Author du mois

My recent interest in alcohol consumption (sparked by the concern voiced by clinical researchers regarding my own consumption) led me to a book called The Wet and the Dry by Lawrence Osborne. Equal parts travelogue, memoir, and cross-cultural study, it recounts the author’s adventures during two years of drinking in the Islamic world. At times the drinking is easy; at others he goes for days unable to get his 6:10 p.m. fix (which often lasts for many hours and sometimes starts much earlier in the day). Toward the end, during a sojourn in Cairo at the height of the Islamist revolution, he writes that “what one does in a bar” is “contemplate death and the inconsequential things that come just before it.”

Briefly fascinated (all my fascinations are brief) by Osborne, whom the author note described as leading “a nomadic life,” I sought out an earlier book of his, called American Normal: The Hidden World of Asperger Syndrome. Although the book was either poorly written or poorly edited (probably both), I found it somewhat interesting. Asperger’s and autism have become even more fashionable in the 15 years since the book was published. One thing that Osborne points out is that the boys Hans Asperger first identified as having the syndrome exhibited a “primitive spitefulness.” Today’s American Aspies have a gentler, sanitized version of the condition, or so they and their families and supporters would have us believe.

Having read as much as I care to in both these books, I will now return them to their respective libraries and wait for the next fascination to strike.



Not my sisters

Today’s reason for feeling particularly morose: my failure to participate in the worldwide protests against the new POTUS. I couldn’t muster the outrage, solidarity, or commitment to go out and march. The whole thing just seemed too unfocused and antagonistic, and it seemed to take Trumpery way more seriously than I think it deserves. Now, of course, I’m berating myself for being a bad woman—or bad human—for staying home.

In 20 years will I regret not joining the feisty, playful, caring, ideological throng? Probably no more than I regret wearing a skirt to high school on the day in 1969 when many girls wore pants to protest the restrictive dress code. As I recall, it turned out to be something of a non-event, with the administration pretty much shrugging and saying, “OK, you can wear pants.” If the Trump administration similarly capitulates, I will definitely regret not marching.

Now what?

Whom am I kidding? (Not English teachers.) Here I sit, full of ambition and excitement, all ready to launch my new career. What career is that? Well, it doesn’t matter, and it changes at least three times a week. Today, for example, I’m evaluating law schools and studying for the LSAT; a few days ago I took a typing test and almost applied for a job as a medical scribe; in between I’ve dreamed of being a lab technician, a singer-songwriter, a barn mucker-outer, a beer brewer. The point is that I’m rarin’ to go. Heck, I’m only 62. I have my whole life ahead of me.

But then I picture myself in the thick of the job, or the classroom, or the barn, or performing before an audience, or interviewing to do any of these things, and I realize that it ain’t gonna happen. Aside from crippling indecision as to which of these things to do, there’s really only one thing holding me back: an inability to take myself seriously as a competent, functioning human being.

In fact, the depths of my self-deprecation are matched only by the heights of my hubris. When I think I’m right about something, I don’t question it at all, and at least 40 percent of the time it turns out I was wrong. Yes, my lack of self-esteem is well supported by the evidence, which has included some rather embarrassing comeuppances.

For instance, there was the day circa 1985 when I was typesetting a brochure about jury selection and came across a clearly made-up word: “peremptory.” The first time I saw it, I figured it was a typo and instinctively changed it to “preemptory,” not realizing that my substituted word was in fact the imposter. When I saw this error about a dozen more times, I did not think, as any thoughtful human being would, “Hmm, maybe I was wrong about that. Better look it up.” Instead I thought, “Whoever wrote this brochure copy is just plain ignorant. I’ll do them a favor and correct the error.” In my defense: looking stuff up was a lot harder back then. You actually had to have a dictionary (which I’m sure we did, but maybe it didn’t include legal jargon).

The “corrected” copy made it all the way back to the client, because I convinced my boss or another employee that I, a law school dropout, knew more about jury selection than the attorney who wrote the brochure. Why I was not fired for this egregious display of arrogance cum ignorance remains a mystery.

I quit that job one day when my boss wouldn’t let me add an apostrophe to “rock ’n roll” in a client’s ad copy. (Of course I was absolutely correct in that case, right? Wasn’t I? Of course I was.) Then I returned to the job a few months later. I can’t remember if our punctuation tiff occurred before or after the brochure debacle, but the boss’s intsistence on apostrophizing only one of the missing letters suggests that he had learned not to trust my tinkering.

This was only one in a lifelong series of embarrassing gaffes, faux pas, and other missteps of French origin (some of them actually in French). Maybe I’ll start using the blog as a place to test the theory that if you share the shameful details of your life, they lose their shaming power. Extra points for transforming the shame into humor, a skill I definitely need to work on. Maybe if I work hard enough at it, humorous oversharing could be my new calling, for a few days anyway.

Predictably unpredictable

Today I wrote to both my state representatives about an issue. On the official form for sending email to legislators, you have to choose whether or not you want to receive a reply. “How is this up to me?” I wondered. I want to hear from them if they have something to say. If they have nothing to say, why would I want to hear from them?

Stymied, I decided to have it both ways. I told one legislator that no reply was needed, and on the other message I checked the Yes button. In a postscript to both messages I explained that of course I wanted to hear from them if they had something to say on the subject, but that otherwise no reply was necessary.

About 20 seconds after I submitted the no-reply-needed message, a staffer replied, telling me basically nothing and adding that “we do read all constituent messages and strive to respond to all in a timely manner.” I wrote back, suggesting that she ask to have that useless option removed from the email form. She did not answer.

I got no reply to my email requesting a reply.

Out here on my own

The appointment with Dr. C, the psychiatrist I saw more than three months ago, did not go well. I hadn’t realized that we would have only 37 minutes to talk. I barely managed to tell her how wrong she was about her previous diagnosis and to fill her in on my diagnostic and therapeutic adventures since our last meeting. When I finally asked if she could prescribe an antidepressant for me, she announced that there wasn’t time for that and that I should make another appointment.

So I got no prescription, no useful advice, and pretty much no respect. Leaving her office, I decided that it was time to give up on the mental-health establishment and seriously work on healing myself. I may be able to manage with just the levothyroxine that my PCP prescribed for me last week (as soon as it stops making me anxious and sleepless). Or maybe I’ll go back to taking escitalopram, perhaps at a higher dose than the one that left me suicidal.

Of course I would prefer to stay (relatively) drug-free. I hate making my fellow creatures ingest chemicals they never asked for. But I must face the fact that the best years of my life were the ones when I was artificially stabilized. Sorry, fish. Just be glad I no longer eat you (hmm, maybe if I did I could get the benefit of drugs without a prescription).


I’ve always felt mildly superior to people who have a worse case than mine of whatever is bothering me. Recently, for example, I wondered if “ear picking” was a common phenomenon, and one of the first hits I found for that phrase was a message board in which people confessed to torturing their ear canals to the point of bleeding and infection. “I’m not that bad (yet),” I thought, with mixed feelings of relief, compassion, schadenfreude, and superiority.

But maybe I would have a richer life if I were a little more extreme in some ways. Maybe my real problem is that I take moderation to the extreme. If I never hit bottom, how will I ever recover? And from what?

Everything new is old again

After a while one grows weary of constantly seeking novelty. You reach a point where what seems truly novel is the idea of returning to something that isn’t new at all. So I decided that instead of seeking yet another psychiatrist or therapist, I would return to ones I’d already seen. I now have an appointment for Wednesday with the psychiatrist who did such a lousy job of diagnosing me a couple of months ago. Not because I think she can help me, but because I think she should get a second chance to get it right. After all, she is pretty new to the field and has a lot to learn about diagnosis. I will generously give her some continuing education, and in exchange maybe she’ll give me the latest in psychopharmaceuticals.

I don’t know if I’ll be contacting a psychotherapist, new or old. Convinced now that Asperger’s is my underlying ailment, I wonder if therapy can be of any help. As my friend Amy told me a few years ago, I just need to accept the fact that I’m weird. Therapy is mostly about change, not acceptance of the status quo, but maybe it’s still useful if what needs to change is how accepting one is.