How to Win at Couples Therapy


Yes, couples therapy continues with the Stork.  Which makes it, I don’t know…about 4 months now.  And of course, couples therapy would not be continuing if I were not winning.

How to win?  You have to convince both the therapist and your partner that you are not the problem, or at least not the biggest problem, and therefore the focus should not be on you and your pathology, no matter how crazy that pathology might be.

Believe me, that kind of bullshit requires a level of creativity you can only reach if you have, say, an MFA in Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College.

Spin.  Since I am quitting producing theatre, I’m now considering a career in spin.  I will open a coaching practice on winning at couples therapy.  It might not save your marriage, but it will certainly keep you from killing either the therapist or your partner, which is a huge plus.

How, might you ask, did I pull this one off?  Well, I had a leg to stand on.  And, I am both extremely persuasive and relentless, which help.  The leg to stand on:  my partner had something she really needed to atone for.  I mean, one could realistically say that she needed to change.  The fact that she is genuinely atoning, and is genuinely sorry, does not change the fact that I am milking this one for all that it’s worth.

Then, there’s the Stork.  I flat out argue both metaphysics and psychological theory with him, and I continually tell him he’s preaching to the choir, and then I get really funny.  He likes the funny times.  And he’s in love with concepts, and he keeps telling both me and my partner how psychologically sophisticated we are, so I guess he likes the intellectual arguments, too.  (I once kept an individual therapist jumping through hoops for two years before she finally said, “I know you’ve been having a really good time testing me, but I think it’s time you did some work.”  So busted.)

So, I am winning at couples therapy.  Unfortunately, I love my partner and I realize the day is fast approaching when I will have to share focus and blame, but I want to state, for the record, that I will not go willingly into that dark night.  There are lots of darknesses I have embraced, endured and recovered from, but this one, no sir.  I am going to keep the focus on her for as long as possible.

I should also say, for the record, that when we’re not in couples therapy the focus is still on her more than her share of the time, but not all the time, and I do apologize when I know I’m wrong (even though I rarely am…that’s a joke) and make attempts to show, through my actions, that I’m still in this, with effort and attention.  I don’t want to talk about it, but I do try to show it.  She does the talking.  “I can tell you’re really trying,” she says.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” I answer.  Because I have no intimacy issues.

You might wonder how I get away with this.  Well, I did plan a birthday for her, took her to Maine and out to dinner, endured watching her open presents I’d very carefully chosen (I like to carefully choose presents and leave them around for her to open when I’m not there), and was generally emotionally present for the whole thing.  It was a bit like running a triathlon three times in a row.

When I was 19 I met Henry Hawkins, author of The Five of Me.  (Yes, he was the male Sybil and lived in my apartment complex in Arizona.) He asked to read my poetry and told me I denied sensitivity with the greatest sensitivity.

Which just goes to show that I have changed not at all in the intervening lifetime.

How long can I continue to win at couples therapy?  Well, stay posted.  I’m hoping at least until June 8, which is our 25th anniversary.  I may just give my partner a card that says, “I am now willing to call a non-compete in couples therapy.”

I wonder if she’ll like that or if she’ll just want to shoot me.

 

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To Use Your Darkness Well AND Reporting In.


Reporting in:  I was not able to keep my mouth shut in yoga teacher training.  I did not intellectually attack, rebel, protest or argue.  I shared.  Shoot me for even writing that sentence.  Shared.  Urgh.  And not only did I share, I practiced what the Unitarians call step up, step back.  Meaning, I stepped up to share, but stepped back to make sure there was room for everyone.  So fing generous of me.

You might call this enlightenment except for my attitude about it.  Frankly, I feel like Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live.  (I accuse my partner of being like this character all the time.)  And I would rather be a motorcycle toughie.  Because being cool is very important to me. Plus, I have a German mother.  Expressions of emotion and softness, showing your corny emotional underbelly (like my Irish father) are just not good ideas, I learned from growing up around her.  She was wrong, of course, about pretty much everything, but I still learned all her lessons.

Anyhow, that’s how I did at yoga teacher training yesterday.  Today is 6 hours, but thankfully at least two of them are doing asanas and hopefully I’ll be so exhausted by all the physical work I won’t be tempted to speak.  We didn’t go around and say why we were there, and I’m hoping we won’t be asked to today either.

Which brings me to topic #2:  Using your darkness.  I mean, what would I say if they asked why we were there?  If I told the exact truth?  “I’m here because my friend died and every morning I get up wondering what the hell I’m doing on this planet.  When I do yoga, I stop asking that question because I’m in too much physical strain to remember what it is.”

I’m sure that answer would increase my popularity dramatically.

Obviously, I am not currently the queen of sweetness and light.  There’s darkness here, in me, when I wake up, when I walk through the day.  There’s grief.  It’s hard.  I mean, I’m at the place where I can see it won’t always be this way, but that also means feeling it more deeply, which kind of sucks.

Without theatre and all its drama behind the drama, there is time to be with the truth.

The truth:  grief is dark.  It’s hard.  You forget everything but what’s right in front of you.  You have to do something with it so you don’t drown.

I usually use my darkness to jet propel me into the hero’s journey.  Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer were on PBS last weekend doing the Power of Myth series from 20 years ago or so, and I took it as a sign that it was time.  Again.

The Hero’s Journey:  to enter the darkness, the unknown, and to be in it, to be seared by it, changed by it, and then to return to the world with a gift to offer–of wisdom, of healing, of light.  Something you could not have found without the journey into the darkness.

I think the Hero’s Journey is cool and very unlike Saturday Night Live or sharing or anything.  Mostly because it is entirely brutal, kind of like a spiritual gladiator sport.  I suppose I secretly think I’m spiritually evolved because of my ability to withstand and face the most brutal of darknesses–unbearable loss, witnessing of violence and oppression, intimate knowledge of what can only be called evil.  Of course, I’d prefer to be someone who didn’t know about these things–who wouldn’t?–but if I have to know about it I at least ought to enjoy some superiority feelings as part of the deal, don’t you agree?

Anyhow, here I am, trying to figure out what to do with this darkness, this grief.  It’s so strange–when my friend Rick died of AIDS along with most of the gay men I knew, there was grief, self-blame, rage against the US government, bad attitude, a need to get politically active.  But this time is different, and, for some reason, worse.

How can I use my darkness well?

What Don’s death seems to have yanked up–grief always yanks up past losses–is this tendency of mine to keep my heart closed.  When I sat with Don in my condo, or in Chipotle, or the Thai restaurant, or 50 Vassar Street, and it was just the two of us, there was this almost unbearable tenderness that grew up around us.  I credit him–his open-heartedness, his faith in my goodness, his ability to tell the truth about himself, to talk about what he doubted or feared or was ashamed of…or even what he felt or thought about me and what I said to him.  I mean, that’s kind of intimate.  I find these things challenging, so I’m not close to a ton of people.  I cherish it when I find someone like Don.  Who I can actually trust.

I want to use my darkness to heal what is unhealed, to open what is closed, to build a different kind of community than I find in theatre, or to change theatre itself, so that story–Joseph Campbell talks about story as the only meaning we have, the only way to explain why we suffer and where relief might be found–is more important than ego.  I want to live in the I/thou relationship.  I have that with my partner sometimes–there you are, and I see you, and you, and the seeing itself, are sacred to me.  I don’t ask you to change, because I don’t have that right.  Because the you-ness of you is what is sacred.

Of course, then I tell her she’s like Stuart Smalley, usually within hours or minutes.  I mean, I’m not a saint.  And, see above, not without intimacy issues.

I used to try to pour my darkness out in writing–I have very dark poems, plays, stories to show for it.  They are often beautiful and full of longing.  It’s the paradox of our lives, of the world, that the darkness defines beauty, that truth can never be found in a Hallmark card, but only in a poem in which mortality defines the love for a child you know you will someday leave behind.

And the real adventure is this–whatever I know about the Hero’s Journey, having taken it before, may be completely irrelevant to this moment.  All I have is the being here, right now, in this darkness, and the willingness to learn what it is, the curiosity to stay until I learn it.

So, today, I go to the mat.  I hope for the stilling of what is chasing me, and then I hope to open to it.

I hope that my bad attitudes will lead to the writing of dark comedies about human absurdity, mostly my own.  And that I will keep my mouth shut and keep practicing that damn step up, step back, at least for this weekend, which is Passover, which is Easter, which is, therefore, difficult.

I am, to quote Reverend Alex McCartney, practicing love.

But I love my bad attitude, too.  I mean, can’t I say the f word at least once?  I’m not really an Episcopal priest.  I’m an acting teacher-rebel-writer-activist in temporary (or not temporary) retirement.

Is that what I am?

The f word, at least once.  Fuck being mature.  It’s overrated and no fun whatsoever.

Even though I still intend to practice it.  At least outside the doors of my own home.

 

Keeping My Mouth Shut OR Attempting the Impossible


Well, first, let’s debunk the title.  I spent most of the last theatre production keeping my mouth shut because 1) my role or my agreements with people demanded it or 2) I have a personal policy that I don’t speak whenever I think an expletive is going to come out of my mouth.  So I can keep my mouth shut when I think it’s morally necessary.  It’s not good for me, I usually implode and suffer, but I can do it.

However, when it come to ideas, and my thoughts and opinions about them, well, I have been pretty unsuccessful at keeping my mouth shut.  I can sometimes rephrase, though.  Like, “Give me a fucking break, do you think I’m stupid enough to believe that?”  Becomes, “I disagree with that statement.”  Sometimes.  Don’t hold me to that.

So, yoga teacher training starts tonight and in preparation, I’m doing some of the required reading.  Like, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  I am grateful that I started reading them last summer, and I started with the Chip Hartranft translation, which, according to reviews, is skewed toward Buddhism.  His commentary was more simpatico with my own beliefs.

By the way, there are 196 Yoga Sutras, basically translated statements like, “Yoga is the mastery and integration of the activities of the mind,” or “Non-attachment and supreme non-attachment.”  The translator then explains the application of the sutra.

Anyway, I did some research and bought the Bryant translation last year, because it was supposed to be close the original, and now the class is using a third translation (not so well reviewed).

But this blog is not about the relative merits of the translations or even the content of the Yoga Sutras.  This blog is about whether I will be able to keep myself from arguing with the Yoga Sutras and comparing them with Darwin, Rousseau, Plato, Aristotle, Nietsche and basically the whole history of Western philosophy which I read when I was 17 and fortunately or unfortunately still remember.  Or arguing that Buddhism’s interpretation of the different kinds of thoughts and what information can be trusted is better.  Because in Buddhism they don’t tell you to believe, they tell you to experiment and find out for yourself, which is part of why I really really really like Buddhism.

So.  Do you think I will be able to keep myself from arguing with the Yoga Sutras in yoga teacher training?

I’m guessing that a yoga teacher’s job is to learn about the Yoga Sutras, not to debate them and try to come up with a new philosophy of her own.  This is why I probably will never be a traditional yoga teacher.

But, and here’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say, I know that if I lead on class one with my usual intellectual comparison/contrast, attack, debate, rebel, I’ll pay for it.  In graduate school, my usual meant I stood out in a good way.  Yoga teacher training?  My guess is, not so much.  I will be seen as a High Maintenance Pain-in-the-Ass-Show-Off, which is not, of course, inaccurate so much as incomplete.

I therefore plan to sit in the back of the room and stuff my mouth full of imaginary cotton.  I plan to not mention the contradictions within the text.  I plan to say nothing at all.  Today.  It’s one day at a time, right?

There’s always the temptation to say f it, I’ll be myself–my original, authentic, intellectual, questioning, curious, super-smart self.  I won’t pretend to be what I think is the usual yogi–open, idealistic, wide-eyed…or middle-aged, searching, in need.  I’ll be my rebellious, out-there, outspoken, radical, queer, wild me.

I’m getting flashbacks to Catholic school.  Sitting in a roomful of women working with a common belief system…well, that makes sense.  But my flashbacks aren’t to high school, where being with all girls meant it was finally okay to be smart.  It’s to elementary school, where the silence after I’d disagreed with the boys or the whole class (again) meant bullying on the playground next recess.

Oh, the long shadow of the school yard.

It’s truly tempting to say f it, and just open my mouth.  I mean, really, it’s only a matter of time until I do.  So let’s just say I’ll be quiet tonight, and tomorrow I can say whatever I want (minus expletives) about the contradictions of the translation and how saying that holy scriptures are a solid source of reality is just plain fing ridiculous.

Two hours.  Can I do it?

And, as a fallback, at least I can’t rant first.  If someone else rants, I will definitely follow them through the door.

Bargaining.

This is how I make decisions about relating to people.

And I will say this–once I took a job and I swore I would do everything in my power to keep below the radar.  I didn’t rebel, or speak out, or anything.  So, I got offered about three promotions and the other employees voted to have me be their representative to the company (50 of 52 people voted for me, and clearly, I did not put myself forward).  I asked a friend why they did that and she said, “Because we all know you don’t take shit.”

Some people, apparently, aren’t meant to fly below the radar.

Attempting the impossible…well, delaying the inevitable could be another way of putting it.

Did I mention that I expect I will be (possibly) the only out queer person?

Oh, look, I think that’s what people call an emotion.  I’m nervous about the first class.  I might even be a little scared about being different.  That I’m also wildly excited…well, I am that person.  The one who has to figure out everything that could possibly go wrong, just in case.

I figure, positive thinking, fine.  Just be prepared for everything.

If you’d like to bet on whether I can make it through the two hours, I’m betting I can’t.  I’m not sure if that means I’m under-rating my self-control or under-rating the sheer fury of my life force, which has always resisted repression or suppression of any kind.

But, if I can make money on it, one way or the other, well, it’s a plus.