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In part 1 of my interview with Tim Attaby we talked about psychology, teaching and whether or not creativity is effective. This time we talk about laughter, the creative force behind many relationships.
To me, one of the biggest signs of creativity is being able to think and to use wit. So, I’ve always kind of felt that you were outwardly creative. We used to skate together, we used to play video games, I remember all of that stuff, but I really remember that we used to laugh and make jokes a lot. That’s one of the things that’s always been important to me in my life, and I think that’s a high sign of creativity which is overlooked quite a bit.
Yeah, I think that’s probably true. I think that it’s funny that you say that, because I actually had the exact same feeling about you. That you were like one of the funniest mother fuckers that I’ve ever known in my life. (laughs) I’m serious. You’re just like absolutely hilarious. I agree, and I think that humor, to try and not get too psychological, brings an ingredient to a relationship that is definitely creative. If you think about it, like if you watch Comedy Central, there are people who make lots and lots of money that I think have zero sense of humor. I just don’t understand it. I just don’t think it’s funny, but they make buttloads of money. So, is that person creative and effective? I guess so, but it’s still relative. As soon as I see Dane Cook on TV, I turn it off, because I can’t stand the guy. (laughs) That’s an example of someone that you can say is creative and effective, but I just don’t understand. I think that humor is something that is very personal. You are either with people who understand your humor or you’re not. I think that’s one of the things that’s a real staple of my marriage. My wife and I have a very similar sense of humor. I think it’s one of the things that I love the most about her. She just makes me laugh. For absolutely no reason, she’ll say some stupid thing, and I’ll just die laughing.
It’s a type of creativity, but it’s also a component to a successful relationship. If you have two people who have two different senses of humor, then that can really make that relationship awkward. It can change the nature of the relationship. It can determine going from acquaintance to an actual relationship. I have people that I respect professionally, but I can’t really have extended conversations with them because I just don’t get them. Their way of laughing and thinking about the world is something that I don’t agree with or I just don’t think it’s all that funny. Like you, one of the things that’s really important to me is to laugh. If I can’t laugh, then there’s something going wrong.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your life?
That’s a good question.
I’d probably have to say my main graduate school mentor, who at times I had a very conflictual relationship with. I find myself at least professionally saying things that he said and thinking about things in a way that I thought that he would. I would have to say that professionally it was probably graduate school that changed me. When I came into graduate school I was definitely not what I would consider to be well centered. I wasn’t necessarily insightful. I had a certain level of intellectual curiosity about a lot of different things but as far as being emotionally centered and being able to build strong mutual relationships with people I don’t think I was probably as good at that. I think through school, but a large part of that was probably the therapy I was in as well, I think it helped me.
And to be honest, all of the patients that I’ve worked with as well have been inspirations, as well as learning things. I’ve learned more things about life, how different industries work and learned stuff about different people than I would have ever known had I not been in this business. So, I think that I’ve learned a lot about life through people, working in therapy and learning about things sort of vicariously.
I would have to say that it’s a combination of mentors and patients, as far as getting me up until I met my wife and I think that she inspires me in different ways. My wife also being in the business is a blessing and a curse. We’re at this place now to where we can really call each other out without even thinking about it. It’s like what you’d imagine two mental health practitioners do. “Oh, you’re acting like your father right now.” And it’s stuff like that where in some circles it might be seen as an attack, but because it’s so much of what we do, we can say things like that to where it’s like you actually stop and think, “Oh, yeah. You’re right. I am doing that. Aren’t I?” (laughs) So, that’s the blessing part. The curse part is that there’s sometimes that I just don’t want to think about that stuff. Sometimes I don’t want to be told that I’m acting like my mother or acting like my father, but I end up having to look at it anyways.
I think finally it’s kids. (laughs) They make you think about things so differently, and it can be such a painful mirror to have a kid. I’m typically not a morning person. So, waking up early in the morning usually takes about an hour to get into the full swing of things. It’s even something simple like, I’m talking to my son and he asks, “Daddy, why do you have a funny face?” I didn’t even realize that I had a funny face, but I’m scowling or growling and I’m totally not even aware of that. The thing that I’ve learned from being a father is how to be different in the world. I find myself more intrigued by other peoples’ kids, more interested in other kids than I ever was before, because I just hadn’t had the experience with it. I think it’s definitely softened me up in numerous ways.
So, I think that is the other thing that has inspired me. I’d like to think about myself as, if my kids grew up as if they knew absolutely everything about me, inside and out, everything that I’ve done, would they be proud of me? I think that’s sort of where I find myself now, living my life, thinking about things, and the behaviors and actions that I choose. Is it something that I’d want my kids to know about? If the answer is no, then it usually ends up being a pretty easy choice as well. “Then I can’t do that.”
So that’s been the final edge of the mold as far as the people that I think have influenced me.
Lalli’s Question: How do you disconnect your work and home life? Do you think It’s better to care about patients too much or too little, and has your work ever affected your home life?
Okay, so that’s like five questions by the way. (laughs) So, remind me if I don’t answer them.
Disconnecting never happens. At least for me, it’s impossible to be a good therapist and to be able to just shut off. It just can’t happen. I’ve never been able to figure out a way to do it, and I think that people who claim that they do are either lying (laughs) or they’re not doing something very well. They’re doing something else to forget about work, and in a lot of cases that ends up being stuff that’s not very effective in the long run. For me, there has never been a way to disconnect. You’re always thinking about patients. You’re always worrying about them. You’re always wondering about what you did the last session, and how you’re going to do things better. It just doesn’t turn off. You get used to it. You find ways to do other things. For me, video games have been away to have a total disconnect from the world.
When I was seeing patients, and even now, I still think about patients that I saw. It’s impossible for me to disconnect from that, and it’s the same for my wife. If you’re not thinking about your patients then you’re doing something wrong. It’s a little judgemental. If somebody says, “When 5 o’clock comes after my last patient, I turn off and do something else.” Either that person does a really good job of compartmentalizing their life, or they’re lying.
Has it ever affected my family life? I think one of the benefits of being in a relationship with somebody who has a very similar job is that we can come home and talk about our day and we know what each other is talking about. We not only can hear it, but both of us can empathize with the other person because we’ve been in that situation. She can come home and talk about a very difficult family session that she had with the kids and family, and I can relate to that, because I’ve been in that situation. Or I can say, “I don’t know what to do with this person. They said this. They have this problem, but they said this as well.” She can say, “What about this? What about this? Or what about this?”
That’s been one of the perks of being married to someone in the business. I can take it home, but there’s actually a real benefit for me taking it home. I can get some additional consultation on it. So, bringing it home in that sense has been a real benefit. I can’t say that it’s been a detriment overtly. It can be distracting at times, because I can sometimes think about it too much to where I’m not really present at home. I think at this point, my wife is pretty good at calling me out, and saying, “What are you doing? Where are you right now? You’re not talking to me.” So, I can kind of snap out of it a little bit.
I would hate to think that I was a person who cared too little for a patient. My wife is much more neurotic than I am. I’m much more laid back. She really, really thinks about her patients to the point that it can interrupt her sleep. She’ll wake up thinking about them. Although it’s annoying at times for me as a spouse, I would love to be her patient. I want my doctor to be thinking about me all the time. If I’m coming into somebody to get help, I want my doctor to be losing sleep over me thinking about ways that they can help me. I don’t want to have the doctor that can shut off. I don’t want to have the doctor that can go home and not think a thing about work. I don’t want that person. I would much rather ere on the side of thinking too much than thinking too little.
Wanda’s question: Since you moved to San Francisco what’s one thing that would have inspired you to pick up a pencil and paper and start drawing?
I live on a hill. The property we live on is 19,000 square feet. Huge property! 80 percent of that property is uphill. My backyard actually climbs up the side of a hill to the top of it. So, I can actually hike up my backyard to the top of the hill. When I stand up there I can see everything. The folks across from us have some tall trees, but when I hike up to the top of the hill I can see everything in the west bay. So, I can see San Francisco, I can see Sausalito, I can see the Golden Gate, I can see the Bay Bridge, and it’s absolutely amazing at about 5 o’clock at night. It’s the most awesome sunsets in the world. So, if I had any actual physical type of artistic ability, I could very easily set up a canvas and start painting. It’s just amazing, because you can see the bay, but you can see past the bay into the Pacific Ocean. You can see the entire San Francisco skyline, and the Golden Gate. When there’s fog rolling in it’s just absolutely amazing. Unfortunately we’re just renting, so we’re going to have to move at some point.
I want to thank all of my guests that allowed me to take some time out of their day to talk about creativity. Be sure to read all of the Untapped Creativity interviews with Jeni Herberger, Nicole Dobbs, Elizabeth Lalli-Reese, Lynda Campbell, Wanda Dobbs and Tim Attaby.