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Michael Chabon: On What 'Manhood' Means.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist opens up about his experiences as a father to four children and husband to writer Ayelet Waldman in his book of personal essays, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son, now out in paperback.

This interview originally aired on October 7, 2009.

20:51

Other segments from the episode on June 25, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 25, 2010: Interview with Michael Chabon; Interview with Dr. Dan Gottlieb; Review of documentary films "The Lottery" and "Restrepo."

Transcript

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Michael Chabon: On What 'Manhood' Means

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

Michael Chabon, is best known for his novels "The Yiddish Policemen's Union,"
"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" - which won a Pulitzer Prize -
"Wonder Boys" and "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh." He's also written personal
essays, and some of them are collected in his latest book, which is now out in
paperback. It's called "Manhood For Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a
Husband, Father, and Son."

Chabon is married to the novelist Ayelet Waldman, who wrote a memoir earlier
this year about her life as a mother. Chabon and Waldman have four children:
two boys and two girls. Terry spoke to Michael Chabon last year, when "Manhood
for Amateurs" was first published.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Michael Chabon, welcome to FRESH AIR. I'd like you to read the opening of one
of the chapters from your new book, "Manhood for Amateurs."

Mr. MICHAEL CHABON (Author, "Manhood For Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of
a Husband, Father, and Son"): Great, I'd love to. This is "William and I."

(Reading) The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is
so pitifully low. One day a few years back, I took my youngest son to the
market around the corner from our house in Berkeley, California, a town where,
in my estimation, fathers generally do a passable job, with some fathers having
been known to go a little overboard.

I was holding my 20-month-old in one arm and unloading the shopping cart onto
the check-out counter with the other. I don't remember what I was thinking
about at the time, but it is as likely to have been the original 1979 jingle
for Honey Nut Cheerios or nothing at all as it was the needs, demands or
ineffable wonder of my son.

I wasn't quite sure why the woman in line behind us, when I became aware of
her, kept beaming so fondly in our direction. She had on rainbow leggings, and
I thought she might be a little bit crazy and therefore fond of everyone. You
are such a good dad, she said finally. I can tell.

GROSS: What struck you as odd or baffling about the praise you were getting for
being such a good dad in the supermarket?

Mr. CHABON: Well, because I wasn't doing anything. I mean, I was literally
doing nothing, but, you know - and then in fact, as I go on to say in the
piece, I think if you stepped back and looked at me critically, I was probably
making a few errors in parenting at that point. Like, my kid was chewing on one
of the twist ties for the fruit for the produce bags, and, you know, his face
was dirty and his hair was a mess.

I mean, objectively speaking, even by my own standards, I was doing kind of a
lousy job at that moment. I certainly wasn't doing a good job, and yet there I
was being given this gift of praise and so much credit, and it was clearly, and
is often - as always the case - or often the case, anyway. It's just because
the mere fact somehow that I'm just there, you know, holding onto my kid.
That's, like, enough. That's all it takes to qualify sometimes.

GROSS: You and your wife are both writers, and I'm always so interested when
writers are couples, in part because there's an element of writing that
includes a certain amount of betrayal because whether you're writing a memoir
or fiction, there's something you're going to be revealing about people you're
close to, you know, whether it's transformed through fiction or whether it's,
you know, straightforward through personal essay or memoir.

And when you're both in that position, it's something that I assume you really
understand about what each other needs to do. I don't know if it makes it any
easier, though.

And most of your writing has been fiction. Most of your wife's writing has been
fiction, although her previous book was personal essays, as is yours.

And so I wonder what it's like for you when she writes really personal things
that include things like how you decided to terminate a pregnancy after
amniocentesis or that she had considered suicide for a moment. I mean, there
are so personal things that, you know - is it hard for you to read that? Is it
hard for - are there reverberations in your life that are unexpected from
things like that?

Mr. CHABON: Well, yes. I mean, you know, it's not like, you know, a scene in a
movie where, like, you know, the guy, Spencer Tracy, like picks up his morning
newspaper and there's this, like, thing his wife has written about them - and,
you know, and like what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHABON: You know, I mean, we share work with each other as it's coming out
of the printer, you know. So if she's written a piece or I've written a piece
that is in some way personal or in which one of us says something about the
other, you know, we're each other's first reader.

So, you know, let's use her as an example. So say she's writing something, you
know, the piece about the genetic termination. You know, I mean, she was
sharing - first of all, she was sharing it with me as she was writing it, and
she was - she - I knew she was going to write it. And then she wrote it, and I
read it.

And, you know, at that point for her or for me, I think each of us implicitly
feels that he or she has the right to, you know, to say I'm not comfortable
with that.

In practice, it doesn't really happen that often. I think, you know, it's -
that's where we do have a recognition, a fundamental recognition that that's
where writing comes from, whether it's fiction or nonfiction.

So I try to be philosophical about it. And, you know, but there's still - there
are unforeseen consequences, and there are things, you know, she wrote that now
kind of infamous piece that was published in the New York Times, and it had
initially just been written for this little anthology. So...

GROSS: I'm going to stop you and quote it so everybody knows what you're
talking about.

Mr. CHABON: Okay. Oh, God.

GROSS: She said that she loved her husband more than her children, and then she
said: If I were to lose one of my children, God forbid, even if I lost all my
children, God forbid, I would still have my husband. But my imagination simply
fails when I try to picture a future beyond my husband's death. So that was,
like, the real controversial thing that she wrote.

Mr. CHABON: Yes, right. And, you know, so from my point of view, reading that
piece, first of all, that's just Ayelet. That's what she says. She's been
saying that for years.

You know, I was – by the point - by the time she got around to writing that
down, I had been living with that kind of expression of her feeling for a long
time. It just didn't even - it just really kind of blew over me without my even
paying that much attention or thinking, like...

GROSS: Yes, whereas a lot of readers though, like, what kind of mother is she?

Mr. CHABON: Exactly.

GROSS: She loves her husband more than her children. How can any mother say
that? So that's what made it so controversial.

Mr. CHABON: Right.

GROSS: So anyways, go ahead. I interrupted you.

Mr. CHABON: Yes, and I mean, I didn't even - you know, I'm just, like, yup,
that's how you feel, honey. I know that. Thank you. You know, it's sweet that
you're so devoted to me, and I love you, too.

I mean, it was just sort of a - you know, to me, what caught my attention more
in that piece was that she was writing about sex and not only, you know, our
sex life, not that she was really going into detail, but she was at least
acknowledging the fact that we do have a sex life, and then, you know, talking
about her - you know, women she knows and their sex lives.

I mean, to me that was what I thought the piece was about, and that's where I
thought the sort of buzz in it might come from. But then it was just going to
be in this little anthology, and nobody was going to read it, and by circuitous
means, it ended up being in the New York Times.

And, you know, that was one of the moments, maybe the single greatest moment
where suddenly, you know, I had not really anticipated what the reaction would
be or what the response would be or how that might play out.

So I was getting, you know, emails from people saying hey, sex god, and, you
know, and just - and it was not - you know, I wasn't ready. I had not been
prepared in that sense, even though I knew, as I said, I already knew what was
in it and had approved it, you know, tacitly.

GROSS: Does that make you think twice about revealing personal things in your
writing or saying yes, go ahead and publish it when your wife shows you
something personal that she's about to publish?

Mr. CHABON: No. Not really. I mean, it's - look, that's the stuff that you make
writing out of, whether you fictionalize it or whether you present as
nonfiction. That's the stuff that you make good writing out of.

And the stuff that you know for sure is working, is going to connect, is going
to make somebody want to keep reading it, is the stuff that makes you feel
uncomfortable as you're writing it, always. And that's the ultimate sign to me
that I'm on to something is if I'm squirming a little bit as I'm writing about
it, if it's making me feel uncomfortable, if I feel like I'm verging on things
that make me nervous. And I know I'm...

GROSS: Give me an example of something that made you squirm that you wrote.

Mr. CHABON: Well, they tell a story - I tell a story in this book about a woman
who was a friend of my mother's who I had sex with when I was 15 years old. And
that's a story - until I wrote it down, that was a story that I had told very
few people, two maybe, or three in my whole life.

And so, you know - and it had been suggested to me that I might - I'd never
tried writing about, you know, my first sexual experience, and I decided that
my first sexual experience wasn't that interesting, but my second.

There was a story there, and I knew it, and I had lived with it for all of
these years without ever telling it in any really detailed way. So, you know, I
started writing this piece, and I got that sense right away, of like wow, am I
really going to do this? Am I really going to write about this, you know,
partly - not because it's really that shocking or controversial.

It was almost just the fact that I had held onto it so tightly for so long that
it felt strange to kind of open up that jar finally and let it out.

But, you know, that was - as soon as I had that sense of unease or hesitation
or a feeling of, like, maybe I should come up with something else, that was the
moment I said to myself: Keep going because this is where stuff comes from.

GROSS: Okay, the story about having sex with your mother's friend, so you felt,
you know, that squirmy feeling as you wrote it.

Mr. CHABON: Yeah. And right now sitting here in my chair, I'm having it all
over again, as you're preparing to ask me the question.

GROSS: I can understand that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But I guess I'm wondering...

Mr. CHABON: I brought it up.

GROSS: I guess I'm wondering what the value you see in it as a story is. I
mean, we've established it makes you uncomfortable. It's something you'd held
onto for a long time. It was kind of a secret, except for a few people.

But now that it's out there, now that you've found the words to tell it, now
that you've been able to make this event in your life into a story, what does
it mean to you as a story?

Mr. CHABON: I guess ultimately, it says something to me - it helped, if that's
the right word, create, in part, the template for sex in my life so that, you
know, there was something - there was a difficulty there.

You know, the first experience was sort of a much more typical kind of teenage
first experience. The second experience was this brush with the adult world, a
kind of premature brush with the adult world, with an adult, with an adult
life, you know. And I think it sort of - it pushed me up against the
seriousness and the actual kind of emotional power of sex.

GROSS: And complications.

Mr. CHABON: Yeah, in a way that I wasn't - you know, I just hadn't ever - I was
15 years old. I mean, you know, it was Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard
Light" was, you know, kind of what I thought the sum total of sex would be, you
know, avoid getting the girl pregnant and enjoy yourself.

So, you know, it was - it was a strange thing to do at that age, and to
suddenly be presented with a sense that, like, there was a lot of weight and
power and sort of sadness, even, that kind of lurks in the sexual relationships
between people.

And, you know, what my reaction to that was was to kind of close that door and
say, you know, I'm just not ready for that yet. I can't handle that. I don't
want to know that now. But it - you know, I think that did shift my perspective
on the subject thereafter.

GROSS: Yeah, that's really interesting. I could see how that would definitely,
you know, complicate things for you. Did your mother know before you wrote the
book?

Mr. CHABON: No, no. She didn't. She didn't know until, you know, she read the
piece as it was published. And we had a relatively brief and sort of
emotionally neutral exchange of information about the piece. You know, I
satisfied her curiosity, and in her kind of characteristic way, she shrugged it
off, and, you know, it didn't seem to - I don't know. I honestly don't know
what she thought when she read it or how she felt when she read it, and I
didn't ask.

BIANCULLI: Michael Chabon, speaking to Terry Gross last year. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2009 interview with author and essayist
Michael Chabon. His latest volume of collected essays, called "Manhood for
Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son," is now out
in paperback.

GROSS: David Foster Wallace, the writer who was a friend of yours, committed
suicide and...

Mr. CHABON: Yeah. I should say, we weren't - I didn't know him very well. I
mean I wish he had been a friend of mine. I always kind of wanted to be his
friend, but I only met him once.

GROSS: Oh, okay. And, you know, your wife had, you know, mentioned in her
writing that she came close to suicide once. So you think about that.

You reflect on that in your book and you write: The world, like our heads, was
meant to be escaped from. They are prison, the world and head alike. And then
you quote David Foster Wallace as saying: I guess a big part of serious
fiction's purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned
in their own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves.

I think it's a really beautiful description of both the human condition and the
- why we respond so well to, you know, to books and movies and music, too. But
I'm thinking like, when you're a writer, it's maybe more of being trapped in
your skull than being released from it as you're in the process of writing.

Mr. CHABON: Not when it's going well. No. I mean when it's - when my writing's
going well, when I'm writing, you know, a work of fiction, when I'm writing a
novel, I'm there.

Wherever I'm - whatever I'm writing about, whoever's head I'm in, I'm not in my
head anymore. I'm in the head of the character. Or if it's sort of an
omniscient third-person narrator, I'm in the head of the narrator who's not me,
who is this much more intelligent, precise, open-souled, open-hearted being
than I am. And that in itself, just being a narrator is - there's a sense of
release in that.

And then, to imagine the world you're describing, the physical world, the
place, the house, the buildings, whatever it might be, it, you know, it's all
so vivid in my imagination that, you know, it's very much like the experience
of getting lost as a reader in a book.

I'm sort of having a double experience of both sort of almost being in the
actual reality I'm trying to create and then a millisecond afterwards reading
about it. And, you know, I think that's part of the reason I love doing it so
much is because it does provide me with that sense, that same sense of escape
and also connectedness because you're writing to, you're always addressing
someone.

You're writing to a reader. You know, you have an ideal reader, an imagined
reader out there that is a person who will just understand all of your
references and who will understand the emotions that you're trying to, you
know, bring forth and who will appreciate your every joke and, you know, who
will see the care that went into crafting this three-part metaphor that takes
place over five pages.

And, you know, you're creating - that's a part of the imaginative act itself is
to create that reader and address the work to that reader. And that again, it
gives you that same illusion of connection that is, you know, I think another
thing that keeps me doing it - that made me want to do it in the first place.

GROSS: Well, we've been talking about some pretty heavy things so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...I thought we could end with a story that I found like really, really
entertaining and funny, and it has to do with your diaper bag.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHABON: Oh yes. The murse.

GROSS: The murse, which is what, for male purse?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHABON: Yeah. Exactly. We're struggling to come up with anything we can say
that's not actually the word purse - is what we're looking for.

GROSS: Yes. Uh-huh, or pocketbook.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHABON: Yeah. Oh, pocketbook. That's a good one. I haven't thought of that
in a long time.

GROSS: Yeah. So, you know, as you point out, a lot of men feel like everything
that they have to carry, and that's a lot, the wallet and all the other stuff
has to be in pockets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHABON: Yes.

GROSS: And so you had these overstuffed pockets until you started carrying the
diaper bag, and then what?

Mr. CHABON: And then, well then, you know, just out of convenience I started
putting more things into the diaper bag; I always had this diaper bag with me,
you know.

And I struggled with the diaper bag, too, and it took me a while to find the
right diaper bag that wasn't you know, too girlie, that wasn't too babyish,
that, you know, so I found this sort of functional black vinyl, or some kind of
synthetic material diaper bag and little by little, you know, I'm carrying The
New York Review of Books around under my arm, why don't I just stick in the
diaper bag?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHABON: You know, and then I might as well put my keys in the diaper bag
too. And then, the next thing you know, and this is the big step, this is when
you're really cutting the tether is when you put your wallet in the diaper bag
because taking your wallet, if you're a guy, taking your wallet out of your
pocket and putting it anywhere else, you know, whether it's your hip pocket or
your vest pocket or your jacket or wherever you keep it, to put it into a
something - a bag and not have it on your body, you know, your wallet is you
when you're a man, and to then just take it off your body and put it in a bag
was a scary moment.

But I did it, and, you know, because having kids is basically an endless series
of breaking you down and getting you to do all the things you never, you know,
you thought your dignity would preserve you from ever having to do.

And once I didn't need a diaper bag anymore, I didn't want to put all that
stuff back in my pockets. It's stupid to carry stuff around in your pants
pocket. It hurts. So, you know, I just got over it, and now, yes, I'm – I call
it a purse now, because my kids, that's what they called it, your purse. Daddy,
you forgot your purse, so that's how I refer to it now, and it's sitting right
here on the floor.

GROSS: Michael Chabon, it's great to talk with you again. Thank you so much for
coming back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. CHABON: Oh, thank you, Terry, I really enjoyed it, too. Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Michael Chabon, speaking to Terry Gross in 2009. His collection of
essays, "Manhood For Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father
and Son," is now out in paperback. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
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A Grandfather's Message To His Autistic Grandson

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

For decades, psychologist Dan Gottlieb has used various media to make intimate
conversations public. He encourages people to eavesdrop and perhaps gain solace
or insight as a result. After a car accident left him a quadriplegic, Gottlieb
opened a private practice and for 25 years has served as host of a popular
call-in radio show named Voices in the Family. It's broadcast on WHYY in
Philadelphia, where FRESH AIR is produced.

Dan Gottlieb was in his mid-50s and had been a quadriplegic for more than 20
years when his grandson Sam was diagnosed with autism. Dan wrote a series of
letters to Sam, describing his own experiences of being different. Those
letters were collected in a 2006 book called "Letters to Sam," and Dan Gottlieb
has just published a sequel. It's called "The Wisdom of Sam" and details the
lessons Dan says he has learned from his grandson, who just turned 10.

Terry Gross spoke with Dan Gottlieb in 2006 when the earlier book, "Letters to
Sam," was released, and when Sam, at the time, was just about to turn six years
old.

GROSS: Why did you want to write a book of letters to your grandson?

Mr. GOTTLIEB (Radio Host): When he was born I was a 56-year-old quadriplegic. I
had been a quadriplegic for 20 years. I know my life expectancy is shortened. I
live as Sartre said we should live, with death on my shoulder. I knew that
anything could take me out and I could feel that my body was beginning to
fatigue.

I wanted to share with Sam what I've learned both as a psychologist and a
quadriplegic, because I did not believe I would be in the world that he would
see and I wanted him to know who I was, how I saw the world. This is something
most of us don’t get from our grandparents. I wanted him to have that. And then
when I learned that he had autism, it became more urgent. I felt I had more to
tell him about being different.

And the book has turned into two things: a book of love letters for my
grandson, but in a way it's a prayer for the world. The prayer is that the
world becomes softer, more gentle, more loving, that the world Sam grows up in
is safer than the world you and I are living in today.

GROSS: I know that the car accident that left you paralyzed nearly killed you.
So that forced you to change your life. You’ve had a few close calls with death
in the past few years. Did those close calls almost allow you to change your
life, you know, allow you to make changes that you actually wanted to make and
felt like you couldn’t?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Yes. Yes. What a great question. The vision I had - have - about
my accident is that when my neck broke, my soul began to breathe. I became the
person I always dreamt I could be and never would've been if I didn’t break my
neck. And with each time I faced death, I became more of who I am and less
worried about what others might think of me.

Just last time was two years ago. I've cut my practice back. I don’t work quite
as hard. That's a lie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. GOTTLIEB: I work – I work just as hard. I don’t work quite as hard on
things that pay, but I work just as hard. But I spend more time with things I
love. I'm involved with the Boys and Girls Club. I'm involved in more volunteer
activities.

GROSS: Tell me how you think you became the person who you wanted to be and you
thought you should be only after you broke your neck.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: My genetic loading would have me being more depressed more of the
time. My parents were both mild to moderately depressed their whole lives. The
good news about quadriplegia is because I felt alienated as a child, I lived my
whole life up until 33 thinking that if I made enough money I'd be okay - if I
was successful as a psychologist, if I was stronger. and when I broke my neck,
I lost all hope, and that was a gift.

I lost hope that I would ever walk again. I lost hope that I would ever be one
of the kids again. My only choice was if I was going to live, I would live as
me, not as the person I wanted to be ideally. It was liberating and terrifying.

GROSS: I mean did you feel that there were certain pressures that you or other
people had put on yourself to become somebody who you weren't particularly?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: We're all like that.

GROSS: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Not me, ever.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Most people I know spend their lives trying to be the person they
think they should be and never get to discover who they are. And that's the
gift - one of the gifts - the fact that I can't run away from my demons,
literally. I have to sit with them. The person I wanted to be - I had always
dreamed of being a visionary, of being a peacemaker, but I had to be a
psychologist. I had to be a father. I had to be the kind of man I thought I was
supposed to be. And when I broke my neck, that was gone. I had to be the kind
of man I was.

GROSS: How did the accident happen in which you broke your neck?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: I was traveling on the Pennsylvania Turnpike westbound. There was
an 18-wheeler traveling eastbound. He lost his whole wheel - not his tire - but
his whole wheel. It bounced across the turnpike and crushed my car. Thank God I
was alone in the car because whoever else would've been there would've been
dead.

And I'm also lucky that there was a car right across the street. And in that
car, who watched the accident, there was an RN.

GROSS: No.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: So she ran across. As soon as she saw me, she knew I was a
quadriplegic and she knew not to take me out of the car. Me, being the person I
am, when the ambulance came I said, call everybody I know to come here right
away. I knew I needed a support system.

GROSS: Did they come?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Boy, did they come.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. GOTTLIEB: I was in Effort, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour from
Philadelphia. And they came. They came in droves. And they still do. I am
sometimes embarrassed by my wealth.

GROSS: I imagine that you don’t remember the moment of impact.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: No.

GROSS: Is that a good thing, that you don’t remember that?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: I think it is. The last thing I remember is a big black thing in
the sky, and that's the last thing I remember. I think, though, all of us, if
we can use that metaphorically, all of us have been hit by a big black thing
coming out of the sky.

You know, it's a lump. It's a doctor saying, I think it's malignant. It's a
spouse saying, I don’t want to be in this marriage anymore. I'm no different
than anybody else in that regard.

GROSS: Were you certain that you wanted to live while you were in the
hospital...

Dr. GOTTLIEB: No.

GROSS: ...dealing with the news?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: No. No. Not at all. Not at all. I was surrounded with people who
love me. I was surrounded with people who told me I had value, and still I
wanted to die. I was taken to intensive care one night, and there I lay in bed
in a hallow vest, which is a grotesque apparatus where you head is bolted by
metal bolts in order to mobilize your neck. I'm laying there with IVs, with
catheters, looking at the ceiling, wishing I could go to sleep and not wake up.

A nurse came up to my bedside one night. She said, You’re a psychologist,
aren't you? And I said yes. She said - not knowing I was suicidal, she said,
Does everybody feel suicidal at some point in their lives?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. GOTTLIEB: And I said, Well, it’s not unusual, but if you want to talk, come
back after your shift. She pulls a chair up, 11:00 that night. We talk for an
hour. Of course it was her. She tells me about her life. I refer her to a
therapist. She leaves. I close my eyes and I say to myself, I can live with
this.

That woman saved my life, because she asked something of me. All these people
told me I had value, but it had no meaning. She showed me that I had value by
asking something of me, by allowing herself to be vulnerable with me and asking
my help.

GROSS: And you continued to be a therapist. You started your own practice. You
didn’t have your own practice before the accident, right?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: It was a very small one. But I - yes, started my practice right
after the accident.

BIANCULLI: Dan Gottlieb, speaking to Terry Gross in 2006.

More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2006 conversation with psychologist and
radio host Dan Gottlieb. They're discussing "Letters to Sam," a collection of
letters Dan wrote to his autistic grandson discussing his own feelings of being
different. Gottlieb was in his mid-30s when a car accident left him a
quadriplegic.

GROSS: When you returned to therapy after the accident, were you resentful of
some of your clients in thinking like - you think you have big problems? You
can walk.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: I had that experience once. I was working with a man who was
being treated for alcoholism and in a drunken stupor he killed a girl. He got
off for some reason. I'm watching him in the chair rationalize this, wiggling
his foot as he did it. And I'm thinking, I would like to kill this man for what
he's done. That was the only time I felt it. I did have those emotions. When I
was in the hospital, I was looking out my window at a street - at a man living
on a vent and I was envious of him. I thought at least he can get up and walk
off the vent, and I can't. And now I'm envious of no one. No one. I don’t have
that emotion of envy.

GROSS: Do you think that your patients are ever almost reluctant to tell you
their problems, thinking like, oh, this will sound kind of trite because, you
know, he can't walk and I'm complaining about - that my mother hollered at me
yesterday?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Yes. They do say that. I mean my position on that is suffering is
suffering. Quadriplegia is a fact. A history of child abuse is a fact. But
suffering is suffering. I mean if you’re not able to sleep at night, you’re
suffering. I'm not suffering with quadriplegia.

There was a man in my office a couple of years ago, extremely obese man with
two artificial knees sitting in a chair that was probably too low for him. So
to the end of the session - and he struggles to get out of the chair. Like,
he's working hard and I feel badly. And I'm watching and he knows I'm watching.
And he gets up and he takes a deep breath. And he says, you know, Dan, he says,
as hard as it was for me to get out of the chair, he says I look at you and I
think thank God I can get out of the chair. Maybe I shouldn’t say it, but
that's what goes through my mind.

And I said, you know, I got to be honest with you. I said, I look at you and
how hard you struggled to get out of the chair and I think, thank God I don’t
have to go through that crap when I get older.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What was his reaction?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: We both laughed. You know, it's all a matter of perspective. It’s
all a matter of how you look at it. You know, my dad used to tell a wonderful
story. If I may?

GROSS: Please.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: As he got older he used to say: I'm ready to leave this veil of
tears. And I said to him, Dad, is your life that bad that you’re really ready
to go? And he said, Some days. I said, Well, tell me about those days. He said,
Well, I get to thinking my wife is gone, my daughter is gone. My sister had
died five years earlier. And here's my son struggling through life every day in
a wheelchair. He said, Those days I'm ready to go.

I said, But Dad, those things are true every day. Tell me about the days you’re
not ready to go. He says, I'm not thinking about those things. It's all
perspective. It's all where your mind lands, is how you read your life and how
you experience it.

GROSS: Well, he was ready to kill himself because you’re in a chair, and of
course you’re not feeling that way about it when he's saying this.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Well, the truth of the matter is...

GROSS: You were?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: No. No, not at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. GOTTLIEB: The truth of the matter is, I would much rather be a quadriplegic
than be a parent of a quadriplegic.

GROSS: Really? Why?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Oh, the helplessness he felt watching me every day in his life.
The powerlessness. The stories he told himself about my suffering, I mean I
can't imagine. I've watched both my daughters be ill and I suffered more than
they did. I watched my wife, when I went back to work as a quadriplegic I was
hospitalized for a year and I went back to the clinic I worked in, and it was
very difficult for me and the staff was unkind to me. And her rage and
helplessness at them.

Meanwhile, I had the ability to work it out with them. I was in there. I worked
it out with them. I was fine. She could never forgive them because the person
she loved was suffering and there was nothing she could do about it. You know,
the famous psychoanalyst Sheldon Kopp said the most difficult part of love is
dealing with your helplessness in the face of a loved one suffering. And that's
what it means to be a parent of a quadriplegic.

GROSS: You mentioned earlier that you are part of the first generation of
people with quadriplegia who have lived into their late 50s, that, you know,
medical science has gotten to that point. And so - and you’ve nearly died a
couple of times. You’ve come really close. At the same time, you have people
who have been able-bodied, weren't in accidents and who have died. Your ex-wife
died. Your sister had a brain tumor and died. And I'm just kind of thinking of
like the relative length of life that the people who had seemed healthy have
already left.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: I don’t know how to respond, Terry. You know, Franklin Abbott, a
sociologist, said that we couldn’t have life without death, we couldn’t
understand it. The closer I come to death - and I feel I come closer every day,
feel it, know it, touch it - the more that happens the more precious I feel
daytime is, nighttime, colors, knowing you, being here, writing this book, the
more grateful I feel for what I have.

The imminence of death just makes life more alive. I don’t know, Terry, if we
could do it without smelling death.

GROSS: You’ve done a radio show at WHYY in Philadelphia for many years. How
many years it? Twenty?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Twenty.

GROSS: So does therapy help you as an interviewer? You know, do the skills of a
therapist help you with the skills as an interviewer on your radio show?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Very much so.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Very much. They started off helping me. And then I had to hone
them because I could sit for 50 minutes easily with one patient and be very
interested, but that doesn’t make for good radio, the kinds of questions I've
asked. My years on the radio has helped me hone my question and get to the
heart of things very quickly.

GROSS: So radio has helped you as a therapist?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Radio has helped me as a therapist a great deal. I'm much more
efficient as a therapist. One thing I learned. A patient came to me years ago
and she said I feel like my soul is a prism and everybody I know only sees one
color and nobody sees the whole prism. And I thought, that's the way to be a
good therapist. That's the way to be a good parent, a good spouse, a good
lover, is to see the prism of somebody else's soul. And that's what I do as a
therapist, as a radio interviewer, even as a friend. I work very hard to see
the prism of somebody else's soul and that's what my questions are geared
towards: help me see the prism your soul.

GROSS: It sounds like you have a really good perspective on life and death and
on your physical limitations with quadriplegia. And you said before, there's no
one that you envy, like you’ve put that kind of envy behind you. Are there
times though, where it just gets to you and you don’t have such a clear view,
you don’t have such a good handle on the world and your emotions and all of
that?

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Oh, often. Often. I don’t feel envy. That doesn’t mean I don’t
suffer. I remember a couple of years ago I was driving in my van and I saw
somebody jogging on a drive one spring day and I just burst into tears. I had
to pull over to the side of the road I was crying so hard.

I suffer greatly. I suffer that my bladder is failing, I suffer. I feel great
pain during the day. But I say to people my body is broken, my mind is neurotic
and my soul is at peace. And that is really true. It's really true. I suffer
with my body. On occasion, I suffer with my mind and my soul really is at peace
today. And I pray it's at peace tomorrow too. And I pray it’s at peace when I'm
in my death bed.

GROSS: Well, Dan Gottlieb, thank you so much for talking with us.

Dr. GOTTLIEB: Terry, thank you. It was delightful.

BIANCULLI: Psychologist Dan Gottlieb was speaking Terry Gross in 2006. His
book, "Letters to Sam," in which he wrote advice and observations to his young
autistic grandson has been followed by a new sequel, "Wisdom from Sam"(ph)
published in April by Hay House.

Coming up: film critic David Edelstein on two new documentaries. This is FRESH
AIR.
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'Restrepo' And 'The Lottery': Two Places, Two Battles

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This week our film critic, David Edelstein, reviews two new documentaries.
"Restrepo" is set in Afghanistan and is co-directed by journalist Sebastian
Junger who wrote "The Perfect Storm" and war photographer Tim Hetherington.

Madeleine Sackler's "The Lottery" centers on high-testing charter schools in
Harlem and the drawing that determines who gets in.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Maybe it's a reaction to empty summer escapist movies like
"The A-Team" and "Knight and Day," but I've had a sudden urge to escape not
from, but to reality. If you share that impulse, seek out a pair of unusually
urgent documentaries, "Restrepo" and "The Lottery."

The grueling "Restrepo" takes its name from a mountainside outpost in the
Korengal region of Afghanistan, where in 2007, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian
Junger got themselves embedded with the Second Platoon. That outpost — or O.P.
— takes its name from a charismatic company medic whom we see in video that
opens the film. He's on a train with his buddies, they've had a lot to drink,
and he's whooping, we're going to war.

Not long after that, Juan Restrepo took two bullets in the neck.

O.P. Restrepo is the site of constant fighting between U.S. forces and the
Taliban. The captain, Dan Kearney, describes its impact on the enemy as men
show off their artillery.

(Soundbite of movie, " Restrepo")

Captain DAN KEARNEY (Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry
Regiment): When the boys built that base, the Taliban or the AAF forces in the
valley, they were completely in shock. It was like a middle finger sticking
out. And they realized once they could not knock off OP Restrepo, we had the
upper hand. They started becoming afraid.

Unidentified Man #1: Get some Taliban. Woo.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Man #2: Hey, hit the bottom right. Hit the bottom right of the
buildings.

Unidentified Man #1: Get some.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

EDELSTEIN: Those weapons send out balls of fire in long, deadly arcs, but no
foreign force is likely to gain the upper hand in this place. The landscape
from a distance seems barely marked, the bombs absorbed by the same trees and
terraced hills that hide the Taliban — whom we never actually see. We share the
perspective of the men who wait for the inevitable assaults, their most trivial
exchanges seeming, in this context, momentous.

Hetherington and Junger keep filming during the frequent firefights, and you
can feel their fight-or-flight instincts in the way their cameras jerk and
swerve and point at the ground or the sky. What carnage we see is after the
fact, when men gather around the bodies of fellow soldiers — in one case
weeping in incomprehension.

The directors have said they meant for "Restrepo" to be objective and
apolitical, its focus on the bonds among the men and what Junger calls in his
brilliant new book "War," which expands on what we see in the film, the Zen of
not effing up.

What should have been the most hopeful scene in the movie might be the
grimmest. Kearney asks Korengali elders, some with beards dyed orange to show
they've been to Mecca, to join with him, promising money and new projects, and
they stare at him, expressionless. Then seven civilians in the same village are
killed in a U.S. operation, and the few hearts and minds that were in play are
forever lost.

Unlike Hetherington and Junger, director Madeleine Sackler sets out to incite
and enrage. "The Lottery" is a devastating piece of propaganda. It unfolds on
the home front, in New York City, where 3,000 small children apply for 475
slots in charter schools in and around Harlem. These autonomous public schools
have been stunningly successful in turning out literate, motivated kids in
neighborhoods known for high-double-digit dropout rates. But as Sackler
profiles four families with children in the running, you get a sinking feeling
there are nowhere near enough happy endings to go around.

These kids are heartbreakingly open and engaged and eager. But the true focus
of "The Lottery" is the battle between Harlem Success charter schools president
Eva Moskowitz and a ferocious coalition of charter-school opponents. How, given
the high test scores, could the movement create such a violent schism in the
community? Charter schools are non-union, and as Sackler frames the fight, it's
the teachers' unions that are pulling the strings, using surrogate
organizations like ACORN - as it was then called - and Democratic politicians
whose campaign chests they fatten.

As "The Lottery" presents them, these politicians and community activists come
off as working to keep in place a system that is objectively a disaster. It
makes you wonder whether the kids who lose the lottery are the victims of
chance or of forces more frustratingly human.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

(Soundbite of music)

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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