It’s an age-old question, but I’ve heard it many times: “Where do you get your material?” How do you answer something like that without a phony-sounding “aww shucks” on one extreme, or a flippant-sounding “duh” on the other extreme. Since I’m still hearing the same question, I suppose the best answer to give you is, “I let my eyes and ears find it for me”. And that’s the honest truth.
I’ve always been quietly observant and have had a keen interest in the behaviors of humankind since I was in pre-school. I remember seeing a little boy acting just horrible about something very simple and my 4-year old mind wondered “Why is Scottie being so hateful? I bet it’s more than just the broken paintbrush, but what?” Over the years I’ve had many well-meaning people suggest that I should be a psychiatrist, but I find the prospects far from desirable. How long can you give a third-party, observant, “Mmm hmm” to a selfish person playing dying cockroach while the world passes by? How long can you watch the trite, mundane, and downright ridiculous without saying something? In lieu of seeing patients, I write what I see and hear. Of course, what I see and hear is filtered through the “Bertha lenses” through which I see the world and the “Bertha ear muffs” through which I hear the world, but it’s certainly easier writing about it than trying to talk to The Yankee about it.
But seriously, I started thinking about this a little more closely and wondered how I would manage as an actual psychiatrist. How would I deal with the deep psychological issues of the patients who came seeking my help when many of the solutions would be so simple? I know there are some people who have lived through absolute horrors. Abuse, torture, neglect - they all exist and have lasting, scarring effects that can take a lifetime to overcome. These are not the issues of which I speak. I am talking about the people who seek therapy for the fact that they can’t sleep. “Mmm hmmm”, I would say, “Go on”. “Well doc”, my hypothetical patient would say, “I can’t sleep. I just lay there and lay there, watching the clock tick away, hoping I’ll fall asleep and I just can’t”. *sob, sniff* “Mmm hmm”, I say again, “And what time do you get up in the mornings?” “Well’, *sniff, sob*, “I usually sleep until about noon because I’m so tired.” My eyebrow raises and I say, “And what is your bedtime routine?” *sniff, nose honk into hankie* “Well, I don’t really have a set routine. I read the news on my laptop, catch up on some work, make some phone calls, and then eat dinner. I’m so tired, Doc, I just can’t cook so last night, for instance, I chopped up some Twinkies into a bowl of whipped cream and ate that with a bag of chips and a beer.” My poor acting skills start showing as I can’t help the fact that my one eyebrow is raising higher and higher while the other is sinking lower and lower. “And what time did you enjoy this gourmet feast?” *sob* “Oh, probably around 11pm. But that’s not the worst of it. I’ll fold laundry in front of an investigative true crime documentary to relax. Then I head to bed and turn the TV on just to drown out the whirling thoughts in my head. I need to call my client in the morning, I need to take the cat to the vet, I need to make sure I get earthquake insurance, I need to water the plants in the guest room, I need to make sure I locked the front door, I need to check in to getting a perm for my eyelashes, I have to have to have to remember to take my vitamins in the morning or my whole day is shot, then I scold myself for telling that platypus joke in the meeting this morning and go through every possible scenario of how I will lose my job tomorrow if my boss didn’t think it was funny, and then I wonder if maybe he really did think it was funny since he laughed but sometimes laughs can mean different things so I replay his laugh over and over and over and over and over in my head trying to remember if it was patronizing, maniacal, or just plain laughing because he thought it was funny. And then it reminds me that I broke my funny bone in high school which is why it aches every time it’s going to rain and it’s been aching like the devil lately so I remember that I never did check into getting galvanized rain gutters or flood insurance, and then I start wondering what on earth I would grab first if a flood was coming and before I know it, the alarm is going off and I have to get up and hope I remember to take my vitamins or my whole day is shot. You see why I can’t sleep, Doc?” *sniff, gulp, sob*
At this point, my one eyebrow would be entering my hairline while the other one would be threatening to abandon ship if it comes any closer to my lips and I just sit there, stunned. And then when I prescribe a 2-week period of rest and abstinence from all electronics, my hypothetical insomniac patient storms out of my office and screams, “You pompous quack! How is putting away my blender going to help me sleep?!!”
And as I relay this story to The Yankee, he says, “Poor guy. All those problems and now he’s hypothetical, too.”
And that, boys and girls, is why I write … because otherwise, I would drink.
© Bertha Grizzly 2011. All Rights Reserved. No duplication or distribution.