Getting Ice Cream With My Therapist

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

In December, my wife chided me for playing a YouTube video too loud. My response was to exit the house in silent despair and drive for forty-five minutes in a random direction, unsure what I was doing with my life.

It was a complete overreaction, to be sure, but that’s how December was going. I was all out of cope. Even the tiniest things seemed overwhelming. The only mercy was that my wife fell back to sleep and had no idea I’d left at all.

Time to do a lot of therapy.

My wife suggested I join her in trying The Artist’s Way, which seemed simultaneously a little woo-woowy and also aimed at people who didn’t make a whole lot of art. (I don’t need a whole chapter to convince myself I’m creative, thankfully.) But I didn’t have any better ideas since my therapist was on her own relief leave for the winter, so I joined her.

And I’m glad I did.

One of the things the Artist’s Way has you do is to write three pages, every morning, on whatever pops into your head. It’s a form of automatic writing, where – if you’re like me – you write freeform enough that thoughts bubble to the top of your head. My first three entries were brutal revelations with what I thought about my low levels of fame (I don’t like it much), how I’d settled into a rut of writing – and only writing – because I feared failure, how terrified I was of audiences.

And over the last months, driving by the morning discoveries of how miserable I’ve been as a creator, I’ve started restructuring my art.

Right now, I think of myself as this Cronenbergian slurry encased in a protective cocoon – visceral smeared remnants of caterpillar stewing into wet pieces of butterfly, but not quite there yet. I’ve promised myself I’ll put my new projects public come Lent – because, well, might as well pretend God’s making me do these things – but at the moment, I’m spending weekends consumed by making podcasts, videos, new styles of essays but I’m not quite sure how I’ll be distributing those things to an audience.

(Nor am I sure what my relationship to my audience will be, but that’s another challenge. Oh well, got a month to ponder that.)

But as I sat down to do my morning pages today, there was nothing. My delving was doodling – no introspective visions, no realizations, just a happy doot do doo as my brain went blank.

I started to panic. I was supposed to be pushing the envelope. These morning writings were there to guide me. And now the muse had left, and I was all alone…

As if on cue, my hand wrote:

Ice cream with Don.

I didn’t quite understand that, but I knew the memory.

When I was in middle school, I got bullied so severely that my parents and guidance counsellor thought it was best for me to switch schools. And my mother and father, realizing I was pretty fucked up from all this abuse, got me into therapy to see if they could find me someone to talk to.

That person was Don – a kindly man with a huge crooked nose, huge blue eyes, and stubble that never went away no matter how much he shaved.

Don was quiet, but incisive when he spoke. He led me to understand that part of my problem was my isolation – I liked reading books, not so much talking to people. And yet I really needed people to get by, so slowly he convinced me that people were interesting – as much a challenge as any fictional character, really.

It was a lot of work, especially because I was both stubborn and smart – a terrible combination that lets someone justify terrible habits. But Don was persistent, slowly prying me away from my old ideas, and that first year in therapy was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life.

And then ice cream.

One day Don said, “You’ve been doing some good work. What do you say we take a break today and get some ice cream? I know a good place.”

As an adult, I am horrified – do you know how much my parents were paying per session? Get on the couch, kid – but Don took me to a place in Westport that he knew, and let me get the biggest ice cream I wanted, and we just sat down and talked like friends for a while. About my life sometimes, but about movies or books or whatever.

When you’re thirteen, having a grownup treat you like a grownup is that rarest of tastes. I craved it. I wasn’t a patient, then, just a dude hanging out with another dude.

We didn’t go out for ice cream often, though I always wanted to. I thought the ice creams would come the week after a big breakthrough, but no, we had more work to do.

The ice creams came when I’d managed to be calm. Placid. When there wasn’t much to report on because the work I’d done had let me sail straight for a week or two, and maybe we didn’t need to dig deep this week…

But we did need to relax. To appreciate the moment.

I got ice cream.

And today, I realized that Don’s still there, because here I was, frantically thinking I had to batter down the walls of my artistic limitations, and today’s writing was ice cream. It was okay to have nothing much to say. It was okay to just write doot do doo ideas, plotting random novel fragments, because I’d done the work and it couldn’t be all arms aching, slam-the-pickaxe-into-the-shale kinda work.

I was okay. For today.

Let that okayness flow.

Later on, I got a car. I figured out where that ice cream stand was in Westport. And I drove by it a couple of times, thinking I’d get ice cream, but… I never did. It didn’t feel right to pay for my own ice cream there. Don had to buy it for me.

It’s been, what, thirty-five years since then? But in my mind that ice cream store is still there, even in pricey, snooty Westport, waiting for a kindly therapist to pull up in his fancy car to get a kid some chocolate marshmallow ice cream.

Thanks, Don.

Ya taught me good.

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