by Alexandra Guhde, PsyD
I write from my new home in Australia. The hardworking editors at Impulse are content to let me stay on and continue my quarterly contributions from Down Under, which is a pleasure for me, because the decision to close my Bay Area practice--at least for the time-being--was immensely difficult. I had to leave important friends, close colleagues (and clients), and a decade-long analysis. But, there was also something bracing about taking such a certain step into such a vast unknown. (Australia is a long way from Kansas.) It's been a wrench, but it's also been a thrill to feel years' worth of internal--often painstaking--"process" shift into action.
The kinetic nature of the experience puts me in mind of my partner--a native Australian--and his habit of greeting friends by inquiring into their travels, as in, "G'day! How're you traveling?" The first time he asked me this, I answered literally, "Um, by car... over the Bay Bridge?...at about 5 miles per hour." But the question--a quintessentially Australian one, by the way--is meant metaphorically. How was I traveling through my day? Well? Poorly? With ease or difficulty? With gritted teeth, or delightedly, with smiles?
It's a good question, one that affirms the dailiness of life's grand journey, but I like it also because I get a kick out of the way small shifts in language can send the mind down brand--new pathways. The difference in phrasing--"traveling" is both similar to and utterly unlike mere "doing"--invited me to consider my life as a series of adventures: My Travels.
Of course, when I actually traveled to Australia--arriving just before Mother's Day--it was another difference, the shift of a single letter, that caught my attention and plunged me down a new (spiraling) pathway: Mum. Only one vowel separates "mum" from the "mom" I grew up with. But, Mum was everywhere, on TV, in newspapers, in store windows, "Make Mum feel truly special this Mother's Day." "Flowers for Mum!" "Give Mum the chocolates, jewelry, stand mixer, Uggs, everything she deserves!" While my own mother--my American Mom--was an ocean away.
It was a stark experience, to feel alienated by a minor tweak to a word that is, essentially, universal. There I was, in a foreign land, planning to work as a psychologist--to take on Mum-transferences, even--and I was terrified. I wanted the familiarity of home. And yet, wasn't this the whole point of coming so far, to traverse new pathways literally, and metaphorically? Amidst all the action, a new process has begun.
If you see my mother, tell her I'm traveling well.