Marriage to a psychotherapist is a mixed blessing (as is marriage itself, but that’s a story for another day). My wife, a sensitive, perceptive and caring observer of human behavior, currently practices her craft at a mental health clinic for senior citizens, where she specializes in issues of aging and loss.
She’s pretty good at drawing the line that separates husband from patient, but not always, and that creates occasional fissures in our perfect union. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, as they say, and sometimes I don’t need to be reminded of the intergenerational clusterfuck that is my family.
But, then, there are many times when it’s nice to have a therapist to wake up to, especially one who knows how to fix the Keurig machine. The other day, we awoke together, and I wasted not a moment relating to her the intimate details of my breaking dreamscape.
I was sitting in a packed theater and watching a most unusual performance. The super of my building, a 60ish, bald and heavy-set Latino gentleman, was rolling around naked on the stage with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ve never seen the real Julia Louis-Dreyfus naked, but I’m pretty sure she looks nothing like my dream's Dreyfus, whose upper torso was covered in dark freckles, had the bosoms of a 13-year-old and the ample thighs and legs of Goya’s Maja.
My wife takes an eclectic approach to psychological theory, but tends toward Jung’s position that dreams represent “the mind’s quest for wholeness,” and that the therapist’s job is to help the individual sort out all the healthy and destructive elements in the dream to create a positive “personal mythology” that eliminates maladaptive behaviors. She believes that all the characters in one’s dream represent oneself, or at least significant aspects of oneself.
“I have absolutely no idea what your dream means,” said the Missus, wearing her professional persona. “It may or may not be sexually inspired. Only you can figure out how those characters relate to you and what that all signifies."
I’ve done a fair amount of dream work in the past, but this one resisted instant analysis. On the surface, the super seems to be a stand-in for the late, great James Gandolfini, who was also a heavy-set, Latin bald man who co-starred with Louis-Dreyfus in the delightful romantic dramedy “Enough Said.” In the film, as I remember it, fornication is only inferred, and only under the sheets. However, taking the Gandolfini connection further, in his immortal role as a North Jersey mob boss, I watched the man have simulated sex every Sunday night in my living room for many years, with a parade of strippers, cocktail waitresses, saleswomen and even, occasionally, his wife. The sex was generally of the rough-and-tumble variety, more about the demonstration of raw, masculine power than the expression of loving tenderness.
OK, now we’re getting somewhere.
“What happened to you yesterday?” inquired my wife.
“Well,” I said, “I visited my mother in the morning and spent a good chunk of the afternoon in the hospital human resources office filling out a giant stack of needless paperwork.”
I didn’t need a therapist to make the next connection. Visiting my mother, who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s dementia, is an exercise in powerlessness. And so was the 90-minute office visit, which ultimately resulted in my paperwork being shuffled to a functionary in another office. And that doesn’t include the frustration I experienced later that evening when I tried to pay for an adult education course online. In short, it was a typical day in the life of the 21st-century urban male. The kind of a day that makes you want to watch Tony Soprano do whatever it takes to get what he wants when he wants it.
So much for the male half of the equation. But how to integrate the female side into my consciousness to achieve a new personal mythology. The sexual chemistry between the Louis-Dreyfus character and Gandolfini’s in “Enough Said” was everything that Tony’s casually brutal power trips were not: understanding, sweet and precious. Thus, I might conclude that my dream, at least to some extent, illustrates the age-old conflict, my age-old conflict, between two warring male sexual impulses—the sacred and the profane. The need for intimacy, warmth and companionship, versus the need to establish dominion over the opposite sex.
Now, wasn’t that simple? Well, sure, but, then again, this is just the generic, low-hanging psychological fruit. That’s the thing about psychotherapy; the deeper you dive into it, the farther down you need to go to synthesize all the pieces of Humpty-Dumpty. From here on, I either work this thing through on my own or turn to an outside mental health professional. My wife already has a job ministering to 37 paying patients and keeping the Keurig, and our marriage, in good working order.