The temporary disappearance of my widgets last week (that’s what the stuff to the left of this post is called) is the least of my problems. The huge amount of time I used to have for writing about whatever pops into my head also seems to be disappearing — and I am not liking that one bit. Still, the weird way the widgets just sort of faded away last week while I was looking in the other direction made me think that maybe if I keep up this not very frequent posting schedule the whole thing — my entire blog, I mean — will fade, like one of those huge tapestries of people hunting and quaffing wine that’s been left hanging in the ancestral hall too long.
And then the next thing you know, I’ll have to stick the blog in a museum, and turn on a faint blue light for about two hours a day while people shuffle past and peer at the hunters and the dogs and marvel at how they look so lifelike, for something that happened such a long time ago. That, anyway, is what my archives feel like when I go back to look at them. No, truth be told, that’s what last week’s post feels like too.
In the interest of keeping at least today’s part of the whole damned thing from fading, I am writing to tell you the one thing of real interest that occurred to me this week, something that has nothing to do with widgets, tapestries or pressure cookers, but is an insight that’s actually sort of handy and so I want to give it to you, totally free of course.
It is this: say you are a woman (this works if you are of the other gender, but let’s just start there, shall we?), and you are feeling down, maybe even depressed and unhappy. And it doesn’t seem to be going away. Now here in northern California, your tool of choice for dealing with that might be to go to see a psychotherapist. I, myself, have tried that tool — in fact, for many years I went to talk to a very lovely woman, named Dr. B, twice a week to sort out my feelings of not being quite sure why I was not stunningly happy.
Dr. B did me some good. But she was also somewhat confusing to deal with. I spent a lot of time staring at her and wondering why she was not talking. Now, I am not a fool, and I do know that the whole idea is that I am supposed to do the talking, but it seemed extraordinary to imagine how anyone could sit there and listen to me talk and not want to interrupt me, tell me what they’d recently bought on sale, or had in the fridge to cook that night.
So, although, objectively, I was aware that Dr. B is a nice, lovely, caring woman, and that it was her job to keep quiet while I talked, I never really warmed to her. I’m pretty sure that’s because I never got over the feeling that people you like do not just sit there while you are telling them about your fear of failure without also sharing their fear of, say, large hairy spiders. Also, I knew that the fact that I did not really like her would become the subject of our therapy, because that is What You Do when you discover you have any kind of feeling about your therapist. And my suspicion was that I would then have to talk about why I did not like myself, because your silent therapist is, after all, just a stand-in for you. In the end, I just thought it would be better to save all that up for a novel, rather than spend a lot of money per hour to talk about it.
Despite my reluctance to tell Dr. B to her face that she was not on my list of favorite friends, I learned many useful skills from her. Take, for example, my then-default position on humanity — that if you cannot figure out what people think about you, it is likely that they despise you. Dr. B managed to show me, without saying more than ten words over the course of quite a few years, that it is probably better to look at what people DO if you wish to figure out what they think. (Isn’t that great advice?) Also, I learned to take a moment before I allowed myself to think the reason a loved one was doing something I didn’t like was because they hated me and so did this thing on purpose. Generally, all it takes is a moment to shake off that not very helpful impulse.
The trouble with psychotherapy (besides that no talking problem), though, is that it is really expensive. Every time we drive by Dr. B’s house (she lives in our neighborhood, which also gave me some issues to discuss at our sessions), we talk about how her beautiful garden is actually MY beautiful garden, since I paid for it.
Now, are you wondering where this is heading? I have arrived. After finishing up being treated for breast cancer, and feeling a bit of a shell of my usual self, which is to say, feeling tired, down, and very out of shape, I had a bout of inspiration (on a day when I had had three lattes and a bar of dark chocolate) and signed up for an eight week session at Emerson Sport Training and Fitness. I kid you not. I will not tell you how, five years ago, no five months ago, I would have thought this one of the stupider, more self-absorbed things a woman could do. That is because I was spectacularly wrong to think that.
Having put myself in the hands of Carin, the personal trainer for the last month, I am here to tell you that the whole thing is just really great. She watches me lovingly and approvingly, explains to me patiently where my abdominal muscles are and then shows me how to get them working again, and has already told me all about her love of dogs, her upcoming trip to Peru, and her past as a competitive cyclist. In the many, many years of knowing Dr. B I knew the following facts about her beyond her address and telephone number and professional credentials: that she has two daughters, a husband and likes the same shade of green I do — that is, a sort of dark olive-y green. (I know that because we own the exact same shawl, a fact I chose not to discuss at our sessions because I feared it would lead to a long discussion of whether I wished to be her, which would lead to the garden and the fact that I didn’t wish to be her, I just wished to have her garden–I mean my garden–for myself.) With Carin, in the blink of an eye, not only have I acquired tons of interesting information about her dogs, cycling and South America, but I’ve also lost several inches and all residual feelings of despair. I am in a good mood a lot. Also, Carin is half the price of Dr. B. I should repeat that — it is a LOT CHEAPER to see a personal trainer than a psychotherapist.
What is true, of course, is that the two are not equivalent. It’s just that at this point, what’s needed is not the talking cure, but the strength training cure. And that brings me to my inspiration, the one I’m giving you for free, because I’m betting you know this already too — the trick to solving many problems is simply laying your hands on the right tool. Take the widget disappearance problem. That turned out to be a matter of unchecking a box I’d mistakenly checked that hid everything from view. To solve that, I just needed the five minutes of clarity and calm that only a nice cup of tea can give you. The post-breast cancer ennui? Clearly, the answer is three times a week, sixty minute sessions with a nice woman toting a clipboard that shows your progress, a little bit every day, in the direction of rude, good health. Next up? The disappearing time issue. I’m thinking the right tool for that problem might be to get up a little earlier. Being in rude good health as I currently am, I’m going to guess that won’t be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.