California Fires

Having spent my childhood in Southern California and most of my adulthood in Northern California, I want to help the many folks affected by the fires. Huge numbers of people are struggling — whether due to air quality, to losing a home, to losing a pet, or worst of all to losing a loved one. Although I now live in North Carolina, these fires feel extremely close to home.

I will be donating all of my book sale profits for the rest of 2018 — starting November 16 through December 31 — to relief from the California fires.

To the people living in California — take good care, hang in there, be safe.

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable
Caroline Black transfers from a college prep academy to the local public school, which opens her world. Written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school.

Tightwire
Caroline Black, now a young adult training to become a psychologist, treats her first patient — a stormy, brilliant troubled young man with a past full of secrets. Written to help end the stigma of therapy, and to celebrate the human capacity to heal.

Click on the link to purchase a novel, check out reviews.
https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Does One Vote Really Matter?

“Does one vote really matter?”

This morning, I surprised myself. I woke up thinking not about tomorrow’s election, but instead about a seminar I took in psych grad school. The professor was an excellent teacher, published articles, thriving clinical practice. My grad school cadre always looked forward to this class…except for one gigantic pain in the neck. “Mory” audited the seminar from another program, and his goal in life was to challenge the doctor at every turn. On this day, decades ago, our professor presented a case and asked us formulate a treatment plan. Mory, as always, had another agenda.

“You don’t do research,” he declared, apropos of absolutely nothing.

“That’s true,” our professor nodded.

“I don’t know how you can justify that choice.”

“How do you figure?” she remained calm.

“Seeing patients, you’re only helping one at a time. Doing research can help thousands. One by one isn’t enough.”

The rest of us cringed, but the doctor remained unfazed.

“I know you’re a researcher, Mory, and that’s an important contribution. But one by one is good enough for God. So it’s good enough for me.”

Yeah, one vote really matters.

 I guess I woke up thinking about the election after all. 

#Vote

 

*All identifying information in this post has been changed.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. 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 working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Won’t Be Erased

When I was in tenth grade, a student I’ll call “Ricki” gave a presentation in our history class. She was poised and articulate, tall and slim, dangling earrings and long brown hair. She wore heavy make-up, a mini-skirt, dark nylons, scarf tied around her neck. She was pretty and charmingly awkward, as though still adjusting to her own height. I found myself liking her, even though we had never met.

Then she brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and I blinked. The hands — large, like her feet. I looked closely at her scarf, hiding her adams apple. I froze, not because I was uncomfortable with a trans girl, but because I was terrified for her. In my high school, gay and transgender students were regularly beaten.

Fights in movies are carefully choreographed, a thundering dance sequence, often accompanied by pounding background music to feed an adrenaline rush. A fight in real time is different. The thud of fist on meat, except the “meat” is a human body. The cries. The grunts. Torn flesh. Blood. People slip, stumble, flail. They heave as they struggle to breathe. At my high school, fights were too common.

That day in my history class, as I listened to Ricki’s report on the Articles of Confederation, she read my expression and saw that I knew her. She swallowed hard. I had no intention of outing her, but she didn’t know. She watched me closely as she reached for her poster and that instant, with everyone’s eyes on her “required visual prop,” I mouthed, “It’s okay.” She finished her presentation and as she walked past, returning to her desk, she whispered “Thanks.” I nodded slightly without looking at her, neither of us wanting to draw attention.

Over the course of high school, Ricki and I ran into each other occasionally. Our bond was unusual, founded on one intensified moment, and our friendship remained within that initial connection. She never told me her last name, or if she had siblings, or whether she planned to go to college. But she confided that every moment of every day, she feared discovery. She felt “trapped in a male body,” but the issue was “complicated,” because “it’s my body, the only body I’ve ever known.” She said that if anyone at school identified her as trans, her beating would be inevitable, and she feared her assailants would “get carried away and kill me by accident.” Still, she showed up every day, “because I won’t let them stop me.” I also knew her favorite color was green, her favorite class was history, her favorite earrings dangled, and her favorite food was chocolate.

Today, over forty years later, my country struggles to regain equilibrium after a few brutal weeks, harsh even in the skewed standards of the Trump Era. Eleven were gunned down as they worshipped in their Pittsburgh synagogue. More were wounded. An African-American man and woman fell in Kentucky, dead of gunshot wounds. Pipe bombs were intercepted, targeting several people for their liberal political beliefs. Anti-immigrant sentiment continues to boil over, focusing on The Caravan, targeted for character assassination before they even reach the United States. And another kind of annihilation is in the works — a movement to “redefine” gender, to remove all Title IX protections for the transgender population, to erase people who are transgender and gender-nonconforming. 

All of these seemingly different events are actually variations on the same dangerous theme. The theme is murder. I wonder where Ricki is today and what she’d say, given that she spent her high school years expecting to be murdered.

The notion of “Transgender” sends people over the top, and I wish I could calm their worries. It makes some people so anxious that they reflexively try to make it go away. But “Transgender” isn’t an IT; Transgender is a human being. When you try to erase the idea of trans, you’re not trying to erase a concept. You’re trying to erase people, which won’t work. You can’t erase 1.4 million transgender individuals by changing a dictionary-definition of gender. Just like you can’t erase African-Americans, or Jews, or immigrants, or liberals by firing bullets or mailing pipe bombs or telling them they don’t exist. You can hurt others irrevocably, skyrocket fear in our homeland, enable an upsurge of bigotry. But you can’t erase people. 

I haven’t seen Ricki since high school. I hope she owns a fine collection of dangling earrings. I hope her home is filled with green and chocolate. I hope she’s safe. I hope she stands proud, a transgender woman, one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. And I hope she knows that I stand with her — then, now and always.

*All Identifying information in this post has been changed to protect “Ricki’s” privacy.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. 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 working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Family Secrets

What the hell’s wrong with the GOP?

Throughout my first career as a therapist, I worked with family secrets. Sometimes the secrets had to do with an individual, with a family interaction, with a traumatic event, with a failure. Sometimes the secrets involved sexual misconduct or abuse, a one-time incident or ongoing. 

Always, the secret involved humiliation, embarrassment, shame. Always, the secret clashed against the way the family and the individuals wished to define themselves. Always, someone’s wellbeing — mental and/or physical — was sacrificed to maintain secrecy. If someone spilled the secret, the speaker (instead of the secret) was immediately labelled “the problem.” The person who blew the whistle was treated as a traitor. In an eye blink, the accuser became the accused.  

In 2011, I closed my psychotherapy office and began my second career as a writer. Fast-forward from then to now.  

In several conversations over the past few days, I’ve talked to friends about Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. They’ve all asked the same question: “What the hell’s wrong with the GOP?” Even as I write this essay, more accusations are surfacing. Still, many members of the GOP are determined to plow forward with Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. 

Some of my friends suggested that the Republican members of the House and the Senate might have lived charmed lives, untouched by sexual misconduct. Further, they wondered if this charmed existence stretched to include friends and families of the GOP. They were searching for ways to explain how so many people could be disturbingly, infuriatingly, incomprehensibly lacking in basic empathy and decency toward survivors. 

Considering the number of Kavahaugh supporters — plus their extended communities — I’m talking about a gigantic number of untouched, unscathed, charmed folks. Statistically that’s highly unlikely. Sexual misconduct has reached epidemic proportions. The volume of reported and unreported incidents makes it impossible to believe that the entire posse of Kavanaugh supporters drew the long straw, exempt status from any and every act of sexual misconduct. So again, what the hell’s wrong with the GOP?

The answer: The secret’s out.

Several members of the House and the Senate, as well as the administration, are reacting to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations in the same way I’ve seen in my therapeutic work with families. They’re treating Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser as a traitor. In an eye blink, the accuser has become the accused. The GOP is losing track of protecting the survivor, and instead is angry that the secret itself wasn’t protected.

For too long, the prevalence of sexual misconduct has been our country’s dirty secret — within individuals and families, between and among friends, laced into the fabric of subcultures, interwoven with the tenets of conduct in our country. Recently, that’s changed. People in the entertainment industry blew their cover. And gymnasts. And the Catholic Church. And more. The #MeToo movement skyrocketed. People of all genders, all religions, all racial heritages, spanning the full range of economic circumstances, in a myriad of professions — together they raised their voices. The secret is out. 

Decades ago, I watched Anita Hill eviscerated in similar proceedings during Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. If the people in power had respected Professor Hill back then…we’ll never know how many might have been protected from carrying their secrets in painful silence, how many might have been spared sexual assault. The way Professor Anita Hill was treated enabled the rape culture to continue. 

Today we stand at a crossroads. People can no longer say “I had no idea” or “I didn’t realize.” Although we may wish to turn away from the ugly reality, we can’t un-know what we know. We The People have to deal with the explicit, implicit, complicit sexual misconduct that permeates every corner of our homeland.

Every person of every gender has the right to choose if and when and how to tell their story.

For survivors who choose to keep their experiences private — you have my respect and support. Private is a choice; secret is a problem. The key is choice, and the responses of the GOP to Professor Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford clarify how choices are taken away from survivors. Nobody has the right to take down the next survivor as a way of avoiding their own issues, or as a strategy for hiding a damaging secret. 

Through my years as a therapist, friends often asked how I dealt with the pain my patients brought to their treatments. I always answered that therapy isn’t just about dealing with pain; it’s about dealing with pain in order to heal. When secrets were revealed, people felt sad, frightened, vulnerable, uncertain how to go forward. But they also felt relief. Even though they still carried the weight of the experience, they no longer carried the weight of the secret. My goal was never to erase the painful experience; that would have been an example of trying not to know what you know, not to feel what you feel. However, people’s relationships to their own experiences can evolve, and that process can loosen the emotional shackles.

Today, although I’m (deeply) saddened and (batshit) furious, I also hold tremendous hope. As my patients showed me, once we own what we know, respect our own emotions, hold ourselves and others accountable — then our capacity to heal is astonishing. 

The United States of America had an opportunity to heal with Anita Hill. Then, my country blew it. Christine Blasey Ford gave my country another chance. My country blew it again.

It’s time to do better.

#Vote

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Both of Amy’s novels include issues of sexual assault . 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 working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence is a natural disaster. My home — Chapel Hill, NC — was originally forecast to be much more in the line of fire. But as we all know, hurricanes don’t follow the rules. In a thoughtless gesture, Florence turned first to the south, then followed a circuitous path north and west, sparing Chapel Hill the worst of its fury. Chapel Hill did sustain damage, but nothing like the areas which have been devastated.

Although of course I feel relief, I don’t feel at all good, because this change meant other areas took the hit for Chapel Hill. To help people hit hardest, I will be donating all September profits from the sale of my novels. 

My novels are ebooks and cost only $2.99.  They can be put directly on a Kindle, or on any electronic device using Amazon’s “Free Reading Apps.” I’ve included the descriptions of the novels below, with the links. You can buy a novel for your own library, or give a book as a gift. 

Thank you for helping people recover from Hurricane Florence.

Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable

I wrote my first novel in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, as she leaves her college prep academy for the local public school. At Hollywood High, she finds over 40 native languages, gangs, extreme violence targeting the gay students, and friendships that open her world. Parents might consider sharing the book with adolescents navigating the social and emotional mine fields of high school.

Click on the link to read reviews and purchase Hollywood High.

Tightwire

My second novel continues to follow Caroline Black, this time as a psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. The story follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives: the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment; the patient struggling to heal; the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to read reviews and purchase Tightwire.

https://www.amazon.com/Tightwire-Amy-Kaufman-Burk-ebook/dp/B00QOE1C12/

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BlacKkKlansman And Rosh Hashanah

Last week, I saw the movie BlacKkKlansman. At sundown today, I’ll be in synagogue for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). Given the state of my country, the film is extremely timely. In contrast, this particular new year is the strangest-timed Rosh Hashanah I’ve known — strange because this year, the High Holy Days will take place during a period in my country that’s anything but holy. 

BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee, tells the story of a black police officer, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), and a white police officer, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Officer Stallworth initiates contact by phone, but when a meeting is arranged, he needs a white man to join his team.

Officer Zimmerman, a Caucasian Jew, steps in as the face for Officer Stallworth’s voice. Stallworth and Zimmerman need to perform the equivalent of a Vulcan Mind Meld for the operation to succeed and as the story unfolds, two-people-disguised-as-one-person turns out to be essential for their survival. At one point, Zimmerman, circumcised, is ordered at gunpoint to drop his pants by a member of the KKK who suspects him of being a Jew; Stallworth throws a rock through the window, causes a distraction, and rescues Zimmerman. In another scene, Stallworth (not wearing his uniform) is attacked by other officers (all white), after he tackles a white female suspect (a KKK wife) trying to blow up a house full of people (all black). The officers leap in, no hesitation, and beat their fellow officer until Zimmerman arrives and intervenes. BlacKkKlansman is a Spike-Lee-film, which means it contains layers of messages. But this one is front and center: without each other’s support, neither Stallworth nor Zimmerman can survive racism.

Jumping forward several decades, the film concludes with White Supremacists marching and Heather Heyer’s death as she protests racism in Charlottesville, Virginia, 2017. Spike Lee’s choice to end with Heather Heyer sends a clear message that racism is not gathering cobwebs in the archives, but is here and now and deadly. No matter what color your skin, no matter your income, you can’t afford to distance yourself from fighting racism. The price is too high. For any Caucasian person who says it’s not my problem — ask Heather Heyer. 

This evening, the sun will set and Rosh Hashanah will begin. As I celebrate, I’m sharply aware of how many in my homeland are suffering. Still, my Jewish ancestors have celebrated their traditions through good times, through imprisonment in concentration camps, in sickness and in health, in comfort and in pain. The High Holy Days will stand long after all of us, including our current administration, have fallen. 

If it seems like a stretch to write about BlacKkKlansman and Rosh Hashanah in the same essay — it’s actually not. Spike Lee (director) and the team of screenwriters (Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel) included in their script a quote from Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

To all people, all racial heritages, all genders, all religions — I wish you a happy new year. 

L’shanah tovah.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. 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 working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms. 

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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For Heather Heyer

Unite The Right. 

UNITE. THE. RIGHT.

“Unite” is the wrong word. Actually, so are “The” and “Right”.

I’ve got nothing against uniting — my homeland can certainly benefit from a bit of unity. But the atmosphere in the USA is growing more fractious by the moment, which leads to my problem with the “The”. THE Right no longer exists. The Republican party is increasingly divided, breaking into jagged pieces, losing its moorings. And as for “Right” —  “Unite The Right” isn’t about uniting Republicans or Conservatives. It’s about uniting hatred and rage. 

By the time we reach adulthood, we all carry plenty of valid hatred and rage. Life can be harsh, unfair, hurtful. Pain rarely hits when you’re standing on sturdy ground, surrounded by support, plenty of lead-time to prepare. The unexpected, for better or for worse, lurks around every corner. Our challenge is figuring out how to channel our personal hatred and rage in a productive direction.

I spent my first 18 years growing up in liberal Hollywood. I lived most of my adult life in the liberal Bay Area of Northern California. I moved to Chapel Hill, a liberal enclave in North Carolina. As a far-left Democrat, all of that suited me just fine. Then the fates intervened. I spent the 2016-2017 academic year, including the presidential election, in Little Rock, Arkansas. When Donald Trump won, I was baffled. I had no clue how to figure out what had happened. Then I realized I was living in the perfect place to gain some insight. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Little Rock, my temporary home was filled with Build The Wall signs and Make America Great Again bumper stickers. So I turned to my community — in line at the market, filling our cars — and asked if they would help me understand.

During the campaign, I was deeply concerned by Donald Trump’s rage. His hatred leaked out of every pore. I assumed that people voted for him in spite of his rage and hatred. But I was wrong. “He’ll fight for me” was a phrase I heard over and over. After feeling “ignored” and “invisible” for so long, people believed they had finally found a candidate who would hit hard, bare fisted, no rules, ready to throw a punch as a first resort. Donald Trump’s rage and hatred inspired their confidence. In the words of one voter, “No bullshit. No political crap. Just — wham!”

In my years as a therapist, before my second career as a writer, I worked with anger issues in several treatments. A healthy range of anger covers a spectrum, just like any other emotion. Anger can take various forms: mild annoyance, intellectual disagreement, yelling fury, violent rush, murderous rage. Donald Trump’s anger spanned only a limited range: loud to deafening, furious to vicious, brawling to warring. When someone carries an immense, overflowing need to fight — without a healthy range — then specific issues lose meaning. Donald Trump wasn’t fighting for causes; he was fighting because he carried an insatiable hunger to fight. 

As long as he’s our president, the fight will never end, because his rage is a bottomless pit. Rage and hatred in themselves were — and still are — his platform. Worse, a dangerous trend has taken root. People have reacted as though Donald Trump legitimized their own extreme forms of rage and hatred. Too many who had held their rage and hatred in check now feel free to unleash the beast. Case in point: Unite The Right.

This weekend, Unite The Right is having a rally in Washington, D.C., and I’m deeply concerned. I’m afraid that hatred and rage will run rampant. I’m flooded with memories of the news coverage of roughly a year ago, when Unite The Right held a rally in Charlottesville, VA— a rage-and-hate-fest which left damage and death in its wake. 

I hope that this time, folks keep in mind that the First Amendment grants the right of the people (not violently but rather) peaceably to assemble. I hope Heather Heyer, killed in Charlottesville, will always be remembered as a voice guiding us toward decency. I hope that going forward, at all rallies, across partisan lines, people will be safe. 

From everything I’ve read about Heather Heyer, I’m certain she’d hope for the same.

#LeftInLittleRock

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. 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 working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms. 

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

 

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Quiz Of The Day — LeBron James And Donald Trump

Donald Trump has launched one of his Twitter-Attacks against LeBron James. Take the following quiz to test your knowledge of America’s Greatness.

Donald Trump’s Problem With LeBron James Stems From:

A. LeBron James is using his wealth to help others, which sets an unfortunate example.

B. LeBron James supports equal education for all, an annoying belief which gets in the way of white privilege, marginalization, stomping on the underserved, and a long list of values which make America great again (and again and again).

C. The color of LeBron James’ skin causes President Trump to experience discomfort, and Mr. James should apologize profusely.

D.Since LeBron James is an outstanding athlete, his acting with a social conscience, thoughtfulness, care, generosity, intelligence — well, it’s inappropriate and worse, it challenges the stereotype of a brainless black athlete, which is discourteous to those of us who prefer not to think.

E. LeBron James has expressed opinions which disagree with Donald Trump — which is just plain rude.

F. All of the above.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, was written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. The story follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, as her school’s diversity opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about the resistance, gender equality, mental health, LGBTQ+ ally support, #NeverAgain, racial equality, parenting. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms.

Click on the link to visit Amy’s Author Page — read reviews, check out the first few chapters, see her latest blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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My Wish For Demi Lovato

From the spring of 1983 when I met my first patient until the summer of 2011 when I began my career as a writer, I loved my work as a psychotherapist. Every time an adult, adolescent, child or couple entered my office, I felt honored. My clients offered windows into new perspectives, kept me open to alternatives, questioning my assumptions, learning from my mistakes. Therapy is hard work, and I’ll always be awed by the courage, perseverance and stark honesty my patients brought to their sessions.

Demi Lovato’s recent overdose is a powerful reminder that mental illnesses — in their many forms — are as real, and potentially as dangerous, as physical illnesses. Both cause pain, sometimes unbearable pain, and deserve validation and respect.  Having worked with people as they struggled with emotional issues and mental illness, I’m astonished that the stigma persists.

I wrote my second novel as an antidote to that stigma. Tightwire follows a treatment from three perspectives — the rookie therapist, scrambling to help her patient — the patient, struggling to heal while consumed by anger and hopelessness — the supervisor, guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. As I wrote the story, I hoped that describing the therapeutic process through three lenses would encourage people to rethink the stigma.

In the past, Demi Lovato has spoken about her struggles with mental issues. So have Jon Hamm, Kerry Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Amanda Seyfried, Brooke Shields, Prince Harry, Lady Gaga, J.K. Rowling  — and many more. Every time celebrities allow the public to know they struggle with mental illness and emotional pain, they lessen the stigma, pave the way for people to own their issues and reach out for help.  

Mental illness is NOT the result of “being soft” or “weak moral fiber” or “lack of discipline” — three phrases I’ve heard repeatedly. That approach enables marginalization, a false sense of protection, an it-couldn’t-happen-to-me distance. I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen to you or to someone you love, just like I wish you a cancer-free life. But the powers-that-be grant nobody exempt status from struggles, mental or physical. 

We can all contribute to ending the stigma. We can speak out, offer support, gather information. We can choose to become a mental health professional. We can respect a friend struggling with mental illness. We can respect our own struggles. We can march, donate, raise awareness, write. Tightwire is my voice.

And for Demi Lovato — I hope you find your unique path to healing. I hope you build for yourself an internal and external support system promoting stability, safety, strength and clarity. The road to recovery is rocky and uneven, and I hope you don’t give up. I wish you a journey leading to a healthier way of being you. 

Click on the link to read the first chapter of Tightwire. 

https://amykaufmanburk.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/tightwire-first-chapter/

DO YOU NEED SUPPORT?

If you are suicidal or fear for the safety of another person, please reach out.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 

The Trevor Project Lifeline 866-488-7386 

You can also call 911 for emergency assistance.

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Rosemary’s Baby And Donald Trump

This year on Mother’s Day, the retro movie channel showed Rosemary’s Baby. The timing speaks to a cultural view of mothers and motherhood which could provide a myriad of thesis topics for doctoral dissertations in psychology and sociology. Strangely, the issues portrayed in this film, released 50 years ago, also provide a roadmap for dealing with Donald Trump’s presidency.  

The film’s plot is bizarre. A young couple, surrounded by Creepy (creepy neighbors, creepy doctor), celebrates their pregnancy. As the story progresses, the mother (Mia Farrow) slowly pieces together a puzzle unfolding around her and realizes she’s carrying the devil’s baby. 

Mia Farrow gives a brilliant performance. Her character knows that a Satan-driven conspiracy, resulting in her womb’s housing the devil’s offspring, is entirely absurd. Reluctantly, she gradually accepts that this crazy idea is actually her reality. She desperately doesn’t want to see what she sees, believe what she believes. She is repeatedly told that her perceptions are off, reassured that all is well. Even as her unease grows into fear, she holds her eyes wide open. As awful as it is (and really, can you imagine anything more awful?), she will not allow herself the luxury of closing her eyes to the truth.

Now, with twenty-twenty hindsight, the Creepy factor is even more disturbing. Early in the plot line, Rosemary is drugged by a cult neighbor (whoa…drugged?) and raped (wait a momentraped?) by the devil. Her husband reassures (reassures?) her that while she was unconscious (unconscious?), he had sex with her so as not to miss their monthly window to conceive (sexual assault much?). To double down on Creepy, this film was directed by Roman Polanski who, decades later, would be expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures for conduct violations of sexual assault and misconduct with minors. And to triple down, Mia Farrow’s real-life family would eventually fracture over sexual allegations against Woody Allen and his leaving Farrow (his partner of several years) for her daughter. No way around it, this film has Twisted and Damaged leaking out of every pore. 

As I watched the movie, I felt an insidious fog encroaching. Worse, I found no comfort in the usual it’s-just-a-movie or it’s-retro-days-gone-by. The truth is that these issues are chillingly relevant right here, right now, in our country. People don’t want to see what they see, to hear what they hear, to believe what’s in front of them. An eyes-wide-shut approach put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. In the onslaught of our president’s transgressions, our natural, human inclination is to desensitize ourselves to the Twisted and Damaged. 

However, we’ve now reached a point where Eyes-Wide-Shut will be more difficult to sustain. Donald Trump’s statements in his meeting with President Putin drew fire even from his own political party. On a different front, a tape has been released, a recording of Donald Trump and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen discussing pay-offs to hide an affair. This contradicts earlier statements that Donald Trump knew nothing about pay-offs linked to campaign funds — which (maybe? probably?) means our president knowingly conspired to violate federal campaign finance laws and then lied to the public about it.

Facing that the leader of the free world is capable of assault, of hate-speech, of committing federal crimes — that’s disturbing on the level of realizing that you’re carrying the devil’s baby. It’s especially scary if your vote helped put him in office. Still, we all make mistakes (I mean, c’mon, even Rosemary, a strong woman with a rock solid sound mind, chose one hell of a husband). Yeah, voting for Donald Trump was a mistake, and any mistake is painful to admit — but this mistake is a zinger, which means that owning it is proportionally tough. As difficult as I may find it to forgive people who supported President Trump, I have to try, because the problem in my country is much bigger than I’ll ever be. 

I want to broker a deal. Regarding everybody who chooses to rethink their vote, I’m reaching out and offering support. Even though you can’t take back your vote in the 2016 presidential election, I welcome your thoughts and I respect your courage. We can still work together to rewrite our future, but there’s a price to pay. The eyes-wide-shut mentality has to go.

The path forward is complex and even though I’m a liberal democrat, horrified by the Trump Regime, I’m quite aware that this issue can’t be reduced a simplistic equation such as Trump Supporter = Bad. Think about Rosemary’s Baby.  In the last scene, the conspirators gather in the neighbors’ living room, and Rosemary finally has  confirmation that her worst fears are true. So what does she do? Call 911? Run to the nearest church for an exorcism? Nope. Instead, she rocks her baby.

You might react in many ways (starting with What The Hell???).  You might say that this is ultimately a reactionary film, because it illustrates that motherhood is so strong an urge that a woman will suckle the devil’s spawn rather than be childless.  Or you might say that this is ultimately a subversive and progressive film because it’s about Rosemary (originally entitled and coddled in the way that men try to and often do infantilize beautiful women) resolutely overcoming every contrary force to discover some ugly realities, and then achieving independence and agency by choosing to embrace them. Or you might say that it’s alarmingly anti-parenthood because the ending claims that choosing a traditional role–being a wife and mother–is literally a pact with the Devil. Whatever you choose, it’s debatable and complicated.

As I’m watching how people reconcile their approval of Donald Trump with the ugly enormities of who he is and what he does, I’m looking to Rosemary to help me understand. I see in the thoughtful interviews that a lot of Trump supporters say they don’t particularly like him (the lying, the sexism, the racism, the cruelty) — but they do like the direction the country is going (a strong economy, taxes, deregulation).  Listening to the average Trump supporter (not the white supremacist or the extreme nationalist), the message seems to be he may not be a good president, but he’s my president.  And I can imagine Rosemary saying he may not be a good baby, but he’s my baby.

So what do we do now?

Whatever my interpretation of the underlying messages in Rosemary’s Baby, I can follow certain guidelines as I try to navigate this terrible chapter in my homeland. Like Rosemary, no matter how disturbed I feel at what I see, I’ll hold my eyes wide open. I’ll work with what I’ve got. In practical terms — in November of 2018 and in the next presidential election of 2020, I’ll get behind the strongest candidate, even if I don’t believe that person is the best candidate, and I’ll check the box next to their name. I won’t allow anyone to tell me that I don’t see what I do see. When my president acts crazy, while I’ll do my best to deal with the fallout, I won’t accept his crazy as my normal.

In Rosemary’s words, “This is not a dream! This is really happening!”

Actually, it wasn’t really happening. It was a movie with a fictional plot line. Donald Trump, however, is extremely real.

 

*Credit to my husband, Bernie Burk — lawyer, law professor, writer — who watched Rosemary’s Baby and described, in thoughtful and clear language, the misguided views of women both then and now. He suggested I use the movie as a catalyst for this post. 

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, as she leaves her college prep academy for the local public school. At Hollywood High, she finds over 40 native languages, gangs, extreme violence targeting the gay students, and friendships that open her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy’s blog includes posts about the resistance, gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, racial equality, March For Our Lives, parenting and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy collaborates with educators who include her books and essays in their classrooms. 

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels, read her recent blog posts.

https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00R0S66Y4?redirectedFromKindleDbs=true 

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