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My Psychologist Friend and Philip Roth

(I wrote the below blog before I read the news of Kate Spade's death. Facebook writer friends have shared thoughts about it, about depression, and about suicide far more eloquently than I possibly could. Columnists will be doing the same. I'll just say that we don't ever really know what other people are feeling at a given moment, and even when we are aware of their emotional pain, we don't always know how to get through to them. "Shower the people you love with love." James Taylor


The day after Philip Roth died, I got an email with a link to a NY Times appraisal from my friend, Barbara, a brilliant psychologist who used to give me ‘free’ mini-sessions between her 50-minute hours.

She wrote she was sad. “You are the one person I know who I felt really appreciated Philip Roth,” she said.

I used to talk about his books with Barbara. With my parents, too. Beginning in 1959, my mother referred to every splashy party--with or without the chopped liver--as “A Real Goodbye Columbus.”

I loved getting Barbara’s email. We hadn’t been in touch. I wondered if she was angry. She said not at all. Retiring, moving to the Berkshires, and trying to sell her suburban house, which she just did, have left her immobile, unable to come into the city and do much else.

Different places. Geographically. Then some. Busy in our worlds.

I told Barbara to check out my Philip Roth posts on Facebook, write a comment, and read Larry Arnoff’s: “He(Roth) wrote directly about things that are hard to talk about. He confronted family and interpersonal relationships painfully, sometimes joyfully, but always honestly. The reader is forced to look within and may not always want to. His passing, I think, is also part of the passing of a certain world-view and an older way of presenting it. His novels were like feasts.”

The last few years, Larry, a high school classmate, has been in touch with comments on what he reads and book recommendations. In 11th grade, he ‘helped’ me with Intermediate Algebra.

Barbara’s helped with other things. We met on Fire Island months after my very blind date with her ex-husband. He said within our first twenty seconds together, “You and my ex-wife would hit it off.”

We did. Talking about him (he was already history). Work. Books. Marriage. Being single. For years, we had dinners. Just us. With her second husband. Double-dated. She read my work at various stages and commented on it, because she had, she told me, a secret wish to be a writer.

Our last mini-session occurred a decade ago, five months after I met Jonathan. An incident occurred that upset me. Barbara’s initial take was “Yeah, so.” I asked if I should still take him to my friend’s daughter’s wedding that evening, wondering if I should call it quits. “He made a little boo-boo. He’s nervous, still selling,” she said. “You can stay angry at the boo-boo. Or you can dance. You’re smitten. He’s loving. Giving. Unlike the jerks who gave you crumbs.”

I danced. Still do. It beats boo-boo anger.

Barbara is reading THE COUNTERLIFE. I’m reading THE FACTS. She asked if I'm going to an event next week to which we're both invited. I can’t. I teach that night.

I treasure my long-term friendships. And sessions between the 50-minute hours.


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