, her rage at him. The Alec Baldwin character, husband Hal, was a stand-in for Woody. Hal took Jasmine’s socialite life away from her by losing all their money; Woody took Mia’s daughter Soon Yi to be his romantic partner.  Jasmine’s (adopted) son, Danny, confronts Jasmine about what really happened: he knows that Jasmine turned Hal in; Soon Yi, Mia’s (adopted) daughter, left her for Woody. Summary: Alec Baldwin character Hal/Jasmine’s husband=Woody Allen; Jasmine=Mia Farrow; Danny/Jasmine’s adopted son=Soon Yi.  So, from my point of view, Cate Blanchett did a great job of acting out Woody’s view of Mia Farrow’s rage at him. Woody Allen has always denied that his movies are autobiographical in any way.  You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to know that isn’t true.

I’m sure you have followed the recent Allen/Farrow family drama in the press…from Ronan Farrow’s tweet, to Dylan Farrow‘s & Woody’s letters to the New York Times.

All of this has brought up the age-old question for me: can you separate the artist’s personal life from their work? Do the morally offensive deeds of an artist ruin their work for you? For the most part if I enjoyed the work I let it stand on it’s own. My problem is that the artist’s personal offenses start infiltrating the work and, as you can see from my analysis of Blue Jasmine, I have difficulty taking the work of art on its own terms. Here is an interesting article from the New York Times Sunday Magazine’s The Ethicist:  On Boycotting Woody Allen’s films, in which he discusses the ethical question. Decide for yourself…if you haven’t already. Let me know what you think.

Watching: If you watch Scandal or Girls, watch this SNL parody

Lena Dunham hosted SNL last week. Here is her parody of Scandal, in which she places her  GIRLS character Hannah Horvath  inside Scandal’s Gladiators office:

SNL Scandal Parody

There are two videos on this page. Click the second one, as it does not have ads.

Reading/Thinking: A General Theory of Love

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I have been strongly influenced by the book A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon, all psychiatrists from UCSF, published in 2001.  The four main points of the book are: 1) our brains are affected by those closest to us, particularly during childhood;  2) within intimate relationships, our limbic systems synchronize with one another; 3) our brains can be changed for the better through long-term psychotherapy; 4) American society often frustrates our efforts to satisfy our biological need for connection.

The authors put forward the idea that our nervous systems are not separate or self-contained; beginning in earliest childhood, the area of our brain identified as the limbic system (hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, and limbic cortex) is affected by those emotionally closest to us.  This is called limbic resonance.  We then synchronize with each other, called limbic regulation, in a way that has profound implications for personality and lifelong emotional health. We need each other to be healthy; according to the authors: “in some important ways, people cannot be stable on their own.” They maintain that various forms of psychotherapy are effective not so much by virtue of their underlying theory or methodology, but to the degree to which the therapist is able to empathically modify set patterns, which they call limbic revision.

Now that scientists can look inside our brains through functional MRI machines, they have been able to see how thoughts, emotions, behavior, and relationships lay down patterns: pathways of brain chemicals. This particular scientific breakthrough has given psychotherapy a new lift and credibility.  Our behavior and relationships form certain pathways in the brain, and our brains love patterns. Whatever those patterns are, they are unique to us, because every brain is different.  That is why psychiatric medication is still a trial and error method: there is no one medication that works for all depression, anxiety, etc. The insight one gains when a client and therapist together recognize a serious life pattern is the first step in being able to change that pattern.

In brief, the author’s theory of love might be best expressed as follows:  science is showing us that love and attachment involve being drawn to what is familiar rather than unfamiliar.  A lifelong familiar pattern is like a freeway: it is so easy to get on it and stay on it.  The new unfamiliar pattern that develops from the awareness and interaction with the therapist is like footprints in the sand.  It is difficult to see the new pattern. The brain is laying down new chemicals as we learn and change, and the repetition of our new patterns inevitably changes us. We used to think that we are born with a certain amount of brain cells, and that life is a process of losing them. Wrong! All new learning, especially the new relational learning that is developed in psychotherapy, is creating new brain cells and laying down new brain pathways. I think this discovery confirms what every psychotherapist knows, or at least hopes: that therapy really does change people.

Reading: God’s Hotel

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Dr.Victoria Sweet’s memoir of her 20 years working at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda hospital is an original and fascinating trip into both the changing hospital and this doctor’s unique treatment of her patients. She describes Laguna Honda Hospital, a public long term facility, as a direct intellectual descendent of the medieval almshouse.  Basically it has served as a free hospital for those with chronic conditions. The emphasis is on caring for people who aren’t likely to get better. During her 20 years as a doctor she was able to practice an old fashioned, sometimes medieval approach to healing that she calls ‘slow medicine’: to really take her time and use hands-on methods.

Interspersed with accounts of her work with different patients and the politics of the City and the Hospital, is her study of the medical writings of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century Germany nun and abbess better known for her mystical religious writings. Because she became so involved with Hildegard’s thinking and work, Dr. Sweet then writes about her walking the Santiago de Compestela pilgrimage in Spain and how it changed her thinking. She gets many of her ‘slow medicine’ ideas from Hildegard.

This book comes alive because of how well the author writes, especially in her descriptions of her work with her patients. The case histories were the most moving for me.  Hildegard was interesting. The pilgrimage was the least interesting. By reading this book I was able to go inside a San Francisco institution that I have only driven by thousands of times. Now I know about the inside life of the place…at least from Dr. Victoria Sweet’s experience.

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