Saturday, February 1, 2014


          A cousin of mine owned a small painting by Magritte.  I thought it was a picture of a rose in a vase, but it wasn’t a rose, but a pear; and the rose was inserted into the pear.  The rose didn’t look very much like a rose but I thought it was a rose.  I was intrigued by the painting, its vivid colors, the objects so precisely painted but so puzzling.

          Currently, there is an exhibition of Magritte’s paintings at the Museum of Modern Art; and, of course, I wanted to see it.  My son Marc was visiting me at the time; and I was glad to have him join me, as an art lover and a psychiatrist, to help me better understand Magritte’s underlying themes.

          I knew that Magritte was described as a surrealistic artist, whose objective was to encourage viewers to question what they see and try to find meaning behind the reality of what was in front of them.

          A very popular work of this artist was entitled The Pipe.  It is painted with such photographic precision that we don’t need a title to tell us what it is.  It’s not a pipe that can carry heat or water in a building, but a pipe that people, usually men, smoke for pleasure.

          Underneath the pipe, but within the painting itself is what has been confirmed as Magritte’s handwriting is a line in French (his language) that reads “Cici nest pas une pipe” – (translated in English – “this is not a pipe”)

          It has been recorded that to shock and puzzle viewers, Magritte would say, “Of course, it’s not a pipe” – you can’t use your hand to stuff it with tobacco,  you can’t pick it up, and you can’t smoke it.”

          By rearranging objects and using strange versions of animals, Magritte forces viewers to take a deeper look at what is in front of them and what they might truly represent.  Marc points out Magritte was influenced by Freud’s theory of the unconscious.

          In a different direction, my mind turns to the money we paid for admission to this exhibit.  We paid in cash, pieces of paper.  Why do we assume it will be accepted as money – maybe because just as Magritte tells us this is not a pipe when we see a pipe, the government tells us this is not paper – it’s money.  And printed on every piece of paper that is accepted as money is printed that this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.  And to make us feel more secure, every bill states  In God We Trust.

       On the way home, I tell March about the Magritte that I used to see at my cousin’s house.  I never did get to understand its underlying meaning or what it represented; but I’m still in touch with the reality that she didn’t bequeath it to me when she died; and with art prices soaring today, it must be worth a lot of money.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

102, GOING ON 103

          Yesterday was my sister Vera's 102nd birthday.  If you have an
image of an old, infirm woman barely able to participate in any birthday
celebration, discard that image!  Instead, see her walking down the street
in her patterned stockings, her beautiful jacket, and her makeup perfect.
It's not rare for some to ask, where do you get your haircut or where can
I find that raincoat?

          Vera never complains of any aches or pains.  I can’t remember a time when she was sick.  She foolishly, according to my opinion, never had a mammogram or pap test in her earlier years.  Now she does get flu shots and has an annual physical exam.

          When I telephone and ask, as I might anyone, how are you, she always answers fine, as if what a foolish question, how can I be anything but fine.

          Reaching 102 doesn’t mean what it might mean to most people.  She says it is only numbers to her.  She states quite firmly that she’s not any older because of the numbers.  She doesn’t feel any older than she felt many years earlier in her life.  As a psychologist, I think to myself – it’s a state of denial – but then I just wonder maybe it’s just the way aging is for her.

          No sign of dementia for her either.  She is very alert, very much in the present, no preoccupation with past memories for her.  She still has passionate interests in politics, Obama, reading, fine restaurants – although she eats very little -- both to remain very trim (it’s in) and she believes in a healthy diet.  She never takes a drink, although in former years she enjoyed wine with her meals.

          Vera often tells me one advantage of a long life is that you can see the story unfold.  She’s interested in the unfolding of world events, very interested even more so in the unfolding of her family’s story.  She does not boast about her family as so many people do; she doesn’t need to, as other people exclaim what a remarkable family she has.

          Vera has one daughter Linda and Linda has three sons, who are Vera’s grandchildren; and they in turn among them have 7 children, who are Vera’s great grandchildren, who range in age from 6 to 19.  They were all gathered together to celebrate her birthday.  They are extremely attractive, charming, and great fun.  But above all, was the atmosphere of love for Vera and for each other.

          What is also remarkable about this family is that the three grandchildren, ranging in age from 40 to 50, seem to have achieved outstanding success in the financial world – all three – (no black sheep here) and they are close brothers, living very near to each other, with wives seemingly cut from the same cookie cutter, each of them has their own successful careers and the three couples are almost a little community – although they branch out with their friends and special interests.

Happy Birthday Vera

102 Going on 103
You have some kind of key
But the years fly on so fast
Baby, keep having a blast!




        I guess I started to think about “left overs” the day after Thanksgiving—the turkey is still fresh, the salad still crunchy, the cranberries still juicy.  The pies—they’re gone—devoured the day before and everyone is glad because thoughts of all those calories have started to emerge.

        But there’s a different kind of left over that fills my mind during this holiday season.  My sister Vera and I are “left overs” of the family we grew up in.  There were three of us, close siblings and we felt a certain amount of pride that the three of us were our family’s long-lived survivors. 

A few weeks ago, our handsome, charming, caring, 95-year-old brother, died.  Now only two of us are left over from a large pool of cousins as well, cousins we loved and with whom we shared wonderful experiences.

        And, too, we’re “left overs” of our generation, often referred to as the greatest generation.  Be that as it may, there aren’t many left of that generation.

        So what’s left?  A lot!  There are my two boomers, my sister’s daughter, several new generations of grandchildren and great- grandchildren, and great nieces and nephews.

        I live in a constantly changing world and in the new age of technology; and despite its major problems and crises, it is an exciting world.  I have new friends to replace the old and new interests and challenges.

        Whatever time is left over for me, it is my time and my challenge—as it has always been—to make the best use of it.




Tuesday, June 11, 2013


        Everyone expresses amazement that Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels have sold many millions of copies all over the world.  Yes, sex sells, but these numbers are very rare in any category of the book market.

        The story itself is a simple one; and in a way, the characters are simple people -- except for the fact that Christian Grey is extremely rich and handsome beyond description, but isn’t that a common fantasy of the single girl?  Anastasia, a 21-year-old college student is not pursuing Christian.  She meets him by chance when she helps out a friend who is ill.  The friend needs to interview Christian for a student newspaper and Anastasia volunteers to take on the assignment.  Christian seems benign; she is a literary major who likes to curl up at night with a British classic.  Anastasia is a virgin and has never even held hands with a man.

        In the beginning, they are like two exaggerated characters you might find in a summer beach novel.  The first hint of something dark comes when Christian sends her a first edition of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the subject of Anastasia’s senior thesis.  He has brought attention to the question from the text, “Why didn’t you tell me there was danger.”

        The danger from Christian is his compulsive desire to have sado- masochistic sexual experiences, with the female partner completely submissive.  His traumatic childhood is given as an explanation of this compulsive desire.

        There is no evidence of force or brutality or disregard of her unwillingness to participate in this behavior.  He makes it clear what the terms are and requests her to sign a contractual agreement to participate.

        Why does Anastasia agree?  Why do millions of readers, probably many of them women, identify with her, get pleasure from the detailed account of the pain and lack of control?  Her willingness to submit?

        There are no doubts many theories and conjectures about the popularity of this book.  What makes it so compelling?  In this age of the active, assertive female, fighting to break the glass ceiling and gain control, what attracts her to Anastasia’s submission?

        What came to mind is the research of my colleague, Dr. Barbara Hariton.  Thirty or more years ago, she wrote a doctoral dissertation about women’s sexual fantasies.  She studied a group of suburban, middle-class women who described themselves as happily married and enjoying their sexual life with their husbands.

        Dr. Hariton’s focus was on the sexual fantasies of these women.  She reported that a majority of them described that, during sex with their husbands, they frequently fantasized about being sexually overpowered by a strong, powerful male, or group of men, who were neither brutal nor frightening in any way.  These encounters were not viewed by any of the women as safe.  

        There are reports of subsequent research that has confirmed Dr. Hariton’s findings of women’s sexual fantasies – even in a time of even further liberation of women.

        What does it mean?  Is the research too limited?  Does it serve some biological purpose for the male to be sexually powerful to guarantee the continuation of the species?

        The questions interest me more than the book.




          Why do children like to play doctor?  I guess a parent could ask, why do children like to play fireman or policeman or ballerina or dentist?  And they do!  The fact that playing doctor often makes a parent anxious is because, for the parent, it has a sexual implication.  Children also play doctor by bandaging fingers and knees and pretending to give medicine and injections; but this is often not the usual association we have to children playing doctor.  What parents think about is children examining each other’s bodies, pulling down pants or lifting skirts and peeking at genitals.  Sometimes it means using a pretend rectal thermometer.

          Children often play this form of doctor game because they have a good deal of curiosity about the human body and sexual differences.  They are curious about everything in their growing world of experience; but even at a very young age, they sense some mystery about the way they are made.  Often they get better answers to their questions about almost everything else than they do about sexual differences.  Examining each other is one way of trying to find some answers.  Almost everyone remembers playing doctor, even though it occurs so early in life.

          Today, sex (and nudity) is everywhere.  Even very young children are exposed to sexual matters on TV, in the movies, on the Internet, and as a subject of lively discussion at the dinner table and among nannies on the park bench.

          A parent’s dilemma is greater than ever as to how to deal with their children’s questions.  But the real dilemma is their own confusion and their own curiosity.  True, today’s parents are more knowledgeable and hopefully more comfortable about sexual matters than their own parents were, but a whole new world of sexual experience opens up every day.

          How to react to it?  How to make sense of it?  How to incorporate it into one’s own value system?  How not to be too turned off by it or too turned on?  It may take some time for adults – parents – to integrate this explosion of sexual matters and to help young children cope with what they see and hear from every direction; but in the meantime, my guess is that playing doctor may get a lot more interesting. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Surprisingly, it is not always with Mr. Right. As a matter of fact, an inappropriate partner or an unavailable one often fuels the fire of sexual desire more than someone who meets the requirements of the ideal partner.

Would the story of Romeo and Juliet enthrall us to the same degree if theirs was not a clandestine affair? Would the outcome of that tragic tale be the same if their parents were not engaged in a vendetta that made their love prohibitive?

Then there’s the story of “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” Remember? Diane Keaton plays the role of a conventional, compassionate teacher deciding to be her “own girl.” In the murky nightclubs she explores, she finds excitement with dangerous and unpredictable men and spurns the Mr. Right in her life. This story, too, ends in disaster.

But many of us experience yearning for an unavailable partner, pine over an ambivalent lover, or engage in risk-taking sexual encounters at some time in their lives. How can we explain the excitement in such behavior? And the intensity of the sexual feelings connected with the experience?

It’s not unlike other ways in which some people, especially in their younger years, break the rules by driving too fast, drinking too much, or getting involved in drugs.

Taking risks seems to offer a feeling of power, a sense of entitlement to engage in behavior that has been prohibited in the past.

If the risks involved in the area of sexual behavior haven’t led to disastrous or very painful consequences, most people move on to want sexual experiences to be part of an intimate, secure relationship.

Memories of these experiences often linger on and may trigger excitement in fantasy life and even add excitement to sex with Mr. Right!



No Ring, Don’t Bring may not mean anything to you, but it is a familiar phrase to those involved in the process of planning a wedding, whether they are the bride and groom, their parents or those on the guest list. The ring referred to, of course, is an engagement ring.

The tradition of an engagement ring goes back to ancient times and was popular in many cultures. It has not always meant an agreement to marry, but it often conveyed that promise; it could also be a promise of fidelity, friendship, or eternal commitment. It could be made of metal, stone, or various metals and gems. It is only in modern times that a diamond is the most popular choice for an engagement ring. I guess ever since “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” became a popular belief.

The placement of the ring on the woman’s fourth finger of her left hand is also a tradition from ancient times based on the belief that there was a vein on that finger that led straight to the heart – the vein of love. There’s no reference I found that men have such a vein – so that’s maybe why men generally do not wear engagement rings – although they have begun to wear wedding rings.

Today, the engagement ring seems to have taken on a new function – you might say as a ticket of admission to the wedding – especially for single people. Who is invited and how many guests has probably always been an issue, dependent on many different factors. One issue today is the exorbitant cost of a wedding; therefore, the guest list is carefully surveyed.

Single friends, both male and female, are often told they cannot bring an escort, a date, a dancing partner, or a potential mate unless there is evidence of a committed relationship; and the best evidence of that is the engagement ring! No Ring, Don’t Bring!