certificates, induction, and pins!

MAKE UP INDUCTION IS ON FEB 18TH FROM 5:30-8:30 IN THE SILVER STUDENT LOUNGE, DROP IN AT ANYTIME. YOU CAN ALSO PICK UP YOU PHI ALPHA CERTIFICATE AND PIN AT THIS TIME!

MAKE UP INDUCTION

Dear Phi Alpha Members,

Thanks to all who came out last night. It was a lovely event because of each of you.

The make up Induction will be during our knitting volunteer event on Tuesday, February 18th from 5:30pm to 8:30pm in the Silver Student Lounge in Silver.

You MUST be inducted and pay dues before the end of February in order for your membership to be valid.

If you cannot make this time reach out via phone or skype to me and arrange a time to be inducted via the telephone, 415-999-9456.

Thank you very much.

Best,

Jessica Lief

Tim Kreider’s Talk at INDUCTION

 

First of all, congratulations. I don’t know whether this feels to you like a well-deserved recognition for all your hard work or just some silly ceremony that’ll make your parents happy, but either way, enjoy. Life goes fast, and it’s good, once in a while, to take a moment to look around at your life and say, Here I am.

Well seldom have I felt as fraudulent as I do at this very moment, presuming to impart any wisdom to people whose jobs are going to be way more difficult, demanding, important, and pay even less than my own. I mean, I’m just a writer, so if I do my job badly, what’s the worst that can happen? (Perhaps you’re about to find out.) Also, you are all, unlike me, conscientious and diligent, as evidenced by your induction into the Phi Beta Kappa society, which don’t even bother asking if I ever was.

So what can I possibly have to tell you that might be of any use to you? About the only thing I can think of that our jobs have in common is that we both try to tell true stories. Because therapy is, among other things, a collaboration on a narrative. “Words are the physicians of a mind diseased”–this sounds like Freud but it was actually said twenty-three centuries before him, by Aeschylus, or whoever it was who really wrote Prometheus Bound. We’re both trying to help people using words, to turn the unwieldy raw material of real life into something shaped more like a story.

The problem is that “true story” is a kind of an oxymoron, if you think about it. Because a true story has two paradoxical requirements: a story has to makes sense, it’s linear and causal, and it has to mean something, but a true one also has to reflect real life, and real life, as we all know, seldom does either of those things. This by the way is one reason I turned out to be terrible at writing fiction: I could not figure out how to reconcile the demands of Aristotelean dramaturgy—you know, that ramp-shaped diagram you’ve all seen in English class, rising action, climax, denoumént—with verisimilitude. Because real life tends to resemble, more than anything else, one of those very long, slow-moving soap operas that’s been on for decades, with a lot of daily ups and downs and weekly crises but nothing everquite getting resolved–as someone having a bad day once put it, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I actually majored in writing–arguably an even worse decision than majoring in social work–and I learned that stories have very particular specifications. My old writing teacher John Barth famously defined a story as “the incremental perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a complexified equilibrium.” He actually talked like that in real life. He was kind of kidding, to be fair. But not really. To put this into more intelligible, Anglo-Saxonate language, something has to happen; someone has a crisis, and it changes them. Well, there are crises all the time in real life, of course. And if you’re a therapist or social worker, you probably start seeing your clients right in the middle of one, or just afterward. Nobody goes to therapy because things are going so well. They’re coming because their lives have stopped working; they’re at the ends of their ropes; they need help. Which is, in my experience, the only time people ever change. All stories begin with someone who’s unhappy, or at least discontent, whether they know it or not. Like you, I don’t have much professional interest in happy people–the Happy have no need of our services, and frankly they’re boring anyway. Unlike you, thank God, I don’t have to try to help these people; I just have to try to understand them.

Luckily, I am unhappy. I started writing the essay I’m working on right now during a crisis in my own life. (I hope you understand, I‘m not telling you this story because I think the facts of my own life are especially interesting; I think they’re really ordinary, and hence, hopefully, of some use to other people.) I’d just broken up with someone who was very important to me, and I was now living alone in a cabin in November, waiting for my nineteen-year-old cat to die. These are circumstances conducive to reflection. We’ve all had those times in our lives when we ask ourselves: how did I end up alone in this dilapidated cabin with an incontinent cat? Fortunately it was also, from an artistic point of view, an excellent ground situation for a story. Here’s a character who has come to the end of one thing to care about, and is in need of another.

My essay starts off with a story my mom used to like to tell—it was about a psychological experiment she had me take part in when I was a baby. She said they put me in a room full of toys to see which ones I would play with, and the psychologists laughed because I didn’t choose any one toy but wanted to play with all of them. It occurred to me later on in life, sort of ruefully, that this story had some metaphorical resonance with my relationship history. But it wasn’t until I was much older, reading a book on the theory of Attachment, with which I’d by then decided I was let’s say having some issues, that I realized that my mother and I had been a subjects of one of the most famous experiments in developmental psychology: Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation. (See, most people I tell this story to ask me, “What’s that?”; psychologists react the way an ordinary audience would if I told them I’d played one of the kids in The Goonies.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this experiment, needless to say the toys were not the point of the study. The Strange Situation is now the standard method of classifying the kind of attachment bond between infants and mothers. Infants in this experiment cluster into three groups: the securely attached, and two subcategories of insecure attachment, avoidant and ambivalent. (Explain if necessary—reunions most telling, etc.) These classifications turn out to be pretty stable over longitudinal studies. Basically—and I trust this will come as no surprise to you–how you were attached to your mother as an infant is likely to characterize the kind of relationships you’ll have as an adult, and you’ll probably pass the same kind of relationships on to your own children.

So the obvious question is: how’d I do? The essay is, much like therapy, a kind of self-investigation, an effort to get to the bottom of the problem of Me. Based on my mom’s recollection, now over 4 decades old, and on my entire relationship history since then, I suspect I might’ve been avoidant. However, when I relayed my mom’s description my behavior to a table full of psychoanalysis, one of them said this sounded pretty healthy to him. Which, embarrassingly, I found disappointing. Because it occurred to me that if I were securely attached it might mean that my life was my own fault.

I enlisted the aid of my friend Margot, a science reporter for a major news organization.  You’re probably read some of her stories. Margot, who is not paid for nothing, it turns out, unearthed more information about the study I was in in a couple of days that I would’ve found in a year.  Between her research and some help from Mom, I finally found the original study we’d participated in. We were in Sample 2 of the Strange Situation, run by one of Ainsworth’s graduate students, Sylvia Bell. It was very strange for me to see, in the “methods” section of her paper:

The sample consisted of 33 subjects, 21 males and 12 females, of middle-class parents. Two of the boys had been adopted by their present mothers when they were between 2 and 3 months of age.[1]

That was me. I was one of those two adopted boys.  Have we mentioned yet that I was adopted? Well I was. At the time I was adopted the conventional wisdom was that this was no big deal, and parents were advised to be honest about it but minimize it and emphasize that the child was wanted and loved. In more recent years adoption is regarded as a kind of primal trauma, and adoptees treated as suffering from a syndrome not unlike PTSD. So this is a new story I’ve begun telling myself in recent years: that having been given up for adoption left me with some abandonment issues, and permanently skittish about relationships.  Except, again, unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t back this up; the few studies that’ve been done about attachment and adoption suggest that adoption isn’t a big factor in attachment, as long as the kids haven’t been previously abused or neglected.

Also, people’s attachment classifications aren’t immutable, like zodiac signs; they can change, although, like most things in life, they’re most easily changed for the worse. Margot pointed out to me that one of the stressors that can change people’s attachment classification is the death of a parent—which, as Margot well knows, I also got to experience, in my early twenties, just before she met me. “I imagine that watching a loved one die is the kind of experience that could give anyone pause about getting too close to someone else,” she said. So there’s another story I could tell: that I was a sensitive kid with some abandonment issues who might’ve been fine if he hadn’t suffered a major loss in young adulthood.

What makes a story true? As a writer, it’s easy to say something so smart and euphonious and moving that you don’t notice at first that it’s glib bullshit.  And I imagine one of the scary things about being a therapist is that you’re collaborating on a story and only one of you was actually there. The problem with writing about these big open questions in life—important relationships that went wrong, unresolved regrets, What Would Have Happened (which are of course the only things worth writing about)–is that there’s isn’t any right answer, there’s no one way of looking at it. So you experiment with telling yourself a bunch of different stories and see which one makes sense/feels right. You have to be wary of alluring impostor answers.

I don’t know,” Margot wrote me. “The ‘science’ of all this seems pretty squishy.” I have to apologize for Margot’s dismissive tone about the social sciences. She’s always being forced to do stories about things like the discovery of a ‘romance gene’ in naked mole rats, from which people love to draw broad conclusions about human behavior. Margot resents this because, as she says, human personalities are complex and messy, and it’s next to impossible to isolate any one factor or trace causality with any certainty. So what does it tell you about any one individual whether they have this gene or not? Or how they were classified in some study when they were an infant? Nothing.

 

Recently I realized that I was getting bored by my own essay. This is another requirement of stories, actually the first and most indispensible one: they can’t be boring. It was too dry and abstract and academic, all about ideas. The German Forest.  Therapy, also–plateaus where you feel like nothing’s happening and you wonder what the hell you’re doing there. I like to suspect that this is where the real work happens. Raymond Chandler’s advice for writers was: when you get stuck, have a guy with a gun bust in. I did what artists often do when they’re faced with unanswerable questions, from Conrad in Heart of Darkness to Welles in Citizen Kane: I made it a story about the search itself.  It became a sort of procedural, structured around my ongoing dialogue with Margot—which was, in an oblique way, a conversation about our relationship. This is something we eventually realize in therapy, too—that it isn’t really about the story but about the relationship.

 

“Do you really think you have attachment issues?” she finally asked me. I would’ve thought Margot, who once attempted to marry me, would know. Um, have I mentioned that Margot and I went out, years ago? Well, we did, for three years, then we broke up for a year, and then we went out for another year. We were apparently engaged, at one point. Long story—suffice it to say I heard this from a third party years later. It was news to me. Still, she was the person I probably came closest to marrying in life, which admittedly wasn’t very. But she’s still one of the people I love most in the world, no matter how seldom I see her. There was a night, not long after we broke up for the last time, when she called my cabin because there was a film on TV of Nixon playing piano, that she knew I would want to see. “The phone rang and rang, but nobody answered,” she wrote me. That was seventeen years ago, but I still think about that night from time to time. We all do this: look back on our traumas and losses and little moments that no one but us remembers or noticed and try to figure out if that’s where it all went wrong.

That past doesn’t exist; it’s only a story. I could’ve told you why Margot and I broke up right after it hapened—Margot couldn’t accept who I was, wanted me to get a real job and get married and drove me away–but ten years later I would’ve told you a very different one—that I was depressed and drinking too much, afraid of commitment, and I blew it. Now I like to imagine it’s because I might be avoidantly attached. Maybe we just go through life tell ourselves one story after another to get through the days, replacing old stories with newer ones as we need them.

I’m going to cut through a lot of epistemology here and propose, somewhat rashly, that we know the truth because it works. We can tell ourselves untrue stories about ourselves for a long time–plenty of people go through life contentedly deluded about their histories and what kind of people they are right up until the moment their lives stop working. Hopefully, in therapy, you’re replacing the old story your client’s been telling themselves with a new, truer, and more useful one. I do believe there is such a thing as truth, and I’d like to believe that if we’re honest with ourselves we get closer and closer to the true story. But maybe there is no one True Story–or, if there is, maybe we don’t ever get to know it. Maybe we just circle around it, spiraling in. I hate to tell you this, but I sometimes feel as if, the older I get, the less sense life makes to me–that I have no why anything really happened, or what it all meant. Some mornings I sit there at 8 AM over my first cup of coffee, trying to write, staring into space, with longer and longer pauses between sentences, wondering what to make of this life. It rings and rings but nobody answers.

 

When is a story over? Any ending is always going to be arbitrary, and, to some extent, false, because nothing ever really ends. As the Greeks said, “call no man lucky until he is dead”–or, as the Americans say, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Maybe a story’s over when it stops being interesting, when we don’t need it anymore. Once it’s told, turned into something intelligible and tolerable, we can put it behind us and move on. The novelist Cormac McCarthy once said: ”I’ve never read one of my books.” My own therapist tells me more or less the same thing when I thrash around and whine and wonder how long this whole thing is supposed to last, anyway:  that you just know when it’s time. You don’t need it anymore. Novelist Lionel Shriver cried when she wrote a passage of We Need to Talk About Kevin and decided that was the end. All I can say, as an artist, is that you usually know an ending when you come to it.

I don’t know how this essay’s going to end yet, but I do know when it will. I actually got in contact with Sylvia Bell, the researcher who conducted the SS I was in in 1967. I’m the first of her subjects who’s ever contacted her. She’s still a practicing psychotherapist. I’m going to be interviewing Dr. Bell soon, at her home office in Baltimore in a couple weeks, on the fourteenth. When we agreed on this date neither of us mentioned that it was Valentine’s Day. Whatever happens on that day is going to be the end of the essay. Margot compared this meeting to the replicant confronting his maker in Blade Runner. Well, I’m hoping my interview with Dr. Bell will end more pleasantly than that one, but it does feel a little like one of those stories where you get to ask a guru or Buddha or God one question. What I really want to ask her is: How did I do? Explain me to myself. What’s wrong with me?

 

Ultimately, this is the question that everyone comes to therapy wanting to know. How did I end up here? Why am I this person I would rather not be? Why am I living alone in this dilapidated cabin with a dying cat? Was I insecurely attached to my mother? Was it being given up for adoption? My father’s death? All of the above? Or none? What would’ve happened if I’d answered the phone that night? As Margot says, human personalities and relationships are complex and messy. In the end, here we are, stuck with ourselves. Margot is no sentimentalist, and does not dwell on the past. Recently she undertook a radical decluttering campaign, as part of which she asked me whether I’d like to have a box of my old love letters back. She always signs her emails: “Onward!”

You all seem very young to me. I know you feel very old. We all do, because we’re all at the ends of our own stories, always. I still remember turning eight, and thinking, at the time, that if my life were a TV show and a viewer were only tuning in now, there would be no way they could ever catch up—you could ever show them enough “on last week’s episodes” to ever fill them in on everything that had already happened, all the characters and episodes and in-jokes. Of course I’ve forgotten all that stuff myself now, an entire lifetime, the one that mattered most. The longer we live the vaster and more tangled and impenetrable our stories become. The truth is, none of us knows where we are in our story. We only know that it’s not over yet. Here we are. Onward!


[1] Ainsworth, Blehar, et al, p. 31.

CERTIFICATES ARE HERE!

CERTIFICATES ARE HERE! For members that were inducted/paid dues in the fall of 2013, we have your Phi Alpha Certificates ready. Members of the executive board will be at a table in the SILVER STUDENT LOUNGE during the following hours. You are encouraged to pick up your Phi Alpha Certificate.

Heather (alumni relations representative)/Katy (vice president): 1pm-2pm, Tuesday, February 4th

Amanda (treasurer): 4pm-5pm, Wednesday, February 5th

Katy (vice president): 11pm-1pm, Thursday, February 6th

Isabel (secretary): 1pm-3pm, Friday, February 7th

Phi Alpha Monthly Newsletter

Phi Alpha Monthly Newsletter

February 2014

 

Happy February Phi Alpha Members,

 

I hope you will join me in sending a huge congratulations to our new members this semester!

 

Old Phi Alpha members are encouraged to attend the induction ceremony and speak with new members about their experiences at the School of Social Work. Induction will take place in the Rosenthal Pavilion in Kimmel on, Monday, February 3rd at 6:30pm.

 

The Phi Alpha Induction Ceremony is MANDATORY for all new members unless it is completely impossible for you to attend due to extenuating circumstances. If you are unable to attend, please make arrangements with me for your make up induction. You must be inducted by the end of February or you will not be considered a member for the spring 2014 semester.

   

As a reminder, your requirements (one professional development event and one volunteer event per semester) for Phi Alpha must be completed by the end of the semester in order to maintain your membership. If you have not fulfilled your requirements by the end of the semester, you have one semester to make up your missing requirements.

 

IMPORTANT: For NEW Phi Alpha members, membership dues are due by FEBRUARY 15TH. If dues are not submitted by this date, you will not be considered a member for the spring of 2014 semester.

 

CERTIFICATES ARE HERE! For members that were inducted/paid dues in the fall of 2013, we have your Phi Alpha Certificates ready. Members of the executive board will be at a table in the SILVER STUDENT LOUNGE during the following hours. You are encouraged to pick up your Phi Alpha Certificate.

 

Heather (alumni relations representative)/Katy (vice president): 1pm-2pm, Tuesday, February 4th

 

Amanda (treasurer): 4pm-5pm, Wednesday, February 5th

 

Katy (vice president): 11pm-1pm, Thursday, February 6th

 

Isabel (secretary): 1pm-3pm, Friday, February 7th

 

 

Volunteer Events

On Tuesday, February 18th from 5:30PM-8:30PM in the Student Lounge in Silver AND Sunday, February 23rd 1PM – 4PM at 239 Greene Street, Argo Tea, we will be gathering together to make a blanket for children living at a therapeutic community. Light refreshments and snacks will be served. Materials provided. If you have your own materials, please bring them! All levels welcome and no experience is necessary. For more information or to RSVP, contact: ssw.phialpha@nyu.edu

 

I would also like to remind each Phi Alpha member of the opportunity to participate in the Silver Fox program led by Jennifer Glass, the President of GSA. This program pairs mentors and mentees together and allows for academic and professional support throughout the school year. Please reach out to Jennifer Glass (Jennifer.glass@nyu.edu) directly if you would like to participate in this program as either a mentor or mentee. If you participate as a mentor, this will fulfill your volunteer requirement for the semester.

 

As always, the most up-to-date volunteer opportunities are available on the Groupspaces calendar, facebook page, and the Phi Alpha blog. We will be adding exciting new opportunities throughout the year, so please continue to refer to the calendar and follow the RSVP instructions detailed on each event page.

 

Professional Development:

 

Join us the ICUR Spring 2014 Lab Series: Unearthing Internalized Racial Oppression. This event is free and open to the public and is put on by Interschool Council on Undoing Racism. This will be a healing circle-style cypher on the deep impact of racial oppression on our minds, bodies and spirits. This conversation will pull from traditional and holistic practices as well as popular education approaches. The process is designed to elicit deeper inner knowing and should connection about our pain and our paths toward healing. Please bring an object of personal, familial or ancestral significance for our collective creating of space. This event will take place on Thursday, February 13th from 6pm-8:30pm  at Stony Brook Manhattan at 113 East 27th Street, New York, NY. I have also attached the poster for this event.

 

Please consult the facebook page and/or blog for more information about professional development in February as we will make you aware of the events as we add them to our calendar and confirm logistical information.

 

 

 Save the date

 

Please join us for an evening service where we remember our friend and fellow student Patricia Owusu. Phi Alpha and the Graduate Student Association will conduct a memorial service in her memory on Monday, February 10th at 6pm in the Silver Parlor. 

Please bring anything you would like to share: thoughts, stories, poems, songs, quotations as we remember our dear friend and fellow student. We will also be making cards to send to her family. Light refreshments will be served.

 

As always, feel free to reach out to Phi Alpha with any questions and/or concerns. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

With warm wishes for a delightful February!

 

All the best,
Jessica C Lief
President

PD EVENT!

PD EVENT!

Attention Phi Alpha Members:

Do you still need to complete your professional development event?!!

Join GSA!

WALKOUT: Undoing Racism Movie Night & Discussion
Join URIP for a screening of Walkout; a documentary about Chican@ students who protest blatant disregard of their basic human rights in their schools. !An open discussion of the film and its relevance to our current organizing will follow. Register Here: Thursday, January 16th, 2014, 6:30-9:30pm, NYU Silver School, The Parlor Room (1 Washington Square N, New York, NY 10003)

January Newsletter

Phi Alpha Monthly Newsletter

January 2014

 

Happy January and Happy New Year Phi Alpha Members,

 

We hope you had a lovely winter break and are enjoying the unexpected snow days!

 

This is going to be a short email as January is a quiet month for Phi Alpha, and the executive board is hard at work planning the events for the semester.

 

As you probably know, your requirements for Phi Alpha must be completed by the end of the semester in order to maintain your membership. If you have not fulfilled your requirements by the end of the semester, you have one semester to make up your missing requirements.

 

If you have not fulfilled your requirements from last semester, please reach out to me directly. I am happy to discuss with each of you how you can fulfill your requirements with what would fit your interests.

 

I am very happy to announce that Phi Alpha received the Social Justice and Diversity Grant. This would not have been possible were it not for the hard work of the executive board, the Student Collective for Global Social Work, Animal Assisted Therapy in Social Work, and a couple Phi Alpha members you know who you are! We are hard at work to plan a conference on promoting human rights in conflict zones in early April. If you are interested in helping to plan this conference, please contact me directly at jcl562@nyu.edu

 

 

Volunteer Events
This Sunday January 5th from 1PM-4PM at Argo Tea at 239 Greene Street AND Wednesday, January 15th 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM in Silver Lounge, we will be gathering together to make a blanket for children living at a therapeutic community. Light refreshments and snacks will be served. Materials provided. If you have your own materials, please bring them! All levels welcome and no experience is necessary. For more information or to RSVP, contact: ssw.phialpha@nyu.edu

 

In October 2004, JBFCS’ Volunteer Services began a project called Sanctuary Stitchers. The program’s goal is to provide a handmade knit or crocheted blanket to each child in therapeutic treatment at one of our residential programs. Sanctuary Stitcher volunteers knit or crochet 7 by 9 inch squares which are assembled into beautiful handmade blankets for children living at JBFCS residences.

 

Your Contribution: Knit or crochet squares for a blanket to comfort a child. One blanket takes 49 squares –knit or crochet one square or forty nine!

 

Square Specifications

Square Size: 7 by 9 inches
Acrylic, worsted weight yarn of any color
Knitting Needles: Size 7
Crochet Hook: Size G
Cast on 35 stitches

For more information, visit: http://www.sanctuarystitchers.org/getStarted.htm

 

As always, the most up-to-date volunteer opportunities are available on the Groupspaces calendar, facebook page, and the Phi Alpha blog. We will be adding exciting new opportunities throughout the year, so please continue to refer to the calendar and follow the RSVP instructions detailed on each event page.

 

 

IMPORTANT: Please save the date for the spring Phi Alpha INDUCTION CEREMONY for the new members. The Phi Alpha induction will take place on Monday, February 3rd at 6:30PM in the Rosenthal Pavilion (Please note the location change.) Old and new members of Phi Alpha and their friends and family are welcome to attend.

 

Our guest speaker for the Spring Phi Alpha Induction will be Tim Kreider. Mr. Kreider will be speaking at induction about creating meaning from client’s stories and making meaning from stories as a writer. Mr. Kreider will be signing copies of his book that will also be available for purchase.

 

Biography

Tim Kreider is an essayist and cartoonist. His most recent book is We Learn Nothing (Simon & Schuster). He has contributed to The New York Times, The New Yorker‘s “Page-Turner” blog, the Men’s Journalnerve.com, The Comics Journal, and Film Quarterly. His cartoons have been collected in three books by Fantagraphics. His cartoon, “The Pain–When Will It End?” ran for twelve years in the Baltimore City Paper and other alternative weeklies, and is archived at the paincomics.com.

 

Kreider was born and educated in Baltimore, MD. He lives in New York City and an Undisclosed Location on the Chesapeake Bay. He has had the same cat for nineteen years. He has been stabbed in the throat on the island of Crete, ridden the circus train to Mexico City, and accompanied a friend having sex change surgery to Neenah, Wisconsin.

  

Abstract for We Learn Nothing

In We Learn Nothing, satirical cartoonist Tim Kreider turns his funny, brutally honest eye to the dark truths of the human condition, asking big questions about human-sized problems: What if you survive a brush with death and it doesn’t change you? Why do we fall in love with people we don’t even like? How do you react when someone you’ve known for years unexpectedly changes genders? With a perfect combination of humor and pathos, these essays, peppered with Kreider’s signature cartoons, leave us with newfound wisdom and a unique prism through which to examine our own chaotic journeys through life.

 

As always, feel free to reach out to Phi Alpha with any questions and/or concerns. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

With warm wishes for a wonderful start to 2014!

 

All the best,
Jessica C Lief
President

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