day 35

One day late for re-blogging! Great image/drawing with gouache. This is the blog I posted about recently: 365 days of drawing, healing…

M.E. 365

day 35 c

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Poem: I Will Not Be Reasonable

I don’t like

When people say,

“Everything happens for a reason.”

I will not be reasonable. Yes, I won’t.

I don’t want to miss

the seven impossible things before breakfast.

Or the disappearance of the missing socks

that will not stay with their twins.

Those socks are not reasonable. Yes, I won’t be too.

I will put on my shirt backwards inside out

And wear a gold fancy dress to coffee.

Yes, I will disturb

The state of Things.

I will eat cupcakes for breakfast.

I will not be reasonable. Yes, I won’t

I will put my elbows on the table

And eat my fork, knife and spoon.

I will drop stitches, forget to cross my t’s

I will forget my pleases.

I will stand on my head and walk on my nose,

And start my sentences with and.

I will ride my purple unicorn

All over your reasonable explanations.

I will mess up your reasons one by one

And give them back to you glued to the

Outside of your Box so you have to peek out and take them back;

I don’t care if they shrank and turned pink in the wash.

Now we can both say seven impossible things

to each other

Before every meal.

What does not kill you makes you stronger? True or False

Did this one in way fewer sentences:

I have a bigger problem with this one as Nietzche said it, so for a long time I thought it was great; now I prefer, “Finishing requires a heart of steel.” from Delacroix, which could be applied to the first one, that what does not kill you does NOT make you stronger; what does not kill you, you obviously survive, and sometimes it requires a heart of steel, whatever that is, to keep on surviving. Well no actually. What does not kill you does not shape who you are; what does not kill you does not kill you, meaning you survived and now are faced with PTSD and healing from it, as being almost killed, whether emotionally or physically or mentally or all of them, is a traumatic event. Because it was what it was and you now are still you but what it was almost killed you which is what it is and so, how do you go on anyway, feeling weaker in body, mind and spirit…

The Call- part 1

This is a really well written description of a really healthy interchange in a therapy “session” on the phone. Also, I myself find that sometimes I feel more useful to my patients on the phone than in person. This is also a great response to a patient in crisis reaching out for help from the only healthy “mothering” figure she has. This blog also reminds me on a separate topic that isn’t connected to the blog post, that therapists sometimes pull away when a patient “needs” them more between sessions. There are no rules that apply except healthy flexible boundaries, neither rigid nor too loose; you can feel the firm boundaries that always help patients as well as caring and being “involved” with the patient’s emotional crisis, so she doesn’t have to suffer alone…

9/11 Memorial Post: “Laughter and Forgetting”

Years before the twin towers were felled along with many humans, there was a novel called “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, written by Milan Kundera.

I myself confess I had a long love affair with Milan Kundera’s writing in my 19-22 year old time, many years ago, around the time his book, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was made into a movie. Even then, I appreciated that Kundera was not writing about real seeming people but using each character to embody a philosophy, concept or philosophical principle. Especially female characters were parts, not whole people, which didn’t make his books any less compelling. Everything ,including countries, is reduced to, or to say it more accurately, crafted into a symbol or metaphor or complicated idea or ideas.

Ironically, although I remember well “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, while I also read Kundera’s book, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, I have since forgotten everything about it, except the title, which is a wonderful, evocative title and great words to ponder together and separately on 9/11/14, the 13th anniversary of 9/11/01.

Before digging up descriptions and quotes about the book and title, I give my associations to the concepts.

Forgetting has terrible connotations in history. The whole point of historians is that we operate from the assumption that we want to remember as much as possible of the past, what was perceived at the time, the actual artifacts of human existence that remain from whatever time period, and usually one of the main branches of history involves the study of humans atrocities towards other humans, the repetitive cycle of carnage that no time period escapes. I remember in high school taking history classes and being overwhelmed by how much detail about countries and people’s warring with each other on small and grand scale, how much blood was involved in almost every aspect of human endeavors and progress; this is the stuff of history class and explains to me now why I loved studying more abstract subjects, like math, languages, poetry and literature. As the Big Friendly Giant in Roald Dalh’s novel “The BFG” explains, humans are unique in their continuous conscious killing of other humans and their justifications for it. As humans are illogical and delusional anyway, we seek to build memorials and museums and write books and engage in all kinds of activities that aim to document our own genocide and mass killings of each other, whether so called soldiers or civilians; besides systems like the bees and ants and other creatures in nature have with worker bees (for the sake of making honey or preserving the group), humans are also I think unique in separating soldiers and armies of humans and how we view killing them versus how we view killing of civilians and criminals. All are ultimately human and all are acts of murder.

This is not a departure from the topic of 9/11. Lots of humans died. Humans did this to each other. Some of the killers were planners nowhere near the killing site. We have developed, of course, highly sophisticated ways of killing each other and of killing many people at once. All killing has a form of terror to it.

Anyway, there is a fascinating dialectic between laughter and forgetting. In or with tears we remember and feel the pain linked to that memory; in laughter we momentarily forget. The act of laughing is defiant of the moment that came before, even if it was a verbal joke. Before and after there is thought. During laughter there is bodily action and release; even the heart rate and breathing changes; is this our G rated version of the orgasm?

Here is a link to an interesting study on laughter and the brain/body
https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/laugh.html
This provides interesting insight into laughter as a form of bonding and the strange fact that we cannot tickle ourselves…

Where and how did laughter originate? Do any other a animals laugh? This article suggests apes and monkeys come closest to smiling and laughing like behavior. Intuitively, I feel it is a built in mechanism for surviving trauma. For all the pills people attempt to concoct that would presumably eradicate trauma and PTSD forever-take a pill to lose all memory of the trauma-it’s debatable whether we want to forget atrocities or work through them and diminish their power, shine brighter despite them, and not think of them most of the time but never forget. Why do we humans biuld countless elaborate unsatisfying memorials next to huge replacement buildings and whole cities? To forget and remember at the same time?

9/11 is a great example of the crazy dialectic we humans hold of forgetting and “moving on” from terrible traumatic loss. The day after it happened I think politicians were already talking about rebuilding and getting on with so called “normal life”; meanwhile, New Yorkers could smell 9/11 for months and the dead were being dug out and searched for night and day for I don’t remember how long. Nothing made any sense. The twin towers had every size, shape, nationality and religion of people working and in them and the planes all dying; yet, people started hating and looking for groups of innocents to blame. Afghanistan was the place to go and kill more people. How many innocent families from babies on died those months? Did it bring back any of the dead?

Should those responsible be held accountable for their horrible crimes? Of course. This I would never dispute. A lot of my job involves identifying the abuser and helping the abused to properly see that they were victims of unspeakable acts that should not have happened to them. This work may involve forgiveness but usually it is self forgiveness and acceptance. Anger and horror are freeing emotions for those who have witnessed and experienced the unspeakable and live to tell the tale.

Which brings me back to Laughter and Forgetting. Here I will quote from a great blog post I found about this book:
Link:
http://readwithstyle.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-book-of-laughter-and-forgetting.html?m=1

“In Kundera’s world forgetting is an unescapable sin. Our existence is constantly marked and affected by forgetting. Memory is fragile and fleeting, yet memory and only memory determines the individuals we are. In the political sense, forgetting is the power of communism, memory – its worst enemy. In Russian occupied Bohemia the prime minister is the minister of forgetting. The collective memory is altered, transformed, changed, or erased to fit a new regime. Without memory, the people are fleeting in a void. Indeed: ”

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” (Kundera)

And laughter? I won’t quote the odd story in the post from the book about laughter originating with the devil. Its a sad view of laughter. I think laughter is what keeps most humans from totally losing hope. I told a patient today that it’s good we both can laugh at ourselves. The people who’ve experienced the worst of mental illness and emotional suffering, I find usually have a wonderful sense of humor. This same patient today both cried fully and laughed her ass off with me.

As the study mentioned above shows, laughter is mostly good medicine for humans. We must have hope despite and in the face of great pain and suffering. I personally view life ultimately from the existentialist point of view. It is by definition completely absurd. The only way to go on and keep living is to do so by fully embracing the absurd. I think the dialectic of hope is that life is pointless and horrible things keep happening for no reason whatsoever and at the same time we engage in meaning making while knowing this and knowing it is absurd. To operate from there is to accept fully without forgetting, to accept the absurdity of being human, to laugh through our tears, to create and destroy, to embrace the moment and let go… To play next to grave sites…

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Quick Post: Too Good for this World

Maybe this is offensive, but I don’t like it when people say “She was too good for this world.” After a young or not old person dies.
This is an odd stereotype. It sets up a dichotomy between “Angel People” who are seen as more pure and idealized for traits like kindness and sensitivity and even “living life to the fullest.” The song “Only the Good Die Young” is ironically about loss if virginity, not loss of life but he does imply that society views that by dying young, even a virgin, a person remains pure in some way. I’m not sure at what age you have to give up on this idea…
In some cases the persons life is frozen. S/he doesn’t get more time on earth to make more mistakes, be mediocre, not special, flawed, etc. if you die young there are recognitions of the amazing things you would have done. Luckily all these people are very dead and can avoid feeling pressured to live up to an unrealistic ideal of a human.
Because it is so awful when a young person dies at the beginning of their journey on life’s road, people comfort themselves with the idea that the person was not only too good for this world but “not of this world”. It can become almost an explanation as to why the person died, which does not really ale any sense.
This idealization also separates the rest of us average humans from the really superhuman almost Buddha like humans.
Also what does it mean to be alive and just trucking along and then when dead described in this manner. What if this person had continued living. Would s/ he suddenly join the rest of us humans?
In addition when a person struggled with mental illness and rated issues, they are struggling mightily just to exist in this world. That doesn’t mean thru are too good for this world but that their painful inner world and difficulties with the outside world can collapse on the person.
I know of many long lived people who are pretty “good ” and have made good use of their time on earth to make the world a better place. Unfortunately if your life gets cut off too early you don’t get more chances to use your goodness.
So perhaps a loss of a good and caring person is indeed a loss for the world, but most of all that persons loss of being cheated out of many of life’s joys.., This is not the same as being “different”, not of this world, ethereal, etc.

Altered Book Workshop Proposal Accepted!

The good news is that my altered book workshop proposal for the 2013 Creative Arts Therapy Summit this fall was accepted! The whole event will be taking place in NYC in various locations, from November 7-13, 2013. Link to the site is:

http://www.cvent.com/events/expressive-therapies-summit-2012-registration-site/event-summary-a631d616cdd6499c92f749761a4d1d3a.aspx

The other part of my news is that instead of a 3 hour experiential workshop, I will be doing the workshop in 80 minutes, basically and hour and 20 minutes, which basically cuts out a little over half the time, so I tried to re focus the workshop.

Here is my description of it: (Let me know what you think; it’s a lot to pack into 80 minutes!!!)

Title: Altered Books with Adults in Art Therapy; Conquering Creative Blocks and Depression

Description:

In this workshop, we will discuss how the medium of altering books in art therapy uniquely treats adults with any kind of creative block and/or depression, connected with past or present trauma and feelings of creative deadness or loss of the creative “spirit.” Through the experiential, participants will choose a book and begin to alter it, thereby experiencing the uniqueness of this format that allows for the creative spirit to reawaken. The transformative experience of “destroying” a book to create something new can jump start the creative process through the variety of options, length of the project and the holding environment of therapy. I will also provide actual examples of Altered Books in process by some of the adults I am working with to demonstrate the scope of options in this particular medium and the essential role of the art therapist and therapeutic relationship in this long- term process.

3 Measurable Objectives:

  1. Participants will learn about ways that creative blocks and/or loss of creative spirit in adults is best treated through the creative process itself combined with the relationship with the art therapist.
  2. Through art making and viewing real examples of patient and therapist artwork, participants will learn about the different options provided by altering a children’s board book versus an “adult” hardcover book, and the messages the choice of book can convey to the patient and therapist.
  3. Through the experiential, participants will start the process of altering books and use at least 3 different media and techniques involved in the process of making an altered book.

 

Sexual Fantasies and the Theory of the “Sex Script”

Warning: Do not read this if you are uncomfortable with topics about sex, fantasies, sexuality, also sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape, etc.

I want to start a conversation about sexual fantasies and the shame people feel about them. This is a huge topic, like most of the continuing topics I start and sometimes do not finish. (I intend to post more about the stigma of mental illness and the controversy around mental illness and violence, etc. but I’m taking a break from that topic to write about this very different one…)

In this post, which will probably be longer than intended, I would like to introduce the idea of the “sex script” in connection with people’s sexual fantasies. The information I got about this was reading posts on the internet summarizing this book:The Sex Script Hypothesis:
Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Human Sexuality, by James Park 

Here is the link to the website where you can read more about it:

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~parkx032/syn-sex.html

In reading this material, I noticed that I did not agree with some of the conclusions Park makes about people’s sexuality and even about the content of one’s sexual preoccupations. For example, he makes a big blanket statement about men and breasts:

 Female breasts frequently appear in male sex-scripts on all levels: 
Men find women’s breasts of intense sexual interest. 
Some men become sexually aroused when viewing or thinking about breasts. 
And breasts may appear as a strong fantasy object in some men’s orgasms.”

One could read this and get lead on a detour as he is assuming a lot of things that are not for sure true. It is true that for most humans, the breast was the first “preoccupation” we had. It was where we got food and comfort, etc., but women may have just as strong a preoccupation with breasts as men, whatever their sexual orientation, and some men have no interest in breasts or fantasize about other things more often. These blanket statements are annoying, but I still think Park is on to something with his main theory.

The basic idea is that society may create our “sexual scripts” (what is considered stereotypically appropriate for men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, to engage in when they have sex or when they masturbate. The “sexual script” in our society is pretty limited, as you can see by watching sex scenes in most mainstream movies. There is not even a societal “sexual script” (which is a kind of narrative, by the way, and why we can discern society’s limited stories about sex from the mainstream media) for bisexual and transgendered and questioning individuals, as society does not really know what the story might be for such people. 

Anyway his point in talking about “sexual scripts” versus the concept of the “sex script” is to point out the difference. Many people do mostly have fantasies that conform to these limited “sex scenes”, however, I would wager that the majority of individuals who engage in sexual fantasy at any age tend to stray from these limited scripts into their own personal “sex script”. The sex script as I understand it is something that kind of gets “imprinted” into the human brain in the first moments of discovering sexuality and/or engaging in sexual contact with others or with oneself. Basically the majority of people’s sex script is formed during puberty, although some people exposed to sex and sexuality at younger ages, have sex scripts that begin at that time. Thus people who have been molested and abused at very young ages, from infancy up to about age 12, may have very disturbing sex scripts or may have sex scripts that mostly contain the things that they find disturbing and not arousing at all. Thus, some people may eliminate certain sexual activity from their fantasies and sex lives as they find they are repulsed by it. On the other hand, even people who experienced sexual abuse at very early ages may, without their control, notice that they are aroused by all kinds of varieties of disturbing fantasies, some of which involve coercion and/or rape or other events they remember from the abuse.

Basically around childhood all the way to age 20, the human brain is still forming, and there are young ages during which the sex script will get imprinted. So men who identify as heterosexual and report no fantasies about homosexual contact, may still fantasies about looking at other men naked, or masturbating with other men, if they were exposed to this in reality or through pornography that they experienced around the time they were aware of having wet dreams and/or masturbating.

The theory of the sex script is useful in that it explains why some couples are mystified by hearing what the other person gets “turned on” by or fantasizes about. In some cases, a person’s regular sex life, whether with one partner or more, may have nothing to do with their sex script. An obvious and common example involves gender and sexual orientation. Some people notice that they prefer to fantasize about being with the same gender though they have never been attracted to someone of the same gender and only have had sexual experiences with the opposite gender. The same can be true of homosexual men and women who may experience heterosexual sex only in their fantasy life. 

I think the main important take away about this, while I want to post about many sub topics, is that the theory of the sex script is most useful for people who have not been able to talk to their partners about their sexual fantasies due to feelings of shame or fears of disgust and rejection by the partner(s). Realizing that your sex script was formed years before you met this person or persons you may be married to or committed can be liberating for this group of people and form a bridge for how to start talking about their fantasies with their partners and sharing. 

It is well documented that people who share their sexual fantasies with each other and have interest in each other’s fantasies tend to have a freer more open and perhaps satisfying sex life with their partner(s). It is never too late to start sharing these “dark secrets” with the people you are sexually intimate with. It needs to be done in an atmosphere of acceptance. The sex script provides the help for such discussions. Knowing that one’s partner may have had sexual experiences with others before one met the person is very different from accepting that one’s partner’s brain was exposed to certain aspects of sexuality in the actual reality of a “strange” sexual experience or exposed to watching or seeing some kinds of sex that are foreign to the other partner. There is some kind of strange assumption people sometimes have that their fantasies are probably similar to their partner’s, or an assumption by people who don’t really engage in fantasy, that their partner is not that preoccupied with it either. There is a lot of misplaced jealousy going on about sexual fantasy and erotica and pornography. There is a great scene in the movie “The Kids Are alright” where one of the kids finds their mothers’ stash of gay male porn and is shocked and freaked out. It may have been a scene where the kid walked in on their parents watching it; I can’t remember. What was great about it was the explanation one or both of the moms gave which was quite brief but pretty groundbreaking for a lot of people who did not know this. Basically she said “Just because we are lesbians doesn’t mean we only like watching women together in our choice of porn..” Anyway, it introduced the idea that sexual orientation and erotica, pornography, and fantasy and even couple’s engaging in watching something together, may have nothing to do with the sexual orientation or gender of the people having these experiences.

There is documentation that  “rape” fantasies are very common. What is interesting about these studies done on women with such fantasies, is that women who fantasize about being raped are actually quite healthy in their sex lives with others and also, that they tend to have a wide variety of fantasies, of which the rape fantasy is only one. So people’s assumptions that rape fantasies are unhealthy are unfounded. It must be emphasized of course that fantasy and reality are extremely different. When a patient tells me about what they consider a taboo fantasy (incest, for example, or random stuff like rubbing up against people in the subway), these are part of their sex script, not their real life. A person may fantasize about all these taboo topics, as well as violent sex and anything else that comes to mind that one might be uncomfortable with oneself. “Why am I aroused by this stuff that is illegal or bad?” Because it is part of your sex script, which you have little control over. When you can understand that fantasy is really a place where “anything goes”, you can be accepting that your partner likes to think about other people, objects, situations etc. that have absolutely nothing to do wtih you or your sex life with your partner, you really have reached an understanding of the concept of the sex script. Healthy couples not only like to share their fantasies, sometimes act them out, or even masturbate together while sharing them, or watch erotica that their partner likes to watch even if it isn’t their “cup of tea”, but also enjoy that their partner shares their sex script with them. Perhaps this is an even more intimate experience than sex itself. It is common for people to notice that they have to ask their partner to do specific things to turn them on or give them an orgasm; most people are not mind readers or body readers, and some people report the best sex to have been with the same person they had bad or mediocre sex with. The difference was the level of openness and communication about what they liked from their partner but also about showing their partner what they like to imagiine, watch or read when they are alone and aroused. It is true that most of “sex” is in the brain, so it makes sense that talking about or showing one’s partner about one’s “sex script” will be helpful. It may be difficult to hear that your partner imagines having sex with specific other people or strangers or having the kind of sex you do not have together, but this has nothing to do with possibiilites of “affairs”. A person can be extremely faithful to their chosen partner or partner(s) and have fantasies that involve behavior that violates whatever “contract” they have about their sex life. And again, this is because we do not have a lot of control over some things that make us sexually excited, and images that we watch or that just enter our brains in adulthood, but we always have control oer our behaviors in reality.

Perhaps the next post on this topic needs to be about pornography and relationships, as this is a big  deal with a lot of couples, and a lot of hurt and pain could be avoided, if people were more educated about the concept of the “sex script”…

Proposal!

After a lot of extraneous inner wrestiling with myself about this workshop proposal and whether I should even submit one (Questions like, do I really want to do this or do I just think I should be in this and doing it? Answer: don’t know. probably a little of both.), I talked to some colleagues who basically said, you’re overthinking it, just do it. Me: but I’m a therapist who doesn’t like talking in front of groups of more than about ten people, of course I’m overthinking this, and even if I wasn’t a therapist, I’m an artist, so of course I overthink everything and often arrive at the conclusion that anytihng requiring a lot of extra time and thought is just getting in the way of time that should be spent making art…

I went back to the website and just typed the answers to their questions. I stopped short of impulsively sending in the proposal right away which is what I’d be inclinded to do. I’m not going to overedit it, but it’s probably a good idea to wait a day and reread it once and find my resume before sending it in. Looking at my last blog post, I thought the writing in it was far better than the dry writing of the proposal but they limit the word count so there’s no room for metaphor…

Here is what I’ve written to submit: only missing the resume and photo

Proposal for Expressive Therapies 2013 Summit:

3 hour Workshop

 Title: Altered Books with Adults; Conquering Trauma and Creativity Based Depression

Presentation Description:

In this workshop, I will discuss how the medium of altering books in art therapy with adults can uniquely treat people suffering from low grade to serious depression that is connected with past and/or present trauma and a feeling of creative deadness or loss of the creative “spirit.” We will look at how this kind of depression is best healed through the creative process and what is unique about the altered book format that allows for the creative spirit to reawaken. I will discuss the role of the therapist in this process and through the experiential, I will invite participants to choose a book and begin to alter it. We will process the transformative experience of “messing up” and “destroying” a book to create something new and how it can jump start the creative process through the variety of options and the holding environment of therapy.

 

3 measurable objectives:

  1. Participants will learn about the connections between trauma and depression, kinds of depression that do not meet the DSM criteria but are very debilitating, and how this depression is rooted in a deadness of the creative spirit which was caused and triggered in a large part by childhood and current traumas, from severe trauma to less severe but serious trauma. They will learn to identify this depression in their work and how art therapy is uniquely suited to healing.
  2. Participants will learn about the technique of making “Altered Books”, including:

The importance of bringing in certain choices in books and how to present the project to their client, the difference in art techniqhes and media used to alter adult hardcover books versus children’s board books

3. Participants will choose a book and start the process of making an altered book so as to learn ways to identify different techniques that will “unlock” creativity and the importance of experiencing the making of an altered book first hand as well as the therapeutic value of making an altered book alongside their client.

Ideal Format and Preferred Length of Presentation:

This will need to be a hands on experiential workshop with time for explanation and discussion of topics presented and ample time for participants to actively start and altered book and share their process and experience with the group, so 3 hours is probably the best length.

Bio:

Natasha Elena Shapiro, ATR-BC, LCAT, holds a master’s in Art Therapy and Creativity Development from Pratt Institute. She has worked in private practice for many years in her Tribeca art studio where she specializes in working with adults and children with a variety of emotional issues. As an Advanced Reiki Practitioner and a practicing professional visual artist, she views creativity as central to the healing process. She also facilitates an art studio based supervision group for professionals and an art therapy group for women struggling with anxiety and depression. Her studio space is an environment designed to be inviting and help with self-acceptance and relaxation.

 

Literature Citation:

Gioia Chilton MA, ATR-BC, Altered Books in Art Therapy with Adolescents, Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, Volume 24, Issue 2, 2007, pgs. 59-63.

 

•  Art Materials Requests: Ideally a variety of hardcover books in any language as well as some early child board books, art materials including paint, brushes, scissors, colored tape, yarn, buttons and other embellishments, collage images. (Note: If some of the basic supplies are provided, I can bring in things like rhinestones, yarn, buttons, tape and collage images. In addition, if need be, I can find more books to choose from depending on the amount of people in the workshop.