Category Archives: Meaning Making

Intentions 2013, the Spice Girl Edition

Last night Keith and I were going to dinner and I was driving there, only I didn’t know where there was. I asked him where we were going. “I don’t know,” he answered. “Well,” I said somewhat seriously, “then I will just keep driving until we figure it out.” Keith tried to be helpful by telling me all the places that we could go. He named all the places that we usually go to. As he listed the options I was dissatisfied with all of them. I didn’t want to go to Glendale or Pasadena. And I certainly I didn’t want to go to Zen Sushi for the ten-millionth time. “You knew last night what you wanted. It was easy when you knew what you wanted.It was easy.” The other night I knew I wanted a baked potato and a salad for dinner. It was easy. I wanted it and we went and got it.

This little experience of ‘destination unknown’ got me thinking about the bigger experience of knowing where I’m going and how it is a whole lot easier to get there if I know what I want. I know that sounds extraordinarily obvious and I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to leave my post and going off to see what Justin Bieber is Tweeting. But before you do, let me try to make my case in more than 140 characters that even if you don’t think you know what you want that you actually really do. I know that knowing what we want isn’t always so easy. There are a plethora of reasons we don’t let ourselves know what we want. Wanting can be uncomfortable. If we feel the want then we feel the lack.  That lack can create uncomfortable feelings( grief, depression and despair) and so we deny the wanting.  Also, if we feel like we can’t have it because we are “too” something ( too old or too lazy or whatever too-too you turn to) or that someone will stop us from having it, then again, we press down the desire into our unconscious. And, there are somethings that no matter how hard we try we can’t have them( in my story that would be baby)….but there is a value to looking at that we can’t have and discover if there is a deeper want that can actually be met.

I am a big advocate of asking my patients what they want, or for that matter asking friends, family and people I get in conversations with in the nail salon, as knowing what we want most tells us so much about us.  As -Arsène Houssaye. said,”Dites moi qui vous aimez et je vous dirai qui vows etes.”( “Tell me who you love and I will tell you who you are.”). Our desires inform us of so very much about us, they reveal our wounds, insecurities, and our deepest soul desires that we might not dare to say. Even the seemingly most insignificant desires can be loaded with meaning. My desire for shoes, skincare and lipsticks are NOT just about those things. There is a story that goes with the desire. I have a narrative about who I will be with each and every object I desire. As does everyone, a cigar is never a cigar and a desire for a new handbag is never JUST about the handbag.

If I asked you for a list of what you wanted most, could you tell me? Do you know what you want most? I believe, whether you can name it or not, that you do. I believe that you know exactly what you want. Forgive my inflation, but I feel sure that if we were sitting across from each other and I asked you the right questions that I could get you to tell me what you really-really-really wanted( that is, if you trusted me and KNEW that I would not malign you for your wants, which I assure you I wouldn’t). Maybe you wouldn’t admit them right away, but just having the conversation about what you want most would likely make you aware of your top two unspoken desires.

If you did tell me, perhaps you’d write off what you really want as silly or ridiculous and implausible, as a sort of disclaimer of  your deepest dreams,  and  tell me that you know that what you want is unattainable, but I bet you know it.  Knowing what you want is a really good first step. Truly, it is easier to know I want a potato for dinner than it is to drive around saying no to every suggestion I am given. And, yeah, it is easier to know that I want a potato than it is to admit I want something that is going to take hard work, determination and risk in order to achieve.

In January, after reading, Dorothea’s post, “Ready or not—Intentions 2013“, that I had a bit of break through about what I wanted. Yes, I have a long and, to my mind,  an impressive list of accomplishments that I achieved in 2012.I almost always know what I want to do, be an have, even if I ignore that wanting. However I wasn’t focused on what I really-really-want. After reading Dorothea’s post and her previous post Intentions check in 2012 I was a bit unsettled, I took a new list of my goals for 2013 and I found them too broad and too unfocused. In wanting all of those things I felt sure that I was diluting my focus. I wanted a list like Dorothea’s. I wanted 2013 to be used in a way that felt meaningful and significant and as nice of a goal as redecorating the kitchen is it is not what I really, really want—that is not a goal that enlivens me or gives me purpose. So after reading Dorothea’s inspiring post I wrote a new list.

My post-Dorothea-post list was very different. It was mean and lean and clean, only 25 objectives versus the 250 item list I had pre-Dorothea. One thing significantly different about the new list was that all the items on the list feel hard to claim. They feel scary and too much and, I think, that is exactly how I know they are right for me. What we want most almost always feels ‘too much’, we dare not dream it. I had a good friend who was incredible at doing makeup. One day she whispered to me her greatest hope, “I wish I could be a makeup artist.” “Are you kidding?,” I replied. My friend  immediately inferred from my gobsmacked reaction that I was saying that there was no way that she could make that dream a reality, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. She wore her dream on her face and all she had to do was to march herself down to the MAC counter and she would be one big step closer to making her dream a reality. But for her it felt impossible. She didn’t see how close she was to making her dream happen. I assured her that she could and that she would be amazing at it. Sadly my assurances weren’t enough. She was too scared to risk having her dream not come true and so she chose not to try.  Today she is an office manager. I see this over and over again in my work and in my life, people’s dreams are so close they can touch them and yet they dare not make the call, take the step, or ask their friend in “the business” about “how to break in”.  Just that one question could open the doorway to their dreams and they don’t dare. And it isn’t just about “them”, I do it too.

Part of my anxiety about naming one of my intentions is that I feel like I have had this goal so many times before, in different forms, and that something in me has stopped me each and every year. Even as reminders of previous failures to produce paraded through my mind, I knew I wanted it just the same. I wanted it more clearly and strongly than I did that stupid baked potato that I was willing to drive cross town for. The intention was, ” I will complete the book proposal for  my self-help/memoir ,”What happens when dreams don’t come true and how to live happily ever after anyway” and submit it to agents.” Even to write that here on the blog, where I know I am among friends, makes my heart race a little as I wonder if you will judge me for daring to write it down.  And even as I type that I know I am projecting my self-judgement onto you. What do  you care? You, lovely you, likely want to see me succeed. Your not judging me, are you? If you are, could you not tell me. I think I ‘d rather not know.

The other scary thing about really getting clear about what you want and where you want to go is that you have to do stuff in order to make it happen. That wasn’t always obvious to me. There was a time that I thought that writing it on a list and saying a few affirmations was enough, happily that was a long time ago. Now, happily, I understand that it takes work to actualize intentions. Everyday I ask myself, “what small action can I take towards this goal, no matter how small.” And when I have gone two days without taking an action I think of what I tough-love writing teacher I had taught her students about goal setting, “Write all of your goals on an index cards, a goal for each card.  Go through the cards everyday and write down one action you took towards the goal. If at the end of the week you have not taken an action on a goal then say out loud: “I don’t want to achieve this goal” and then tear up the card.” Okay, her advice is a bit tough. I haven’t actually written any of my intentions on index cards. But everyday when I review my intentions and I find myself procrastinating on sitting down and working on my proposal, I do think of the index cards and I ask myself if,with my lack of action, I am actually telling myself that I don’t want to achieve this goal. This thought, especially if it happens two-days in a row, almost always gets me moving.

With hindsight and eight-hours of sleep, I think that I actually did know what I wanted last night when we were driving around. I was extremely tired when I got home. I don’t think I really wanted to go out. I didn’t know it then. I just knew that when I asked myself where I wanted to go for dinner that “nowhere” is the only answer I got. And, I can see, again with hindsight, that “nowhere” is actually an answer. I didn’t really want to go to dinner. I wanted to put on flannel pajamas and watch Downton Abbey( again). I was actually too tired to eat or to chew or even to get undressed( I may or may not have slept in the sweater that I wore to dinner). Yes, I know I needed nourishment. But I also needed to not sit at a table and look at a menu and talk to a waitress.

So, lovely you, what do you really, really want?

Fear is my friend

AVintageChicBlog-FearA gazillion years ago, when the Golden Girls was a prime time show and there was no such thing as the Internet( yes, I am that old) I remember buying, and maybe even reading, a book by Susan Jeffers. I can’t tell you one thing about the book. Truly, I am not sure if I ever even read it. I bought it when I was in my twenties. It was a dark period involving temp jobs, too much Taco Bell and tequila, horrible hair and horrific man choices as well as unexplainable penchant for Borghese Opalescent Fuchsia lipstick. When I wasn’t making self-destructive  fashion or food choices and/or making mindless and masochistic moves, including happy hour at the Red Onion, I was also devouring the self-help section of my neighborhood Crown Books. I was turning to the self-help section the way a dying man turns to the church. Each week I would go in search of another book that promised easy and instant and massive change in my life with little or no effort, that was my genre. If a book required me to develop skills such as self-awareness or take  any tangible steps to make my life better in anyway other than wishing for it, I was not in ( I could write an entire post on my angry and emotionally immature reaction to M.Scott Peck’s, Road Less Traveled. I have since gone on to see he was right about a lot of the things. But that was the pre-therapy me who had a hissy-fit in response to Peck’s Calvinist work ethic) . It was books like  Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow that were my guidebooks. Now, keep in mind,I didn’t actually read that book either, that was too much work. Rather I used the title as an excuse, as well as a coaster for my cocktails, not to do all manner of things. If I didn’t like a job or a class or anything that took any effort, the title would come to mind and I’d think,  “I don’t love this so I shouldn’t be doing this. It should be easy. If I follow my bliss it will all be bliss” Yes, I know, it was some pretty immature thinking. But I was, I assure you, pretty immature for my age. And I know if Jospeh Campbell heard my twenty-something take on his profound philosophy he would have likely had to throttle me and he would have been right to throttle me. I deserved some philosophical throttling back then.

The Susan Jeffers book I bought, and most-likely didn’t read, was Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. When I look back to that time period I am not sure what I was afraid. I don’t remember being afraid. I remember being inert and impulsive ( a somewhat dangerous combination, much like a Long Island Iced Tea paired with Kamikaze shooters. Remember, I was in my twenties). Not that there weren’t things I should have been afraid of. Trust me, there were. My judgement should have frightened me. I should have been having panic attacks over my lack of a solid CV. But then, quite frankly, I was too dumb to be scared. In retrospect, I think that there were a lot of choices I KNEW that I should be making and yet I was too afraid to make them. I knew I should brake up with my boyfriend. I knew I needed to go back to school, but I was too afraid. So maybe there was a part of me that I knew I needed to get past the fear and act, but that part of me couldn’t get the me who would rather watch “Charles in Charge” to actually read the book.

It wasn’t until decades later that I actually took Dr. Jeffers advice, even though I STILL haven’t read her book. I remember the day that I started to develop a relationship with fear. A friend of mine who taught Psychology at Lake Forest College asked me to come into her class and lecture on my thesis topic, The Genesis of Shame: The Figleaf of Fashion and Its Place in Psychotherapy. I found myself saying yes to what I was sure I couldn’t do. Only I did it and I loved it. I loved it so much that I found myself wishing I had gotten a PhD so I could teach at a small liberal arts college. You see? My fear was wrong. My fear was a big old liar face.

A few months after the Lake Forest lecture the Clinical Director at the Jung Center asked me to teach a class on Sandplay. I was sure I couldn’t and yet I found myself saying yes to what my fear was telling me I absolutely couldn’t do. Again, I loved it. Again, the fear was a liar-liar-pants-on-fire.  In the last couple of years I have done countless things that my fear convinced me I couldn’t accomplish. There was the big one that I confronted two-years ago, the fear told me that there was absolutely no way could I survive on my own or take care of myself. I had been married for 19 years and I had not done a lot of taking care of myself  during our marriage. My fear reminded me of all the things I hadn’t done for almost two decades. It, I assure you, made a convincing case. But I left anyway. And you know what? I was fine. I am fine. I’m thriving. My fear obviously was a lousy prognosticator.

So, in the last twelve-months when my fear told me that there was no way I could go on TV and talk about infertility or be a presenter at Fertility Planit or write for Huffington Post, I politely reminded my fear that every time it tells me that I can’t that I actually go on and prove it wrong and that it is almost always a good thing and that I am better for having faced the fear. It’s gotten to the point that I have almost longed for things to be afraid of as I long for the ability to stick my tongue out at fear. I’m actually sort of upset that I have nothing that am actually afraid of now. Okay, that’s not entirely true, there are things I am still afraid of  and some of those are rational and logical and worthy of my fear. I remain afraid of death, snakes, big roller coasters and other logical dangers that don’t prevent me from doing much except from going to the reptile house at the zoo or to Six Flags–and I am just fine with those fears. That’s not the kind of fears I am talking about here, I am talking about the fears that tell me “I can’t” or “I’m not good enough”. Thanks to the part of me that said yes and felt that fear and did it anyway, I am not longer afraid of teaching or  public speaking or appearing on TV or being interviewed by the press. Those things are no longer my fears. I’m not sure what I have left to overcome, but I am sort of excited for fear to step in and tell me that I can’t do something as that fear signal now gives me the green light to take action and show it who’s the boss.

Is the unlived life worth examining?

Nothing I know matters more
Than what never happened.
— John Burnside, ‘Hearsay

9780374281113_p0_v1_s260x420I once had a psychoanalyst ask me to write out in detailed form the way I wish my life had gone. I am not sure why he asked me to do that, and at the time I was even less sure.  I do know that I was at once both resistant and energized by his invitation which I ultimately did not accept.  When I think back to my work with this well-meaning analyst,I suppose many of my hours with him had sounded a lot like the following: “If we had only stayed in Seattle and not moved to Los Angeles.”; “If only I had been able to stay near Mirjam and Paul( my Nanny and her husband) and not move two states away from them.”; “If only I had been allowed to stay at Montessori and not been forced to attend Parochial school.” It’s funny to think back to that time and see the point my analyst was trying to make. He was, I suppose, trying to get me to see the impact of my unlived life and discover who it was that I longed for and what I imagined those roads not taken would have lead to. I imagine that he thought that I was marred by regrets which is strange as I don’t really experience myself as a person who regrets much. But was my analyst onto something? Was my unlived life worth examining?

Adam Phillips’, author, psychoanalyst and my latest intellectual crush, has an answer for that. “It seems a strange question until one realizes how much of our so-called mental life is about the lives we are not living, the lives we are missing out on, the lives we could be leading but for some reason are not. What we fantasize about, what we long for,are the experiences, the things and the people that are absent. It is the absence of what we need that makes us think, that makes us cross and sad.”

In his latest book, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, Phillips explores the unlived life and how it impacts our lived life. The book jacket offers the following description of Phillips’ exploration:

All of us lead two parallel lives: the life we actually live and the one that we wish for and fantasise about. And this life unlived (the one that never actually happens, the one we might be living but for some reason are not) can occupy an extraordinary part of our mental life. We share our lives, in a sense, with the people we have failed to be – and this can become itself the story of our lives: an elegy to needs unmet, desires sacrificed and roads untaken….Adam Phillips demonstrates that there might in fact be much to be said for the unlived life. …he suggests that in missing out on one experience we always open ourselves to the potential of another, and that in depriving ourselves of the frustration of not getting what we think we want, we would be depriving ourselves of the possibilities of satisfaction.

This is, I imagine, and I imagine my old analyst would agree, is something I know a little about.

There is the me that was an only child who moved from Seattle at three and moved to Los Angeles and whose parents were career focused and not child focused. There is the me who had traumas and dramas mar her childhood. And that me that went on to marry and not have children and become who I am today. But what, I suppose, makes all of the pain of that biographical narrative so much more painful is that I hold in my mind the story of “what should have been” and  ” the unlived life that I should have had”. That, truth be told, is much the pain of infertility and the resulting grief that lingers today…it is the feeling of missing out and having in my head the alternate life I would be living if I had only had the baby.  I share my life with the Tracey that I have failed to be. There is the me that exists and then there is the me that went to Sarah Lawrence and who is a mother and who has a huge and loving family ( the me that doesnt’ exist).

In answering the question of why do we spend so much time imagining another ( or unlived life) Phillip argues that we are by nature frustrated creatures and that is because our expectations and fantasies are more than can possibly be met by the world. He goes onto explain that one of the ways we cope with that frustration is to fantasize about what we need and what is missing. It is Phillips’ assertion that fantasizing about what we don’t have is not merely an act of compensation but that it gives us insight into what we want to do with our lives. The fantasy gives us information about what we want to do and how to give our selves some sense of satisfaction. Phillips’ encourages us to use our fantasy life to seek what is truly available in the world. He goes onto say that by really knowing our frustration that comes at the intersection of lived life and not lived life that gives us a better sense of what we really want, so  it is important to look at that wished for life for clues

A very interesting point that he makes and one that I need to pay special attention to is that the fantasy of the unlived life can make the lived life seem disappointing as there are no boundaries in the fantasy life and there are always boundaries, rules and limitations in the lived life. “reality isn’t disappointing, it is just reality.”In my unlived life I had that baby and I live in Lake Bluff and I write in my free time when I am not being the best mother I can be. Yes, giving space for that unlived life makes me sad. When I really walk around that life it is both lovely and horrible in the pain that it constilates, but when I really move into that fantasy there is something I wanted psychologically and symbolically, as well as literally,and some of those things can happen and some of those things can’t. In the fantasy I am the perfect mother and I have the perfect baby and I am perfectly happy. I know the reality would have been very different and I am perfectly okay with that.

Phillips argues that Capitalistic culture promises to endlessly supply things we want, that if we have a need that Capitalistm promises to produce something that will fill that need( interestingly that in the height of my trying to conceive I used to dream of going to Land of  Nod or Pottery Barn Baby and buying my own perfect baby as well as all the nursery furniture). Phillips makes the case that “the effect of this forced feeding( by Capitalism) is that we never can think about what we might want.”

The surprising point that Phillips makes is that frustration is more enlivening than happiness. “I think that our frustration is one of the best things about us….at its best our frustration, for example, can lead us into the knowledge  and the acknowledgment that we need other people, say, and that there is a limit to what other people can give us and we don’t have to, as it were, murder them because they are so frustrating….And if frustration were more culturally acceptable…it would be more talked about.” We are capable of more satisfaction in our life and that can  looking at our frustration and seeing what is act
ually possible.

As much as I love Phillips, and I do, I find him to be a bit of a frustrating read ( and for Phillips that would likely be a compliment) he writes in a free-associative style that leaves one feeling completely unsure of what they just read( and I KNOW that Phillips would love that critique). Let me be absolutely clear,  I am not in this post recommending that you rush out and buy his book ( but you might well enjoy it). What I do hope is that you might feel inclined, after reading this post and some of the scaffolding bones that make up the body of Phillips argument, to examine your unlived life and see what exactly frustrates you about it? What in the frustration offers for potential REAL fulfillment in your REAL life?

I WANTED a baby. I wanted to have a family. I wanted to create a life for myself and for the longed for baby that I didn’t have created for me. While I can’t create that baby, I can, if I chose, create a life in which I have more opportunities for love and connection and nurturing, which I imagine is at the crux of the desire for a family.  I don’t have all the answers about the meaning of my “unlived life” but I do think it is definitely worth exploring further. And I can see already that just in posing the question that there is an opportunity to be somewhat less frustrated, which is strangely a bit frustrating.

“Missing Out” reviewed in the New York Times

Excerpt from “Missing Out”

Radio Interview with Adam Phillips

 L.A. Review of Books on “Missing Out”

 

Journaling: It’s like a blog only it’s not public

It’s been a long time since I seriously kept a journal, a long time. Today I cracked open an old journal that I began back in October 2007. I only wrote three pages in this THICK and unused journal. You know why? Because I began this journal the same month that I began this blog. Well, in my list of summer goals( yes, I have summer goals) I have decided to add journaling to the list of activities I would like to accomplish this summer.

The list includes the following:

1. Get a ping pong table.

2. BBQ more ( I am crazy for grilled vegetables and I am not crazy enough to keep paying the $10 a pound that Whole Foods charges me for them).

3. Take tennis lessons. (The French Open really got to me).

4. Swim, and get a swim cap that I can fit all of my hair into.

5. 1,3, and 4 are all about the goal of trying to have more fun. I work a lot and I love my work. I love my work more than I can say. That said, I could and should try and do something other than go to dinner and watch House Hunters as my sad excuse for leisure activities. I can’t espouse balance and self-care to my clients if I am not going to make the smallest effort to attempt it myself.

6. Get a summery fragrance. I am thinking of trying Bobbi Brown’s Beach. I love that it smells a little bit like Coppertone suntan lotion. A sprtiz of that and a Popsicle on the patio and I will have the makings of an instant summer-tastic staycation.

7. Read something trashy. Maybe I will stop my Spring-time survey of personality disorders and I will read The Hunger Games or this Shades of Gray that my hairdresser told me about.

And…

8.Journal.

Journaling will come back to me faster than my forehand(it has been over 20 years since I attempted tennis). I know how to do this, serving on the other hand is something I never really mastered and likely won’t. I journaled since I was seven and I got my very first diary with a key on it. I have decades of experience writing only for me and not for an audience. I journaled through decades, and disasters and experimented with forms and formats. I read the journals of Nin and Plath and I kept writing and dreamed that someday all this writing would turn into something more and that my life would to( much of my journals involve wishing for some other time and some achievement that would make my life worthwhile).

Only with the journal I won’t get any comments,  like I do on the blog, as no one will have access to my private and tangential rants—and that is both good and bad. In my private writing I tend to allow my complexes and opinions to be absolute. I write in the language of splitting, “I hate this” and “I love this” are key phrases in the discourse of my diary. However when I blog I tend to be more objective, even in my subjectivity I know you are there. And knowing you are there changes things and it mostly makes me a better writer and a better person to not let the ranty part of myself  have too much room. Um, why exactly did I want to journal again?

Well, in a journal I can be insanely honest. I can write things that I don’t want you to know about me. I can write without wondering who will read what I just wrote and what they will think. I can give voice to my petty fears and baseless anxieties and I won’t have to worry about having to warn someone that I don’t REALLY feel that way and that I am just venting. It actually sounds pretty good and maybe even important( I have a few rants in me at the moment).

I suppose that I do need a place to let my thoughts have free reign and not have to edit. Therapy is a great place for that, however it is only one-hour a week. Maybe I even want to have a hissy-fit or two on the page and then move on.

Recently I was watching “Girls” on HBO( And I do love that show) and one of the characters had her diary violated. Her roommate’s boyfriend read her journal and he discovered all kinds of things, not the least being that her roommate (his girlfriend) is not in love with him. When confronted with the black and white facts of her journal, the wounded boyfriend makes the case to his girlfriend, “it is a journal; no one lies in a journal, that is the fucking point.”

But he is wrong. People do lie in journals. People overreact in journals. People spew. I spew. I dramatize. I say that I hate things and that I love things and I catastrophize in a journal. On the first page of my journal I have the following disclaimer: “If I am dead and you are reading this please know that I wrote in this journal when I was bored, anxious, depressed and possessed by complexes. It is best not to take this as a real and valid document of my feelings. If I told you in my non-journaling life that I love you it is best to believe me. If I wrote in this journal that I wanted to leave you and run away to the Himalayas— it is not true. Seriously, ignore everything in here that you are about to read and just remember that I love you. Okay?”

Intellectual crush #3: On Pleasure and Frustration

I miss James Hillman. I really do. I just saw a friend last week,  a fellow therapist, who is the person who talked me into talking to Hillman the last time I saw him. The minute I saw her I greeted her with the following, “I thought of you when Hillman died.” I know that “hello and “how are you” are more customary, but this woman greeted me with the same, “I know, I thought of you too.”

When you love someone as deeply as I love Hillman it can take awhile before you are willing to fall in love again. You may even defend against love and swear you will never-ever-ever find it again. But one day you do. One day you are reading a book and you find that you must immediately go to Amazon.com and order every other book that this person ever wrote. And, dear readers, I have found such an author. Let me introduce you to Adam Phillips. Adam Phillips, the author and British psychotherapist, is a genius. I had several of his books in my bookcase for several years and I hadn’t read them. Just recently I began to read “On Balance” and I lost mine and I started Googling him( which is a bit ironic as Adam is a conscious technophobe who eschews cell phones and emails in favor of a less wired and more inspired lifestyle).and I found this interview that I have watched more times than I care to admit. But trust me, watch this and really think about what he says and it will change you( well, it changed me…and it made me fall in love with thanatos all over again). This is a whole lot of important stuff in only six minutes and eight seconds. If you can’t be bothered to watch it and rather read, then I quote from his New York Times Interview in which he discusses the Psychoanalysis of pleasure and frustation:

One of the obstacles is the demand that we be happy, that we enjoy our lives. I think it’s a huge distraction, and it’s very very undermining, I think. So, living in a quasi-hedonistic culture, I think it’s a big problem. It’s wrong because, if we are to make this crude, in the old days whenever that was, there was an internal injunction to be good. Now the injunction is to be happy, or to be enjoying yourself. And the reason this is a distraction is because life is also painful, in other words—and it’s a very simple thing and its very obvious—and it starts in childhood—which is that if someone can satisfy you, they can also frustrate you. This is ineluctable, this is structural, it is never going to change. This means that everybody has to deal with ambivalence. They are going to have to deal with the fact that they love and hate the person they love and hate.

What we are continually being sold are possibilities for pleasure…as though all we want to do is get away from the pain and increase the pleasure. I think this is a very impoverished view of what a life is, even though every life has something to do with the pain and the pleasure. But there’s a difference between evacuating pain and frustration and modifying it. And what we’re starved of now is frustration. There isn’t a really powerful account of the value of the state of frustration. It’s as though we are phobic of frustration. And as soon as there is a moment of frustration, it has to be filled with something. It’s a bit like the mother who overfeeds her child—she does that stop her child from having an appetite, because the appetite is so frightening.

I think that it would be possible to have pictures of good lives that are not set up to make one fail. So that a more realistic idea, as opposed to ideal, is one that is genuinely attainable…Ideals create a sort of fight-or-flight. Either you run away from it, you get rid of it, and produce a new one, or you comply with it, or you battle with it. I would be interested in people producing fictions that are discussable, that are realistically possible, rather than humiliating. Because the other thing about cultural Ideals is that they are set up to humiliate us. So that the fictions would be non-diminishing, they would be genuinely possible, but they would keep alive the idea that we don’t know who we might become, and that who we want to be is very important.

Giving up on happiness. Accepting frustration. Fictions that are possible. If someone can satisfy you they can also frustrate you. Brilliant, huh?

That said, I still miss Hillman.

More on Adam Phillips:

Interview

“Why you are “Too Much for Yourself”

On Why You Are a Fundamentalist