Ginny’s Foreword to Every Day Gets a Little Closer
I was an A student in high school in New York. Even though I was creative, that was just a sideline to being mostly stunned, as though I had been hit on the head by a monster shyness. I went through puberty with my eyes shut and my head migrained.
Fairly early in my college life I put myself out to pasture academically. Although I did occasional “great” work, I liked nothing better than to be a human sundial, a curled up outdoor nap. I was scared of boys and didn't have any. My few later affairs were all surprises. As part of my college education, I spent some time in Europe working and studying and compiling a dramatic résumé that was really all anecdotes and friends, not progress. What passed for bravery was a form of nervous energy and inertia. I was scared to come home.
After I graduated from college, I returned to New York. I couldn't find a job, in fact had no direction. My qualifications dripped like Dali's watch, as I was tempted toward everything and nothing. By chance, I got a job teaching small children. Actually none of the children (and there were only about eight) were pupils; they were kindred spirits and what we did was play for a year.
While in New York I took classes in acting on how to howl and breathe and read lines so they sounded like they were hooked up to a real blood stream. There was a stillness to my life though, no matter how much I rushed through classes and friends.
Even when I didn't know what I was doing, I smiled a great deal. One friend, feeling himself pressed up against Pollyanna, said, “What have you got to be so happy about?” In fact, with my few great friends (I've always had them), I could be happy; my faults seemed only minor distractions compared to how natural and easy life was. However, my grin was stifling. My mind was filled with a jangling carousel of words that rotated constantly around moods and aromas, only occasionally dropping out into my voice or onto paper.I was not too good when it came to facts.
I lived alone in New York. My contact with the outside world, except for classes and letters, was minimal. I began to masturbate for the first time, and found it frightening, just because it was something private happening in my life.The transparent quality of my fears and happiness had always made me feel light and silly. A friend said, “I can read you like a book.” I was someone like Puck, who didn't need any responsibility; who never did anything more serious than vomit. And suddenly I was starting to act differently. Quickly I began to immerse myself in therapy.
The therapist was a woman and in the five months I was with her, twice a week, she tried to make my grin go away.She was convinced that my whole objective in therapy was to get her to like me. In the sessions she pounded away at my relationship with my parents. It had always been ridiculously loving and open and ironic.
I was afraid in therapy because I was sure there was some horrible secret that my mind was withholding from me.Some explanation of why my life felt like one of those children's drawing boards: when you lift up the paper, the easy funny faces, the squiggly lines, are all erased, leaving no traces. At that time no matter how much I did, how many best friends I loved, I was dependent on others to give me my setting and pulse. I was both vibrant and dead. I needed their push; I could never be self-starting. And my memory was mostly deadly and derogatory.
I was progressing in therapy to the point where both my feelings and me were sitting in the same leather chair. Then an unusual circumstance changed my life, or at least my location. I had applied on a whim to a writing program in California and was accepted. My therapist in New York was not happy with the news; in fact, was against my going. She said I was stuck, took no responsibility for my life, and no amount of fellowship was going to get me out. However, I could not act adult about it and write to the grant people saying, “Please postpone my miraculous stipend while I try to find my emotions and feel confident and human.” No, like everything else, I waded into the new environment, even though I was afraid that my therapist's words were correct and that I was just leaving at the beginning, risking my life for a guaranteed year of sun. But I could not refuse experience, since that was my alibi, my backdrop for feeling, my way of thinking, of moving. Always the scenic view rather than the serious, thoughtful route.
My therapist in the end gave me her blessing, convinced that I could get excellent help from a psychiatrist she knew in California. I left New York, and as always there was something thrilling about leaving. No matter how many valuables you have left behind, you still have your energy and your eyes, and right before I left, my grin, like a permanent logo, came back, with the exhilaration of getting out. I gambled that the psychological pot would still be waiting for me when I arrived in California, and I wouldn't have to start from scratch as a child star.
Because of the intensive and heroic work I had done in New York with acting, therapy and loneliness, I made it to California with all my limited, padded feelings still intact. It was a great time in my life because I had a guaranteed future, plus no men whom I had to try and stretch myself for and be judged by. I hadn't had any boyfriend since college. I found a small cottage with an orange tree in front;I never even thought of picking the oranges off the tree till a friend said I could. I substituted tennis for acting. And made my usual quota of one great girlfriend. At the college I did okay, though I acted like an ingenue.
I went from one therapist to another in coming from New York to Mountain View.
In a teetering frame of mind, teething on Chekhov and Jacques Brel and other sweet and sour sadnesses, I first went to see Dr. Yalom. Expectations, which are an important part of my lot, were great since he had been recommended by my New York therapist. As I went into his room vulnerable and warm, maybe even Bela Lugosi could have done the trick, but I doubt it. Dr. Yalom was special.
That first interview with him, my soul became infatuated. I could talk straight; I could cry, I could ask for help and not be ashamed. There were no recriminations waiting to escort me home. All his questions seemed to penetrate past the mush of my brain. Coming into his room I seemed to have license to be myself. I trusted Dr. Yalom. He was Jewish—and that day, I was too. He seemed familiar and natural without being a Santa Claus psychiatrist type.
Dr. Yalom suggested I join his group therapy that he conducted with another doctor. It was like signing up for the wrong course— I wanted Poetry and Religion on a one-to-one visitation and instead I got beginning bridge (and with no good chocolate mix either). He sent me to the co-leader of the group. In my preliminary interview with the other doctor there were no tears, no truths, just the subtext of an impersonal tape recorder breathing.
Group therapy is really hard. Especially if the table is stacked with inertia as ours was. The group of about seven patients plus two doctors met at a round table with a microphone dangling from the ceiling; on one side there was a wall of mirrors like a glassy web where my face would get caught every once in awhile looking at itself. A group of resident doctors sat on the other side and looked in the window mirror. It really didn't bother me. Although I am shy, I am also a little exhibitionist, and I removed myself accordingly and “acted” like a stuffed Ophelia. The table and chair put you in a posture where it was difficult to get going.
Many of us had the same problems—an inability to feel, unjelled anger, love troubles. There were a few miraculous days when one or the other of us caught fire and something would happen. But the time boundaries on either side of the hour and a half usually doused any big breakthroughs. And by the next week we had subsided into our usual psychological rigor mortis. (I should speak for myself. Others did get helped a lot.) In the group it was fun to share problems but we rarely shared solutions. We became friends; we never touched (which is practically a given in California). Toward the end we went out for pizzas with everything on them. I enjoyed Dr. Yalom as a group Leader even as I became more distant and lop-sided, hardly ever interacting with him, except visually. Part of my problem was that as usual I wasn't making decisions in my personal life, but drifting by on presence and friends. I couldn't really hold my head up. (I had a few months of private therapy concurrent with group therapy. It was with a young doctor.I'd been having horrible dreams and Dr. Yalom had suggested it.)
I was beginning to feel lifeless again and pretentious, so I sought artificial respiration from encounter groups, which were indigenous to the area. They were held in people's lush forest homes—on rugs, on straw mats, in Japanese baths, at midnight. I enjoyed the milieu even more than the content.Physicists, dancers, middle-aged people, boxers would show up with their skills and problems. There would be stage lights and Bob Dylan coaching from the corner of a hi-fi, you know something is happening, but you don't know what it is.
This form of theater with your soul auditioning appealed to me. There were tears and screaming and laughter and silence—all energizing. Fear, real hits on the back and friendships staggered up out of the midnight slime.Marriages dissolved before your eyes; white collar jobs were slashed. I gladly signed up for these judgment days and resurrections since I'd had nothing like it in my life.
Sometimes you would only be brought down though, without any upward sweep and salvation. You were supposed to be able to follow a certain ritual rhythm and beat, from fear and panic to howling insight, confession and acclamation.And if that failed you were supposed to be able to say, “Well,I'm a schmuck, I'm hopeless, so what? I'm going to go on from there,” and dance out your stomach cramps.
Eventually though I realized I was straddling two opposite salvations—the impacted, solid, sluggish, constant, patient group therapy which was just like my life; and the medieval carnivals of the mind and heart of the psychodramas. I knew Dr. Yalom disapproved of my encounters, especially one particular group leader who was inspired and brilliant but with no credentials other than magic. I never really chose my side but continued both forms of therapy, diminishing all the while. Finally in group therapy I got to feel as though I dragged my cocoon in, fastened it onto the chair each week, held on for an hour and a half and left.Refusing to be born.
I was bloated from the many months of group therapy, but was making no move to get out of the situation. My life was happy and yet as usual I felt somewhat submerged and foggy. Through friends I'd met a boyfriend named Karl who was intelligent and dynamic. He had his own book business, which I helped him with, learning no skills but managing to ply him with my jokes and getting stirred up inside. I was at first, however, not naturally attracted to him, which worried me. There was something about his eyes that seemed a little fierce and alien. But I enjoyed being with him even though I had some doubts, because unlike my few other loves, Karl was not an immediate crush, not someone I would have chosen from afar.
After a few terrific weeks of dalliance, we settled into a livable nonchalance. One day, almost as an aside, he told me there was an apartment he knew of where we could live together, and I moved from Mountain View into the city.Karl once said, holding me, that I brought humanity into his life, but he wasn't given to many love declarations.
We began living together easily and enjoying ourselves. It was the beginning of our life together and there were plenty of new green shoots—movies, books, walks, talks, embraces, meals, making our friends mutual and giving up some. I remember I had a physical around then at a free clinic and they wrote: “A twenty-five-year-old, white female in excellent health.”
I had left psychodrama by then, and the group therapy was just a habit that I dared not give up. I was waiting as usual to see what would happen in therapy rather than choose my own fate. One day Dr. Yalom called and asked if I would like to have private, free therapy with him on condition that we would both write about it afterward. It was one of those wonderful calls from out of the blue that I am susceptible to.I said yes, overjoyed.
When I began therapy as a private patient with Dr. Yalom, two years had gone by since my first fertile interview with him. I had replaced acting with tennis, looking for someone with being with someone, experiencing loneliness to trying to recall it. Inside I had a feeling that I had skipped out on my problems and that they would all be waiting for me at the ambush of night, some night. The critics, such as my New York therapist, and loves, whom I carried around with me would have said that there was hard work to be done. That I had succeeded too easily without deserving it, and that Karl, who had started calling me “babe,” really didn’t know my name. I tried to get him to call me by my name—Ginny—and whenever he did my life flowed. Sometimes, though, in deference to my blond hair and nerves, he called me the Golden Worrier.
Eighteen months of hibernation in group therapy had left me groggy and soiled. I began private therapy with only vague anxieties.