Noilly Prattle: June 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Looking Back: 32 – the marriage from the asylum

    I'm meandering a bit in the labyrinth of my thoughts and getting ahead of myself. While attending graduate school evenings I continued working at the State Hospital to pay for the tuition and fees as well as the rent for my apartment and food. The day shift, of course, was prime time in the institution, when most of the off-ward activities took place. This was how I got involved in the Art Therapy project for my Masters Thesis. I also got assigned to various wards in a kind of staff rotation policy to keep people on their toes I suppose. It kept me on my toes alright, but the fickle finger of fate also came along and knocked me off my feet. A kind of temporary insanity overcame my better and more sober judgment.

       It amuses me, now, to say I met M., my first wife, in an insane asylum in 1970. She was a professional Registered Nurse on one of the wards that I worked on. But she was nothing like Nurse Ratched in Ken Kessey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She was from a wealthy and prominent family in the city, but she was far from being the “debutante”. She was, although expensively well-dressed, imbued with the new Aquarian ethos of the period—harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding, and all that. And I had also been caught up in the anti-war and social liberation revolution sweeping campuses across America in the late 60s. So, we both seemed to have a lot in common, at least at first blush. She was already a professional nurse and I, although merely an aide, was a BA working on a Masters with seemingly bright future prospects. We began to see each other socially and one thing led to another and suddenly there was talk of marriage. Considering our different socio-economic backgrounds I never felt entirely comfortable with the idea. Much against my better judgement and wallet I had to buy expensive clothes from boutiques to be presentable at a country club wedding reception. I had been a K-Mart shopper until then. But wedding plans take on a life of their own and develop a certain force of inevitability and a momentum that is difficult to stop despite a nagging little voice in the back of one's mind.

wedding reception  -
with my parents, my brother (best man) and his wife
        We were married (in my boutique suit) in November, 1970 and moved into a new condo that was far more expensive than my previous apartment. I also had to have surgery for a deviated septum which took a long time to heal and would develop nose bleeds at inopportune times--like, one time, in the middle of a party. Not a pretty sight. Anyhow, without going into the grim details, the marriage lasted about six months and ended in separation, and divorce about another six months later. It was my fault. I simply wasn't ready to settle down to a married life style. I had had misgivings beyond the usual pre-nuptual jitters, but plans and arrangements had gone too far and I hadn't the courage to call the whole thing off. The wanderlust was on me and I felt hemmed in with the demands of married life, work and study. There was also the pressure to achieve on an economic level that I could neither realistically aspire to reach on a teacher's salary nor one that I was entirely comfortable with on the country club and golf set social level which, in my perception, often seemed affected and acquisitive—even less than genuine. It may have been working class snobbery or maybe I just wasn't sufficiently “Republican” to appreciate the luxuries of the life style of that economic level.

        At any rate, things went from bad to worse at home and one day I simply packed up my things, left a note, jumped in my car and left while my wife was out. I went to see an old college friend in another city and stayed there talking with him for a few days while determining what I would do next. Of course I owed my wife an explanation, and was conflicted between leaving her in the lurch and needing to be free from a relationship that I felt unsuited for.

To be continued...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

     Are we about to witness the dreaded “Grexit” from the EU?

stencil in Athens by street artist Flip
       The grand experiment in European unity seems to be coming apart at the seams. The Greek drama may only be the tip of the iceberg with Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland possibly waiting in the wings. Clearly, a single currency without political unity and a reasonable economic parity is not working, with the haves clearly frustrated with the have lesses and demanding austerity from the perceived profligacy of the poorer southern cousins.

       The news out of Europe on the negotiations between its financial triumvirate (ECB, IMF, World Bank) creditors and Greece's debt repayment looks less and less promising for preventing a Greek default. Should that occur, as seems increasingly possible, what are Greece's options? Who might benefit, besides Greece itself, from a Grexit from the EU?

       I am guessing that there is a “savior” waiting in the wings, or, since this involves a Greek drama, shall we say a “deus ex machina” dropping down from the clouds to straighten everything out.

       The “new great game” of empire is at the core of much of the unrest and instability we are witnessing in our hapless 21st Century. The central arc of instability is the friction point between the main protagonists in this clash of the titans in the borderland between NATO and the emerging Russia-China entente cordiale and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). The Ukrainian conflict is the current flash point in this imperial struggle. The chaos in the Middle East is a kind of sub-plot in the main theme of this clash of empires.

       So, along comes little Greece, newly kicked out of the European Union. Who can it turn to for financial assistance and security? Who would be delighted to stick it back to the Western alliance for its non-stop demonization of everything Russian, especially it's tough unflappable leader? Who would love to have another warm-water port along with Sevastopol in exchange for a helping financial hand?

Greek Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras
       Greek Prime Minister Tsipras has been openly pro-Moscow, and Russia in May invited Greece to join the BRICS Development Bank. If Greece leaves the Euro and possibly the EU as well, it would not have much choice but to throw in its lot with the growing Eastern alliance, potentially opening a door to further defections by Europe's poor southern cousins.

       I'd say fasten your seat belts, we're in for a bumpy ride. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Looking Back: 31– the thesis

     Here is a quote from ARTherapy that perfectly sums up the rationale for doing art therapy with children:

Children are naturally creative, and it is usually easier for them to draw a picture as opposed to answering questions directly. They may be reluctant or even hostile about discussing certain topics. Creating artwork is a non-threatening venue that allows kids to tackle tough issues in a creative way. Talking to the children about their drawings or paintings and helping them interpret the art can provide therapists with the opening they need to get at the heart of the problems affecting their young patients.

       After arming myself with green lights from the Worcester State Hospital Art Therapist and Eleanor McKuen, the classroom teacher, and doing some basic research among the literature on art therapy, I approached the department head at the college and proposed the topic for my Master's Thesis.

       First of all, I introduced the concept and the circumstances that generated my interest in it. I also explained the interest and enthusiasm of the Art Therapist and the classroom teacher and their willingness to advise me in the project. The professor, who would be responsible for supervising the thesis, then wanted to know what methodology I proposed to use to collect the research data and analyze it.

       I explained that I planned to attend an actual classroom for emotionally disturbed children, with the teacher's permission and participation, for a specified number of times so that the children could become accustomed to and comfortable with my presence in the room. The children thought of me as an “art teacher”. I did not give them any “art lessons” per se, but encouraged them to draw anything they liked using whatever medium (pencil, crayon, paint, scissors, glue, etc.) they liked. When a child finished a work to his/her satisfaction (most of the children with emotional issues were boys, by the way) I would encourage the child to “tell me about your picture” and I tape recorded the conversations. I would then bring the pictures and tape recordings to the art therapist and we would discuss them. Finally, once the project was completed I would organize and analyze the data, summarize my conclusions and write the thesis. The department head approved the topic for my thesis and I was awarded a Masters Degree in 1973.

the work of a happy child
       Art therapy isn't necessarily confined to children with severe emotional problems, but can be beneficial even in a normal classroom environment as long as the children feel comfortable enough to express their deepest feelings and not to repress their natural inhibitions—such, perhaps, as harboring negative feelings toward a parent.

the making of
"Mommy Dearest"
       During a project with a 6th Grade class in my own art class many years later I was startled to see a perfect example of the complete artistic expression of a boy's feelings towards his mother, who was what we call a “Kyoiku Mama” 教育ママ [Education Mom] who put a lot of pressure on him to get top grades and get into the best private junior high school. The picture, which I somewhat sardonically call "Mommy Dearest",  needs no explanation and I didn't discuss it with him. He was probably able to release a lot of repressed hostility towards his demanding mother in the process of creating the picture without actually striking her down with lightning or drowning her in a raging sea. He was a bright student and I believe he went on to a good school. 

"Mommy Dearest"

      I don't know if he ever showed her the picture of “Mommy Dearest”.

To be continued...