March 6th, 2013 / 3:37 pm

On Therapy


If the split-screen dialog between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (1978) seems perfectly timed, of masterful cadence, that is because it was filmed in the same take, the actors next to each other. They built two adjacent therapists’ offices for this. Allen, of course, could have spliced the disparate takes into one, but the “organic,” however inefficient, way of doing this aids the subtly. Alvy is seen in a mahogany-lined office with a Heidegger look-alike — being and time, or rather, time being almost up. Psychotherapists may be called “shrinks” in reference to the Freudian super-ego (conscience, the cause of suffering) one tried to shrink; or, it was first a derisive term from tribal “headshrinkers” who dried the decapitated heads of their enemies. A euphemism for therapist is analyst, the Freudian ghost of anal safely tucked away in the venture. (To see “the rapist” in therapist is, however, your own problem.) Whenever I call my mental health care provider to neurotically reconfirm the breadth of my insurance, an intake counselor pensively — though trained to seem calm, casual — asks me if I feel like either harming myself or others. A phenomenological response would throw us into a two hour conversation, so I just answer No. My therapist is a homosexual Buddhist suspicious that I might be homosexual and Buddhist as well, despite all my efforts to convey otherwise.


We argue. He suggests I blow a dude, I scan his wall of diplomas for rainbows. I blame everything on my dad and he blames me — at least, the “construct” of me, which I am to see from a neutral distance i.e. “the continuous self” — and I wonder if this zen shit is even working. I’m sober now, and constantly more irritable, which is a dangerous combination just two miles from the nearest BevMo. The point is, he says, to let yourself feel — pushing that word into italics with teeth against lips — the way you do. To be present. We work on “mindfulness” exercises where I am to visualize my breath. I envision my nostrils being fucked by two conjoined midgets. Need to lay off the dwarf porn. Fridays roll around and co-workers talk of Happy Hour — whose implication that we as a race are otherwise unhappy every single hour of every other single day of the week I find morbidly touching — and I coyly mention that I have therapy. They get embarrassed and grow quiet, as if some boundary had been crossed, as if I should have simply lied and said I’m getting a hair cut.

Alvy and Annie eventually break up. They’re verbally and demographically perfect for each other i.e. long-winded conversations and complicit esoteric references, but not in bed, thus in life. The intellectual’s tragedy, perhaps arrogance, is that a mouth’s connection to the mind would ever be more meaningful than on a lover’s swollen gland. Both Heidegger and Freud dug themselves into a hole, but only the latter was smart enough to use lube. My gay monk talks to me for one hour every Friday, and while I’m grateful to him (and my insurance), part of me just wants the opposite of him: a heterosexual whore who doesn’t charge me a co-pay. I am likely to arrive early to my six o’clock appointment. There’s a tree I sit by, and tweet. Dates pass me and I feel protected by my phone. I stare into it as if it were important correspondence with an imminent date, to show these people that I too mattered. Loneliness, if untreated, will become violent. Like an unfed pet. I enjoy imagining Chen Chili in my condo after a grenade. To tweet “i want to die” seems rather high school, so I hit the backspace button — an erasure I wish went back to my chromosomes — and get up and ring my therapist’s doorbell. A leaf falls, a pigeon flies. I’m not gay. Everything else feels like an audition for a movie. The seconds waiting to be buzzed in hurt, and keep going.



  1. Meek

      I like it when you write things, Mr Chen. Thank you.

  2. mimi

      i am hybrid – vengeful child and adapted self – so says my therapist

  3. Luther Blissett

      Alvy’s shrink looks nothing like Heidegger.

  4. Jimmy Chen

      i was speaking of a general countenance, not a comparison of facial features, though will concede that ‘look-alike’ was perhaps not the best word choice

  5. Erik Stinson

      i need therapy i think

  6. A D Jameson

      FWIW, I read somewhere that doing the splitscreen as a set was Gordon Willis’s idea.

  7. leapsloth14

      r u really sober now? I was thinking of visiting you, but fuck it now

  8. deadgod

      Nam artificem quidem San Francisco ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illa puellas docerent: Τεχνῖτα τί θέλεις; tweetebat ille: ἀποθανεῖν θέλω.

  9. mimi

      thanks goodness for google-translate
      van egy út

  10. deadgod

      There is a way magically to understand, a bit.

      I was repurposing the epigraph, quoted from the longish fragment of what’s often called The Satyricon, to The Waste Land.

  11. mimi

      grazie, mio amico mortodivino

  12. bemightee

      this: “My therapist is a homosexual Buddhist suspicious that I might be
      homosexual and Buddhist as well, despite all my efforts to convey
      otherwise.” muhaha

  13. Frank Rodriguez

      Also i thought a point in the film was that they were not demographically compatible. She was a (shallow) LA person and he was a sad New York Jew. Maybe “emotionally” compatible, to make a triad.

      Enjoyed this, regardless.