Trifecta of Death in Hollyweird

This week we had our trifecta. You know the “bad things come in threes” moment here in Hollyweird. Well, and if you add in Thailand, maybe it comes in fours (I’m thinking David Carridine, but for the moment, he’s not in the discussion). So first up – the perpetual side-kick and pitch man – Ed McMahon. When we heard he had died, I turned to the ‘Publican (aka my husband) and said, “well, no more ads for selling our gold teeth!).

And then yesterday we had a two-fer.

First up was 62-year-old Farrah Fawcett. I didn’t watch her cancer documentary on TV that was on recently. I’m not sure why – maybe I thought it would be depressing and I might cry. Maybe I thought it was going to be fairly self-serving, badly done or just overly narcissistic. Maybe there was just something else on the tube that I was more interested in. But for whatever reason, I knew she was quite ill with cancer, didn’t have that long to live and yet when I heard she had died, I felt more than a twinge of sadness. Now here’s something interesting – everybody said she had cancer but nobody was saying what type of cancer she had. Yesterday for the first time, the radio announcer stated it – she had anal cancer. My husband opined that this was probably why nobody was saying much about the type of cancer she had and, in fact, he didn’t even know you could get anal cancer.

Well, yes you can. In fact, since cancer is cellular mutation you can “get” cancer anywhere on or in your body. Even in yucky places that we don’t like to talk about. Now if someone says, “well, you would have known this if you’d seen that documentary” – fair enough. Maybe they talked about the type of cancer on the show – and maybe not. It obviously was a sensitive topic for the family and friends of Farrah and one can only wonder what type of treatment was needed because she fought the cancer for awhile. Once again I say “Yuck” and I’m not all that squeamish.

So I say, rest in peace, dear Farrah. What happened was awful and you fought well and hard. You had an amazing life filled with career highs (think “The Burning Bed” and “Extremities” more than “Charlie’s Angels”, okay?) and you had love in your life, too. You left an impression on us – some of us more than others. That means that I, too, had a Farrah haircut for years in the 1980’s, since my hair is basically the same type of hair. Not that I ever looked like her – drat!

Now to the third death of the week. Michael Jackson. This one just annoys the heck out of me. And here I may annoy you, too. What I wrote in a blip ( is a musical sharing site patterned about twitter) last night was that he was a “musical genius and a tortured soul” and I think that about sums up the nicest things I can say about him.

Musical genius – yes, absolutely. I remember the Jackson Five since I was a kid during their heyday. Great songs and little Michael was absolutely adorable. And I was certainly blown away by “Thriller”.

What I didn’t know – none of us did – was how he and the rest of the Jackson kids were truly brutalized by their father, Joe. I don’t take this away from MJ – he was abused, at least emotionally and physically. Although I doubt his father sexually abused him, I would not be surprised to hear that MJ was abused by somebody close to the family.

So tortured soul – yes, absolutely. He was a man-child who never became a true man. There is enough evidence that he was a pedophile but because he was not the worst type of pedophile, many tend to dismiss his behavior as a quirky or idiosyncratic “lifestyle”, and can’t believe that he did the things we think pedophiles do.

Not all pedophiles have intercourse (RAPE) with their victims. Not all pedophiles stalk their victims. In fact, they tend to emotionally seduce their victims AND their victims’ families. Most say they love their victims – and they mean it. Some, like MJ, just go to second or third base (touching and maybe oral sex) with their victims. Again, if he is emotionally about 11 or 12 years old, he’s going to behave this way with other boys in close age proximity (his favorite victims). Sex play between pre-pubescent boys of the same age and maturity is not that uncommon. It isn’t necessarily sexual abuse because the relationship is not, by its very nature, exploitive. Now if a 12 year old boy is touching a 5 year old – that is not mutual. It’s not just sex play – it is abuse.

But here’s the thing – it’s still pedophilia. It’s still wrong. It’s still against the law. The fact that he wasn’t convicted does not mean he didn’t do it – it means the prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to prove their case to a jury of 12. It could also mean the prosecutors DID have enough evidence, but the jury of 12 wasn’t going to convict MJ because he was a celebrity. Remember the idea of “burden of proof” and “reasonable doubt”? So for whatever reason, the jury did not believe the prosecutors had met their burden of proof and/or there was reasonable doubt. But . . . that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. Remember – MJ paid off the first boy’s family to the tune of $25 million.

Look- the bottom line is that he was a victim and a victimizer. I think he had erotic desires for boys of a certain age and those desires are not ones that we, as a society, tolerate. We are not a NAMBLA nation, nor do I want us to be. Children are too easily manipulated by adults, and even if I believe that MJ had the emotions of a 12-year-old and in his own mind, he was just playing with a playmate, he was legally an adult. In effect, he needed others in his world to say no to him – and there’s no evidence that anybody ever did.

(By the way – don’t get me started on the families of MJ’s victims. As far as I’m concerned they pimped their kids out to a pedophile for their own needs and they are worse than MJ. After all, MJ was just MJ and wanted what he wanted, but the parents of the victims should have had enough sense to keep their kids away from him. They didn’t and they preferred to cash their kids in. Unspeakable and disgusting.)

I suspect what we’re going to learn is that MJ died from a combination of drugs that lead to cardiac arrest. Something like another sad soul, Anna Nicole Smith. Doctors kept him doped up – family members and sycophants never stopped it – and he’s dead.

We’ll see. MJ seems like a very concrete fellow without much insight into himself or his history or motivations so that much of his internal distress was probably somatized (that is, he would have a lot of physical complaints of pain, gastrointestinal distress, etc.) and he chose to find doctors who would continue to maim him or dope him up, rather than help him psychologically. I’m not saying that psychiatrists and therapists weren’t ever called in – I’m just saying that they were probably not listened to by either MJ or his entourage. Easier to do another plastic surgery or give him another injection of demerol or morphine.

Had he been more psychologically minded it’s possible that he might not have been able to live with himself – but I don’t think we’re going to learn this. I don’t really think this was a suicide – although the idea of this is tantalizing. But it would mean that he would have to have the ability to see himself clearly – or to want to save his kids from himself. I don’t think that was possible and I don’t think the entourage would allow it anyway. After all, their paychecks were at risk.

Ultimately, he was a commodity – one that eventually just got used up. And that’s tragic.

My Life In the Chair

I want to finish up my series of posts on how I came to decide to commit to my chosen career, which even as I write that, reads odd. After all, the idea of choice and decision implies commitment. But not in my case, apparently.

The other installments of this missive can be found here, here and here. I should probably start and explain that yes, this picture is not taken from flickr or istockphoto but is, instead, a picture of my actual chair in my actual office. It’s not the coolest chair around (in my very humble opinion, the coolest chairs are Eames style chairs with leather ottomans), but for now, it suffices and I can curl up in it which sometimes feel the best thing to do. I’ve even fallen asleep in this chair.

In any event, I left off in my last installment mentioning I had spent a lot of time in psychotherapy and that my own therapist had mentioned that maybe I should consider this as a career. I think on one level I always knew I’d get to grad school when I was ready. By the time I was 42, I was pretty ready. By then my son was 15 and my job was fairly stable and it just was time. I spent a month or so taking the tours of the local freestanding graduate schools and decided upon a program that seemed to combine the academic with the practical. One thing they had was one-way mirror observance and training and they started on this right away. I mean – why waste time just studying it in books? I think the decision was, on balance, probably a good one, but it turned out not to be as academically inclined as I might have liked. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, but when I was in school and spending pretty big money on all of this, I wanted to be challenged a bit more than I was.

Oh well. Really what it takes to be a good therapist is probably not all that academic – and this is borne out by lots of folks who say they went to see the guy who wrote the book or taught the course and they were “cold” or “preoccupied” or even “downright lousy” therapists. But, on the other hand, just having a sense of it in your bones or intuition isn’t enough, either. (Although you’d never know that by the number of people who call themselves “counselors” “therapists” or “coaches” with minimal or no amount of education or training and no oversight by governmental bodies (e.g., licensing) which means they can do anything they want and consumer be damned. Good luck in suing them for malpractice.)

But that’s another rant for another time.

I do think the blend of formal education, internship (hands-on training) and going through the licensure process all contribute to becoming a good therapist, but these have to be added to the individual’s traits like warmth, empathy, curiosity, humor, and intuition. And that really important trait of being able to help without letting it hurt the healer (in other words, having good boundaries and your own personal life). I spent my whole last post talking about my all important hospice volunteer work which helped teach me that I had this last trait.

I was always a life-long learner type, so the idea of keeping my nose in a book for the rest of my life didn’t phase me, and I’ve always had an innate curiosity of people and their motives. I have a quirky sense of humor which tends toward being dry but is also fairly gentle, not sarcastic. Being able to see something humorous in life has been very helpful in being a therapist – after all, we’re all in this together and nobody gets out of it alive. I think and others have said that I am easy to talk to and non-judgmental, and I have the ability to just listen and not just jump in and offer lots of pat answers. And I’ve always been pretty intuitive (at one time in my younger life I had a lot of psychic events which I now attribute to intuition, not psychic ability).

Becoming a good therapist takes a lot of time and work. I’m still in the beginning stages of this and I’ve been at it a total of ten years, from when I started graduate school to now. I did my 3000 hours of internship, and I’ve had all sorts of experiences – from clients who threw things at each other, and stomped out of the session, to people who showed up in psychotic states and couldn’t sit in the room, but insisted I do therapy with them on the sidewalk (I took a chair outside), to people forced into therapy by the court system who were more interested in scamming me than using their time to actually gain insight into their situations, which is one place my intuition has come in handy.

I’ve had actors, prostitutes and ex-cons, lawyers, clerks, and nurses, and other therapists as clients. Some of my clients have been markedly manic and others horribly, suicidally depressed. More than a few have had traits of Boderline Personality Disorder and a few were probably candidates for Antisocial PD. Almost every child I have seen in therapy has been in a situation where it was the parents who needed to be there more than the kid and, as a result of this, I decided to not do direct work with children only. I do see family constellations, though, such as parent-child, but, if possible, I prefer to work with the parents only, either individually or with their spouse, since that is usually where the family distress begins.

Over time I found myself drawn towards creative adults such as actors, artists, writers, musicians and singers. Although I have never worked as an actor (not even community theater), I took drama in school and I played first chair flute in orchestra, so I do know something of the anxiety that comes from performing. My son is also a creative person, who performed in many plays throughout school, and is a writer, artist and videogame designer. So although I’m not an ex-actor, I feel I have always understood the personality type fairly well. Plus I like creative people – I understand their desire to give their gift to the world and make money at it, too. It’s a pretty natural fit for me.

And hey, I live and work in LA, so creative types are all around me. But . . . it hasn’t been the mosst lucrative work around, as many of my clients are struggling to find acting work and living hand-to-mouth on their wits and waiting tables. They do come to therapy and get a lot out of it, hopefully to the point, of becoming more successful, but at first they have no money. And I have been fairly conflicted about making money as a therapist. I’m not alone in this.

And in my case, I have always had the backdrop of my other career to fall back on. So for most of my actual working life as a therapist I have also maintained either a full- or part-time job as a paralegal. This didn’t even change last August when I was finally laid off from my last paralegal job. For the first few months I was consumed with getting some projects done at home and then the holidays with the idea that, once January 2009 rolled around that surely the seas would part and I’d find paralegal work again. It didn’t really occur to me to question this, since we needed me to work and this was a more consistent way to do it.

But guess what? January came and then February and March – and no work. I think I went on exactly one interview for a contract job which I didn’t get. And although I was still getting unemployment, that was running low, so I started re-thinking my assumption that I’d keep working as a paralegal while maintaining a practice. I mean, what was the real job and what was the side job?

I was like the person who has managed to put one foot on the ice floe while keeping the other foot on land, and the ice floe is moving slowly away from land. At first it’s imperceptible but over time, you’re straddling two worlds. I’m not sure that the “land” wasn’t my therapy practice, but it sure was hard to make the decision to be in one place.

You know how sometimes you find inspiration in odd places? Well, a few months back I had bought a drink at starbucks and actually read the quote on it (usually I just drink and toss).

Here’s the quote:

The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating — in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Now the person who is quoted, Anne Morriss, is just a person, a customer from New York who describes herself as an “organization builder, restless American citizen, optimist.” I have no idea what an “organization builder” is (heck, it could be anything), but the other two descriptions fit me fairly well, too. And it was in reading and absorbing what this quote meant that the last pieces fell into place. I had always hesitated being a full time therapist due to the money, but couldn’t really make more money as a therapist until I was willing to put all my emotional and mental energy into building the business and getting clients. So all my ‘rational hesitation’ began to seem silly – I was using my “I’m going to get another job!” thinking to keep my practice small and then I’d complain about the size of my practice and use it to justify why I needed to get another job. Meanwhile, the ice floe was floating further away and it was getting to be pretty difficult to straddle the open water.

So I jumped back to land (yes, I guess the land was my practice). And I now stand there and say when asked, “Oh me? I’m a psychotherapist. And you?”