View: Eighth Grade

As a therapist working with teenagers, I see the same phenomenon happen over and over in my initial sessions. I invite my client in with a parent for the first portion as we review paperwork and how therapy works and discuss the general reasons behind the visit, often from the parents’ perspective. My client typically has their gaze down at the floor, it might flicker up intermittently and is often accompanied by either a furrowed brow of disagreement with whatever the parent is sharing, or a solemn nod of resignation. Then, I excuse the parent for the rest of session, close the door, and almost instantly there is an entirely different energy in the room. My client relaxes, gazes up and starts to share their thoughts on why it is they have wound up in my office and where their side of the story (almost always) differs.

To be clear, I take absolutely zero credit in eliciting this response. My teenage clients tend to have a LOT on their minds to download and explore, but find it excruciatingly painful to even dip a toe in the water in the presence of a parent. I feel confident saying that it is simply my identity as NOT their parent, that allows this shift to take place. I am not attached to the results, sharing with me is low stakes. A lot of my work with teenagers ends up being helping parents to work on relaxing their attachments and simultaneously helping teenagers to empathize with why that is so challenging for parents to do.

The movie ‘Eighth Grade,’ did such a heartbreakingly beautiful job capturing the depth of these quintessentially adolescent silences, both between teenagers and parents and in so many other moments. The thing is, teenagers really get the idea of being attached to the results. They are attached to an invitation to a party, a reply on Snapchat, the number of likes on a post, whether a casual glance was reciprocated in the hall, getting that summer job at the pool, getting the 98% rather than the 95% on the test, the list is excruciatingly long. The challenge is that parents and their kids are often attached to different results and the lack of curiosity about one another’s positions is where the gap widens.

What the above moments of attachment all have in common, is that they are almost always conducted internally in those ‘awkward’ silences. There is a misunderstanding about teenagers that they are lacking, especially in these moments, it is assumed that they are lacking direction, lacking the language, lacking ideas, lacking drive etc. and this couldn’t be further from the truth. In these moments, they are brimming. As the movie illustrates, if parents can work to get more comfortable with silence and loosen their own attachments just a bit, their teens will become radically more willing to step forward out of their silence, even if it's awkward. 

View- Hannah Gadsby: Nanette on Netflix

 

You likely have already heard of the buzz swirling around the new Netflix comedy special, “Nanette,” by Hannah Gadbsy. The special has caught fire due to Hannah’s deft skill at addressing the painful themes of gender-based violence, social constructs behind gender-based oppression and her raw telling of her own repeated assaults, all within the platform of a comedy special.

The first comedy special I remember creating a similar frenzy of excitement and confusion was Tig Notaro’s stand-up special at The Largo, the day after she was diagnosed with severe breast cancer. Both comedians wrestle aloud with their difficulty pursuing their craft while struggling to process their own personal painful life experiences. Both use the raw themes of their life within the set, but both also note the difficulty to really effectively sublimate the material all the way. Use of pain for the purpose of artistry is often a valuable way of re-storying. 

However, both artists come up against their limitations in doing so. Tig encounters this in real time with a palpably confused audience and Hannah names her own refusal to continue using her pain in this way, ultimately leading to statements that she may have to leave comedy entirely. If Tig’s special was about using humor to cope with extreme grief, Hannah’s special is about abandoning humor and taking action to prevent it.

“Nanette,” rings as particularly critical listening as it offers both visibility for hard-hit populations including the LGBTQ+ population as well as those who have experienced assault or other gender-based violence. These are not themes commonly explored in the standup world, in fact, they are populations often exploited in it. Hannah struggles with how to use this platform to bring light to them, while in full transparent awareness that humor and comedy will not do them the justice they deserve and so she abandons that goal openly. It is a portrayal of an artist on the brink of relinquishing her craft because her tools fail to convey the portrait she is moved to create.

As a therapist, my role is continually helping to foster the art of storying and then re-storying the experiences of my clients. What I found so parallel in this performance, was the space we often find ourselves in with silence. The space where tension is created because words fail or because silence and helplessness within massive overwhelming tension are the story. We as clinicians have to become comfortable with tension and to explore where that is unsettling for us. In “Nanette,” the audience is asked to do the same thing and to take it further. Where might tension lead to silence that we need to face, and how do we uphold the social constructs that are behind that silence, or fight against them?  “Nanette,” is a window for empathy and a battle cry for social justice.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/oct/19/tig-notaro-reveals-cancer-on-stage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aE29fiatQ0&feature=youtu.be

 

Welcome

Welcome to the newest feature on this site, Read/View/Listen. I have long debated the value of adding further content to a site where clinical protocol historically makes the claim that it is most appropriate to withhold any potential biases. However, my social work roots are pulling at me to be more vocal where social justice issues require it and so I willingly let go of some previously held opaqueness. Social justice means not only naming injustices in sessions and healing from them behind closed doors, but actively working to make the world my clients step back out into, one that is less likely to bring that same harm over again. So my aim for this space is to offer books, music, movies, tv, articles etc. that may inspire and ignite you the reader, as they have done for me, in the hopes of creating broader change through this local and intimate exchange of ideas. 

I am often asked for resources both of a clinical nature and not, to help illustrate certain discussion points in sessions. Some material will be of a professional nature and others will be widely known in various circles. These resources are meant to offer guidelines to parents in a struggle with their child, to bring new ways of viewing social issues into dinner time dialogue, to inspire curiosity and depth of conversation on long car rides, to illuminate new tools to navigate romantic hurdles, or simply to spark your own reflection on the quiet and solitary pages of your journal. 

Welcome, I invite you to Read/View/Listen along with me.