If the last blog was the most difficult on e to write, this one feels much easier .It is the future. Which is unknown and unknowable. I can hope for a certain kind of future. I can save money. plan for old age. My children’s university fees. I can think about what I might cook for dinner tonight. But none of these is certain. My children might not go to university. We might go out to dinner. The banks could fail and my money disappear. My future is beyond my control. Aylesbury, or any other town, is not the same place as it was 50 years ago. Which does raise the obvious question about what defines Identity? Aylesbury hasn’t moved from being in Bucks. But all that is needed is for a bureaucracy to decide that it makes sense for belong to another county for convenience and I am no longer in my home county. (The house where I spent my teenage years is about a mile from the border of Middlesex-on the Bucks side. I looked for an address in this area in a Bucks A to Z and could not find the street. I eventually found it in a Middlesex A to Z. I was furious! How dare “they” change my history. I grew up in Bucks, not Middlesex. Someone had re-written my past. Without my permission. )
This rewriting of history comes up time and again in therapy. A patient remembers a childhood incident in a certain way. Their parents have a completely different version of the same event. Whose version is “true”? A patient recalls one version of their mother. On closer inspection this is an internal mother who is not the same as the flesh and blood mother. (The internal mother is far more powerful than the flesh and blood one.) The work in therapy has been to understand how the historical events shape the present. Which in turn shapes the future. My patient who felt abandoned at an early age has gone on to make relationships with men who in their turn abandon her. Her future will, hopefully, be different as a consequence of coming into therapy.
What have these musings to do with a picture of Aylesbury’s new theatre? The theatre is the place of magic. Make believe. Fantasy. Dreams. Anything becomes possible here. I can relive my teenage years with a tribute band. I can be moved by a play about Argentina. I can hear a piece by Beethoven and go where his music takes me. All without leaving Aylesbury! Prospero, in The Tempest, comments that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” My future is such stuff as dreams are made on. As is my past and my present.
I began this series of blogs by asking “Who lives here?” I could have asked “Whose town is it anyway?” One answer is that it is the Past’s; the Present’s and the Future’s. Every time i leave my house I encounter each of these elements. My patients do the same. Each meeting they bring their past, present and future selves- sometimes consciously, often unconsciously. As Aylesbury belongs to all its elements, so do our inner towns. All of which are “such stuff as dreams are made on.”
The link is to one version of Prospero’s speech. Enjoy-as they say.
In some ways this is the most difficult piece of this series. The past and future seem to be easy to write about. Somehow writing about Now feels hard. If I write about Now other people can recognise it. My friends know the current me. They were at the party I might describe. Or were in the car with me yesterday. They were probably not around 40 years ago. And may not be around in the future. So writing about the present feels more risky. The image I’ve chosen proclaims that Aylesbury is linked with a town in France, Bourg-en-Bresse, situated near Lyon. We are also twinned with towns in Poland, Germany and Turkey. I wonder what benefits any of us receive from this arrangement? But the point for me is that Aylesbury is connected to foreign parts. No matter how tenuously, we have these links.Although one doesn’t have to look far to encounter the “foreign”. As with most English towns there are any number of languages spoken other than English. And each language has its own links to somewhere other than Aylesbury. Two streets away I can find shops catering for the Polish community. Two more streets and the staff are Indian, talking to each other in Urdu or Hindi and to their customers in English. All this in the Here and Now. I am surrounded by the Other.
The same holds true in the inner world. there, too, I am surrounded by the Other. By parts of myself that speak a different language to the rest of me.If I’m driving and somebody cuts me up, a “foreign” part of me emerges. If someone takes to long in a supermarket queue, a “foreign” part of me emerges.My dreams reveal “foreign” aspects of myself. Except,of course, they are not foreign. They are an integral part of the community that is Terry Burridge. As is the me who is a teacher. The me who is a counsellor. The me who is a husband. These all make up the present Terry Burridge.
Many years ago I did my best to be a devout Evangelical Christian. (I was good at it! I needed to be. I had no other identity.) One of the unhelpful aspects of this way of thinking was that it saw one’s “foreign” parts as sinful. Aspects that should be fought against and over which one should exercise constant vigilance. What did not happen was much attempt to get to know these “foreigners”. To learn their language and understand their view of things. (This ,of course,takes into the world of -ism’s. Racism.Sexism. And the like. We fear what we do not understand. And from fear can come a wish to destroy what we do not comprehend.) I remember several conversations with staff at Broadmoor. I wondered how they felt about working with patients who had committed some unspeakable acts .The reply was always along the lines of “We’re not here to judge them. We’re here to help them.” They did just that. And the patents eventually had a chance at a new life. They were fully ware of their foreign parts. But had learned to make peace with them.
To return to the title of this blog. “Who lives here? The present.” It’s been hard work writing this piece. Which might be why it’s taken me longer than usual to post it. I normally write on a Sunday evening.It might also be that so much of my clinical work is about the past in the present. The future in the present .And, even, the present in the present. Sometimes.
This is a building in town that is being refurbished. It used to house an electrical goods store- T.V.s, mainly. In that incarnation it was thoroughly 2014. Big windows, displaying 90″ plasma TV’s that probably ran half a dozen household appliances whilst simultaneously recording 15 separate channels. The earlier store looks a more modest place, dating back to the 1960’s. when life was simpler or so we tell ourselves. Wikipedia observes that the 1960’s were hallowed by some as a time of revolution in “social norms, cooking, music, drugs, dress, sexuality, formality and schooling” . For others the 60’s were a decade of ” irresponsible excess, flamboyance, and the decay of social order.” One man’s golden age was another’s nightmare. I grew up in the 60’s and thoroughly enjoyed the sense of freedom and optimism. They shaped the way I think and work today. I tend to think that the 1960’s were only last year. Or perhaps four years ago. Certainly not 50 years ago. My inner world is not an accurate historian!
As a therapist I constantly see what Michael Jacobs has called the presenting past. A patient comes to see me and tells me how happy their childhood was. Yes, some difficult times but mostly a time of fun and pleasure with loving parents. I listen and ask a couple of questions, often about their marriage or their work. Suddenly tears form and painful memories surface. Childhood becomes a more complex story. Less idyllic. More shades and shadows. The past gets revisited and retold. Like the change of use for 1 Temple Street .The current facade hid a humbler version of itself. The large TV’s bespeak a different age. Different lifestyles. Not necessarily better or happier. But one reflecting current mores. No doubt the earlier shop was also built on a past version of the town which we no longer see. Except that in Aylesbury, one does see the past preserved. There remains a small part with houses dating back to 1600’s with all their quirky construction built for a different age.
This is what one sees in clinical work. A past is uncovered that served the needs of a different psychical time. The structures that a 10-year-old child puts in place are different to those of her adult self. Yet they still shape the present as seen in career choices. Or relationships. Or child rearing. The many facets that make up a life. The woman who is a “ball breaker”. The man who always wants to please people and covets approval. The company man who must have a Rolex to prove to himself how successful he has been. The individual who is terrified of doing something that they choose, not that has been chosen by someone else. These ways of Being all have their roots in early relationships .A mother who was seen as weak leads a daughter to identify with a tough father. “Women are wimps. Men have all the fun.” This gets played out in terms of being known as the proverbial “ball breaker” or super bitch. It defends against vulnerability. Pleasing people is admirable but as a permanent way of life, it becomes exhausting. It also serves to deflect any possible “rebellion” or “naughtiness”. these behaviours running the risk of parental disapproval and censure. Which is unthinkable. Literally. A facade is built that covers up earlier structures. But under pressure these early structures break through the current frontage in the form of cracks, instabilities, gaps etc. The work of therapy is to look at these “breakdowns” and see why the current facade is showing signs of wear and tear. And how we understand the original structure. Why is there a door here? What can we see from that window? Where might those steps take us? Then we can see how the earlier structure fits with the current one. And make some decisions about what to keep hidden and what to reveal. It’s a slow but fascinating process. Therapy as archaeology.
The pictures in this post are all stock images of Aylesbury. They capture very different views. There is a riot at the prison. There is the Aylesbury of 1960’s or earlier.Then there is the theatre, Aylesbury’s newest major landmark. An investment in the town’s future. Three world’s that rarely meet. Yet which all shape-or have shaped-the town in different ways. The prison is necessary, until we decide on a different way of treating offenders. The past is, as we know, “a different country” but one in which we still live. Aylesbury no longer looks like this but it had its part in shaping the town.The theatre stands for a future vision of Aylesbury. Each of these elements represents a part of Aylesbury.
Walking through the town centre yesterday, I was struck by the variety of people who call Aylesbury “Home”. The are the various communities. The Afro-caribean community. The Muslim. The WASP’s. The drug dealers and users. The drinkers-social and problem! The young mothers. The grandparents. The list is endless. Occasionally we meet.In the pub. In a taxi. Just chatting on the street. We go our separate ways. Sometimes neighbours become friends. Sometimes friends separate and go their own way.But we all have Aylesbury in common. We all add to it. It is our town and we belong here and care about what happens to it. Some of us have a greater investment. I am a home owner and am privileged to live in one of Aylesbury’s Old Town homes which goes back to the 1600’s. Opposite me are a group of homeless folk who are currently camping out on a public park. Their Aylesbury is not mine. But it is still their town, no matter how different our worlds.
The inner world isn’t too different. I have those parts of myself that belong to the drug dealer and problem drinker. These are the parts of me that can be anarchic. Devious. (Not to mention deviant!) These are my twilight zones where I try not to visit too often. But they are a part of my internal economy. I choose to allow them to stay in my town because they provide services I want-however distasteful my home owning self finds them! There are also the “posh” parts of me. I am a university lecturer. I own a lovely house. I am comfortably married with two dogs and an Aga. I dislike noise after 10:30 in the evening, tut about young men urinating in the park and am embarrassed by teenagers locked in a passionate embrace in public. I epitomise middle England. And am slightly embarrassed by finding this the case. (In my mind, i am still the young radical 20-year-old, out to save the world.So long as it doesn’t involve late nights, too much noise or inconvenience!)
But these contradictions live hand in hand in my inner town. To pretend they do not is to invite a kind of madness. The kind that defends against uncertainty by adopting an unthinking fundamentalism. Be that a social, religious, moral or cultural fundamentalism that is ossified and rigid.Over many years of clinical work I have concluded there is really only one question that gets asked. . “Who am I?” Whether this question is asked from a psychosis, a drug habit, an addiction to pornography, a fascination with violence, or some other defence, it is the key question. In this context we might ask “Who owns Aylesbury?” But we are also asking “Who am I?”
This is a follow on from last week’s piece about simple songs. Someone replied to the last piece by commenting that her song got heard much better by her therapist than by her husband. (Not a unique experience!) This left me wondering…as a therapist I try to hear my patients’ songs without letting my own intrude too much. I’m interested in how our songs work together. Some songs fit my taste much better than others. But I’m not here to comment on my musical tastes. My task is to hear you singing and to try to understand your song. (I remember a patient many years ago whose only song was one of seduction.I was terrified! This left me completely unable to hear the song behind the song. What she needed me to hear was her loneliness. Her fear of intimacy. Her inability to make a healthy marriage. I failed her by not being able to listen properly. All I heard was my own racing pulse!)
One of the challenges of a marriage is to be able to listen to our partner’s song. To add to it. To blend in with it to make a new tune. Sometimes this is easy. If we both think Li’l Lisa Jane is the world’s greatest piece of music ever written, there is no conflict. The problems come when I am sick of Lisa Jane and want to move on somewhere else. In therapy my work is to get to understand the appeal of Lisa Jane. It may be the song your father sang to you when you were small and wanted comforting. It may be the song that you used for your first solo performance. It may be many things for you. As your therapist my task is to be able to understand the various shades of meaning associated with Lisa Jane. And to wonder if you are feeling such and such right now. And to think about what is happening in the session that triggers this response. Then to try to find a context for this behaviour .To help my patient think about other times when Lisa Jane becomes important. Line by line we can understand the various meanings of the song.
This all sounds very glib and easy. All I have to do for 50 minutes is to sit and hear your song. Make a couple of observations and end the session on time. If only… sitting listening to Lisa Jane for 50 minutes week after week is not easy. I, too, will grow to hate the song. I will resent not being able to have a voice. To be excluded from joining in with you. to be disallowed from making any changes to the words or the tune. But as the therapist, this too is part of my job. To bear Lisa Jane every week until a time comes when I am invited to change the record. Or you sing a different version of your making. (This is Winnicott’s realm of magic / religion /play / fantasy.A fabulous place where all things are possible.)
As a therapist I hear all manner of songs. Songs of Love. Hate .Desire.Guilt. Sorrow. Joy. Whilst I may not be comfortable with some, all are welcome. Because any song has meaning. The meaning you give it and, thereby, share with me.