Passover, Coronavirus, Chris Cuomo, Sanjay Gupta

Why is tonight different from all other nights?

Tonight is the first night of Passover during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Passover celebrates emancipation. The story unfolds through reading and song, in a multi-course meal with foods symbolic of specific events. Like many, my ancestors endured enslavement, loss, famine, thirst, sickness. Sometimes I wonder how they found the strength to push forward in the face of overwhelming odds. 

As Passover approached this year, I’ve been watching Cuomo Prime Time, CNN. Chris Cuomo tested positive for coronavirus, and has been broadcasting from his basement, isolated to protect his wife and children. Like any set ready for filming, his basement looks tidy and inviting on camera. But I can fill in the blanks. Just off camera, I imagine a pitcher of water, next to a stain on the floor, where he overfilled his glass, hands trembling with the rigors (rise in temperature, intense chills, shaking). I can see the fever-drenched blankets, draped over chairs to dry. I can picture a simple table holding a plate of barely touched food, an open bottle of Tylenol, a thermometer. 

For his show, Chris Cuomo dressed simply, in a zip-up sweatshirt to take the edge off the internal chill. He described a night of the rigors when his teeth chattered so violently he chipped a tooth. He had a fever so high he was hallucinating. His body aches felt like he was beaten with a stick. Yet, here he was, on camera, guiding us through our 21st century plague. There was no self-aggrandizement in Cuomo’s presentation — “I get why so many are so scared” — just a pull-no-punches description of his experience, both physical and mental. 

Sanjay Gupta, MD, CNN’s go-to doctor, joined Chris for a segment. Sanjay, like Chris, is stunningly articulate, bright crossing into brilliant. But their styles are different. Chris is fierce, electric, crackling high voltage. Sanjay is quietly intense, compelling in his lack of showmanship. As they spoke, the current between them was a palpable force, a bond radiating fear and hope, grit and tenderness, determination and vulnerability. In Cuomo’s words, “Together, as ever, as one. That is our remedy.” 

That’s also the heart of Passover.

As we face a time of extreme uncertainty, I have no idea what lies around the next corner. But neither did my ancestors as they fled enslavement, and I know from their history that we humans continually surprise ourselves with our capacity to survive plagues, to cross deserts, even to part Red Seas. Sure, I’m scared as I face today’s pandemic, and sometimes the fear takes me by the throat. I’m also ready, in Chris Cuomo’s words, “with almost a fanatical sense of passion to fight.” 

Why am I choosing to focus on Chris Cuomo, whose faith is Catholic? Because my Seder table always includes people of different faiths. Passover tells the story of the emancipation of the Jews, but it’s actually a celebration of the emancipation of all people. In my home, Passover has always been “together, as ever, as one.” 

Next year in Jerusalem.

___

UNTIL APRIL 30, 2020, I’LL BE DONATING MY BOOK SALE PROFITS TO ORGANIZATIONS HELPING PEOPLE COPE WITH THE PANDEMIC.

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author, living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows Caroline Black into her first year as a psych intern. The story tracks a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal. 

Click on the link to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Stop Calling “Coronavirus” the “Chinese Virus”

From our physical wellbeing to shaking hands — from opening our home to our basic livelihood — from our emotional health to getting a haircut. 

Everything has changed. 

Facing a pandemic, many of us feel an urge to band together. Although isolation is the right course of action, it’s counterintuitive, clashing against our basic instinct to huddle in a pack. Fighting our core instincts — even for the greater good — can cause a surge in anxiety.

Uncertainty adds additional layers of anxiety, opening the emotional field for anger and fear to run wild. As I write, we don’t know how many are carrying coronavirus, symptom free, contagious. We don’t know how many will become ill. When someone coughs, we don’t know if they have a garden variety allergy, or if we’ve just been exposed. Of those who get sick, we don’t know who will have a no-big-deal cough, who will spike a high fever, who will struggle to breathe, who will need emergency care. We don’t know a ton. 

As the coronavirus plunges us into turmoil, our natural inclination is to latch onto conclusions to counteract the uncertainty, grasp at targets to unleash our anger, search for others to blame for our fear. Being all-too-human, we have a bad habit of choosing the wrong conclusion, picking the wrong target, blaming the wrong Other. At that point, our anxiety can push us to turn against each other.

These issues are exacerbated because we have leaders who aren’t cut out to be leaders. We have a president who is anything but presidential, who refuses to take responsibility for the mistakes which worsened this mess, who awards himself a ten-out-of-ten for handling the pandemic. On top of his A+ self-assessment, he states truths and untruths with equal conviction, which increases uncertainty, which in turn heightens anxiety. Many are angry at Donald Trump and his administration who did a lot of nothing for far too long, and continue to do a lot of not-nearly-enough.

I intend to express my anger in November when I vote. Until then, here’s what NOT to do: DO NOT take aim and fire at each other. I’ve heard several people (including our president) refer to “The Coronavirus” as “The Asian Virus” or “The Chinese Virus.” Each time, I feel like I’ve stepped into a time warp, back to the early 1980s, when I was seeing my first psych patients, as AIDS hit San Francisco. People referred to AIDS as a “Gay Disease,” homophobia skyrocketed, and the damage was incalculable. Folks, for the love of our country — viruses aren’t Asian or Chinese or gay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States confirmed the first person in our country to test positive for coronavirus is a man in his thirties. Yet, we’re not calling this pandemic “The Male Virus” or “The Thirties Virus.” Why? Because that would be ridiculous. But it’s no more ridiculous than attributing a virus to a specific racial heritage or a particular sexuality. So let’s call it for what it is. Homophobia is homophobia. Racism is racism. A virus is a virus. A surge in coronavirus should never be an excuse for a surge in bigotry. Now of all times, We The People need to live up to our name. 

And for the record — as a healthy coping strategy during this public health crisis, racism is an epic fail. On top of being vile, let’s be clear about the benefits of racism: THERE ARE NO BENEFITS OF RACISM. Aside from being hurtful and damaging, referring to the coronavirus as “The Chinese Virus” will give only a fleeting moment of relief. Then the next wave of emotion will surge, and you’ll need to vent again. Your anger and fear and uncertainty and anxiety will continue to spiral. From a mental health perspective, racism has enormous negative impact but absolutely no positive impact. So — and I’m being as measured as I’m able — CUT IT OUT.

Which leads to the next question — what should we do with our anger? If I’m trying to get through this pandemic with an ounce of dignity, should I rage at a president who doesn’t care one whit about me (female, liberal democrat)? Even more undignified, how can I feel personal outrage toward a virus mindlessly searching for a host environment?

A word of advice from my many years as a therapist — emotions don’t hold much stock in dignity. For the moment, I suggest we all set dignity aside, acknowledge our feelings, and respect (yes, respect) the humanness of our emotions. If you’re mad at the coronavirus or at our president, I don’t blame you one bit. If you’re afraid, you’re having a normal reaction to a scary situation. If you’re buckling under the uncertainty, you’re not alone. The goal isn’t to NOT feel whatever you do feel. The goals are to handle your emotions so that you own the feelings, rather than allowing the feelings to own you — and to channel your emotions in a way that doesn’t cause more harm, maybe even does a bit of good. 

I don’t know how the coronavirus landscape will look as this pandemic plays itself out. I do know that sooner or not sooner, later or much later, this public health crisis will turn quiet and today will become tomorrow’s yesterday. We’ll open our doors to gather, shed tears over our losses, steady each other as we find our way. Inch by inch, row by row, we’ll regroup, relearn, rebuild. Tentative and strong, we’ll venture into our next new world. Today, as individuals, let’s set the stage to take those steps together. 

___

UNTIL APRIL 30, 2020, I’LL BE DONATING MY BOOK SALE PROFITS TO ORGANIZATIONS HELPING PEOPLE COPE WITH THE PANDEMIC.

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author, living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Memphis, Tennessee. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal. 

Click on the link to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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In It Together

As a writer, I’ve been asking myself how I can help as we all face a situation most of us never imagined. 

From now until April 30, 2020, I’ll be donating my book sale profits to help people cope with the pandemic. With so many of us staying at home, I hope my books can provide a good story, moments of shared humor, the chance to connect to the characters even as we experience the necessary isolation of social distancing. 

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable 

HHATH follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, as she transfers from a college prep academy to the local public school, which opens her world. The students speak over forty languages, and no single racial heritage is a majority. She also finds extreme violence targeting the gay students. The novel traces Caroline’s group of friends’ dawning awareness of homophobia in themselves and their community, as they navigate paths to becoming allies. 

Ages 15 and up

https://www.amazon.com/Hollywood-High-Amy-Kaufman-Burk-ebook/dp/B00DRF87VY/ref=pd_sim_351_1/146-8787148-2700148?

Tightwire

Caroline Black, now in psych grad school, enters her rookie year as a psych intern. Her first patient, Collier Z. Tratner, is stormy, seductive, complex and brilliant. The story tracks one year of their therapy, as Caroline helps Collier confront a troubled past filled with secrets that haunt him. The novel unfolds through three perspectives — the new therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Ages 18 and up

 

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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An Open Milk Carton

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Lorraine Motel (where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was shot) has been converted into Memphis’s Civil Rights Museum. A path through the motel guides visitors into an interactive series of exhibits, tracking the Civil Rights Movement.

I entered a room of tables with computer screens, walls covered in photographs of civil rights leaders. A mother held a child in her lap, watching a video. The boy was confused why “the white people were mean to the black people.” I watched as his mother struggled to help him understand. After a minute, he turned in her lap, face to face, and stated: “Racism is bad and it doesn’t make sense.” The entire room looked at the child, and a quiet solidarity began to form. 

A large area held a bus with only the back few rows open to black riders. As we waited to board, a teen stepped forward to help an elderly man climb off of the bus. A younger woman gave her seat to an older woman. Two children climbed into their father’s lap, to make room for another adult, a stranger, to share their seat. Together, we chose the seats in the back. Nobody wanted to touch the seats in the front.

Toward the end of the exhibits, I faced a sheet of glass, separating visitors from the balcony where the Rev. Dr. King took the bullet. On either side, rooms 306 and 307 had been preserved to look exactly as they had when he stayed at the motel. A bed. A chair. An open milk carton.

Through the sheet of glass, the balcony was strangely ordinary, simple concrete with railing. Still, it pulsed with an odd energy. Three of us reached the balcony at the same time. We moved together, complete strangers, women, one much older than I am, one much younger, different racial heritages. We clasped hands. We stood together for a long moment while the line waited patiently. Nobody spoke. The silent pulse reverberated.

I walked outside. I thought about a child’s truth, a sheet of glass. reaching for the hands of two strangers. I thought of the triangle trade, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Memphis Sanitation Strike. I closed my eyes for an instant, curious which image would appear in the forefront. Crystal clear, I found myself picturing an open milk carton.

Going forward, I’m bringing the image of that milk carton with me — open and unfinished, basic and vital, extraordinary and familiar, history and forever. When I began writing years ago, I never expected to work on an essay inspired by a milk carton. But I’m okay with it, because the Memphis Civil Rights Museum is humbling and awe-inspiring in equal parts. Bottom line, I’m not ready to “begin to end” my life, and that milk carton represents “things that matter.”

RIP Martin Luther King, Jr. And thank you.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Click on the link to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Intimations Of Immortality

In college, I found myself facing an embarrassing problem. 

I was taking a course on English poets, and my professor introduced me to William Wordsworth — “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” The title was a mouthful, and I gathered my courage. Then I began to read and the world fell away. I was swept off my feet by the current, the pulse, the heartbeat. But swept off my feet wasn’t the problem. The difficulty was that every time I read the poem, I broke into tears. 

Of course, this was horrifically unacceptable. But in spite of my finest efforts, I was unable to reroute my appallingly inappropriate reaction. Turning to my friends for help was out of the question. How could I admit that I was crying over my homework? Worse, I had only a few days to get a grip, because my professor would be discussing the poem in our next class and crying was not — repeat NOT — an option. So I barricaded myself in my bedroom and read the poem over and over, desensitizing myself. I made it through the class tearless and my near-miss humiliation remained a secret.

Fast forward four decades. 

My husband and I attended our 40th college reunion. As I walked the familiar paths of campus, I stepped into a time warp. I was a wide-eyed first-year, listening to the president’s welcoming speech, wondering if I’d become the Admissions Committee’s biggest mistake. I was a sophomore, seasoned and mature, strutting with confidence. I was a junior, questioning everything, wondering where I had misplaced the previous year’s self-assurance. I was a senior in graduation regalia, clutching the hands of two close friends as we bolstered each other through our final hours on campus. The reunion weekend was a medley of sounds and sights, each triggering a neuronal domino reaction, synapses shooting sparks. I was eighteen years old, and I was sixty.

Immersed simultaneously in my then and my now, I sat in the balcony for a concert in Woolsey Hall. A small group of “kids” took the stage. During their final year at Yale, they sang together and were now performing at their first official reunion, five years later. Afterwards, a friend joked that we should advise the young ones to sing while they had their voices, because “it won’t last.” We all smiled, remembering ourselves at their age. When the old-and-gray folks suggested that we’d one day be creaky, we’d nod politely. Somehow, those aging relics hadn’t figured out that unlike them, we were immortal.

We gathered for dinner in the Branford Courtyard, surrounded by stone gargoyles. The evening was mild, and we quieted as a reunion organizer took the mic. With an empathic blend of respect and warmth, she read a list of classmates who had died. It took quite a while. By the end, the courtyard was extremely still. Six decades into our lives, we all know that with or without our consent, sooner or not sooner, our names will land on that list. The notion is both knee buckling and strangely okay.

Before our class dinner was served, the Whiffenpoofs (an a cappella singing group) stood in their horseshoe, swaying with their signature song. A curious tenderness filled the courtyard, and my neuronal synapses began to quiver. I closed my eyes and for a quick instant, my hair was thick, shiny, the color of wheat at dusk. My skin glowed smooth, my musculature defined and strong. In that fleeting moment, I was immortal.

Standing in line at the buffet, I overheard someone say that their daughter would begin Yale in the fall. I wondered if she’d read Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality.” Would she cry? Would she stage a mighty intervention against her own tears? In any case, I wish her a wonderful four years. 

It’s her turn to be immortal.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk, Yale 1980, is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Click on the link to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase a novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Novel Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of my first novel. On July 2, 2013, I published Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable (named after my high school and its motto). 

Hollywood High, my local public school, was an extraordinary education. With over forty languages spoken among the students, with so many racial heritages forming our community, with a huge spectrum of economic diversity — the usual definitions of “cool” fell away and the experience opened my world. We also dealt with gangs and ongoing violence, often targeting the gay students. On top of that, we had an issue specific to our particular school. When adolescents run away, they need a place to run to, and many landed in Hollywood, looking for a red carpet. Hollywood High had a significant population of students struggling to survive, living on the streets. During those years, I also met some of the finest educators I’ve ever known, and some of the brightest, most creative, most accomplished students as well. 

When I was fifteen years old, I decided that some day in the future, I’d write a novel about my high school experience. The story is fiction, but I hope I captured the heart and the grit of the “real” Hollywood High.

Deepest thanks to everybody who has read my book, written a review, told a friend, put up a post, emailed a comment, put the novel on their “to read” list. I’m grateful to each and all of you. 

To those who went to HHS with me, thank you for being a part of my journey through those exhilarating, searing, confusing, affirming, high voltage years. Against all odds, once in a while, taking ourselves by surprise — we came together to achieve the honorable.

___

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

Click on the link to read the first few chapters, check out reviews, purchase the novel.

 

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Brothers

You don’t mess around with chest pain and shortness of breath, so my father-in-law was rushed by ambulance to the Emergency Room. A week later, still in the hospital, he wasn’t responding to his meds. His lungs continued to deteriorate. His heart grew weaker and his kidneys began to quit. Eating led to nausea. He couldn’t walk, then he couldn’t stand. His body was shutting down. He was 85 years old.

I met Arnold when I was a college sophomore. My boyfriend, years later my husband, introduced me to his parents. I was nervous, sitting silent and wide-eyed on their living room couch. Arnold spoke gently, setting me at ease. He asked the names of my family’s two yappy toy poodles. Blushing, I explained that the smaller (and decidedly more bad tempered) dog was also “Arnold,” named after my brother’s best friend. He said he was flattered to share a name with my family’s noble steed. Several years later when we had become close, I admitted that my brother’s friend was “Jonathan,” that together they had chosen “Arnold” as Jonathan’s nickname because they picked “the funniest name” they knew. We joked about yappy-Arnold for 40 years. 

Now, I loved his name and I loved him and he was dying. 

My husband and I lived in the same city as Arnold, so we had been visiting the hospital every day. I arrived on the morning after Thanksgiving, 2017, Day 7 of Arnold’s hospitalization. As always, we relaxed in our comfortable friendship. Then I noticed his IV was out. I assumed the line was clogged and would be replaced. When he refused his morning pills, I asked what was going on. Avoiding my eyes, he told his nurse that he wanted the oxygen mask off. He had decided to stop treatment. I asked if he understood that without his oral meds and his IV and his oxygen he would die. He spoke gently, knowing his words would cause me pain: “Amy, I’m already dying.” My eyes filled with tears and I nodded. He was right.

A team of physicians, social workers and nurses — professional and compassionate in equal parts — talked to him several times, to make sure his decision was lucid and entirely his own. He was clear and calm. He asked the doctors for a time frame. They believed that when the oxygen mask came off, he’d die in as little as two hours, as much as two days. 

Then my husband’s cell phone rang — Bruce Ramer, Arnold’s closest friend of fifty years. Bruce is a wonderful blend of contradictions: brilliant and scrappy, kind and tough, hilariously irreverent, unfailingly respectful. He announced he was booking a plane ticket to visit and say goodbye. Since Bruce, like Arnold, was in his 80s, my husband assured him that a 2,500-mile dash across the country wasn’t mandatory. Bruce answered  that “a stick of dynamite up my ass” wouldn’t stop him. 

I had become aware of the intensity of the bond between Arnold and Bruce several years before when Bruce’s brother died. Bruce was devastated, and he exchanged several emails with Arnold. Arnold had suffered a mild stroke and asked me to type his messages. Arnold’s last name was “Burk,” but he told me to sign the messages “Arnold Ramer” (Bruce’s last name). I was concerned that he was confused, but Arnold spoke quietly. “Amy, it’s okay, just send it.” I did, and soon a reply came back signed “Bruce Burk.” 

“We’re brothers,” Arnold stated simply.

As the first day of hospice care unfolded, Arnold’s cognition turned fuzzy. He drifted into a hazy zone, hovering between life and death. He felt safe, and knew he was surrounded by people he loved. Entering the second day, he was fading. We hoped Bruce would get to him in time to say goodbye.

While Arnold’s body prepared to turn still, Bruce arrived — blazer, scarf, silver hair, handsome. Bruce is a force of nature, and his presence filled the room. His eyes are extraordinary — not quite hazel, not quite brown, laser sharp. In an intense instant, he scanned each of us, as though gauging our character, our emotional state, our capacity to cope, our love for his dearest friend. His eyes circled the space and rested on Arnold who lay in bed, frail and unfocussed. Bruce’s eyes filled. He brought himself into Arnold’s line of vision and said hello. He reached for his friend’s hand. Arnold opened his eyes. He looked through Bruce, then at him. Several moments passed. Recognition took hold, Arnold smiled, and we watched his mind reignite.

The two men exchanged insults about their gray hair, about how they weren’t glad to see each other, about how much they didn’t love each other. Arnold gently slapped Bruce’s chest. Bruce caught his friend’s hand and brought it to his own heart. They clasped each other and Arnold returned to us. 

He lived two more weeks.

Looking back, I don’t understand what I witnessed. Bruce’s friendship brought Arnold back to life. Call it magic, a miracle, the ties that bind — I don’t know. Maybe I’m not meant to know.

Rest in peace Arnold, and live on Bruce. Your love for your “brother” was…I have no idea what it was. I only know it was wondrous.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with students who speak over forty languages. The story deals with racial and economic diversity, the power of friendship, adolescent sexuality. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written to support same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Conversion Therapy Isn’t Therapy

Before I became an author, I was a therapist for almost thirty years. I’m completely confounded by the controversy over conversion therapy (applying pain during same-sex attraction, as an example, supposedly leading to a “conversion” to being straight).  I’m confounded because this practice is so horrifying it defies reason. But for the purposes of (hopefully) putting this issue to bed once and for all, I’m setting aside my horror to write.

Let’s break it down.

The goal of therapy is for patients to heal and live full, healthy lives, by their own definitions of “full” and “healthy”, to the best of their abilities. Important parts of a healthy life are emotions, identity, friends, home, career. And yes, sexuality and gender identity.

So how does therapy work? How can people change by talking to a therapist? Here’s an example. 

When a patient takes unresolved feelings about an important person in his past and superimposes those feelings on the therapist, it’s called transference. For example, if a patient has a mother who was mean to him, then he might start feeling like his therapist is being mean. This gives the patient an opportunity to fully experience a problem from the past, with the therapist, in the safety of the office, and gain a new understanding.

To help the patient, the therapist needs to NOT become mean like the patient’s mom. Instead, the therapist needs to show the patient how he brings his relationship with his mother to other relationships, and how this causes him to relive his unhealthy past again and again. 

The same is true for sexuality and gender identity. Which brings me to conversion therapy. There are several problems here. 

First, torturing patients in the name of “conversion” from anything or to anything — that’s not therapy. That’s using your (the therapist’s) power over the patient to hurt them. Which says something deeply disturbing about your (the therapist’s) character.

Next. Causing physical pain to a patient is a violation, and will be experienced as an assault. Why is it experienced as an assault? Because it is an assault. Which means the therapist has become an assailant (not a transference assailant, an actual assailant).

The next next. As a therapist, we have no kit of doctor tools; we are the kit of doctor tools. It’s every therapist’s responsibility to know what they do well, and when to refer to another therapist. All therapists need to know which patients make them so uncomfortable that they can’t feel empathy. If you are off-the-charts uncomfortable with a patient who is LGBTQ+, then you shouldn’t treat them. (And for the record, I suggest you sort out why the LGBTQ+ community makes you so angry that you want to hurt them, so uncomfortable that you want their gay-ness and lesbian-ness and bi-ness and trans-ness to convert, under torture, to cis-ness and straight-ness…which will derail their core identity…which is diametrically opposed to anything therapeutic.) 

The final next: if you were half of the therapist you want to believe you are, then you’d know that Conversion Therapy Doesn’t Work. 

Why doesn’t it work?

Full stop. Think for a moment. However you define yourself on the gender and sexual spectrum, please follow along. 

Trigger Warning: I’m about to flip things up-side-down. 

Suppose you’re a straight man. Try to imagine the effect on you if someone hurt you physically every time you felt attraction to a woman. Would you make a nice, clean leap to becoming gay? Would torture lead to a grand therapeutic epiphany: I’M GAY! I’M FINALLY CURED OF MY EVIL STRAIGHT-NESS! Of course not. 

Why not?

Because that’s not how humans are wired. If you’re straight, then you’re straight. Hurting you will scare you, enrage you, force you to hide your true self. And at that point, things become complicated emotionally. If we can’t be true to ourselves, we try to hide ourselves not only from others, but also from our own selves. Our emotions become twisted and convoluted. This can result in confusion, depression, anxiety, even suicide. 

We have an enormous problem in our country with the lack of understanding and open hostility toward the LGBTQ+ community. We have a long way to go. But we can’t have a reasonable conversation, we can’t open a healthy dialogue, unless conversion therapy is off the table. You may as well sanction water boarding.  

If you’re a therapist and you’re consumed with intense vitriol toward the LGBTQ+ community (or toward anyone), I strongly suggest you turn in your badge and change careers. You shouldn’t be a therapist. And as you should know from your profession, carrying such an intense level of hatred and rage is pathological. 

You need help.

____

Amy’s Novels

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable deals with homophobic bullying in high school, and follows a girl’s journey after she comes out to her family. The story tracks a group of diverse high school friends as they confront homophobia in themselves and others, and find individual paths to becoming allies.

Tightwire follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of clinical training, treating a stormy and talented young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. The story tracks a strong friendship between two men, one gay and one straight. Two other key characters are a lesbian couple, raising two children, who become role model parents to the main character. This novel is about the importance of becoming your full self.

Click on the link to read reviews and check out Amy’s novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

 

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Congratulations, Mr. Ratburn!

As a mother of three grown children, I’ve fielded some tough questions. 

Why do people act mean?

Can I get a tail for my birthday?

If Mrs. Jones was “all ears” when she heard the news, should we rush her to the doctor?   

Since the recent airing of a same-sex marriage on the children’s cartoon Arthur, several people have asked me: How can I explain GAY to my kids? Many parents are anxious, worried, confused how to approach “such a difficult topic” with their young children. Everyone can take a deep breath and settle down. In fact, this isn’t difficult at all. 

This is Joe and Ann.

This is Sylvia and Marie. 

This is Bob and Alan.

When couples visited our home, I introduced them to my children. The kids responded: “Nice to meet you,” shook hands, and that was that. If the parents are matter of fact, then the kids will simply accept it. If the parents create a hyped-up drama, the kids will respond accordingly. They’ll follow your lead. Acceptance or drama —your choice. 

As your children grow older, they may have more questions. The most important Rule Of Thumb is to answer what they ask, no more no less. 

Those are two boys! How can they be a couple?

Any two people can be a couple. If they love each other like Mommy and Daddy love each other, then they’re a couple.

Can they make babies and have a family?

Sure. There are lots of ways to make babies and have a family.

(Your children will become overwhelmed with information if you launch into eggs and sperm, fallopian tubes and testes, ejaculation and insemination, surrogacy and adoption. When your kids are ready for specifics, they’ll ask.)

What’s the best kind of couple? Two boys? Two girls? A boy and a girl?

A couple with a lot of love is the best kind of couple.

I’ve been following the negative reactions to Mr. Ratburn (Arthur’s teacher) and Patrick (an aardvark who owns a chocolate store), and to their marriage. Alabama Public Television banned the episode, which I find jaw-dropping. Some suggested a TRIGGER WARNING — a same-sex marriage RED ALERT — an urgent call to have a PARENTAL UNIT on hand to answer questions.

Actually, I always encourage parents to be available when their kids are watching any television show. Kids have questions, comments, ideas, and these moments provide opportunities for open communication. But there’s no need to hold up a cue card: IS ANYONE SPIRALING INTO ORGAN FAILURE SECONDARY TO MR. RATBURN’S SAME-SEX MARRIAGE? Honestly, your kids are much more likely to have a question about a rat-aardvark marriage than a man-man marriage. 

Like many cartoons, Arthur is filled with Weird — charming Weird and delightful Weird. Animals who dress in clothes, who go to school, who walk on their hind legs, who talk. Yep, plenty of weird. However, regarding the wedding — the couple walking down the aisle, the joy in the room, the exuberant dancing — it’s a marriage, and there’s nothing weird about marriage. Mr. Ratburn and Patrick are deeply in love, committed and devoted. They’re choosing to spend their lives together. 

How wonderful that so many children were invited to share their happiness.

                                                                       *  *  *

If you’re in the process of growing comfortable with LGBTQ+, if you’re open to becoming more accepting, then here are a few posts to help. 

“All Love Is Created Equal” 

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/all-love-is-created-equal/

“Let’s Open The Conversation”

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/glsen-ally-week-lets-open-the-conversation/

“Imagine”

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2017/02/23/imagine/

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with students who speak over forty languages. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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STEM, Cows, Clay, Tulips

My daughter entered UVM (University of Vermont, Burlington) knowing nobody, not one person in the 10,000 students. She chose UVM for its stop-in-your-tracks animal sciences curriculum, pre-veterinary-medicine, and simultaneously entered the Clay Program with ten other first and second year students. She lived in a dorm reserved for the Arts Initiative (clay, photography, world music, creative writing…). By chance, in the year Ariela began college, the Clay Program was entirely women. One of the members studied psychology. Another would become fascinated with horticulture, sustainability, and eventually learn to fly planes. A third was a scientist. Another studied literature and art. They lived in two suites, bonded by their love of working with clay. From her first moments on campus, Ariela stepped into the community of women she hoped to find.

For the next four years, most of my phone conversations with Ariela took place while she walked to class. At the beginning of her sophomore year, crunching through fallen leaves, trees turning into the reds and golds of fall, she called. “I figured out what’s missing in my life.” She had the arts from clay, she explained, and the sciences from her major. But she longed to read and write, so she added a minor in English. A young woman in STEM, fascinated by animal sciences, in love with the written word, immersed in the arts — that’s Ariela.

A few summers into her UVM journey, she enrolled in the CREAM program — a dairy farm run by students working shifts around the clock, taking care of the farm and the animals. Early one morning, she sent a photo. She sat on the ground holding a gargantuan baby bottle. She was feeding a newborn calf, who nuzzled against her. She had arrived at her shift and found an hours-old infant girl, a healthy 104 pounds, wobbly on its spindly legs. My daughter was transported. 

We spoke on the opening day of her final spring semester, senior year. We struggled to hear each other as she forged her way to class through the icy Vermont winter. I said, “It’s your first day of classes.” She smiled over the phone. “It’s my last first day.”

In that final semester, she enrolled in EQUUS, another UVM Animal Sciences gem, where she joined the team taking care of the horse barn. She signed up for a course to complete her English minor, excited to learn Middle English as she followed Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrimage. Along with several other classes, she insisted on auditing a course covering equine health issues because it was “too good to miss.” “It’s coming together,” she said in our next phone call. “What’s it?” I asked. “It’s…” she searched for the right words, “…it’s me.” 

Suddenly and not suddenly, her last first day was far behind her, and she faced her last last day.

The family gathered in Burlington for her graduation and she brought us to meet the cows. As we walked through the barn, the huge animals moved forward to greet us. We smoothed their fur, and they gently nuzzled our hands and arms. They seemed to understand that they were ten times our size, and moved carefully as they slimed us with their friendly noses. I never knew that cows love human attention as much as puppies.

Ariela guided us through campus — her dorms, the library, her research lab. Strolling outside a cluster of buildings, we found ourselves next to a small tulip park, a joyful garden of white, yellow, maroon, red, purple. We entered UVM’s greenhouse and were immediately enveloped in the soft humidity. One room held tables and shelves of sweet potatoes. Another area housed many forms of cactus, each sharp and strange and weirdly beautiful. A different room was filled with tropical plants, startling in their waxy brilliance. A museum of living art, a bright surprise around every corner.

We walked outside into the springtime, treading the ground that had been covered with snow just a month before. We followed Ariela’s path, a road both individual and shared. Ariela’s UVM meant cows, Chaucer, microbiology, horses — all comfortably side by side, hand in hand. Her education meant research and tulips, Middle English and clay. And as I followed Ariela’s campus tour, I understood the essence of UVM. Whoever you are, whatever your unique and eccentric internal tapestry looks like — this university invites you to seize the experience, cover it with your fingerprints, make it your own.

Congratulations to Ariela and the UVM class of 2019. May your continuing path be filled with first lasts and last firsts, then and now and always.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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