For many of us in California, therapy is commonplace. A friend of mine in Reno, Nevada, was shocked by how casually I mentioned it: for her in her home town it was an admission of failure, of craziness, of an inability to deal with reality and life. Sure, certain communities even here in LA feel the sting of stigmatization. My British-born Jewish husband, for example, was certainly not keen on couples therapy, but he preferred that to the prospect of breaking up.
I think therapists hold a particularly profound attraction for writers. So much content, from petty to profound: the stories of grief, menace, abuse and mourning. So many ways to lie, to yourself, to your therapist. So much fun with being an unreliable narrator, as we recreate our biography for an audience of one. So much rapt attention and focus, on our words.
But a wonderful therapist, like an excellent writer, prods through our prevarications and helps us look at life head on and navigate its plot twists.
Over a decade ago I visited my therapist, a woman, regularly. I loved her intelligence: her French accent imbued her with a cosmopolitan flair and she embodied an informed perspective that was necessary for me. I visited her, not about my writing struggles, but about something more personal, about a complicated family relationship. It was from her that I learned the term “over-identification” and that has served me well in my family interactions, as well as in my stories.
But, of course, at times the conversations did include my concerns with my writing, my struggle, my lack of success.
Each time I visited this woman, I felt a kinship, I felt understood, I felt refreshed. I told anyone who would listen that I considered therapy “spa for the brain.” As a mother with children it was also time wholly dedicated to me and my own obsessions, confusions, concerns (which may have indeed included said children).
Over the course of a few months the original issue for which I had sought advice lessened and diminished under her guidance. I began to look at that that concern differently, and, for the most part, dropped it behind me like the dead weight it was.
I still had no success in publishing, and that was a different kind of pain. I wanted to rid myself of that pain. On our last session I looked at her and asked, “Should I give up writing?”
“Is it hurting anybody?”
“Just me!” I thought and shook my head.
Looking back, I could have argued. I could had said that this ridiculous obsession of mine is stealing time and money from the household, time in the form of less attention to my family members, money, in the form of working part time in order to carve out time for writing. Writing! Which had yet to display any affection or attention towards me. Yes, I could have spiraled fully into a moaning sopping mess of self-pity, but this was our last session together. That kind of stomping about would be a childish attempt for attention. The attention I wanted my words to receive.
“But no, if it is not hurting anyone, why should you give it up?”
A sensible response. A bit dispassionate, a bit calming. Why should I give it up? The pain alleviated by disowning my writer aspirations would be replaced by the heartache of abandoning my raison d’etre. I knew that, deep down. I knew that. Today I know that rejection is the price of admission into the literary world, into any world.
And so, years pass…my novel is published (thank you, Cinco Puntos!) and I become part of the literary community in Los Angeles. Life continues, with its daily struggles.
A few months ago, other personal issues, alongside with our political climate, were burning my brain down. I kept going through the list of my friends, four or five women with whom I could share these concerns, but there was always a reason I was reluctant. Over and over I parsed these names until I realized this was not a topic for friends, but for a therapist.
Was she even still practicing? I dialed my provider and held my breath.
Yes! She was! But I would have to wait weeks to see her.
The day of our session together I packed a copy of my novel. As I waited in the lobby I inscribed it to her. When she opened the door for me I was delighted to see her, the age in her face mirroring the intervening years in mine. I thrust out my hand in greeting, and sat down on her couch, in the same corner of the building, in the same room, as I had years back.
I reminded her about what she had told me at our last session, and I held out a copy of The Amado Women. “This is for you,” I said. “In appreciation.”
She appeared delightedly flustered and pored over the book jacket and inscription. “This is marvelous,” she said, “But this is wonderful!”
And she asked me a most unanticipated question: “How has this changed your life?”
I started to laugh in a self-deprecating manner; I was about to argue, this has not changed my life! But I stopped myself, with the promise of honesty I had brought to this room a decade before, and said, “I no longer envy every published author. I no longer burn with jealousy and bitterness. Because of this, I can be generous. I am part of literary community. It has changed how I think of myself.”
She nodded in understanding. We said a few more words about it, and then I brought up the concerns that had brought me back to her office. She gave me concrete strategies for the personal issue we discussed—within the allotted fifty minutes we had sorted them out, considering what was within and outside of my control.
Her response to my novel was an emotional culmination for me. Again, I felt gratified and fully acknowledged. I left that session with a sense of artistic completion.
Oh, the political turmoil?
Gentle reader, she’s a gifted therapist, not a miracle worker.
Désirée Zamorano is a writer of fiction, essays, and plays. The Amado Women (Cinco Puntos Press, 2014) depicts the strong family ties that bind a mother and her three daughters. It’s a story that dispels many of the media-fueled stereotypes of Hispanics living in America. The Los Angeles Review of Books raved, “This is spot-on writing from Zamorano, illustrating how class aspirations can erase our humanity or ability to connect with others, and demonstrating some of the pitfalls of middle-class existence.”
Zamorano has also explored contemporary injustice and inequity in Human Cargo and Modern Cons, her mystery series featuring private investigator Inez Leon.
A Pushcart Prize nominee and award-winning short story writer, Zamorano and her sister co-authored two plays commissioned by Southern California’s Bilingual Foundation for the Arts. “Reina” and “Bell Gardens 90201” received Equity productions and toured for eight years.
Zamorano earned a B.A. from UC Irvine and is the director of the the Community Literacy Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles.