When I first moved to Seattle and worked for DSHS, I had coworker-buddy who was crazy for Michael Jordan. In her cubicle she had two Michael Jordan posters, one Michael Jordan mug, and wrapped around her office chair, a genuine Michael Jordan blanket.
That’s a bit how I feel about Amy Bloom. Like me, Amy is a clinical social worker. Unlike me she is also the darling of the literary world AND best selling fiction writer. For you non-writers out there, to be both an acclaimed literary and a best-selling author is like being a wine snob and a Colt 45 drinker. It’s rare.
I’ve devoured her books and foisted copies on friends only to pepper them with questions like, “Did you like it? Huh? Huh? What about the part where the….?”
In keeping with my “we are all just carbon based life forms here” attitude, I took a deep breath and emailed her assistant to propose an interview for my blog, fully expecting some response along the lines of,
“Thank you for your interest, little insignificant human being, but Amy is far too busy for you and your teeny tiny blog.”
But no! Imagine my happy surprise when the assistant got back to me and said,
“When would you like to do the interview?” So we chatted on the phone last week.
Me: How did you come to combine writing with psychotherapy?
Amy: They are not really combined. There is nothing about writing that makes you a better psychotherapist. Writing is solitary and narcissistic. Psychotherapy is in service to others, an engagement with another human and not primarily for the therapist.
Me: To me the inward energy of writing and the outward energy of therapy seem like a perfect balance. I’m surprised more therapists don’t write.
Amy: Oh I’m sure lots of therapists would like to be writers and keep journals and diaries. Having an interest in self expression doesn’t mean a person has talent.
Me: Okay, so if writing doesn’t help you to be a better therapist, does being a therapist help you to be a better writer?
Amy: Yes, because to be a good therapist you have to learn to listen, observe, keep your mouth shut, and all of these have been helpful as a writer.
Me: When I’m writing fiction I feel like I’m hunting my characters and following their path through a forest. I don’t know where they are going and it’s my job to find them. What is your writing experience like?
Amy: I see my job in writing is to lie at the bottom of the well and not panic. It’s a slippery, slimy place to be. I wait and see what rises out of the water.
Me: How did you encourage your clients to find creative outlets? (Amy closed her private practice 2 years ago)
Amy: I didn’t necessarily. Very few people said, “As crappy as my life is, it is more comfortable than branching out into the unknown.” I might tell them, “You know, you act like somebody who’d like to be miserable, which is certainly your choice.” I believe in dipping one tiny toe in the pool. I might say, “If you wanted to do this, probably by now you’d be doing it.”
Me: I notice the recurring theme of attachment in your work. Would it be safe to say you’re psychodynamic in your theoretical orientation?
Amy: Yes. What interests me is how people interact with each other. How they attach or are unable to attach. My interest is in all of these issues, poured into the vessel of a unique individual. I myself am a big attacher, but I also like to spend a lot of time by myself. Attachment makes solitude delightful.
Me: That reminds me of this quote: “Life is most enjoyable when it’s experienced as a series of short and long trips away from a stable home base.” We could translate that into the language of attachment.
Amy: That’s right. You need to be able to go and come back. It feels good if you know you can come back and you don’t have to pinch people to get their attention.
Me: How do you stay grounded, now that you are famous?
Amy: If I were famous, that might have been an issue. I live in a small town. People know me as my children’s mother or the volunteer at the democratic fair. I don’t go to certain parties. I don’t read reviews or interviews that I’ve done.
Me: So you don’t want me to email you a copy of this before it goes live so you can correct the part where I say you said, “I hate my mother”?
Amy: I said pass the butter! I love that joke. No you can make me sound like the village idiot or a complete bi*%h, but I won’t know because I won’t read it.
Me: Well that’s good because I don’t actually know what I’m doing.
Amy: That’s okay, too.
Away, Amy Bloom’s latest book is a best seller. Where the God of Love Hangs Out, a collection of short stories, comes out January. Given the American appetite for novels, Amy assures me this collection of short stories will provide her a comfortable slide back into semi-obscurity.