Reluctant Student, Reluctant Therapist And The Journey Back To Self
August 3, 2006
Retracing the journey through the desert of past experiences and ideas continues. Today, Gagdad Bob recounts what was- and wasn’t- on his mind when he decident to follow in the steps of a few, select, dead Germans and become a therapist. The story is compelling, if for no ther reason than Gagdad gave up the notion of film school and the opportunity to be a Hollywood contender (thus ensuring Sean Penn’s longevity).
I apologize in advance for what has turned out to be an entirely self-indulgent autobobographical post. Only the most fanatical of bobbleheads will be interested in reading it. It is a somewhat rambling response to another question posed by Sigmund, Carl and Alfred, which I never get around to fully answering, partly because I now have to get ready for work. I know what he’ll say: you’re being defensive. Why are you avoiding the question? To which I say: no I’m not. I’m being pretentious and windy. Can’t you tell the difference?
My advice is that you skip this one and come back tomorrow. I know I will.
Q: You are a clinical psychologist. How do your views on God and the cosmos influence your practice?
A: Yes, that’s true, I am a clinical psychologist, but I never intended to be. It’s just one of those things that can happen if you loiter around in school long enough. Believe it or not, I started off as a business major, but eventually flunked out. Or I would have flunked had I not simply stopped showing up at school. I had completed two years toward my BA, but the demands of the third year proved beyond my meager gifts. I had never been a good student to begin with, and had basically gotten by on my wits. Now that there were actual demands upon me, it went totally against the grain of my slack-worshiping personality.
You see, even then I was a seeker, in quest of that elusive source of cosmic slack. I knew that it existed, because I had felt it throughout my childhood. Not continuously, but more or less so. I instinctively recoiled at any enterprise that would rob me of my celestial birthright, my primordial slack. Yes, you could say that I was immature, but even if I had been more mature, I still believe that my basic temperament would have been driven to develop a personal relationship with slack.
So after “flunking out” (their words), I decided to leave business school to pursue other missed opportunities, and became a retail clerk. You could say it was a mutual decision made for me by the school. That was in late 1976. But in 1978 I talked my way back into college, this time making certain to study something that even I, a slack-seeking, beer-guzzling retail clerk, could master. At first I thought I would be reduced to majoring in P.E., and truth be told, I wouldn’t have minded being a PE teacher. Of all the adults I had personally encountered as a child, their job seemed to involve the most slack. They really didn’t do much of anything, and they got summers off. Plus I loved sports, so it seemed like a natural way to maintain the status quo for the rest of my life.
It was actually a new friend of mine at the supermarket who first alerted me the fact that it was possible to major in film. Film? You mean movies? At first I didn’t believe him, but I checked it out, and it was true. “Radio-TV-Film,” to be exact. That was the first time the idea had ever entered my head. But I was soon able to capitalize on a natural ability to simultaneously watch movies and lower my expectations, and ended up earning my BA degree in just four terms–Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. (To be fair, it was only small parts of Nixon and Reagan.)
(By the way, the only other possible major for me was something called Leisure Studies, but even I had more self respect than that. I mean, who doesn’t know how to absently flip through magazines or operate the remote control? Do you really need to take a class in that?)
As it happened, may plan to slide through film school with as little friction as possible was arrested by a particular professor, Dr. Schultheiss, who completely altered the course of my life. This professor did not teach any “hands on,” technical classes, but only theoretical and literary ones. And he was very demanding. No multiple choice tests, but lengthy essays that even I, with Petey’s assistance, could not fake. He had a very interdisciplinary approach, bringing many different fields to bear on the analysis of film–philosophy, psychology, history, literature, etc. In his words, he stressed “extended, and documented analytical writing and other verbal expression” so as to “make the work of art and life itself comprehensible.”
To say that I was unsuited for such a task in 1979 is an understatement. Again, I had never been more than a mediocre student prior to that, and regarded myself as thoroughly average, or perhaps a bit below, in every way, at least as it pertained to academics. I had always been above average in other ways–mainly sports, popular music trivia, making my friends laugh both at and with me, and a preternatural but seemingly useless ability to enjoy myself in the moment, whatever the circumstances, so long as no one was placing any demands upon me.
Perhaps I should note that this latter non-skill is still undiminished in me. I would guess that, on a bell curve, I would be in the 99th percentile of people who are perfectly content to sit quietly, doing nothing. My sense of boredom was apparently installed backward, because most things that people find pleasurable I find intolerably boring (or sometimes jarring). Only much later did I come to discover that many spiritually-oriented people are built this way. It wasn’t that I was introverted per se, in the sense of not needing people in my life. I would just say that I had more of an interior orientation than an exterior one. The imaginal realm was very real to me, I suppose in the same way that the musical realm is very real to a musician.
In my entire life up to that point, I had never had a teacher who was as passionate as Dr. Schultheiss about his subject. But that was not all. The way he could extemporize and pull various strands of an argument together, it almost looked as if he were in a trance, weaving the lecture out of his own psychic substance, right on the spot, somewhat like a jazz musician. This was so different than the typical robotic dullard that presided over a classroom, that it alone awakened something inside of me–call it an incipient sense of a love of Truth, if you want to get Platonic. Later in life I realized that when anyone does what he did in the classroom, it creates an automatic charisma, because one is literally “in-spired” or “en-thused” when speaking in that unscripted but highly informed way.
Although his writing assignments were far more weighty and demanding than any other teacher I had ever had, some theretofore unfamiliar impulse caused me to keep taking his classes–four or five, if I recall correctly. And that is what really began to turn things around for me, because not only did my papers get high marks from him, but on one memorable occasion he actually approached me and asked if I was an English major, because RTVF students normally don’t write so well. (I still have some of those papers. It might be fun to post some excerpts later today, when I have time. Nothing earth-shattering, but I still don’t understand where I came up with the understanding that I came up with–it sort of came out of nowhere. But it was obviously somewhere.)
You know how, when you look back at your life, you can see certain bends in the road without which you wouldn’t be who you are? Looking forward they seem random, but looking backward they seem almost contrived. This was probably the first time any teacher had really praised me, and here it was coming from the only teacher I had ever really admired–as if our paths had somehow been destined to cross–as if my soul had conjured him up for its own needs (which were not the same as “mine”).
I don’t want to get all new-agey on you, but looking back, I can see a few other crossroads without which I would have seemingly become another Bob entirely, which raises the whole issue of inside vs. outside. I am perfectly willing to believe that our personalities are oriented in a teleological way toward what we are to become, and that something in us seeks out what we need–books, experiences, people, etc.–in order to complete that journey back to the self. But that is where slack and higher bewilderness come in, because this is not generally something that can be consciously imposed from on high, by the ego.
Rather, for most people, it requires a certain amount of aimless but expectant non-doing, allowing “it”–our future self–to come to us rather than vice versa. The Church of the Subgenius refers to this as “floating on the luck plane.” I believe there are the equivalent of mathematical attractors in the psyche, drawing us toward them. We can even feel the cosmic tumblers “click” when we know we are on the right path, like a key turning in a lock. The ability to feel this is one of the perceptual capacities of the human soul.
Still, after getting my BA I was really in a jam, because what was I supposed to do with a film degree and no interest whatsoever in working in the film industry? That was the day psychology entered the picture. I was reading the sports section one Saturday in December 1981, when I saw an ad for Pepperdine graduate school. That was without a doubt the first time it ever entered my head to 1) attend graduate school and 2) study psychology. (It would require another self-indulgent post to tell the story of how I snuck my way into graduate school. It is actually a bizarre story that involves the intervention of Dr. Laura, who was a professor at Pepperdine at the time.)
In the end, although I didn’t have an undergraduate degree in psychology, I was actually better prepared than my colleagues because of my background in treating “film as literature.” Being that psychoanalysis is a heuristic science that analyzes character along different lines and dimensions, it came naturally for me to look at people as victims of their own bad movie that they themselves had unconsciously written directed, and starred in. Many of the directors I had studied were indeed influenced by psychoanalysis, and their best work captured that sense of the protagonist being pulled down into the “undermind,” where a different sort of “night logic” presides. Suddenly the hero’s life was entangled in forces that were beyond his control, leading him inevitably toward the abyss.
Life is no different. Therapy involves locating and interrogating the secret director or author of your life, and trying to figure out his point. To put it another way, who is the dreamer who is dreaming your life, and is it possible to wake him? For that matter, who is the Dreamer who dreams the cosmos? And are they related?
And now I must give myself over to otherworldly forces beyond my control, to the call of the horizontal, and end this desultory post before we have even unscrewed the author’s inscrutable untention.