Is Reconciliation Boring?

Although I have several other posts I plan to write soon, I had to write this one first.

Throughout S7 I read comments from several actors in this show that claimed that once Martin and Louisa reconciled and the “will they/won’t they” theme was resolved, the show would become boring. These statements are also voiced on the Bonus Features of the series 7 DVD. This stance seems founded on the notion that once the marriage has gained solid footing, there would be no way to develop conflict of the sort that creates good plots. I totally disagree with this position and am ready to do my best to argue against it.

I want to substantiate my view by the use of examples from past series of DM and from reminding all of us of past highly rated shows in which married couples in TV dramedies/comedies sustained audiences by using marital conflicts while also addressing important social and interpersonal topics. We all consider Doc Martin a show with excellent writing and acting, and we are dedicated viewers because of its quality. I find it hard to believe that writers of this caliber would be unable to think of first rate plots once this one was resolved.

There are many ways to add conflict to a marriage without forcing the issue of whether the pair will stay together. We’ve spent 7 seasons/series using that trope and it’s reached its “use by” date. It became stale at the beginning of S7, and the decision to prolong its resolution until the last scene of the final episode meant that S7 became filled with delaying tactics. Despite the assertion from Martin Clunes and others that S7 was, in their minds, the most well written of all the series, I did not consider it as excellent as S5. For me the most significant reason I was not as impressed was the fairly transparent effort to string out whether Martin and Louisa would reunite. As compared to S5, which I will go on record now as ranking the best of all, we viewers were forced to watch a lot of scenes with secondary characters and new characters that did not contribute to the primary plot. Instead we spent time with the holistic vet who hallucinated due to self-medicating, or Al having silly problems with his first guests at the B&B, or Bert once again struggling to serve dinners that would bring in more business to his floundering restaurant. All of these storylines came at the expense of seeing more of Martin and Louisa dealing with their difficulties.

In S5 we started with Martin joining Louisa as they took their baby home from the hospital. What ensued was the many demanding aspects of having a newborn who keeps everyone up at night, confuses and disrupts home life, and needs care when his mother returns to work. The introduction of Louisa’s mother Eleanor added the dimension of her relationship with her daughter and how it related to Louisa’s approach to parenting, as well as how she might be reacting to Martin. (The introduction of two new characters, Ruth and Morwenna, added welcome changes that have had enduring consequences.)

Eleanor is a character who brings into play how work impacts childrearing, how mothers provide role models (both positive and negative), and how difficult it is to reach a level of objectivity when one is confronting one’s mother. For me the contrast in mothering between Eleanor’s attitude and Louisa’s was used to great effect. When Louisa decides in E6 that she can’t stay with Martin, we have been through a series of conflicts between Martin and Louisa that involve the caretaker of the school along with Martin’s disdain for the school, the naming of the baby that includes his tacit disapproval of Louisa’s social status, and his neglecting to include Louisa in several major decisions about their lives as a couple. But it is only two episodes later when Mrs. T has her breakdown, abducts the baby, and Martin and Louisa join together to find him. S5 ends with their reconciliation in what I consider a tour de force conversation between Martin and Mrs. T with Louisa prompting Martin.

Throughout S5 there were many conflicts between this couple that reminded me of typical tense conversations between married couples. To me these were amusing as well as great embodiments of real life situations that we can all learn from. As Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air on NPR, said in a recent interview, we turn to literature and film as a means to hear someone speak really personally and have it affirm our experiences. We don’t need artificial impediments to having a couple stay together to engage in the consideration of important topics that impact us all. What S7 could have done is put Martin and Louisa in therapy where they actually learn something about each other, decide to reunite by E6 or even earlier, and then continue to battle their basic inclinations and demons until we arrive at some sort of agreeable place.

As for the many highly regarded shows that we can turn to for examples of marital strife that are both entertaining and identify important issues of their day, here are a few I would include:

I Love Lucy from the 1950s, in which Lucy wants desperately to perform like her husband. Lucy and Ethel experience many a laughable antic just to get Ricky’s attention. In the process of all the physical humor and absurdity, we also confront a mixed marriage and an immigrant’s change in status, the loyalty of friends, the awkwardness of family interactions, the difficulty of women trying to work outside the home, and the birth of a baby boy. There was no need to place the marriage in peril to find plenty of situations that qualified as conflicts that drove the plot.

The Honeymooners from the early 1950s. Hopefully this classic is one most of you are also familiar with. Ralph and Alice are a working class couple living in Brooklyn who often verbally joust but never actually become violent, and who generally make up by the end of each episode. Ralph’s anger would be replaced by short-lived remorse, and he would then apologize for his actions. Many of these apologies to Alice ended with Ralph saying, “Baby, you’re the greatest,” followed by a hug and kiss. In this show the travails of a couple having trouble making ends meet are brought to light. Ralph regularly comes up with money-making schemes that fail and at one point Alice has to find a job when Ralph is laid off.

A personal favorite of mine was Cybill, which ran for 4 seasons from 1995-1998, won many awards including 2 Golden Globes, and was canceled prematurely for no apparent reason. It had between 10 and 12 million viewers for most of its existence. Cybill has been married twice and has two daughters. She is divorced at the time of the show, however, both of her exes are still very much a part of her life. The show took on many women’s issues as well as neuroses, mother-daughter relationships, and female sexuality. There was plenty of conflict going on in the house while the women coped with handling the men and the daughters.

When we get to 2005, we can mention the TV series Parenthood which received strong reviews and lasted 6 seasons. Most critics thought the writing and show got stronger with each season, and Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker “cited its ability to be warm and sentimental without being dumb” as one of its strengths. It also had a strong soundtrack. There were many marriages as part of this show with a plethora of conflicts because the show revolved around three generations. The Braverman family faced a variety of hardships that require compromise, forgiveness and unconditional love. The show was nominated for many awards and won several of them.

Currently House of Cards contains a devious married couple whose marriage is not at risk even though there is infidelity and all sorts of chicanery. As I’m sure most of you know, the show deals with ruthlessness and power, especially in politics. It’s been wildly popular and received many awards. (It is based on a British show of the same name.)

I would also include Reggie Perrin because he is in a secure marriage while being disenchanted with his life. (Reggie Perrin is quoted as saying: “My marriage is like an aircraft’s black box. It’s mysterious, but completely indestructible.”) Since Martin Clunes plays the lead role in this remake, I probably don’t have to say much about it.

The above shows are certainly not an exhaustive list, but they are a good representation of the conflicts that could be sources of successful plots without any sign of any marital on again/off again dynamic.

I found the push-pull of the Martin and Louisa relationship highly entertaining and compelling for the first five series and had thought the conclusion of S5 had put it to rest. When S6 began with the wedding, I felt the show had taken the best route, but the steady decline into depression and moroseness of that series made me shake my head in disbelief. The effort to recuperate the show and its humor in S7 is a welcome reversal, but the interminable delay in Louisa’s decision to invite Martin back into the home was not necessary to keep viewers engaged and became harder and harder to tolerate. We understand Louisa’s hesitations and hurt feelings, but surely she would have relented before two months had passed. She’s tough throughout the previous series, yet she’s never been this hard to convince before and we’re hard pressed to accept that after hugging Martin regularly in E4, she would continue his exile from the family.

 

Originally posted 2015-12-15 11:31:45.

New Developments in Happiness

I am planning to return to writing posts very soon. Things in my life have settled down somewhat and my mind can return to topics concerned with the show.

In the meantime, I thought I’d mention this article on happiness which at least questions whether being happy has anything to do with longevity. We’ve looked at how happiness can affect health and how a sense of well-being is considered important in most countries, so this article seemed pertinent.

I will do my best to get some more ideas organized for next week. Thank you for your patience.

 

Originally posted 2015-12-10 06:39:29.

S7E8 – Back to the Future

I guess it’s about time I say something specifically about E8. It’s too bad the therapy was such a disappointment, and was a failure in so many ways. Nevertheless, somehow Martin and Louisa do find their way back to each other in E8 and it’s worthwhile seeing how that is accomplished.

I’ve already established that Jack Lothian is the writer I consider the best on this show. In my opinion his episodes are the most well conceived and demonstrate outstanding knowledge of story writing as well as of literature. He has written several of the opening and closing episodes of many series, and I believe he methodically connects themes and actions in these first and last episodes to create a coherency that operates on many levels. The last episode of S7 is another example of his striking ability to allude to classical works of literature as well as many other forms of storytelling while consummating the characters in both humorous and complex ways. Each series ends with dialogue that is ambiguous yet satisfying. I enjoy the process of analyzing what he’s doing as he coordinates the action and the dialogue to achieve a successful outcome, plus I get to laugh a lot.

That S7 would end with a reconciliation seemed inevitable to me because I could not imagine this show not completing its mission as a dramedy. If S6 had been the last of the series, it would have been a transgression of all that the show had worked to develop for the previous five series. S7 had to redeem it. In fact, my view is that Lothian includes reminiscences from both S5E8, S6E1, S6E8, and S7E1 in S7E8. He also sustains the primary themes we’ve come to expect, i.e. the difficulty Martin and Louisa have communicating with each other, whether people can change, and the importance of Martin’s skills as a diagnostician and surgeon in saving people’s lives while also keeping his relationship with Louisa alive.

S7 begins with Martin waking up in bed alone wishing he can find a way out of the predicament of losing Louisa. Similarly in the final episode we begin with Martin waking up in bed alone, and hoping again to get out of the predicament he’s in. (BTW, I haven’t figured out how he fell asleep. Was he given a sleeping potion? Otherwise it is doubtful Martin would have felt like sleeping with his mouth duct taped and his hands tied to the bed. He hasn’t been sleeping well in his cottage and now he’s in an even stranger place. But never mind; we can let that go.) It doesn’t take long for him to figure out how to release himself from the bed. He then goes through a series of comedic escape antics including tiptoeing like Sylvester the Cat across a loft area while below Annie Winton speaks to Louisa on the phone and doesn’t see him, making his way down the back stairs and overhearing Jim Winton talking to his son as he sits on the bed, and hiding when the son looks up after he hears a noise. All of these actions have a cartoonish air about them. (FYI, Sylvester shows a lot of pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester is, with rare exceptions, placed squarely on the “loser” side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy. He often sneaks around while his owner “Granny” talks on the phone. In this episode Martin never stops trying to escape from the house through doors and windows. Martin’s persistence is reinforced by Mrs. Winton’s comment that “when you love someone, you never give up.”)

In this mostly amusing and never very convincingly dangerous episode, we also have shades of myths and legends, possible totems from voodoo, and a couple of chase scenes with the last one ending at the entrance to a mine reminiscent of Westerns, including an empty whiskey bottle as a clue. We’ve sometimes speculated that this show is playing with the tropes of Fairytales, and I’ve written about how they undercut those tropes. I’ve wondered as well if they were having some fun with the popularity of the Harry Potter series. Although we don’t have any real witches, goblins, or wizards in this episode, Martin tells Mrs. Winton that he’s not in the business of miracles, he animatedly gesticulates as if he’s casting a spell while denying that he’s a wizard, and says that he can’t conjure a cure. (I must say here that many patients do think doctors can perform miracles and cure almost anything, and some treatments almost seem miraculous. In this episode, we could be tempted to call Martin’s ablation of Jim’s neck mass a miracle.) Ruth has told Louisa that the fight or flight response is not just a myth. Thus, we have more than enough allusions to the mythical and magical than we need to recognize its place in this part of the story.

During this episode Martin is required to leave Portwenn and drive into the wilderness where danger lurks. As Martin approaches the Winton’s front door, the camera lingers on a gargoyle type sculpture. For me this figure looks most like a Griffin, a legendary creature that is a mixture of a lion and an eagle, both kings of their species. The Griffin has been used in literature, most providentially in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack Lothian had this in mind. In Dante’s allegory, after Dante and Virgil’s journey through Hell and Purgatory has concluded, Dante meets a chariot dragged by a Griffin in Earthly Paradise. Immediately afterwards, Dante is reunited with Beatrice. Dante and Beatrice then start their journey through Paradise. We could call Martin’s stay at the Wintons a journey through Hell/Purgatory that ends in being reunited with Louisa (Beatrice) after which they begin their journey together in the Earthly Paradise that is otherwise called Portwenn. (Like Martin, Dante carried his love for Beatrice throughout his life. She represents beatific love.) Allegory, myth, folktale, cartoon, take your pick.

This episode also recollects the scene in S6E8 in which Martin races to the airport in Penhale’s Jeep to rescue Louisa. This time it’s Louisa rushing to rescue Martin and asking Penhale to drive. Both times Penhale delays due to a humorous interruption; with Martin it was his costume, with Louisa it is a useless conversation with Buddy. Ironically, if only Buddy could talk, he could have led them to Martin. Buddy is most like the loyal, but powerless, sidekick at this point. Both times Penhale is somewhat helpful while being his usual oddball self. The scene with Louisa and Penhale sneaking around the Winton house and stopping to discuss the meaning of raising a fist reminded me of the three stooges and is a funny interlude in what is supposed to be a serious rescue effort. Then Penhale tries to enter the house through the bathroom window while Martin is trying to leave through the same window. When they are discovered, Penhale’s taser has not been recharged and is worthless. Now we’re in the zone of comedic Westerns during which a gun is jammed and won’t fire at the crucial moment. (They’ve associated the taser with Westerns with the music they use in the episode where Joe first receives it. In S5E8 Ruth told Joe he isn’t Clint Eastwood, and now we have reconfirmation of that!)

We also have a connection to S7E2 in which Martin is surprised by Louisa’s appearance and says he wasn’t expecting her so early. Well, the Wintons aren’t expecting Martin so early either, and the fact that he is so prompt leads to more trouble and the loss of his medical bag. Martin’s medical bag has been his constant accessory throughout these series and we would think the Wintons would consider it important, but as in S6E1, he’s able to improvise. He also recuperates his image by helping their injured German Shepard as opposed to wanting to euthanize Buddy. And Mrs. Winton’s comment that he has a gentle touch recalls the one made by Barry in E1 when ME discovers that he has a condition that needs immediate medical attention. He tells Martin he considers him a good guy.

Furthermore, in E1 Morwenna speaks of playing the role of a victim needing to be rescued, which of course is exactly what Martin does in E8. Martin is even wearing the same suit and tie in both episodes, and now that I’ve seen E8, Ruth’s comment in E1 as she looks at a picture of Martin wearing a tie as a child that Martin has literally not changed is true in more ways than one.

It is this episode that most reflects the title of E7, “Facta Non Verba,” because here we have actual deeds that speak louder than words. The deeds begin with Mrs. Winton calling the doctor’s office and demanding that he come to her house, which he dutifully does. Next she holds him at gunpoint. He makes an attempt at escape only to run into Clemo Winton who simply takes him back to the house. Meanwhile, back in Portwenn, Louisa has put together a lovely meal with a lot of Martin’s favorite foods. This time she isn’t going to serve him sausage or scotch eggs. She obviously is already planning to make this a reconciliation dinner. Here is another occasion when Martin and Louisa’s efforts to talk are interrupted. In E1 they are unable to connect due to poor reception and Dr. T’s rules cause Martin to miss Louisa’s 4:30 call; in E8 the Wintons disrupt their scheduled conversation. (Throughout this series they continue to be interrupted whenever they attempt to talk in any meaningful way. I should mention that comments on the blog post about therapy point out that any talk they might have had would probably have gone poorly anyway, which is even more evidence that any move they make to have a long talk ends in failure.) Martin doesn’t show, no talk ensues, and Louisa is determined to find him.

When she comes up empty handed the following morning, she calls Mrs. Winton who claims Martin left the previous evening, then she finds Penhale and they retrace Martin’s steps to the Wintons. Louisa will not be stopped from this point on and notices Martin’s shoes, finds his car, and confronts Mrs. Winton.

So we have the deeds leading up to Louisa finding Martin and Martin really trying to read the notes from the oncologist, and finding a possible mistake in the diagnostic procedure. Soon we have more action when they look for Jim Winton and find that he has left his bed. They figure he’s headed to the mine and they all run after him. Martin suggests Louisa stay behind several times, but this time Louisa won’t let Martin out of her sight and tells him “I came here to get you and I’m not going home without you.” Ahh, more indication that Louisa has decided to have Martin move back in with her.

I would say that during this episode Martin experiences many moments during which he has a lack of control. However, no matter what they demand of him, he manages to maintain some semblance of control, either by trying to reason with them or by being unwilling to buckle under while they point a gun at him. In a sense, he retains control regardless of their threats because they need him. The only thing he can’t control is Louisa’s actions, and his uncertain answer to Ruth at the end of the episode is evidence of this.

it is also quite noticeable that throughout the episode Martin and Louisa refer to each other as “my wife” and “my husband.” Not only should this identifier matter to Mrs. Winton because she is so dedicated to her husband, but also it reinforces their commitment as a couple. We’ve heard Louisa correct people many times during this series when they neglect to call her Mrs. Ellingham, an indication in my mind that she sees herself as Martin’s wife. In this final episode, that moniker is given precedence when Martin frequently is heard alluding to his concern for his wife. I find it interesting that the Wintons have one child, a son, and that parallels the Ellinghams. I wouldn’t say that Martin and Louisa find any solace in watching the loyalty and care Clemo Winton has for his parents, but it’s amusing to see Clemo try to hug Martin for saving his father’s life. What will Martin do when his son reaches out to hug him?

A final example of how this episode connects to previous ones is the procedure Martin completes on Mr. Winton’s neck. Mr. Winton’s surgery takes us back to S6E1 when Martin and Louisa carry out surgery on the caravan owner’s neck. This time the surgery is much less bloody, but there’s Martin with a makeshift scalpel cutting into a scruffy old man’s neck while Louisa assists and grimaces. In both cases the men survive against all odds and Martin comes away as the hero. Moreover, Martin and Louisa act as a team again.

We are also reminded of the talk Ruth and Martin had sitting on a grassy hill during the last episode of S6 where she explains to him that he has to change to get Louisa to return. Here Louisa comes to the realization that she doesn’t want him to change. He has acted on Ruth’s counsel throughout S7 only to discover that Louisa has concluded that she loves him just the way he is.

Louisa tells Martin that she thinks she has been obsessed with wanting people to be normal. As Dr. T said to Louisa, “normal” is a loaded word. Louisa has told Dr. T that her parents are normal, but now she acknowledges that her idea of normal is complicated and that everyone is unusual in some way. There is no true “normal.” Instead of wanting a “normal” husband, she understands that she should embrace his personality traits regardless of, or especially because of, their uniqueness. “We Are What We Are,” as Erica Holbrook has written for art class.

Martin agrees that he is unusual, and then we get his admission that he has tried but it just seems to make things worse. At first his remark seems very ambiguous. What has he tried and how has he made things worse? He may not have made things better, but his actions have hardly made things worse. (I do not think he is referring to trying to change how he feels about Louisa. Despite the ambiguity of this statement, it makes more sense that he’s talking about his effort to express himself in therapy sessions and to demonstrate to Louisa that he is working on his skills as a spouse.) I think they both say partial truths in this final scene. Louisa tells Martin that he’s never let her down, which he has, and Martin thinks he’s made things worse by trying to be a better husband. Once again he is assuming the blame and she is overstating or exaggerating what has happened between them.

For me the key confession they make to each other is when Martin tells Louisa, “I’m never going to change the way I feel about you,” and she answers, “I don’t want that.” What is an unmitigated fact is that his love for her is something he won’t change and can’t change (and he’s even powerless to change), and she admits that she doesn’t want him to change in that regard. She’s glad to know that his love for her will never change, and we all know she’s tested that.

By the end of this episode we are pleased to hear Louisa respond in kind to Martin’s assertion that he loves her. She hasn’t said it often enough.

We also see the other major characters all find a satisfying conclusion to their plights. Sally has made a new commitment to Clive, Bert is back in business with Al (which may be better for Bert than for Al), Al’s Bed and Breakfast has been given new life and he’s headed for another relationship with the doctor’s receptionist, and Morwenna has gotten her pay rise while Martin has averted another showdown with a disgruntled receptionist.  Portwenn can now return to its previously calm state. It looks like Penhale will be staying on and continuing to keep the place safe. And that’s a wrap!

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(Not for the blog, just for this series. More posts coming soon.)

Originally posted 2015-11-20 06:55:03.

Another Take on Introversion

Well, not many of you were very interested in contributing to my post on Depression, but that isn’t going to stop me from taking another stab at Introversion!

So today, as happens on many Sundays, I was reading the NYTimes and saw an article of interest. This article is one I enjoyed because of its new twist on another subject we’ve been writing about for some time, introversion. The author, a columnist and contributing editor from the Greater Boston Area, considers whether using the excuse of being an introvert is really just a rationalization for simply being rude. I particularly liked the part where she notes:
“Society has a rich history of people seizing on social evolution as an excuse for bad manners. From the Romantic poets to the transcendentalists to the Summer of Love hippies, many have rejected a supposed facade of good behavior in favor of being true to their inner nature. Good manners are mere mannerisms, the argument goes, which serve only to put barriers in the way of deeper connections.”

One reason I like this part is because she references the Romantic poets, many of whom wrote about sitting around, like Coleridge, under Lime Trees thinking about life, or transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau, who took himself into the woods to think about life, and then there are the hippies who also liked to muse about life while being one with nature. All of the above indulged in high minded philosophical ideas by withdrawing from society, believing they had reached a more astute concept of our world. In other words, they had pretty good impressions of themselves as a result of coming to the conclusion that social interaction, and following social mores, was accepting the dictates of others rather than being true to themselves.

In a later paragraph, the author takes a somewhat critical view of introverts when she says: “self-indulgent introverts [risk] crossing the line into antisocial behavior.” Since we’ve spent so much time determining what it means to be an introvert, and learning how all personality types fall on a spectrum or continuum, I find her identification of introverts as self-indulgent a form of indictment. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that they can be perceived as antisocial. It means something that some synonyms for antisocial includes terms like unfriendly, reclusive, standoffish, and even sociopathic.

We need to draw a distinction between the personality trait of introversion and being labeled as antisocial. However, there is a hazard that what is a personality trait to one person could appear to be acting unfriendly to another.

For a simple explanation of how some introverts function, I found this site helpful. There is something identified as Introversion.

And now we have the case of Martin Ellingham. There are signs that he falls somewhere on the Introversion scale. Similarly, there are signs that he is also rude and antisocial. We know he likes to withdraw into his house to read and work on clocks; but we also know he is willing to go to parties or out for a drink or dinner if the right person asks him (namely either Louisa or one of his aunts).

Finally, Dell’Antonia takes up the notion of control or self-determination, another one of our favorite subjects, when she states:
“I may be naturally reserved, and more comfortable alone than I will ever be in a crowd, but I am not at the mercy of my nature. There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don’t think we will enjoy, or for just putting on our pajamas and staying home. Too many of them boil down to just that one thing: We care more about ourselves than about the needs of others.”

Maybe she’s right…some of us may be hiding behind the guise of introversion when we are really more concerned about ourselves than others. Perhaps introverts should force themselves to join in more, and perhaps they would like it if they did.

There is an aspect of ME that falls under the category of self-aggrandizement. He thinks he’s better than the idiots and ignoramuses living in Portwenn, and he feels perfectly justified telling them so. We laugh when he tells someone they would be stupid not to listen to his advice (or have been), but it is offensive at the same time. When they frequently call him a “tosser,” they are literally telling him he is being selfish and inconsiderate. Is that the writers telling us this character is simply rude? I mean, we have to be honest and admit that he crosses the line fairly often.

What do you think about this view of introversion? If there are still psychologists and social workers reading this blog, please let us know what your reaction is. (I know, I’m deliberately nudging you to respond. Still, I am interested.)

Originally posted 2016-09-25 15:29:48.

Aliens

S7E7 includes an invasion of outsiders to Portwenn. There’s Erica Holbrooke and daughter Bernadette, the new art teacher and her daughter; Inspector Salter looking to switch Penhale to a new, larger location; the American tourist who’s played by Sigourney Weaver, alien extraordinaire; the Wintons, whom we’ve never seen before, and intrude into Martin’s space; and, most importantly, Dr. Rachel Timoney, who previously has never shown her face in the village. (Perhaps all of her patients have been word of mouth.) Each of these newcomers disrupts the normal order of things, and that’s the point.

What is an alien but someone who is not normally seen in a certain setting. And this episode spends a significant amount of time asking us to think about the concept of normality. To a great extent normal is defined by what’s abnormal in regards to where we are situated, and the definition is constantly changing. When Louisa asks Dr. T if struggling is a normal part of the process, Dr. T answers “normal is a loaded word” and that is an understatement. Each community has its own norms, and every social setting does too.  Dr. T might have answered that many, if not most, couples go through various trials before they arrive at a place where they are comfortable with where their marriage is. Therefore, it is normal to struggle for a time. Instead she makes a point of mentioning that the term “normal” has strong emotional implications. Moreover, in “Doc Martin” normal is a loaded word due to the many quirky people we’ve come across, not the least of whom is Martin Ellingham.

In this show, we have accepted that Martin is different, or not normal by the standards used by most of us. He is rude, abrasive, and confrontational to most people. He has a tendency to say what’s on his mind no matter what the setting, which means he has no concern about insulting people. If he’s served canapés, he sees no reason not to note that they are “salmonella en croute,” and when Bernadette is practicing the violin, he gives a blunt appraisal of her ability, which is that listening to her play is excruciating and what she’s playing is not music. We have come to expect Martin not to conform to how most of us have been taught to behave, and we usually enjoy his peccadilloes.

Because his alternative behavior can offend Louisa, he has tried at times to modify his behavior, but he’s typically unsuccessful at doing that. Furthermore, she notices when he’s being artificially nice and finds it transparent and unnatural. In this series, he’s once again doing his best to show Louisa how much effort he’s making to accommodate her. So far his adjustments have done very little to convince her that they should reconcile, and we can see that he is troubled by this. It’s possible that he thought she would come around much sooner once she noticed his determination to set things right, but she is being steadfast in her decision to take her time before yielding. In E7 she once again sends him on his way without so much as a nod to his routine of putting James Henry to bed at night.

Besides Martin both Bernadette and Penhale are identified as different, or abnormal. Bernie’s mother considers her gifted in many areas and has separated her from her peers. Erica is prone to actively pursuing the unusual and her art classes reflect that. Louisa wants her to have the kids do “normal” art like landscapes and drawings of rainbows while Erica asks the students to “confront who we are as people” and express their true selves by mounting their beloved stuffed animals and dolls on a display board. She upsets the children and her daughter by imposing an exercise on them and asking them to give up what comforts them. It seems they all have formed attachments to comforting objects and, therefore, it is “normal” for them to hate being separated from them.

Penhale stands out from the norm because Portwenn has been crime free while he’s been on duty. We know that he has done very little to produce that outcome, and, if anything, he’s wanted something criminal to take place under his watch, but his record looks outlandishly perfect to his superiors. Would he be able to reproduce that outcome if he were to move to the larger city of Exeter? Our suspicion is no. His unusual results are based on the size and character of Portwenn and not on his expertise.

Nevertheless, Inspector Salter notes that the men on the 5th floor want to know who is 3021. And Erica wants to know who these children are. And Martin and Louisa want to know who they are and how they can reconnect. Even Bert wants to find his true identity.

Of course, our American tourist is out of place in Portwenn. She also adds to her alien nature by being manipulative, demanding, and too convinced of her own knowledge. She is impatient and wants her glaucoma drops immediately, then she questions Martin’s decision to examine her only to find out that her doctor prescribed the wrong medicine for someone with her symptoms. Even as a patient she’s different. Her decision to give Morwenna a book about being assertive as a woman reflects her own behavior and can be seen as an effort to change Morwenna.

The fact that there is no real “normal,” begs the question of how to judge what we should change. Not only does our concept of normality change, but also we need to know ourselves, as Erica implies. We need to revisit the idea of whether people can change, but for now, a hint about that is the words that are printed on the art class board: “We Are What We Are.”

The other thing I would say about this episode is that its title, “Facta Non Verba,” is, to me, hard to apply to this episode. Translated from the latin this phrase means “Deeds not Words” or can be interpreted as “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.” But, instead, this episode elevates words to a status above actions, and much of the episode accentuates the importance of words. During the opening therapy session Dr. T asks Martin and Louisa to create lists, to write down what they consider good about being apart. Later she tells Martin that it is the act of thinking and writing the lists that is important. Their final interaction with her has them engaging in wordplay with Dr. T writing down the words they suggest. She also tells them that she’s both “all” and “right.” Isn’t this another reference to how we use these words, and to the ambiguity of words?

At the pharmacy Dr. T loses track of what she’s saying and she calls Ruth senile. Ruth corrects her, telling her she’s not senile, and we can probably guess that Rachel really meant to use a different word, perhaps senior. Rachel also has a fairly nonsensical talk with Penhale whose closing remarks are that her words have helped him by giving him someone who can relate to what he’s feeling. Words can have a powerful impact.

Finally I think it’s worth looking at the lyrics of “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” the song mentioned by Penhale while talking to Martin about whether he should take the job offer in Exeter. (As an aside, this song was written by The Clash, a punk rock band from the late 70s, early 80s.) The words sung by The Clash seem to be right on the mark for this episode. The last scene has Martin telling Louisa that he can’t live like this anymore and she turns to go into the house with a lot to think about.

Here are the lyrics to the song:

Darlin’ you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

It’s always tease tease tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day is fine and next is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on an’ let me know
Should I Stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An’ if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

This indecision’s buggin’ me
If you don’t want me, set me free
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?
Come on and let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?

Split

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So you gotta let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay there will be double
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-10 18:16:29.

Sally Forth

Episode 6 is not just about Martin and Louisa; Sally and Clive Tishell play an important part due to how they handle their marital reconciliation. After Clive returns in E4 and surprises Sally, their decisions about the future of their marriage are used as a sort of guide to a better marriage. What they do is pretty much a model for how a married couple should reconcile, and how it can be done without a therapist.

When Clive resurfaces, he immediately embraces Sally even though he’s been gone for a long time. He doesn’t hold back despite the circumstances under which he left. It’s Sally who is cautious about taking him back and has no difficulty confronting Clive about being gone. Sally is beside herself over Clive’s return and tells Ruth about it as soon as she sees Ruth passing the pharmacy. Ruth’s advice to Sally is to have a frank conversation with Clive, which prompts Sally to succinctly list what they should talk about. They should discuss where their relationship has gone in the past, and where they are going in the future, and whether it’s apart or together, and if it’s together, how they will do that. There’s not much Ruth can add to that! (I was reminded of Sally’s monologue in the final episode of S5 when she recounts the on and off again relationship between Martin and Louisa so bluntly.)

It doesn’t take Sally long to get around to having a talk with Clive, and she lays out her feelings quite openly. Clive is agreeable and admits he was worried about what Sally would say if he asked her, before he returned. Next Sally tells Clive she’s changed and is no longer the woman he married. He accepts that and asserts he would marry her all over again anyway. He immediately disarms her and goes farther when he says, “I’m here for you Sal, if you’ll have me.” Her anger is defused but she’s still only willing to let him sleep on the couch.

It’s not difficult to juxtapose this exchange with the one we saw between Martin and Louisa when Louisa arrived unannounced in E2. Not only do they struggle to reveal their true feelings, but also their discussion is filled with unspoken psychological baggage. Martin never disarms Louisa by opening his heart and declaring he’s willing to do almost anything to convince her to take him back. Louisa is also unable to speak openly like Sally about how Martin disappointed her. Instead their separation becomes more laden with what is left unsaid. It’s as though the message is that the act of communicating is the fundamental solution to marital problems and eliminates the need for outside intervention.

In E5 we watch Sally as she continues to prepare casseroles to put outside Martin’s front door. Clive catches her in the act of cooking, but instead of getting angry and accusing her of any wrongdoing, he tells her he doesn’t know what she’s up to and doesn’t want to know. He’s letting the past stay in the past. Furthermore, he once again takes responsibility for not having been more attentive and possibly causing her to turn to untoward behaviors. But he suggests trying to trust each other and move on together. His next comments are the most critical: he tells her he ran away when she most needed him, but he’s there now and came back for her. It isn’t long before Sally takes the big step of throwing out her next cooked meal for Martin Ellingham and all the containers she had stored for more meals to come. This act is hugely significant for Sally.

Once again we can contrast Clive’s confessions with the total lack of admission of fault by Louisa. She, too, left when Martin most needed her, and she, too, has come back now. However, she isn’t willing to leave the past in the past. Martin has told Dr. T that he trusts Louisa but telling Louisa directly would be more effective. Moreover, he wants them to move on together yet has trouble expressing that to her. Martin even denies feeling lonely in the final scene of this episode, reinforcing the sense we have that he continues to avoid acknowledging his true feelings. All of their repressed and unsaid sentiments are placed at the root of their estrangement. Both Sally and Martin have suffered through major psychological events. Psychosis accompanied by delusional disorder marked by self-medication and criminal actions for her. Haemophobia followed by self-treatment and Major Depressive Disorder for him. They are both damaged by these experiences but Sally is not one to repress very much, and that seems to be healthier.

Now here we are in E6 and Sally finds Clive doing his best to help in the store. Already Clive’s efforts to demonstrate to Sally that he is sincere about rekindling their marriage are reaping big dividends. She has dropped her resistance to his advances and is ready to invite him back into their bedroom. Soon Sally is preparing Clive’s favorite meal for dinner and herself for a romantic evening.

The idyllic dinner Sally plans is precisely offset by the dinner plans of Martin and Louisa, even down to the replacement of the wine glasses on the dinner tables. The two dinners are intercut such that we watch both couples striving to make the evening a success, but in both cases that is not to be. Both end with medical emergencies and what appears to be a reconfirmation of their dedication to their spouses. Louisa makes clear that Danny has overstepped his boundaries and Martin seems satisfied to hear her put Danny in his place. Meanwhile, Clive has had a heart attack from applying testosterone gel combined with taking a pill to help with sexual arousal and Sally is overcome with anxiety that he might die. The difference in the level of emotion between Sally and Martin is exaggerated for comedic value as well as to demonstrate her newfound passion for her husband as opposed to Martin’s revulsion for such overflowing of emotion and his well-measured response to Louisa’s outburst. It would be nice to see Sally lower her excitement level and Martin increase his.

Nevertheless, Sally and Clive have proven that a marriage can be revived with a commitment to talk to each other, to be open about what they want from each other, and to accept responsibility for the mistakes that both of them have made. Sally would probably be categorized as a character with a small role that has a big impact. Throughout the show Sally has mostly been used as a thorn in Martin’s side, much like the dogs that follow him relentlessly. This time her impact is played out in how she lets bygones be bygones. It’s nice to see Sally used as more than for comedic gestures. Of course, she isn’t totally over her obsession with Martin. But we’re getting closer.

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-05 20:08:02.

Phallic allusions

As you know, I am inclined to write about serious topics, or to write about topics in a serious way. But let’s have some fun! This post will be about what has become pretty evident over the years — there are lots of jokes/scenes about male genitalia.

For one thing, you better not become a constable in Portwenn because so far all of them have had troubles with their sexual organs. Mark Mylow had a small penis and no sperm, and Joe Penhale found an abnormality on his scrotum. Of course, in both cases, Martin Ellingham gave them a thorough exam. In Mark’s case he also made fun of Mark’s magic pills advertised to make him more virile, and gave them to Stewart as a placebo.

And that brings me to how often this doctor has examined male patient’s gonads. Besides Mark and Joe, we have the patient who has his testicles examined by ME by mistake — he was the wrong patient. Recently, in S7E1, Steven Baker has been taking steroids and EPO because he wants to keep up with younger men, and his employee actually has some form of testicular cancer. We witness Martin examine both Steven and Barry’s genitalia.

In addition we have some men with erectile dysfunction. One man’s solution is to use S&M techniques, while Edward just takes Viagra. The S&M becomes a little too abusive and Edward overdoses. We also have Pauline’s uncle who is struggling to get his wife pregnant and who turns out to be attracted to men.

Now, S7E6, we have Clive who has taken potassium bromide to reduce any sexual urges while on the rig. (This, BTW, is a old fashioned treatment AND a drug used in veterinary medicine, which is funny to me because of Angela and her abuse of drugs as a vet.) Now he wants to have sex with Sally, and doesn’t want to disappoint her or make her think she isn’t attractive to him anymore, so he applies testosterone gel on his chest and takes Sildenafil (the chemical name for Viagra). Clive overdoses too and has a heart attack. Martin accuses him of being obsessed. (Possibly the pot calling the kettle black?)

Hey, we have to feel sorry for all the men in little Portwenn dealing with these handicaps, and maybe there are many male patients who require attention to that area, and the show is only being medically accurate! In comparison, though, ME has only done one gynecological exam that I can remember. It’s just not as funny as dallying with the danglers I guess!

Finally we have the silly references to penises through the use of vegetables (eggplant and tomatoes) and sausage. I’m good with having some fun — go ahead, have a laugh at men’s expense.

We will return to our usual posts now!

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-03 11:04:45.

Reboot

The title of E5 is Control-Alt-Delete, and there’s no question that control is a major theme in this episode. Martin and Louisa are still jostling for control in their relationship; he has lost the little control over his living arrangements he had when a new neighbor moves in and bothers him; and Buddy continues to follow him everywhere. In fact, Buddy is the default for him in trying to regain some control and almost suffers the utmost penalty for it. But even here Martin gives in to Louisa’s demand that he abort his decision to euthanize Buddy, which leads to Martin seeking the help of an animal rescue person. Alas, she can’t control Buddy either and he is forever finding a way to escape and return to Martin. He’s the one living creature that won’t give up on Martin no matter what Martin does to him.

However, these three keys of the keyboard have more meaning than we might suspect. In terms of their use on a keyboard, they are the way to reboot a PC computer and were originally chosen so that techies working on computers wouldn’t mistakenly reboot a computer when they were working on it. So the keys one has to depress to reboot are not all located near each other. It requires making an effort to hit the correct keys to begin a reboot.

What does it mean to reboot something? We generally reboot our devices when there has been a malfunction and rebooting and restarting will return the device to proper order. It works with TVs, cars, as well as computers; pretty much anything that is mechanical. If we follow that scheme for this episode, and possibly for the series, we can see that there are a number of occasions when either relationships are rebooted or decisions are rebooted, i.e. they are reconsidered and reset. (As an aside here, I want to note that TV shows are also rebooted and this can mean the restarting of a series storyline that discards all previous continuity. We may need that in this show soon.)

In this episode Martin and Louisa try to turn around their relationship by having Louisa be in control of an activity. IMO she has taken control to a great extent already; nevertheless, this time it is she who has been told to make plans and Martin is required to follow them. Although we may consider her periodic “jokes” she makes to Martin a sign that she is being unkind, one effect of her joking is that he is put off balance by them. This time she first explains to him that she has chosen to throw a party and wants him to introduce himself to everyone because they may not have met him yet. He looks quite petrified at this suggestion, but since she has no real plans for a party of that kind, he is relieved to learn that her actual plan is a picnic on the beach. For me, her strategy of switching the party to a day at the beach is somewhat ingenious because a day at the beach sounds much more appealing to him in comparison to a party. (I would have thought she might have wanted to go on a picnic in a more secluded spot, but this is a TV show and they need the interface with a variety of other members of the community. Also, Louisa wants Martin to be more socially active in the village.)

When Louisa arrives at Martin’s door to start their outing, Martin tries to exert control by having made his own picnic food and Louisa is immediately disgruntled and tempted to call the date off. However, they reboot and Martin puts away his picnic basket while Louisa reassesses and continues with the date. Ultimately, of course, many interruptions occur and the date is anything but a nice family outing. Nevertheless, Louisa recognizes that there are certain circumstances that demand Martin’s intervention and he both protects her and James from wild and crazy Angela as well as getting to the bottom of Angela’s mental breakdown. In the end, Louisa acknowledges that she was glad he took control of that situation. They’ve rebooted but not really reset.

As a byproduct of this scenario, Angela learns that medicating herself with animal antibiotics is not very smart. On the other hand, she concedes that she will probably do it again because that is what vets often do. Reboot; no actual change.

The major reboot in this episode is the one between Clive and Sally. Here we have Clive literally telling Sally that he wants to start over and doesn’t want to know anymore about what’s happened in the past. Basically he’s saying he wants to do a “hard” restart, and act as though their relationship is new. He loves her and wants to do everything he can to convince her he’s sincere. She, in turn, responds by reconsidering her actions, chucks the casserole she had prepared for Martin despite his objections, and jettisons the casserole containers she has been storing. She appears to have made a decision to end her obsessive behavior and restart her marriage with Clive. We are all glad to see that happen!

Another pair who reboot their interaction is Ruth and Bert. At the beginning of the episode Ruth has given Bert notice that he must vacate her property. Finding out that he has an illegal still in his van gives her even more motivation to ask him to leave. However, later in the episode Bert brings her a sample of the whiskey he’s been brewing, she tastes it and decides it has promise, and soon she is giving Bert another two weeks to remain on her farm.

We might include Al and Morwenna renewing their personal connection, and we can probably add that Martin’s discovery that Kelly has seizures and not ADHD reboots the approach she should take towards her symptoms.

While watching this episode, and because it’s the episode that I walk through and that I watched while they filmed, I noticed they use several scenes twice. The two that stood out to me are when Martin walks down the alley toward the harbor and when he drinks a cup of coffee in the morning prior to leaving for work. They also repeat with little change the scene where Ruth talks to Bert outside his van. I’m just guessing here, but they may have edited this episode to essentially reboot certain scenes.

I find it is critical that Buddy is the one part of this episode that can’t be rebooted. He not only represents Martin’s lack of control over his life, but also how some situations resist rebooting. He exhibits dogged determination (pun intended). It’s hard to imagine that Angela can’t keep him from getting away from her so many times, especially in the final scene. But there he is running up the hill towards the surgery with Angela following. Buddy’s hounding of Martin is emblematic of his devotion. Rather than be put off from Martin, Buddy will not be deterred.

Much needs to be rebooted between Martin and Louisa. It’s a good metaphor for where their marriage is at this point.

 

 

Originally posted 2015-10-29 11:56:15.

If You’re Happy and You Know it

The theme of Louisa needing to be happy returns in E1, E2 and again in E3 when Louisa tells Martin she’s not unhappy as they head to the church for the wedding, next when Martin asks if Louisa is happy that JH is in a daycare setting and then when he asks her if pursuing the idea of becoming a child therapist will make her happy. These three moments relate in kind to what I see as the times when Louisa can be identified as being happy.

I have written many times about the concept of happiness, the inborn desire most humans have to be happy, and how nations have written the importance of happiness into their laws. This time I want to approach the subject of happiness from another angle, a much more practical one. Now that we have heard Martin claim to care very little about his own happiness, or at least found the notion of happiness to be overrated, and Louisa note in S6 that she’s not happy and isn’t making Martin happy either, I am going to stick to the show to see how we can make heads or tails out of this.

We know that being happy is important to Louisa, but what do we think makes her happy? By all appearances she was very happy when Martin first asked her for a date and walked off with a bounce in her step, but she was also enjoying herself with Mark at the local dance. She was quite happy when Martin asked her to marry him and she told all of her colleagues. She has also appeared happy when she told off Adrian Pitts at the hospital, when she thought she had found a solution to Roger Fenn’s employment issue, when she and Danny were stepping out together (although that was complicated by the likelihood that she was trying to make Martin jealous), at various moments when she worked with some of the students (e.g. Peter Cronk, some group events, and finally with Astrid), and when she was hired as the headmistress for the school. She was quite pleased after Martin told her he thought she’d make a fine mother (when they were dealing with Anthony Oakwood and his family next-door to her), and when he gave her the engagement ring. Another prominent time when she appeared happy was when she returned home after an evening out with friends to find Martin having a nice moment with James. There have been several occasions with James when she displayed pleasure at being around him. One that stands out in my memory is in S6 when she and Martin are getting ready in the morning and she sets James down on the bed while telling him he’s gorgeous.

When we distill these moments we are left with Louisa mostly being depicted as happy in response to Martin and related matters, and to some degree with James, and to an even smaller extent when she is involved with students. She has very few friends despite having spent most of her life in Portwenn. Pippa and Caroline (the radio personality) have at times acted as friends, she has seen Danny as a friend and perhaps Roger, but otherwise her friends have come from outside of Portwenn, e.g. Holly and Isobel. It may be hard to include friends in a show like this since that means adding more characters, nevertheless, it is unfortunate that Louisa doesn’t have a confidant or a mother with whom she has regular interactions. If she did, we might know more about her inner thoughts. We got more of those when her mother was around. (BTW, it seems a bit strange that after she spends some time in Spain with her mother while thinking about her marriage to Martin, she has never mentioned her mother again.)

Apparently she is looking for happiness in her close family circle which mostly consists of Martin and James. Apart from that she is anxious to find an outside job that can fulfill her and allow her time at home. She had thought she could get that from being headmistress at the local school, but even that seems to be too demanding of her time. The fact is that being in charge of a school, even in a small village, requires that she deal with all sorts of difficulties encountered by her students as well as filling in for absentee teachers. (I can vouch for the reality of that because my daughter is a principal of a private elementary school and that is exactly what she does all year long.) It’s hard to know if being a child therapist would give her more time at home, but we’re about to find out what it might take to reach that point. In a nutshell, to the best of our knowledge she derives happiness most from her immediate family and from her abilities as a teacher.

Martin may say he isn’t concerned about being happy, but his words are a cover-up for actually needing happiness in his life after all. I say this because when he is rebuffed by Louisa after the concert, he has a sleepless night, can’t concentrate at work, and ultimately proposes to her by telling her he can’t bear to be without her. This sort of reaction recurs several more times throughout the series, e.g. when she is giving birth to their baby, when they rescue James from Mrs. T, and when he operates on her AVM. It’s crystal clear that he needs her in his life. One could argue that the entire S7 is about him being miserable without her (and James). If he’s miserable without her, does that mean he’s happy with her? Well, he’s not unhappy.

We also see him almost smile at times when she kisses him, even if the kiss is only a small peck on the cheek, or when he takes her hand as they’re walking.

We can’t expect too much expression of emotion from this self-contained man because that’s not how they have developed his character nor how MC wants to portray him. However, in his own way we know he’s at least content that Louisa isn’t going anywhere. At this point I would argue he has decided that keeping her happy is what is important to him and what the therapy has convinced him he should do, and he is following many of Dr. Timoney’s recommendations. He is scheduling dates with Louisa; he is empowering her to be in charge by agreeing to the day care, accepting the Rota she prepares, and agreeing to keep the dog; and he is making some effort to be more social. It remains hard for him to stifle his tendency to act superior, but again this would be out of character.

Like Louisa, what makes him as happy as he can get is being with his family. He has no friends unless we count Morwenna and Al. He gets a sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction out of diagnosing and treating the various medical cases he’s presented with, but the only real sense of pleasure or subtle joy comes after he has given Louisa something to gladden her (think deciding to name the baby James Henry).

Ultimately, therefore, I have reached the conclusion that both Louisa and Martin are depicted as finding happiness in their own family unit. We could also say they both find fulfillment in a job well done, which often means helping others. It is also for this reason that I think they are compatible as a couple. Would it be nice to see them get involved in an activity that they could both enjoy? Sure. Will they? Probably unlikely, although I think that would open up all sorts of humorous situations.

[Dale, I hope this post is what you were hoping for. If not, please feel free to give us your thoughts.]

Originally posted 2017-10-18 11:15:32.

Hugs and kisses

Now that Acorn has posted E4, we can turn our attention to the assignment of hugging 3 times a day. Dr. Timoney gives them that assignment after seeing them together for the first time. She precedes the recommendation by observing that they seem very self contained. At the time they are seated next to each other on a small bench, but Louisa has also said she feels a little smushed and asks Martin to move over. He has no place to move.

We can say there is some symbolism in that.

Also, Dr. T tells them that most couples touch in some way, possibly holding hands. I think that is a rather surprising remark to make to a couple seeking marriage counseling. They are evidently experiencing some tension in their marriage. If they were holding hands, that would be a signal that their relationship wasn’t nearly as imperiled as we would presume, wouldn’t it?

Interestingly, the one sort of touching they’ve done most throughout the show is holding hands. Holding hands, like most forms of touching, makes people feel closer to each other, and the times we’ve seen Martin take Louisa’s hand are definitely accompanied by both of them responding with pleasure, e.g. following the concert or after they’ve retrieved JH from Mrs. Tishell at the Castle.

Asking Martin and Louisa to hug each day and say something positive to each other makes some sense. Dr. T is perceptive enough to notice that outward signs of affection are sorely lacking in this couple, and starting with that could break the ice. There is some truth to the idea that hugging, or any kind of physical touch, has a significant impact on humans. An article in Psychology Today lists three major benefits:

  1. Security. A lot of time has passed since the Harlow studies, showing that poor monkey babies prefer a cloth doll without milk as a mother substitute over a metal doll with milk [2]. Worldwide we agree that babies need to be held. There is evidence that adults who were frequently hugged and cuddled during early childhood display fewer stress symptoms than less-hugged counterparts [3]. Physical affection also alleviates stress reactions in adults who report less existential anxiety even when touched only briefly [4]. We are simply wired to find touch reassuring, as many studies of first impressions show [5].
  2. Positive Feelings. As adults, we can live without hugs, of course, but we do seem to be happier with them. We release the hormone oxytocin when touched, which elevates feelings of attachment, connection, trust, and intimacy. [6] When we’re hugged, we feel less lonely. I speculate that students feel less devastated by academic problems when well-hugged, well-assured, and well-bonded. Apparently, hugs facilitate social bonding and the experience of participating fully in this life, which, to me, is  true happiness.*
  3. Better HealthAnother commonly mentioned benefit of hugging lies in our improved health, as when we are touched our heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol are lowered [7]. Reach out and hug, and your life might not only feel better, but last longer.

It is the power of touch that has driven the worldwide movement to offer hugs to strangers that began in 2004. For more on this you can check out wikipedia. The idea is that we can bring the world together by offering hugs to random strangers. There has also been a study of strangers and kissing that you may want to watch. See here. If you watch this video, you can see that a kiss can cause just about anyone to let down their guard even though it is accompanied by some embarrassment. We don’t see that with Martin and Louisa at first, but later kisses elicit more loss of inhibitions.

Martin has clearly suffered from not being hugged and cuddled as a baby and now he finds hugging generally unappealing. Aunt Joan gets away with a few hugs, although sometimes Martin looks mighty uncomfortable in her arms. He usually avoids physical contact with others and recoils when they try to touch him. Louisa is the only person he wants to touch and wants touching him.

Thus, the assignment to hug is grounded in a bona fide effort to bring Martin and Louisa together by having them touch each other. At this point in their marriage they have grown apart to such a degree that physical contact has diminished to almost nothing. Once the assignment is given to them, they do not shrink from it. In my opinion, Louisa likes physical affection and it’s not surprising that she would be the first to initiate a hug. The first hug is awkward and they hug again almost immediately. The ice has been broken, although nothing is ever simple with them, and Martin once again ruins the moment by telling Louisa his watch is caught on her cardigan. Nevertheless, by then Louisa has admitted that she likes hugging Martin and that she isn’t going anywhere. (One of those hints that the marriage will recover.)

By the end of E4, Louisa decides to hug Martin one more time. This time Martin asks her if the hug is spontaneous or part of the assignment. For me that is the one problem with making it an assignment…how will anyone know if the hug comes from a sincere desire to be affectionate or is a way to fulfill the assignment. Not only does his question create some ambiguity to the end of the episode, but also it points out the uncertainty that still exists in their relationship. But hey, we finally get some overt affection from this couple and it’s something to enjoy even if it is short-lived.

Originally posted 2015-10-21 22:01:52.

Turnabout is Fair Play

One major element of S7 is the many ways in which the action in scenes involves a reversal of what has happened before. There has been a conscious effort to switch up many of the typical interactions amongst the characters. Their decision to present things in this manner leads us to appreciate that change has taken place. Some of these changes are positive, and some not so much.

One of the most significant changes to me is that Martin no longer works on clocks. We might speculate that he was very adversely affected by his mother taking the one clock that meant a lot to him and cannot bring himself to work on them anymore. On the other hand, it is precisely at this moment when working on clocks could be of some comfort to him. He’s alone again, he’s very unhappy that Louisa is gone again, and fixing clocks has always been a source of solace to him. It distracts him from his troubles throughout the other series. Could he have decided the clocks are interfering with his life and the time he could be spending with his wife and son? The fact that he no longer has clocks to work on never comes up.

Martin is trying to change and his efforts include thanking Louisa for a gift he doesn’t like; telling her he doesn’t mind the noise and disarray of the home; accepting the various assignments Dr. T gives them; and, especially, giving Louisa some very nice compliments. He says she’s a good and caring mother and very beautiful, that he misses her (as opposed to Louisa saying she’ll miss him when she leaves for work in S6, and that she missed him and James when she returns from work and getting no reaction or sign that her feeling is reciprocated), telling her she would notice if James had a rash or anything medical that might be important to notice, and instigating a hug.

We certainly can’t overlook that this time Martin moves out instead of Louisa leaving. It’s a generous offer and shows Louisa that he’s willing to sacrifice for her. It also keeps her nearby and gives him plenty of opportunities to see her. For her part, she is willing to stay at the surgery yet considers it his home. She tells him that he should be there, a sign that she realizes how strange it is for him to live somewhere else.

Now that she lives in the surgery, it is Louisa who makes coffee and offers it to Martin.  She also let’s Martin in the kitchen door. It’s particularly amusing to see Martin tapping at the kitchen window while Louisa sits at the kitchen table. It’s also funny that he is surprised by Louisa when she runs into the kitchen after her morning shower and he acts out of place. It was Louisa who previously seemed to be intruding at times.

We also see Louisa clean up the toys and the kitchen. She holds the toys in much the same way we’ve seen Martin hold them in S6. When Louisa cooks dinner on that first night, Martin does not try to wash the cutting board or take over in any way. He eats what she cooks and even suggests using additional seasoning, something he rarely considers necessary. It is also Martin who broaches the subject of their future and intermittently notes that their living circumstances are odd and not what he would prefer. However, it is Louisa who has the deciding vote on this and, like Martin at times in the past, she appears tongue tied when the subject comes up.

It is Louisa who determines who the next child minder will be. Meanwhile Martin has sought therapy and has been willing to let the therapist make the ground rules. He cooperates and tells Dr. T about his childhood. With Dr. Milligan Martin was very resistant and rude. When it is Louisa’s turn, she is more reticent and hesitates to admit her childhood was anything but normal. We are reminded that Martin used to be the one who described his childhood as perfectly healthy.

Martin suggests he has time to do things with JH. We’ve seen him feed James and play with him in his own idiosyncratic way, but now he offers to bathe James every day. Previously Louisa had to prompt him to do something with James.

In another significant change, Al has a home and Bert is in a camper van and unsettled. Al’s business is just getting started and hits several snags, but Bert’s has ended.

We are witnessing a variety of changes that make the case that change is possible. There is a difference between changing one’s personality and changing certain actions; however, we have to start somewhere.  Martin and Louisa’s convictions that people can change are played out in these early episodes by inverting how many of the characters we’ve come to know conduct themselves. They haven’t become different people and still exhibit many of their usual traits. Martin is still stiff and unsmiling and continues to be flummoxed by what Louisa does and says; Louisa has remained convinced that living apart can solve some of their marital problems and she is unwilling to give in too quickly. Other changes may be in store and this post will be updated to reflect them.

 

 

Originally posted 2015-10-20 18:40:06.

Failure to Communicate

Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start (to coin a phrase). I also want to make sure those of you who are in the U.S. and Canada aren’t upset by any discussions that go past what’s available on Acorn TV. As of Monday, Oct. 12, E1-3 will be viewable, so I will keep this post confined to those three episodes. We can always add more once we have additional episodes to watch.

Although E1 is entitled “Rescue Me,” and we can see how they arrived at that designation, I would submit they could have called it “Failure to Communicate.” They might argue that that would be too obvious, but for me it says a lot. This show is built on the constant inability of its two protagonists to communicate with each other. Many times they misunderstand each other. Sometimes that’s because they have trouble expressing themselves clearly or because they have trouble interpreting what the other person is saying. Other times it’s because they are interrupted. Then there’s the regular instances of Martin simply being lacking in insight and responding literally and undiplomatically to what Louisa says.

Their inability to talk to each other reached its zenith in S6 when Martin stopped talking to Louisa about almost everything. She never heard him tell his mother that his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth; she wasn’t there when he told his mother to leave or when he spoke to Ruth. Around her Martin was tongue tied at best, as in when he objected at first to taking James to the music group, and utterly stifled at worst. We don’t see him able to express himself to Louisa until he needs to race to the airport and take her off the plane. When he finally has an opportunity to say something to her from his heart, she is sedated and we’re never sure she can remember it.

We start S7 without knowing what happened once Louisa was released from the hospital, but we have to think that Martin never reiterated what he told her in the hospital or she wouldn’t have taken James to Spain. We know Louisa didn’t want to return to the way things were before she had the emergency surgery; however, it’s hard to imagine that if Martin had appealed to her to help him be a better husband, she would have left. Logic says he was once again unable to bring himself to tell her outright that he didn’t want her to leave and what he had finally done about his mother. Principally, the first episode emphasizes many communication impediments. Nearly everyone has many problems hearing and/or talking to others by phone, by radio, and in person.

Martin hasn’t heard from Louisa in 3 weeks. He brings himself to call her but has to leave a message. She calls back on the surgery phone and he can’t hear her. She texts that she has poor reception where she is, then she calls and he’s in a place with poor reception. Her final try to reach him by phone is when he’s with Dr. T and he doesn’t get her call. It’s heartening to see that she continues to attempt to contact him; and deliberately frustrating for him and for us that he never actually talks to her. Since she is so persistent we can’t help thinking that all he had to have done during those 3 weeks was to have tried to call her. Her voice messages and text message are all pleasant and conciliatory.

Martin also has been trying to reach Ruth without success. Once he finds her at home, he informs her he’s been calling her for days. When he manages to get across that he wants to start therapy, she doesn’t at first understand that he wants her to provide therapy for him.

Beyond the Martin and Louisa situation, there are several other times in this episode where there are communication hangups. Morwenna and Martin misunderstand each other almost from the outset of the episode. She wants to participate in the boat rescue event, she wants a pay rise, she wants to reschedule his afternoon patients, and he considers all of these things inappropriate and unnecessary. Then, when she’s crashed in an isolated bay and trying to reach him on the phone or the radio, Martin can’t hear her or she can’t hear him. The rescue squad has its problems too. It can’t reach Steve and the boat’s radio can’t get a message out for some time.

In addition to all this trouble communicating, Steve Baker withholds information from Martin and Barry. No one from the press knows what’s going on, and Martin disrupts their transmissions. Moreover, Al doesn’t tell Ruth the truth about the condition of the B + B, and Steve is forever telling Al to trust him while giving him no reason to do so.

The whole episode is truly a massive amount of failures to communicate. My assessment is that we start this series with this theme because it is at the crux of the troubles between Martin and Louisa and always has been. Furthermore, communication is the key to interpersonal interactions of all kinds and this episode magnifies that.

Episode 2 has fewer miscommunication examples; however, there are enough to sustain the theme of communication being at the heart of this series. Louisa shows up at the surgery unexpectedly, although Martin acts like he thought she would arrive later. Several of their conversations are interrupted, and when they do have a chance to talk, they are both very awkward. It’s clear that they are struggling to converse because the elephant in the room is the future of their marriage and neither one of them is ready to talk about it…until dinner. Even then, the tension in the air is inescapable. One of the truly meaningful exchanges between Martin and Louisa in this episode occurs when Martin is packing so that he can move out to please Louisa. His first attempt at telling her he likes having her and James back comes when he says, “You know I don’t miss the peace and quiet.” She needs clarification and he repeats that now that she’s back he didn’t miss it. What he’s saying still doesn’t make sense to her, and she asks him what he’s trying to say. This time he is clear and says, “When you and James weren’t here, everything was neat and tidy and quiet, and now that you’re back, it’s not, and that’s fine.” In this example, we get a glimpse of the effort Martin is making to express himself better and to make himself more vulnerable.

Martin’s first appointment with Dr. Timoney is a mixture of the doctor setting the tone and of Martin making real attempts to reveal intimate information about himself. Even at this early stage in the clinical setting, she knows more about Martin’s early childhood than Louisa, at least to the best of our knowledge. Still there’s a sense that there’s so much more she should find out and more probing is necessary.

In other parts of the episode we note that Al’s guest couple have very different ideas about what a fishing holiday should entail. He wants peace and quiet while she wants relaxation and time spent together. The two positions are very much at odds and lead to one mishap after another. The funniest depiction of inability to communicate to me is when Bert tries to tell Al he has no lobsters for dinner and ends up looking like he’s playing castanets.

But it’s in this episode that we start to see more withholding of information. The act of hesitating to say what’s really essential is just as important as anything that can be said outright. Sometimes silence means more than any words can convey. Lack of communication includes what we leave out and neglect to say. Many times during this and later episodes there are pregnant silences during which either Louisa or Martin or both don’t know what to say and just stare at each other. Ruth, too, withholds much about her symptoms, probably as much from herself as from Martin. It isn’t until Ruth finally can’t walk steadily and Martin prevails on her to go back home with him that she gives in. (Can we think that this scene presages what may take place between Martin and Louisa?)

[For those of you who are interested in literary theory, Jacques Derrida’s philosophy could apply here. Perhaps Derrida’s most quoted and famous assertion, which appears in an essay on Rousseau in his book Of Grammatology (1967), is the statement that “there is no outside-text” (il n’y a pas de hors-texte). For most of us this means that what is left out of a text is as important as what is left in. (I am being very reductionist here, but getting into Derrida is really outside the scope of this post.)]

It’s amusing that E3 is given the title “It’s Good to Talk” because this episode is once again filled with scenes during which communication, or lack thereof, is prominent. Bert has lost the restaurant and has received a letter from Jennifer breaking off their engagement, but he chooses not to tell Al anything about it and he’s very evasive with Ruth. Al does his best to avoid telling Ruth that business is bad, and later finds himself at a loss for words while on the radio. The entire secondary story about Dermot and Elise is filled with misunderstandings and much withholding of information. Their daughter Ellie has nothing but resentment towards her parents and they see no value in what she wants to do with her life. Interestingly, Ellie is a writer of songs that express her feelings. When direct communication fails, some turn to writing.

The radio station creates lots of opportunities for communication problems, but it’s most notable for the so-called “dead air” DJ Melanie has to fill. After all, what is a radio station without sound? And how often is “dead air” filled with so much meaningless babble?

Martin and Louisa are clashing and Louisa gives him a comeuppance he is stunned by. Later Louisa’s view of Dr. T is complicated by Ruth’s devious method of making Louisa think again about couple’s therapy. By the end of the episode Louisa first finds it hard to give Martin some praise for saving Ellie’s life even though she is obviously proud of her husband and makes a special point of telling James. On the other hand, she is the one to approach Martin with a conciliatory gesture of agreeing to couple’s therapy and telling him “it could be a means to an end or a new beginning.” This last scene holds out hope to Martin even though the statement is somewhat ambiguous.

It seems quite likely that communication will continue to be a major hurdle in Martin and Louisa’s effort to reunite. We see some improvement, and therapy should be a place where the therapist facilitates better communicating. In fact, as some of the therapists in this group have noted elsewhere, the best assignment Dr. T can give this couple is to talk about the things that have been a disruption to the marriage and about what they would like to see in their future together. Talking things out can often help. The show is built around intrusions that keep them from having a chance to express themselves adequately, but lately we have seen fewer interruptions and that’s a good sign.

[I want to add that we see another scene of forgiveness in episode 3 when Ellie’s mother, who has been acting angry at everyone actually tells Ellie she’s not angry at her and gives her a hug. She has decided to hire someone to help with the pigs until Dermot is well and not expect Ellie to do that work. She understands Ellie wants to write and sing songs. (It’s at least ironic that the song Ellie sings after her mother leaves is about how her parents care more for the pigs than for her, but she is singing from her heart!)]

Originally posted 2015-10-12 18:07:17.

Can’t Stop

We are now at S7E5 and I have noticed that there is a refrain going through this series. We have talked about the question of whether people can change, and that several characters (notably Martin, Louisa, and Ruth) think they can. In this series they have added the undercurrent of being unable to stop, whatever that can be construed to mean.

On at least three occasions that I can think of characters have literally announced they can’t stop. The first time is when Martin runs past Louisa near the school on the way to see a patient, she calls out to him, and he says “I can’t stop.” The next time is when Louisa is in a hurry to get to work after Janice has shown up late and she runs by Martin. She says “I can’t stop.” The third time I noticed is when Angela Sim tells Mrs. Tishell she can’t stop as she runs up the road to the surgery. Angela repeats this refrain a couple of times.

We can see that there is a literal reason for each of these characters to say they can’t stop. Martin has to get to a patient, Louisa has to get to work, and Angela thinks she has an urgent message for the doc. But repeating that phrase makes it stand out in a way that for me gives it more substance.

We know there are many issues related to control in this show. More specifically and immediately, we are now hearing from the therapist that she notices that Martin likes to be in control and she wants Martin to let Louisa control an activity. We may find that a bit jarring since we know Louisa usually has been the one to determine the direction of their relationship, but we also know that Martin’s behavior denotes significant problems with repression and a need to control his environment. The refrain of “I can’t stop,” therefore, takes on the meaning of lack of control and an inability to change.

In S6E1 I was impressed to hear Louisa say to Martin during a romantic moment “anything you say.” Of course, he responded “I didn’t say anything.” Nevertheless, for that moment at least she was handing over control to him. The rest of the episode, however, was a battle of who was in control. He walks off in search of a phone and with no thought about her difficulty in keeping up with him, she tells him they’re going the wrong way but can’t get him to stop, she refuses to wade across the stream and he carries her, she walks off in a rage because he never understands what she’s saying, they reach the caravan where she grabs the flashlight from him, soon she grabs the rifle and demands an apology from the caravan owner, etc., etc. By the end of the episode, they’re walking arm in arm and are back on equal footing. Nevertheless, who’s in control is a major stumbling block for them, and being unable to stop trying to do things their own way only ends when they work together to save the caravan owner’s life.

In this series we expect to see both of them make an effort to change so that their marriage can recover. But what if the hitch is they can’t stop…they can’t stop being who they are and acting out in their customary ways? There is always a point where we plateau or make little progress. It’s like being on a diet and losing weight consistently until the weight no longer drops off, and that’s when we have to dig in and not give up. We may have reached such a place with them at this stage in their therapy.

Bringing in the phrase “I can’t stop” at regular intervals reminds us that stopping is an important step in the process of changing. Martin has to stop being so closed off and so sure of how each day must proceed. He can’t follow the rigid sequence he’s always had while living alone and that he has gone back to in some ways now that he’s once again living by himself. We see him starting his morning with a cup of espresso, always wearing his suit and tie, marching down the street to work like clockwork, and going through his day as if nothing has changed. But it has changed, and now he’s seeing a therapist with Louisa and visiting Louisa and James, and he’s beginning to realize that he needs to accept more disruptions. Maybe Louisa likes eating sausage on occasion and he can’t expect her to want fish every day just because he does.

For her part, Louisa needs to stop assuming his problems are causing their troubles and accept that she now has to share space and make compromises for their marriage. She also has to stop expecting him to make dramatic changes in his behavior because that’s a long term process, as the therapist says. She has to take the trust he puts in her and reinforce it by her actions until he can relax and give in to her. We may never see that whole process, but it will hopefully be implied.

I took great interest in watching Mrs. Tishell throw away the food she cooked for Martin and then throw away all the containers she had bought in preparation for making him many more meals. She has been able to stop finally, or at least it looks that way. The preview of the next episode shows her telling Clive that he can rejoin her in the bedroom. He has offered an authentic apology including not wanting to know what she’s been up to. He simply wants her to take him back and give him another chance. As predicted by Luskin’s prescriptions for forgiveness, she has a positive response to that request. I have to admit that I had reached my limit with Sally Tishell’s obsession with Martin. This series they are using her for much better purposes and I appreciate that.

I hope to see Bert stop living on the good graces of his son and Ruth, Al and Morwenna stop being so worried about being a couple, and perhaps Penhale stop being so alone. Most importantly, of course, I hope to see Martin and Louisa stop erecting defenses and admit they both need to work on themselves and on their marriage. Mrs. Tishell is the first chink in the armor of feeling unable to stop. She shouldn’t be the last.

 

Originally posted 2015-10-07 11:47:21.

Secrets and Lies

Believe it or not, I am ready to start writing some new posts. I have several in mind, and I had said in response to a comment by Dale that one would be a return to the subject of happiness, and I will take up that subject, but first I want to write about what I see as an overarching theme so far in S8: the consistent evidence that everyone regularly keeps information from each other. So far every episode has contained examples of characters evading the revelation of important matters from family members and other significant people in their lives. Interestingly during E1 Ruth tells Bert that she considers the twin principles of trust and honesty to be essential to any relationship. Surely keeping secrets and/or lying undercuts those key principles.

E1 centers around Joe Penhale marrying Janice. Within that simple circumstance, which most of us would consider utterly misguided, Janice has been harboring doubts about marrying for a third time and Joe has been struggling with kidney stones that he attempts to keep hidden from Janice. They apparently have never discussed how they see their future together and disagree on most of the basics, including having children. In connection with their marriage, we have the new Curate who shades the truth about having ever officiated at a wedding and even for why she has come to Portwenn. Later, during the ceremony, the Curate is seen surreptitiously taking anti-anxiety meds while Joe tries to pass a kidney stone without being noticed. Naturally all of this cannot be kept secret, and we may even be expected to find it all funny, despite seeing Janice finally tell Joe that she has changed her mind about taking marriage vows and ostensibly breaking his heart. In addition, we are thrown back into the middle of the business troubles of Al’s B and B as well as Bert’s whiskey distilling. Al conceals his lack of guests while Bert, ever the loser in the business of earning a living, is back to covering up for his inability to attract buyers. If we are really frank, Bert should be called a scam artist and conniver. (Throughout the 7+ series the humor behind Bert’s character is how he spends his life drifting from one scheme to another, never managing to sustain any vocation for very long. Thus, Bert is identified by his shaping of the truth, and yet there have been times when he stands out as the one person who articulates the essence of a particular situation, e.g. keeping the new GP in town; knowing how to tell Al he’s always been his father; finding a way to romance Jennifer from leaving; and being philosophical about his own life and seeing the bright side even when things are going wrong.)

Then there is the continuing marital tension between Martin and Louisa Ellingham. Whereas we thought the final scene of S7 had settled the matter of her being obsessed with everyone, especially Martin, being normal and now she accepts that he (and she) is “unusual,” we begin this series, only at most a couple of months later, with these two still appearing stiff and strained around each other. We wouldn’t expect them to be all hearts and flowers, as they say, but Louisa appears especially on edge and her interactions with Martin include continuing to be preoccupied about James becoming like Martin. These concerns are mostly kept from Martin, however. Indeed, the notion that they may have different ideas of what normal is raises its head again.

E1 ends with many of those hidden sentiments being brought out into the open; however, E2 brings us back to the efforts of many of the characters to keep things secret and/or to cover up what is actually going on. If there is a unifying theme to E2, I haven’t found it. Even its title is misleading. Sons and Lovers could refer to the famous D. H. Lawrence novel of the same title, but this episode reflects very little of that storyline. The most important father-son relationship in this episode is of John Rahmanzai and his father. Although John and his father are depicted as having had a troubled past, it’s nothing close to Paul Morel in Lawrence’s book. And Al and Bert are still at each other, but that is such a commonplace now that we find it unremarkable.

Instead it is Ruth who is revealed to have been John’s father’s lover (for the lover side of the title), but her secret rings so hollow as to be truly hard to swallow! Here we have to believe that despite never having heard of a time when Ruth visited the farm during Martin’s childhood appearances there, he actually remembers seeing her with Izzy Rahmanzai several times. (We also have heard Ruth say Joan had always wanted to get her to move to the farm without any sign that she had some sort of deeper connection to the farm. Even more to the point, we have heard Ruth tell Louisa at Joan’s funeral service that she has had only quasi-sexual experiences and she can be prone to oversharing. Somehow she has overlooked the serious affair she had with Izzy while making that comment and her oversharing has never included any mention of that affair.) Moreover, this revelation puts Ruth in the same category as her siblings insofar as having extramarital affairs. I find that demeaning to Ruth’s character and damaging to a storyline that Ruth has kept the affair a secret; then decided to continue that deception; and ultimately been discovered through Martin’s inability to recognize nonverbal cues. Everything is resolved by Ruth admitting the affair to John and then lying again to him that his father had been the one to end their liaison. Oh Ruth, we thought we knew you well!

The other major action in E2 has to do with Astrid and Louisa. Apparently after Astrid has been diagnosed with strep and given medication for it, she has secretly spat it out only to have a rare side-effect of strep strike her. Although the most likely rare outcome from a strep infection is tics or OCD, in Astrid we see increased anxiety about going to school and interacting with others. And somehow Louisa’s concern and gentle nudging are enough to quickly bring Astrid out of her troubling mindset. Additionally, Louisa’s success with Astrid starts her thinking about changing professions.

Once again we have the usual circumstance of Bert lying to Al, this time about his whiskey sales, and Bert has neglected to tell Al about a guest booking.

Another mystery in this episode is the appearance of Ken, the owner of the Crab and Lobster who is new to us as of S8 E2, although they act as though he’s been around for ages. Being totally honest is the obverse of lying and on two occasions honesty comes up while Martin is talking to Ken. Then there is Clive whose excessive honesty about Al’s B and B makes Al squirm.

When we get to E3, the theme of keeping secrets or lying really becomes prominent. We learn that Bert has been staying at the B and B without Ruth knowing about it and that he has an overdraft that he neglected to tell Ruth about also. Then Bert decides to quit the whiskey business and doesn’t tell Ruth. Furthermore, when discovered, Bert is always ready with a quick excuse that evades the truth. Amy is hiding her bald spots and then uses hair regrowth treatments without telling the doc. Louisa hides her fear of sailing from Amy and the class, pretending that she knows how to handle a boat. She also has not told Martin that she has applied for a series of lessons in child therapy. For his part, Martin doesn’t mention being late for James nor having arranged to pay Mel extra for bringing him home at the end of the day. To top it all off, and put some emphasis on it, Sally hides her grief about Clive’s sudden death and Ruth becomes alarmed that she might have another mental breakdown.

We also have another reminder about honesty when Al tells Ruth it’s important to be honest with her.

I wish I could say that I have a theory about why they have decided to highlight how much secrecy and lying go on in this town. We could say that most people shade the truth from time to time, and often the reason is perfectly harmless or even to protect the person from whom they are keeping the truth. It remains to be seen whether this theme turns out to be something of significance for this series.

Originally posted 2017-10-11 17:46:52.

Forgiveness

One thing we haven’t discussed yet is the whole idea of forgiving. A recent NYTimes article addressed this act; its primary focus was on the act of asking for forgiveness. But there are two sides to every issue, and the other side to this one is being the one in the position to offer forgiveness.

To apply this idea to Doc Martin, we first have to establish whether either of these characters should ask for forgiveness or would be the one to offer to forgive. Martin has asked Louisa to forgive him several times already: when she’s giving birth; when they rescue James from Mrs. Tishell; and most recently, when he’s about to perform the AVM surgery. In the first instance, she was ready to ask for forgiveness too and they almost simultaneously decided to reach out to each other. On the second occasion, Martin was proximally responsible for James’ abduction because he allowed Mrs. T to care for James; but more globally it’s not entirely clear that he was the only one at fault for how Louisa reacted to his decision to leave Portwenn. It was Louisa who sort of became a moving target in that she had such mixed feelings about being in a relationship with him. In a sense we could say she owed him an apology for doubting he would want to be an active father and for making hasty decisions. The final time Martin asks for forgiveness she is sedated and may not even remember it, but he is primarily right when he says he hasn’t been a very good husband.

The NYTimes article quotes Frederic Luskin who runs the Forgiveness Project at Stanford University. Luskin’s work has identified nine steps to asking sincerely to be forgiven but the steps can be distilled to four. The first one is to “admit vulnerability,” which means you must admit your responsibility for causing others’ pain. It’s particularly important in families for the offending party to acknowledge that they have done something to hurt another family member.

The second step is to apologize sincerely. “A true, authentic apology is one in which the speaker says: ‘I’m sorry, because my poor choice of action or words directly caused harm to you. That it’s my bad and yours. And that I recognize you feel hurt as a direct relationship of what I did.’ ” Furthermore, according to Dr, Luskin, “when a person accepts responsibility and promises to make amends… it has an almost universally positive effect.”

Thirdly, people like to be asked for their forgiveness. It may seem obvious but approaching the person you think you’ve wronged and simply asking them to forgive you is important.

Lastly, those asking for forgiveness must thank the person for forgiving them. The final act must be a joint expression of gratitude for being asked to forgive and for offering to forgive.

When someone has offered to forgive and the offending party acknowledges the charity that’s been extended to them, that moment of receiving forgiveness “is this moment of true humanity when we are seen for who we really are and loved anyway.”

Once again, there’s no way to know if these steps were in the minds of those writing this show. Nevertheless, they’ve done a good job of following them IMO. They have left things quite lopsided though. Martin has so far been the one to admit fault thereby leaving himself vulnerable; he has promised to make amends, or change his behavior; and he has asked for forgiveness by appealing to Louisa each time to accept his apology and even to help him.

Louisa has responded favorably to the first two appeals and acted willing to take him back. At the Castle, she told him outright that she had been waiting to hear him say something nice. He has finally done that during this scene. The last time is different. Perhaps if she had not been in an operating room and prepped for surgery, she would have had a more welcoming response, but this time she isn’t ready to accept his confession. We haven’t seen her forgive him fully yet.

Since so much of S7 has been a reversal of what’s happened before, this time she should be the one to admit fault and ask for forgiveness. During the first 4 episodes Louisa has said “Thank You” to Martin numerous times, and that’s a good start.  Maybe now that he has made a sincere effort to not only say he’s sorry, but to demonstrate by his actions that he really means it, she will express her gratitude by accepting his apology and complete the cycle of forgiveness.

 

 

Originally posted 2015-10-01 15:37:51.

Showing Up Out Of the Blue

In Doc Martin there are many people who appear on Martin’s doorstep unannounced. Or Martin appears at someone’s home unexpectedly. I love it when Louisa asks Martin if his mother has ever shown up out of the blue before. Louisa does it all the time!

This sort of event is called an “Inciting Incident” by Robert McKee (you know, the writer of Story, the book I’ve referred to before). We also see these incidents on occasion with other characters, e.g. Joan, Edith, Ruth, Mrs. Tishell, and Bert.

McKee notes that an Inciting Incident must radically upset the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life. Next the protagonist must respond to the Inciting Incident.  “The protagonist responds to the sudden negative or positive change in the balance of his life in whatever way is appropriate to character and world.” However, our protagonist will always want to restore balance. Lastly, the Inciting Incident “propels the protagonist into an active pursuit of this object or goal…But for those protagonists we tend to admire the most, the Inciting Incident arouses not only a conscious desire but an unconscious one as well. These complex characters suffer intense inner battles because these two desires are in direct conflict with each other.”

In DM the person who appears out of the blue on Martin’s doorstep, or to be more accurate, Martin’s kitchen door, is Louisa. Every time she does this we can call it an inciting incident because she always upsets the balance of his life. There are several times when Louisa appears that make the largest impact on him and I thought I would use these as the best examples.

In S7 the location is different because now she is living in the surgery building. By E3, however, she has appeared unexpectedly at Martin’s front door and completed the act of unbalancing his life again. By the end of E3, he is poised to leave at the front door to the surgery when she stops him hoping to reach out to him in her own noncommittal way. When he doesn’t stop long enough, she runs after him and leaves him much more hopeful by offering to do couple’s counseling with him. This series is the “Louisa in Charge” show, although maybe she’s been in that position the whole time.

For this post I wanted to highlight the times when Louisa’s unanticipated appearance incites imbalance and results in Martin pursuing a return to equipoise. I’m sure the examples I choose will not necessarily coincide with ones you would have chosen, and I hope you will add your views to mine. Also, I am aware that Louisa has shown up unannounced on other occasions outside the surgery, and some of those occasions could be considered destabilizing as well. Here I’m trying to pick out the times that are of major significance.

The first consequential time Louisa appears unannounced at his door is when she brings Allison by to apologize. When she knocks on the back door, Martin is mislead into thinking that she has come alone and is pleasantly surprised. She succeeds in making clear to him that she thinks Allison owes him her child’s life. She sends Allison out so that she can have a few moments alone with him. During that time she tells him she wants to stay, to which he responds affirmatively, thinking she means for a visit. What she really means is she wants to remain his patient, and he’s a little disappointed in the misinterpretation; however, she also approaches him and they have a close, personal encounter with a discussion of what they see for themselves in the future and she expresses her own doubts about her plans. Everything that happens after she shows up puts him off balance. He has to answer Allison and accept her apology; he agrees to allow Louisa to stay, whether it’s for a visit or as a patient (although we know he would welcome a visit); and her decision to step close to him and ask him about his plans for the future forces him to confront those in a way he hasn’t before.

The next time that I would call an inciting incident is when Louisa shows up wearing her wedding gown but carrying a letter telling him she has decided not to marry him. She apprises him that the letter says she loves him, but that he wouldn’t make her happy. Although he has also come to the conclusion that marrying isn’t the best decision at this point, her appearance flusters him. He follows her outside, digesting what they have just chosen to do, and watches as she walks away. His pursuit of Louisa has upended his life, but now their decision to part ways is just as disruptive to him. It’s a life-altering moment that once again must make him think about what he will do with his future.

I have to follow that unannounced appearance with the one that begins S4 when Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant. Here he is just getting his life back in order, with a tinge of regret and forlornness, when in she pops to turn everything upside down again. As in the last scene of S3, Martin watches as Louisa walks away, carrying her suitcase and his baby. It doesn’t get any more unsettling than that!

The last occasion when Louisa shows up out of the blue to cause a marked upheaval is her arrival back in Portwenn in S7E2. I think we are supposed to believe that Martin was expecting her back; however, her arrival pushing James in his stroller while pulling her bag behind her is timed to put him off balance. It’s rare to find the waiting room as crowded and chaotic as in that scene. With so many townspeople there, and Martin unaware that Louisa is back, the shock for him is evident. He recovers fairly quickly, and he wants her there, but we know that Louisa’s return is going to unbalance his life once again.

Margaret’s appearance out of the blue is certainly one that we should count. Previously Joan has thrown him when she appears with a casserole after his disastrous concert date with Louisa. Then there’s Ruth coming to Joan’s funeral and bringing a new force into his life. And we can’t forget Edith and all of her unplanned visits.

Martin has been known to arrive unannounced at times himself. He surprises Joan in the first episode and has shown up at Ruth’s door without warning as well. I would call these inciting incidents too because they lead to significant changes in his life.

There are other times I can think of when the unplanned arrival of one person or another drives the plot, e.g. John Slater, Danny, Eleanor. All of these are inciting incidents that are frequently used to great effect by bringing imbalance to the main protagonists.

Originally posted 2015-09-25 11:36:19.

Rating Happiness

Another recurring topic in the show is the issue of happiness, which I have written about so much already. But, since S7E2 has Martin telling the therapist that he’d like Louisa to be happy but that he considers happiness overrated, I couldn’t ignore that once again happiness is being prioritized. (I can’t guarantee this will be the last time I write about this emotion either.)

When I first wrote about happiness on Oct. 15, 2013, I wasn’t sure how much this emotional state mattered to the show. Now I can’t help but think that it occupies a very important place philosophically and situationally. Since I don’t want to repeat myself and you all can look back on the previous posts, I will just give you a rundown of what I have written so far about happiness.

The Oct., 2013 post discussed Aristotelian notions of eudaemonia and how psychologist C. D. Ryff has modified them. I then applied Ryff’s six factor structure to Martin and Louisa and what might make them happy. (Oddly enough, I recommended an intermediary and suggested they do some simple activities together, and in S7 they seem to be doing all of those things.)

The next time I wrote about happiness was on Oct. 14, 2014, when I looked at how important it is to most people to be happy and tried to determine what may provide a sense of happiness to Martin based on what we’ve seen on the show. I wondered if Martin’s daily routine, while fairly rigid, might also be a source of happiness for him and provide him with a sense of well-being. Despite any objection he may claim at times, he also appears to exhibit some real happiness whenever Louisa responds positively to his overtures.

I wrote again about happiness on March 31, 2015 when I looked at marital happiness. The post delineated John Gottman’s Four Horsemen concept, or the four major negative communication styles that can lead to significant problems in a marriage. Gottman also offers some ways to reverse the damage negative communication can have. The suggestions for improving communication led me to suggest that a little more affection between Martin and Louisa and some sign that they appreciate each other could go a long way to bringing them happiness in their marriage. If S7E2 is an indication of things to come, it is filled with moments where they are quite willing to thank each other. We can only hope for some affection! (Some trailers have shown them hugging and that’s a start.)

Next I wrote about happiness on July 28, 2015. (See, I really have taken this issue to heart!) This post had to do with how important many countries think happiness is to their citizens. The UK is one of those countries, and the Prime Minister started talking in 2010 about his interest in using the government to help with making British citizens happier. I also referred to the film “Inside Out” because it makes the point that without sadness, there can be no joy. Other articles I read around this time made similar points, i.e. that experiencing happiness is conjoined with the fear that it may end. In addition, most studies on happiness emphasize the importance of self-governance and the conviction that people who feel in control of their own destiny usually feel more fulfilled. Also, well-being can be measured subjectively and objectively.

The July post was quite long and eventually got to talking about Martin Seligman and his Positive Psychology ideas. Seligman is convinced that happiness is an essential facet of living a quality life, and that applies to all cultures. He has come up with exercises to increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms, and they have lasting results. The application of these exercises demonstrates that people have some control over their level of happiness.

Now Santa has referenced another article about happiness and it offers a nice overview of the research in this area as well as some interesting views about the subject that have not been mentioned enough in the previous posts. For me the section about “What Research Says Happiness is Not” is of great value.

Happiness is not:

  • Having all your personal needs met
  • Always feeling satisfied with life
  • Feeling pleasure all the time
  • Never feeling negative emotions

The article goes on to say, “An especially important part of the happiness equation is the negative feelings you may be feeling right now. As nice as it might seem, happiness is not the absence of negative feelings. As Dr. Vanessa Buote, a postdoctoral fellow in social psychology, explains, real happiness is about taking the good with the bad:

One of the misconceptions about happiness is that happiness is being cheerful, joyous, and content all the time; always having a smile on your face. It’s not—being happy and leading rich lives is about taking the good with the bad, and learning how to reframe the bad.

You can experience negative feelings and overall happiness with your life at the exact same time. In fact, learning how to do that is essential to being a happier person.

Furthermore, “Lahnna I. Catalino, Ph.D., at the University of California at San Francisco, suggests that overly pursuing happiness can actually backfire on you…Remember,  [due to genetics] you have a limit that you can’t control. Don’t beat yourself up about it, you’re just being yourself. Instead of trying to force yourself to be happy, Catalino advises you simply reflect on the moments and activities that give you joy. So stop trying so hard.”

 After reading this, we can put ME’s position that happiness is overrated in perspective. I would guess that he has concluded that Louisa needs to be happy but that he does not, and that he assumes he will never reach a state of happiness so why even try. However, as we have seen throughout the show, he can achieve happiness at times; he just can’t stop having negative feelings. Presumably he beats himself up about it and feels defeated when he continues to struggle and cannot fit the model of happiness he’s formed from watching others. As the quote above states, ME needs to learn how to reframe the bad, and we have to hope therapy gives him some help with that.

Originally posted 2015-09-19 16:46:15.

I Am Woman

I decided to start the conversation about S7 with a post about women because two new women were introduced in E1. Both of them will play central roles in this new series, and there are several others who will join the cast in this series too, e.g. Caroline Quentin as animal rescuer Angela, Sigourney Weaver as American tourist, and others. I hate to make generalizations, but when I think back on the past six series, I can only come up with a few men who have been depicted as capable as well as stable, while there are many strong women who populate the show.

Among the men who are admirable that come to mind are: Martin Ellingham (despite his many psychological problems), Roger Fenn, John Slater (even though he seems to be a womanizer), Danny (even though his religiosity is excessive), Robert Dashwood, Michael (even though he has a major problem with OCD), and perhaps the Colonel. All the rest are doofuses (or gits, if you want a British term), or have major deficits. They are most often incompetent, incapable, or incredibly prone to doing ridiculous things.

The women, on the other hand, are mostly hardworking, insightful, and helpful. They take charge of their households, are excited to learn new skills and put them to use, and are often the top wage earners in their families. They frequently are forthright and self sufficient. It’s an interesting contrast. (If some reviewers have trouble with Cornish people being portrayed as dumb and foolish in this show, they should also have a problem with how the male characters are represented.)

In S7E1, we learn that Ruth has recommended a young, female therapist for Martin to see. She tells him Dr. Rachel Timoney, who does not suffer fools gladly, should be a good choice for him. When Martin arrives for his appointment, he first thinks the woman standing outside the front door is a receptionist, or something along those lines, and asks her to get Dr. Timoney. This mistake is a little strange because Ruth told him the therapist she is recommending is female and writing a book during her stay in Cornwall. Maybe we should chalk up his immediate response to his being discombobulated by the lifeboat accident, etc., or maybe he is typical of most men and still thinks of most doctors as male. His immediate reaction is to tell her she’s so young. He has had misgivings about young doctors previously, e.g. the vascular surgeon, and he wouldn’t be the first doctor to think experience counts for a lot; however, we also know that he is not thrilled to be seeing a therapist and could be looking for some reason she won’t be a good choice. (He has also told Ruth that he has been hunting for a therapist but hasn’t found anyone suitable.)

By the time he has had a few minutes with Dr. Timoney though, she has impressed him sufficiently for him to decide to come back. As Ruth noted, Dr. Timoney is demanding and quickly tells him that he has to set his phone aside while talking to her. Uncharacteristically, he hands over the phone right away. She expects punctuality and a commitment, and has set rules during her therapy sessions. She begins the first session, as seen in the E2 preview, by asking a direct question: “What are you afraid of?”

As usual the choice of that wording is important. She doesn’t ask him why he’s there or what she can help him with; she asks him what his fears are. She seems very perceptive from the outset in that she immediately notices he may have a high anxiety level.

Thus, we begin S7 with a continuation of strong women being essential to the plot. We will watch to see how Louisa gets along with this female doctor. She wasn’t happy with Edith, and these two strong women will undoubtedly come to loggerheads at times. Dr. Timoney may, and I imagine will, be the catalyst that brings them together again but not necessarily due to her therapeutic prowess. (That remains to be seen.)

The other significant female addition is Janice, Morwenna’s vain friend who becomes the new nanny. After Michael, it’s not at all surprising that this new nanny is the exact opposite. She cares more about herself than about James Henry and is anything but OCD, from the looks of the house. Nevertheless, we know that she will spend a lot of time on screen and be a critical new character.

I am fascinated by the number of strong female characters in this show. I would venture to guess that many of the viewers are female, and having strong women in the show appeals to that audience, maybe subconsciously. Also, there seem to be more shows with strong women in lead roles these days. It works for me!

 

Originally posted 2015-09-12 11:52:32.

A Break Of Our Own

As anyone who has been reading this blog can tell by now, both you readers and I have not had as much to say lately. I think I have one or two more posts in me before the next series begins, and I’d like to think you readers might have a few more things to say. But I am not surprised that we are at a point where the anticipation of a new series coupled with some fatigue over saying more about what’s happened before is leading to all of us taking a break.

Several of you have previously wanted me to continue, and I’ve tried to do my best. I will write more when I can. Currently I am once again on the road. It will probably be the end of this week before I can write another post.

Thank you, kind readers, for all your support. I expect to find much more to write about once we get into the new series.

Originally posted 2015-08-23 06:37:58.

Essential Elements of Story

Even though I may be seen as a downer to those who like to treat these characters as if they are real people having responses to each other and to situations as though they are actually going through these events, this post is going to attempt to reveal the method every show (or film), including “Doc Martin,” uses if it expects to be successful. We are watching characters act in particular ways because they are being manipulated by the writers to achieve a specific reaction. Sure, they are supposed to be believable and appear as though they are people we could meet and become friends with. However, no matter how much we care about what their relationship with their mothers was like when they were children, or what their psychological circumstances are, we should somewhere keep in mind that we are engaging in the suspension of disbelief for the sake of enjoying a good story. By that I mean we are allowing ourselves to be drawn into the story of these characters for a certain length of time knowing they are symbolic figures and will not necessarily follow the likely path that would occur if they were operating in the real world.

A Handbook to Literature, basically the bible for understanding literary terminology, distinguishes story from plot. Significantly for our purposes, the Handbook states, “the plot lies in relations among episodes…it is, therefore, a guiding principle for the author and an ordering control for the reader….Since the plot consists of characters performing actions in incidents that comprise a ‘single, whole, and complete’ ACTION, this relation involves conflict between opposing forces. Without conflict, without opposition, plot does not exist…This opposition knits one INCIDENT to another and dictates the causal pattern that develops the struggle. This struggle…comes to a head in some incident — the CRISIS — that forms the turning point of the STORY and usually marks the moment of greatest SUSPENSE. In this climactic EPISODE the RISING ACTION comes to a termination and the FALLING ACTION begins; and as a result of this incident some DÉNOUEMENT or CATASTROPHE is bound to follow.”

The next comment it makes is most important: “Plot is, in this sense, an artificial rather than a natural ordering of events. Its function is to simplify life by imposing order thereon…Plot brings order out of life; it selects only one or two emotions out of a dozen, one or two conflicts out of hundreds, only one or two or three people out of thousands, and a half dozen EPISODES from possible millions. In this sense it focuses and clarifies life.”

Furthermore, the Handbook tells us: “The most effective incidents are those springing naturally from the given characters, the most effective plot, from this point of view is to translate CHARACTER into ACTION.”

Here we have the fundamentals of writing a strong plot that create the link between author (writer) and reader (viewer). All good stories contain these elements and we can certainly see how they work in each episode of “Doc Martin” as well as each series. Because DM has evolved into a story about the relationship woes between Martin and Louisa, which I think was inevitable and should have been obvious from the moment they portrayed them conflicting in S1E1, they have developed plots based on these conflicting characters. They are the primary players in the series and, for the most part, the other characters are important only insofar as they impact these two.

Another source I like to use is Robert McKee’s Story , a book written by a prominent teacher of screenwriting. I took his grueling seminar about ten years ago and so have many famous writers for screen, including Peter Jackson, William Goldman, Quincy Jones, Kirk Douglas, and many more. When I took his course in NYC, Faye Dunaway was also in attendance. For our purposes, his elucidation of story in his book that I want to quote is: “The grand difference between story and life is that in story we cast out the minutiae of daily existence in which human beings take actions expecting a certain enabling reaction from the world and, more or less, get what they expect. In story we concentrate on that moment, and only that moment, in which a character takes an action expecting a useful reaction from his world, but instead the effect of his action is to provoke forces of antagonism. The world of the character reacts differently than expected, more powerfully than expected, or both.”

Since probably my favorite episode is S6E1, I want to use it to illustrate the above elements. I will describe what I see as the plot points that are employed and note how the writers, et. al. select these scenes out of all the ones they could have chosen from Real life.

We can start at the very beginning. It’s Martin and Louisa’s wedding day, but we don’t know this immediately because the first scene is Martin doing a gynecological exam on the green grocer. But wait, we left off S5 with him and Louisa walking together hand in hand. What’s happened between that moment and this one? How much time has transpired? Martin treats this patient the way he typically has treated most patients in the past and she, somehow, doesn’t know it’s his wedding day. But, we have no objections once we find out that’s where he’s going next.

We still don’t know where Louisa is or how long it’s been since we last saw them together. However, that’s about to become clearer once Martin changes his clothes and gets into the taxi. Wait…where is he going in a taxi looking so serious? Why isn’t he driving his Lexus? Don’t ask. Just suspend your disbelief some more because he’s greeted by the crew once he steps out of the taxi and we are more interested in knowing that he is at the church to be married to Louisa. Now we see JH for the first time in S6 and we can tell that he’s older, probably 5-6 months old. If we bother to think about it, we can now say it’s been about 4 months since we left them walking away from the Castle.

Once again Louisa is not there, and the likelihood is that her delay is meant to remind us of the aborted wedding plans from S3. There’s a little suspense while we wait for her to appear. In that period, we may notice that Ruth and baby James are the only family members in attendance. If it’s been 4 months since the last series, Louisa’s mother Elinor would have been back from any trip she took and could have been invited to the wedding. Why isn’t she there? Well, my view is that reintroducing her in this series only brings in plot points they don’t want or need. Besides, later in the series we hear Martin say his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth. They are neatly packaged in this first episode as such and it never occurs to us to wonder where Elinor is. In real life, there would probably be much more difficulty keeping her out of the picture. After all, Louisa had made peace with Elinor by the end of S5 and accepted her mother’s need to head off on more adventures. Why wouldn’t she want her mother at her wedding? However, it’s only at the end of S6 that Louisa decides to visit her mother in Spain and mentions her again. Have they spoken during the past few months? Has Louisa sought Elinor’s advice or sympathy while dealing with Martin and his mother? That’s not important to this plot and not included.

Louisa does show up, claiming that her hair delayed her (a funny excuse that could be a reference to how much brides fuss about their hair). The wedding proceeds without Elinor, but with humorous comments by the vicar and the usual missteps, and the reception that follows is filled with the many secondary characters behaving in ways we’ve come to expect and enjoy. Penhale makes a speech that is laudatory but gets interrupted by Bert, who wants the event to move along. Bert has already sampled the food and found it deficient, and Morwenna has been used as a link between Martin and Louisa and led us to the dancing scene. Meanwhile, Chippy Miller has approached Martin with a medical problem while Martin is admiring Louisa and possibly marveling at/internalizing having Louisa as a wife. Would a patient do this at a real wedding. I hope not! But it happens here because it’s part of the plot of the show to have patients come up to ask Martin for advice at the oddest times. It also prompts Martin to seek out Louisa and suggest leaving.

At this moment, the music begins and everyone expects them to dance. They have their dance, with a few minor glitches, and decide to slip out to avoid any shenanigans by Bert. Somehow most of the guests don’t notice they are leaving, and they make it outside with the baby in hand. However, again somehow the important characters are out there before they show up and are ready to encourage them to spend a night at a lodge. Ruth is sure she can handle the baby for one night, their bags have been secretly packed, and they are whisked off with Bert driving. No mess, no fuss. Martin didn’t have a car to worry about anyway and no one gives it another thought.

Along the route to the lodge they pass the man they will later encounter in the woods. Here he is holding some animal over his shoulder and follows the car with his eyes as it passes him. They, too, see him, and he may give them a few misgivings because of his inhospitable appearance. We also see a horse that figures in a later scene. (At night when they hear someone yelling in the woods, they don’t think of him and, when they come upon his caravan, they don’t appear to recognize him, or him them.)  Perhaps they originally set this up so that they would remember each other and then ditched it. Primarily, though, the effect is to let us know that where they are going is isolated and wild. They don’t mention any of this to each other so we have no idea what they’re thinking; we can only use their faces as a guide and Louisa looks a little uncomfortable.

Of course, they make it to the lodge where they have no phone reception and shouldn’t need it if the night goes as planned. Needless to say, it doesn’t, and Martin decides to head out to find a phone they can use. The reality is that they actually would have had trouble getting phone reception out there (or in town for that matter), but wouldn’t he have been better off retracing the route Bert used to bring them to the lodge? That’s what most people would do, but for this plot they need him to head into the woods. It turns out they spend the entire night in the woods, entering it and exiting it during daylight. (The nights in Cornwall are shorter than in some other places, but that would still mean spending at least 6 hours in the dark.) Do we care how long they’ve been in the woods? Not really.

Once they enter the woods, Martin and Louisa begin to disagree. She thinks he’s going the wrong way and he’s sure he knows what he’s doing. They have a confrontation with the horse that leads to Louisa making fun of Martin. But the CONFLICT between them reaches its height when they arrive at the brook and Louisa refuses to walk across it. In my opinion it is at this point where a CRISIS develops. Even though Martin suggests that he carry Louisa across, they have a heated argument over how their honeymoon plans had been determined and by the time they reach the other side of the water, Louisa’s anger level is raised to a point that she tells Martin he never understands anything and she says, “you’re right, this was a mistake.” She appears to mean spending the night at the lodge, but we could also consider her to be making a remark about getting married at all. Nevertheless, their encounter with the caravan owner brings them together by motivating them to defend each other to him and by using the plot device of having them work together to tend to the damage to the man’s carotid artery that was caused by broken glass from the awning falling on him. The dénouement has been reached, catastrophe averted, and all ends rather harmoniously as they walk up the dirt road pushing the man in a wheelbarrow.

We don’t know how they got the wheelbarrow, how they made it to the road, and when the sun arose, and we don’t need to know. We also don’t know what transpires between the time they hail the truck that fortuitously appears on the road at that moment and when they are back in their house. It’s not important for the plot. The episode ends with more of the typical mayhem during which the kitchen is once again filled with the main characters of the story plus the appearance of a patient at a most unpropitious time accompanied by the barking dog. We know, however, that their marriage is on a good footing at this point because they find a moment to speak to each other quietly and decide together what they plan to do next.

We could be tempted to fill in the gaps, and often that is exactly what fan fiction does, but for the purposes of the show, they are left open and should be. As McKee writes: “The substance of story is the gap that splits open between what a human being expects to happened when he takes an action and what really does happen; the rift between expectation and result, probability and necessity. To build a scene, we constantly break open these breaches in reality.” In addition, he states, “the source of the energy in story… [is]…the gap. The audience empathizes with the character, vicariously seeking his desire. It more or less expects the world to react the way the character expects. When the gap opens for character, it opens for the audience. This is the ‘Oh, my God!’ moment, the ‘Oh, no!’ or ‘Oh yes!’ you’ve experienced again and again in well-crafted stories.”

There’s nothing better than getting taken away by the plot of a story in which you identify with the characters and empathize with them. My goal in writing this post is not to diminish that in any way. However, I struggle with going too far and developing detailed backstories for our protagonists. Much of what we see on our screens was never meant to be taken to that extent. In fact, if we get too deep into concocting childhood events that may have led to one or another behavior as an adult, I think we may suck all the enjoyment out of simply going along with the story. We wouldn’t want that to happen!

Originally posted 2015-08-16 14:40:02.

A Doc Martin Lexicography

I feel the need to have a little fun and Marta has sent me something I think we can all play with. I hope you all find this amusing. We thought we could take these examples and convert some Doc Martin associated words into something we could all laugh about. They don’t approach the wit of the winners of the Wash. Post contest, but I think they are pretty good.

The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational invites readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners (from last year):
 
1. Cashtration (n.):  The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.  
 
2. Ignoranus A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxicaton
 Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation
 Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone (n.): 
 The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future. 
 
6. Giraffiti Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
 
7. Sarchasm The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
 
8. Inoculatte To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Osteopornosis
 A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit)

10. Karmageddon
 It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
 
11. Decafalon (n): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

12. Glibido
 All talk and no action. 

13. Dopeler Effect
 The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly. 

14. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): 
 The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

15. Beelzebug (n.): 
 Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

16. Caterpallor (n.):  The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating. 
 
 
The WashingtonPost also published this year’s winning submissions for alternate meanings of common words:
 
1. Coffee, n.  The person upon whom one coughs. 
 
2. Flabbergasted, adj.  Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.  
 
3. Abdicate, v.  To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade, v. 
 To attempt an explanation while drunk.
 
5. Willy-nilly, adj.  Impotent. 

6. Negligent, adj. 
 Absent mindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
 
7. Lymph, v.  To walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle, n. 
 Olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence, n. 
 Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash, n. 
 A rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle, n. 
 A humorous question on an exam. 

12. Rectitude, n. 
 The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists. 
 
13.  Pokemon , n.  A Rastafarian proctologist. 
 
14.  Oyster , n.  A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms. 
 
15.  Frisbeetarianism , n.  The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
 
16.  Circumvent , n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
Here’s what Marta came up with:
Lew Weezer, n.  an old geezer who lusts after pretty girls
PartWenn, n.  end of every Doc Martin series when Martin and Louisa split
A Tishell, n. kleenex for self-medicating matrons with a Dr. Ellingham infatuation
The Harbar, n. place on the shore to drink
PC Pinhale, n. name for a dumb copper
DoanTawk, n. place of silence in PortWenn
Rose Karen, n.  girl who lives at the top of the hill
Anti Joan, n. Martin’s father, Christopher
More Regret, n. what Martin feels when speaking to his mother, Margaret
Hellinore, n. Martin’s worst nightmare of a mother-in-law
Badmen, n. loansharks on the moor
Foe Bea, n. a very difficult enemy from Martin’s past
The Birth Taxi, n.  natural vehicle for inducing labor
Corn Wall, n.  place where Daphne deMurier dispensed literary gems
Then I tried a few:
Locations in Port Isaac/Portwenn
Insulting Room, n.  place where your GP makes snide remarks to you about your body
Wasting Room, n. place where you pass the time while hoping to get a cup of tea
Sneeze Belly Alley, n. a place where it’s so narrow it’s dangerous to sneeze

Margaret’s Cane, n. the physical implement that a shrew uses to hurt people
Rise Hill, n. steep street that is handicapped challenged
Names
At Large, n. a person who can’t decide who to date or where to live
Joe Inhale, n. a man who talks too much
Joan Torton, n.  either someone who likes to bake tortes OR someone who habitually gets into trouble for being uninsured
John Slayer, n. a man who breaks women’s hearts
Other words:
Tossee, n. a person who throws up easily
haemorphobia, n. a concern about needing to change
 I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to think of some of your own. If nothing else, it keeps our minds working!
(New more serious post coming soon.)

Originally posted 2015-08-13 09:34:05.

Time and Tide (apologies to Basia)

Recently on Facebook Santa decided to post her ideas of how S7 will progress. That led to a series of posts that made attempts at determining when certain scenes between Martin and Louisa take place and what they might indicate in terms of their relationship. As you all know by now, I am averse to speculating and like to depend on evidence whenever I analyze the show. As a result, I decided to see whether there is anything worthwhile I can contribute to this discussion. I am doing this on the blog because I prefer to express myself here and my post will be much longer than anything I would want to say on Facebook.

The two issues that seem to be of concern are when does the series begin and when do this couple appear to be getting along better. I have now gone back through the first episodes and final episodes of each series, and if history is prologue, there is a pattern that can be identified.

I realize they don’t have to stick with any time patterns. Nevertheless, I think there is a way to pin down their typical methodology. Also, I thought I would see if there is a pattern to how the Martin/Louisa relationship has been handled throughout the 6 series we’ve already viewed. One thing we know is they consistently set up reasons that cause them to separate from each other only to be drawn together again, most often through some sort of medical emergency. But maybe there’s a little more to it than that.

Let’s begin with the time passage between series: Most of the series begin very soon after the conclusion of the previous one. The shortest amount of time passage between series occurs between S4 and S5 where S5 begins the same day as S4 ended. Louisa has given birth at the pub at the end of S4 and S5 begins in the hospital where they went for her to be properly checked. The longest passage of time takes place between S3 and S4 because Louisa has moved to London following their decision not to marry. She returns in the first episode of S4 6 months pregnant which means she was gone for approximately 5 months. She must have been pregnant the day of the wedding and did not know it. The wedding is supposed to have been planned for three weeks after they first sleep together.

This gives us an expectation that S7 will be likely to fall between same day and around 5 months after S6 ended. Because Louisa has just had AVM surgery and is still recovering from a broken clavicle, we would expect her to need help at home. We know that Michael has turned himself into the army authorities and that leaves them without help at home with James Henry. We also know that Louisa has time off from school responsibilities at the time of her AVM surgery because she had planned use her school break to visit her mother in Spain before Martin retrieved her from the plane. If the first time we see Louisa is truly the picture we see in the iTV preview of shows for their Fall season, she is no longer wearing a sling and the sunglasses on her head seem to indicate she has been somewhere sunny. In my opinion, she would have had to have gone back home with Martin from the hospital, had a few days prior to feeling up to traveling, and spent some of that time talking about their plans. Perhaps Martin took a few days off from work to help with James. It would make sense to me that Louisa would want to keep her plan to fly to Spain to see her mother because her mother could help with James, she could be in a warm setting, and she could have time to think while Martin gets back to work. In addition there’s a likelihood that while she’s away, Martin’s mission was to find someone to take care of James once she and James return. That would mean that she had plans to return all along.

Except when Louisa leaves for London after their first wedding plans are canceled, Louisa has never left work. Being the headmistress at the school in Portwenn is what she wants to do with her time. Thus, she would be likely to want to return pretty soon. I could imagine that, due to her injuries, she was allowed to take more time off than the school break might have been, but she would be anxious to get back to work.

I would also have to guess that she knows that Martin has found a new child minder who will start upon Louisa’s return. It seems logical that she would not want to move back in with Martin immediately even though he wants her to. To me, it also is a good sign that Martin offers to have her stay in the surgery while he lives elsewhere. As others have said, having her in the surgery is a smart choice on his part because he knows he’ll see her fairly frequently. I also noted online that his decision to move instead of having her leave would be seen by her as very thoughtful and would be a touching gesture.

After that they have decided to find a therapist and seek marriage guidance. It seems clear that there will be many helpful suggestions by the therapist but also some things that go wrong. If it went smoothly we would all be suspicious and we would not recognize these characters.

Of course there are many secondary stories throughout the series, some of which involve medical emergencies. The medical emergencies that matter to this discussion are the ones that bring Martin and Louisa together. In every previous series we can easily pinpoint the medical emergencies that reunite this couple.

S1: Peter Cronk must be rushed to hospital for ruptured spleen. Martin and Louisa ride with Peter in the ambulance and spend the night waiting to find out if he’s all right. Despite Martin looking pleased that Louisa is with him, and despite Louisa running back into the hospital to tell off Adrian Pitts, Martin spoils their kiss during  the taxi ride home and Louisa throws him out of the car. This combination initiates what becomes the typical sequence for them: affection followed by some inappropriate comment by Martin that leads to Louisa being insulted and offended.

S2: We have two endings to this series but both work equally well with this pattern. In “Erotomania,” a medical condition he has while drinking wine causes Martin to fall asleep in the middle of kissing Louisa and just after telling her he loves her. She affectionately covers him and touches the back of his head when she leaves. I suppose calling this a medical emergency is a little strong, but the effect wine has on Martin is related to something medical. He ruins the incident the next day when she brings him something for a hangover and expresses love for him only to be accused by him of stalking. In “On the Edge,,” the baker falls down a cliffside and Martin must save him by drilling a hole in his skull to alleviate the pressure from a head injury. During the episode this couple have been tied together and forced to deal with a disturbed man, but it’s after the scene with the baker and Martin’s climb back to safety that Louisa is tender with him again. She wipes the blood on his cheek and is obviously worried about him. Martin has previously angered Louisa by insulting her father in an inappropriate manner.

S3: The first episode contains a medical emergency that brings them together. This time it’s Allison’s daughter Delph who is the catalyst. The episode ends with Louisa and Martin having a personal conversation and Louisa wanting him to be her doctor again. Of course, S3 is the one in which they have the concert date that ends with him ruining another kiss but then Louisa’s friend Holly falls and injures herself and redeems the relationship. Another medical emergency occurs when Louisa’s friend Isobel goes into labor unexpectedly and Martin and Louisa join together to deliver the baby. This time, however, the emergency delivery does not bring these two much luck. Louisa continues to be impressed with Martin’s medical skills, but the series ends with them parting ways.

S4: The most significant medical emergency in this series is Tommy’s methanol poisoning. Martin’s concern for finding Tommy and saving his life is accompanied by his even greater desire to make sure Louisa is safe. His pressing need to find Louisa ends with the delivery of their baby and one of the most passionate scenes of the show.

S5: Mrs. Tishell’s mental breakdown provides the situation that unites Louisa and Martin. Martin finally expresses his love for Louisa and she is comforted by his pledge to always love her.

S6: The most important medical emergency is the AVM surgery, although Louisa’s collision with a car shocks Martin out of his obstinate mood. They have some tender moments in the hospital in both cases. (The first episode of S6 uses an injury to the caravan owner to bring them together after they argue over how to get to the road and what Louisa might have liked for a honeymoon.)

S7: From what I can tell from pictures, there is a likelihood that Ruth suffers some medical emergency sometime early in the series. We also know that there is a scene in which the therapist has a car wreck and the nanny loses control of the stroller with James Henry in it. My sense is that neither of  these events leads to any serious outcome. Ruth appears again later in the series and the therapist and JH are not badly injured; however, I can easily imagine that Louisa and Martin would come together at these occasions. They probably incorporate these scenes as a way to follow the pattern they established in S1.

Using medical emergencies as a vehicle to unify these two gives Martin a chance to demonstrate his medical skills, which are the most confidence and strength building for him, while making clear to Louisa how much she admires him and finds him reassuring under particular stressful circumstances. In S7 the therapy sessions also bring them together, both while being seen by the therapist and when they unite to terminate the sessions.

When I looked back through these series, I was reminded of two important comments made by Louisa. The first was at the end of S3E1 when she tells Martin she worries about everything and what she’s doing with her life. The second was after the baby is born in S4E8 and she tells the baby “You’ll get used to him eventually.” The first remark gives us insight into her mindset and makes us aware that she isn’t nearly as confident as she acts. This scene is one of the few when she expresses her doubts to anyone. Maybe we’ll see more of that in therapy or as a result of therapy. The second makes clear that she knows Martin isn’t easy to be around, but that she plans to stay with him long enough for the baby to get used to him. I would expect that to mean far past the baby’s first year.

Martin has already been willing to admit that he needs help and has previously conceded that he’s made mistakes with Louisa. We shouldn’t forget that all of the preceding series lead up to this one and build on each other. I do not expect Louisa to ask for a divorce in S7 nor do I think she will be able to stop interacting with Martin for long. They may live separately, but Portwenn is too small and their lives too intertwined for them to avoid each other. Also, we have scenes with them doing things together early in the series. I think Martin Clunes is being sincere when he says they are going to find a way to get this couple back together again in this series. I know the going will be rocky, and that’s part of the fun, but I am looking forward to seeing how they set it up. I look forward to a series that brings back the humor, the awkwardness, and the miscommunications, but that ultimately includes affectionate scenes and a reconciliation.

Originally posted 2015-08-08 15:48:29.

The Pursuit of Happiness

This post will interrogate what it means to be happy in greater depth. Even though I’ve written several posts on happiness already and have recently added some posts on emotions, which include joy and sadness, I want to look at this so called unalienable right further. I have been surprised by the number of articles that have recently appeared in the NYTimes and elsewhere about the concept of happiness. Then I did a little more digging and discovered that, like the US, many countries consider happiness a major goal for their citizens and one that government can assist in. In fact, in 2010 British Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech about his concern for sustaining his countrymen’s happiness and asked the Office of National Statistics to devise a new way of measuring wellbeing in Britain. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the writers for DM included some of the references to happiness as a result of Cameron’s speech on wellbeing. Series 5 and 6 came along after that speech and contained many scenes that related to the happiness level reached by several characters, e.g. Martin and Louisa (of course), Al, Bert, Ruth. The scene at the end of series 3 in which Martin and Louisa declare that they wouldn’t make each other happy had already taken place, but, in my mind, that may have been the set piece for starting down this path of thinking about happiness.

Before I go into all of the articles and try to put their contents into some sort of coherent form, I want to mention that I have now seen the film “Inside Out.” The film is brilliant in addressing a serious subject by using animation and humor. The central concern is what goes on inside our minds when we deal with major disruptions in life.  In the film the key protagonist is an 11 year old girl named Riley whose family is moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. The fact that she is 11 plays a major role because along with the change in locations she is experiencing some emotional peaks and valleys due to puberty. For me, an important message of the film is that joy is Riley’s most prominent emotion, but joy needs to drag around sadness, literally. Joy wants sadness to suggest ideas about how to make Riley’s life go well, but not take away the joy of memories. In the end, though, this growing and developing child must lose her attachment to those memories so that she can enjoy life again in a new setting. The idea is that without sadness there can be no joy, and without family and loving support from them, there is difficulty transitioning to a new stage of life.

Since “Inside Out” is a Walt Disney production, it is especially coincidental that last weekend an article titled “The Happiness Project” appeared in the NYTimes Style Magazine, and that the article makes some similar points about happiness. The article is about how Disney, its parks and films, brings happiness to many and inspires non-Americans to love America. (I should say here that many Brits only visit America to go to Disneyland. There are several non-stop flights from London to Orlando on at least 5 airlines, and they contain 11,257 seats per week. When we were in England, we met quite a few Brits who had been to Disneyland, and nowhere else in America.)  For one thing, the author of the article, Andrew O’Hagan (a British novelist), argues that “the idea of Disneyland has a fear of disaster embedded in it. Happiness, after all, is like that. We can hardly live with happiness for fear of it suddenly ending.” Later he states, “happiness is paired with a basic drive to do something that defies gladness.” These comments come in the midst of a long article about how happy visiting Disney makes people and that some people cry with happiness when they visit the park. They also are combined with a description of the joy he gets from taking his daughter there. This reconfirms that joy often is conjoined with family. It also might highlight the fact that S6 of DM and its downward trajectory could be used as a springboard for getting Martin and Louisa on a much better path to finding joy once more. The fear of losing happiness is rather prominent in their marriage.

Ultimately, the film “Inside Out” reflects what most of the research on happiness has found. People consider family a significant source of happiness. In addition, like most studies on happiness the film indicates that there is a lot of self-governance involved. As a result, the issue of control frequently comes up.

We can also see this in David Cameron’s speech on wellbeing in which he said: “We have got an instinct that people who feel in control of their own destiny feel more fulfilled. That’s why we’re giving parents real choice over schools and patients real choice over where they get treated. We have an instinct that having the purpose of a job is as important to the soul as it is to the bank balance, and it’s there in our hugely ambitious work programme to get people off welfare. Our instinct that most people have a real yearning to belong to something bigger than themselves – that is leading our plans to bring neighbourhoods together, to increase social action and to build what I call the Big Society.”

He goes on to say: “Let me give you three examples where I really do believe there is a link between what politics and government does and people’s happiness, contentedness and quality of life.

One is I do believe if you give people more control over their life, if they feel they have more of a say, they are authors of their own destiny, that actually increases people’s self-worth and wellbeing. Now that has a real effect on, for instance, education policy or health policy. We should be trying to give more power to the patient and the parent to have more choice over where they are treated, where their kids go to school and the rest of it. So that has a real-life effect.

The second one was mentioned – relationships. It is absolutely right that people’s wellbeing often depends on the quality of their relationships, so we should ask as a country, why do we spend billions and billions on the consequences of family breakdown, but so little on trying to help families stay together? £20 million on the budget of Relate, but £20 billion on the consequences of social breakdown, so again if we think about wellbeing, rather than just GDP, we might actually change that.

Another one is planning policy. People, definitely, the way your happiness, contentedness, wellbeing does partly depend on your surroundings, and your surroundings depend on planning policy and how much you are involved and have a say over your neighbourhood and what it looks like. So therefore, I would say: give people more power over the planning policy in the neighbourhood and they will be more contented.”

The ONS did follow up on Cameron’s request. and produced a  report: “Reflections on the National Debate.” In total, ONS held 175 events, involving around 7,250 people. The debate generated 34,000 responses, some of which were from organisations and groups representing thousands more. The quotes on each page of this report were taken from online contributions, where permission was given to reproduce the participant’s words anonymously.

The following are the salient points, in my opinion:

The term ‘well-being’ is often taken to mean ‘happiness’. Happiness is one aspect of the well-being of individuals and can be measured by asking them about their feelings – subjective well-being. As we define it, well-being includes both subjective and objective measures. It includes feelings of happiness and other aspects of subjective well-being, such as feeling that one’s activities are worthwhile, or being satisfied with family relationships. It also includes aspects of well-being which can be measured by more objective approaches, such as life expectancy and educational achievements. These issues can also be looked at for population groups – within a local area, or region, or the UK as a whole.

The debate ran between 25 November 2010 and 15 April 2011 and was conducted both online and at events around the UK. The debate was structured around a consultation paper, which asked five main questions:

  • what things in life matter to you?
  • of the things that matter to you, which should be reflected in measures of national well-being?
  • which of the following sets of information do you think help measure national well-being and how life in the UK is changing over time?
  • which of the following ways would be best to give a picture of national well-being?
  • how would you use measures of national well-being?

The main questions from the consultation questionnaire are listed below with the most common answers from a predefined list.

What things in life matter to you? What is well-being?

  • health
  • good connections with friends and family
  • good connections with a spouse or partner
  • job satisfaction and economic security
  • present and future conditions of the environment.

All the age groups highlighted the importance of family, friends, health, financial security, equality and fairness in determining well-being.

Having a general sense of well-being is important to nations and individuals. When Martin asks “Why does everyone always have to be happy?” in S6, we can now answer that asking that question truly demonstrates how out of sync he is with the world. However, we also consider his question one that reflects his personal agony and desperation in the face of hearing Louisa say that she plans to leave again. His question is plaintive and shows how pitifully sad he is with his life. Like everyone else, his sense of well-being would be likely to derive from health, good connections with his spouse, and the conditions determined by his environment. Until he performs Louisa’s AVM surgery, his health is a major concern for him, his connections to his spouse are precarious, and the conditions of his environment are problematic. The surgery is accompanied by some phobic symptoms (vomiting), but he’s able to carry on; he expresses his sincere wish to work on their marriage and be a better husband; and we can only hope that they can find a balance at home between their need for quiet and some private space while spending time with JH. S7 may be headed toward managing some of these essential elements for achieving happiness in this marriage.

In addition to Cameron’s emphasis on the importance of control for reaching a sense of well-being another article I came across also emphasizes control in regard to happiness. In “Two Ways to Be Happy” (NYTimes, June 1, 2015). the author describes studies that draw a distinction between primary control and secondary control. Primary Control is that ability to directly affect one’s circumstances; Secondary Control is the ability to affect how one responds to circumstances. These researchers assert that for most people secondary control is most important for life satisfaction; however, for those in committed relationships, primary control is more important. Their explanation for this discrepancy is that it’s possible that having a partner may help people deal with adversity the same way secondary control does. (This assumes you have a partner who is allowed to help with adversity, a definite problem with Martin and Louisa.)

Previously I wrote about Carol Ryff’s theories of happiness and eudaemonia. I also mentioned Aristotle’s theories and that many others have written their views about this emotion. However, the person most associated with psychological studies of happiness is Martin Seligman. What makes his studies more impressive is his belief that the complete practice of psychology should include an understanding of suffering and happiness, their interaction, and the use of interventions to relieve suffering and increase happiness. In an article on Positive Psychology that was published in American Psychologist (July-August 2005), he and his co-authors try to answer the question “What makes life worth living?”

Seligman, et. al. developed a guide that describes and classifies the strengths and virtues that enable human thriving. (They call it the CSV for Classified Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification.) They have determined that there are 24 strengths and 6 overarching virtues that span all cultures. The strengths include: kindness, fairness, authenticity, gratitude, open-mindedness, prudence, modesty, and self-regulation. The virtues are: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.

Here is a Table that explains their findings:

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 10.57.31 AM
They contend there are 3 defined routes to happiness:
a) positive emotion and pleasure (the pleasant life)
b) engagement (the engaged life)
c) meaning (the meaningful life)
They have determined that the most satisfied people are those who orient their pursuits towards all 3 but put the greatest weight on engagement and meaning. Furthermore, they believe that happiness brings many added benefits. “Happy people are healthier, more successful, and more socially engaged.” The goal, therefore, would be to provide a means for people to reach a state of happiness because then they will build on that positive cycle they’ve been establishing.
The team devised some exercises to see if they could increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms. They were pleased to find that some of the exercises led to a sense of happiness that lasted for 6 months (which was the maximum time period for which they checked). Those participants who continued to do the exercises benefited the most and were the happiest.
They conclude that since these exercises reduce depressive symptoms lastingly, they could be another means for treating depression, especially in talk therapy. They recognize that the individuals in their study were only mildly depressed and were motivated to become happier.
Their final judgement is that “the  pursuit of happiness is [not] futile because of inevitable adaptation or an immutable hedonic set point.” In other words, they believe that despite happiness being subjective and self-reported, everyone can reach a rewarding level of happiness through consistent effort. Furthermore, pursuing happiness is a valuable goal because of all the advantages that result.
I want to close this post by saying that, like the article above, there is a book entitled The Happiness Project that was written by Gretchen Rubin and published in 2009. Much of the book is pretty simplistic, but she did a lot of reading in preparation for writing it. She read all of the big names associated with the philosophy of happiness as well as several novelists’ views on happiness. She has a blog and suggests various ways people can work on being happier. For me, there are two significant comments she makes. One is “the opposite of happiness is unhappiness, not depression,” by which she means her suggestions are not to be mistaken for treatments of severe depression.
The other is more comprehensive:
“According to current research, in the determination of a person’s level of happiness, genetics accounts for about 50 percent; life circumstances, such as age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, income, health, occupation, and religious affiliation, account for about 10-20 percent; and the remainder is a product of how a person thinks and acts…It seems obvious that some people are more naturally ebullient or melancholic than others, and that, at some time, people’s decisions about how to live their lives also affect their happiness.”
So we are back to the idea of whether people can change and we now have a lot of data that supports the conviction that we are capable of changing our level of happiness. I think we can generalize that to other aspects of our emotional lives. We are the authors of our lives to a great extent, especially if we have a strong desire to make certain changes. Why does everyone always want to be happy? Because happiness is an important emotion and being happy makes our lives worth living.
[I am very sorry that for some reason the font changed in this post and I was unable to figure out how to make the spacing function normally after I included the Table. Believe me, I tried!]

 

 

Originally posted 2015-07-28 21:46:04.

Hiding and Seeking

I’m not done yet with referencing articles about psychological treatments. This time I will be quoting an article from June 30th. In this article, the therapist argues that many times a patient’s trauma stems from generations of family members having been mistreated. To a great extent this psychologist hesitates to condemn any parent because of the way he or she treats their children. They may simply be carrying on the patterns of horrible parenting they were subjected to as children.

Although I have some trouble exonerating parents entirely, and we would certainly have to know whether they themselves had similarly bad parenting, this position sounds very close to the damage that occurs in families where alcoholism or abuse of all kinds can be traced back for generations. It’s well accepted that children learn patterns of behavior by what they experience in the home, and that genetic traits are hard to fight.

According to this article, a mother’s behavior toward her child that includes shaming may be an indication that she was once shamed by her parents. Oddly enough, the one thing the mother and child share is the shaming they’ve both suffered through. But that does not bring them together in any way.

The reason this therapist refers to the game of hide and seek is that children may hide their feelings yet wish to have them uncovered. If no one tries to unearth what those feelings are, the children are apt to withdraw in the belief that no one cares. According to this therapist, “we all need to hide sometimes. We need to go into the private space of our mind and take measure of our thoughts. We need to enter this space so we can reflect. And then, having done so, we long to be discovered by someone who’s looking, someone who really wants to find us. If we never have our feelings known and accepted by the people who are important to us, then hiding is no game; it’s a way of life.

It is “‘joy to be hidden,’ the pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott once wrote, ‘but disaster not to be found.’” (Yes, D. W. Winnicott again.)

What this article leads me to think is that even as an adult, we want someone to seek to determine what our feelings and inner thoughts are, and when that doesn’t happen, we withdraw again. In the case of Martin Ellingham (or Louisa, for that matter), childhood has inclined him to be protective of his inner thoughts and feelings. Now that he’s married, he continues to safeguard himself even though he would really like to know that his feelings are important enough for someone to want to draw them out.

That is the dilemma for Louisa. How much pressure should anyone put on a spouse to share his/her inner thoughts? How hard is it to drop one’s own protective barriers and express those innermost feelings, perhaps leaving oneself exposed or probing too deeply into one’s partner’s emotions?

Originally posted 2015-07-17 11:11:07.

Depression, it’s complicated

Santa suggested reading this article about depression and I agree that it’s a great explanation about the difficulties in diagnosing depression and in treating it.

I particularly liked the section on how depression could result from habit formation and that, according to neuroscientist Marc Lewis, “as time goes on you build your prison by continually repeating those particular thoughts. Until that becomes your mental world.”

See what you all think.

Originally posted 2015-07-15 09:29:59.