CAN WRITERS EVER BE FAILURES? by Art Smukler, author and psychiatrist

I just finished one more re-write of my fourth novel, The Search for Macaulay Harris. It’s a great book and it’s now ready to send out to a literary agent. Maybe…

One agent, Kristin Nelson, had some very supportive and somewhat comforting information on her site. She said that getting a first novel published and having it be a blockbuster is 99% fantasy. She implied that maybe the fourth novel might just hit the sweet spot. Four! I like that number.

As all writers know, writing a novel can be grueling. Years of spending a lot of time with our own thoughts can drive even the strongest among us to feelings of despair. And, what if the thoughts are only wonderful in our own minds?

A year or so ago I attended a lecture by Fareed Zakaria, the well-known educator and commentator. He shared some details of an interview he did with Sara Blakely, the self-made billionaire developer of Spanx, the must-have underwear for women.

Ms. Blakely attributed her success to her father. Once a week he would ask Sara, “What did you fail at this week?”

“Daddy, why do you keep asking that? I didn’t fail at anything!” Sara said, a puzzled expression on her face.

“I want you to live up to your full potential. If you only try safe things and are afraid to fail, how can you grow and improve?”

So one day, Sara told her father about something that she tried and how miserably she failed. Her father beamed with pleasure, raised his hand and hi-fived his lovely daughter. “I’m so proud of you!” he said. “So very, very proud.”

Writers are especially vulnerable to failure. Sitting alone staring at a computer screen, as wisps of ideas make their way from the darkened recesses of our pre-conscious mind, is a lonely task. There are no cheerleaders or decibel-shattering student sections to scream when we find the right word or idea. Score a touchdown and the room echoes with silence. Plus, after you re-read that wonderful idea, often it’s not so wonderful.

Since writers’ have plenty of opportunities to fail, Sara Blakely’s lesson is very applicable. The question, “What have I failed at this week?” always has a number of good answers. It’s also true that anytime we sit down to write, something new comes out of our minds.

Even though others may not find value in our work, we are winning. The process of writing is exciting, interesting and challenging. Even if we fail to sell our books, we are winning, because we have the opportunity to do something that is truly creative. What other experience taps into our unconscious minds and produces a unique verbal picture? In the end, it is the process of creating that is so valuable. If we do it long enough, someone, somewhere, may agree that what we write is worth reading and sharing. If they don’t, we still live our lives and create something new every day.

What have I failed at this week?

I wrote four terrible pages, got one rejection, and came up with a new terrible idea. “Great,” Sara’s father would say. “I am very proud of you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Blakely,” I would say. “Thank you for your support and giving us writers another reason to never give up.”

If you enjoyed reading, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist, you might also enjoy Dr. Smukler’s novels, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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IF I WERE JEB BUSH, WHAT WOULD I DO? By Art Smukler MD, author and psychiatrist

A few years ago, Jeb Bush spoke at a lecture series I attended in Manhattan Beach, California. He was articulate, energetic, and had a wealth of ideas that really impressed me. He earned my respect and even my prospective vote if he decided to run for president. FYI… I’m not a democrat or a republican. I vote for who I think is the best person for the job.

A year later, Jeb decided to run. We all know what happened. Donald Trump publicly humiliated him. Why? How?

First, let me give you a little of my back-story. I am somewhat obsessed with the idea of one man battling against great odds to survive and be successful. The caveat is always to do it with ethics and honor — fight hard and never give up! Winning is not winning if you’re a dirty fighter.

Donald Trump sucker-punched Jeb Bush and Jeb never recovered. Trump called him names and publicly mocked his gentle and studious style. True, Trump has an innate ability to find someone’s weakness and exploit that weakness. But, it’s a twisted gift that many bullies exploit, mainly in grade school.

Bush and his fellow republicans didn’t know how to deal with all Trump’s low blows. Politics, as they knew it, was not practiced that way.

Okay, so Trump won that round. Now what?

If I were Jeb Bush, I’d pull in every chit that anyone in power owed me and speak at the Republican National Convention or in a parallel venue. I would openly admit that I was sucker-punched and behaved poorly. I didn’t fight back in a way that made me proud. I would throw politics down the crapper and point out my true opinion of Donald Trump. His insensitive, juvenile mocking style and his aggressive, narcissistic personality make him a dangerous choice for President of the United States. I would advise ALL delegates to vote with their heart and mind and to realize that by supporting someone who behaves the way their chosen delegate behaves is IN THE LONG RUN a big mistake.

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

Posted in Bullying, CHASING BACKWARDS, a psychological murder mystery, Politics, Psychiatry, Self Examination, Skin Dance, a mystery, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear, World events, a psychological view | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

WHY IS THE MIND A MYSTERY? by Art Smukler MD, author & psychiatrist

We’ve gone to the moon and back in a spaceship, invented the Internet, computers, airplanes, internal combustion and electric automobile engines, electricity, television and radio, atomic bombs, antibiotics, antidepressants and antipsychotics, open heart surgery, the wheel, the outside jump shot, a great cup of coffee, the Cuban cigar and Sambuca, and of course the teeny weeny polka dot bikini.

So what’s with the fact that most of us keep doing downright stupid things and make recurrently bad decisions that lead to ongoing misery? If brilliant people can invent all that stuff, why can’t they give us the tools to stop making bad decisions?

When a patient describes an awful decision that he is on the verge of carrying out, I try to help. I say, “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Or; you’re doing the wrong thing! Or; don’t do that! It’s a terrible mistake. Or you’re reliving what happened when you were a boy.” You guessed it. Most of the time, they do it anyway. They are driven beyond reason to do what they have already decided. Rational discussion doesn’t work. It’s like they are psychotic, even though by any reasonable standards, they are perfectly normal.

Here’s one example. Ted, an attractive thirty-year-old attorney, had asked Sally, an attractive accountant, to marry him. In spite of their constant bickering, unsatisfying sexual relations, and a lack of emotional connection after three years of dating, she agreed.

So when I confronted him with these obvious red flags, he ignored my comments, and went ahead with his decision. Twenty years later, I ran into Ted at a party and learned that he was unhappily married and having an affair.

So what’s Ted’s back-story? He had a cold, verbally abusive father and a mother who never protected him from this man. Ted had spent his whole life trying to get his father to love him — he even chose a wife that was the emotional duplicate of him. And Sally, the perfect psychological choice, never disappointed. She spent twenty years verbally abusing him and he kept hoping that she would change and love him.

The underlying psychological dynamic is called a Repetition Compulsion. It is the need to undue early trauma and make it better. It is a very common occurence. Consciously a person chooses a spouse because of beauty, intelligence, money… Unconsciously, he or she chooses a spouse to fix whatever hurt was endured during childhood.

Repetition Compulsion is unconscious. A person doesn’t know he or she is doing this. It is the part of the iceberg that is far below the surface and invisible, yet it holds up the ice that is seen. It is only later, if one has the capacity to examine his or her life and the decisions that were made, that the destructive pattern emerges. Once one sees the pattern, it’s still not so easy to change. But, it can be done. That’s what psychotherapy is all about –- observing the unconscious and getting the courage to change. By examining patterns, dreams, behavior, and the transference relationship between the patient and the therapist, the hidden code of unconscious behavior can be broken.

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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GREAT FICTIONAL CHARACTERS THAT MAKE ME SMILE, by Art Smukler MD, author & psychiatrist

This morning I was reading the packaging on a new toothbrush. No, Mr. Happy Tooth is not a character that makes me smile. The package said to replace the toothbrush when half the blue indicator bristles lose their color.

That got me thinking. Does Jack Reacher, Lee Child’s tough guy character, check the bristles on his toothbrush? Jack Reacher’s ONLY possession is his toothbrush. “Stuff” doesn’t matter to Reacher, only being free and fighting injustice. What a kick. No mortgage. No bills. No cleaners (he buys new clothes when the old ones get dirty). No fear. Dozens of bad guys on the verge of an attack never interfere with his morning cup of coffee.

Then there’s Lucas Davenport, John Sanford’s, rich, fearless and irreverent detective. The bad guys never stand a chance because rules are flexible when it comes to keeping the streets of the Twin Cities safe. I love it when he ignores his politically correct, incompetent boss, and destroys the assholes of the world.

Let’s not forget John Corey, Nelson DeMille’s wise ass, courageous NYPD detective. When we’re not turning the pages as fast as we can read, we’re laughing out loud. Oh yeah. The bad guys never make it.

How about Holden Caulfield, J. D. Salinger’s irreverent teenager who set off 65 years ago, in 1951, to rid the world of phonies. I just re-read Catcher in the Rye and still loved it!

Jason Bourne, Robert Ludlum’s amazing CIA operative is a joy. No matter what the obstacle, even brain washing, the guy always survives.

And my favorite, because he is one of my children, is Joe Belmont, a naive medical student who battles hardened criminals to survive. His task is to wend his way back through the maze of his own mind, in Chasing Backwards.

Everyday life can be tough. Often it is unfair and hurtful. We all live with pain and suffering. What a joy and relief when the characters who populate our fictional world can make us smile and feel safe, if for only a short time.

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

Posted in CHASING BACKWARDS, a psychological murder mystery, Psychiatry, Self Examination, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

DONALD TRUMP, I ADMIT I AM OBSESSED, by Art Smukler MD, author & psychiatrist

The truth is that for many of us, it doesn’t matter what Donald Trump’s stance on the political issues might be. What matters is that Donald Trump shows no respect or sensitivity towards others. He is a “shock-jock” who takes pleasure in humiliating and devaluing anyone who doesn’t kiss his ring. Even more shocking is the fact that millions of Americans have voted for him.

They voted for a name-calling, misogynistic, bully and they are proud of it. He mocked the men who served our country and said he doesn’t respect men who were captured. I just wonder how this bully would have behaved if he were imprisoned by the Viet Cong. Bullies often turn into sniveling babies. That would be my guess.

Can you imagine how this will affect how children behave with other children? Children never learn by being told what to do, they learn by example — the example their parents, peers and elders show. Then they will grow up to continue to emulate what they have learned.

So often, it isn’t what a person says, it is how he says it.

Yes, Trump is entertaining, but so is professional wrestling and visiting the zoo.

Donald Trump has said on dozens of occasions how smart he is. Is a smart man a person who is never wrong, who never apologizes, who publically devalues women and then in the next breath says how much he loves women? He is incapable of seeing the contradictions he presents on a daily basis.

The fact that the Republican Party let this man represent them is a disgrace to the party and our country. At least Jeb Bush came out and said he wouldn’t support him. Too little and too late? It’s never too late to do the right thing.

Why is a psychiatrist writing all this about Donald Trump?

No one lives and works in a vacuum. I don’t want this man representing our country, my patients or me. He is hurting all of us.

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks

Posted in Bullying, Childhood Trauma, Politics, Psychiatry, Raising Children, Self Examination, World events, a psychological view, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments


“Hello Doctor. I hope you can help me. I’ve been terribly depressed.”

“Of course I can help you. I’m Doctor The Donald, the world’s greatest psychiatrist.”

“Greater than Sigmund Freud?”

“Isn’t he dead?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t respect dead people. I only respect live ones…and ones who weren’t captured. Also, wasn’t he a little man with a little goatee?”


“And I know he had nowhere near 8 billion dollars. Maybe he had a few hundred-thousand.”

“But he helped people who couldn’t sleep, who were depressed and anxious, who felt miserable all the time.”

“I’m here to make you great again.”

“I was never great. From the time I was little I felt sad and lonely.”

“Did you have a wall separating your house from your neighbor’s?”

“No. We lived in a small house in Brooklyn, a row house. My father sold the house years ago, and now it’s worth over a million. He always made the wrong decision. Like me.”

“You needed to build a wall to protect yourself from the riffraff that lived next door. Without a wall, anyone can come into your place and bother you or rape your children.”

“I don’t have children. I’m only eighteen.”

“That’s lucky. You can still build the wall.”

“I live in an apartment.”

“At Trump Towers every floor has its own key. I have three floors. Only my key works to open the elevator to my place.”

“I don’t understand.”

“We have rules about having long beards. It’s too Muslim.”

“My beard is short.”

“It can grow. They’ll think you’re an Islamic Mexican. Then you’ll be deported and trapped behind the new wall.”

“What wall?”

“The one the Mexican government will build.”

“I’m not Mexican.”

“You look Mexican.”

“I’m Jewish.”

“So is my daughter.”


“Well, I have to finish up now. Lyin’ Ted is saying mean things about me and I have to defend my greatness.”

“But I’m still depressed.”

“Shave and build a wall. It’ll make you great.”

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks

Posted in Bullying, Politics, Psychiatry, Self Examination, World events, a psychological view, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

OUR GOVERNMENT IN ACTION. GIVE ME A BREAK! by Art Smukler MD, author & psychiatrist

I heard the great news that the US government was able to hack the Apple phone that the San Bernadino terrorists used.

Even as I felt a momentary sense of relief, another vague feeling began its slow ascent from my gut into my head. There was something wrong. Very wrong.

Why would anyone ever divulge this important fact? Now not only is Apple going to make it more difficult to get information from its devices, but every twisted, sadistic terrorist will look for a new way to communicate with his satanic, perverted, religious handler.

Granted, I spend a lot of time reading and writing all types of mystery/spy/intrigue/etc. novels and posts, I can’t be the only one who once again thinks our government needs a course in how-to-run-a-government.

Why else would a man like Donald Trump have made such a powerful connection with millions of Americans? Under normal circumstances there is no way to like this person except to plead for a comped hotel room. Why? He is joyfully challenging almost every “politically correct” concept that so many of us have for years knew were flawed.

His immature, impulsive, narcissistic style is beyond acceptable. The problem is that some of his concepts are very logical.

Secure our borders, CAREFULLY vet all Muslims with even a hint of too much zealous religiosity, make “allies” like Saudi Arabia pay their fair share, fix our trade deficit etc.

Truth be told, I could never vote for such a man.

I’m feeling the Bern.

But, I very much want our government to change!

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks

Posted in Psychiatry, Self Examination, World events, a psychological view, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments


Recently, Bernie Sanders was asked whether he is religious. He said, “Yes, I am religious. When a child is hungry, it really bothers me. When a child can’t get the medication he needs because his parents don’t have insurance, it bothers me. When people are oppressed and discriminated against, it bothers me.”

Years ago, when I decided to become a physician, I was asked by a medical school interviewer why I wanted to become a doctor. I answered, “I want to help people.” The interviewer, a research chemist, then spent the next hour telling me how research chemists also help people. One month later, one of the most important, happiest experiences in my life (ranking up there with marriage and the births of my children) occurred. I was accepted to medical school.

Helping others is really what religion and being a good person is all about. It’s not about pandering to the religious right who HATE everyone who doesn’t agree with them and donates huge amounts of money to the candidates who can hate along with them.

Wouldn’t it be a relief to truly separate church and state, as our constitution espouses, and focus on making our country a place where we once again can spend our energy taking care of each other?

Posted in Psychiatry, Self Examination, Uncategorized, World events, a psychological view | Tagged , , , , | 23 Comments

DONALD TRUMP AND THE BATTERED WIFE SYNDROME, by Art Smukler MD, author & psychiatrist

Everyone has an opinion about why Donald Trump is still the Republicans’ #1 candidate.

His politically incorrect stance on immigration, foreign policy, trade, Muslims, and even on beating up people who disrupt his speeches, is a combination of appalling, intriguing, and flat out entertaining.

Many of his supporters don’t seem a bit bothered by his bullying style. He has stated that if fellow Republicans say anything that is not accurate or a lie it will be his pleasure to sue them. Geez. Maybe if I say the wrong thing he’ll sue me and the notoriety will make me famous enough to sell my books. On the other hand, I don’t know any psychiatrists with an eight billion dollar war chest. Maybe it’s better he doesn’t sue me…

But, back to, Why is this man who has been identified as grandiose, narcissistic, brilliant, a fool, and dozens of other colorful adjectives, still the front-runner and gaining every week in the polls?

There’s a concept in psychiatric thinking that seems to answer the question. It’s called Identification with the Aggressor. Another way to look at it is that the weak find solace and strength in the powerful.

Think about the battered wife who goes out of her way to hide her bruised body and protect the man who regularly harms her. Her perverse logic is that he’s really a good man who can’t help himself. The truth, if she ever has the strength to face her real feelings, is that she believes she desperately needs him. He is the strength that she doesn’t have and without him she believes she will surely fail. She identifies with the bully’s strength and can function better because his strength is now her strength.

So are The Donald’s supporters all like battered wives?


For years we have helplessly endured a pathetic, weak congress who have led our country into a dysfunctional mess. Then along comes a billionaire who couldn’t care less what he says or who he offends. It’s exciting and heady being able to tell the establishment to go to hell. It’s fun watching and listening to someone tell all these professional politicians that they are incompetent fools.

On the other hand, letting a bully loose in the world schoolyard is very dangerous. Just like the battered wife loses her identity as a human being, we risk losing who we are as a democracy and a country that thrives and encourages diversity.

So what’s the answer? Let our current politicos abuse us or let The Donald abuse us?

We don’t have to let anyone abuse us! We are not battered wives or husbands or need to be a battered electorate. Vote for the people you believe in. Forget what party they belong to! Focus on what they can do to solve our current dilemmas. We don’t have to identify with a man we don’t believe in just because he’s not afraid to say whatever thought passes through his mind.

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

Posted in Bullying, CHASING BACKWARDS, a psychological murder mystery, Psychiatry, Self Examination, Skin Dance, a mystery, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear, World events, a psychological view | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

DONALD TRUMP, POTUS? IS IT POSSIBLE? WHY IS HE SO POPULAR? By Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Donald Trump doesn’t care who he offends. Whether you agree or disagree with his political statements, he’s making them without any consideration for the far right Republican Tea Party, the far left Democrats; or the holy grail military. Even the middle-of-the-roaders are standing around with their jaws agape.

If he really wants to become president, why is he making such dramatic politically incorrect statements?

Maybe it’s the fact that he has somewhere between 4 and 8 billion dollars (definitely enough to be considered F U money) and can say whatever he wants. Maybe he’s a narcissist and believes that whatever he thinks or says is verbal gold? Maybe he’s a political Howard Stern and just likes to shock people? Whatever his underlying motivation, his rhetoric is shockingly honest and unique.

He’s actually #1 in the Republican polls. Why is he so popular?

I think the american people are sick and tired of being afraid. Anti-immigration and devaluing of prisoner-of-war John McCain are statements that no one trying to get votes would publicly say, but there are many americans who obviously agree with Trump. Also, maybe it’s not his specific statements that are attracting so many supporters, but the fact that he is actually saying these things aloud rather than spouting all the veiled, politically correct statements that the other candidates bandy about. 

So what does it all mean?

What it means is very scary. He’s actually gaining traction. His outlandish style is attracting millions of followers.

Yet, this man, for all the wrong reasons, can change the political scene. What if all of the candidates took heed and stopped lying and manipulating, and really spoke their hearts? We could actually choose a candidate who had values that could help our country. As a country we need politics to change. We need honest people who aren’t afraid to state their beliefs, and not just a fearless self-serving billionaire. I wish a great leader would emerge. One that says, “You’re hired,” and takes pride in caring for others rather than pompously putting them down. Trump likes people who weren’t captured, yet he never served in the military. How would he tolerate years of abuse? Would he still have a grandiose, all-knowing attitude?

Our broken system needs fixing. And, even though I don’t like or agree with Donald Trump’s politics, I like his style of not being afraid to say what’s on his mind. That’s what the United States is all about.

Picture this very grim scene.

It’s a cold January in 2017 and Donald is standing in front of the White House being sworn in by our Chief Justice. The wind rustles the barren limbs of the trees, thousands of watchers pull up the collars of their heavy coats, and Mr. Trump’s comb-over shimmers over his face as he takes his presidential vow.

Posted in Psychiatry, Self Examination, World events, a psychological view | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments