Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Category Mistakes

I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.


I think I've identified the source of the nagging cognitive dissonance I've felt at times while writing this blog. The quasi-professional imprimatur implied by the title and by my medical status implies a content for the most part that I am not interested in delivering much of the time. I'm interested in two main things: worthwhile writing in general on whatever topic strikes me, and a constellation of topics--narrative, beauty, and puzzles of identity and existence chief among them--that might be considered the vast penumbra of psychiatry.

I suspect a number of folks arrive at the blog (although often not the ones leaving comments) looking for insight into the nuts and bolts of psychiatry: the meds, the diagnoses, what it's like to be a shrink. And I write on these at times of course, but for the most part I'm content to leave these matters in the office. Most of the things I ever had to say about psychiatry as an entity and a profession I've already expressed in obscure academic contexts.

My natural inclination is to examine the narrow phenomenon of the psychiatric with the much more venerable and flexible tools of the arts, of general moral understanding, and of common sense. So when folks at a social gathering inevitably wonder aloud if I'm examining them, my tacit response (in addition to "Not unless I'm getting reimbursed") is that I need them to help me to better understand the weird undertaking of psychiatry, not the other way around.

So I'm doing a blog because I enjoy writing, and I enjoy it outside of the traditional strictures and pressures of publication (I sacrificed my 20's to the inferno and purgatory of medical school and residency, respectively, partly so that I would not be desperate for funds at this stage of my life). I do not do it to purvey some priceless wisdom that anyone could associate with psychiatry.

What I consider a good post is a kind of micro-personal essay, which doesn't imply that it is primarily about me, obviously, but that it conveys an apprehension of some experience--whether an idea, a cultural entity, or a book--that is refracted through a particular sensibility (mine). If you couldn't care less about the sensibility or the writing, then the wonderful thing about the Internet and blogging is that you have wasted "only" a few seconds of your life. Or not wasted, at least not entirely.

Two questions arise. If this is not primarily a vehicle for professional expression, why not leave it in a private journal, and why include the psychiatric title and implication at all? Well, as I've written before, few are less interested in or expectant of a mass audience than me, yet as I share a basic human message-in-the-bottle kind of aspiration to being known--even if only by a handful among six billion--it seems worth doing for a while. And the psychiatric handle may be somewhat arbitrary--I can think of any number of personal and biographical aspects more indicative of my worldview than happening to be a psychiatrist--but it will have to do, for now.


Retriever said...

Good post. Glad you are back and hope you all had a wonderful time on vacation!

Missed your posts.

Thinking about the message in a bottle aspect of it, having been severely criticized myself by my most private child for writing about personal and/or controversial topics on the net. I think one motive many of us (you also?) may have in going public with such reflections, presentations of the random thoughts and interests we want to share with others, is that it helps clarify the thinking. LIke the prospect of execution? Saying something publicly, even if only to an audience of a hundred or two or one's cat, forces one to prune (my children say I do not prune enough) to test, and to make more effort. Whereas in a journal it can be tempting to write "Eclairs for dessert--AWESOME! Taxes to pay, SUCKS to be ME! Children tiresome, OMG crocodiles have the right idea...Falling asleep...Nor sure I really believe all this GOd stuff a-n-y m-o zzzzzz""

Personally, I post in my blog hoping for comments by smarter more interesting people who will jolt me out of my tired old ways of thinking, see something I am interested in in a different way. I suppose I still miss seminars and those endless college and grad school discussions and study groups where you go in thinking one way and come out with the opposite point of view. New information.

Cheryl Fuller, Ph.D. said...

It's good to see you back.

No matter whether I write about knitting or cooking or my cats -- and I do on one part of my blog -- I am always a psychotherapist because it is not just what I do, but who I am as well. I also only work when I am paid so it isn't that I am "shrinking" everyone I encounter, but this work I profess shapes how I see the world and myself in it. My work is about meaning and when I write about knitting or cooking or my cats or how it looks outside my window today, I am reflecting what is meaningful to me.

And as I read what you write, I am seeing, I imagine, some of what is meaningful to you and that expands the world of my awareness.

At least that's how I see it on this rainy night on the coast of Maine.

Leon's current assignment said...

few are less interested in or expectant of a mass audience than meWell, I might have to arm rassleya on that one, hence my lack o'comments and linkage, but I digress.

Great post and "word" on the content. Brevity is best in my Tao so I'll leave it there before saying "I'm gonna bounce." (Someone has to lighten the joint, that would be moi.)

Creative on, my man.

Anonymous said...

'Ars Psychiatrica' to my mind sounds like an all inclusive repository for the madness of human thought in all its variform vividness. On the other hand, if you had used the subtext 'The Arts of Psychiatry...Psychiatry of the Arts' as the main, it would conjure up a more ordinary platform for the exposition of more formulaic ideas; kind of like a stuffy grey-walled drawing room for professional cardplaying with fake money in the 19th century. Ars Psychiatrica sounds medieval but somehow modern and timeless - a torture chamber for the extraction and exposition of modern thought, I would say (I hope it's not thta painful in reality). I really don't get images of couches and DSMs with the title. Yeah, I think you should stick wth it and stuff implications and professionalisms, and embrace its relativism.

A blog by any other name would still smell as mad.

You've given birth to a monster...it lives it breathes, it may even develop its own consciousness...

I enjoy reading ideas/opinions by strange people in foreign lands - alien, yet fundamentally human. Ah, to be human is a great thing. Sometimes it's not, but that's ok...sometimes.

Novalis said...

I appreciate your comments.

Another way of saying it I guess is that I want the blog's authority and interest, if any, to derive from the writing itself much more than from the fact of the M.D., which to my mind is somewhat incidental.

I've long had a weakness--if one should call it that--for biographies, and as the years go by I find that this basic fascination for how people's lives play out (and by association, general issues of human nature) supersedes my interest in more narrow (if professional) aspects of psychopathology, the novelty of which inevitably fades.

Treating psychopathology is my day job.

Leon's current assignment said...

Your writing is stunning. If your words are in print beyond this blog and private patient files (smile), please advise off-line or in this space, whichever suits your comfort level.


MaxisIT Services said...

Hi,interesting post. I have been thinking about this topic,so thanks for sharing.