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/

___

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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College Admissions Scandal

People have been asking what I think of the latest college admissions scandal, because Yale (my alma mater) had a sports coach who was involved. Of course, I’m saddened (and appalled)  that someone in the Yale community devolved into this mess. During my four years in college, I lived and breathed an atmosphere created by faculty who loved to teach and students who loved to learn. My friends and I, together, travelled the path from “mature” adolescents to young adults and many of those friendships are ongoing today. I’m grateful for all of it.

However, I urge everyone to take a step back from the application feeding frenzy. I strongly suggest we plant our feet firmly and realign our perspectives. Yes, I loved my time at Yale and yes, the education was fantastic and yes, my peers inspired me every day. But as any of my fellow Yalies who have an ounce of integrity will tell you: while Yale gives its students many things, the Secret To Life isn’t one of them. Behaving as though a YES from the admissions committee is worth absolutely any cost, no holds barred, even a piece of your soul…well, it isn’t.

Although I take this scandal extremely seriously (as does the university), Yale isn’t my biggest concern here. One misguided person, who accepted a bribe and lied, doesn’t represent either the belief system or the core integrity of the university. My biggest concern is for the applicants who didn’t get a fair shake, for the families who worked (and struggled) to support, with decency and honor, their children’s efforts to go to college.

And I have another biggest concern. I’m worried about the adolescents taking their first steps into adulthood, whose families paid a crap-ton of money to set up lies, fake photos, dishonest test scores, illegal bribes. I wonder if these parents realized the message they conveyed to their young adult children. 

You’re not good enough. 

I’d rather cheat and lie and bribe than accept you as you are.

Nobody will ever want you unless you cheat on a test, or offer an obscene amount of money, or pretend to be someone you’re not. 

We’ve got money to burn and when we want something, we’re entitled to it, whatever the price. 

I wonder if these parents realized that in this case, the price was the emotional well-being of their children. 

___

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 in high school, 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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Jussie Smollett – True Fake News

What. A. Mess.

Quick Recap: Jussie Smollett — a black, gay actor — reported that he was a survivor of a hate crime. He claimed he was struck in the face, a rope put around his neck, while two assailants yelled a slur for a gay man, another slur for a black man, and shouted their allegiance to MAGA (Make America Great Again, Donald Trump’s slogan). An investigation was launched, a huge effort by law enforcement, each step carefully reported all over the news. As the evidence was uncovered, a series of twists and turns followed. Jussie Smollett now stands accused of faking his own attack.

Responding to the original report, people trusted Jussie Smollett’s account. Some of the details didn’t quite add up, but folks rightfully stepped forward to raise their voices against hate crimes. Since the story caved in on itself, I’ve heard the phrases “publicity stunt” and “wants attention” tossed around. I’ve also heard people express the opinion that Jussie Smollett must have serious mental issues on board, and I have to agree. I hope he seeks therapy, because my more-than-two-decades as a therapist showed me that the over-the-top level of his “publicity stunt” probably mirrors the over-the-top level of his pain. Still, no matter how chaotic he feels, no matter how angry, no matter how wronged, whatever mix of mental health and pathology he carries — I hold him accountable for his actions, words, choices.

The groundswell of resentment toward Jussie Smollett is understandable. People feel manipulated and betrayed. However, at this point, we enter a potential danger zone and I’m holding up a PROCEED WITH CAUTION sign. Humans have a nasty habit of stereotyping, and this is a perfect-storm opportunity. When a straight Caucasian male behaves badly, the masses tend to hold him, and only him, accountable. If an individual of any other gender, any other racial origin, any other sexuality behaves badly, the masses have a tendency to leap into generalizations, holding large groups accountable for the actions of one person. Jussie Smollett’s behavior means absolutely nothing about black people as a group, or gay people as a group, or survivors of hate crimes as a group. We can’t allow the misguided actions of one troubled individual to shape our views of anyone beyond Jussie Smollett himself. Please don’t give him the power to contaminate your respect and empathy for the soul crushing damage of bigotry and hate crimes. 

On my own social media platform, while Jussie Smollet’s fake news was still considered true news, I retweeted a supportive post by Emma Watson (actor, He For She, Time’s Up, strong voice for social justice). As the investigation turned inside out, I considered deleting the tweet from my platform. Thinking it over, I decided to keep it. I want anyone who follows my platform to know that I stand with survivors of hate crimes. I fully support due process, innocent until proven guilty, but I also know that most people who report hate crimes are acting in good faith. My view of Jussie Smollet has changed; my support for racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights, my commitment to raise my voice against hate crimes — all of that remains unchanged.

In Emma Watson’s tweet, she included a quote from Maya Angelou: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Now it’s on all of us — every racial heritage, anywhere on the sexual spectrum —  to make sure we don’t use Jussie Smollett as an excuse to perpetuate hate.

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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 over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying in high school, 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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Rewriting Valentine’s Day

Couples and roses and romance and candlelight and passion and…y’know, that’s enough. I’m rewriting Valentine’s Day.

At a recent reunion of friends, all of us in our 50s and 60s, we spent several hours each day, over a long weekend, catching up on our lives. Children and grandchildren. Second and third careers. Losses and gains. Triumphs and defeats. One woman had recently divorced her husband and was still finding her balance. Another had divorced years ago, remarried a wonderful man, and felt steady and strong. She was kind and empathic toward her newly divorced friend, and reassured her that another relationship, a better partner, might be around the next corner.

My reaction was different. When we go through a huge life-change — for good or for bad, for better or for worse — the ground shifts under our feet. We struggle to find a new equilibrium in all aspects of our lives, including relationships. In the aftermath of a divorce, we might not know how to relate to ourselves as single, how to define ourselves outside of a couple. The first relationship to reevaluate, rebuild, rewire, rediscover is your relationship to your own self.

If you have a partner and you choose to celebrate with roses and candlelight, then I wish you a wonderful day, every day, not just a command performance on Valentine’s Day. If you have a friend and you choose to celebrate your bond — again, I wish you well. If you have a family and you choose to celebrate your bone-deep connection — I hope your day is filled with wonder. If you’re remembering someone who has died, I hope you can feel the love you once shared, as well as the pain of your loss. If you feel alone on Valentine’s Day, then I encourage you to honor your relationship to your self. In my revision, Valentine’s Day is for everybody, for the many forms of healthy love.

Valentine’s Day lands in our lap every year, and the holiday has never made sense to me when it’s confined to romantic couples. Cupid — you’re a strange creature — zooming around, zapping unsuspecting folks, sending them tumbling ass over teakettle in love. You’ve got some disturbing relational issues on board, so I’m rewriting Valentine’s Day. Going forward, keep your arrows to yourself. Respect boundaries.  Don’t intrude into other people’s hearts. Instead, put down your bow, feel your own heartbeat, renew your vows to yourself. That’s the foundation for all healthy relationships.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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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, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her 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.

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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Blackface: The Problem, The Deeper Problem, The Next Step

Costumes which include blackface have emerged as a national epidemic. Some people admit applying blackface years ago and then expect praise, as though their admission makes them less accountable, even admirable, entitled to a free pass. Some want their costumes dismissed as youthful indiscretions (far from anything they’d do now in their present state of enlightened maturity) — like smoking pot before meeting a friend’s parents, or eating five desserts. But blackface should never be dismissed as no big deal. Blackface is motivated by underlying racism, an active expression of bigotry, perpetuating racial inequality. 

Although we’re not born bigots, we are born into a culture of bigotry. It’s in our blood, in the air we breathe, overt and covert, glaring and subtle. Every gender, every religion, every racial heritage — nobody is granted exempt status from carrying bigoted assumptions. However (and it’s a big HOWEVER), Caucasians are granted privilege beyond any other racial heritage in the United States. This means that Caucasians need to be especially aware of the ways that we’ve been coached, from the cradle, to take for granted the privilege of our racial heritage. Each one of us needs to take a careful look in the mirror, an emotional-x-ray-selfie, and examine our assumptions with stark honesty.

The following paragraph is an excerpt from my novel Tightwire. The story follows a therapy 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. In Chapter 19, “Halloween,” Collier (the adult, male patient) describes to Caroline (the therapist) a Halloween pageant he attended with a couple, at the their children’s elementary school. Collier is caught off guard by the casual, thoughtless, pervasive bigotry of the costumes. 

“I counted three girls dressed as Asian people, with black wigs and Kimonos and one wore these fake rotting teeth. They spent the day screeching their heads off, flipping their R’s and L’s. Some parents wore the teeth alone, like their costume was someone who couldn’t afford an orthodontist. Two boys were dressed as gang members, with fake dreadlocks, black make-up and rubber knives. Two mothers dressed in leather and chains. They spiked their hair and walked around with their arms linked….and they said they were a lesbian couple….Four kids…dressed as fat people, and one girl whose father is a fashion photographer, dressed as a person with bad taste in clothes.”

Years ago, as I began to write this chapter, I paused and remembered the Halloween costumes at my children’s elementary school. I thought back to the costumes from my own childhood. Each “fictional” costume in this chapter was modeled after a “real” costume I had seen.

As you read this post, did you assume that the couple was straight, a cis man and a cis woman, parenting their two children? In fact, they’re two women, a lesbian couple. If you made that assumption, please pause. If you’re willing to grow and learn, then don’t rush away from the issue. Instead, hold still, try not to thrash, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to react to your own assumption. Ask yourself what it means about your mindset. Take as much time as you need. It’s okay to feel off-balance as you sort it out. Then you’ll be able to move forward, with a changed perspective. 

The first step toward change is awareness, and I’m committed to raising awareness. So I’ll finish writing this piece, edit my work from start to finish, and post it. Then I’ll pause, take a deep breath, and find a mirror.

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Tightwire, by Amy Kaufman Burk

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

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