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The only truly accurate record of human history is that which is impressed onto the soul of each infant about the time of birth.2

Please focus now on this seemingly eccentric and provocative proposition; give it a little leeway, allow and follow some of its ramifications:  The only accurate recording of human history is not in textbooks, newspapers, magazines, videos, monuments or murals, not even in religious scrolls, but rather it is that which is impressed onto the soul of each infant.

Each small person so intensely is dependent on the large ones around him that even the very lines in those aging faces, the subtle undulations and syncopations of intonation of their voices become readable terrain to the infant.  He maps and navigates those terrae incognitae long before he dares to stand, walk and fall, much less to open kitchen cabinets, grab pots, make the universe's first primitive music.

The pliable infant soul applies itself to the crusty rigid surfaces of the old souls about it.  Thereby occurs the basic psychic replication of living stuff which is not dissimilar to the replication of genetic stuff we have come to understand so well, engineer, manipulate.

There is not available to the infant any other human psychic matrix to model onto, none to confuse with it or to compare it with.  So the ragged mundane ground level uncertainties of his sniveling ambivalent parents become the infant's universe in toto, to the infant's eye and ear the very substance of all reality.  Later learning may modify this, but can never supplant it.

The life histories and world views of each of your parents in their rough basaltic unconscious conformations became the mother's milk of the soft squirming newly-born human person you once were.  It is ineluctable.  And no matter who you are nor what with all your might you may wish, at this level you are what you have at your beginning eaten.

I, born in 1944, discovered in myself a capacity to comprehend the Great Depression and the Second World War as if I had been central in them; somehow they became central in me.  Recently I have discovered reverberations of Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi at the base of my own personality and values.

Ramifications I suggest you imagine or elaborate upon:
1)  Freud's "discovery" of the individual unconscious;
2)  Jung's "discovery" of the group unconscious;
3)  Homer's contrast of small mortal humans capable of heroism against large immortal gods full of impulse and folly;
4)  all mythology;
5)  all symbolism;
6)  all art.

Today I write this note for strictly historical purposes, to record straightforwardly as I can my own experiences with psychotherapy3, especially as a patient but also as a therapist.  All this is of little practical interest to me now that I live in the inscrutable real universe one moment at a time ad hoc, no longer secure within the warm core of Nathan's Master Plan.  Perhaps this review will be of some value to one of my children or to my brother the psychiatrist.


I really wanted to go to school.  It had to do with growing big like my older sister or like my even older cousin (who was in the first grade already).  It was about reading, really.  Big people could read stories from books, but I, sad and subdued, had to depend on them, to wait for them to read to me, to beg.  Even my sister could recognize some letters of the alphabet.  If only I could read there would be a world without limiting walls, a vast expanse illimitable before me through which with merely the power of my eyes I could crash ever faster and unendingly.

Before I went to school I had taught myself to read polysyllables from  The Journal of the American Medical Association while looking there for photographs of naked women.  Black rectangles were superimposed over their eyes, which at first I saw as masks like the Lone Ranger wore.  (So, early I had misperceived externally imposed bondage as a voluntarily assumed whimsical disguise.  How childish of me; how natural and normal.)

I remember being shamed in nursery class when in my ardor for driving little trucks and cars very fast and loudly across the floor in play (perhaps just then a bright red fire truck) I wet my pants.  The teacher (What had she taught me?) put me in a separate room, removed my pants and underwear, hung them like flags upon the grate to dry by the fireplace.  The other children could pass the door and see I had no pants on.

By the time I started real school I tried to subdue myself, my mind, my mouth, my curiosity.  They kept telling me to sit in my seat and be quiet.  I really tried not to be the way I was (each sincere moment at a time).  But the next moment they would ask if anybody knew the answer, and I was triggered again for I knew not only that answer but all answers, remembered everything in the universe, for I was the child who crashed through it all faster than my eyes could see.  So I raised my hand and shouted out the answer, and was hushed and chastised for it.

A pivotal event:  In first grade science class the teacher, Alpha Boles, omitted a letter of a word she wrote on the blackboard (even in 1949 not black but green).  I remember the very moment, I remember Miss Boles (her aesthenic posture, her thin voice, her protuberant belly which contrasted so violently with her twig-like cachectic limbs).  I remember Miss Boles, but I do not remember which word she misspelled (my sin of repression).  In all good faith, believing orthography a prominent value to the community of learning in which I was now an ardent apprentice, I raised my hand, and when properly recognized, corrected her omission.  I was prepared humbly to deflect praise for what was simply my duty.  With a shudder I imagined the harm which might have cascaded from a teacher's inadvertent omission of a mere letter, the promulgation of error from that classroom of children and the next (if the board were not erased, the virus interdicted).  The ensuing chain reaction might destroy the English language, all human culture, provoke another Holocaust.  Miss Boles not only was displeased by my responsible contribution to truth, but took me by my ear down the long hall at a main pace to the principal's office, cackling angrily, "Insubordination!"

They considered me a "behavior problem" because they could neither fill me nor contain me.  Eventually I became a psychiatric patient at the age of eight.  Tearfully I promised my mother I would stop being a burden to the family.  My plan was to leave home, go out on my own, make my living as a free-lance writer (but to this day forty-five years later I have never sold a word I have written).


They had me consult several times with a psychologist named Lee Trotter.4  He had me put blocks together and finish stories.  I think he was the first one to show me the ink blots.  (I know he was; I remember it now.  His office was in the Medical Arts Building in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the third floor.  It's coming back.)  I guess he gave me a Bender too, or some sort of I.Q. test.  It sounds funny to say he gave me those things when it felt like he took something away from me, information for the grownups, my parents and my teachers, so they could decide what to do with me.  They hadn't told me the why of all this nor discussed it with me, not this first time, but I had a good idea what it was all about.

The thing that seems strange now is that I cooperated even though I understood.  If I had really had good moral judgment or had I been thoroughly dedicated to my own welfare I would have refused all this from the beginning, would at least have sabotaged it.  But I thanked them instead.  Children are pushovers for the con jobs perpetrated by grownups; that's why children fall for TV commercials and racist textbooks, not because children are unintelligent but because they keep wishing to be loved.


I remember well the night my mother told me I would begin treatment with a psychiatrist.  I cried, not because I felt I was crazy (although I feared I couldn't control my feelings), but I felt bad because I had failed to pass as a nice person.  I really got upset about becoming a psychiatric patient, but I was reluctant to admit it.

Until then Dale Z. had been the only kid in school I knew who was taken out of class early to go a psychiatrist's appointment.  Dale (even though I liked him well enough) was considered neither liked nor likable; he had questionable hygiene and was a bit belligerent, but mainly he was disliked because he seemed somewhat different.  (Difference seems to me today a strength indeed.  I wonder how he has fared this last half of the Twentieth century, so I wish him well in retrospect throughout the spectrum from childhood to old man.)

I did sincerely offer to abandon the family, to spare them my pariahship.  I was indeed ashamed to have caused my parents such embarrassment, but I was especially sorry to see the negative influence I was bound to have on my younger brothers.  My older sister might be chagrined, teased by bigger kids because her brother was a psychiatric patient, but she probably needed to be brought down a peg or two anyhow.  My next younger brother (who is now long since himself a psychiatrist) seemed unconcerned, safe, buffered, the middle child.  But the youngest, the twins, were somehow going to be scarred, their small frames burdened by the millstone of a misfit elder brother.  My classmates began to call me Nutty instead of Nathan (because I asked them to).

So, I went to see a psychiatrist, eight years old, fourth grade, brave enough to take the blame onto myself (a form of denial that someone else might be causing some of the trouble:  a violent intoxicated father, a pacifying martyr mother, a lazy or rigid teacher or two).  I had to appease the psychiatrist, whom I saw as a moral judge of me and my family.

Paul Benton treated me from the fourth grade into my pubescence.  He was a real child psychiatrist, an M.D. (not just a psychologist like Lee Trotter).  I heard years later that he was especially skilled in the treatment of mental retardation.  He was nice to me.  He was bald and he smiled (which meant he wasn't perfect himself, but he could live with it).  He told me I had come to play with him, that he had a lot of toys, and I could play with any of them I liked.  I don't remember still playing with toys at that age, but I restrained myself from telling him that I would rather discuss psychiatry.

He had an inflatable clown with sand weighting its rounded base so that it would come upright when you knocked it down, which he demonstrated with glee.  He asked me who I wanted it to be.  I guessed what was coming, thought a moment to confirm it in my own mind, felt a momentary cringe of pity for this grown man pandering to a child whom he didn't understand, and said what I believed he wished, that I wanted it to be my next younger brother.  That is the first time I remember thinking through another person's mind on purpose.5

I was no longer afraid of him from the first consultation.  In fact I rather liked him for trying to side with me (although he failed to recognize who I was).  He grinned and told me how much he liked his own son, a boy much bigger and older than I, one who could mow the lawn himself (which I could see he admired; but obviously he could not see I did not).

Perhaps he was trying to imply that healthy families value children who grow toward being adults by doing arduous and cooperative tasks.  His was a culture of sweat and smile, mine of agonizing and questioning.  He didn't see that I was prepared for guilt, that if he didn't judge and punish me I would do it myself (as my father always had, and his father before him).  There is profound grandiosity behind the programmatic suffering of a family in which the goal is not to be good but to be right.  (Ask Dostoevsky.)

Doctor Benton prescribed phenobarbital for me, a quarter of a grain three times a day.  (Ritalin didn't come into vogue until five or more years later.)  One Friday night I got into some sort of hassle with my mother while she was making dinner.  I had been screaming and crying; I remember even now how my face was red and hot.  I turned on the tap of the sink in the pantry, let it run.  (How cold the water came out when you let it run a while.)    I bathed my face.  I took the amber bottle from the shelf where she kept it, dumped all the little white pills into my palm, flipped them into my mouth and began to drink the cold water to wash them down.

At that instant I knew that I was only trying to subdue my erupting emotional behavior, but that it would seem to others and to my own physiology that I was taking an overdose.  It would be seen as a suicide, and I might really die.  I spit the soggy mass out into the sink just as my mother was running to intervene in what seemed to her my suicide.  (What I did not realize was that I was mirroring the adults' behavior toward me, that they were trying to sedate and stifle me, to choke me if necessary to shut me up.)


They couldn't fill me and they couldn't contain me, so they had meetings about me at the school after hours while I was at home masturbating like any healthy prepubescent.  They conspired in the dark to "challenge" me by skipping me from the fifth grade to the seventh (retaliation for challenging them?).

They seem not to have considered that sixth grade serves a purpose, letting a child and his group of peers be the oldest and biggest in the school for a while before becoming the youngest and smallest in junior high the next autumn.  I had few peers, so maybe it was as well they truncated my dominance of the small pond.  Instead I had the painful privilege of remaining a loner until high school, where I finally found other misfit dissidents to share a corner of this world with.

In the seventh grade I was catapulted into sexual relations not before I had fantasized them but before I could develop any skill for them.  I didn't have intercourse until the advanced age of sixteen, but was forced into the appearance of inter-gender alliance in the seventh grade at age eleven.  The big kids had kissing parties, spin the bottle and all that, in which I was the last chosen, or I was matched up with the resident dog of the house where the party was held.

One time I was made to "go steady" with the random next girl to walk around the corner of the school hallway, which gratified the school's community of children, "all" of whom were "going steady."  (I suspect it gratified some mothers of these children, immature enough themselves to want to play dolls with their own offspring, the sort who trained their daughters to become debutantes.)

It was fully thirty years later, after I had sobered up, that I began honestly to recall when and how I began drinking.  I visualized the six year old who got drunk on sacramental wine at a Bar Mitzvah, but not yet drunk enough, he was compelled to spin himself dizzy on top of his first intoxication.  I saw that little boy, gasped, grasped out to reach him.  Finally I saw the loneliness and pain that child withstood then and four intervening decades, pain for which I was responsible (I the grown man, and simultaneously the abused child).

With similar pain I recalled the seventh grader who almost failed geometry, even though I liked the teacher, Bona Gordey (a genuinely friendly white-haired woman), and even though I was beginning to fall in love with Euclid, the Alexandrian thinker who was the first of my many dead weirdo Greek friends.  (Plato, Socrates and finally Parmenides showed up later in my adolescence).  I couldn't do my geometry homework for a very simple reason (although I could not begin to see the obvious, nor could my parents, nor even Miss Gordey):  I was too busy drinking at night and too hung over in the morning.

Even though I continued to consult with Doctor Benton every few months, I never mentioned to him anything of importance to me, the pivots of my agonies and aspirations:  sexual preoccupations, the compulsion to be intoxicated, deep seeking of beauty and truth (poetry and philosophy, I believe these are called).  Another name for this normal adolescent package is "sex, drugs and rock-and-roll."  (Perhaps I wasn't so weird after all, even though I wore argyle socks with my penny loafers when everyone else wore white.)

I didn't smoke to look and feel more grown up.  I didn't smoke at all when my age-mates took it up "behind the barn."  I didn't smoke until I was quite grown, as tall as now, though thinner.  I passed as twenty-one in grocery stores, perhaps because of my beard, was allowed to buy beer.  I didn't smoke until I was fourteen.  (I finally quit in the intensive care unit a mere forty years later.)

I don't know why I took the first puff, but like the first drink it gave me a buzz I needed.  I sensed the drawing in of hot and acrid smoke as a stabbing of me on the inside of my chest, a repeated puncture to my heart, a perforating of my lungs.  I liked that stabbing of me hundreds of times a day, and I liked the dragon-breathing, the blowing out of fire, fuming.  These reflected my fury and my energy, which since the world about me could not contain or tolerate them, I took into myself.  My self-destruction served my altruism.  (Now I come to relish fresh air, feel it as a healing deep inside me.)


I got through high school without much formal psychological help.  My counselor at school, whose main task was to help me get into a college, disliked me severely enough either because I was Jewish (likely) or because I was unlikable (a certainty) to sabotage my application to the University of Chicago.  Three other schools turned me down on my own merits, but Saint John's College, Annapolis, known as "the Great Books School" accepted me because they took in most of those who applied.  (No one would apply who didn't wish to study classics, so almost all who applied were qualified to begin, if they could pay.)

I did have help:  a few friends who valued me for my nonconformity, a few famous old men6 who had come through our town to lecture and enjoyed making intellectual contact with young persons (of whom I was usually the only one at the lectures), and some clergymen and laymen, Jewish and Christian whom I had met and argued theology and ethics at7.

I went off to college with the same intentions with which I had begun first grade, to try as hard as ever I could not to be me.  I got a haircut, wore a suit and tie and swore to be a good freshman.  (I fantasized wearing a beanie.)  By Thanksgiving I had grown a beard, wore clothes only from the top of the pile on the floor around my bed, and somehow I had alienated the dean.

By the second year I was in even greater disarray, having lost my best friend to a motorcycle accident, having lost my best girl to an army private, and having lost my academic standing to my own and my classmates' alcoholism.  (Of the twelve in our tutorial group the two I spent most time with are long since dead of their addictions.  That means a hefty proportion of dysfunction, one fourth of the group for starters.  Considering the others conservatively, I imagine half of them must be well-afflicted, but I don't know if any of them has yet accomplished death.)

Come January I was failing my mathematics tutorial, missed my dead friend and was furious at the girl who didn't love me well enough.  I sat in the dean's office to tell him I wanted to take a leave of absence from school.  (Since then I have taken leaves of absence from many institutions, jobs, women, clubs and even from my children.  I never wanted to quit, but maybe I never wanted to start.  Anyhow, I never seemed to belong.)  The dean said, "You can't leave; your father pays cash."

I called my father to tell him I was coming back to my home town college.  He countered that he had just weaned my mother from me, and I couldn't come back to town.  I agreed with him, but told him I would not go to the big university on the other side of the state because there everything centered in fraternities and sororities, which I refused; I wanted to study with serious persons.  He said okay, he'd call me in two hours, and he did.  "You started classes two weeks ago at the other state university (recently the Agricultural and Mechanical College), so get your ass down here."

I packed my books and belongings, drank the case of German beer I had saved under my bed for a visit from my sister, taught my third grade Sunday School class, took a train to the city, took a bus to the airport, took a plane to my home town.  My mother picked me up, took me home, fed me a late dinner.  At six the next morning she drove me across the state to the college to meet another dean.

"You'll have to take American History 103, bi-sci 105, English comp..."

"But I've just come from Saint John's College where we read Plato in the Greek..."

"Perhaps you should talk with Mister White.  His office is right next door."

Mister White was the dean emeritus .  Until his recent retirement had been the first dean of the Liberal Arts College.  Immediately he asked me how Winkie was.


"Winkie Barr, Stringfellow Barr."

"Oh, I've heard of him, but he's not around Saint John's any more."

"Do you still start the freshman year reading Homer?"

"Yes.  We are supposed to read the Iliad before we come to school––in English, not in Greek."

For a half an hour I tried to convince Mister White that Hector, not Achilles, was the hero of the Iliad.  (Only later did I learn Mister White had written a text book on the Iliad.)  We both enjoyed the whole exercise, stopped for a breath, and he said,

"You'll have to take American History 103, bi-sci 105, English comp..."

"But that's why I left the room next door.  I don't want to sit attentively in an amphitheater with hundreds of others, taking notes.  It's not taking notes I mind so much, but spitting them back as 'right answers' on a test.  I want to participate in my education."

"Okay, let's look at the catalog, see what courses might meet the requirements.  American History, American History...Ah, here.  Theodore Agnew is teaching his course in American Social and Intellectual History.  It's a series of three semesters; the one he started a couple of weeks ago is the second of the series.  Usually that's just for history majors and graduate students.  Does that sound okay?"

"Yep, fine."

"Biological Sciences...Here's that section.  Botany, Cytology, Genetics.  How about genetics?  Herb Bruneau is a good teacher.  Three hours of lecture a week and two laboratories.  I think you'd like him.  What do you say?"

So I began the second semester of my sophomore year two weeks late, took American Social and Intellectual History, Genetics, Religious Philosophy, Constitutional Law, and Ethics.

I felt at home as the only student of thirteen thousand with a beard, the only one in the largest dormitory on campus with a single room (for the Manager would not put a Jew with a non-Jew, and I was the only Jew).  Freshmen sometimes would  tap on my door bashfully:

"Pardon, sir.  I noticed you have lots of books.  I have to write a composition for my English class, and I thought you might be able to help me."

I made moral rules for myself and for the freshmen, that I would type the words, but only the ones they had themselves orally formulated.  I would elicit from them coherent statements about My Summer Vacation or My Goals in College, type them into readable English language (playing the keyboard of the typewriter "by ear" like the piano player in the tavern).  I hoped I had prepared the freshmen to answer the questions their compositions would provoke from the instructor.  In order to reinforce their moral obligations to use language precisely and to help others freely whenever they could, I did not charge for my service.

I didn't need psychotherapy.  My moroseness became me and drink sustained me.  I was convinced that conversation at the bar with the faculty was study and research.  I could flail myself into a manic frenzy to write a term paper, or to digest the life-work of a classic master in a single weekend.


I was required to take ROTC to graduate.  I went to the dean again to explain I was a pacifist, a conscientious objector.  He said not to worry, just to enroll in ROTC as required, but not to attend.  Meanwhile I was to ask the Draft Board to classify me, and when I got a formal classification as a C.O. I would drop the course.  I told him it seemed a roundabout way of going at it; he told me just to trust him, to do as he said.  I did.

Had I not been in school I was likely to be drafted.  I was an adamantly committed pacifist (though I had a nagging sense my militant pacifism was oxymoronic).  I was classified as a conscientious objector (even though the rabbi had written the Draft Board there could not be a Jewish conscientious objector, that although no doubt I was sincere, this was merely my "personal aberration").  I imagined I would be found morally or politically unfit, or psychologically deranged, but I was classified physically unfit because of my flat feet and curved spine.


During a summer I stayed in my home town to work and to take some summer courses (Kierkegaard and New Testament).  My old best friend and his newly pregnant wife were taking classes at the local University also.  We met for coffee in the Student Union.  As we chatted casually I intended to ask about her health, her morning's lectures.  I was quite more surprised than she to find I had lost control of my words as I heard myself saying something like,

"You bloody no good self-centered bitch, why don't you jump out the window?  James Joyce, my ass!  All you care about is drinking blood and smearing feces."

I pointed to my mouth, my face expressing panic and consternation, but the tirade of venom spewed unabated paroxysmally from my maw.  My friends knew from the discrepancy between my words and my expression exactly what the problem was.  They knew nothing better than to take me to my father's office, for they knew this was a medical problem indeed,  a psychiatric emergency.

It was a scene exactly as it should have been, repeated in some ways decades later when again I was a patient, powerless to speak for myself (comatose and belligerent at the event of my coronary bypass surgery).  My friends told my father that I needed to see a psychiatrist, that I could not control my speech.  He gave one of his rare sane honest responses, which I recognized but regretted I could not speak to acknowledge:  "Him see a psychiatrist?  I'm the one who needs to see a psychiatrist!"

My father got me an appointment with a psychiatrist.  My speech had returned to normal before I saw him.  I wanted the man to fix what I now knew was wrong (had known from before age eight).  I endured several sessions of silence from this caricature of Sigmund Freud.  He said nothing while I waited for him to articulate the answer.  Finally he said, "Do you think maybe you drink too much?"

I was furious that he would ask instead of telling.  Of course, had he said right out to my superannuated eighteen year old self what I had known since eleven I would have said I had always known it and at the same time I would have denied it and walked out.  I did walk out, and for the next twenty-five years continued in denial and isolation.


I meant to stay at the State University only one semester, then transfer to Chicago or go back to Saint John's.  But the faculty in Stillwater, Oklahoma were hungry for provocative students and were trying to offer provocative courses, so I stayed one more semester and another, and another and accidentally finished my course work one cold January afternoon.

I walked out of the examination room spontaneously bawling.  As my tears froze in the icy wind I shook away awareness of profound terror against becoming an adult in the real world.  I was headed to Boston to check into the graduate school program at Brandeis University in History of Ideas.  It was a cold and lonely time.  I was no longer in the protective grasp of a college.

I worked as a short order cook at the Sherry-Biltmore Hotel and attended graduate courses at Boston University.  I was ready to join the Peace Corps, then a new institution, but the FBI investigation found me psychologically unfit to represent my country abroad.  Instead of Liberia I settled on the New School for Social Research.

I had been a member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews Youth Council from age eleven.  I had marched with Doctor King twice.  I had publicly interrogated the chief counsel for the House Un-American Activities Committee.  I had organized the Friday Afternoon Tea and Glee Society as a joke.  If they had asked what I had done I would unreservedly have told them.  Instead they skillfully and arduously investigated in order to discover these "secrets."

So, the Draft Board called me physically unfit instead of morally unfit; the Peace Corps called me psychologically unstable instead of politically repellent.


I came back from Boston to Oklahoma to get my toothbrush (actually to get all the belongings I had left the previous winter), when my mother told me that my doctor had recommended I see a new psychiatrist in town.  I was willing (as I have related in a story I wrote long after8, from which I shall now append a stringy snippet).

I was in Boston, partly in a graduate program in philosophy, mostly working twelve or fourteen hours a day as a short order cook in the hotel where a few months earlier Malcolm X had converted Cassius Clay into Muhammed Ali.  I was matriculated into another graduate school in New York City, to begin the next term studying political science or mathematics (I don’t recall exactly which).  My mother gave me some non-news.

“There is a new psychiatrist in town.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Your doctor wants you to meet her.”

“That makes sense.”

“Do you want me to make you an appointment?”

“Sure.  Thanks.  But you know I have to be back in New York for the beginning of next term.”

“I’ll pick you up at the airport.”

“I’ll hitchhike.”

“I’ll send you a ticket.”

“I’ll be there.”

When I got back to Oklahoma I had to see the doctor first, knowing he wanted me to meet the psychiatrist.  I was more than willing to see her, but was fixed on beginning another course of study in still another school, still looking for the mentor who would convert me into myself.

“Take off your clothes and sit on the examining table.  The doctor will be with you eventually.”

He examined me thoroughly, including my healthy young prostate gland, the third complete medical examination I had had in three months, having been through my pre-induction physical and examinations for the Peace Corps not long before.  I understood his idiom, that he could not communicate with me without examining me.  I knew what nonsense that was, but I also knew he didn’t.  I had episodic fits of trying to cooperate with conventional nonsense even in my youth.

“Your examination is normal.”

“I know.”

“There is a new psychiatrist in town.”

“I know.  My mother told me.”

“I would like you to see her.”

“I would like to see her.  I am quite willing to see a psychiatrist.  What I would like to know is why you think I should see a psychiatrist.  Do you mind telling me?”

“In my day a patient stood at attention when the doctor entered the room.”

“I’m sorry.  It never occurred to me to stand at attention when you came into the room.  I was more preoccupied with hugging myself to keep from freezing, naked as I was.”

“And that beard––it’s like a slap in the face!”

“I thought it was on my face.  I’m sorry if it offends you.  Those are the things that make you think I’m crazy?  It’s because I don’t snap to attention and because I wear a beard?”

(Many years later I saw him again.  By then we were both doctors, and he was wearing a beard.  Laughing at the foolish distortions of memory we humans are subject to, I told him my recollections of that previous meeting.  He confirmed in detail what I remembered, that he saw as defiance my lack of attentive orientation to his authority, and that my beard had served as a flag of irreverence, that these defined my mental disorder as far as he was concerned. I listened with a measure of pity and a shiver of horror.)


At the end of that first interview with the psychiatrist she hooked me in.

“Well, I don’t know.  Nothing too abrupt, I think.  No bullet to the brain.  Something slower, more gradual...”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’m sorry; we’re out of time.  I have an opening next Tuesday.  You’re welcome to ask my secretary to pencil you in then.”

“But, what do you mean ‘...something more gradual...’?”

“I’m sorry; I have no more time to discuss this with you today.  If you wish to come next Tuesday...”

“But I start school in New York on Monday!”

“That’s up to you.”

My analyst always told me the Freudian method was reliable, that I was to do my part and she would do hers.  My part was to be completely honest, not to censor anything, and to make no important life changes during the course of therapy.  I was not to get intoxicated with fantasy by making decisions outside therapy which would bind me––like to get married––so that I would be free in therapy to follow my fantasies thoroughly, to map out my little internal world completely before trying to tackle the big world outside.

There was something also about not getting intoxicated with alcohol and drugs, but that one was beyond me.  I vividly recall driving to my early morning sessions not yet hung over, still drunk from the night before, experiencing the insight “I’ve got to stop drinking,” and in the same breath reflexly raising my hand from the steering wheel, bending my elbow exclaiming, “I’ll drink to that.”

And her part, to listen, not to judge or condemn, to help me eventually synthesize from the analysis an insight into my character and motivations based especially on understanding of my early relationships and emotional experiences, so that I might be free from the bondage of unconscious entanglements, free to choose consciously the most good of work, of love, of life.  She would never interfere, never impose her own biases or feelings on me.

“I never interfere in the lives of my patients.”

“Yes, ma’am, I understand that.”

“I don’t condone my patients associating with each other.”

“Yes, we all know that, remind each other frequently.”

“I never tell a patient what to do.”

“Yes, ma’am.  You have never told me what to do.”

“You are to be at this address [handed over to me, neatly written on a small card] at exactly three o’clock tomorrow afternoon.”

“Yes, ma’am.  But, to what end?”

“I have a patient whose son, a sixth-grader, is about to be thrown out of yet another school.  You will tutor him.  I have instructed her to pay you six dollars an hour.”

“Good.  I’ve never made more than a fourth of that.  Now I can pay a part of your bill.”

“You will go each afternoon to see the boy, but don’t talk with the mother.  I don’t allow my patients to associate with each other.”

“We all know that.  We remind each other frequently.”

Dorothy Danna treated me well into medical school, probably helped me a good deal.  She never tackled my alcoholism straight out, nor does she seem to have done anything to change it, but I don't know if that can ever be done.  (At least it could have been tried, but that would have been tantamount to identifying her own compulsive chain smoking as self-destructive, or my father's alcoholism, or his father's.)

Under her direction I began clinical work (which allowed me to feel authentic in relation to patients and their families), took the prerequisite courses, applied to and was accepted into medical school, and began medical studies focusing on child psychiatry.  It was patent I was trying to treat the child patient better than the child me had been treated.

I went through some years of growth and agony trusting Doctor Danna pretty well, not carrying her with me as a burden much beyond my years of treatment with her.  I terminated therapy with some defiance and evasiveness at the time I had quite decided to break the initial conditions of my treatment, to commit to marriage instead.  I was in the second year of medical school.


Thereafter it seemed somehow a very different era of my life, clumsily but really to be married; none the less, mere weeks later I began to consult psychotherapists as I had before, still feeling alone and misunderstood.  The first year of marriage was painful especially, because I married a woman not fully independent of her own parents while I tried to ignore my own dependence on the bottle.  In many ways we were both blind (but in all that nothing is unique, creative nor blameworthy).

My then wife had not been a psychiatric patient before, and for a while she steered clear of dependence on therapists even though I tried to pressure her into conjoint consultations in hope of relieving my own pain.  I had consulted some of the medical faculty who were teaching me (or trying to), which in itself was convoluted and confusing enough; but also, my wife was the target of seduction by the faculty in psychiatry because they knew her father had money and they wanted her not only to provide Mercedes-Benz payments but to endow chairs for them.  These patterns of opportunism on the part of psychiatrists continued through and beyond our divorce fifteen years later.

I intended from the beginning of this note not to omit mention of any psychotherapist I had consulted throughout my life.  I shall try to accomplish that, knowing some were disappointingly unimportant or unproductive, some persons or facts of treatment beyond my ability or willingness accurately to recall.  So, I shall chip away at a chronologic list, trying to make statements of subjective truth rather than to record objective fact.9

It is just now, as I read what I am saying here, that I see the truly addictive aspects of dependence on psychotherapy.  Throughout my training and practice in psychotherapy I have been aware and wary of the pitfalls of such dependence for the sake of my patients, as were some of my teachers, and as were the Doctors Freud, certainly; but it is just now, in this serious retrospect occasioned by my son's mention of his own current psychotherapy that I see so clearly all the elements I learned from thousands of heroin addicts and alcoholics who have been my patients.

[At this point I know I can complete the task of outlining the remainder of my own psychotherapeutic experiences:  my reaching bottom, beginning recovery; my fury at my powerlessness in relation to my own children's treatment; my ongoing battles with the authorities and the “establishment” which converted my anger into cardiac disease; my "political imprisonment" consulting psychiatrists and taking medications to keep my medical license; my graduation from having to be a psychiatric patient; my agonizing over the hopelessness of the injury already suffered by my step-children when I came to meet them, my conversion of that agony into cardiac suicide.]

I went to medical school specifically to become a child psychoanalyst.  I could not acknowledge the obvious, that I sought health or comfort for the tormented child I carried in my soul.  I sublimated painful rage which I might have relieved or resolved by lightening up and getting honest with a good therapist.  But I was stubborn in my refusal to trust.  I continued to drink and to smoke.

I had become a psychiatric professional, felt most myself without self-consciousness attending to patients with integrity and intensity.  I felt myself with patients, but I felt miserable with myself.  Somehow that was a necessary tension, a balance which let me direct energy.  I could direct energy toward and for the sake of a patient, but I could not want anything for myself.

I married rather than to finish my monastic psychoanalysis.  That marriage appears to me in retrospect monotonously marred by my moroseness.  That good children came from the marriage, and ultimately some measure of respect after prolonged struggle, does not make me good, nor the years of self doubt and self defeat.

I consulted out of episodic pain which I attributed to my wife, asking psychiatrists who were my teachers to heal me despite my stubbornness.  I expected them to be able to render a concise diagnosis and to prescribe a discrete treatment (what they demanded I perform as an apprentice for each master in the psychiatric guild, if not as physician for each patient).  They repeatedly found implausible diagnoses or none at all for me, and had no treatment but for me to buy their time by the tens of thousands of dollars worth, or if they had already found buyers told me they could not treat me.  I was variously labeled neurotic, obsessive, compulsive, obsessive-compulsive, bipolar, schizophrenic, “definitely not schizophrenic, but I am not sure yet what”, schizoaffective, and behind my back probably obnoxious but with a wealthy wife.

My self-defeat was reinforced by real life (the corollary of Murphy’s Law which acknowledges that even though one is paranoid there really are people out after each of us10).  After waiting for six months to see a psychiatrist who was too busy to see me in his office (but not to busy to drink with me at the Faculty Club), I was tersely informed by him that I was “too difficult to treat” and excused after five minutes.  Once I was told I would die if I didn’t spend three years as an inpatient at Menninger’s.  One psychiatrist told me he didn’t know my diagnosis, but that I was the angriest man he had ever met, recommended I take Valium in ample doses whenever I had an impulse.

It is not so difficult for me now to accept the clumsiness and self-centeredness of the professionals who treated me.  Like the elementary school teachers from whose abuse I am now beginning to  recuperate, they and their conventional institutions were never able to tolerate my own or any other person’s individuality or idiosyncrasies.  It is a phenomenon of social history, not of psychopathology or physiology.  I have come to a semblance of peaceful equilibrium with these social realities by changing myself, for it was psychopathological, arrogant and grandiose for me to expect rigid institutions or limited ordinary humans to adapt to my extreme demands.

Also, and most important, I have begun to see a glimmer of the process which ineluctably follows from letting go my demanding fury at other persons and at imperfect institutions.  I have begun to forgive and to accept myself, I have begun to let go the whip and reins with which I drove relentlessly against all trends, punishing myself even more than those about me.

It is one moment at a time, with no certainty the direction my life may take any next moment.  It is, indeed, more going with the flow of the reality about me, attending less to the smoldering coal of myopic self-centered opinion within my core, fanning it to flames with churning drama.  It is relative serenity within, peaceful relationships without.  It is the chance to live an ordinary real life (as my father finally did) for a few days or years, the remainder of my life.


1 The title (not the story) is shamelessly, purposefully and directly stolen from James Thurber, Let Your Mind Alone! and Other More or Less Inspirational Pieces, 1935, 1936, 1937.

2 I clearly recall also the first visual experience of my son, now a graphic artist.  He was born occiput posterior, that is, facing up as his head emerged.  He saw my face before he ever wiggled a finger free of his mother's womb.  I moved my head to the left, then to the right, and he tracked me clear across the midline of the visual field (a motor task generally considered not to be accomplished until age two months).

3 A definition of psychotherapy which is Homeric (or Odyssean):  that rudderless inner journey which reaches many islands, but even when it makes landfall at last at home, home is no longer solid land but flowing ocean; in other words, psychotherapy is a conscious seeking of serenity through giving over the struggle to control the universe to the ego's ultimate destiny, a return to and dissolution within the primeval soup.

4 I really don't care if my memories are "historically accurate."  I do care about associations and meanings, even idiosyncratic ones.  "Lee Trotter" is probably not accurate in that sense (nor does my mother remember such an insignificant and remote detail), but that name sounds just enough like "Leon Trotsky" to appeal to me for several idiosyncratic reasons.  That enriches me today, so I won't relinquish it.  As I remember, that psychologist evaluated but did not treat me, because he soon was dying of lung cancer.

5Is this what Professor Buber meant by "inclusion of the other over against which one is confronted."

6 I feel warmth and admiration especially toward Mordecai Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Ashley Montague, Edward Teller, Nelson Glueck, Leslie Farber and others I may not so vividly remember.  I thank those persons in my community of Tulsa, Oklahoma who brought these mentors there to lecture.  I cannot enough thank Thomas Gilcrease (whom I met only once, in a crowd); he gave his home and collection as the museum in which I met other important persons (especially Charlie Russell).  Gilcrease is one of the two men I call my “spiritual godfathers”, the other William Penn Adair Rogers, “The Cherokee Kid” or “The Roping Fool” (known to you as Will Rogers).

7 Especially Father John Schlitt, John Bennett Shaw, Hal Orbach (who seemed sicerely surprised when I called him forty years later to thank him) and Harry Sebran.

5 Of Hopeful Green Stuff Woven, a chapter from the novel Dark Alien, Red Woman.

9 A chronologic list for me and the reader to refer to (accurate initials where possible, pseudononymous initials in quotation marks where I cannot or will not recall accurately; approximate dates; consultants or psychotherapists of my family members noted in parentheses):
"L T", 1952
P B, 1953-1959
"P C", 1963
D D, 1965-1969
(V S, about 1966)
(J P, about 1967)
G D, 1969
J A, 1970-1971
B K L, 1971
M S, 1971
C.V.R., 1971
V E, 1972
S K, 1973-1975
J B, 1975-1980
J K, 1980-1983
(W B)
(S W)
(A K)
(C E "Anna Freud, Jr.")
D H, 1984-1987
A G, 1982-1989
"V S, Jr."
P/S L A R U, Aspen, 1988
(and its several staff members)
S D, 1989-1995
D A, 1989-1990
(and her clinic's several employees)
M G, 1989-1995
C C, 1990-1992
A F, 1990
A F, 1992
J B, 1993-1997
J S, 2000
M S, 2000
R B C, 2001-2002, 2007

Also, for my sister:  the Greek whose name began with M and H W; and all the others I have forgotten or never knew about.

10 Probably from Kafka.

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