Day 105: Cry it out

Sometimes I am unsure what to do about feelings. I suppose the mental health establishment is unsure too: should feelings be drawn out or left in? Should they be lanced and bled? Should they be swaddled in cotton, and bound very tightly? What is it that they need?

When I saw Dr. F yesterday and she asked why I was crying I said because it was hard to talk about my Dad. I went on to observe, and there was an edge in my voice that surprised myself, that when she makes me talk about my father, it feels like she’s poking a tender wound. It is painful and wearying.

She understood, I think. She lost her father at the same age as I lost mine. In fact, she was a little younger, I believe. She explained that she thought that I had never let myself grieve sufficiently for his death. She observed, indisputably, that there would be—indeed, there were already—many more endings to be grieved during my life, whether the end of a marriage, of a friendship, or some other loss. If I didn’t learn to grieve now, she explained, all those wounds would remain raw; they would never heal.

The duck believes her but the rabbit doesn’t. The duck’s motto is “let it go,” like the song from Frozen[1] The rabbit’s motto is: repress, repress, and, if in doubt, repress.

I believe that I have gained a lot from therapy including the ability to recognize ongoing and endlessly repeated behavioral patterns, and the ability to carefully tease out (odd that a literature professor has to be taught this) and hold up to the light the various stories I’ve told myself over the years about who I am. But have I been healing myself or dissecting myself like an anatomist? I am not sure.

Last night I wanted to cry and cry. While the children ate their dessert and watched television, I shut myself in the bathroom and sobbed. I didn’t want to be like this in front of them; in fact I told myself that I really shouldn’t be like this in front of them. It would upset them, I thought. So I took a Lorazepam, prescribed by Dr. F for moments such as these. And slowly it worked its magic, a feeling of calmness seeping slowly across my body.

Later I talked to several friends, all women, all parents, about my fear of crying in front of my children. They all suggested to me, gently, kindly, that perhaps it was all right to cry in front of them.

I realized that this had truly not occurred to me as an option. I wondered why and thought back to times I remembered my parents crying.

I could only remember two. The first time was a few months before my father’s death. We were on holiday in Spain. A family dinner turned dark quickly and unexpectedly. I had made some silly joke when my father had said something about my mother; my joke was along the lines of, “Oh, I think you must be thinking of your other wife, ha ha”; ha ha because my mother was my father’s first and only wife, or so I thought. “Well I was married before!” my father said jovially, laughing. I actually laughed out loud, the idea was so preposterous – not the idea that he had been married before, but the idea that he had been married before and never mentioned it in all the eighteen years I’d been alive. My mother wasn’t laughing. She said my father’s name gently, sadly, as if saying, “are you sure you want to do this?”

The details don’t matter and it’s not my story to tell. The point is that I remember, as my father told me the details, that he was crying. And I remember feeling angry that he was crying because I was already angry with him and seeing him cry made me feel sorry for him too but I didn’t want to have to feel sorry for him.

The memory of my mother crying is from just two months later, after my father died. What I remember most clearly is that I felt not grief or compassion but anger that I had to be the one to comfort and look after her, combined with deep shame at my anger.

When I reflect on these memories today, something comes into focus that wasn’t there yesterday. I thought, yesterday, that I couldn’t cry in front of my children because I remembered how angry I’d been when I saw my parents crying. But I think, now, that I was mistaken about why I was angry. It wasn’t witnessing my parents crying that made me angry: I was angry that my father had kept a secret from me; I was angry that my mother’s grief was so overwhelming that there was no room for my own.

This morning when I woke up my left eyelid felt heavy. It was a blocked tear duct; I’ve had it before. Treat it with warm compresses, the internet says, and the blockage should right itself.

Is a blocked tear duct the universe’s way of telling me that God is a Freudian, I wondered? You know, if you repress the feelings, you’ll create a blockage, geddit?

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if God were a Freudian. There have been signs.

But if that IS what it means, if God IS trying to tell me not to bottle up my feelings, all I have to say is, why are you such a fucking literalist, God? I mean, think of some of the other options that were available to you: perhaps a clogged pipe? Well, frankly, I’m thankful you didn’t go that route. A wine bottle that wouldn’t open? Actually, I’m also grateful you didn’t go that route. But what about a nice swollen cloud pregnant with rain? That would have been pretty at least.

But no. You give me a blocked tear duct as a heavy-handed way of telling me that I’ve just gotta cry, cry, cry, cry, cry, I’ve gotta cry it out, cry it out, as either Taylor Swift or Dr. Richard Ferber, or possibly both will surely put it one of these days.


[1] The duck loves that film. It makes him cry. The rabbit just rolls her eyes and murmurs, “I don’t get what the big deal is, it’s just Sense and Sensibility with snow,” and, I must say, I think she has a point.


Day 102: duck-rabbit and the three Priuses

The other morning when we left the house to go to preschool I was not exactly sure where the car was.

He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved had parked it somewhere on my block the night before.

“Is that it?” I murmured to myself, upon spotting the distinctive sloping profile of a car near the end of the block.

That was the younger’s cue:

“Mom, can you please tell the story of the three green Priuses?”

I am not making this up: those are actual words that sprang from the younger’s lips. The tale of the three green Priuses has now become an established fixture in my repertoire of stories. Frankly, it’s not the most dramatic tale. But it struck me as I retold it to her as we drove to preschool that perhaps she likes it because of its distinctively fairytale structure. Judge for yourself. I’ll do my best to add a bit of suspense.

Duck-rabbit and the three Priuses: a bourgeois fairytale

One bright sunny morning, a pensive duck-rabbit walked from its psychiatrist’s office back to its car, which it had parked on a nearby side street. The duck-rabbit could not remember exactly where on the block it had parked the car, but to its relief it soon spotted the distinctive silvery-green hue and gentle slope of its noble Prius.

But when it went to open the driver’s door, the duck-rabbit gasped: the door opened easily to its touch but the electronic key did not make its usual cheery beep-beep upon the door opening.

“Oh shit!” exclaimed the duck-rabbit to itself, “I forgot to lock the door!” It sighed and shook its head at its own absent-mindedness and climbed into the car.

But, as soon as the duck-rabbit sat down, it realized that something was very wrong. Because a duck-rabbit’s eyes are placed conveniently on either side of its elegant head, it could quite easily spy a large straw hat on the back passenger seat.

There had been no large straw hat on the back passenger seat when the duck-rabbit left the car.

The duck-rabbit gasped! Clearly, a thief had broken into car, leaving behind (whether deliberately, as a whimsical, pastoral calling card, or accidentally, in the haste of the crime) a large, straw, wide-brimmed hat!

But wait. Wait a moment. No no no. Hang on.

“That makes no bloody sense,” thought the duck-rabbit to itself.

The cogs in the duck-rabbit’s bird-hare-brain turned slowly as it sat there frowning. [1] All of a sudden the truth dawned on it. This was NOT the duck-rabbit’s car! This was somebody else’s green Prius! Someone who owned a large straw hat and who had forgotten to lock the door! If anyone was a thief, it was the duck-rabbit, who had blithely gotten into a stranger’s car, which said stranger might discover at any moment, upon realizing, perhaps, now that the morning fog had cleared, that she needed her straw hat, after all, on this sunny day.

The duck-rabbit exited the car with all due haste, slammed the door, and walked ahead very quickly as un-suspiciously as possible.

To its immense relief it spotted its actual car, its own dear, sweet green Prius, just a few cars further up the street. “Oh, silly duck-rabbit!” the duck-rabbit thought to itself, consolingly. “It was just the wrong car!

The duck-rabbit opened the door, or tried to, but the door remained stubbornly shut and the keys made no reassuring beep-beep.

“OK, what the fuck?” exclaimed the duck-rabbit, now thoroughly flummoxed. It tried the door again.

“OK. OK, so my keys really aren’t working,” the duck-rabbit inferred, completely wrongly, as it turned out, its powers of reason now utterly fucked. “Or. Or wait. Wait. I have the wrong keys?”

Again, the cogs turned ever so slowly in the duck-rabbit’s brain. In all fairness to the duck-rabbit, it had just come from therapy; all that head-shrinking can sap a duck-rabbit’s analytical powers.

The duck-rabbit tried the door one more time before peering inside and, upon failing to see the parking permit that should have been hanging from the rearview mirror, realized that, indeed, yet again, this was the Wrong. Green. Prius. Moreover, yet again, the only thief was the duck-rabbit, who was repeatedly and aggressively trying to open somebody else’s car.

With a feeling that can only be described as uncanny, which is to say, as that other great Dr. F once put it, with a feeling evocative of “the sense of helplessness experienced in some dream-states,” the duck-rabbit stumbled onwards. There, once again, was another green Prius a few cars ahead. The duck-rabbit almost daren’t try the door. But it did, oh-so-gingerly. Finally the door opened and the keys beep-beeped. There was the parking permit, hanging from the rearview mirror. There was the backseat, completely devoid of all hats, straw or otherwise. With a sigh of relief the duck-rabbit climbed in.

This Prius was just right.

What is the moral of this fable, you may ask?

I think it’s very plain. Stirring the boiling cauldron of the unconscious casts a spell, one that will have you lost and searching one, two, three times, for a way back home. Don’t believe me? Remember dear Sigmund’s confusion in the shady quarter of that unnamed provincial town in Italy populated by “painted women”?

“ … I hastened to leave the narrow street at the next turning. But after having wandered about for a time without enquiring my way, I suddenly found myself back in the same street, where my presence was now beginning to excite attention. I hurried away once more, only to arrive by another detour at the same place yet a third time. Now, however, a feeling overcame me which I can only describe as uncanny, and I was glad enough to find myself back at the piazza I had left a short while before, without any further voyages of discovery.”[2]

The uncanny lurks too in plain sight on the broad boulevards of Santa Monica, where strange, silent Priuses haunt the streets.


[1] This, to me, dear readers, is actually the entertaining aspect of this story: simply the fact that the duck-rabbit’s brain immediately formed the hypothesis of the whimsical thief in trying to make sense of what it saw. This is not the first time the duck-rabbit has formed such a hypothesis. A few weeks ago I got home from work and froze when I saw on the kitchen counter a plastic container of pink liquid. The plastic container had previously contained those addictive bright pink pickled turnips that you sometimes get with falafel (or, in LA, at Zankou Chicken). Anyway. The point is, I had bought this container of pickled turnips the previous day at the farmers’ market, and while I had been tempted to eat them all in one sitting, I had exercised great restraint and refrained from doing so. In fact, I had only eaten just a scant few of the turnip slices filling the sixteen-ounce container. My heart thumping, I examined the rest of the apartment. Everything else was as I had left it. The conclusion was obvious: a whimsical turnip-eating thief had broken into my apartment, flagrantly eaten all my pickled turnips, and left the empty plastic container on the counter in a shameless act of defiance. Or else, and this was my next hypothesis, I had earlier, myself, in some kind of somnambulant trance, eaten all of the turnips. Both possibilities were equally disturbing. (It turned out that the elder had let himself in to the apartment on his way back from school, eaten all the pickled turnips, and then left and gone to his father’s house.)

[2] Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Trans. Strachey, James. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Ed. Strachey, James. Vol. 17. 24 vols. London:Hogarth Press, 1955. 217–52. 237.