My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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Fifty Shades of Not Much at All

One reader wrote to ask if I’d read the S/M bestseller, as I’d mentioned someone lending it to me awhile back. Yes. I disliked it. I have nothing against good soft porn writing. Anne Rice has had a lot of fun with S/M in her “Beauty” books, which are absurd but very honest about what they’ve set out to do. (I bought one at Goodwill for 50 cents – they thought it was a children’s book – and found it ridiculous but – well, strangely stirring, even in its excess and silliness.) As a young teen, I used to delve into my father’s library – “Lady Chatterly” et al – in an attempt to understand what all the fuss was about. Those writers bravely dove into the “dirty” stuff that society did not want explored or exposed.

But this book is neither honest nor brave; it’s just timely. I skimmed through it in half an hour. It’s badly written, the characters are wooden, the plot contrived, the sex scenes embarrassing. At least, to me; obviously not to the millions who’ve bought ALL THREE. This writer’s timing was perfect; the world was ready for something new and naughty, and exploring a woman’s need to be dominated sexually by a man – and yet, subtly, to dominate him in return – is obviously it. Surely, this has something to do with our on-going confusion about the new roles of men and women. Women have taken over so much – including many sports at the Olympics, it seems. Men in our western world don’t know now where they fit. In this fantasy, they are extremely rich, handsome and tormented, and they need to tie up and spank.

But only with a signed S/M contract. I wonder if they sell those along with the do-it-yourself divorces and wills.

I’ve just skimmed another, much more valuable book – “The Drama of the Gifted Child,” a psychological self-help classic by Alice Miller. It’s full of “psycho-speak,” but what it says, fundamentally, is vital. Children who have been abused – even just by neglect or manipulation, in the service of their parent’s needs – will play out childhood roles throughout their lives, in one way or another, until they learn who they really are. Therapy, she says, is about acknowledging the abuses of childhood and mourning them, so that we can move on.

The true opposite of depression, she writes, is neither gaiety nor absence of pain, but vitality – the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings. It is part of the kaleidoscope of life that these feelings are not only happy, beautiful or good, but can reflect the entire range of human experience, including envy, jealousy, rage, disgust, greed, despair, and grief. But this freedom cannot be achieved if its childhood roots are cut off. Our access to the true self is possible only when we no longer have to be afraid of the intense emotional world of early childhood.

She writes later: Probably the greatest of wounds – not to have been loved just as one truly was – cannot heal without the work of mourning. 

Today’s extreme haters, she writes, dictators and extremist religious leaders, were formed by these wounds. Are far-right Republicans and suicide bombers simply damaged children? I don’t know. But I appreciate her brave, honest attempt to address a world that, God knows, badly needs a helping hand.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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