Friday, February 4, 2011

Poor Leah: A postcard for the psych chapter

What we have here is an example of written interaction with a book, not from the reader's notation, but from her mother's writing via a postcard strategically placed, one could argue, in the book. And there does appear to be a meaningful relationship between this particular book and the written message on the postcard.

A whimsically imaginative tale ensues...

A mother forgot her daughter Leah's birthday and belatedly sent her this postcard with a flimsy excuse and a lame greeting that included her activities with other family members (perhaps adding insult to injury). Poor Leah.

At least four years later, Leah was reading the book Doctors and Specialists, by Morris Fishbein, M.D. (Bobbs-Merrill, 1930). She got to the chapter, The Neurologist and Psychiatrist , and thought of her mother's postcard. Remember, the postcard was written in 1926 and the book it was found in was published in 1930. Did Leah have the postcard handy to use as a bookmark? If so, had she obsessed over it so much as to keep it within reach all that time? Or was there something even worse at play here? Did Leah's mother write the belated birthday acknowledgment (it was hardly a greeting) in 1926 and not give it to her until 1930 (it was not mailed), at the time Leah was reading Dr. Fishbein's book? If so, poor Leah all the more!

Whatever the reason, in a fine Freudian twist, a mother's late birthday remembrance marks her daughter's book some four years later at a chapter that addresses the mental health specialists.

This is how I found it (I swear!) no telling how many years or decades later. Perhaps a depressed young woman used her mother's written admission of procrastination to mark her place in a book. Or maybe she marked this particular chapter to return to for some kind of therapy necessitated by her mother's neglect.
Dear Leah, Thought I could get time to write you a letter for your birthday but I did not get time but this will let you know I thought of you and you will know we are both well & had a dinner at six o'clock for Ed & Family, Robert & Family on my Golden Wedding day they gave me a camio pin it is very pretty Love to all Mother. Will write a letter soon
Mother seems to be absorbed with herself... her party, her gift... Poor neglected Leah. And that postscript about writing a letter soon was placed at the top of the postcard upside down. Unconscious motivation (anyone?) for that choice of placement? Dr. Freud might have enjoyed this one.

I wonder (with my Freud cap on) if Leah bookmarked that chapter specifically for insight of some kind or perhaps some bookish psychotherapy? If so, she might have been disappointed, as the chapter, indeed the entire book, pokes fun at the medical and mental health specialties. To wit:
Oh for the day when there were but two types of mentality, the wise man and the nut! To-day there are as many forms of mental disturbances as there are types of streptococci. They have taken the human mind and split it into layers with the conscious at the top, then the subconscious and finally the unconscious... It was a beautiful symbolism that the high priest should have been named Freud, a name which requires only the exchange of a single letter to make it sound exceedingly doubtful.
Maybe Leah did find some relief in this chapter. Afterall, laughter, it is said, is the best medicine.

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