ARE WRITERS CRAZY TO SPEND THOUSANDS OF HOURS WRITING? By Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Can a writer get money, fame, prestige, and power if his work is successful?

Sure, but how many Conroys, Salingers, or Twains will actually emerge from today’s millions of hungry scribes, and can those few produce characters like Tom Wingo, Holden Caulfield or Huck Finn?

Did you know that in the movie industry, writers are treated like an expendable commodity? The producers have the money and the power, and if one writer isn’t the right flavor they just toss their partially licked ice cream cone into the trash, reach into the pocket of their very-skinny Armani jeans, and buy another writer.

Since most of us are bright and determined, and know that spending thousands of hours writing is like adding a drop of water to the ocean, why do we indulge in this lunacy?

There’s something very special about sharing the stories that are miraculously transferred from our minds to the printed page. The act of creating is like giving birth to an alternative reality. It’s no wonder that attempting to edit our creation is often like Sophie’s Choice. We love all our babies, so choosing which to erase can be very difficult.

I just reread Catcher in the Rye for the fourth time. Even now, over sixty years after it was published, Holden is still able to touch my heart. He is the ultimate, naive anti-hero. Don’t give up, I scream silently, as I grip the worn pocketbook. Don’t let the world control you! Be brave! Don’t capitulate! DON’T EVER SELL OUT!

So are we crazy? Of course, but who cares…

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

BACK STORY — THE ENGINE OF THE UNCONSCIOUS, By Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Remember how tasty and comforting it was to be breast fed? How you fought and yelled when you had to stop pooping in your diaper and had to use the potty?

You don’t remember?

No worries.

99.99 percent of us have no clue as to what happened before age 5. What’s left of that distant past are only shadows and vague innuendoes (psychiatrists call them screen memories), but because we’re walking the streets in our big boy pants, we can assume that toilet training was a rousing success. Also, as a well deserved aside, the male obsession with breasts is also connected with those early not-remembered experiences.

What if, like Joe Belmont, in Chasing Backwards, you had to spend a year in a pediatric hospital, or like Tom Wingo, in Prince of Tides, your father’s brutal behavior haunted you on a daily basis or like Henry Skrimshander, in The Art of Fielding, your father’s critical perfectionism almost ruined you? And what if all those traumatic experiences were only vaguely remembered or not remembered at all?

Most of us weren’t extraordinarily traumatized, but just average kids trying to survive a strange and unfamiliar world. But since all parents are imperfect, every one of us has been to some degree wounded.

Our forgotten past, the Back Story that occurred before we could think clearly, is often the real story. It is the engine that gives us passion or takes our passion away. It is the engine that drives writers to write, physicians to heal, teachers to teach, mechanics to fix and on and on and on.

Art Smukler MD is the author of Skin Dance, a mystery, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear, and the blog, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist.

THE CASE OF AN INCURABLE OBSESSION, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

I just finished reading South of Broad, by Pat Conroy and A Drop of the Hardstuff, by Lawrence Block. Both books were terrific. I learned more about human nature and experienced how the characters dealt with the trauma of their lives. Conroy and Block know how to make that happen. I love being so immersed in a novel that all I can think about is how the main character will survive and win.

Am I on the way to that elite class? Hundreds of people think that Chasing Backwards is also terrific. They tell me they were up all night reading and woke up exhausted. They ask when the sequel is coming out. Part of me is excited. Part of me can’t believe it’s happening.

My wife accuses me of being obsessed, always in front of the computer writing. Is that all you think about? She asks.

You probably know the story of the scorpion and the frog.

“Give me a lift over to the island,” the scorpion says to the frog.

“No. You’ll sting me and I’ll die,” the frog says.

“If I sting you, we’ll both die. That makes no sense,” the scorpion responds.

The frog reluctantly agrees, and the scorpion hops on his back. Halfway to the island, the scorpion stings the frog and they both sink into the water.

“Why did you do that?” the frog croaks, in his dying breath.

“It’s in my nature,” the scorpion says, and drowns.

So, maybe I’m a lot like the scorpion — driven and loving the whole process.

Maybe one day readers will say, I just read Smukler, Conroy and Block. They know how to do it. I never wanted the book to end.

Having an incurable obsession is working. If someone tries to give me psychotherapy or Prozac, I’ll savagely fight them. I don’t want this obsession to go away. I don’t want to be cured! Sometimes having an incurable obsession can get you into medical school or make you into a respected writer.

Sometimes an incurable obsession can simply be called PASSION.

Writers, readers, and therapists, what are your experiences with obsessions?

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HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM? by Art Smukler author and psychiatrist

Dealing with an elephant in the room can be very challenging. Fear, guilt and political incorrectness, are the main reasons why we avoid pointing out what’s sitting right there in front of us.

My father’s a violent drunk, and he’ll beat the crap out of me if I say  anything.

I hate my mother, but feel too guilty to tell her, and that’s why we speak in boring platitudes.

Saudi Arabia continues to spawn terrorists, but we need oil so we don’t do anything about it.

At Joe Paterno’s memorial service, Phil Knight, Nike founder and CEO, was the 1st to bring up the catastrophic sex scandal that rocked Paterno’s legacy and may have even contributed to his rapid demise. Twelve thousand people were in attendance when he stated that he thought Paterno should have been treated by the PSU board and the media in a more respectful manner. It took courage to expose what was obviously on most of the attendees minds. To pretend that there was nothing amiss would have been bizarre.

How we deal with “elephants in the room” is extremely important in both writing and psychotherapy. The essence of creating good fiction is creating conflict, and the essence of good therapy is exposing and removing conflict.

Pat Conroy is a master at creating “elephants in the room” and then exposing them. The Catholic Church and how it relates to his “saintly” mother, in South of Broad, is a fascinating study in how to deal with a life-and-death secret. In Chasing Backwards, Art Smukler’s main character shows how his life depends on exposing the “elephant in the room” that his mother never divulged. Secrets are always fun to read about.

In fiction, how we deal with “an elephant in the room” can make or break a novel’s effectiveness. In real life, it’s usually more helpful to call an elephant an elephant and learn to deal with the roaring and potential stampede.

How do you deal with “elephants in the room”? Any advice? Any examples?

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WHY KILL A SAINT? MOTHERS AND AUTHORS, by Art Smukler MD

The saint I’m referring to is Theresa Belmont, my main character’s mother (In Chasing Backwards). The anger towards “the saint” is one of the novel’s driving forces. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about that anger, but most of the time I just accept it — no problems. Sometimes I even enjoy it.

One of my favorite author’s, Pat Conroy, is a genius when it comes to mothers. In Prince of Tides, his opening lines in the first chapter are awesome.

“It’s your mother,” Sallie said, returning from the phone.

“Tell her I’m dead,” I pleaded. “please tell her I died last week, and you’ve been too busy to call.”

“Please speak to her, she says it’s urgent.”

“She always says it’s urgent. It’s never urgent when she says it’s urgent.”

How can there be such anger towards someone so important? She gave us life and had ultimate power over our ability to survive. We weren’t like little colts who stand immediately after birth. Without intense care, we wouldn’t make it. And it gets even more complicated. In this breast driven society, the image of suckling at your mother’s breast is horrifying to most men (I don’t think women see it exactly that way). Yet horrifying as it may be, from puberty on, our fantasies of breasts and all parts of female anatomy are common obsessions (very pleasant obsessions).

Ambivalence, a combination of love and hate, are common feelings towards dear old mom. There’s no way that anyone can be perfect, including mothers. It’s not possible.

For a writer, the essence of great fiction is conflict. Ambivalence is wonderful! Loving and hating the same person is what it’s all about. It happens in our fiction and it happens in our lives. Wiggling out of impossible, conflictual situations, makes great reading and gives us a chance to learn how we can deal with the difficult problems that present in our own lives.

Thanks, Mom.