Cocktail Hour Goes 24/7: Is Don A Goner?

Six episodes into Season Four of“Mad Men,” and Don Draper has broken his cardinal rule regarding sex and the office, stolen a rotten tagline to win a pitch, and robbed Peggy of any glory for “his” Clio—   and, oops, he forgot to pick up the kids!  With Don, not only is the proverbial “center not holding,” but the surface is going to pot. Red-eyed and incoherent, as he tries to sell the client the Life cereal creative: he is the picture of un-life—a ghost of himself.  He is literally being spirited away dram by dram, glass by glass, bottle by bottle.

Self-psychologists might see his addiction as an attempt to bolster his fluctuating self-esteem, enhance his grandiosity as well as to self-soothe his feelings of emptiness.  For underneath all of Draper’s charisma, lives the renounced terror of being a nobody—or worse a fraud.  Two seasons ago, Don read from Frank O’ Hara’s   Meditations In An Emergency:

“Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern…”

C’mon Don. Your life is a lot more than a box of cereal.

Psyching out Madmen

TV critic, Linda Stasi, suggested that Mad Men" might be described by the famous tagline “the antidote to civilization.”  In the show’s celebration of vice, the super ego appears to have little sway over the libidinal and aggressive surges of the id.  Yet, the show is anything, but one-dimensional.  Don Draper may not be a paragon of virtue, but he may be a paragon of vice—a bad boy with a moral compass, at least in some areas. 

In the first episode of Season Four, the question looms: “Who is Don Draper?”  Womanizer. Drunk. Raging Egomaniac.  Or…Sympathetic Dad.  Principled Boss.  Creative Talent of Conviction.  While Don doesn’t have all the pieces together, he has the ego strength to appreciate duality and knows how to hold disparate pieces together, i.e. how to market a two-piece bathing suit (i.e. bikini) in the chauvinistic early sixties.

To Freud’s question: what do women want?  Draper advocates that women “should not” have to choose between decency and allure.  That women can have both—a radical proposition.  Yet to the refraining question: Who is Don Draper?  Like the bikini, it’s not a one-piece answer.  He’s got to have some skin in the game.                                                                                                          

Moving Out of the Shadow

Over the weekend, in an effort to escape the heat, I spent an afternoon at the Rubin Museum.  I was particularly taken by Bill Viola’s video called Three Women.  I found it haunting.  In the piece, three women of different generations emerge through a waterfall as if coming to life and then retreat behind it.  In the video, the eldest woman emerges from behind the water, then the middle, followed by the youngest woman.  Each emerges as if in her own time.  In front of the water they are clear images, each individuals, though clearly related, sharing different facial features and colouring.  Then the eldest woman turns and re-enters the waterfall, and she once again becomes a shadowy figure in black and white.  She beckons to the younger women one at a time.  And they follow her, taking on the vague, shadowy appearance of the elder woman.  Led by the older woman, they hold hands, turn and walk away.  We see each of the younger women turn towards us with longing as if they wish to let go and return to our side of the waterfall.  It made me think about the idea of feeling emotionally alive when we are able to follow our own dreams and wishes. 

I have been thinking about how hard it is to separate from our parents.  The pull we feel to connect to the generations that preceded both them and us. We both long to stay connected and to feel loved by our parents.  To belong.  No matter how old we are.  Sometimes this means that we end up following them to places we don’t really want to go.  But we also have dreams for ourselves that may take us in different directions.  Can we risk stepping out?  Like the younger women in the video, longing to stay and leave at the same time.   How do we live our own lives if we follow them where they want and need to go? How do we stay connected and separate at once?  How do we lead our own lives and feel loved?  Is it possible to hold the tension of both/and rather than giving in to either/or?

When I saw the video it was the longing that grabbed my heart – the sadness embedded in the longing.  I wanted to encourage the younger women to let go and run.  To tell the elder woman to let them go, to push them towards the viewers’ side of the waterfall.  To help the younger women maintain their personhood, their aliveness by staying on this side of the waterfall.  Leaving the eldest woman might be hard for the younger women; that might be sad, too.  But a different kind of sad.  A sadness made bearable by the aliveness of knowing that each exists as her own person.

Are Parents Happy?

This week’s New York Magazine has a cover story about recent research that suggests that people with children are not so happy.  Does this mean the Baby Boom is ending?  There seems to be a trend in the media to have cycles in which they promote or discourage parenting.  Maybe it’s the recession.  For me, though, this article raises some challenging questions.  First of all, what is happiness? How is it measured? And second, whoever said living with children would make you happy? 

I grew up in a family where everyone had several kids and loved being parents but noone ever claimedit was easy or pleasant.  Oh yes, there are moments of bliss.  Holding a sleeping infant in your arms, smelling his damp, sweet scalp, celebrating accomplishments, or just basking in tender family moments.  But, any parent will tell you that those are peak moments in the midst of a lot of stress, distress, heartache, frustration, tedium, and smelly chores.  This is no secret!  Never was! Like any big job – being a surgeon, landscaping, fishing, building things – it is mostly hard work, lots of risks, and a great feeling when it all works out ok.

That brings me back to my earlier question, how do we measure happiness?   I’m “happy” when I get a legal parking space in front of my house.  I’m “unhappy” when I have three inches of water in my basement.  But those feelings are shortlived and don’t compare to how much I love my home in total.  I have to walk my dog in all kinds of weather, and fight with him to let me clean his ears, and those vet bills! OK, so you know what comes next…yes, I have a picture of him on the desktop of my computer. 

Love and happiness are so complicated and changeable, but we know when we have them, even when we are on the downside of their cycles.  They cause the deepest pains, and the greatest joys, the worst anxiety and the greatest contentment. 

I guess this article really got to me because I am a year away from an empty nest and the hardest parenting days are over.  My house already seems quieter and I find myself staring into strollers longingly.  This is another hill on the parenting roller coaster.  Loss.  Loss of the baby, the toddler, the pre-schooler, the sixth-grader, the teenager. They never come back.  And all I can remember are the good times, the busy times, the feeling that my life was not my own and that was a good thing.

I guess that’s why so many people look forward to being grandparents.  No one ever asks “Are grandparents happy?                                                                     

Celebrating the Ornsteins

On Nov 7, 2009, the Lifetime Achievement Committee of PPSC hosted an all-day celebration of the lives and work of the renowned self-psychologists Anna and Paul Ornstein. The Ornsteins each read from papers specially prepared for the conference and answered questions posed by Judy Levitz and Amy Schaeffer. Discussant Shelly Doctors provided a background for placing the Ornsteins’ work in a larger psychoanalytic context. What permeated the presentation was a profound type of kindness and an appreciation for love and familial bonds as evidenced by the Ornsteins’ gracious manner with their hosts and their fond description and their children, all three have grown to be trained medical and analytic professionals.