Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Ending

Though I ended my last post with a promise to write more about work therapy and the ways that many did in fact benefit from the time and labour that they contributed to the development of Therafields properties, I find myself unable to do so. I have approached writing about Therafields three times over the past 14 years, each time putting much thought and focus into it. After a number of months, however, I have found that my concentration on the material begins to wane. The subject is so vast if taken in all of its many components one could continue almost indefinitely a consideration of events, motivations both conscious and unconscious, and, of course, results. This time around I have had the blog format allowing me to not just think and write, but also to publish some of my thoughts and those of the people whom I interviewed.

I appreciate the emails and comments received from the readers of my posts. I know that the publication of Grant’s book and of my posts has stirred memories for many and controversy for some. I have decided to cease my writing on this topic for the time being. I don’t know when or what might galvanize me to begin again. In the meantime I encourage others to write their own thoughts and feelings about this seminal period in the lives of all of us who were a part of Therafields.

June 3, 2012. Looking at this post more than a year after it was written, it is clear to me that I did not continue with my writing at that time because of a sense of having upset and angered some people by my views and statements. True, I had received a fair amount of positive commentary, but there was also another, more negative feeling coming my way that I found difficult to deal with. It's a hard thing to write about an area in which one is as intimately involved as I have been without upsetting people, sometimes people whom one cares for and respects. This has been the biggest barrier to my continuing though it is clear to me that much more could be said about the various aspects of Therafields and of Lea and her family. Our experience is not entirely unique. Rather, parallels can be found in other intentional communities of that and other eras. At this time I am not sure whether or not I will go back once again to reflections on this material.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Work Therapy: Part 1

In my post of January 19, 2011, I wrote about some similarities in the experiences of the Therafields community with those of the Zen Centre of San Francisco during the 1970s and early 1980s. In both cases the thrust for developing the built environment came from the top, and though the motivations and forms differed, the over-all results led to a significant shift and diminution of the original praxis of both organizations. Richard Baker, the abbot of Zen Centre at the time, was not just a charismatic teacher and leader; he was as well an adept businessman with an innate ability to promote and showcase his products in ways that drew not only more adherents but as well, wealthy and influential patrons. Even before the death of his teacher, Suzuki-Roshi, he had worked tirelessly to develop businesses that could keep the nascent Zen community self-sustaining. When he assumed the position of abbot this entrepreneurial and expansive propensity became more pronounced. In time the Centre was running a bakery, a large, sea-side high-end restaurant, a store selling vegetables and other produce from the Centre’s own farm, the farm itself, buildings to house the various individual adherents and often, their families, and, a monastery/retreat house that catered to lay-people.

Needless to say, all of these enterprises required an enormous amount of care. The day-to-day work was carried out by the “students,” those who had entered the community to practice zazan – that is to learn about themselves in relation to the cosmos through meditation and living in the present moment. As the businesses grew and were successful, more and more labour was required to maintain them. In time many of the students were spending most of their time running, for example, the restaurant or the bakery. Working a twelve hour day leaves little time for meditation or instructions from their teachers. The work itself became the practice.

Until the purchase of the farm in 1967 there was no “Therafields.” There was only Lea’s practice. Work was needed to transform the farm into a center for marathon retreats. The core of her practice, those of us living in house groups and/or attending her standard groups, threw itself into this process of transformation. By Christmas the farm was essentially ready. But the work didn’t stop there. The farm house had to be fixed up for those beginning to form a staff group. In the summer of 1968 a garden was planted, a vestibule was added to the barn, and, Lea and Harry purchased their farm down the road called The Willow. The Willow underwent a succession of improvements, culminating in 1971-72 with its massive extension and renovation. At the farm various improvements were on-going: up-grading the washrooms and the kitchen, creating a large barbeque pit and a pond, developing what became known as “the cooks’ loft,” a building for the “Striders” group of construction and fine-finish workers, a root cellar and a greenhouse, new bedroom/group rooms upstairs in the barn, and, the renovation of the huge loft in the barn for larger meetings or parties. Other work in the rural setting included the renovation of the schoolhouse across from the Willow and the up-grading of other properties purchased in the vicinity of the farm. In Toronto 310, later, 316 and 318-20 Dupont St were purchased and substantially renovated to create offices, group rooms, bio-energetic rooms, and later, a restaurant.

Like at the Zen Centre, all of this activity required a massive involvement of volunteer labour. The early work on the farm was entered into enthusiastically by Lea’s clients, keen to establish a place of our own. As the needs of the construction/renovation machine grew apace, enthusiasm gradually began to lag. A system of moral press-ganging was begun which started right at the top. Lea used every opportunity to speak in groups or in “emergency” meetings called in the city about the importance of work as a central element of our community. Members were encouraged to speak about their desire to work or to confess their failings to adequately contribute. Each of her learning groups was exhorted to take up the challenge of tackling projects that were unfinished. Their clients were to be brought up to the farm or to the Centre to help out. They were to be taught that they had entered into a working community and that a certain amount of participation would be required as partial payment for their therapy.

Lea would appeal to the men to be manly, to muscle up to the work, in a sense to prove their love for her, their faith in her, by being helpful in whatever desperate need was then being trumpeted. Didn’t they know that Visvaldis’ attraction to the community had been because it was a working group? This assertion inverted the actual progression of events as Visvaldis and Lea met and were drawn to one another before the purchase of the original work project: the farm itself. Moreover, though many of the improvements enhanced living and working conditions in the environment, much of Lea’s urge for driving the literally incessant construction and renovation rolled out from 1967 to the mid-1970s was to give Visvaldis a focus and a sense of purpose within the community. Ultimately the demands of the work projects drained the community not only financially but also morally and spiritually. The central vision of the early movement: to receive, learn about, and utilize psychotherapy in one’s own life and, for some people, in helping others, became mired in the constantly renewed demand for and conversation about physical work, by then an important end in itself.

An example of the kind of focus brought to bear about the constant need for volunteer work can be seen in a meeting held in the large group room of the Centre on Dupont St. in December, 1973. All working therapists were asked to show up that evening for a talk with Lea and Visvaldis about the current state of the various work sites. Lea began by saying that the working side of the Therafields enterprise was in a sorry state. She went on to say,
“All of us have the same feelings about the importance of physical work but we’re not getting across to our dramists (then the word for clients) the importance of this aspect. When we got the farm, we at that moment committed ourselves to becoming a working group. There’s no question about that, but when ten people show up to work instead of a hundred, it’s ridiculous.”

Rob spoke up to say that there were always lots of reasons why people slacked off work but that periodically we just need to have our butts kicked. He was clearly including himself in needing that treatment. Visvaldis then spoke about his view that,
“It seems that the pioneering spirit has gone after building the Willow….There seems to be no urge now for building offices for our therapists and the greenhouse up north is dragging. Lea’s office is slow. The spirit that was with us when the Willow was built is not just around. Not in too many. We should ask ourselves why this is so because it was really a dramatic experience there.”

A few people spoke enthusiastically about the work projects and about getting their clients more involved but as usual with these meetings no real answer was given to Visvaldis’ question: why has the spirit gone out of the work? Most present generally kept a low profile. No one came right out and said – “because we are tired of always having to work. We have other things in our lives that are important to us. We are constantly under pressure to perform and moreover, to pressure our clients into performing. We’ve had enough. Give it a break. Stop pushing more and more projects”. To utter such truths would run counter to the myths that Lea and Visvaldis wanted to perpetuate. Lea’s initial statement underlined her determination and delusion, if in fact she really believed it, that “all of us,” i.e., all there present had the same feelings about the primacy of on-going physical work within our community. This particular meeting ended with Lea joking a bit and then saying, “I having a feeling that people are raring to go. Is this right or not?” From a few: “Oh, yes.” Lea: “Would anyone here really interested in tackling this, utter some sound?” Great deal of sound then and laughter. Fade to black. Little accomplished.

One of the group therapists reflected later that “The notion of work as a form of therapy had its good aspects. People said, ‘We can make use of the work experience as a revelation of inner conflicts and work with them.’ But soon there was pressure to exploit people who were in therapy to help out with the building of facilities. There was quite a variety of ways that the therapists handled that pressure. I protected my groups. I gave speeches about people being able to come and work if they felt it would be good for them. I didn’t want to use the super-ego. But that wasn’t common. The stated position was to use the authority of the therapist and to get one’s clients to go. So that was a bad scene.” Like at the Zen Centre the centrality of physical work had the effect of eroding the values and the spirit of the original group as well as diverting its energies and focus from its primary praxis.

In the next post I will write more about work therapy, this time from the perspective of the men and women who dedicated much of themselves to its success.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Farm: Part 2

Last summer I deleted the material in this blog as the person whom I had quoted at length was distressed by it, feeling that I had transgressed on her privacy. In my interviews with people I had made it clear that I intended to write about the things that we discussed but seeing issues in a published form can be difficult nonetheless. I have apologized to her and do so to any other interviewees whom I may have injured by my writing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Farm: Part 1

I realize that many of my posted stories of people who were a part of Therafields have highlighted painful experiences. I believe that it is important for the voices of these people to be heard. At the same time few, if indeed any, of the people with whom I have spoken maintain complete regret about having been a part of the community. At the very least people have expressed gratitude for the friendships that they made and sustained from that time. Many have spoken of things of great value that they learned, sometimes from positive, sometimes from negative experiences. The vast majority of my interviewees spoke of regrets which linger to this day that they were not more energetic about decrying abuses of which they were aware, even if only dimly. There were people who refused to be interviewed when I approached them 14 years ago. Some of these people simply did not want to go back into a place of painful memories which they had put behind them. A few others I believe felt so bitterly about the damage to themselves or to someone in their families that they would not enter into a dialogue with anyone whom they considered to have a more positive view or perhaps was seen to be in some way a part of the problem.

I think unquestionably that some of us were more fortunate than others in what we have taken from the experience. Those who were most injured have been in large part people who in some manner were associated with Lea or her family. I am thinking specifically of the families and their children who were harmed by involvement in Malcolm’s school. Even there, some were more fortunate and the traumas were slighter. There were other men and women who were drawn into involvements with Lea’s daughter to satisfy needs of her own. Then there were those who were caught by Lea’s views and dictums about motherhood and homosexuality. There were people whom Lea lionized and then abandoned as their behaviour or her mood shifted. There were people in Lea’s own inner circle who dedicated themselves to her and her family but who were ultimately left with little. Some of my friends have told me how for years they longed to be close to Lea and to one of the “chosen,” but who now congratulate themselves on having been passed over. To be close to Lea in the 1970s meant being loyal to her personally at the expense of one’s own life and needs. It required a fairly high degree of self-abnegation. To be at the edges of the inner circle was a special place: one had a certain amount of knowledge of what was happening even though the realities were screened through the particular spin of “Lea says.” At the same time one was free of intensive interaction and scrutiny by Lea and able to establish not only various skills but also loyalties and relationships of tremendous value to oneself.

In my last post the discrepancy between what happened at the Willow, Lea’s home, and at Therafields’ farm was mentioned. The farm was purchased in 1967 as a location for marathon work with Lea’s groups. Having a place of our own would allow on-going weekend groups for more intensive therapy than the twice-weekly groups permitted. The work also would be private, not scrutinized by the administration of the various sites where marathons had been previously held. By the early 1970s when the Willow had expanded to become not simply Lea’s home but the locus for most of her work, the farm had also morphed into a space for the performance of functions other than the ones originally conceived. An organic garden was begun and gradually expanded, requiring intensive volunteer labour. Striders, a group formed in 1969 to focus on construction and renovations, was situated at the farm and a building specifically for its use was built. At the same time marathons for most “standard groups” of therapists other than Lea were held at the farm, making use of its facilities and requiring people to provide meals and to clean and care for the premises. A staff living full time at the farm and employed by Therafields gradually evolved to take charge of the garden, the various buildings, and the care and feeding of volunteers and group members who primarily came to the farm on weekends.

A number of the staff came from the group who had been part of the months-long Willow project group that had begun in October, 1971. Some of the group members stayed on after the project wound down and the Willow renovation/construction was concluded. Most had given up their city jobs to remain at the Willow and now wished to continue their close involvement with the farm and the Willow. Remuneration for these positions was modest: room and board as well as a small monthly stipend. Those who stayed on had their own reasons for doing so – a love of the country, a sense of safety at what had become their home, a commitment to Lea and/or the community as a whole, and possibly, an unclear idea of where life might take them if they were to pull away from the closeted life they had been living and move back to the life of regular jobs and house group living.

For most of us involvement at the farm was a regular but partial activity. We had jobs that required our attention during the week. Also those of us in the early learning groups had taken on clients whom we saw for sessions weekly or bi-weekly. Our involvements at the farm consisted of coming for our own groups and of volunteering in the garden, on construction sites, or in the kitchen. A custom was established that members of a therapy marathon one weekend would provide the staff for cooking and cleaning the following weekend. As well a core group of people began to come regularly to the farm on Friday nights, staying until Sunday afternoon, to organize and direct the other volunteers. Tony and Judy most famously led this contingent for at least a year. Others who took charge were Marilyn, Maureen, Lorna, myself, and others, all of whom became accustomed to the routine of the caring for up to 200 people/weekend. It was steady work but often fun and satisfying. We got to meet and spend time with lots of interesting people. On Saturday evenings we would dance to music in the dining room or go out together to the local pub for drinks and music. The farm felt like it was ours because we spent so much time there and contributed such a lot to its functioning.

It was never the same at the Willow. From the fall of 1967 we had done a lot of work fixing up the barn and the farm house for group use and this kind of work continued at the Willow as it went through various expansions and renovations. In the early 1970s from time to time a call would come down to the city on a week-day afternoon, asking for workers for the job site or for a team of women to come up to the Willow to clean. Despite just being home from work a bunch of us would rally, grab a bite to eat, drive up to the Willow, and help out where needed. There was a sense of obligation to help especially when Lea called, as well as a feeling of being close to the “inner sanctum” by being allowed to clean up Lea’s own area, but there was never a real comfort in being there. Learning group meetings took place at the Willow. We would have breaks between sessions there but spend the nights and take most of our meals at the farm. From time to time Lea would cook a meal of fish and chips together with her helpers and we would eat outside on the Willow patio. After my daughter was born in October, 1976, she and I would be given a room at the Willow when we came up for a marathon. I was never comfortable staying there. There was an aura of unreality and tension that I could never quite identify but which I attributed to my own problems. Since I have spoken with many others who had groups there or who worked or stayed there. My own experience was reflected in those of many with whom I conversed.

At the farm the regular weekend menus were fairly simple, even Spartan. Usually lunch consisted of a hearty soup and the famous “Lisa bread,” a dense multi-grain bread made by a local woman. Supper might be baked potatoes, a salad, and perhaps a dessert. As Lea went through various dietary fads, these would be reflected in the menu. However, those of us working in the farm kitchen would be aware that the foods requested and taken down the road to the Willow tended to be more select and varied. Foods consumed at the Willow were paid for out of the same financial pot as those at the farm but there was a definite distinction about who got what. In the next post I will give the experiences of one of the women who worked at the farm for a number of years. She was in a location to experience many of the changes that occurred at the farm and the Willow over the years.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Homosexuality: Part 2

In my last post I presented the painful experiences of a homosexual man in therapy for years as various attempts were made to “cure” him of his homosexuality. It is true that the idea of homosexuality as an illness had been dominant in the mental health community for years. Previously it had been regarded as not only “unnatural” but even criminal behaviour which in many countries could result in punishment by the legal system. In her work Lea challenged many of the accepted views of psychiatry, citing Robert Linder’s book “The Revolutionist’s Handbook” which rails against the psychiatric community and its diagnoses. Yet she encouraged the reading of Bergler’s book “Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life” which placed homosexuality squarely in the realm of pathology. I have mentioned how her own theorizing on issues such as paranoia could lead to statements about profound disturbances lurking within homosexual people.

Yet in practice her treatment of various people who were known to be gay or lesbian varied considerably. Two women who were close to her own household and met certain of her personal needs were known by those close to them to be lesbians. Their relationship was conducted with discretion and was above comment by Lea and others. If anything, Lea would indicate the importance of the relationship for the two women as a healing and growth passage. Another woman who was open about her sexual orientation from the first did not fare so well. Her experiences are detailed below.

“In the fall of 1966 at age seventeen I came to Toronto to go to university. In retrospect I think that I was just a mixed-up teenager. I was already out as a lesbian and had no trouble with that. My girl friend and I were rooming together then. Our relationship caused more turmoil for her at least in part because she had more of a connection to her Catholic roots than I had to my Jewish ones. My family was left-wing and not at all religious. Because we were having problems my girl friend and I went to talk to Mike Quealey at Newman House. He sent me to Lea. Barry tested me and I started working with Grant who was just then beginning to take on clients. My girl friend came into therapy as well but it was decided that we couldn’t live together or even see each other. She immediately became the good guy and I was labelled by Lea, the aggressor. We had a session together with Lea one day and went immediately from living together to not being able to see each other. We moved into separate house groups right away.

Two of the men in my house group, who were sharing a room, had an affair. People went nuts. I can’t remember which one was seen as the bad guy, but they were never able to make peace with one another after that. It was treated almost as a crime. And yet they were perfect for each other. They were both artists and they had similar sensibilities; they were both good looking. It was a match made in heaven.

When the farm was purchased and people began to work up there I wasn’t allowed to come because I was seen as too psychopathic. That became my label for the next 16 years. I think it was because I was a lesbian. I think that beyond that fact Lea just didn’t like me. When I couldn’t go to the farm I just had to take it in my stride. Those things were very painful but the tragic part is that they stopped being painful and just became my own self-image. That’s when the real trouble started for me: my self-image had become what these people thought of me. I got little attention in the house groups. If I said anything my head was bitten off. I got into a lot of trouble for things that I think were just normal, not a big deal. I suffered from obsessing about women that I was attracted to. I couldn’t do anything about my feelings and there were a lot of attractive women around. I think that some of them were lesbians too because there would be an electricity between us and I never kept it a secret. Others kept it a secret and didn’t get into trouble.

One day I was cooking at the Willow. I had Lea’s grandson standing on a stool, helping me to stir the soup. Lea went by and had a fit. She said I was endangering his life. She called an emergency session at the Willow and I was told in front of everyone that I was having indigestion on the flesh of the boy’s mother because I was so devouring. If I had had a car then I would have left but I couldn’t. I became an untouchable. Nobody talked to me for weeks. They just side-stepped me. I think that I wasn’t liked because I saw through things quickly early on. I didn’t like the fact that Rob was spending so much money on himself. I knew that it was really our money. I was told that any issues that I had with Rob had to do with my father. But they weren’t. He was ripping us off. They were all ripping us off. They were living the high life on our money. I remember once cooking a very fancy meal at the Willow. Visvaldis in his robes and Lea in her fancy clothes and her false crown were like the king and queen. I said something about all of the food in the pantry at the Willow and how they were eating seaweed down at the farm. I was told that I had ocular malice.

Once I was with a work group at the Willow washing windows. I had a herniated disk and was in a lot of pain as I stood on the ladder. Lea was inside having a tea party with her special people. They could see me through the window and I guess I looked angry and in pain. At a group later Lea told me that I was an arrogant Jew because I didn’t want to wash her windows. That’s another time that I should have left but by that time I believed these things. I lost the ability to think and make judgements on my own. I began to believe that I was a bad, irresponsible person. I got switched over to another therapist at some point and she really tortured me. I don’t think that she was a bad person but she was a total puppet. If I was upset and called her, I would get into trouble. Once I had a brief fling with a man who had been my client for about 10 days years earlier. I got into so much trouble about that. My therapist called me and laced into me about my psychopathy. Sometimes I saw her and another man together for a session and he would tell me that I wasn’t really homosexual. He wanted me to try to get involved with a friend of mine who is probably as homosexual as I am, or at least asexual.

I was told that I was one of those people who had to burn her bridges, to have nothing to do with my family. I did it though I believe that it was one of the things that caused my mother to die early. I had nothing to do with my parents for about five years and I was an only child. It really destroyed my mother. She was, of course, a very difficult women but she didn’t deserve that treatment because she loved me. She just had her own difficulties. I always felt loved by her but not by these people. Grant was good to me but many people were discouraged from having friendships with me. If it was a girl they would try to separate us. I loved and was attached to one woman, with whom I’m still friends. Barry and I were close. I guess that was allowed because he was a boy. I had a little fling with another fellow once but that was broken up because I was seen as not good enough for him. There was a mood or feeling that some people had toward me that was more than just particular incidents. Once at 82 a house group member told me that when I walked into the room it made the room stink. People could get away with stuff like that. Nobody came to my defence in those groups. I was lucky though because all of that time there was still a little nugget inside me of who I was. I was so demoralized that it was hard for me to hold a job. I got a degree at the university during this time. God knows how. I had been an outstanding student before university but in Toronto I just passed. I also lost my teaching job even after I had tenure because I just couldn’t do it.

In the early 80s one day Lea came over to 82 Admiral with her whole entourage for a visit. I happened to be around. It was my home but I was asked to leave the living room because they were talking about something that I wasn’t to hear. I was so angry that I walked out of the house and got an apartment at 81 Kendal. I started studying the violin with an Israeli woman who started my deprogramming. She would tell me that the Therafields people were crazy and they would tell me that she was crazy. They didn’t want me to have anything to do with her. My therapist gave me a hard time about seeing her. When I moved over to Kendal I tried to enter the local lesbian community but didn’t have the skills to do it. I had lost 15 years.

My ultimate break came over Ka school. I had a pretty good sense of what was happening. I was good friends with one of the men who lived at 59 Admiral. All of a sudden I wasn’t allowed in the house. All sorts of people weren’t allowed in there and weird things were happening. I started to see what was happening in Therafields though I still didn’t feel good about myself. I was very supportive of the parents who removed their children from the school in 1980 and was roundly criticized for this by one of the women in my former house group. I told her that it was none of her business where I went or who I visited. She said that I was being taken in by the powers of darkness. That was the beginning of the end for me. I hated her for a long time but that’s gone now.

Eventually the relationship with my violin teacher was as destructive as the Therafields thing. I was very vulnerable after Therafields and she used me. I was an empty shell, a marionette. The one good thing she did was to force me to reconnect with my parents. I am forever grateful for that. My parents came running though my mother never recovered. She was cruel to me over the next few years. She was angry with me and wanted to get back at me. I had a good conversation with my father about the whole thing. I told him how hard it had been for me in Therafields. He said -- you’ve always had a great sense about injustice. That’s what would have driven you crazy – the hierarchy and the inequalities.

In 1983-4 I started getting very sick. I had a kind of breakdown. I met a fantastic psychiatrist who helped me to put the pieces back together. I saw her two or three times a week and went on an MAO for depression. I saw her for 5 or 6 years. She was very supportive of my relationship with my new girl friend after I had met her. Basically what she did for me was to remind me of who I was before Therafields – my politics and the songs I loved, and I started to heal. I told her in an early session that I had been treated for 15 years for being psychopathic and a paranoid devourer. She just laughed and said I wasn’t the least like that.”

This woman’s experiences underline some of the ways that individuals could be treated if they varied significantly from norms that were accepted by Lea, by therapists close to her, and by extension, within the community. Her reference to the inequity between conditions at the Willow and at the farm where most worked and took their meals bears closer examination. In my next post I will look at these inequities.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Homosexuality: Part I

Edmund Bergler's book, "Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life?" was referred to in my last post. Bergler was a Freudian psychiatrist who believed the commonly held doctrine in the 1950s and beyond, that homosexuality was an illness which was curable if the “patient” was not too badly damaged and if he or she truly wanted to be cured. My interviewee recalled that Lea herself was not too exercised about homosexual activity per se but was more interested in what was termed “latent homosexuality,” a catch-all phrase used to indicate the hostility of men towards women, usually beginning with the mother/matrix. But this is a puzzling usage. If men are hostile toward women, in what way does this reroute their sexuality toward one another? Does latent homosexuality in women refer to hostility toward men, i.e., the father? It was also confusing because of the way that this concept slid somehow into Lea’s interest in “devouring” or “cannibalistic” behavior. Because there were homosexuals in Lea’s practice from early days she thought and speculated about the issues that they raised. Bergler’s book was used as a reference for learning therapists.

Homosexuality was spoken of in groups in many different ways without much clarity. If a gay couple came into therapy they were kept apart and encouraged to enter into their house groups as a family which could help them to grow emotionally. Engaging in sexual activities with one another or with other gays was viewed as “acting out” and was highly discouraged. Heterosexual activity was discouraged in a house group for new clients as well but it was viewed more benignly. Lea would not to my knowledge speak pejoratively of a person’s homosexual activities when working with him or her. Working as a therapist she would engage with the individual in an encouraging manner, focusing on the troubles and problems of that person. In groups talking about homosexuality more speculatively, however, she would make comments which linked active homosexually with psychotic behavior, with pedophilia, or with profound paranoia.

There was a certain threat or dread associated with the idea of homosexuality in the community in the late 1960s and 1970s. Gus, one of Lea’s early clients and a member of the first learning group, would speak of it perhaps in terms learned in his native Newfoundland. It became known jokingly as “dat der queerness,” or “dat der” for short. Many references were made both seriously and in fun about emotional connections between men or between women that smacked of this element. If it was spoken of seriously the intent was to call attention to certain destructive components in the relationship; if in fun, it was used as a tease. For gay or lesbian people who entered into therapy because of the same kinds of confusions and unhappiness that brought any of us to seek help, it was no laughing matter. Their sexual orientation was viewed as a central problem that had to be corrected if their therapy was to be successful. The following recollections are those of a man whose therapy and life were blighted by this approach:

“When I look back on my therapy the thing I am most bitter about is the amount of homophobia that I suffered – starting with Lea. She had an investment in turning everyone out straight, with the men adoring her. All of the feelings of self-loathing that a gay person experiences in this culture anyway were greatly amplified there. It was so wrong. The main thing I have had to deal with since leaving Therafields has been deprogramming myself from the homophobia that was inflicted upon me. My therapist spent a lot of time trying to “cure” me of homosexuality though towards the end he changed. I think he was one of the first therapists to begin to understand that it wasn’t a disease. But most of the time he was very influenced by Lea’s teaching that homosexuality was a sickness that could be cured if one applied oneself. I spent 12 years trying. In individual sessions and in groups the main thrust of my therapy was to cure me of being homosexual. It was very painful, truly horrible. I can forgive a lot of things except that. I had a relationship with a young woman for three years. I loved her as much as I was able but I always knew that my whole self wasn’t engaged and I felt a lot of guilt as I was still having homosexual encounters during that time. It didn’t work, but I tried. Gay people in Therafields took an incredible amount of bashing. Lea would talk about homosexuality as being the same formation within a person as pedophilia.

In one of the short-lived Hypno III groups I had been very depressed and Lea said that I might be suicidal and that I needed a project. It was the fall of 1971and the extension of the Willow had just begun. My project was to last a week. Howie Gerhard, Bill Davidovitz, Karen Ellwood, and others came up for it. Somehow or other we got involved in the construction work at the Willow. Lea decided that we needed to do physical work as well as therapy work. It was cheap labour for the Willow too. She did abreactive work with me, which she later said was the beginning of that work for her. A lot of the people who had come to help were also disturbed and she ended up working with everyone. Some quit their jobs and we stayed on for three months or so. It continued even after I left for 316 St George. In the meantime we did a hell of a lot of physical work. We helped to build that place. It was kind of exciting. We felt that this great historic work was being done and that we were a part of it. Comparisons were made to Findhorn.

At the same time I remember feeling trapped and wanting to get away, partly because I was cut off from having homosexual experiences. During my years in therapy I surreptitiously remained a part of the gay scene in Toronto. When I lived at 123-5 I had a ground floor room. I would crawl out the window and go downtown but it was totally promiscuous sex. If I had had a supportive milieu I might have been able to develop a loving relationship with someone. One of the big ideas for the project was to turn me into a straight guy who could live a normal life and have a girl friend. I explored a lot about my relationships with my parents and my early life. I have always felt though that the main thing I gained from therapy was a deep understanding of psychopathy and narcissism. Lea was good at exposing those elements and showing how destructive they can be. I don’t know if I would have been better off without the therapy that I had. I do see a lot about psychopathy and narcissism in seemingly civilized people and this has helped me in choosing friends. But I don’t know what else I got out of my therapy. I had suffered from depression since I was 12. My aunt who was important and encouraging to me committed suicide then. I felt as though my life had come to an end. I had no one to rely on after that. Since I left therapy I have suffered some depression but nothing like I went through in my early years.

The biggest thing that helped me to work my way out of Therafields was falling in love with my partner. He had never been in a house group but he was involved in the work group at the farm. When we became involved I started to be aware of my anger about the homophobia in Therafields. Attitudes of homophobia are still prevalent in today’s society. I teach kids from Mormon and Muslim families, for example, and it is deeply ingrained in them.

Overall my biggest gain from Therafields was finding my partner. I was racked over the coals for it at the time because I was assisting Adam with the work group when I met him – a member of that group. I wasn’t his therapist but I was supposed to be helping him with his work problems. But I knew from the first time that we had sex that if I didn’t put myself totally into the relationship, that I could be talked out of it. I can see how it could be perceived as unscrupulous behaviour. Gus was very angry and I was roundly confronted in the group. I think that being in Therafields gave me a lot of insight into human nature. I am still angry about the homophobia but I guess that its half and half. Some of the people I never want to see again. I went to the Therafields reunion when it was held a number of years ago. I resisted going and wasn’t planning to. But I did go and once there I didn’t want to leave. There were a lot of people there that I was glad to see.”

In my next post I will give the account of a lesbian woman who suffered discrimination because of her sexual orientation and likely because Lea simply did not like her.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Personal History and Reflections

I would like to present some of the personal histories that people have given me about their journeys through Therafields. Each highlights some aspects of the issues that I have written about as well as particular features of his or her own experiences and reflections. The first of these histories was given to me by a man in an interview in 1997:

“In the spring of 1964 a priest I knew mentioned casually a woman therapist whom he was seeing. I’d always thought that if I saw someone I would like it to be a woman, so I got her number and called her. I was late as always. A cab took me there but I had the wrong number. When I arrived and saw her she seemed a strange lady. We went up to her room on the second floor. She was wearing sunglasses in a darkened room and a green smock. She looked weird but I kind of liked her. I went blathering away about being late and the first thing she said to me was, “You’re very apologetic, aren’t you. Why is that?” I had no idea – for being alive? After I had seen her for several weeks I talked about her to all of my chums.

Lea was on Brunswick Ave then. She started telling me about groups. I wasn`t interested at all. It sounded horrendous. She practically had to sedate me. But by the summer I went into my first group – which was absolutely hair-raising for me. There was a roundish table. She had told me in advance who would be there – a seminarian, a teacher, a truck driver. I got them all wrong. It was awful. I hated every group. At the end of the summer she talked about a house group. I said that I had left my boarding house experiences behind in England. But against my better judgement I did move in. I moved into 477 Brunswick with Mitzi, Grant, Barry, Mike Mohan, Richard Taylor, Bernice, Liz Follis, and Bob someone who didn`t stay long. Lea had moved over to 59 Admiral Road. I was at 477 for two years. It was a great house group. That was the beginning of some important friendships, with these really good people, good friends. Then I had two years at 32 Admiral Road. I was in Therafields for seven years, leaving in 1971. I had been in four house groups, the last one being 123-5 Admiral Road. I hated it; it was so chaotic. I moved out but went on working with people for a little while. Then in 1971 I told Barry that I wanted to leave altogether and he took my clients for me. I went to Dallas, Texas for six months. I felt relieved about getting out but guilty as hell at the same time.

When I first met Lea the huge army of people who came along later didn`t exist. It was one-on-one therapy and she was wonderful. She was full of hope and I felt very encouraged by her. She pointed out lots of ways that I was holding myself back, all kinds of things that wouldn`t have occurred to me in a million years. It was unbelievable. Because I was so enthusiastic about her, all my friends started to drift in. I was a scardy cat about the house groups but I loved it on Brunswick and at 32 Admiral. We had friends everywhere. I loved all that social part of it, the dances, the picnics, etc. What I hated was the big groups. I eventually got over that, especially when I was a therapist and a group therapist. What I didn`t like and resisted from the first was this society within a society that was being shoved down our throats. I felt it right at the beginning when we moved into Brunswick. Lea was talking about some kind of empire building that I was uncomfortable with. She didn`t spell it out but she had an image of something. I was picking up signals and was uncomfortable. Once in the group room at 59 she said -- we’ve got to have more houses, you know, and the real estate in the annex is very expensive. She turned to me and said -- but would you want to go out to Runnymede? There were only about three houses then but I could see that it was becoming a movement and that there wouldn`t be a place for me. She used to say that two years should be the maximum time in therapy and then one should leave. But it seemed to have changed. Now it was a whole life. At 32 Admiral Datsi said once -- we`ll have our own restaurants, our own graveyards, our own priests, our own religion. We howled with laughter because we could see exactly where it was headed and none of my friends liked that direction. How were we all going to live? Would it always be in these rooms, in houses, paying very high rent for a room in a house and having your whole life scrutinized and analyzed? I wanted out but I was burdened with patients and was trying to keep my feelings about this to myself while I was working with people. It was very hard, painful and foul. I felt better when I moved out on my own but it wasn`t easy.

I don`t regret that seven years. It was a way to get through the ‘sixties. Everyone was crazy in the sixties anyway; there was so much happening. The friends that I made in Therafields were the most important thing. On the whole, I liked almost everyone. If I run into anyone from those days now, it`s always marvellous. It`s something we all shared – the horror and the wonder. You can’t take that away. I imagine it`s something like being in the military – it’s intense, but thank God it`s over. No one on the outside will ever really understand what it was like. I`m not sure if I gained anything from the therapy. I`ve asked myself that question many times over the years. I don`t feel bitter over the experience even though Lea drove me nuts. I couldn’t ever be honest. She was always holding me up: Let`s ask him. He`s the one person whose always tells the truth. I thought, God, if I ever did tell the truth, you`d find me hung in the morning. She`d be mad at me. She didn’t want the truth at all, I don`t think. I mean she wanted it when it was to help someone else. If it was about the organization or her kids, never. I’m not stupid. I knew she didn’t want the truth so I didn’t say it. It would have been nice for her if she had seen in me a fellow adult with a brain who had something helpful and true to say to her about her children or about her own personal relationships. But I wouldn’t risk it. In the end that`s what made me so angry with her. She forced me to bullshit and I hated myself for it. Two other people have said the same thing about their relationship with her. Once or twice they did tell her the truth and she fell on them like a ton of bricks. She wasn`t interested. But I guess the therapy itself did do me good. The ideas that I absorbed and now live with me came from 1964 when I first met her. Some I reject and some I don`t. I`ve never felt bitter about any of it because it was too offset by the good things.

I remember Lea saying once to someone in a group -- don`t ever tell anybody anything if you can`t tell it with love. She really meant it. I`ve always tried to practice that because it`s true. The things that I wanted to tell her would have hurt her so much that I couldn`t do it. I felt badly about Harry for one thing. I didn`t know him well. My first encounter with him was at 477 Brunswick where he`d slide cups of tea in to me at sessions. He was old country stock. I have no idea what he was like as a husband and a father but he seemed like a nice old guy.

Barry had lived at the Howland Ave house before he lived with us at 477. I could tell that he was Lea’s boy wonder. The two that she solicited most for their opinions were him and Gus, to a lesser extent, Jack. They were the reliable ones. Barry was good; he seemed very clean in his opinions. I never had the feeling from him that he was just giving the party line. He had a good way of establishing a rapport with people one-on-one. To me he was like a kid brother and we had a lot of fun. We couldn`t have been more unalike except in our enjoyment of the old music. I was able to tell him the truth when I was fed up with Lea and the way things were going in Therafields. He was understanding and tried to help me over the hump without making me tow the party line. Generally, I was treated delicately by the family because they liked me and they knew that I wouldn`t take too much pressure. They encouraged me in some ways to be myself.

I talked to Barry the week before he died. He said that he was scared to death of the surgery he was about to have. He was a terrific loss. I felt that at some point he had put all of the Therafields stuff at arm’s length. I suspect that he knew that his own integrity was endangered. He was a Governor General Award winner and he had a reputation that went beyond Therafields. He was able to straddle both worlds and do it with √©lan. I think that toward the end he put some distance between Rob and himself.

One other thing. I am and always was and always will be a Catholic. My parents were devout and I go to Mass almost every day. I didn`t like what was happening to my religious practice during my time in Therafields though I think it was a sign of the times in the 1960s. After two years or so in therapy I stopped going to church altogether but when my sister died in 1971 it turned me totally around. I feel terrible about what happened to all of those priests in Therafields. Stan Kutz was a kind of spiritual director for me at the Newman Centre. I thought he was a really good priest. I liked him very much. He reminded me of men in my family like my father. Mike Quealey too. I knew him as a priest. There were so many – Ken Plotnik and Maurice. I thought it was bad that they left the priesthood. I felt so at the time and I feel that way even more now. I don`t know what their problems were but they were good priests, the kind we should have. They were sensitive and tough when they needed to be. They were kind, super people. And the nuns too. There is a real shortage of people like that in the church right now. I had become indifferent to the church but my sister`s dying changed all of that in an instant. That`s when I started working to get out of Therafields. Those two communities couldn`t mix.

There was a really bad feeling then about anyone leaving. The apartment building that I moved into was dubbed Paranoid Towers as though those of us who moved there were the paranoids. It was horrible. It hadn`t happened often to me while I was a part of the community but on one occasion I was the low man on the totem pole. When that happened to you, you`re life was hell. Everybody knew that you were the bad guy. I saw other people living that way, isolated from all of their friends. I remember saying to Mike Mohan once around 1967 or 1968 -- I think the people that get ground down most are Stan Kutz and me. But then it stopped for me. I wasn`t any longer seen as a dangerous psychotic, undermining the foundations and so on, but Stan was. He was roasted. It was after his marriage and it went on for months. Different people were stigmatized at different times. It was from Lea and it was endorsed by Barry at times. He may have agreed that someone seemed like a danger to the community. My friends, the ‘group of friends,’ were looked upon as practically fifth columnists. Lea had us turning against one another. She talked about us all to the others. I`ll never forget some of the things she said about my close friends. She said to me once -- you may not always see these people, you know. But I do. Nothing has changed; we are still friends. She didn’t really understand friendship.

Then there was the farm. The worst experience for me was around Christmas time in 1968. Josie picked who she wanted for a project and we went to the farm for about a week. During that time Howard Lever committed suicide. Lea said -- we`ve got to have an emergency group. Everyone must come to the farm. It was scheduled for Sunday. Something warned me not to go so I volunteered to stay and look after Matt. I`m so glad I didn`t go. Lea turned it into a fund-raiser. A friend of mine was there. She was working with Stan Kutz. She never lived in a house group. She went up to the meeting and she described it as horrendous and so did everyone else. Lea turned it all into this thing to buy the Phoenix – a place for schizophrenics like Howard who could be there and be surrounded with help. There would be a soothing green room and a conservatory. I thought it was pipe dream No.28. Of course, it was purchased and it became personal property.

Lea developed a lot of strange feelings about homosexuality over time but it wasn`t like that at the beginning at all. She would see inter-personal relationships as the place that we really had to work. Sexuality never had a chance to come up, not because she stifled it, but because it wasn`t her focus. She never seemed to want to focus on the sex act primarily. Now and then she would say -- that`s very homosexual, you know. People would have a hard time knowing what she meant. She was more interested in unconscious hostility toward women. She seemed to be saying that a lot of men, maybe most men, felt this. It was like a cancer and had to be gotten at. People having sex with someone of their own gender wasn`t of interest to her. She was more interested in latent homosexuality and the way it manifested itself in hostility to women. She had us all read Bergler`s Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life. He had hope for a cure for homosexuals. She thought if there wasn`t too much damage to a person that he might be able to develop heterosexually. In 1971 this approach wasn`t seen as homophobic. Homosexuality was seen as a disorder that needed to be treated. It didn`t seem to bother her if people were sexual with one another. It seemed more of a concern to her how people felt about themselves and others. When I left Therafields I didn`t care to hear anything more about this or about psychology. But ten years later some of my chums who were still there felt that they were being force-fed heterosexuality.”

In my next post I will give the experiences of two people who were profoundly and adversely affected by the tenor of theory and practice with respect to homosexuality.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lea's Thinking

I apologize: this post was put out about six weeks ago but somehow ended up put back into simply draft form. When I posted it just now, it has been inserted at the top of the posts, even above the one that I have just posted today after a six week hiatus. The print of the entire blog has shrunk also. I will see if I can change this. Brenda.

In tracking the changes in Lea's thinking about her practice of therapy in the second half of the 1960s and into the 1970s, it is helpful to examine the books that she was reading and recommending to her students and clients. There may have been others than those I will mention here but these are the ones that I recall. To my standard group she would often refer to a particular Catherine Cookson book that she had just finished. Cookson was a contemporary of Lea's, born in 1906 and living until 1998. She began writing about 1950 and published over 100 novels. Her stories are set in an England familiar to Lea; they showcase romance, class struggle , "wickedness," and often, the triumph of good. The stories are quite readable. They would make a point that Lea was perhaps stressing in her work with someone in the group. This type of reference was quite in tune with Lea's method of working in the group at that time. She rarely, if ever, used academic or psychological terms, and she did not give analyses according to any school or theory. Rather she would invite a person to speak about their trouble -- for example, conflict with a spouse or a boss. She would ask for an example to illuminate the way that the conflict was typically acted out. From this example she could often reach an understanding of the roots of the trouble in the group member, in the other party, or both. She made use of her knowledge of the person, her experience with and understanding of relationships, and, her intuition. Simply being in the group was a learning experience as one observed her moving quite organically from the confusions of the speaker to a clearly enunciated understanding of what was happening. The results could be quite moving as the work sometimes opened the speaker to another level of feeling and awareness of him or her self.

Lea would speak of Freud, though certainly not in terms of any particular theory of his. She encouraged the reading of his works, in particular the New Introductory Lectures, a most readable account of the basic workings of the conscious and unconscious mind. Another book that she recommended was Man's Presumptuous Brain: An Evolutionary Interpretation of Psychosomatic Disease by A.T.W. Simeons, MD. I had had courses in human anatomy and physiology so the base information of this book was not difficult for me. Simeons' interpretation made enormous sense as a base for conceptualizing the power of body work which some of us took on after CAG was founded in 1968. Karl Abraham was a colleague of Freud's who was also suggested. I found his writing somewhat heavier going. We read also Robert Lindner's set of case studies in the Fifty Minute Hour: very interesting.

When Alexander Lowen's book The Betrayal of the Body was published many of us read it, again on Lea's recommendation. I saw in it a future of work which went beyond Freud's "talking cure."

The San Francisco Zen Centre and Therafields

I am well and truly back now from my wonderful experiences in Italy and Egypt with my husband, Mark Hall and some others with whom we were on tour for a time in Egypt. I want to continue writing about issues related to the history of Therafields as I experienced them, relying also on the interviews that I conducted in 1997-8.

I’ve been reading Michael Downing’s book Shoes Outside the Door about the troubles in the Zen Centre in San Francisco that came to a head in 1983 and led to the forced resignation of their abbot, Richard Baker. There is much in Browning’s account that bears resemblance to the dynamics in Therafields that ultimately led to its succession of crises and its dissolution about this same period. There are many important differences as well, but it is instructive to look at another community formed in the 1960s, with a practice at its core – in this case meditation, and with charismatic leadership which went awry, confusing and dividing the core members – not just with one another, but within themselves as well.

The responses that long time members gave about their feelings toward the Zen Buddhist priest, Suzuki-roshi who came from Japan in the early 1960s to found a Zen centre, read very like those given by people who knew and were involved with Lea in the early days of her practice, in the days when her practice was the true and dynamic centre of her life. People said: “I loved him; he was my teacher, my friend; I felt that he saw me and accepted me to the depths.” “I wanted to be around him, there was peace with him; I’d go with some neurotic problem and in ten minutes it didn’t seem like a problem any more. The words would just fall out of my mouth like a pool on the floor and all I would want to do is to be with this beautiful man;” “I loved Suzuki-roshi: he was the most important influence in my life.” “We were his students; he loved us; he would have died for us; he was devoted to us.” “He taught me to trust.” One woman said when she came for the third time to sit at the centre she feared that he would throw her out because she couldn’t sit still like the others. He came by and adjusted something in her posture. “He touched me and there was such love and acceptance in his touch: it was like I had been in a drought. Here was a loving person at last.” “He was what we were doing there.” “What I had to hold onto was my meditation and my helpless transference to Suzuki-roshi.” A man who had been in and out of Harvard a couple of times and had sought out many teachers and philosophers said “When I met him, I knew that he was the guy. I never try even to praise him; I don’t have the words.” “He unequivocally changed my life forever.” “Just watching him, the way he sat (in meditation), the way he stood; we were learning by watching, by imitating. He was just there. He sort of captured all of us.” Browning, pp71-73)

It’s rather like an ancient myth: a mature person comes from afar with an unknown practice and a charisma that together give to some young, idealistic, searching people in the 1960s an emotional home as well as a location for growth within that same practice. Browning captures the power of their capitulation into disciple-hood in these words: “Sometimes it reads like a love story: falling in love with a stranger, falling so far that you forsake all others; falling away from yourself until you are not an American and you are not Japanese and you are not a layperson and you are not a monk and you find yourself wrapped up in a black robe and falling on your knees to bow down in gratitude to the person who occasioned this fortunate fall.” (Pg.71) A major difficulty with losing yourself so entirely to a stranger from afar is that you don’t know what you don’t know. What Suzuki-roshi’s disciples didn’t know was that he had been given a mission to found a centre for the Japanese already living in America, to develop a monastery from which some few could go for training in Japan and ultimately secure the lineage and traditions of Japanese Zen Buddhism among the diaspora. But Suzuki was a bit of a rebel. He had his own ideas about the development of Zen in America. Two key pieces thus were brought into forms as they developed in the Centre: “monks” could be married (certainly not unknown in Japan but still a disputed reality); and, the Centre could be self-sustaining through the entrepreneurial spirit so much a part of the American scene. When Suzuki died in 1971 at the age of 67 of pancreatic cancer, Richard Baker became abbot.

Richard was 33 years old, married with children, and had been for years the spearhead of a number of businesses run by the Centre which made it an extremely profitable enterprise. He had been practicing zazan, the study of the self especially through the practice of meditation, for close to 20 years, and had received Transmission from Suzuki: -- the passing-on of his teacher’s dharma and lineage within the Zen tradition. He was Suzuki’s heir and was accepted as such by the membership – in part because he was Suzuki’s choice and in part because of his own considerable charisma. Over the next 12 years he developed his own way of being abbot. There were problems with that way that created divisions within the membership and within individual members but there was no forum within which these could be addressed. Finally they came to a head in 1983 when Richard was seen to quite openly have an affair with the wife of a wealthy and influential layperson. The crisis occasioned by the husband’s public outrage gave the Board and the Abbot’s Council – many of them the same people – a space, a perceived permission to speak of, to acknowledge their hitherto unexpressed, unshared concerns and doubts about Richard’s stewardship. He was asked to resign. The problems had come to a head over a sexual issue but had their roots more in the extravagant life-style that Richard had assumed for himself as the head of the Centre. The regulars, students who lived and worked at the Centre and in its multitude of businesses received a small stipend in addition to room and board. Richard had ways of manipulation, unacknowledged even to himself most likely, to protect himself from criticism and dissent. Sex, money, power, charisma, obedience, the desire for things to be alright, a leader who cannot grasp or acknowledge his own failures and limitations, self-censorship, and the censorship perpetrated by the leader through denial, rejection and shunning: all familiar pieces to anyone close to the centre of Therafields over the 1970s.

In the Japanese Zen tradition the teacher is viewed as enlightened but not perfect. The teacher can make mistakes; the student needs to see these and to learn from them as things to avoid. Enlightenment or Kensho, literally means, “Having seen a corner of the nature of things,” or, “Getting a glimpse of it from time to time.” It’s like Winnicott’s “good-enough mother.” You do the best you can but you can never be perfect and to try to be perfect or to set yourself up as being perfect is a distortion that divides you from yourself and from others. This was the missing piece for the membership at the Zen Centre over the years of Richard’s stewardship. It was also the missing piece in Therafields from the days when Lea’s core connection with her clients and students changed profoundly in its nature. The core changed but that fact could not be acknowledged. Too much was invested in the way things had been, both for Lea and for us. We didn’t have the perspective to see Lea as one of a possible number of teachers who could help to give direction to our lives. We couldn’t, as a nascent community, accept her fallibility. We had no experience of a person like our own stranger from afar and like the people who met Suzuki in the 1960s, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. People who had worked with Lea, who loved her and owed a great deal to her and who were committed to being a part of the community that had formed around her, became divided within themselves in the same way that she was divided. No one could say that the emperor had no clothes. No one could say: Lea has made some bad decisions and is not being open or honest about them. This is not working; we have to acknowledge that fact and so does Lea; we have to get back to basics and see what we are about. Others need to come forward to carry on not just her work but her leadership. There were people who had the capacity for doing just that. Why this did not happen both early on and much later in the history of Therafields involves all of the usual sources of human failures to which we are subject, some of which I hope to explore in future posts.

I appreciate hearing from people about the posts and would be happy to speak with anyone interested in contacting me about their reactions or their own personal experiences.