January 17, 2016
"Well, my therapist says..."; plus a sad farewell to Gapers Block.
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I've only been mentioning this in passing so far since it started, but I thought today would be a good time to finally go into detail about the therapist I'm now seeing; after all, for the 18 years I've now been maintaining this online journal (18 years, sheesh), it's served as a kind of self-administered therapy on its own, something that's gained an audience precisely because I'm so self-analytical here, so I thought all of you would be interested in knowing how an actual medically trained professional therapist is both helping and changing the process of me writing about myself in a self-reflective way.

The first big thing to know is that it's not something I deliberately sought out, but rather started as an accidental by-product of something else I took on; namely, the five months or so that I spent at the DevBootcamp computer programming school last year, as step 1 in my new coming career as a coder. "Bootcamps" are called that for a good reason, because they're so ridiculously intense as to be almost unfinishable, basically an attempt to take everything you might learn in a two-year Associate's degree at a community college and squeeze it all into a breakneck 18 weeks; so in my case, that amounted to 14-hour days once you factor in my commute there and back, a full seven days a week without any breaks, a process so rough that it caused two full-blown anxiety attacks while I was attending, not to mention the kind of dropout rate from other students exactly like what you would expect. (There were around twenty people in my cohort on day one, and only twelve of us left by graduation, albeit several of those people simply joined a new cohort so to repeat one of the phases, and didn't drop out altogether.)

DBC in particular, then, tries to help their students with all this stress through a series of quasi-New-Agey benefits, all of them free with your tuition -- required yoga once a week (with optional guided sessions the other days), weekly workshops on "engineering empathy" topics (like how to practice better self-care, how to give non-confrontational feedback to a co-worker, etc), and a licensed full-time psychotherapist on staff, with the option to sign up for a free half-hour session every single week you're there if you want. And while I was at DBC, I tried as much as possible to embrace the "always say yes" attitude they try to foster there, so I went ahead and signed up for those weekly sessions, despite having spent most of my life having deep misgivings about the psychoanalytical process, mostly because of being forced as a "gifted" child to endure therapy sessions with unqualified school counselors in the "Try Random Shit And See What Works" 1970s, and having the experience generally do a lot more harm to me than good.

But I lucked out at DevBootcamp -- their therapist, E., turned out to be roughly the same age as me, with roughly the same background (an art-school graduate who in middle-age decided to change into a completely new career), and roughly the same cultural mindset (a former punk-rocker who went to college in Olympia, Washington at the same time Sleater-Kinney was there). So that allows E. to see my own life in the kind of context that's really helpful to me, and to kind of deeply understand the unique mental issues that come with trying to be a professional in the arts, what it's like for a deeply subversive person to try to interact in a mainstream community like the tech industry, etc. And this is not to mention that E. very thankfully takes a nuanced, complicated position about nearly all issues we deal with, which is always a gamble when it comes to a leftist who deals with New-Agey issues for a living; just for one example, when I learned that one of our engineering empathy sessions was going to be on the topic of sexism in the tech industry, I immediately started gritting my teeth in preparation for the insulting lecture about "horrible white males" that usually comes from do-gooder liberals when this subject is brought up, but under E.'s guidance it actually turned out to be one of the most fair and most interesting talks I've ever experienced on the subject. And all those things allowed me to have a really great experience with her during my time as a student; and so when I finally graduated DBC last August and my opportunity for free sessions was over, I accepted her invitation to continue seeing her in her private practice instead, and ever since then have been meeting up with her twice a month at her office in Andersonville (ironically in Chicago's "Silicon Alley" there on Ravenswood Avenue -- locals will know what I'm talking about).

And the other big thing to make clear is that my time in therapy is a lot different than how it's portrayed in movies and television -- I have no particular crises in my life, no particular problems that I'm trying to "work out" or "process," but rather have been struck by how similar my conversations with E. are to just the normal conversations I might have with a good friend over a couple of glasses of wine -- funny and rambling, yet honest and intimate, with E. occasionally piping up with a comment or insight that I hadn't thought of before, but mostly existing just to be a patient and active listener. In fact, this has recently been a source of confusion and interest to me -- I'm such an analytical person just on my own that I tend to provide a lot of my own analysis in our actual sessions, and I worried that I wasn't letting E. do the job she's getting paid to do (or put another way, that I wasn't getting my money's worth), especially when it came to the idea that maybe my own analysis was wrong, and that there were hidden things in the statements I was making that I simply wasn't seeing, and that would make me understand my life better if they were pointed out to me confrontational-style, much like how therapy has been portrayed in such famous stories like The Sopranos, Prince of Tides and Ordinary People.

The way E. describes it, though, is that the relationship between a therapist and a client is a little different in every case; and that my tendency to analyze my own behavior is actually a good thing, and makes our particular relationship more of a collaboration than the typical confrontational "authority figure" that therapists are so often portrayed as in popular culture. (Plus, she made it clear that she does actually have that kind of relationship with some of her other clients, that that is indeed something that happens when the situation calls for it.) And so as a result, therapy has so far done me a world of good, despite it being a much different and more casual process than I thought it was going to be -- I now understand my last romantic relationship in a profoundly better way than I did before (important because I'm planning on finally starting to date again this year, for the first time in a decade), and I also understand my complicated relationship with coding and the arts with a kind of clarity that I would've never had without E.'s help. In fact, there's only one big drawback in therapy at all for me, which is that I've officially become one of those fucking douchebags who's always saying in casual conversation, "Well, my therapist said..." and "Oh, I was just talking about this in therapy the other day, and..." I've always hated those kinds of people, which makes me kind of disgusted at myself for becoming one of them; so I'm in the middle of trying not to do that so much anymore, and I appreciate your patience if you ever run into me out in the real world and I occasionally slip statements like that into our conversations.

- x -

And finally today, I wanted to say a sad farewell to a local website that has meant a lot to me over the years, the arts-and-entertainment publication Gapers Block which was founded and run by my friend Andrew Huff. Gapers Block was meant to be a sort of direct competitor to the Chicago Reader in a digital age, and was started up at almost the exact same time as my arts organization CCLaP; and so the two organizations have always had an entwined history, with Gapers Block featuring many of CCLaP's events and books over the years, both groups sharing several employees, and my friendship with Andrew forming directly because of all this. But alas, Andrew learned the tough lesson that all of us content generators eventually learn the hard way, that selling advertisements in order to stay afloat is one of the toughest gigs one can even have in the entire world of white-collar jobs, one that requires just an insane amount of revenue, dedication, and patience with high staff turnover (I still remember the brief time I worked for the Reader almost twenty years ago, and how dismayed I was to learn that over two-thirds of their staff and half their office space was dedicated to nothing but selling ads, with there being people quitting that department and getting hired for that department literally on a weekly basis all year long); and so Gapers Block suffered the same fate that CCLaP has suffered this year, not to mention the equally great Redmoon Theater here in Chicago, that all three of us simply ran out of money to stay open and active at our former level anymore, and that doing it as a "labor of love" hobby was no longer worth all the immense amount of work such a thing requires.

It's a particularly heartbreaking thing when a creative organization does a great job at what they aim to do, yet go out of business anyway; and that's very much the case with Gapers Block, an organization that always stayed professional and fascinating throughout their entire ten-year run, and a place I turned to daily to learn about all the newest interesting things going on in the arts in such a huge and busy city like Chicago, a place where you really need a guide like this to filter through the sheer amount of options one has for going out on a nightly basis. I've been a huge admirer over the years of how much work and dedication Andrew put into making the site a success, a funny and friendly guy who served as a real inspiration to me; and although we can all agree that these kinds of things simply happen on a regular basis, I still think it sucks that it happened to Andrew in particular, an emotional blow to any entrepreneur that is more difficult to emotionally recover from than all those tech-industry "Don't be afraid to fail!" articles suggest. Andrew's already at work at the next phase of his career, and I'm sure he'll be a big success at it; but I at least wanted to take a moment and lament the end of his creative baby, and to mention how admired it was and how much it will be missed by all of us who were former daily visitors.

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