Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Sentimental Interlude

I’m taking a break for a few days to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Tony and I will be going back to the scene of the crime—meaning the French Culinary Institute, where we got married, on the Saturday night you get an extra hour. Hard to believe that it was two whole decades ago that we promised to love, honor, and humor each other.

For the moment I’ll leave you with an economic think piece I wrote that’s now sailing around the net. A year ago, who would have guessed that I could understand, let alone write about, new economic models? I mention this because life beyond therapy (or, as I put it last week, losing therapy-the-religion) allowed me to pursue all sorts of ideas and questions; with my mind free of the minutiae of self-analysis I can tune into what’s around me in new ways. That too is something to celebrate.

Here’s a lovely, and undoubtedly wise, creature that spent much time on one of our trees last week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Psychotherapy as Pseudo-Faith

(Note: This was originally posted on Jennifer Haupt's My Faith Project blog, which explores experiences of faith beyond the confines of institutional religion.)

When we hear the word “faith”, we tend to think of it as always a good thing, that faith is ultimately rewarded or at least a badge of strength or integrity. But faith can also be misplaced. I know because this happened to me. Fortunately, this hasn’t left me cynical or afraid. Rather, coming through it has opened me to possibilities I couldn’t have found my way to before.

What did I place my faith in? Psychotherapy. For much of my life, my entire belief system revolved around it. Therapy guided my morality (facing emotional conflict was good, avoidance or—worse!—denial, was bad), values (the unexamined life is not worth living and all that), who I turned to (therapists, of course) and behavior (the rituals of the therapeutic encounter) not to mention my schedule and, I shudder to recall, financial priorities. It was like a full-fledged religion with its sacred texts (Freud et al) and minions of fellow worshipers around the world.

You see, I was hooked on therapy because regular sessions helped me manage what I now know as a mood disorder (mixed anxiety and depression). Plus, therapists assured me that once I “worked things through” I would no longer feel bad. This gave me something to hold onto. When shaky or in despair I could remind myself of my future deliverance: as soon as I swept out the cobwebs in my unconscious I’d be fine. So after I published a book and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with myself I thought, “Hey, why not be a therapist?” I mean, who knew more about therapy than me?

This accelerated the spiral I was already in. I saw that I could help people, but my own emotional pattern would not budge. Yet how could I give up therapy? It had become my whole life. Finally, after things got so bad I had to do something, I managed to wrench myself away—and got my life back.

This is the story I tell in The Therapist’s New Clothes. It wasn’t until corresponding with Jen that I realized that the book is as much about faith as it is about therapy: it’s about the crumbling of a belief system I had put all my faith in. This loss was painful but I’m stronger for it. For me the pseudo-faith that seduced me was therapy. Anyone else have this kind of experience with therapy?This is the Tomb of St. John the Divine at the Great Mosque of Damascus. Tony took this picture while on a cultural diplomacy trip through the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Question Marks

First, here are the latest stores stocking the book: The Book Works in Del Mar, CA (they have a special Mind-Brain series); The Bookloft in Great Barrington, MA (they take Berkshares); and Village Books in Bellingham, WA, which now has its own Espresso Book Machine! And this just in: Warwick's in La Jolla, a longtime favorite and a true mecca when I lived out there.

Now for the questions part: I continue to be confounded by Amazon. (I know I’m far from alone here.) They initially priced the book at $23.95. I felt that was too high so was willing to lose $2 in royalty to offer it at a fairer price. Now, inexplicably, they’ve got it listed at $12.20 (44 % off). This makes it some $2 cheaper than at the Northshire and $2 more than I pay per copy. Hey wait a second—I didn’t forego $2 per book so that Amazon could undercut my publisher. Questions abound: What does this mean for me strategically? Should just order a bunch from Amazon myself, paying $2 more but then 1) improving my Amazon rank (something I haven’t paid attention to) and 2) receiving that $2 back in royalties? Will I ever be able to reach someone at Amazon or will the price continue to vacillate seemingly of its own accord? For the time being, it appears that Amazon’s got the book for cheap (super-cheap with Super-Saver shipping.) As for my lower royalty, oh, don’t mind me...the satisfaction from the higher Amazon ranking will just have to suffice. (Here’s something to think about: are authors so addicted to looking up our rankings that we let the company do whatever it wants?)

Another question: Did I price the book too low? I had rationalized it by thinking I'd make more sales if it’s priced more accessibly. But is that really the case? Truth is, I see that books are selling for $15.95 (or even higher!) that have less incisive wit, fewer life-changing epiphanies, and, well, are just not as all-around fabulous. Am I stuck with $14.95 forever? What would happen if I raised it a dollar? And what would be the best way to do that, just quietly change the price and hope nobody notices? Or would I announce it to give people the chance to get it at the lower price? (Wal-Mart-type day-after-Thanksgiving stampede…)

Now for a marketing question: I now have bookmarks—quite eye-catching, thanks to Amy’s design. Which is the better use of them: 1) to draw attention to the book in stores; or 2) to place in books sold as an extra?

My son once said that if he were to put our dog, Thembi, in a comic, he would always draw her with a question mark over her head. I thought that was quite astute; she always has this wonderful curious/concerned look about her. So in the spirit of inquiry and inquisitiveness, here is a picture of Thembi (she's asking: "Does my winter coat make me look fat?")

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the Road, On the Air

Last weekend my book and I helped celebrate the Grand Opening of the Brunswick Community Library. It’s a nice “little-library-that-could” story: the previous building was small and cramped and the library was about to lose its charter. But the library’s valiant staff and the town’s redoubtable readers put together a fundraising campaign so that they could build a larger, more accessible facility. I spent a sunny fall afternoon with many enthusiastic folks, including goat-herding rabbis, the founder of the Music Mobile, and the head honcho librarian, my friend Julie Zelman, who, among other impressive accomplishments, has aced the Weekend Edition puzzle live on National Public Radio (and has the monogrammed coffee mug to show for it).

Speaking of radio, I now have the podcast for my interview on Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s show “Writers on Writing”. I’m less than thrilled by how I came across, but I guess part of that is just the oddness of hearing one’s own voice. To me, every “um” or half-second hesitation is magnified about a zillion times. Funny how one forgives others their imperfections. Still, I came up with some good stuff. Like the phrase “the therapy-industrial-complex”. Thought that one up on the spot.I've been watching this dahlia plant grow all season, and here it is the first of October. Just holding on to a bit of summer color...