The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

There is a pattern to today’s date when written in short hand form, 11 10 11, that appeals to me. Numerically challenged though I may be, I can still enjoy patterns among numbers, in fact when I see them as they apply to the day’s date it gives me a delicious feeling, as if it hints at the possibility that today will be a good day.

A good day for a four year old grandson’s birthday, a good day for standing in a park filled with friends, among indigenous plants and grasses, within the inner city, and soaking up the first of the sun as it makes its way out from behind the clouds of yesterday’s rain.

Speaking of yesterday, I went to a workshop on creative dreaming. The contents of the workshop belong to the workshop but it’s safe for me to say I found the day ‘liberating’.

That’s what they say isn’t it? That something can be liberating. That something can free you from your earlier preconceptions, from previous assumptions about your world, from old stereotypes and leave you in a new place.

There were nine of us in this group, a telling number for me. Anytime I am in a group of nine I am back with my eight siblings, but this group to me was all the more remarkable because it consisted of six men and only three women, including one of the facilitators.

In honour of my new found and clumsy determination to break up the text with images, I include a photo my family of origin before my youngest brother is born, including my mother and minus my father, whom I imagine took the photo.

Usually the groups to which I belong in the literary and psychological world are dominated by women, with maybe one or two men, if you’re lucky.

I have not been in such a male dominated group for as many years as I can remember, perhaps not since I was young within my family where my five brothers and father outweighed we four girls and our then mouse-like mother.

My brothers, I suspect, would not consider that our mother is mouse like, though to me in those days she was.

In this workshop we explored the creative potential of shared dreams, dreams people brought into the room, mostly remembered from the night before, which they offered as a sort of oral space, against which others might bounce thoughts from their own dreams or other ideas, from music, from poetry, from memory, from the technological world, from whatever may have occurred to them.

After the morning’s session we were left to our own devices with Texta colours and butcher paper and sequins and glue and magazines for cut outs and collages and scissors, of course, and one man brought his guitar with the help of which he composed a song, and another wrote a poem, and others drew images that on the surface of it may have seemed obscure, however arresting, but under our freewheeling, emotional and associative group eyes they all came to life as filled with meaning.

It was a day riddled with uncertainly, beyond the basic framework of group activity times. There were no rules, there was no demand that we intellectualise, that we interpret meanings, that we outsmart one another with our wit and cleverness.

It was not a therapy group. It was not a writing group. It was not a reading group. It was a group such as I have never been in before. Non-competitive, in so far as such is possible.

I come from a long history of ‘sophisticated’ therapeutic groups where from memory the tension is high and members often wait to pronounce judgement on one another’s crazy thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Now that is probably not a fair reflection of good group work but it sticks in my memory.

I was once in a therapy group – this when I was still young – led by an esteemed psychoanalyst, which I have since likened to the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Such were the unwritten rules that governed our behaviour and the conduct of our leader who said nothing most of the time, not by way of introduction or departure – a traditional analytic approach in those days perhaps, but nevertheless one designed I think to leave him in a powerful position.

The analyst’s occasional pronouncements were invariably directed at the group and I sensed that he saw himself as outside of the group. As if he were a puppet pulling invisible strings and we were the puppets, knowing little if anything about why we behaved as we did but behaving accordingly.

But yesterday’s experience was different, with two facilitators, a man and a woman, and both, to my mind, particularly the man, prepared to share their most heart-felt experiences in order to allow for what I can only describe as a creative dialogue that then led us into creative activity.

Because I’m freezing

My youngest daughter is learning to drive. In these first few weeks she is having proper lessons with an RACV driving instructor before she is ready to go out and practice with her parents.
‘The instructor is so strict,’ she said to me the other day as I drove her to school. ‘I so much as creep off the white line a fraction and he orders me back.’ She turns towards me. ‘You don’t always stay on the white line.’

‘I know, ‘ I said. ‘But it’s like learning the rules of grammar. You need to be meticulous when you first learn them and follow the rules to the letter. Only when you understand them can you deviate.’

Learning the rules of the road are more essential to the preservation of life than learning the rules of grammar but I suspect there is merit in first learning to do something – whatever it is – strictly, according to some set of rules and then using your intuition to know when to break them.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I broke my leg last year, 4 September 2010. I must take care to avoid a repeat. Lightning, they say, never strikes in the same place twice. It’s unlikely I’ll break my leg again, but why, I wonder, is it such a time of anxiety?

Twenty years ago almost to the day, on 2 September 1991, the analysts gave me the sack from the psychoanalytic training. I do not write about this event in my blog as it seems too unacceptable to mention in such a public forum, besides it belongs to a part of my life I do not include here, my professional life. And yet it is an event that also sparked the writing of my thesis on the desire for revenge and so it is an essential brick in the wall of my story.

It’s funny how blogs represent only parts of our lives and other parts remain hidden from view. Mostly I hide the things of which I feel most deeply ashamed. Even as they peek out at me and beg to be included in my writing. Until I can move a little past the initial gut wrenching tug of shame I cannot speak about them. I must hide them from view. So it is with the analytic training.

Twenty years is a long time to feel so deeply about an unfortunate event and although I do not write in detail here about this experience, you can take my word for it, this rates for me as one of the worst experiences of my adult life.

Though of course, like so many traumatic experiences it has proved itself to be one of the most useful. It stimulated me to go back to writing, an activity I had abandoned once I hit adolescence, when I first decided on a career in the helping professions.

Here I shall include an image of my father circa 1964. I include it as a cryptic reference to my father who had an influence on the experiences to which I allude here and also to break up the text. I’m trying hard to respect people’s abhorrence within the the blogosphere for reams of writing.

There are two stories that come to mind here. The first I heard on the TV series Ballykissangel, when the priest, Peter Clifford, first acknowledges his love for Assumpta Fitzgerald

There’s this baby polar bear swimming in the sea and he climbs out, runs across the ice to his mother and says, ‘Mum, are you sure I’m a polar bear?’ And his Mum says. ‘Don’t be daft. Of course I’m sure. You have white fur, you eat fish. You’re a polar bear. Now get back into the sea.’

But the little polar bear is not satisfied. He jumps out again and goes up to his father and says, ‘Dad, am I really a polar bear?’ And his father’s says ‘What are you talking about? Of course you’re a polar bear. You’ve got white fur, you eat fish, you’re a polar bear. Why do you ask?

And the baby bear says, ‘Because I’m freezing.’

This story has stayed with me, as a statement of the pain of not belonging, a fish out of water, to use an ill chosen cliché.

The second anecdote derives from a you tube I saw by chance recently on the nature of creativity through Hilary’s blog. To be truly creative the photographer, Andrew Zuckerman, argues you need ‘curiosity and rigour’. He uses the example of an experiment he’d heard about where researches used three groups of mice under three different sets of conditions.

The first mouse had everything it needed in the cage, and nothing was required of it to meet its needs. A sort of mouse heaven. The second mouse also had everything it needed, but in order to get to it, the second mouse had to go through a simple series of routine tasks. The third mouse had everything it needed but to get to it this mouse had to leave its cage and go through an elaborate series of contraptions including a high ledge along which it needed to walk suspended above a tub of water before this third mouse could get what it needed or wanted.

Then the researchers measured the brain development of the mice. They found the first mouse showed no dendritic growth at all. Nothing in its brain changed during the research period. The second mouse grew new dendrites, but it was the third mouse which not only grew more dendrites but also grew connections between them. The point being that to grow we need to face our fears and challenges.

The first story suggests a wish to get out of what to the baby polar bear felt like an overwhelming challenge, to belong where he felt he did not belong, whereas the second one urges us to press on regardless. There is an optimal level of challenges we must face. too much challenge and we buckle under, not enough and we atrophy.

Yesterday was the twentieth anniversary of the day on which I was dismissed from the psychoanalytic training and I did not even recognise it at the time, though I left my keys behind in the changing rooms of a clothes shop where I had tried on a shirt for size and I misplaced my credit card after I bought the shirt and could not find it later in the evening when I was out for dinner with my husband and went to pay for our meal.

I knew then, as we walked home from the restaurant and I had still not located my credit card that something was not quite right.

Not until now this morning, after I have relocated my credit card in another section of my wallet where I usually only put coins and notes not cards, do I realise how unsettled I am. And tomorrow – and this I remember in advance – is the second anniversary of my broken leg. All up a time of painful memories and anniversaries. I must take extra care today and tomorrow.