Blogging 101 Assignment: Lost and Found in Neverland…

I haven’t been doing the assignments this week, as I was busy and not very inspired to follow any of the assignments until Today’s Prompt: write about finding something, in a series of posts like last week’s posts about losing something. I used poetry in three posts about losing things, serious loss like death, losing everyday objects, and silly or funny poems about loss.

So, I got excited about this idea of writing about finding things; really I was thinking about losing and finding things, how I misplace things all the time, I kind of “hide” things from myself, very unconscious. Most obvious is how I “hid” most of the recent pages of my graphic novel in progress from myself. I remember putting it in a box thinking, I need it to be in a safe place where it won’t get ruined. Then the box went somewhere, and one day, I was in the mood to look at it and work more on it, and I couldn’t find it anywhere.
Or, I could write about my Retro 51 pen loss problem. The are my favorite pens and I have lost a lot of them, replaced some on Ebay or other sites; it becomes an obsession.

Then I remembered losing my Hello Kitty hat and what that was all about and I got excited to try writing a kind of prose poem, as the one poem I didn’t write while in the Poetry Blog class was the prose poem. I wanted to write it in my journal first, and this afternoon I had a little time and started writing that poem in my current journal. That was the inspiration for the idea of a “lost and found” in “Neverland”, which I won’t explain right now, because almost too uncanny, the perfectly ridiculous thing happened today.

I lost the very journal that I was writing this post in! Life could not be more ridiculous!

I had to hurry from my studio to do something this very afternoon, and it must have dropout out of my bag on the way out of my building. I did not realize I had lost it until several hours later when I remembered I had written in my journal and looked around in my bag for it. (This is the current journal of the journals that I do end of the month photo posts on this blog.) Oh shit, I thought. I either lost this journal or left it in the studio. A minute later, really maybe half a minute, I heard a text. It was from a number that had called me twice and left no message. These days if I see a number I don’t recognize, I don’t answer the phone in case it’s companies calling or some kind of scam or whatever. So I looked at my phone and it was from a guy who had found my journal! Turns out it must have fallen out right on my block on Franklin Street, as he was from the art place about two doors west from me on my block. The other weird thing was that it was only a few days ago that I was looking in the journal and wrote my name and phone number in it. How much synchronicity, for once I only spend half a minute getting anxious about misplacing/losing yet another lost object and it almost magically gets found.

So I knew I had a post to write on this as it was just too ironic.

Next post will be about an actual series of losses of this kind of pen I’ve gotten obsessed with, Retro 51. The issue with these Retro 51 Pens as this has plagued me for a long time and raises the basic question, how do I manage to keep losing my favorite pens? why do I not learn? this is indeed serial losing, obsessing and frantically trying to replace something I guess I am “collecting”. It’s definitely pathological and makes me feel crazy, so a whole post can be devoted to it. What kind of person repeatedly loses the same kind of object, something special and important and loved, used to make art even? What is it that I cannot learn from my past mistakes?

The third post will happen after I get my journal back tomorrow morning and find the poem I started writing about the loss of the Hello Kitty hat! Part of the assignment involves how you connect the posts, and the weirdness of losing the journal with the poem about losing the hat gave me the connection out of the clear b

The Altered Book: A Great Project for In Session Art Therapy

When I was in graduate school for art therapy, I had never heard of an altered book or seen one, and certainly it did not come up in my “Materials” class. We did not get assigned any kind of Altered Book in any class, whereas now I am hearing from grad students that in some class or other, one of their assignments involves an altered book, which is usually assigned to do outside of class.

I think my first experience of an altered book may have been at the Outsider Art Fair. I distinctly remember going to this Fair years ago when it was always in the lovely Puck Building, which is still there, located on Lafayette near Houston St. in Soho, downtown NYC. In fact years before that, I had some of my graduate art therapy classes in the Puck Building and we organized the student art show on one of the floors of this building. It is certainly a beautiful building. The last time I was there for an art event was the comic book graphic novel fair a few years ago when I met one of my favorite graphic novel authors/artists, Lynda Barry. It must have been back in 2008 when she had just published this beautiful book about her art making process, called “What It Is”. Anyway I think I saw an altered book years before that encounter in the same building. It was made by a female outsider artist and I remember the book being very thick and beautiful and having a lot of glue on all the pages. It was very inspiring and I wish I could remember the artist and find a photo of it.

I made my first “altered book” years before that without knowing it was an “altered book”. It was not quite what we tend to think of these days when thinking of Altered Books. I took all the pages out of this strange pretty bad dramatic novel I did not read and altered the cover completely to the point where it was not recognizable as having been a book. I put a lot of plaster of paris on it and then mod podged tissue paper collage. Then I somehow found part of a cardboard box and attached the book to it so the top opened up as the cover. I think I used the pages to rip up and glue inside the box. I will take a photo of it. Strangely it was a gift for a close friend, but she was a close enough friend that she told me she found the box to be too disturbing to use or look at, so I took it to my studio, where it has been more appreciated! It inspired one person to make something like it with me, and she ended up taking a dislike to the project and left it with me when she left town after we went through her art that she had done in art therapy with me. I still have that rejeccted box in my studio as well. (It inspires me to write a whole post about “ugly” and “rejected” art work and how it is therapeutic in art therapy!)

More recently, a few years ago I stumbled on an online class about altered books, and in fact I have now taken 3 online classes about it, each class covering different aspects of the art making process involved in altering books. I have been making them with patients for a while now, and by making, I really mean inviting patients to try it out and see if they like it. The first part of the process involves the explanation of what it involves, which is, basically, you choose a book and then you can start anywhere in the book or with the cover or back cover and start picking art materials to use on the book. The first steps also often involve ripping out pages from the book, either to use in the book or to throw out. It is usually good to do this at the beginning as a way to give yourself permission to “alter” the book. We all have pretty fixed notions about the sacredness of books, which I think still exists despite the internet, reading on tablets and other devices, or perhaps, the tablets have made books seem even more precious. Jumping in to starting an altered book project requires a certain amount of adventurousness, ability to tolerate anxiety about the unkonwn and anxiety about trespassing a boundary and destroying something in some way in order to create something completely new. It also involves changing ones mind in framing the idea of that book, from something to be read and kept intact, to an object just like any other “found object” to transform and make your own through your own creative expression.

There are many different aspects to altered books as part of the art therapy session that are quite fascinating, so this post will only touch on the first part, the beginning. Once invited the interested patient will next be introduced to the random assortment of books I have to choose from and pick something that speaks to them to alter. Usually Hardback books are more inviting as it is easier to treat the cover like a canvas, but lately I have seen a few people pick soft cover books, becasue I have a few that are an interesting size, kind of square and with a lot of photos, and a cover that is more sturdy than the usual paperback. So far, nobody has decided to go home and pick out one of their own books. Part of this I think is the therapeutic value of taking a book that’s in my studio already taking up space as a book waiting to be chosen, so the process of accepting this odd art project is made easier as you are not “ruining” one of your own books. And I really have a strange random assortment of everything from dictionaries/thesauruses to cookbooks to spiritual meditation type books. Included is a thick hard back Italian novel and some other random novels as well as several books with pictures about fashion or the styles of certain decades. I have a travel guide. I had a guide for artists about materials and how to use them.

This aspect of rejection of the project that began when I made my own rejected “too intense” book box and then an “ugly” book box with a patient is a part of the altered book project. I have had a few people pick out a book and start altering it and then by the next session ask to shelve the project until “I’m in the mood for it. It’s too daunting right now.” The Altered Book will either be seen as a great container that is continually inviting or sometimes it represents being overwhelmed and unable to make any decisions about what to do, resulting in the project getting “shelved”. One of my patients started a first session very excited about all the varied materials I had, wanting to jump right into art therapy and got going very creatively with some book that she even worked on for the first few sessions. At some point I think she started cutting pieces out of the book to create a kind of box within the book, maybe even using an exacto knife. Then in the next session she declared she no longer wanted to work on it, was not in that “headspace” anymore and went to other forms of art making. She made great use of art therapy but never went back to the book until we were terminating and she fondly remembered it as her introduction to me and our work and I think decided to take it with her. The book project just functioned as a jumping in point.

Why do some people get excited to do an altered book in the first one or two sessions of trying it out and then run away from it, shelve it, reject it? Maybe when this happens it is because I, the art therapist, am actually more excited about it than the patient and have high expectations for it being a great kind of project for long term therapy. Perhaps for some people, there is too much commitment too early and they are not really ready for it.

The other interesting thing about doing Altered Books is when people do get invested in them and go back to them every session. Lately that has been happening, probably because a few people in my supervision group randomly chose to work on altered books without my prompting them. Two people have left the group with unfinished books they have taken with them. One person brought her own book to the group to alter with materials from the studio. So that energy of the altered book I really believe was “percolating” for a while in the studio. I had another rejected altered book started about a year ago in one session and then put aside. For a while I was not really focusing on altered books in the studio, just taking these classes and thinking once in a while about it, and learning more ways to approach the Altered Book.

At this moment, my studio feels filled with Altered Books! Like anything that grows in a garden on its own, it feels like this altered book contagion has just sprung up naturally. Just this week I introduced the altered book as an option to 2 patients who got excited about it, chose their books and jumped right in using different media. Last week I had started my own altered book project in the supervision group I facilitate, thinking that now that I have so many patients working on them, I want to do one at the same time. So I chose a book that is a guide to artist’s materials for artists. It was very exciting to imagine taking this book that divides up all the materials and methods and painstakingly describes how to achieve certain effects, and how to “properly” use the different materials and media and rip up the pages and paint on it and collage ripped pieces on to the pages to start the process of making it into a book I hope will be hard to guess exactly what it was even called or to have a vague sense when looking through my book that there are a lot of pictures of how to make art and art materials terms but nothing much else kept from the original book. Synchronicity abounds in doing altered books. For me it came when I opened the book and realized it had belonged to the friend who rejected my first book box project and returned the gift to me. Of course I ripped her name out of the book first.

Anyway, at this moment there are at least 8 altered book projects that have been just begun or are in the mid stages of alteration. If I actually count how many patients have started altered books recently, excluding the person from last year who has not expressed interest in going back to the project, it would be 7, so my guess was not far from wrong, as I am the 8th and then there are one or two people in supervision doing them.

The next post would raise the question: What helps a person stay with an altered book project and continue working on it regularly? and What is it about Altered Books that some people become “blocked” or lose interest after jumping in excitedly.

The one thing true of everyone is that the beginning, that first session of being invited to make one, choosing the book and jumping into it or onto the cover and starting right away to alter it is universally exciting and stimulating. I have only seen people be intrigued and excited when they begin this process. Some express having a weird feeling about “destroying” a book but when encouraged get past that feeling. The fascinating part of the Altered Book is after the initial excitement and embarking on this without a doubt long-term project, there is a moment of remaining with it and committing to it further through getting inside the book and getting going with paint, collage, mixed media, ripping out pages and getting one’s hands dirty. It seems to require about 3-4 sessions at least to determine if one is going to get “turned off” of the project and too overwhelmed, or further jumping in and committing more and more to it. Those who find it to be a kind of safe container stay with it. Leaving it with me in the studio is a big part of that process. I will hold on to their book until they come back to it, so they don’t have to see it for a week. It is very different to work on a long term art project whether it is because the work is very large and will take a long time to finish no matter what or the project by its very nature requires time invested. It is hard to work on a lot of pages at once, especially if you are using any kind of paint or ink. Anyway, leaving the book with me allows the creator to take a break from it and not have to look at it in between sessions. This seems to help the project to become a safe container and holding environment. Even with my own altered book, I decided to try out at first just working on it during the supervision group and leaving it alone, so I also take a week off from it, in order to further get into the experience of my patients and supervisees doing this kind of project…

To be continued…

Here are some photos from my own altered book which I have worked on in different situations, first started it in the supervision group I facilitate, then worked on it alongside several patients who are doing altered books as well as in my studio the other day when I added a kind if nest into the book…

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The Pregnant Therapist, Continued! Part 3: What Little Info Is Out There Still!

This is my third post on this topic. I am planning to put together some kind of workshop for therapists that will be about the very particular experiences in therapy for both therapist and patients regarding the pregnancy of the therapist. In my experience, there is very little preparation, actually maybe none, for the female therapist regarding how to manage the very unique experience of pregnancy, especially those experiencing it for the first time. In my personal experience, it was never discussed in my grad school program, although, actually, while I was in grad school, one of my classmates got pregnant and went to her internship during the beginning and middle of her pregnancy. She had her baby after we graduated, but I have some vague memories of her sharing some of her experience with us. At the time, pregnancy and babies were not in my radar or future plans, so I did not retain many memories of what her experience was like, besides that there was nothing in the curriculum about it, and besides one woman with teenage children, she was probably the only person in the class about to be a mom.

Anyway, I did find two helpful books that I read while pregnant. Both were not recently published. I don’t know where they are in my bookshelves, but I think they were the following two that I found on Amazon after a big search:

First one was published in 1994: The Therapist’s Pregnancy: Intrusion in the Analytic Space, by Sheri Fenster, Suzanne B. Phillips and Estelle R. G. Rapoport

The other one was: Awaiting the Therapist’s Baby: A Guide for Expectant Parent-Practitioners, by April E. Fallon and Virginia Brabender, published in 2002

A quick google search just now (2012!) did not produce much besides the first book mentioned and a short blog post on Psych Central: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/unplugged/2010/07/the-pregnant-therapist/

So this short post simply reveals that this is a very important topic for women therapists who are curious about the topic even if they are not sure they want a child, or thinking about becoming mothers, of actively trying to get pregnant, or pregnant right now and experiencing the “intrusion” in the “analytic space” or therapeutic space as I prefer to call it.

On the one hand, I am happy to have stumbled on a topic that is very relevant for therapists and patients of pregnant therapists, yet not a very popular topic that has been written about exhaustively. Seems like there is plenty to say about it, and not much that has been written since 2002, ten years ago! The first book which is probably more well known, is way out of date, as it was published almost twenty years ago!

In posting about this topic, I am curious to hear people’s experiences both as therapists and patients. In addition, since my pregnancy, I have worked with pregnant patients as well as patients who are thinking about having kids and for one reason or another know that I have been through it, and found that to be an interesting experience. I had one therapist patient who went through my pregnancy with me, came back after my maternity leave and then got pregnant and went through her pregnancy with me, leaving therapy to have her baby. I also have worked with patients who came to therapy due to the loss of miscarriage and seen some of them get pregnant and work with me through their pregnancy. I have also had patients who have gone through the experience of abortion and processed this experience with me, a whole different but very important topic as well, as it can be a lonely difficult experience in which the person needs a lot of support for various reasons, especially the often secrecy of this process, in which a woman often does not want her family to know and only tells a few people…

I have also since having my own child been a close witness to colleagues who have gotten pregnant and experienced the “before” and “after” of private practice, in which your caseload goes through a lot of upheaval in terms of patients who stay through your pregnancy and return after the birth, patients who leave in the midst of your pregnancy, and patients who stay up to your leave and then do not return. Of course, how a patient leaves therapy in the course of a pregnancy and birth can be very important, just as it is in general. Having someone process why they are leaving and terminate in a more healthy manner is very different from some abrupt terminations, and some that come with no communication whatsoever. By chance I had a few patients who were moving out of NY during the time when I was pregnant and left before I had the baby. The termination was the more natural kind with a lot of time to process the person’s leaving therapy due to moving and their feelings about leaving as well as feelings about “missing” the opportunity to work with me after the birth, which they were all curious and slightly sad about in addition to the other feelings around termination… One of my patients had been processing a lot about whether she wanted to be a mother or not and had a lot of ambivalence about it. She found it helpful to see me go through the pregnancy and share some of the experience with her before her move. She subsequently sent me a very nice package with a hand made gift for me and several baby gifts. In addition, she emailed me a couple of years later to share her announcement of her own pregnancy and the birth of her first baby. Of course this was especially meaningful and I was thankful to find out about her decision and happiness about becoming a mother…

So there are many aspects to this experience for both therapists and patients. I found it an odd synchronicity that for some odd reason, before my pregnancy in my private practice, I do not remember working with a mother although I may have had a few patients with kids that I forgot about; I do remember working with a father of teenage girls, with whom I did discuss parenting, especially the particular experience of being a father of teenage girls. I actually used my own experience as a teenager to reflect with him upon the particular challenges he was dealing with. Once I became a mother, I started working with more patients who were pregnant, trying to get pregnant as well as people who were already mothers.

My 9/11/12 post a day late…

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These photos did not show up in the order I intended, however they are a good representation of the way the day of 9/11 is punctuated by memories, memories of artwork I did that was very much a personal response, and the present day 11 years later with the ghost of the towers shining in the clear night sky. I also took some pictures of sunflowers at a deli on Chambers st. That I should have included…

So there was this desire to take many photos of the ghost lights making a large eleven and two white towers in the night sky; I took many photos of them on my walk home in the neighborhood. I also took sone self-portraits with them in back of my face. As well, there was a desire to take photos of the street signs and flowers in the deli, even the sidewalk, perhaps an expression of the weird feeling of, it’s as though it never happened when you look at the essential life of any NYC neighborhood: there are the street signs, different signs in a different color but the same street names, there is the concrete sidewalk and the corner brightly lit up deli open late…

The twin lines of light always inspire and move me; they function as a better expression of a “memorial” than any building or fountain or plaques could be, and there is something evocative about their annual reappearance and disappearance. Also, their simplicity and visual effect if having no words, accounts, stories, explanations, even objects from the day, etc., as no words capture the essence of such monumental events such as 9/11 and other more personal private losses people suffer with: because there are no words for the big gaping hole of a traumatic loss, any death of a loved one really… These twin white lights stretch high into the sky until they link together, no longer seen as separate, one white far away blurry line swallowed up by the night sky…

In my art work there is a continuity since 9/11/01 versus before it. I posted some images done soon after the event, the one with ink and green background and the double one with a filmstrip like composition of a face and traces of a building in pinkish colors.

Another photo posted here of two framed drawings is a diptych, entitled “Falling Towers” fine with pen and mostly bright pink ink, from around 2009.

Finally, tying it all together are 2 tiny pieces made yesterday evening in my studio. They were response art but seemed to be connected with the day, a long one which swung from everyday “normal” activities with my oblivious 5 year old keeping me in the present moment, and pockets of moments of replaying parts of the day 11 years ago, tiny emotional moments punctuating a beautiful September day with a clear sky…

Death and Neckaces

Ok. I started a very long post a few days ago and it got erased!  Then I spent a lot of time finishing the post and part of that got erased! Major frustration!!! I’m feeling blog post guilt for not posting in so long!

I thought of calling this post “Death or Necklaces”, but, as is the way of blog writing, I know there will turn out to be some connection between the two topics. Already they are connected, as the main topics related to art therapy and psychology that came up while I was on vacation in the woods upstate.

On my vacation, I brought only several books with me all of which were related to therapy; luckily I was reading “Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” out loud to my daughter every night to offset the fact that I didn’t bring any “vacation” books, such as novels. (Note: good rule for next vacation and for other therapists, only bring books unrelated to our profession when going on vacation or staycation.) The main book that had a huge effect on me was Yalom’s “Staring at The Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death”. I started reading it the first night and couldn’t stop myself from reading it every night, until about page 248, when I had to stop, as it had become too overwhelming. I think this happened somewhere in the middle of vacation. I found myself thinking too much about death, dying, death anxiety, and loss. I know the book brought me to the point of tears, but oddly I can’t remember what it was that I was reading in it that did that. I’m also not sure what I was reading about when I put the book down. I had already read his chapter about his own experiences with death and death anxiety…

Oddly enough, a long vacation already has an element of loss and awareness of how the present slips into the past and how the future is limited, as the “longer than a week” vacation has a beginning, middle and end. Having about 18 days away afforded me the kind of reflection about the vacation itself that was due to its length and my being hyper aware of the vacation’s having an end date, the “death” or “expiration date” of the vacation… For, in contrast, with a short week’s vacation, one barely has time to get used to it before it is over. So this book topic oddly resonated with my having my first long vacation as a therapist, and as an adult actually, as I never before took such a long vacation,at least in the past 15 or 20 years…

I spent most of that time in the woods with my family, on a small pond populated mostly by frogs and a few crayfish. The frogs were a highlight of our stay at our friends’ “Froggy Pond Cabin”. A daily activity involved going out in the paddle boat and spotting frogs. As they are well camouflaged both day and night, it was very exciting to find a frog at the edge of the pond, and then just sitting and watching a frog, as, surprisingly, many of them sit quietly in the same place not moving at all, even hearing us talk to them and about them or at night shining a flashlight on them. Each evening as the sun set, the place was filled with a chorus of frogs croaking, calling to each other. At times I could also hear frogs in some other nearby pond. Their voices were wondrous and strangely had no connection whatsoever to the “ribbit” frog talk in the English language. (At least “moo” is a close enough approximation to a cow’s real sound!)

I mention the frogs to start the topic of being far away from the city in nature and strangely, very close to death all around us. The first night we were there I was not that surprised to find the corpses of 2 dead mice in the house, which had decayed to such a point that their skeletons were viewable. Last year, staying at the same place, I had found a mouse newly dead and seen some live mice, so I was very aware that I would likely encounter a dead mouse. I have seen many dead mice in my lifetime but nothing like these two. They looked like they could soon become fossils. Somehow the extra time of their being dead, the idea that they had died long before we got there, to discover them like that was very strange and the eerie feeling it brought up stayed with me as the vacation continued. They were under a bed, and I developed an irrational fear of seeing them again, as well as guilt at the edge of my mind that I wanted to clean up this mess, but couldn’t bring myself to do it as they seemed enmeshed with the carpet. There was something very spooky about accidentally spotting them with my flashlight at bedtime with my daughter, who may have even asked to look at them. It was also strange as Alice in Wonderland encounters a live talking mouse soon after arriving at the bottom of the rabbit hole. The aliveness of the creatures in that book was even more interesting as we encountered some out in real life, both alive and dead. We saw live moving caterpillars and dead ones, all sorts of spiders, mostly alive, and many other insects including some creepy variety I was unable to recognize, as well as one dead frog found at the end of vacation, which was saddest of all, as we had become so friendly with the frogs.

I go on about dead animals as well as live ones and fictional talking ones because dead creatures of other species are all around us, and usually we remain unaware of them. Of course every time you enter a supermarket, no matter what you eat, there are dead animals there… The first night when I began the book with his introduction to the concept of death anxiety, I had a premonition that I would have a dream about death, and I did.

I dreamed about having a dog that was only 2 and dying of cancer. I was talking to the vet who was telling me it was over and I had a hard time believing her because the dog was so young. The dog was the same kind of unusual dog my close friend had and recently lost in a very traumatic sudden manner a few weeks prior. Also, in the dream, my own dog, who died in 2009, was there in the background, a kind of ghostly presence. It was a very sad and emotional dream and very vivid.  The dream resonated on many levels. The obvious one was that it was about a recent loss my friend experienced that touched me, and about my own loss of my dog. What did not occur to me until now while writing about it is the idea of the dream being about my own death anxiety, if I look a little deeper or apply the idea that everyone in the dream is me. Perhaps I was telling myself to live as though I had very little time to live. A few days later, when I told my daughter about the dream because she was curious, I was struck by her saying, “Oh you had that dream because you are do sad about Claude (my friend’s dog who died suddenly and traumatically), and you think about it a lot.” She was right in terms of the vivid urgency of the dream and seemed more aware than I about the effect of Claude’s death upon me. Her short life experience of death is of my own dog’s death, so she senses a lot about my own sensitivity to dogs. She remembers him and learned a lot about death because of it. My own experiences of death that I remember, besides having turtles and a hamster, happened when I was much older and lost my first beloved grandmother at about age 13, though I am sure I thought a lot about how strange death is and what happens when you die, and other typical childhood wonders about being put in a box in the ground, etc. Being a native New Yorker, I have more vivid memories about my concern with garbage and where it is dumped. (Recycling did not exist.) I remember spending a lot of time being freaked out by the idea that there is a limit to the space on earth, and how do we manage to keep generating garbage, where does it go, and why does it not overpower us because of the constant continuance of it. What will we do when we have no more room to put the garbage? I think this coincided with my wondering about dead bodies accumulating and a limited amount of space for them. It still bewilders me that at some point there will be no more space for cemeteries…

What struck me about this book was the author’s philosophical approach to death and death anxiety. He is a therapist, but quoted a lot of philosophies to his patients and discussed philosophers and philosophy a lot in the book, as they deal a lot with the subject of death and human existence. Questions arose about what makes a life meaningful, how do we deal with the fact that many years from now even our most famous authors and philosophers may not survive? Our art will likely be eventually destroyed, millions of years from now, so even the idea of living on through what we make is ultimately an illusion and delusion. The only thing that can save us from the anxiety of nothingness and not being or even being remembered is his idea of the concept of “rippling” like water in a pond, our effects upon others in our relationships, whether as friend or mentor, that is, to, in life, have a meaningful effect upon others. I agree with Yalom that when we die we cease to exist. That’s it. Concepts of reincarnation or after life are just false comforts for death anxiety. To really deal with our death anxiety we have to face our mortality and accept that we will disappear completely. Although unlike Yalom, I believe in synchronicity and unconscious connections and sometimes maybe in some idea of fate or that things happen for a reason, ultimately I have to agree that death just happens and that’s that. There is no explanation for babies and children dying. Or our pets dying too young or dying at all. It doesn’t happen for a reason. The only way to deal with the fact of death and our own mortality is to live as much as possible in the present moment. It’s why we are drawn to dogs, cats and children. They bring us into the present moment so we can indeed be here now. Sex functions the same way. I have seen countless movies where people seem to be inexplicably drawn to having sex after a funeral, for the obvious reason that it is a way to move away from thinking about dying and that our lives will end like blowing out a candle.

“Staring at the Sun”, Yalom calls this book because we really can’t do it for too long, or we get blinded. We need to be aware of our own anxiety about our own death, but we can’t be too preoccupied with it, or we will cease to live. The only unanswered questions I felt he did not address were about suicide and suicide fantasies. Those people who fly straight into the sun and have their wings melted, what about them, the people who deal with death anxiety by trying to control death and take their own lives? He does not grapple with that subject, though he has plenty to say about his experiences of working with people who know their time is limited and that they will die soon, and how much he has learned from these very awake people. I was also just curious about other aspects of suicidal ideation, such as people who fantasize about being dead and at peace as well as the phenomenon of a person failing at a suicide and reporting that in the middle of it, s/he changed his/her mind about it. Did  death anxiety save such a person, or the desire to have more life? Probably these two ideas are tied together.

We all fantasize about peeking in at our own funerals. What would people be saying about me? we think. Another useful fantasy is to imagine that you are told you have a month or a week left to live. What would you do differently? If your answers look very different from your life right now, you know you have urgent work to do in therapy and in your life. If your answers are close to your present life, you are living more fully, but there are always changes to make and ways to awaken yourself more now here while you are still breathing. In my family we have a goodbye ritual when any of us are leaving the house, that, though a quick one, serves as a way to ensure that even if tension was in the air about something, we know we acknowledged our bond before the possibility of ultimate separation. As I not only live in NYC but close to Ground Zero, I am hyper aware of the concept of leaving the house or someone else leaving and never seeing each other again…

Bringing me to the topic of necklaces… On my vacation I made a lot of art with and without my 4 year old, so my art was very influenced by the materials we used as is usual. The one different thing for me was a sudden desire to use beads and make necklaces. It probably started before vacation when I took my daughter to Beads of Paradise in New York City, and we picked out beads and made necklaces. I had thought of it as a fun activity to do wuth her, but when I got home, I hunted out my beads that I bought years ago on a trip to new Mexico and made another necklace. It was then that I had that “aha” moment when you do something without thinking about it, and suddenly you really like it. So on vacation I brought those beads with me and got obsessed with not only making necklaces but getting more beads and sorting the beads by color and starting a kind of collection of beads. It became my alone meditative time at the cabin because my daughter did not show interest in beading.

Sitting outside and putting beads on a string was a discovery similar to my discovery of knitting many years ago. I didn’t take jewelry making of any kind or beads too seriously when I started learning about art therapy. I had the usual bias that somehow it wasn’t as creative as drawing, painting, sculpture and collage. That bias disappeared over the years as I witnessed the therapeutic effect of working with beads and other media traditionally thought of as “crafts” rather than “art”.

In any case, I had a few stray thoughts about beading as a process and what makes it so enjoyable and therapeutic. For one thing, it is like origami in that it is shown in the moment. While origami can be a performance akin to a magic trick, the necklace is also “finished” and has a definite end point. Wearing your own art can be empowering, and I’m sure it’s a part of what inspires people to become jewelry designers. Making a necklace out of colored beads also has the feeling of taking part in folk art and traditionally thought of as “woman” folk art activities such as quilting. The necklace, like the vacation and the life span, has a beginning, middle and end. I was making long necklaces so the middle became the focal point where I had the most fun picking out the extender and the special beads to put on it, and then continuing up the other side, carefully trying to copy whatever pattern I had invented for the first half of the necklace. (Note: this is where my writing got erased, so I’m not sure I remember everything I said on this topic…

For some reason, making these necklaces (see below for some photos of some of the ones I made), reminded me of the three fates in Greek Mythology. Definitely one of them is spinning something that has an end to it and is meant to represent the individual’s fate, life span, etc. Interestingly, the three fates are older unattractive women:

The Moirai were described as ugly old women, sometimes lame. They were severe, inflexible and stern. Clotho carries a spindle or a roll (the book of fate), Lachesis a staff with which she points to the horoscope on a globe, and Atropos (Aisa) a scroll, a wax tablet, a sundial, a pair of scales, or a cutting instrument. At other times the three were shown with staffs or sceptres, the symbols of dominion, and sometimes even with crowns. At the birth of each man they appeared spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of life. (Quote lifted from Wikipedia.)

Besides the meditative quality of the repetitious action of beading, there is the linear quality to it, with one following another. When I made mistakes I had to take out all the beads up to the mistake and start again. Of course now I think I had some profound thoughts connecting death awareness to necklace making, and I have no idea what they were… Another interesting point Yalom makes in his book is that we often live with a false presumption of immortality or of death always being far into the future. He uses the example of starting to write a book with the assumption that one will be alive to finish it. I would even venture to say that some procrastination connected to writing or finishing a written work may be related to an underlying death anxiety. Anyway, making these necklaces is not quite the same process as they do not take so long to make. Another interesting point is the accidental dropping of beads and sudden loss of a pattern.

Ultimately there are many connections between actual death, death anxiety, separation and loss, hyperconciousness, forgetting the fact of one’s own death, the living dead, etc. One thing that struck me as sad is the difference between a memory, which in some ways represents a lost moment in the past, that one can never have back, and the gaps in memory of one’s own life story; for some reason, I get sadder at the idea that so much of my life involves moments and episodes of living that I have no memory of. Having a dim memory or an awareness that the memory may not be factual is not quite as bad as the “blackout” of moments of life. However, memory and time could be a whole topic on their own…

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Dreams and Their Meaning; Dreams and Creativity

I have always been interested in dreams and dreaming. I have taken various classes about dream interpretation, mostly focusing on Carl Jung’s teachings about dreams, now more than five years ago, but I remain open to all kinds of approaches to dreaming and meaning.

I don’t know what came to me or why, but at the beginning of this month, February, I decided to make a real concerted effort to write down my dreams. It started with just a dream here or there, and within a little more than a week, I was remembering at least 2 dreams a night. I thought this would keep up, but it’s an up and down process, where sometimes I have a day or two where I don’t wake up to write down a dream, and then another day I have one or two detailed dreams. I’m hoping with the passage of time, I will be regularly, nightly, remembering at least one dream, and that my dreams will become longer, more detailed, more complicated, or from another standpoint, it could be that I’m training my mind to remember them more often and in more detail.

It is a necessity to have a notebook by the bed and a pen that I like, because I am often writing at 2 or 5 am in a haze. At first I found it hard to read my handwriting, but I started having the intention to write more clearly. Then while reading a book about dreams that I randomly found in the library a while ago, “The Secret History of Dreaming”, by Robert Moss, I was reminded of the concept of the really “rich” dream, the dream filled with symbols, and last week I voiced to myself my desire to dream about animals. I think I was hoping for dragons (it is the year of the dragon) and other mythological creatures. Anyway, I haven’t gotten dragons yet. However, the night of the day I wished for animals, I had a dream with a lot of pink pigs in it that took place in a hotel. (I actually have  had a few dreams in hotels and I remember last time I did this exercise years ago, I had some hotel dreams.) To me, the hotel symbolizes a transient place, and if the setting of the dream is where my psyche is at, having a hotel dream means to me that I am going through transitions, and a lot of temporary things as well as many changes, comings and goings, which seems to be true. A lot of new things are coming into my life, especially my professional life as a therapist. At the same time both the supervision group that I run and the one I participate in are going through terminations and new members and transitions simultaneously. Synchronicity!

So I am hoping I can train myself to have richer more symbolic dreams simply by having the intention of remembering my dreams. I have not done this in a long time, but I remember the last time was for a dream class, and it is very true that if you keep a notebook and pen nearby and are very focused on the topic of dreams, in any way, it becomes easier to remember dreams, and one’s dreams become longer and more complicated. Even the possibility of a kind of chain of dreams where one leads to another, can actually happen. And when you become really involved in the process, you can sometimes engage in lucid dreaming, which did happen to me once a long time ago…

When I took the Jungian classes, the method of interpreting or “translating” dreams was taught in a very specific way. The idea was that dreams contain messages that we need to decode that tell us important things about our waking life and our “attitudes”. Nightmares were seen to be dreams that shout at us that we must change something very big in our lives and “wake up” to some reality we are not facing or the results will be scary and dire. The setting of the dream is seen as the setting of one’s psyche. Having dreams with groups of unidentified men or women is seen as having a very undifferentiated unevolved animus/anima. Having a dream about an older man for a woman could mean that her animus is highly developed and wise. Having a dream of a young woman could tell a man that his feminine side is undeveloped and needs work and integration. The same is true of the Shadow in the dream. Sex dreams can be about connection and integration. There were some other very specific ideas I don’t remember any more. I still remember one teacher saying that dreaming about one’s patient(s) tells us something in the therapy is very wrong and needs to be looked at. I never liked that idea, as I think dreaming about a patient could mean multiple things, including the opposite of what he said, that is, that one is very connected to the patient or that there is something special and positive happening in the therapy. Or it could be about boundaries and fantasies.

However, I like to approach dreams from all kinds of angles, and I don’t believe there is any one way best to understand their meaning, if you believe they have a meaning. I also believe that, if you believe in dreams, if you really believe they are not random and have messages in them, then they do. I have even seen people, actually close family members, who think dreams mean nothing and are just the brains way of tossing around bits of the day or some other biological function, well, I have sometimes seen those same people marvel at a dream they had in a way that shows they have come under the spell of the dreaming mind — the mystery and wonder of it, rather than it being bits and pieces of random leftover brain matter. However this is not a common occurrence. It is we people who love dreams and looking at them, who even find a magic in them, we are the ones who will pay the most attention to them. For us, the dreaming process is a very personal and very important journey of one’s soul and consciousness.

I am also interested in doing this experiment on myself, that is, recording my dreams on a daily basis for an extended period of time, to see if this exercise has an effect on my creativity and on my work with my patients. To see if indeed, Jung’s idea is true that in dreams we can learn about how to approach important aspects of our real lives.

“A Mesopotamian term for an obscure or mysterious dream is ‘a closed archive basket of the gods.'”

“The early Iroquois regarded someone who was not in touch with his or her dreams as the victim of serious soul-loss. A specialist might be called on to bring the lost dreams — and the missing vital enregey — to the sufferer.”

Some quotes from Moss’s book that I like. I do have this feeling that I want to find something by dreaming and catching my dreams, and to feel that I am living my life more fully, more awake when I’m awake, and more awake to my dreams when I sleep…

This post will be continued in a few weeks as I learn more about this mysterious and wondrous process called dreaming.

Next week’s post will be called “Silence and its Meaning”. I find if I allude to the next post in the current post, it helps remind me that I want to address this new topic…