Fear, loathing and coffee on a cold day in NYC


I went into a dumpy little coffee place on Broadway after work as I was walking home from the subway.  It was cold out and I went in mostly to get warm. As I sat down with my coffee and bagel, the guy at the table to my right looked at me and said "Excuse me, do you feel warm in here?"

I said it felt about right to me. "Why, do you feel warm?" I asked.

"It's nothing.  I think it's just something that happens when I get a panic attack," he said.

I nodded, and went back to my coffee. 

"I was telling my therapist that I sometimes get warm with the panic attacks," he said, "and she said that's pretty common."

I nodded and smiled.  Then I asked him "Does it help for someone to tell you that everything's okay?"

He nodded and said, "Sometimes it does."

"Well, everything's okay," I said, and smiled. 

"Thank you," he said.

I thought, what can happen in this dumpy coffee place?  At least we're not outside where a person can freeze to death.

"I didn't tell my parents about my recent panic attack because I don't want them to be concerned. They're in Florida.  We're very close."  He was a Woody Allen type of guy (was it obvious already?) in his 40s, but unlike Woody Allen he was unlikely to marry starlets or to fly to Europe to accept a Spanish or French award for filmmaking.  He wouldn't be celebrated.  I liked the personality of this honest, earnest, guy who said things that you don't really say to a stranger.   Maybe I identified with his struggle with anxiety because I lean in that direction.

There are different types of anxiety disorders: panic disorders, PTSD, social anxiety.  He sure didn't seem to have much social anxiety.  We spoke for several minutes more.  Seeing that I was typing on my laptop, he asked what I was working on and I told him that, oddly enough, I was writing a textbook chapter on stress and anxiety -- their neurobiological underpinnings.  He asked if I'm a clinical psychologist, and I told him I'm not.

Anxiety is part of being a New Yorker, I said.  He said yeah, a friend of his said a lot of Midwesterners have "even-tempered" disorder.    Then he told me a few jokes -- but they were pretty bad.  Too lame to even share in this blog.  Not that my criterion is so high.

A few minutes later he said "I feel a lot better now, so don't worry." 

Remember, only your nose needs to stick out.


My friend Karis emailed to ask why I haven't posted a new piece in the blog for several weeks -- "Why the desertion?" she wrote.

I emailed her back saying that I was "trying to keep my head above water with some work deadlines."

She replied, "Remember, only your nose needs to stick out."

I love that metaphor, and the idea behind it.

Historia y Vida


When I'd just started visiting Spain I went into a little newspaper/magazine store and noticed the magazine called Historia y Vida (History and Life). While we Americans read about gossip in People magazine, I thought, the introspective Spaniards are reading about history and perspectives on culture. It was my type of country.

I may have exaggerated the differences between Americans and Spaniards. Fifteen years later I know that Spaniards have their own version of People magazine, actually several, and they sell a lot more copies than Historia y Vida.

It's natural for me to project fantasies onto a country as I might do with a new romantic partner.  Wishes and perceptions fuse together to form a heart-felt whole.  As a teenager, the realistic love that adults speak of sounds like a consolation prize for the loss of romance.  With intense inner feelings and dreams bursting out, desperately seeking a target for projection, usually an attractive one, teenagers live in a world where feeling is believing. 

Over time I've come to love the real Spain, the real culture in its various forms.  I'm most familiar with the northwest of Spain.  The personality of the country shifts as you go from north to south, east to west, as it does in the U.S.

I'm here with a woman I met fifteen years ago.  One night soon after we'd met,  I walked her home and said goodnight, and as I walked back to my apartment in the outskirts of this Spanish city I heard a romantic song in my head -- George Harrison singing: 'Something in the way she moves, ...', and I was filled with that fusion of my wishes and perceptions, my projections onto her screen.

Romantic projection is exciting and elevating, but even more beautiful is attachment to the soul of a place or a person that exists independent of my projections.

Tonight I'm in the little TV room upstairs in her parents' house, and I get enjoyment from seeing the enjoyment in her eyes as she watches some program on TV.