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Thursday, 8 July 2021

Elisabeth Hanscombe's 2017 memoir The Art of Disappearing is a challenging and disturbing read on the subject of child abuse from the perspective of a psychoanalyst looking back on her childhood. It's no less challenging for others in the discipline who might question the validity and objectivity of writing this as a memoir.

Christine Vickers' review in the Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy (Vol. 38, No. 2, 2021) tries to come to grips with the professional and personal issues inherent in such an endeavour.

Elisabeth Hanscombe’s memoir is about witnessing and the silencing that fol lows. As a young girl, Elisabeth feared for her life when, night after night, she turned her face to the wall pretending to sleep, hoping to disappear while her drunken father crept into her sister’s bed, in the room they shared. His betrayal and abuse of her sister and Elisabeth’s frozen fear is the backbone of the story. And was it Mother’s complicity that added to the harm already done? The moth­ er who hid herself in novels while her daughters and sons suffered. Elisabeth’s brothers tried to rescue their sisters. And there is the tragic figure of Elisabeth’s     father, whose early promise was derailed by alcoholism. All the while there is the struggle with love. For how can one love another, a parent, brother, or sister, whose life has become so pitiful? But we do. Even if we fear them. Or hate them too.

Some members of the psychoanalytic world would not agree this book should be written, let alone published and reviewed. The author and I both practise psychoanalytically, following Freud’s tenet that the analyst’s abstinence is fundamental to the therapeutic endeavour. The analyst must not intrude into the patient’s world, nor use the patient for his own gain. The therapist’s survival, and presence at each session, as the patient’s object - alive and breathing, as the British psychoanalyst and author D W Winnicott remarked, is essential for the maintenance of the therapeutic space, along with the constancy of the room, the time, its frequency, and the duration of the session. The firmness of the room is, metaphorically, the safe holding space in which psychoanalytic therapy occurs. That and the analyst’s capacity to hear the patients’ minds without drawing them into the analyst’s particular idiom. A memoir written by one in the profession must necessarily be an invasion of that critical boundary, it is argued.

I am unsure. Memory and memoir are subjective; ultimate truth, unknowable. The British psychoanalyst, Paul Williams’s account of a young boy’s experience of parental rejection – he entitled his book, Scum is a pertinent comparison. Williams enters the mind of his protagonist, haunting readers with his pained, fractured language and distorted ideas. Williams does not describe his work as fiction. ‘The author of the book and the individual written about are not the same person’, he writes in Scum’s prequel, The fifth principle. This is literature, he continues, ‘an account of the methods of a mind in its efforts to prevail in oppressive circumstances’. Memoir may also be disguised as theory. Freud’s     Mourning and Melancholia is his personal response to the savagery and losses of the Great War, and death of his beloved daughter Sophie from the Spanish Flu.

If Hanscombe is exploring an important idea: about abuse, silencing and complicity, then criticism of her methodology might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater; our psychoanalytic selves derailed by vexation over therapist self -disclosure and its potential to interfere with the patient’s freedom within the analytic space. Psychoanalysis is built on confidentiality, both ways. The patient comes first, it is argued. The analyst’s mind must remain private. The boundary issue cannot be disavowed.

If that is what is happening. Like Williams, Hanscombe is no longer a child – a girl-child – seeking invisibility. Instead, using memoir as her medium, she teeters on the edge of what psychoanalysts might call discretion, and ‘boundaries" and speaks.  Perhaps believing she is writing about herself, some may lose sight of her intent to explore the cruelty of childhood silencing. Alchemies of secrecy and abuse create toxic enchantments.  Uncalled, her father remains protected, his wife and children remain in his thrall. There are no winners here.

The tension, as Inga Clendinnen wrote in her 1996 online essay, “Fellow Sufferers: History and the Imagination”, is in the recording and writing up of historical research, memoir included. Fiction makes us safe, she says. Even with Humbert Humbert’s sexualised charmer, Lolita, fiction is straightforward. We suspend belief, resonate with the experience, taking comfort in the fact that this is all made up. For historians and memoirists writing, the reality that many events occurred will haunt the page. Historians know that readers seek factual renditions. Readers will assume memoirists’ intent is description of actual events. In writing history, we must recognize how events in the lives of people, now dead, show their part in our formation. All the while we recognize that history is about the present. So when a memoirist writes, he is not writing of himself now, but interrogating a past state of mind. Perhaps he is actually writing fiction.

Simple, rational assertions are not always the correct ones. For Freud fifty minutes was long enough to sustain his attention to a patient on the couch. So, the fifty-minute hour has become the norm, along with remembrances of silent analysts, and their manner of interpretation. In the space thus created, it is argued, the patient is free of the disruptions of a past that led her to the analyst’s consulting room. The lens through which we view ourselves and others is more translucent than we would like. In psychoanalysis the patient’s experience of her own idiom, and discovery that she is other to her analyst, is the essential, but ongoing task.

If therapy is a conversation with oneself in the presence of another, what are the responsibilities of each?  An intrusion such as a sexual enactment, or boundary breach in the service of the analyst’s need is a serious violation. If an analyst chooses to write a book, which he states to be based on his own experience, is this such a violation? Or is it the saying so, that irks?

Sunday, 18 April 2021

 Your Job Search Companion

In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, job security has become a key issue for many people. Some jobs, in industries dependent on international tourists, are particular vulnerable, and as the pandemic continues businesses may disappear or be drastically scaled back. 

Being flexible, and having the ability to adapt to a "new normal" in the economy, is essential. Lee Smith's new job search guide, The Job Tree, will help job seekers of whatever age and level of experience develop and refine cover letter, resumé writing, and interview skills that will help them compete in the challenging jobs market now and in the future.

To make the job easier, the book includes downloadable templates tailored to the key global markets. It's truly a DIY handbook to ensure job candidates can make a lasting impression.

We interviewed Lee about his book.

What motivated you to write The Job Tree?

 It was during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020, my attention focussed on those who had lost their jobs; on businesses that had closed and the impacts on the owners. What could be done to help them; to encourage them?

I had retained the rights to a follow book to my first book Kick Start Your Career. It seemed the right time to write the new book and focus on helping people find their next job.

What were the origins of your interest in helping people with careers and jobs?

 During my professional career in technology I was also involved in helping colleagues and staff to find jobs. The origins of Kick Start Your Career came from a request from a University of Queensland professor for a course to help graduates find their first job. This led to a partnership with a Dutch professor, John van Genderen to write the first book.

What are the key chapters and themes of your new book The Job Tree?

The scope of the book is to cover all the major aspects of job hunting. It draws on the author’s extensive professional experience as well as expert inputs drawn from international experts. It ranges from identifying career and job options, to your skills and abilities. Preparation of CV or resume is important. The role of social media in job hunting is addressed. Where to search for jobs? From analysis of job criteria to job application cover letter to interview skills.

What approach have you adopted for the book?

Books provide information. They do not provide knowledge. That only comes when we apply information. That comes from doing rather than reading or listening. The benefits of explicit instruction have been incorporated in the book. It has personal plan that allows the reader to tailor the book’s information to their particular personal aspects. This also allows the reader to develop the resources need for job applications as they progressively complete the personal plan associated with each chapter.

What about the personal aspects of job loss and job hunting?

Human aspects are central to job hunting. The book would be remiss if it only covered the skills and methods of winning a new job. It covers they key aspects of well-being: emotional, physical and mental. It recognises the grief and loss that comes with job loss, business closure or interview knockback. It points to professionals who can help in this important area. It provides encouragement and motivation.

Lee Smith

What are your hopes?

That the book will lift up those who have lost jobs; to provide the skills and experience to navigate the minefield of job hunting. That it will help job seekers to successfully transition to a new job or career.

To win that job!

Monday, 19 October 2020

And Other Essays by Michael Cohen + Interview!

Here's the video of Michael Cohen's second book with IP, And Other Essays, being launched on Zoom.

Before we launched And Other Essays on Zoom, we sat down with Michael to ask him some questions about the book.

Why choose the essay form?

            History and inclination, I’d say. I spent quite a few years teaching what we called, hopefully, “expository writing.” We didn’t expect anything like finished essays from our students; we were trying to coach them into writing clearly and concisely so that they could be good communicators in their various jobs. But we used the best essays for models and springboards for student writing, and I got used to looking at how good essays were put together, and also to encouraging students to see how they worked. Those were really lit classes where I taught the literary form that was somewhat neglected in the rest of the literature curriculum.

            But I like the essay form because it’s not just a way of trying to craft something that is satisfying; before I get to the revising and refining stages, writing an essay is a way of thinking about a subject that does not happen until I seek to form sentences about it.


What is the hardest part of creating a collection of essays?


            Well, just as in all writing, you have to murder your darlings. I put the whole corpus of work since my last collection together and tried to look at it as ruthlessly as I could. Is there really enough good stuff for a collection there? As it turned out, there wasn’t; I had to write a couple of essays to make up for the weakest parts I kept finding in the collection, and I was doing that cutting and substitution right up until the time we went into production.


How did you decide what went into this book?


            As I have said, it was a decision based on the quality of the whole group of essays I was choosing from. I do not see this collection of essays as having a theme or unity beyond those features of style and favorite structures and methods of development that are unique to me, and those features, while they may be obvious to others, are mostly opaque to me. I think this omnium gatherum sort of nature is reflected in the title: And Other Essays. The subject matter too, keeps coming back to what Michael did last summer: there are a couple of essays about flying, a couple about gyms, one about golf, and a bunch about what I’ve read and reread.


Are essays primarily sources of information or entertainment?


            I suppose a writer’s unique viewpoint about a topic might give you information of a sort, but I think mostly what you find out about by reading a book like this is my take on things. Of course I strive for accuracy in writing about climate change or the New Atheism or what various writers have to say, but I certainly hope I’m not the main source of your information about any of those topics, and I hope also, fervently, that you find what I have to say about them entertaining, because I’m convinced you won’t continue reading me very long if you don’t. 


What experiences have helped shape you as a writer?


            The short answer is everything I’ve done or read. And also what I’ve written: I wrote academic essays and books all during my teaching career, and when I retired I knew I didn’t want to do that anymore. But I still wanted to write, and I discovered that I could think about things that had happened to me and things I’d read in a very free and enjoyable way by writing about them without the sorts of constraints I had while writing about Shakespeare or nineteenth-century English paintings and novels for an academic press. I know, though, that academic writing is very useful, and mostly for the person who’s doing the writing. Again, it’s because it’s a concentrated way of thinking about the subject. And there were plenty of things that had happened to me throughout my life that weren’t very well sorted out in my mind before I began to write about them. Reading is the main way we learn about what’s going on in other people’s heads, and knowing what other people are thinking is a way to see that our troubles and concerns aren’t unique. Writing is a way of giving back to that conversation and when it works at all, it works both ways, for the reader and the writer. Once I had realized a few of these things, I became a writer in the sense that writing became as necessary for me as reading.

— Michael was interviewed by Lauryn Garrard, Assistant Editor, IP, in October 2020

    Michael's previous book with IP is A Place to Read

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Interview with Laura Jan Shore, author of Afterglow

  • You went through a traumatic event when it came to losing your husband. How important do you think poetry was in helping you through this process?

After the loss of my husband, it was reading poetry that brought solace and connection. I noticed many of my friends and family didn’t know what to say to comfort me. Our culture does not offer a container to support those experiencing grief.  Other people’s poems gave me permission to find language to express my own feelings.

  • What prompted you to respond through poetry?

Writing a poem is a process of discovery. Articulating what I felt or what I remembered deepened as I worked the craft. I explored a variety of ways to say it in a condensed form, to get at the essence of it.

  • Have you been in contact with people who have experienced similar tragedies and resonated with the way you have handled grief and loss in your book?

Yes, I’ve had feedback from other women who’ve experienced the weird reality of being a widow in a society that no longer names this or has a cultural place for it.

  • Did your husband’s death change the way you responded to him in your poetry? Did you feel closer to him in the poetry written after his death than before?

When I wrote poems about him while Anand was alive, he would give me feedback and suggestions.  Not a writer himself, he enjoyed having me write about him. After he died, I felt his presence and heard his input.  

  • Would you recommend writing as a means of coping for people who have lost a significant other? 

Absolutely.  Journaling is an amazing resource for working through the waves of grief. It’s a way to keep the loved one alive by remembering and a way to give voice to the pain of loss. Whether that writing remains private or later becomes the seed of a more polished form, the process is invaluable.

  • Do you think his memory will continue to inspire you to write? 

I find I am frequently addressing Anand as I write. It is a way to continue our conversations.

  • If your husband were still alive, how do you think he would respond to the book? 

I believe he would be proud of the book and grateful to me for writing it. He was always transparent about his own shortcomings and psychological challenges so I know he would have appreciated my efforts to describe these, in hopes that it might help someone else.

  • What is next on the horizon for you, Laura? Any upcoming projects? 

I’ve another poetry collection with the working title, Ripening, that I’m still compiling.  It is about growing older in chaotic environmental times, bearing witness to species loss and cultural upheaval in parallel to personal loss and physical deterioration. 

— Laura was interviewed by Lauryn Garrard, Assistant Editor, IP, in October 2020

    Laura's previous book with IP is Water Over Stone