There are moments when I think of myself as the world’s biggest idiot. Then there are moments when I am proud of myself. Generally, both come about due to patterns in thought. I am currently proud of myself. One of my girls has a history of some really bad relationships. These were not environments of love and warmth, but of use and abuse. As such she is pessimistic in her current relationship. Four times I’ve listened to her and have offered her adice. Twice I’ve outright challenged her assumptions and stated my difference of opinion. Thus far I’ve been correct in my assessment and the smiles on her face and the reactions between the two of them when I saw them together last was good to see.
Another person has come to me for advice and I found myself drawing heavily upon my own experiences for this one. I found myself several times during the conversation become aware of this fact and trying to become more objective, to take the “me” out of her situation and to look at it more clearly. It was my fear that my experiences would impart their predicative influence upon her situation, one that is seperate from my own life. But should I? Is not counseling an act that requires at least to some degree empathy? Can we empathise with what we have not experienced? Can we use our own experience for enlightenment of others and perhaps in return ourselves? I found myself speaking as much to myself as I was speaking to my friend during our conversation. This brings to mind that perhaps genuine conversation with others, where we share and listen equally, is an important thought in the individualization of the self.
The night over with, I picked up my girl in my arms (I had given her lots of left over shots while I did the liquor inventory at the end of the night) and carried her home and put her in bed. As I turned out the light and made to leave she asked “you going home?” in a tone that asked me to stay. I wanted to stay with her, oh yes… but she needs sleep and not me waking her up. Plus I had an early day ahead of me and work errands to run and didn’t want to bother her. So I opted to sleep alone last night.
At home my cat greeted me with affection and I made my end of the night routines. Then I went to my bookshelf. I had a book in mind and I wanted to read some of it. I found it… Should You Leave? by Peter Kramer. I recently bought his Listening to Prozac and have enjoyed his writing and insights during the book immensely. But this book I had bought in Houston several years ago under situations I cannot remember. I do not know if it was a featured book at the store, or I was in a relationship flux, or I was reading for my career as a psychologist. I don’t remember how much of the book I’ve read save than the first chapter or two. But the book’s title was calling me… “Should You Leave? A psychiatrist explores intimacy and autonomy and the nature of advice”. Three big things… “intimacy”, “autonomy” and “giving advice”. I decided that I needed to dust off this book again and leave the stack of untouched new books alone for now. I curled up and read for a short bit before sleep overcame me. I had forgotten that I did not get much sleep at all. I had spent the entire day doing things for Eliza and had cut my sleep short. I could have moved up in the bed and kept awake, but thinking of the day to come and how long my workday might actually be, I closed the cover of the book and went to sleep.
It is a cool 64 degrees outside, the skies are grey, the trees are a dark green. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata plays over the stereo and a cup of americano (espresso with some hot water added) sits on my table. Before me sits a copy of the book mentioned earlier. The question draws in me, what should I do? Should I take this book to my friend who is in an emotional relationship state currently and say “here, read this?” I’ve already directed her to a specific chapter in a specific book (the chapter on love in The Road Less Travelled by Scott Peck). By giving her a book to read am I not taking the easy way out? Am I not really affirming my desire to help others but at the same time cheapening it? What am I really investing into my help for her? Would not the better thing to do be to read this book, and others that I have, and open all the faculties that I have for her? Should I not then make it a point of drawing her aside after her shifts and sit down at the bar for a heart to heart? By handing her the book I am forgetting something that I know only too well. That is when I view other people’s problems I can sometimes see remarkably clear the dynamics involved, but when the situation is within my own heart I lose all sense of understanding and direction. The book might be a direction with her, but she is still the one turning the pages and a book is not a dynamic, whereas a person listening attentively is, or can be.
While writing this I find a strange phenomenon occuring within myself. A genuine feeling of wanting to help. Yes, over the years I’ve listened to a lot of people, have invited people (strangers and co-workers alike) to cafes, waffle houses, and home so that I might listen to their troubles. How many times have I opened the office door at work and have let one of my girls come in and tell me her problems while I listen attentively. Yes, I cared during this time. But I find a sensation that runs back to 1995, when I was at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. I would get phone calls where the person on the other line would say “you don’t know me, but a friend told me that you are smart and a good listener”. I became known in some circles as the campus counselor. What did I know? I would venture that I knew nothing. But inside of me there as a level of caring and interest in their stories that ran deeper than my personality (which includes a general friendliness and empathy towards others) usually permits. After Arkansas, during Houston, and until now I’ve not felt this feeling again. Perhaps working in a bar with drunks has retarded my ability to listen, brought out the pessimist within me. I don’t know. But listening to my friend last night I once again really, honestly cared. What can I bring into the understanding of her own self, her own relationship, her own life? What can I learn about my self, relationship, and life in the process? I think it is fallacy to view the two as seperate.
I have much more I’d like to write about, I’ve got a book before me that I want to read, some coffe I want to drink. But it is Thursday… my work day where I am ill afforded opportunity for anything else but the salt mines of the club and I must end my writing now for errands.