One Saturday afternoon in the early 1980s, I was home visiting my mother who lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in the wealthy community of Rumson, New Jersey. I was in my early 30s. I was walking down Bellevue Avenue, admiring the gorgeous and stately homes partially hidden behind walls and high hedges, and as I reached Ridge Road, I stopped in front of one of these mansions. I knew it belonged to my high school musical hero, Bruce Springsteen. No, unlike what Springsteen admits doing at Graceland, I did not climb the wall and try to meet my hero. I just remember looking with a longing, a nostalgic ache, desiring something I couldn’t articulate. I guess I wished I could go inside, see Bruce in his “natural state,” hang out, get close to him, or be a fly on the wall, observing what mattered to him.
Golf seems like such a good idea, doesn’t it? It shouldn’t be the nightmare it is for so many people. Spending the morning with your friends, beautiful surroundings, playing and competing, occasionally making contact with the ball so sweet you can hardly feel it, but can only marvel at the sight of the ball doing exactly what you want it to do. No wonder so many people play it. Therefore, it’s puzzling that more people have been leaving the sport than picking it up. It’s estimated that, in 2013, 4.1 million more people quit golf than began to play it. Moreover, within each golfer this approach/avoidance tension exists as well. Too many of us have God on one shoulder and the Devil on the other. And most golfers don’t know why.
Debates over gun control vs. mental illness after a mass shooting are ridiculous kabuki dances that defy reason but have become so ingrained in our culture that their essential irrationality is invisible. The dance begins with a tragic shooting rampage by a young man dressed in camo with a semi-automatic rifle or pistol. Gun-control advocates take to the airwaves calling, again, for greater regulation. Initially, the NRA and its shills, aware of their shameful political vulnerability at this moment, are quiet “out of respect for the grieving families. Soon, however, when pressed, they begin talking about mental illness and call for a “national conversation” about how to detect, treat, and handle these disturbed individuals and others who might become like them. Eventually, when the threat of regulation gains traction, they begin to play political hardball and fight any reforms at any cost.
I’m a psychoanalyst. So it was with great interest that I read Daphne Merkin’s New York Times Magazine article about her forty-year history of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Merkin is a terrific writer, a brave observer of her inner life, and a lively critic of the professional cultures devoted to studying and healing inner lives. She found the New York psychoanalytic culture reassuring, even if not always helpful. She says: “…aside from the fact that the unconscious plays strange tricks and that the past stalks the present…..[there is] a certain language, a certain style of thinking that, in its capacity to reframe your life story, becomes—how should I put this?—addictive….Whether [it does] so rightly or wrongly is almost besides the point.”