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Wednesday, 26 July 2006 00:00

Use Eagles if Necessary, Chapter 17: A Shrink’s Eye View

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People go through life with a multitude of eyeballs. Architects see structures noting design and materials; realtors look for FSBO’s (for sale by owner’s); clergymen see the wondrous hand of God on his creation, or they see the mark of the Devil — depending on their bent. Judges look for precedents; lawyers look for loopholes; burglars look for open windows; policemen look for suspicious characters and tree trimmers look for Dutch elm disease. There are so many facets to life we can’t possibly see them all, so we specialize. In the case of a shrink, our eyes are on the lookout for unconscious forces. This chapter will give you an idea how I, as a psychoanalyst, view some aspects of everyday life.

A few years ago I visited Egypt, one of the countries that can rightfully claim to be a birthplace of civilization. Much to their credit, the modern Egyptians are scrupulously preserving and renovating many of the ancient monuments and structures built thousands of years ago. (While in Egypt I had a private meeting with the country’s famous National Director of Antiquities, Dr. Gaballa y Gaballa. Our meeting had nothing to do with how I view life. I am name-dropping. We shrinks like to brag just like everybody else.)

The first thing I noticed as we strolled among the historical buildings and ruins of ancient Egypt were the incredible number of obelisks. Obelisks, as you know, are phallic symbols. Ancient Egyptians, I decided, were pre-occupied There are three items to put on your “To do” list when you go to Egypt. 1) See the tombs around Luxor, 2) Take a barge ride on the Nile and 3) See the pyramids, especially the three big ones at Giza near Cairo. The laser light show, presented nightly, at these pyramids is something to behold. Don’t miss it. Visitors sit on specially constructed bleachers directly across from the pyramids as a narrative from a loudspeaker tells their fascinating story. (Be sure to attend the English version.)

On the night we were there we could clearly hear Muslim prayers being chanted, also from loudspeakers, from the mosques of Cairo behind and below us as the laser lights in front of us meandered back and forth across the massive structures built 4,500 years ago. It was a mystical, eerie experience. Time was suspended. The sky was ablaze with stars. A warm, constant breeze came in from the desert and, in my mind’s eye, I could see the caravans of yore slowly and rhythmically moving across the sands. I saw Bedouin campsites and fierce Arab warriors on galloping horses with swords held high and robes flying in the wind. Soon the faces of Peter O’Toole, Elizabeth Taylor, and Charlton Heston came to mind (Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, and Moses himself). Mesmerized as I was by this most special night, I couldn’t help wondering what those pyramids symbolized in the unconscious minds of the ancient Egyptians. Obelisks are easy. What’s a pyramid?

The narrative informed us that the pyramids were built as tombs. Each one was for a specific pharaoh and its construction coincided with the beginning of his reign. But (and this is the key) these tombs were not considered final resting places. They were designed to be interim dwellings, where the pharaoh’s body was interred and his spirit was readied for his next life, somewhere in the sky. The tomb, then, was a womb and through its top the pharaoh’s soul would be reborn, shooting like a rocket into his new dwelling in the heavens. It was then that I realized the pyramids represented upside down pubic V’s — symbolizing skyward pointing vaginas. Obelisks and pyramids, penises and vaginas. It felt right to me sitting there in a birthplace of civilization.

Not long after I returned from Egypt I had a meeting in New York City with two colleagues, women psychoanalysts in their 40s or early 50s. We had never met in person, although I had spoken occasionally to one of them on the telephone. They knew that I had recently been to Egypt and politely asked about the trip. I immediately told them of all the phallic symbols in the country and shared with them my theory regarding the pyramids. My colleagues listened with interest and agreed that what I said made sense, psychoanalytically speaking.

Accompanying me to this meeting was my 19-year-old son, Alex. At the time he thought he wanted to become a psychoanalyst. After the meeting was over Alex said to me, “Dad, I can’t believe you just met two women you didn’t know and you started talking about penises and vaginas! And they thought it was normal for you to do this. They weren’t even embarrassed!” I’d never given it a second thought that ours was not a perfectly respectable conversation, and neither did they. (Alex has since decided to be a comedian.)

I’m sure you’ve realized by now that we psychoanalysts are earthy people. In the day-to-day practice of our profession we deal with gross thoughts, horrid behavior, terror, rage, nuttiness, pettiness, hatred and all things sexual. We do not deal in goodness and light. Whereas the priest may counsel with “Hail Mary, full of grace,” we deal with “Hello, Mary, full of spite.” The minister prays “Our father, who art in heaven.” We hear “My father was a rotten bastard.” Ours is a science immersed in emotional excrement.

One cannot go to the Middle East, by the way, without being confronted by the centuries old squabbles (hatred) among Jews, Christians and Moslems. The question of why they hate each other has been debated forever but a shrink has an easy answer. Those three religions revere the same father, Abraham. On one level, then, it’s a centuries old sibling rivalry, the magnitude of hate being so great it could destroy the world. Sibling rivalries have an Oedipal element to them, however, so there’s a missing entity. If dad is clearly Abraham, the question becomes, “Who is mom?” Could it be that in the collective unconscious of these three religions mom is actually God? Mothers after all, are the real “creators” of life. Fathers have practically nothing to do with it. Moslems, Christians and Jews have been hating each other and killing each other for centuries and it isn’t getting any better. Hell it’s getting worse. Surely only a mother could ignite, and keep aflame, such passion.

Have you ever noticed that the rich people live on the north side of town and the poor people live on the south side? Have you noticed that the north side is usually classier than the south side? This phenonomen, in my experience, holds true much more often than not. Whether it be big city or hamlet, the rich gravitate north and the poor south. As in all human behavior there has to be an unconscious reason for this, and years ago I came up with a theory.

Our bodies have an impact on our concept of who we are. There is a saying, “The ego is a body ego.” Ugly people are not as confident as good-looking ones, for instance. Tall men are more contented than short men. Obese women are more self-conscious than those of average weight, etc. Before you start your next fire with this book, let me hasten to say that I’ve just used the loosest of generalizations and I am aware there are many exceptions to these examples, but more often than not they are true. Leaping along, if our body’s configuration affects our self-image, it will also affect our actions. In all bodies we have a north and a south. In the north are a human being’s riches, the one and only thing that makes us superior to other mammals — our minds. In the south are our genitals, which are no more effective than those of the monkeys or the turtles. So if you’re “movin’ on up”... you’re moving north.

Even in our little Southern town my theory holds true. For instance, North Main Street is all spiffed up. South Main Street looks like shit. The same syndrome is readily demonstrated in my hometown, Chicago. The Northsiders eat quiche, sip Chardonnay and politely cheer for the Cubs. They are genteel people. On the Southside we find White Sox fans who gorge on hot dogs, chug-a-lug beer and holler obscenities at opposing players. They are barbarians. I expounded on my theory at a dinner party one night and a man from Boston got so upset with me he grabbed his wife and left. I never found out which side of town he lived on.

Of course, my theory has more holes than a golf course and it cannot be proven that there is an unconscious motivation to move north when affluence is acquired. And I really don’t care if my theory is correct or not. It’s fun to observe this north/south tendency and it’s the kind of stuff I think about. It has no practical value in psychotherapy.

I do not have a hobby. I play racquetball, golf, and walk three miles a day with my dogs, but that’s exercise — not a hobby. The closest thing I have to a real hobby is collecting names. I have a file full of them because I believe people’s names can unconsciously influence them, particularly with their career choice. This is no doubt a throwback to earlier times when the Masons were masons, Carpenters were carpenters, Barbers were barbers, Bakers were bakers, Millers were millers, Farmers were farmers, and there was a Smithy on every corner.

In my file, for instance, is Dr. Cynthia Earle who runs an ad on our local T.V. station. Hearing problem? She can fix you right up. I wrote a letter once to Dr. Buzz Aldren, the second astronaut to walk on the moon. I asked if he thought, perhaps unconsciously, his mother’s maiden name influenced his career choice. Her name was Marion Moon. He did not write back. Maybe he didn’t get the letter.

There’s a slew of names in my file of those who work with nature. Fred Bear the famous hunter and Joe Wolfe the gifted dog handler are there, as are Art Wolfe the nature photographer and Howard Fox the forester. In a single article in National Geographic I read about James Fish of the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center in San Diego and Marie Fish, a marine scientist from the University of Rhode Island. Mr. Joel Parrott is the executive director of the Oakland Zoo, by the way.

In Georgetown, South Carolina the director of the St. Francis Humane Society is Pert Shetler. (Close enough). In Polk County, North Carolina, a volunteer at its humane society is Ms. Kitty Holder. Mr. Ni Juin Fang broke the world’s record for living with poisonous snakes in a cage. Lastly, in this category, up in Manitoba, Canada a record moose was taken by one Dan Hill. His Indian guide was Victor Moose.

Ms. Linda Sweeting is a chemist. Her specialty is studying sweets. Bill McNutt is the president of a fruitcake company. Michael Fairclothe designs clothes. Ronnie Lamb sells cashmere and Eric Flaxenburg sells wool. Ed Van Artsdale sells vans. Tiger Woods is one of the best golfers the world has seen. Oral Roberts is a preacher.

If you pay attention to names linked with occupations you’ll see them frequently but names may have other influences. A chef, Satir Konstas, resides on Fork Circle in Elgin, Illinois. Tom Forkner is the co-founder of the Waffle House restaurant chain. I read with amusement that the famous feminist, Gloria Steinam’s, best friend is Wilma Mankiller. (This has no meaning but was too cute to pass up.) Even an entire community might be affected by its name. Hightstown, New Jersey, for instance, bought a new fire truck that could reach blazes up to 135 feet. The tallest building in town is 40 feet.

And a name could be prophetic in other ways. A magazine special on obesity interviewed a man who was about to embark on a crash diet because he said he’d gotten too fat to play with his grandchildren. His name was Robert Pappaphat. Lastly, (this could go on forever) a name may determine who we marry. When Ezra Pound was a budding poet and writer, he took Dorothy Shakespear to be his wife.

I also have fun observing how people show their unconscious minds. I note the narcissist by his frequent use of the pronoun “I.” I see the cheapskate get preoccupied when the check arrives and watch the insecure guy grab it. I pay attention to those who won’t look me, or a camera, in the eye. They’ve got a secret, and I’ve observed that incessant talkers don’t want to hear anything new. They’ve already heard something terrible. Those, of course, are only clues to personality glitches and taken alone have little value. But sometimes a person’s unconscious is openly displayed as in the uniform he wears. I don’t mean the mandatory uniform of his profession — policeman, airline pilot, circus clown, etc. — I mean the uniform he chooses to wear. One time my son, Walter, and I went on a fishing trip, just the two of us. He had learned that he was going to be a father for the first time and wanted to spend some time with me. When the big day arrived I picked up Walter and we headed to “The Preserve.” We got there in time for supper.

The main dining hall had a rustic wood motif. Taxidermied fish and animals native to the area adorned the walls. A large fireplace, a regulation sized pool table, comfortable, over-stuffed chairs and a great view of the lake welcomed visitors. In the center of the room circular dining tables were set for dinner — cloth napkins folded into peaks and long stemmed wine glasses. This was nice, certainly not roughing it, and all very civilized except for one thing. The other guests, now seated at the tables, were dressed in camouflage outfits. Every one of them. Not only could guests fish at The Preserve but also hunt, and we were in the middle of deer, duck and wild boar season.

The Preserve is not cheap, (upwards of $1000 per day if you were hunting with a guide) so it was safe to assume the guests were men of means, sitting at their tables wearing matching hats, shirts, pants and even boots. They looked ready to embark for Desert Storm. “Look at the kids,” I said to Walter. “They’re playing Army and don’t even know how.”

“What do you mean, Dad?”

I explained that wearing your hat inside of a building is a grievous offense in the real military. I then pointed out the apparent leader of this outfit, a plump fellow with a bright red face who was doing all the talking. He was wearing blue jeans below the camouflaged shirt and above the camouflaged boots. “He’s out of uniform, son. These guys are disgraceful.”

Walter, a nice young man, tried to defend the men’s uniforms by saying they wore camouflage so the deer wouldn’t see them. I told him deer were colorblind, the hunters could be wearing bright pink polo shirts and it wouldn’t matter. The dressed-up hunters were engaging in what shrinks call, “Regression in the service of the ego.” They were regressing, going back in time when their unconscious minds were formed, letting an unresolved part of it show itself. Titans of industry on the outside, little Rambos underneath.

And no harm done. In fact their outing and outfits were good therapy. By suiting up in military camouflage and walking around the woods with a gun, they were getting off their frustrated, repressed urges to be he-men, warrior killers — a stage every little boy goes through. It is best to vent this latent aggression on ducks, bucks and boar rather than on wives, kids, and employees.

Speaking of employees, since I backed off from full time practice and entered into business, I have had dozens of them. Invariably they squabbled among themselves and frequently sought me out to privately complain about one another. I simply listened. The work place is an unconscious extension of the family environment. The employees are siblings and I’m dad. My analytic background was valuable in helping me see this relationship and, therefore, not overact to intra-office bickering.

Sometimes employees told me that other employees were saying negative things about me, in effect ratting out their “brothers and sisters.” I would listen then say something like, “I’m sorry they feel that way.” To myself I would say, “Who cares what they say about me as long as they’re doing their jobs.” Being aware of the transference and not taking their words personally helped me stay focused on the mission at hand — making money. That’s what a business is supposed to do.

Many businesses pride themselves on being “Like family.” I’ve always felt that was a bad idea. The family is a competitive organization with the kids vying for their parents’ attention and often the parents’ vying with each other for their children’s love and respect. This does not represent a good business model. Besides, half the families in America break up. I see no benefit and many pitfalls to encouraging employees to think of their company as a family. Chances are their family experience was not a happy one and they’ll unconsciously re-create that dynamic in the work place.

Another way I, as an analyst, look differently at business is regarding competitors. From a management viewpoint a competitor also becomes a sibling of sorts because our first competitors were our siblings. Many managers are so preoccupied by their competition they lose track of their own company’s goals. Today I have about four competitors and I could care less what they are doing. My company’s goals are my preoccupation. Once I hired a new sales manager who spent his first three months amassing extensive files on all of our competitors. He did a thorough, masterful job. Meanwhile our sales plunged. We had a talk.

Business is about money; money comes from sales, and sales come from salespeople. Most salespeople are awful. They talk too much! They have the misguided idea that good salesmen are good talkers when just the opposite is true. It is the customers who should be doing the talking. Salespeople should ask their customers, and prospective customers, about themselves, their spouses, their kids, their pets, their hobbies. They should listen carefully to what is being said and take notes afterwards. Before long these customers will think the salespeople are not only the nicest people they know but also the best conversationalists. The best salespeople do the least amount of talking. They ask questions and then they shut up. Just like shrinks.

Waynesville resident Jim Joyce’s memoir, Use Eagles if Necessary, is being published in weekly installments in The Smoky Mountain News. Each week we begin a chapter in our print edition and then put the entire chapter on our Web site. All previous chapters are available online. The book can be purchased at rockpublishing.com/eagles.htm.

 

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