Monthly Archives: February 2014

Gallery

Paintings

This gallery contains 3 photos.

I dabble in acrylics. For years I painted abstracts only, then in 2013, I developed a sudden passion for figurative art. Here are some of those paintings.  

The Therapy Room

Language is one component of communication, but we also communicate through body language, behavior, even silence. Often, those non-verbal cues are more revealing than words because they are involuntary manifestations of our unconscious. So when we think we are not “saying” anything, we are, in fact, communicating. “One cannot not communicate,” Watzlawick et al. postulated in their book, Pragmatics of Human Communication (1967).

The potential for misunderstandings, missteps, and mayhem in interpersonal communication is enormous. In a cross-cultural setting, the perils are greater still. We make assumptions based on our own cultural background and unwittingly cause offense. In some cultures, the content-driven message is far more important than the context in which it is received. In others, relationships trump content. If every gesture, glance, or inflection is steeped in meaning that varies across cultures, how are we going to communicate effectively with each other?

I am a marriage and family therapist. Listening to families, couples, adolescents and children express their discontent, their rage, their pain in session has led me to the realization that most presenting problems have to do with communication, which can be both the source of the problem and the path to its resolution.

What is therapy if not communication?

Swiss-ness

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Miss Helvetica (1991) by Niki de Saint-Phalle

Being Swiss comes with certain responsibilities. For example:

We never, ever litter.

We refrain from making noise after 10 pm.

We don’t talk about money.

We recycle everything (I mean every single thing, even tiny foil-lined candy wrappers).

We do not boast or brag.

To the outside world, the Swiss define themselves by what they are not. They are not French, they are not German, they are not Italian. Then what the hell are they? It may come as a surprise to you that the peace-loving, neutral Swiss were, at one time (13th to 16th century), the most sought-after mercenaries in Europe. Those fierce mountain men fought and defeated large armies from neighboring republics, city-states, kingdoms and principalities (now part of France, Germany, Italy and Austria) by using both brain and brawn: 1) they knew the lay of the land (steep slopes, narrow valleys, giant boulders) and used it to their advantage; and 2) they were endowed with physical prowess (not to mention superior muscle tone) and had a fondness for unusual weapons–e.g., the halberd, a battle ax mounted on a spear. Fighting under any banner as long as it paid handsomely, my ancestors accumulated so much gold for their services that they had to find a place to safeguard the ingots, hence the notion of “banking” their earnings.

Not all my ancestors were mercenaries. Some led more placid lives as farmers, herders, weavers and watchmakers, traders and textile merchants, gradually morphing into captains of industries such as banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals. Living in a small country with few natural resources (in this case, water, timber, and salt) forces people to be creative. By focusing on quality and craftsmanship, the Swiss reinvented themselves as astute marketers of luxury products, for which they charged an arm and a leg. If you own a Swiss watch or ever tasted Swiss chocolate, you know what I’m talking about.

The mythic birth of present-day Switzerland goes back to a pact made by three guys on a meadow in 1291, pledging mutual defense for eternity and freedom from the Austrian bailiffs appointed by the hated Habsburgs, a powerful dynasty that was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Self-rule, self-determination, cooperation among their peers, and solidarity against a common enemy: those were the ideals for which the Swiss were willing to give their lives.

Wow! My ancestors were rebels. Who would have thought?…

Wisdom du jour

My favorite philosopher lived two thousand (yes, two thousand) years ago. His name is Epictetus and he was the go-to guy among the chiton-clad crowd of men pacing up and down the agora exchanging ideas while the womenfolk stayed home and prepared moussaka. Epictetus, son of a slave, developed his own Stoicism-imbued brand of philosophy, which resonates with me, a 21st-century woman in the US of A who never darned her husband’s socks–and never will!

Here goes:

“Do not seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.”

Cultural Suitcase

old suitcaseCrossing cultures is one of my favorite activities. As a child, I was drawn to the Other: the one who spoke another language; the one who looked different; the one who came from a faraway land. Accordingly, I befriended as many foreigners as I could: Ethiopian, Greek, German, etc.

But the one who stands out, to this day, is the freckled, perennially smiling Californian who showed up at my school one fine morning, after being dumped there by her parents, a couple of nut jobs seen waving goodbye to their daughter as they roared off in a sporty convertible. That didn’t seem to faze her in the least. She stood in front of the class and explained, in English, that while her parents explored the rest of Europe, she would be staying with family friends and attending our school. Since I was the only one in class who understood her, the teacher appointed me official interpreter and tour guide. Needless to say, we became inseparable–and that, I think, is when I fell in love with all things American: the language, the people, the smiles, the self-confidence, the walk, the accent, the clothes, the music, the boundless energy and open-mindedness. I was fourteen.

At fifteen, love struck. My boyfriend was half-Egyptian, a year older than me, and dangerously attractive. Fearing that I would end up barefoot and pregnant, my parents whisked me off to an all-girl boarding school in another city. For weeks, I wept and wept, and in between wrote letters to my mother pleading to come home. When I realized that no one was going to rescue me, I dried my tears and started to make friends in earnest. My classmates came from all over the world: Lebanon, Italy, Nicaragua, Algeria, Spain, England, Haiti, Japan, Taiwan, Zambia. I was still on Swiss soil, but now I had at my disposal an array of exotic-looking girls from far-flung places who spoke unfamiliar languages.

Looking back, I view the experience as my first international relocation. There would be thirteen more. What exactly was I looking for? The perfect country? Well, there is no such thing, is there? But in my mind, the US came fairly close.

Music to my ears

Music is important. Music is magic. Music heals.

I love: ♥♥♥

Barbara Dennerlein, the funkiest jazz organist the world has ever known.

Imelda May, sexy, sultry singer from Ireland. Favorite CD: Mayhem (Decca). 

“Compared to what” featuring Les McCann & Eddie Harris Live at Montreux, from the album Swiss Movement (1969).