The Freedman Archives

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Lost in a Flight of Loose Associations

November 8, 2004


Hey, buddy. What did you do this past week? Did you express your freedom to engage in loose associations? Did you get lost in a flight of ideas? Or are you and the little lady on vacation in some exotic locale such as the South Seas even as I write? How was your flight? Maybe someday they'll perfect it so that a person can fly without all the security precautions currently in place; maybe someday passengers won't have to take their shoes off for a security check before they board the plane.

About these past seven days, Brian, I can tell you nothing -- nothing about my feelings, nothing about my mood, nothing, nothing. I shall just tell you, dryly and plainly, what happened. Nothing. That's what happened. Nothing. Fundamentally, I experienced a succession of ideas and associations. I became lost in a flight of ideas and an interminable sequence of loose associations.

I lack motivation. I have no reason to be unmotivated. One might say I lack the motive to be unmotivated, but, then, I lack the motive to be motivated either. Lack of motivation is a symptom of schizophrenia. Did you know that? It's what is called a "negative symptom." Schizophrenia is a Hungarian goulash of a disorder, the diagnostic criteria of which are divided into the broad categories of "negative symptoms" and "positive symptoms." The schizophrenic suffers from the absence of characteristics that are present in the normal person, such as motivation, plus the presence of things that are not present in the normal person, such as, hallucinations, delusions, loose associations, and flights of ideas.

Do you think my letters are suggestive of schizophrenia? The letters are unusually solipsistic and self-obsessed, they frequently evidence a lack of interest in the real world, they are often discursive and rambling. But then, I'm a rambling man. I have embarked on a journey that spans the length and breadth of my own mind and thought processes, a seemingly endless grand tour. I am like Voltaire's Candide, a stationary Candide taking a chimerical little walk through the woods of my intrapsychic world; cultivating a secret, imaginary garden of the intellect; and pruning and nurturing the ideational flora of my mind.

But do I really come off sounding like a schizophrenic in these letters? Here's something for you to consider. Here is a verbatim transcript of a portion of the report of a schizophrenic patient. It's from Albert Rothenberg's book, "Creativity and Madness":

I've never been confused as much as I have been recently. Confusion was nothing to me. It was fun. I loved art. I loved to have my hands in every single thing I could get them in. And when I'm here I don't have the facilities to dig in the garden and put my feet in the mud and I just can't stand that . . . feeling. I, I need to be free like most of us do, because I feel like a bird when I'm skiing, I feel like I could fly if I really tried but I wouldn't try because -- hee, hee -- it's beyond my power. Maybe someday they'll perfect it so that a person can fly without . . . walking. But they better hurry up! Because there's too many guys on the road right now.

Dr. Rothenberg comments: "There is no doubt about it: people suffering from schizophrenia say the darndest things. As a matter of fact, people suffering from schizophrenia often say or write things that are intriguing, ambiguous, even metaphorical; seemingly poetic, profound, and meaningful words and ideas virtually pour out at times."

Schizophrenics are less concerned with communication than normal individuals; they express their thoughts with indifference to their listeners' comprehension. Their speech is often unconventional in form, and appears to be striving to achieve a kind of unity between elements which are extremely disparate; in fact, any logical relationship between the elements is largely nonexistent. The speech of the schizophrenic is characterized by an absence of rhetoric or any need to convince. They seem to be exploring remote areas of experience which are intrapersonal or suprapersonal rather than interpersonal. That is, the schizophrenic is looking into the depths of his own psyche and is not very much concerned as to whether anyone else will follow him or understand him.

The order of the schizophrenic's ideas is markedly different from the logical psychological sequence of ideas as developed by the nonschizophrenic individual. This psychotic order is not easy to comprehend, because the ideas of the schizophrenic are not entirely realized, they are left incomplete -- they are a sequence of unexplained or unelaborated references, a veritable fugue-like series of ideas.

So it is for me. Seemingly poetic, profound, and meaningful words and ideas virtually pour out at times. One caveat though. I'm not very friendly. If the truth be told, I'm a recluse. Remember, according to The Mad Monk, schizophrenics are friendly people. Some are even geniuses. They may be crazy, but they're not stupid. At least some aren't. My superior intelligence doesn't rule out the possibility that I'm schizophrenic. But the question is: Am I friendly enough to be schizophrenic? Decidedly not. I'm not a friendly guy.

As for motivation, well . . . I have a daily routine. I engage in a set of behaviors every day, rigorously and without fail. So I'm motivated to do certain things, very few things, to be sure. But little else.

When I rise each morning, I do a little home improvement. I get out the toolbox, check out the blueprints (to get in the mood for some remodeling), and begin work. That -- THAT -- I never fail to do. It gets the juices flowing. I love to have my hands in every single thing I can get them in. "If or when I do start going to an analyst, I hope to God he has the foresight to let a dermatologist sit in on consultation. A hand specialist." Actually, that's a quote from J.D. Salinger's short story, "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters." Salinger was originally going to call his story "Extreme Makeover: The Very Private Home Edition." Catch my driftwood, buddy? I suppose you do by now. No need to dwell on that topic.

Later in the morning I work out. We've talked about that before. It's fun. I never fail to work out five days per week, Monday through Friday. So we can say that exercise is something I'm motivated to do.

I read. Books, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes. Whatever. I do some reading every day. I remember when I was working. Yes, it's been thirteen years now since I last worked, but I can still remember. I would be sitting at my desk at work, and longing -- just counting down the hours -- longing to get home to get my hands on a book or article that I was immersed in. I feel the same way today, despite the onset of my illness on Tuesday October 29, 1991. Yes, I remember the exact moment in time that I succumbed to the tragic ravages of severe mental illness. It was at about 11:45 Tuesday morning, October 29, 1991. Odd, don't you think? Paranoid schizophrenia can come on suddenly, like nausea. You're feeling fine one minute, then the next, you're puking all over the place. Schizophrenia is like that. Sometimes those ideas of reference and that potential for violence (am I allowed to say that?) can just hit you right out of the blue.

Television. I'm motivated to watch TV. I love to watch TV. Can't live without TV. By the way, Brian, did you catch that new show on ABC, "Lost?" It's about a plane-wrecked group of too many survivors on a remote Pacific island of too few resources. The actor Matthew Fox plays the hero; he portrayed the role of Big Brother, Charlie Salinger, on the TV series "Party of Five." Matthew Fox is an interesting guy. He's an economist-turned-actor, with a bachelor's degree in economics -- the science of scarcity -- from Columbia. They say he's a shy person, who used to be something of a recluse. He's notorious for taking his clothes off and running around naked, usually around bodies of water. He'll skinny-dip at any moment with anyone. He's an artist, I suppose: complex and contradictory.

In any case, back to my motivations. I'm motivated to listen to music. I love art. I've been obsessed with Robert Schumann since midsummer. Schumann's music is a soaring kind of music, imbued with the romantic ideal. "Papillons," for example. When I listen to "Papillons" (Butterflies), I feel like I could fly if I really tried. For the past several months I haven't been able to go a day without listening to Schumann. How appropriate!

You know, Schumann died in a mental asylum. An anecdote I read in a biography of Robert Schumann's intrigued me. In the final weeks of his illness, Schumann was permitted access to a piano. He improvised something for the asylum director, who recorded in Schumann's clinical chart that the music Schumann created was incomprehensible noise. The biographer notes, with some irony, that that response was precisely what contemporary music critics had always said about Schumann's piano compositions. So there is no real way of knowing whether Schumann's final improvisations in the asylum (which were not written down for modern-day critique) were the bizarre creations of a severely disturbed individual or whether those improvisations, in fact, displayed the compositional virtuosity of Schumann's genius. All we have at this point in time is the dated report of a psychiatric consultant from the University of Vienna, who, in fact, had no expertise in the area he was assessing.

Be that as it may.

I'm motivated to continue my campaign. The endless campaign to end all campaigns. People stop me on the street and ask, "How's the campaign going?" I say: "Too close to call." They invariably ask: "What on earth does that mean, 'too close to call?'" I explain: "Brian has a policy of not calling patrons who live within a five-block radius of the library. He won't call me. Too close to call." Then I go on to explain that's why I'm in the race. I want a change of direction, a change of policy. A fresh start. Speaking metaphorically, the opening sentence of chapter 11 needs to
be reworded. That's the job of a librarian, isn't it? By the way, Brian, I've noticed that a lot of the books in your library -- including the people who read them -- don't go all the way to chapter 13. Fitting, don't you think? In any event, that's what I'm campaigning for. A Fresh Start.

Like the late Chris Reeve, I sometimes call myself "President of the Disabled." Of course, I have my critics. "You, disabled? You're a fake! You're an actor. You're a phony actor. Disabled, my ass! You have nothing in common with the people you supposedly speak for." In point of fact, I'm an actor-turned-politician.

Did you see the press conference with John Kerry after the election? A reporter asked Kerry about campaign expenses. "Just who's going to pay for your campaign, Senator?" Kerry replied: "People will pay for my cam-pain." That's a little Brian Brown humor, buddy. -- Hee, hee --

Ah, yes. The campaign. I still send out letters to all and sundry to get the word out, to let the world see what I have seen. Just this past week I sent a letter to "the Chief of Police and his men" (to quote the lyrics of a song from Leonard Bernstein's musical "Candide.") My suffering will not be assuaged. I have to discharge my pain somehow. I wish I could see a therapist.

What about Dr. Bash, you ask? That's not therapy, I can assure you. If only I had someone I could talk to, someone with whom I could express myself. Dr. Bash assesses everything I say in one of two ways. "You're wrong." Or -- "There's something you can do about that." For example: "I like Brian," I say, "and I think Brian could be my friend." "You're wrong," the Mad Monk says, "Brian will never be your friend." "But I think about him all the time, Dr. Bash." "There's something you can do about that," replies The Mad Monk, "you can go to the synagogue and meet other people." "Dr. Bash, I've been reading some things, and I think I understand something about my obsession with Brian." Dr. Bash replies: "You've been reading technical material? I tell my patients not to read technical material. They misunderstand it. You're probably wrong in your understanding of what you read." Then: "Get involved with people. You'll give up your need to intellectually investigate your relations with people." All my interaction with Dr. Bash is, more or less, a variation on that paradigm. If a patient's not crazy when he enters therapy with Dr. Bash, he'll certainly be cracked when he's finished a course of therapy with her. But, of course, I'm wrong, and if I went to the synagogue I'd meet people and give up my incorrect notions about Dr. Bash.

I just don't connect with people. I have trouble maintaining relationships. It's beyond my power. Dr. Bash doesn't understand that. "Yes, you can make friends, if they are people on your level." My level? What does that mean? People who live on the ground floor of apartment buildings? People who are five-feet-ten? People who live along the 40th parallel? I've never been confused as much as I have been recently.

The Hungarian psychoanalyst Michael Balint recognized a half century ago that persistent or mystifying symptoms are not necessarily untreatable. Listen to patients' stories, Balint urged his colleagues. Treat them as friends. They may need a dose of the strongest drug of all: the doctor.

Dr. Bash's concerns are just not my concerns. Our values, our needs, our limitations, and our capacities are distinct. And the differences between us pose a severe strain for me. I suppose I've always dealt with confusion. Confusion was nothing to me. But my problem with having Dr. Bash as a therapist goes beyond confusion. To be totally isolated socially, as I am, and to be unable to connect with my therapist, is an almost unendurable emotional burden for me at times.

We're just not compatible, she and I.

First, I am less concerned with communication than expression. I yearn for a therapeutic relationship, an analytic one, in which I might be allowed to express myself, free of correction, free of interruption, free of the need to be absolutely right and rational. I long for the freedom to express my personal "narrative truth" without the constraints of having to describe my world with historical, or objective, accuracy. Speaking poetically, when I'm with Dr. Bash I don't have the facilities to dig in the garden of my intrapsychic world and put my bare feet in the mud of my thoughts and feelings and I just can't stand that . . . feeling. I, I need to be free like most of us do.

Second, I am an unconventional person, -- in thought, communication, and action. Metaphorically speaking, I'll skinny-dip at a moment's notice, with anyone. Any therapeutic approach that aims at making me conventional will not work and, indeed, will likely arouse strong resistance. My relationship with Dr. Bash means nothing to me. And, as Shakespeare once said (with a leering grimace), "Nothing will come of nothing."

Third, I do not seek corroboration from Dr. Bash for the truth or value of my ideas. I have no need to convince Dr. Bash of the truth or value of my ideas. I need the corroboration of people whose opinions I respect. I don't respect Dr. Bash as a psychologist. I say something; she disagrees; and I say "That's your opinion. I don't care what your opinion is." I will say: "My theory is that Brian likes me." And Dr. Bash will reply: "No, Brian does not like you." Then I will say: "I think he does, and I don't care what your opinion is." Finally, Dr. Bash will say: "Brian doesn't like you." Dr. Bash has a need to convince me of things. I have no need to convince her of anything. And I'm not convinced she has the means to convince me of anything worth being convinced about.

Fourth, I strive to explore remote areas of experience -- the South Seas of existence, so to speak -- which are intrapersonal or suprapersonal rather than interpersonal. That is, I strive to look into the depths of my own psyche and am not very much concerned as to whether anyone else will follow me. Though, I do long for that special other who will understand me.

There is so much of my intrapsychic structure -- the flying buttresses, roof beams, and vaults, so to speak, of my inner world -- that is beyond her experiential background and professional competence. Freud wrote about his initial consultation with a creative and psychologically complex patient: "It was as if you would dig a single shaft through a mysterious building." The Mad Monk dispenses with the complexities of my illness by interposing her own simplistic agenda: "Why don't you just go to Sears?"

For Dr. Bash, everything, I mean EVERYTHING, is interpersonal. "Do you eat out?" "Do you speak Hebrew?" "Do you go to your local synagogue?" The synagogue! The ultimate irony is this: think for a moment about the personality and social difficulties of Moses himself. Now there -- there -- was a misunderstood artist! Moses. Even his brother (Aaron, the close talker) didn't understand Moses; he probably thought his brother, Moses, was a nut case. "You'll have to excuse my brother, things are a tad askew with him. He talks to a burning bush in his bare feet."

Dr. Bash doesn't seem to have any empathy for the patient who has a need to express his thoughts and feelings; a need to vent; a need to experience an empathic object. And we see the consequences of that. Would I write these letters to you if I had a therapist I could talk to? Probably not. My pain is your gain, buddy.

One of Freud's patients talked about what she got out of her therapy with Freud: "We touched lightly on some of the more abstruse transcendental problems . . . but we related them to the familiar family-complex. Tendencies of thought and imagination, however, were not cut away, were not pruned even. . . . Thoughts were things, to be collected, collated, analyzed, shelved or resolved."

"Tendencies of thought and imagination." One other thing I just thought of. Yes, J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." Those lines. Here. This. "Supposing I went to your father and had him psychoanalyze me and all," I said. "What would he do to me? I mean what would he do to me?" "He wouldn't do a goddam thing to you. He'd simply talk to you, and you'd talk to him, for God's sake. For one thing, he'd help you to recognize the patterns of your mind." "The what?" "The patterns of your mind. Your mind runs in -- "

How different is my work with Dr. Bash! Her stated aim is to break me of my ideas, as she once put it. Like Orwell's "Big Brother." There's a definite scarcity of science in Dr. Bash's methodology. My relationship with Dr. Bash is a case of too much psychopathology chasing too little professional expertise. My time with Dr. Bash is a veritable prison sentence. And these letters are my prison ruminations. They are my reaction to intense -- no, -- the most intense feelings of frustration. At times, I feel lost.

I love to lay on my couch, and just let my thoughts ramble. Loose associations and flights of ideas, don't you know?

And I think about you, buddy. I think about you all the time. I'm not ashamed to say it. I have good taste in librarians. No, really, Brian. Why wouldn't I think about you? The good times we've had. Hanging out in the library every day with you for thirteen years. When you've spent thirteen years of your life with someone, you're bound to develop some attachment.

In any event, I think it's a healthy thing for me to think about you, "Buddy." "Even though my doctor did not prescribe this, this is very good for my rehabilitation." A recent study found that thinking about supportive friends (real or imaginary) for a few minutes before a stressful test helped participants minimize increases in heart rate and blood pressure.

And, of course, these letters. I have to write letters to you. They've become my religious sanctuary; my temple of the mind. These letters are an outlet for me. For me, they are a means of getting what's inside, outside. Putting things out there. Creating, ordering, giving form to the formless, and structure to the chaotic.

Freud once instructed someone: " . . . write it, write it, put it down in black and white . . . get it out, produce it, make something of it -- outside you, that is, give it an existence independently of you . . . " That's exactly what I do in these letters. I give my ideas an independent existence outside myself.

I think of these letters as -- well, pardon my grandiosity -- but I like to think of these letters as comparable in some way to the late compositions of Beethoven, yes, Beethoven, that great architect of music. In his last years, cut off from the outer world, as he was, in his deafness, he created new architectonic forms, or musical structures, to confer some order on the chaos of his intrapsychic world. His late compositions, written at a high level of intense feeling, were not designed with any thought of average receptivity. The tension is too unrelieved, the moments of brilliance, vivid delineation, affecting tenderness, too fleeting for ready assimilation. There is a marked absence of broad and telling effects to capture the casual attention of the lay public -- tunefully-built, reiterative phrases in the Handelian manner, melodious solo passages for variety and relief. Beethoven does not linger to drive a point home so roundly, so obviously, that all may follow. He makes his points succinctly, with a direct thrust, in scores which are too compact, too rich in inner detail to attain that comforting if sometimes dubious quality known as "box-office appeal."

In these late pieces Beethoven was straining for, reaching for, some new idea of order or coherence in the cyclic composition, an order markedly different from the traditional psychological sequence that he had developed in his earlier music. This new order is not easy to comprehend, because on the evidence of one of the late compositions, the Quartet in B flat, the idea was not entirely realized.

Beethoven's late compositions, including the famous late quartets, are so-called "third period" compositions. Beethoven's creative output has been famously described as tripartite, with an early, middle, and late period. Actually, according to some psychologists, the work of all artists (artists worthy of the name artist, at least) typically passes through three phases, provided they live long enough. Third period works have certain characteristics. First, they are less concerned with communication than what has gone before. Second, they are often unconventional in form, and appear to be striving to achieve a new kind of unity between elements which at first sight are extremely disparate, Third, they are characterized by an absence of rhetoric or any need to convince. Fourth, they seem to be exploring remote areas of experience which are intrapersonal or suprapersonal rather than interpersonal. That is, the artist is looking into the depths of his own psyche and is not very much concerned as to whether anyone else will follow him or understand him. At least, so claims Anthony Storr.

Check you out next week, buddy. When we get together, you can keep your pants on. No skinny-dipping, no nude wrestling. No hugging, no learning. There's so much we could do that doesn't require nudity or physical contact. We could go skiing, for example. I feel like a bird when I'm skiing. Like a bird! Like Jesse Raben on the slopes of Vermont. Or we could go jogging. But you better hurry up, Brian, because there's too many guys on the road right now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

no idea when this was written or why or what its about but holy mother I relate.

Thursday, 29 December, 2005  

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