Monthly Archives: August 2017

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.

More on Emotions and How They Work

In our continuing effort to learn about emotions and consider all the implications involved with emotions, I thought I would mention another article I recently read. This time the article has to do with the movie “Inside Out” currently in theaters, but which I haven’t had a chance to see yet. I have my grandsons staying with me and plan to take them to see the movie sometime this week. I’ve heard only good things about it, which is remarkable in itself!

The article is written by two professors of psychology who have studied emotions for decades and were asked to be consultants on the film. I’ll let them do the talking here:

“‘Inside Out’ is about how five emotions — personified as the characters Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy — grapple for control of the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley during the tumult of a move from Minnesota to San Francisco…Riley’s personality is principally defined by Joy, and this is fitting with what we know scientifically. Studies find that our identities are defined by specific emotions, which shape how we perceive the world, how we express ourselves and the responses we evoke in others.

But the real star of the film is Sadness, for “Inside Out” is a film about loss and what people gain when guided by feelings of sadness…the movie’s portrayal of sadness successfully dramatizes two central insights from the science of emotion.

First, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations. But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation.”

(This last paragraph reinforces what I once wrote about emotions in my post of 7/03/2014 titled “The Rational v. The Emotional.”  In that post I came to the conclusion that no matter how much we try to be rational, emotions govern our lives and our decisions. I also asserted that emotions are at the root of all behavior and cannot be extricated from the rational.)

In addition, the professors argue that “sadness prompts people to unite in response to loss” and that we should embrace sadness. If we apply this assertion to Martin and Louisa (and they were in the real world), we might be relieved because they have been overcome by a great deal of sadness during S6. The losses they have had to contend with include loss of independence, loss of autonomy, loss of private space, and perhaps the loss that results from the final cutting of ties to one’s mother despite knowing that she is despicable. Louisa would count the loss of affection and the feeling that she is loved by her husband. There may be additional loss ahead in S7; however, these losses, and the concomitant sadness, may lead to the sort of united response we would like to see.

As we saw in the previous post, sadness is a core emotion that can lead to a sense of relief and clarity. Wouldn’t it be nice if the sadness both Martin and Louisa have been experiencing could expedite a period of clarity followed by a stronger bond between them?

Originally posted 2015-07-14 21:13:15.

Is Martin Depressed?

I am ready to return to posts about the many topics of interest we have explored previously. The first subject I find fascinating is whether we are correct in diagnosing ME as suffering from Major Depressive Disorder. Of course, the reason I came to this question is by reading an article in the NYTimes in March that mentions accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy. This type of therapy is new to me, although the therapists in our group may be familiar with it. The article is intriguing, however, because of the example used.

The patient in the article had been diagnosed with intractable depression and “he had been through cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, supportive therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy” without success. He had also been medicated without a significant change other than intolerable side effects. Most importantly, he had grown up in a very detached and cold family atmosphere. The therapist recalls that “Brian had few memories of being held, comforted, played with or asked how we was doing.”

The therapist writes: “Based on what he (Brian) told me, I decided to treat him as a survivor of childhood neglect — a form of trauma. Even when two parents live under the same roof and provide the basics of care like food, shelter and physical safety, as Brian’s parents had, the child can be neglected if the parents do not bond emotionally with him.” It is the emotional engagement that is so important to children.

The therapist goes on to say: “One innate response to this type of environment is for the child to develop chronic shame. He interprets his distress, which is caused by his emotional aloneness, as a personal flaw. He blames himself for what he is feeling and concludes that there must be something wrong with him. This all happens unconsciously. For the child, shaming himself is less terrifying than accepting that his caregivers can’t be counted on for comfort or connection.”

Furthermore, this therapist explains that “to understand Brian’s type of shame, it helps to know that there are basically two categories of emotions. There are core emotions, like anger, joy and sadness, which when experienced viscerally lead to a sense of relief and clarity (even if they are initially unpleasant). And there are inhibitory emotions, like shame, guilt and anxiety, which serve to block you from experiencing core emotions…Children with too much shame grow up to be adults who can no longer sense their inner experiences. They learn not to feel, and they lose the ability to use their emotions as a compass for living. “

This description strikes me as being analogous to what we’ve been told about Martin’s childhood and what we see in his behavior as an adult. (Again, I am not proposing that the writers thought this all through when they created the character of Martin Ellingham. I am simply continuing to do more armchair analysis.) The portrayal of ME is weighted more towards the inhibitory emotions in general, although we’ve seen occasions during which he has appeared either joyful or sad, e.g. when he holds Louisa’s hand after the concert or when she accepts his proposal of marriage, and when Louisa tells him she doesn’t want to see him anymore. By the end of S6, ME has begun to experience many of the core emotions, particularly joyfulness and sadness. We know he feels joy during his wedding ceremony and the initial arrival at the lodge, and we know he’s sad during much of the latter episodes, but most especially when Louisa tells him she’s going to Spain and departs for the airport. (We see him tearful in the hospital following the AVM operation, and that’s a sign that he has begun to be in touch with his core emotions even though his tears are due to a mixture of relief and concern.) We may see him squashing his core feelings at the very end of S6 when he once again has trouble expressing any emotion in Louisa’s presence, but at least we know he can access his core emotions.

In the article the therapist encourages his patient ” to inhabit a stance of curiosity and openness to whatever he was feeling. This is how a person reacquaints himself with his feelings: to name them; to learn how they feel in his body; to sense what response the feeling is calling for; and in the case of a grief like Brian’s, to learn to let himself cry until the crying stops naturally (which it will, contrary to a belief common among traumatized people) and he feels a sense of visceral relief.”

I am pretty sure we will never see anything like this sort of therapy take place on the show, and they appear to be using couple’s therapy rather than individual anyway. Nevertheless, we’ve never shied away from considering the best form of therapy for someone in these circumstances and I don’t see why we should stop now! It certainly seems true that Martin’s childhood was similarly lacking in emotional attachment to either of his parents and that he could easily have developed a sense of shame.

There is much action for S7 that has been filmed in interior locations where no one outside of the cast and crew knows what has taken place. It’s possible that we may see some tears from ME and/or LE, and we may see some openness to expressing core emotions to each other beyond Louisa’s displays of anger we saw in S6. I hope to hear what all of you think of this distinction between core emotions and inhibitory emotions as well as what anyone knows about AEDP therapy. Actually, anything this post brings to mind is welcome!

Originally posted 2015-07-10 14:03:49.

Being Moral

This blog has basically been languishing for a couple of months because there has been very little to write about while filming for S8 was underway. During the previous two year lull between series we managed to find some intriguing topics to write about that were, even if tangentially, related to the show. We covered many of the psychological and the narrative elements brought up by the characters and situations depicted.

My most recent posts have been about laughter and civility and then about why this show should be categorized as a comedy. My argument providing evidence that it’s a comedy contributes to this post. I am very troubled by many things going on in our country and the world these days, and I thought I could express my concerns about another major area that is of great consequence to me — morality.

Students of Shakespeare often come across studies of his comedies by Northrup Frye. Northrop Frye was a Canadian literary critic and theorist whose work is so well known in literary circles, that I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned him before. His lasting reputation rests principally on the theory of literary criticism that he developed in Anatomy of Criticism (1957), one of the most important works of literary theory published in the twentieth century. One of the areas that Frye addresses in his work is how comedy treats morality, and I want to mention a bit of his critical analysis here. Among some of his remarks we can find his view that a Shakespearean comedy tends to end with either a marriage or a festival that brings about a “social integration [that] may be called, first, a kind of moral norm and, second, the pattern of a free society. We can see this more clearly if we look at the sort of characters who impede the progress of the comedy toward the hero’s victory. These are always people who are in some kind of mental bondage, who are helplessly driven by ruling passions, neurotic compulsions, social rituals, and selfishness. The miser, the hypochondriac, the hypocrite, the pedant, the snob: these are humors, people who do not fully know what they are doing, who are slaves to a predictable self-imposed pattern of behavior. What we call the moral norm is, then, not morality but deliverance from moral bondage. Comedy is designed not to condemn evil, but to ridicule a lack of self-knowledge.”

As a comedy, Doc Martin fits rather nicely into Frye’s description. We have the variety of characters who are there to frustrate the reconciliation between Martin and Louisa and who follow a stereotypical behavior pattern. They are included, I would argue, as examples of people who lack self-knowledge. To a great extent I would include both Martin and Louisa in this category. We consider these characters comical because of their lack of self-knowledge, not because their behavior has moral lapses.

The subject of morality comes up directly in the show in the last episode of S3 when Isobel asks Louisa what her fiancé is like and Louisa replies “He’s straightforward, he’s moral, he’s…Martin.” What does Louisa mean when she says he’s moral (based on what we know from the show)? Here are some of my thoughts: Louisa believes she can trust him (and Martin asks her to trust him throughout this episode); he’s someone who wouldn’t cheat on her, which she would find important because she needs that sense of security and loyalty; she would probably be looking for a man who she thinks will never break the law (like her father has); she would want someone who is reliable, a man of his word (as opposed to her mother); and a man who is thoughtful and treats people without prejudice (I surmise this based on her own sensitivities toward others). Being straightforward could refer to his tendency to speak his mind without softening the message. Even when Martin asks Louisa to marry him, he states his feelings openly and unguardedly. And yet we know that often his unfiltered comments have shocked Louisa, and even hurt her feelings.

Morality refers to norms about right and wrong human conduct that are so widely shared that they form a stable (although usually incomplete) social consensus. Since Martin Ellingham is a doctor, I thought it appropriate to include the manner in which medical matters interact with morality and ethics. Larry Churchill, Stahlman Professor of Medical Ethics, Vanderbilt University who specializes in medical ethics and bioethics, has written about moral quandaries as they relate specifically to medical circumstances. Churchill reminds readers that “we are the species who says ‘ought’.” “Ethical problem-solving usually involves critical, applied analysis of…rules and principles, as well as reflective thinking, remembering and imagining.” There is a certain amount of difficulty in arriving at a single all-encompassing concept of ethical theories, according to Churchill. Each theory has “a useful, but limited, range of application.” Nevertheless, Suffering and empathy are central to the moral life of medicine.

A recent article in the journal “Cognition” also argues that people’s conception of the normal deviates from the average in the direction of what they think ought to be so. When thought about with this in mind we can identify some moral quandaries in DM: Ought Louisa have changed her mind and decided so late not to marry Martin? Ought she have told Martin about the baby? Ought Martin have told Louisa about leaving for London? Ought Louisa have mentioned how her father left Portwenn in disgrace? When it comes to the doctor-patient relationship, Martin likes to assert the confidentiality of the patient; however, there are times when keeping that position introduces a moral quandary. Ought Martin have told Aunt Joan about John Slater’s medical condition? Ought Martin have allowed Louisa to be seen by his old flame Edith? Ought he have suggested that he could take care of Louisa during her pregnancy? Ought he have called his patients by so many derogatory names in public?

An example of a norm would be restraining oneself from making any personal comments out loud. Conventional etiquette instructs that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” For me this means that there is no profit in public derogatory comments about someone’s appearance, intelligence, or habits. If we want to be critical of something (or someone), comment on its (or his/her) importance and essential assets and deficits in a nonspecific manner.

But since this is a show that infringes on norms, we also see a mishmash of behavior that muddles morality and norms. Is he moral at times and immoral at other times? Can a doctor be considered moral even when he doesn’t follow norms of behavior? Much has been written about the ethics of power between doctors and patients. To a great extent, this show takes it for granted that because it’s meant to be funny, Martin’s abrupt and rude behavior towards his patients should not involve whether his imposing posture, tone of voice, and superior education makes his approach immoral (or amoral). Nevertheless, there are times when he crosses that boundary. Luckily, there are also times when he softens his tone and we see enough of his compassion to consider him morally upstanding. It seems likely they realized that despite the fun it was to have him bark at patients and call them idiots, if they included too much of that, they would cross that line and those scenes would no longer be funny.

The same authors of the above article also assert: “You are certainly capable of distinguishing carefully between what is typical and what is good. You are able to understand that something occurs frequently without also thinking that it is morally acceptable, or that something occurs infrequently without thinking that it is weird or deviant.” So we might arrive at the conclusion that we have some compunctions about Martin’s treatment of his patients without allowing those reservations to reach the level of serious impropriety for a doctor. (I must say that more and more I am struggling with whether I can laugh at this part of his persona. It’s all meant as innocent mockery, but lately such banter by people in power has taken on a malevolent tone that makes me recoil. I know the show is distinct from reality; nevertheless, too much of shows like that and, it seems to me, repugnant personal behavior becomes normalized.)

To many morality means what is proper behavior as opposed to what is improper conduct. Even that sort of designation has its problems. The terms morals and principles may seem distinct from each other to some and quite interchangeable to others. Some use these words together, as in moral principles. What seems most important is that we agree that there are guidelines for behavior that have developed over time and that we all acknowledge as morally acceptable and of high principle.

You may find this hard to believe, but the initial instigation for this post was the Grenfell Tower fire in London on June 14th. Here was a case of the owners of the building making what I would consider an immoral decision to clad the exterior in less expensive but attractive flammable material. They may have believed that a fire was highly unlikely and that it was important to improve the appearance of the building. Nevertheless, like so many other businesses lately (e.g. Volkswagen, Takata, BP, and others), they chose to save money over lives. (We shouldn’t be smug about this sort of thing because we have some of the same immoral behavior in the US. Just recently there was a fire in a building in Honolulu that had no sprinkler system. That prompted a call for mandates for all high rises to have sprinkler systems. Apparently many cities across this country do not require them.)

Then I started thinking about other things going on in this country and became aware that there are many people writing about the question of moral behavior these days. If morality is important to us, then why are we currently struggling so much to find our moral compass?

Ethics, too, are dependent on codes of conduct specific to a certain place. Are we now experiencing, as David Brooks has argued, a lot of dying old orders — demographic, political, even moral? Brooks continues: “As Joseph Bottum wrote in ‘An Anxious Age,’ mainline Protestants created a kind of unifying culture that bound people of different political views. You could be Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or atheist, but still you were influenced by certain mainline ideas — the Protestant work ethic, the WASP definition of a gentleman…Over the last several decades mainline Protestantism has withered. The country became more diverse. The WASPs lost their perch atop society. The mainline denominations lost their vitality…the country divided into at least three blocks: white evangelical Protestantism that at least in its public face seems to care more about eros than caritas; secular progressivism that is spiritually formed by feminism, environmentalism and the quest for individual rights; and realist nationalism that gets its manners from reality TV and its spiritual succor from in-group/out-group solidarity…But where are people going to go for a new standard of decency? They’re not going to go back to the old WASP ideal. That’s dead…but who is going to fill it and with what?”

Bioethicist Larry Churchill has written: “Ethics, understood as the capacity to think critically about moral values and direct our actions in terms of such values, is a generic human capacity.” I hope so.

An article in the NYT on 7/9/2017 referred to “why certain morally charged content goes ‘viral.’ The main reason to mention this article is that they note that “a moral emotion is something like hate or hope — an emotion that features normative judgment and affective mood. In contrast, a non-moral emotion is something like fear or love, and a non-emotional moral concept is something like ‘injustice’ or ‘fairness.'” I interpret this to mean that they surmise that moral concepts can be either emotional or non-emotional, ergo they are either based on how they affect someone subjectively or on how they are a disinterested summation based on accepted norms. Another op/ed article, this time from 7/14, explains: “I don’t think moral obliviousness is built in a day. It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a person’s mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing; to take the normal human yearning to be good and replace it with a single-minded desire for material conquest; to take the normal human instinct for kindness and replace it with a law-of-the-jungle mentality.”

When it comes to Grenfell, an article in the NYT written by Henry Wismayer wonders if “it remains too early to say whether this ambient regret will translate into a greater popular will to forestall the city’s course. But if there was ever an indelible image to wake a city from its coma, it’s there staring down at you when you get off the Tube at Latimer Road station — the tower of the unwanted, London’s shame.” Not every moral dilemma has as evident and abhorrent a reminder as Grenfell tower.