Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gather Ye Rosebuds

Now that I’ve pretty much overdone the discussion of whether people can change, and we’ve reached the conclusion that there will be some change, but probably not too much, we can look at what attributes these characters have that should be good for their marriage. Despite Louisa being a woman who likes small town and middle-class life, especially in Portwenn, and Martin being a man who has an affinity for London and the more upper crust life, there is much that they have in common.

Previously I wrote about whether Martin and Louisa should stay together. I questioned the whole notion of bringing up that issue because I am the type of reader/viewer who takes the storyline as something to accept as written. I tried to make allowances in a second post (“Ambiguity”) for those who read/watch as if they are looking through a keyhole rather than looking into a box. I want to be open to those who like to imagine what might happen “if.” This post is different because I can use the information we’ve been given in the show to discuss why Martin and Louisa are well matched. In my opinion, the writers have given us sufficient evidence that this couple could be compatible.

I have my own ideas about what criteria might be used to determine compatibility, but I thought I should see what the established guidelines are. Psychology Today published keys to functional compatibility (as opposed to dysfunctional, which I assume means those couples who stay together but have a very problematic relationship).

Key #1: basic values. These values reflect one’s moral standards, one’s religious beliefs, and one’s sense of gender roles. (I would add one’s interest in having children, although this subject could be folded into several of the keys.) From what we’ve seen of Martin and Louisa, they have very similar feelings about morals and religion, but may have somewhat different views about gender roles.

Both Martin and Louisa are concerned about others and make the time and effort to help the townspeople whenever called upon. As a doctor, M would be expected to take care of any medical problems, but he frequently goes well beyond that. (The “Kindness” post from last November delineated much of that behavior.) L demonstrates concern for her students, for their parents, and for others in the community, including Roger Fenn, Mrs. T, Morwenna, and Ruth. She worries about her friend Caroline as well as Mark and Al.

Religion plays a very minor role in their lives. They get married in a church but do not participate otherwise. They both react with surprise and derision to Danny’s regular invocation of God.

Their differences regarding gender roles may coincide in theory, i.e. they both think women should have the same opportunity to work as men and can handle the same positions. (Surely Martin’s aunts have been an influence on him.) Where they differ is whether women should work once they’ve had a baby, most especially when the baby is very young. Louisa’s desire to return to work within a few months of having James is contrary to Martin’s beliefs and a source of conflict between them. They never really resolve that issue; however, Martin takes on the care of James despite his objections to Louisa’s decision to work and in spite of its inconvenience to him. He deals with childcare at least as much as Louisa and hires Michael to help with James.

Key #2: degree of being ego-centered. This refers to a willingness to compromise. The way I understand this is that each partner can have strong convictions, but it is their ability to be tolerant of each other’s positions that is important. Thus, when Martin attends the school concert with Louisa he is sublimating his disenchantment with this sort of event to satisfy Louisa. Similarly, when Louisa wants to go to a social event that she realizes will not appeal to Martin, she doesn’t press him. Another example would be helping out as receptionist until Martin can find someone else. Or accepting his interest in fixing clocks even if it takes time away from her and James. (To be honest, in the show Martin is more often the one who does the compromising. That circumstance actually bolsters our sense that he is not stuck in a gender rut.)

Key #3: shared insight and perspective. Here we are talking about having comparable intellectual abilities such that both members of the couple can comprehend ideas, issues, and problems in a reasonable and thoughtful manner. In this show we have seen Martin and Louisa handle issues jointly and reasonably. There are many examples that come to mind, e.g. when Allison’s daughter acts hyper and ultimately badly injures herself. Louisa brings Allison to apologize to Martin and mediates the conversation between them. Louisa displays her problem-solving prowess and Martin and she have a meeting of the minds. We could also point to their handling of the porphyria addled headmaster; many cases with students, especially Peter Cronk and Theo Wenn; Mrs. Tishell; as well as their agreement about the personal traits of Mrs. Wilson and the Oakwoods. Indeed, this category is the one that stands out to me as demonstrating excellent compatibility in this pair.

Key #4: shared interests. I suppose we could suggest music as one activity they both enjoy, although Louisa doesn’t have any in depth knowledge of classical music or the instruments. After their sojourn to the concert, they clash over the children’s music Louisa has on in the kitchen. Other than that, the only truly shared interest they have is their son, unless we once again include shared concern for the townspeople.

Keys #5 and 6 are where we hit a major snag. These have to do with the temperaments of each member of the couple and their ability to relate authentically. We have spent quite a bit of time discussing how much Martin and Louisa need to talk to each other about their inner thoughts and probably their histories. To be in a truly functional marriage both parties should feel comfortable disclosing things to one another and leveling with each other. We haven’t seen much of this sort of behavior so far. We’ve gotten snippets, e.g. when Louisa can’t sleep because she is concerned about Mrs. Tishell’s return and Martin tries to reassure her. Most often they have been unwilling to share their most personal thoughts and troubles. It seems clear that Louisa would like to reach a deeper level of sharing and that Martin is the one who has the most trouble with this. Early on we see her try to get Martin to talk to her and in S6, she tells Martin she’s available to talk about his father’s death, and she suggests taking a weekend away presumably to have time to talk to each other.  On the other hand, there is much that Louisa has not told Martin (or us). We could speculate that she’s hesitant to be too open because of his apparent lack of interest in hearing it or in reciprocating, or because she’s being self-protective. Whatever the reason, their inability to be more authentic with each other is a major source of trouble in their marriage and the area that needs to change most.

Key #7 is whether the couple is attracted to each other. This seems rather ridiculous unless the marriage is arranged or something, but I guess it is a factor. Martin and Louisa fulfill this requirement; they have been attracted to each other from the moment they met. Martin never stops wanting to catch a glimpse of Louisa, he has a different tone of voice when talking to her, and he agrees to do almost anything she asks of him. That is hardly the case with anyone else. Meanwhile, Louisa defends him to others, and becomes jealous whenever there’s another woman around. She worries about him, and she invites him out and finds ways to bump into him. Also, they are the best dressed people in Port Wenn and appear to have the same interest in good grooming habits. If Louisa weren’t clean and neat, Martin would have trouble finding her attractive. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone marrying unless they are physically attracted to each other, but we can’t deny that attraction is important.

In addition to the above, I would like to add that they both are very trustworthy. They can be secure in the knowledge that neither one of them will stray. They’ve made a commitment to each other, and from what we know of them, they will keep that commitment. To me that is an essential ingredient to a good marriage.

Furthermore, I think it’s important to remember that their marriage is starting with a baby already on board. They have had no time to get acclimated to living with each other without the stress of a newborn. The fact that they have been shown complementing each other throughout the early months of James’ life shows a strong foundation for their union.

Another thing that seems to be fairly common is that, for some unknown reason, many people who love each other hurt each other. Whether this is some sort of test or hurdle, I can’t be sure. (The Carpenters actually had a song called “Hurting Each Other,” it’s so  unexceptional. Here are the lyrics. I think they sum up what we see with M and L quite well.)

I can’t end this post without stating that falling in love has many ineffable aspects about it. We can’t always define what captures our interest and desire. Sometimes we just know that we have met the person we want to be with because there is something deep in our hearts and minds that gives us that signal. To a certain extent, that is what has happened to Martin and Louisa, and we want them to embrace that. Neither of them had found the right mate before and now Fate has brought them together. Isn’t that a strength in itself?

One final thing…This will be my last post until June. I will be traveling in May and can only reveal that I hope to have a lot more posts to write when I get back. I won’t be leaving for another week and will be checking the blog until I leave and while I’m away. Thank you all for hanging in here with me. It’s been a demanding endeavor to keep the blog going throughout the long break between series! I couldn’t have done it without your help. I plan to continue until we’ve seen S7 and added our analyses of its episodes to our discussions. After that, who knows?

Originally posted 2015-04-30 17:28:42.

Everything old is new again

Here’s something to lighten our recent discussions.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see that the new fashion styles being advertised hark back to the days that I suggested seemed retro when I wrote about the dresses Louisa wears. So much of fashion gets recycled over the years.

It looks like the little floral dresses we are used to seeing Louisa wear are now being promoted as great choices for Spring. See

It  might just be an Easter thing, but there are certainly more stores making pretty floral dresses available this year! (I gotta say most of them don’t appeal to me! But then again, I’m not the right age for them either.)

Originally posted 2015-03-26 09:24:19.

Attached to Feeling Ineffectual

Since I have obviously run out of personally generated ideas, and the NYTimes seems to regularly publish articles that I find relevant to the show, I hope you don’t mind if I continue to refer to what I’ve read.

The Times has been publishing a series of articles called “Couch” that “features essays by psychotherapists, patients and others about the experience of therapy — psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, marriage therapy, hypnotherapy or any other kind of curative talk between people behind closed doors.” That has turned out to be incredibly fortuitous, especially because we have been mentioning all of the above on this blog.

This week the article is written by a psychiatrist in private practice in Cambridge, MA and is about a possible explanation for having little tolerance for risk and choosing known dangers over unknown ones. The patient in the story and Martin Ellingham have one thing in common: his father is a brilliant, larger-than-life figure who bullied and belittled him. In the patient’s case, he has continued to try to impress his father. When, at last, this patient’s father and he decide to work together on a business venture, he continues to feel disparaged or ignored until their business becomes a success. Oddly, however, it is at this point that the patient feels worse than ever.

The psychiatrist’s assessment is that having success with his father is unknown territory for the patient and that makes him extraordinarily frightened. “What if he lets himself taste victory and it still fails? There is so much to lose now. Maybe even more terrifying, what if he gets what he wants? Then who would he be? He does not know how to assimilate the identity of successful entrepreneur and worthy son, however much he has coveted it. Doing so would represent a bizarre kind of loss: That is not who he has known himself to be.”

Here’s another way of looking at ME and his achievement of marriage to the woman he has pursued for so long. Is ME now overtaken by fear because he has married Louisa and there’s so much to lose if he fails? Furthermore, having a successful love life is alien to him despite having coveted it for a long time, and now he may be having an identity crisis. He wants to change and has wanted to for a long time, but, faced with having reached such an exceptionally desirable state, he’s not sure how to handle it. He is not who he has known himself to be.

In conclusion, the psychiatrist writing the article boldly states: “We are all afraid of acquiring what we can so easily lose, whether professional status or someone to love. We are caught in a dilemma. Pursuing these commitments can be terrifying. But letting ourselves ignore them can be dangerous, even fatal.” Although I’d like to think that many of us can withstand the sense of accomplishment that comes with success in an important chapter of one’s life, I have to agree that these kinds of major adjustments are accompanied by trepidation. In the case of ME, he has allowed himself to be vulnerable because of his supreme love of Louisa. He might find it very anxiety provoking, even to the point of putting him into a dangerous depression, but his decision to follow her and to work on their marriage should take him out of the danger zone.

Success has immobilized him for quite a while; hopefully he will be rescued from the edge of the abyss by his own efforts to accept this change and by discovering Louisa needs him as much as he needs her. It’s her turn to reach down and grab him as he’s falling. (Sorry, sometimes I get carried away.)

Originally posted 2015-03-15 15:50:42.

A Bit More on Louisa

I have written about emotions versus rational thinking, and we have discussed the contrast between Martin’s difficulties with expressing emotion and Louisa’s passionate reactions. We have also done our best to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory as if we are Martin and Louisa. When we did that, we rated Louisa as a definite Extrovert and a Feeling type.

In one comment, Abby explained something about how the brain’s physiological construction operates: “So, regarding Louisa, as long as her middle prefrontal cortex is engaged, she is able to understand Martin and his needs and limitations. However, when she feels threatened, as when he tells her she should stop working (which triggers her fear of depending on anyone) or he withdraws from her due to his depression (which triggers her fear of abandonment), her amygdala starts firing, triggering a fight/flight response, both of which we have seen her do with him. At that point, she is completely running on autopilot; there is no ability to watch her reactions to him and decide whether or not to act on those reactions. She simply REACTS. Her prefrontal cortex is offline at that point.”  (Jan. 10, 2015)

All of the above gives us several reasons for Louisa’s passionate reactions. I now have one more thing to add to why Louisa may be more emotional. In yesterday’s NYTimes Sunday Review, psychiatrist Julie Holland wrote an op-ed about women’s feelings in which she says “Women are moody. By evolutionary design, we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathic to our children’s needs and intuitive of our partners’ intentions. This is basic to our survival and that of our offspring. Some research suggests that women are often better at articulating their feelings than men because as the female brain develops, more capacity is reserved for language, memory, hearing and observing emotions in others…Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives. We have been taught to apologize for our tears, to suppress our anger and to fear being called hysterical…Crying isn’t just about sadness. When we are scared, or frustrated, when we see injustice, when we are deeply touched by the poignancy of humanity, we cry. And some women cry more easily than others. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or out of control…We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

As a woman, Louisa is subject to the same biological tendencies that all women have, and that generally leads to being moody, empathic, and more emotional. I think Dr. Holland is right that being emotional is a sign of health and crying is not a sign of weakness. In fact, in Louisa’s case, she does suppress any inclination to cry, and we could consider that unfortunate. I remember one occasion in particular when Louisa wants to cry while talking to Martin but contains her tears after he asks her if she’s crying. (I cannot remember which episode this occurs in. I believe they are standing at the back kitchen door.) To the best of my recollection, this is the only time we see Louisa close to tears even though there are plenty of instances in Louisa’s experiences when we might all tear up. They seem to have decided to represent her strength by having her refrain from crying. We wouldn’t want to see her shedding tears during every emotional scene, on the other hand, a few tears would only make her more human and possibly reduce the sense that some viewers have that she’s too demanding.


Originally posted 2015-03-02 15:18:11.

Martin’s Mothering Morass

Man is of woman born, and her face bends over him in infancy with an expression he can never quite forget. Margaret Fuller, The Dial, IV, July 1843.

(Once again, many apologies for the long break between posts about mothering. There are never enough hours in the day lately!!)

I decided to open with the Margaret Fuller quote because her observation recognizes the very early impact on a baby that a mother has. Its ambiguity encompasses the many facial expressions a baby might see when his/her mother comes into view. Whereas, for example, we can imagine Louisa’s mother looking at her little girl with love in her eyes, we have much more difficulty visualizing Margaret’s face appearing anything but disgusted and resentful towards her baby boy. From what she has told Martin, she was never happy to be a mother and always considered him a wedge between Christopher and her. No matter how Martin was treated at home, even the basic fact that he was not wanted had to have been extremely damaging to his psyche.

We would have to assume that Margaret avoided doing much with her son. Neglect is almost too trite a word for how the absence of a mother’s love should be described. Many studies have been done on the effects of neglect on babies. In most of the classic studies the babies failed to thrive and were generally considered compromised for life. Recently, however, there have been follow-up studies that have found some interesting variations on what neglect can do to babies. One study seems particularly pertinent to what could have happened in Martin’s case. (Again, I want to always make the disclaimer that there is no evidence that anyone from the show might have thought about this. The study I am quoting was only completed within the last year, which means no one on the show would have known about what regions of the brain might have been affected when the show was first written.) What stands out to me is that “the affected brain regions include nerve bundles that support attention, general cognition, and emotion processing…The most affected tracts included nerve circuits involved in general cognitive performance, emotion, maintaining attention and executive function, and sensory processing.”  Thus, early childhood neglect by his mother could have led to Martin’s difficulties with emotions, or to being unable to comprehend the importance of affection, and even having the capacity to reach the decision to stop Louisa from leaving at various pivotal moments.

Another thing in the article that is worth noting is their finding that “white matter losses may be reversible. What worked in Romania to improve brain development—moving children into a supportive family environment—might work elsewhere as a remedy for child neglect. ‘This has really important implications,’ says lead author Johanna Bick, a clinical psychologist at the Boston Children’s Hospital: ‘It suggests that the harm that takes place in a family setting may be reversible, too.'”

In the case of Martin Ellingham, perhaps his stays with Joan were just long enough, and loving enough, to have been able to reverse some of the effects of his mother’s dismissal of him.

In addition, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 showed differences between genders in the long-lasting effects of neglect by mothers. While the males had high levels of a stress hormone known as cortisol and low levels of the metabolite of the mood-related neurotransmitter serotonin, this difference was not seen in females. Lead author Gabriella Conti of the University of Chicago suggests that this may be because in the womb, female fetuses are also more resilient than males. (Aside: Of course!)

High levels of stress hormones can increase risk for both mental and physical illnesses, including depression, which also can involve low levels of serotonin.

Martin clearly suffers from depression in S6.  According to the study above, this tendency would be quite likely. So now we have several possible causes for Martin to be depressed. He could, as I mentioned in my post of June 30, 2014, be depressed because many parents experience depression following at 3-6 months postpartum; or he might have had high levels of stress hormones due to his mother’s neglect; or he may have Asperger’s which is often linked to depression. This is not to mention feeling like he’s a failure as a husband and discovering his mother’s primary reason for coming to visit him is to snooker him into giving her some money! Thus, he has both physiological and psychological sources for finding himself depressed, and most of them originate in his mother.

The authors conclude: “[T]he lack of a secure attachment relationship in the early years has detrimental consequences for both physical and mental health later in life, with long-lasting effects that vary by sex.” Louisa may have been abandoned at a young age like Martin, but the likelihood is that she had more love from her mother than Martin ever had from his and that, as a female, she is better equipped to manage any stress or neglect.

Another thing that I feel compelled to mention is that Martin could almost be said to be a better “mother” than many of the women in town. As I know I’ve mentioned before, there is rarely a time when JH is nearby that Martin doesn’t touch him in some way. Many studies have demonstrated the key importance of being touched by another human, especially one’s parents. One of these studies notes: “We all need human touch and loving affection at every stage of our lives for healthy emotional and neurobiological development.” Despite his own parental deprivation, Martin provides his son with the very thing he never got. (If we’re very cynical, we might suggest he knows to touch his son because he’s studied human development. I prefer to think he is supposed to be doing it instinctually.)

Ultimately, there is no denying the importance of a mother’s relationship with her child and the amount of harm that arises from a mother’s neglect. We’ve all recognized the wounds Martin has suffered due to his mother’s treatment of him. I have no doubt the writers, et. al. intended us to attribute some of Martin’s behavior and social ineptitude to how he was treated by his mother. This newer research gives us even more reason to associate her with his emotional and physical awkwardness.


Originally posted 2015-02-24 14:37:46.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As you know I’ve been trying to keep this blog going even though finding something to write about is getting pretty difficult. I have one or two ideas rambling around in my head, but I’ll be honest and admit that I’m definitely stretching myself thin at this point.

From the relatively few comments people are writing, it looks like you are all experiencing “Doc Martin” fatigue. I started this blog thinking that I was mostly writing it for myself and would write it whether I had readers or not. I was delighted when people started making comments and we developed a pretty active blog. Lately, I’m getting the impression that I’m writing more for myself again. I enjoy the reading and writing, and I’ve been excited to learn a lot about all of the topics we’ve had on the blog. So, I’m very happy with how everything turned out.

I will continue writing posts whenever I think of something new that’s worth putting out there. And I am still open to any suggestions anyone might like to float. I just want everyone to know that there may be longer breaks between posts. Of course, when something significant happens, I’ll be back in force. Certainly when S7 begins, this blog will heat up again — or at least I hope it will.

Originally posted 2015-01-24 14:25:18.

“Into the Woods”

Since it looks like this may be a good time to write about something new, I thought I’d post this little observation just for fun.

I recently saw the movie “Into the Woods” and loved the concept of all sorts of characters from fairy tales being brought together because they must travel through the woods to reach their destinations or complete their missions. The woods have always had the connotation of being dark and scary and we can recall Hansel and Gretel getting lost in the woods, or “The Princess Bride” using the woods for all sorts of fearful objects to overcome. Certainly Little Red Riding Hood has always taken a path into the woods to find her grandmother’s house. In this film Cinderella also escapes by running into the woods, Jack (of beanstalk fame) takes the cow to market by walking through the woods, and Rapunzel lets down her hair while being held prisoner in a tree in the woods.

It occurred to me that, like other examples I used in my post of  June 16, 2014, titled “Doc Martin and the Mystery of the Folktale,” having Martin and Louisa enter the woods (and even mention there’s a difference between a forest and a wood) is another way the writers of the show undercut the concept of the fairytale. In these woods our couple encounter scary animals, an obstacle they must find a way around, and an old man who makes his home in the woods and from whom they seek help but who treats them as intruders instead. Aren’t these all the ingredients of a fairytale? But here, as before, the animal isn’t ominous or threatening-it’s a pony who is just as scared of them as they are of him; the brook they must cross is dealt with by Martin giving Louisa a piggy back ride (after first trying to put her over his shoulder) while they argue (amusingly) over the idea of going on a honeymoon; and the old man turns out to need their help and ends up in a wheelbarrow being (humorously) pushed by them to safety.

They have used all the tropes of Fairytales and turned them into comedic events.

Originally posted 2015-01-17 12:17:16.

Myers-Briggs Personality Test

The following is a further explication of the Myers-Briggs personality test that we have discussed in earlier posts. Abby has put together an introduction to the test that should give you a good overview of it. In addition, she has provided a link to a website where you can take the test yourselves. Then, if you like, you can take it as if you are Louisa and/or Martin (and hopefully base your answers to the questions on what you know about them through the show) to come up with their profiles. It will be interesting to see how similar our results are and how they compare to what Abby’s findings are. Of course, all of this is meant to be a fun exercise and not predictive of anything. We hope you enjoy this as illuminating, yet simply another way to look at these characters.

Abby writes:

The post “Dr. Martin Ellingham, Patient” seems to have sparked an interest in learning more about the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). While I am not an expert in the MBTI, I do use it with most of my clients in order to 1) understand them better; 2) help them understand themselves better; and 3) help them understand other important people in their lives. So, what follows is an explanation of the MBTI model, as I understand it.

There are a number of personality instruments that have been developed over the years. Some are meant to help mental health practitioners with diagnoses; some for use by business and government for hiring purposes; and a few meant to help people understand themselves better. The MBTI is in the latter category, and, as such, does not pathologize. Indeed, every type in the MBTI model is deemed as having the same worth as any other.

The MBTI was developed by a mother-daughter pair of researchers, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, based on Carl Jung’s work on archetypes. The MBTI looks at four aspects of how we function in the world. Each of these four aspects has two possibilities, or preferences, as they are referred to. So, a person who takes the test ends up with four letters, which is their type. The four dichotomous aspects are Extraversion/Introversion (E/I), Intuition/Sensing (N/S), Feeling/Thinking (F/T), and Judging/Perceiving (J/P). It is important to understand that each of these four dichotomous pairs falls on a continuum. That is, we are not all one and none of the other.

The first, E/I, describes how people “recharge their batteries”. It also involves whether we focus our attention primarily on the outer world or on our inner world. So, the questions to ask yourself are 1) When you are tired at the end of the day, do you recharge by going out and being with friends (E) or by going home and being by yourself (or with one or two other close people)(I)? 2) When you are at a party, do you feel energized (E), or do you tire out early in the evening (I)? 3) Do you consider yourself an observant person (E), or do you miss things because you are so focused on your inner life (I)?

The second aspect, N/S, describes how a person gathers information, or perceives things. Sensing types perceive things through their five senses, and are concrete thinkers who tend to be practical people focused on facts and details. Intuitive types perceive things through internal processes in the mind. They are abstract thinkers, who tend to see the big picture and are interested in theory. So, if there were a group of people tasked to do a project, the intuitives would be the ones to come up with the overarching ideas, while the sensing types would take those ideas and figure out how to make the project happen.

The third aspect, F/T, describes how a person makes a decision, after gathering information through intuition or sensing. This is the only aspect where there is a statistical gender difference: Men are 60/40 T/F, while women are 60/40 F/T. Thinking types base their decisions on logic, while for feeling types incorporating values and human impact are important. So, if you have a married couple, where the husband is a thinking type and the wife is a feeling type, and they are planning a road trip, the husband would likely choose the most direct route (logic) to their destination, while the wife would likely want to make a detour to visit Grandma (values/people).

The fourth aspect, J/P, describes how we structure our lives. Judging types tend to be organized, to like routines and schedules, and are good at completing tasks. They also tend to have fixed ideas about how things should be. Js love the closure that comes when a decision is made and feel anxiety when things are open-ended. Perceiving types, on the other hand, are not comfortable with routines and schedules, but prefer a lot of flexibility. They tend to be spontaneous people who are open and flexible in their thinking. They love possibilities, and so feel anxious when having to make a decision, because once the decision is made, all of the other possibilities disappear. Because of their love of possibilities, Ps tend to jump from one task to the next, not finishing the first before they start the second.

As was said above, all of the pairs should be viewed as being on a continuum. Therefore, we may be 60% feeling and 40% thinking. If we are close to 50/50, we will display behaviors of both preferences. If we are more toward the ends of the continuum, we will mostly show our stronger preference. We can, and should, draw on the less preferred preference when appropriate. So, going back to our couple taking the road trip, the husband would be able to see his wife’s point about visiting Grandma, even though his mind didn’t automatically go there. And, his wife is perfectly capable of seeing the logic of taking the most direct route. The MBTI is not about putting people in boxes, but simply to help them understand their “default settings”.

If you would like to take the test yourself, here is a free website: If you take it, be sure you answer the questions quickly, not thinking too much. It’s important to answer as you really are, not the way you wish you were or think others want you to be.

After reading this post and perhaps taking the test, please jump in and make your guesses as to Martin and Louisa’s types. Once we have some responses, I will share my guesses with you. Keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers on this, because these are fictional characters (WHAT?!) we are talking about. I look forward to reading your replies.

Originally posted 2014-12-20 13:35:57.

A look at Mindfulness

Abby mentioned recently that she would recommend Mindfulness among the therapies useful for dealing with many of the symptoms Martin Ellingham seems to be suffering from. Coincidentally, “60 Minutes” last Sunday had a piece on Mindfulness and I thought I’d provide the link. I would also recommend watching some of the additional segments with Anderson Cooper, especially the Mindfulness and Technology one.

In addition, Abby wants everyone to know that besides the breathing and walking exercises shown by “60 Minutes,” there are other ways of following the breath. “Then there are focusing on the body, focusing on a mantra, and disciplines like Yoga and Tai Chi.  There is also simply noticing anything that comes into your awareness and then letting it float by,” according to Abby.

I found this article on Mindfulness that seems worth mentioning. I don’t think ME has as much anxiety as this author, maybe very few people do, but there is something to this method that seems to really work.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried it. I’ve tried meditation and now know I should practice it more frequently – like every day! It looks as though we could all benefit from being more Mindful.



Originally posted 2014-12-17 11:49:46.

NHS News

The following is something I have been thinking about for a while and decided it was time to put it on the blog. It’s not nearly as exciting as some of our other topics, but I think it’s relevant. So here goes:

I am very interested in what’s going on in the UK with their National Health Service for two reasons. I want to understand it better to be able to judge its role in “Doc Martin” and because I want to know how it compares to our health care in the US. I read the BBC News every day for many reasons and I’ve been collecting articles about the NHS. Before I lose track of all the articles, I wanted to post them and make some comments about them.

The way I propose to list these articles is not in chronological order, but in order of significance based on how their content affects health care and can be a reflection of what we see on DM.

The first article was published recently (Nov.) and refers to at risk GP surgeries. Ever since the “doctor’s friend” showed up in Portwenn, I’ve wondered how GPs are monitored. This article makes clear that there is a Care Quality Commission that is a watchdog that pays attention to how patients are treated. According to the article “the CQC look at whether surgeries are safe, effective, caring, responsive, and well-led.” Thus, Gavin Peters was properly looking into the GP in Portwenn following some complaints, and ME was performing all his duties correctly with the possible exception of the “caring” part. As they say in the article, “‘it is only when we inspect we can determine if a practice provides safe, high-quality and compassionate care,'” said CQC chief inspector of general practice Prof Steve Field.” Compassion is the question in ME’s surgery. It’s not clear if ME ever took that course Peters recommended. But it’s clear that caring and compassion are considered essential ingredients to good health care in UK. (Of course, I think we can all agree that those sentiments are important to good care here too. Not only do we prefer to be treated with compassion, but also there have been studies that demonstrate the value of compassionate care by doctors on the outcome of their treatment, e.g.

Another article notes a small number of GP practices have been getting complaints and the CQC has ranked all GP surgeries based on risk of providing poor care. And there has been an increase in complaints made about NHS care, according to this article. Then there is the concern that GPs may be missing diagnoses of lung cancer as a result of not having the proper tools. This article also blames patients for not seeking medical care in a timely fashion. I can imagine that how welcoming the GP is towards his/her patients would be a factor here. There is some tightrope line that must be walked between making sure patients who make appointments are the ones who have valid complaints and patients who need to be seen don’t neglect to come in. On the other hand, there is also a move to punish doctors more harshly for making mistakes, according to this article. In one case reported by the BBC, a doctor was sacked because of substandard care.

In a related article, there is a discussion of how many GPs will be retiring soon, leaving the remaining GPs to take care of more patients. In addition, there is a shortage of GPs entering the medical profession and this article mentions that the NHS needs to increase spending on training GPs and more GPs will need to be recruited. If ME decides to return to doing surgery, finding a new GP for Portwenn might not be so easy. Also, as an adjunct to the first article, the CQC may not have many options when it comes to demanding more compassion from Martin; they may just have to be content that he has so many of the other qualities.

Surgeons are not immune to oversight by the NHS and one article reports that they must publish their mortality rates or be sanctioned.

Not surprisingly, the NHS has some money problems and, according to this article increased funding is something that’s been requested. In October there was a strike by health care workers demanding more pay.

The systems of health care are quite different between the UK and US, yet UK is struggling with many of the same issues we have here in US. The show hasn’t done much with these problems, although I remember Pauline thinking she should get paid more because she was now a phlebotomist as well as a receptionist. Also, like the UK, the US is seeing a shortage of physicians and it’s a concern in terms of access to care, see this article for one. The other thing that we see in DM that is of interest is the procedure for registering with a GP in UK. The GP is usually associated with your postal code and the length of time you plan to be a resident in said location. The minimum stay is 3 months to qualify to register with a GP. New patients can be rejected if the GP is not accepting new patients. In US physicians may consider their practices full too and be unable to take on new patients, but there are no residency requirements. In DM there have been a few occasions when new patients have visited Dr. Ellingham to register, e.g. Julie, the Oakwoods, and it seems they have departed before being residents for 3 months. I’m not sure what actually would have happened with their registration.  All of the above provides some opportunity for a secondary storyline.





Originally posted 2014-12-13 13:02:47.

Love Actually (I Know, Not Original)

[Something weird is going on with my blog right now and I can’t figure out how to change it. Please do not click on any links that have the green circle with arrow. They should not be there. I’ll keep trying to remove them.]

As has happened many times in the past, the NYTimes published an article last Sunday that can be applied to this show. (I first learned about it from Santa, and I thank her for bringing it to  my attention. I rarely miss articles in the Sunday Review of the NYT because there are often so many good ones. I’m glad I’ve taken this long to publish this post because the Sunday NYTimes from this week contains several letters in reaction to the article.) Anyway, the article was written by Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born, British-based philosopher who has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL), which appears to be quite an honor. He has been writing novels based on the philosophy of love and marriage for some time. This particular article precedes his forthcoming novel The Course of Love and is titled “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person.” He has some singular ways of viewing marriage.

Botton covers several pertinent issues related to what we’ve seen going on between Martin and Louisa that I want to take on individually. (This article will also give me a chance to reference several of my previous posts and I hope it won’t appear presumptuous if I call your attention to those whenever it seems appropriate.)

The first thing that jumped out at me was his use of the adjective “normal.” To quote him: “We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well.” I’m pretty sure his use of “normal” here is the common usage that each of us goes about the day fitting into society. And it is generally true that most of us aren’t walking around muttering to ourselves or making strange gestures in public. But, as a philosopher, Botton must be aware that the word “normal” is loaded, as Dr. Timoney says.  [As you probably remember, I wrote a post on what the term “normal” means on Jan. 12, 2016 named “Normal Is A Loaded Word.”]

Nevertheless his concluding paragraph begins with: “Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling. We end up  and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not ‘normal.’” In this case Botton is using the term to connote some form of happiness that comes from an idealized notion of how a marriage should look. [ I wrote a post on 11-04-2013 called “Marriage As An Institution” in which I looked at all the reasons why Martin and Louisa would want to marry as well as some of the reasons they might have problems being married. In some ways that post is a companion piece to this one and you may want to read it. I’ve also written 6 posts on “Happiness.” After the subject of change and all of its manifestations, I’d say the topic of happiness is the next most frequent that comes up in the show.]

Although I think that when most people fall in love, they can’t help being blinded to some of the faults in their lovers, and it’s nice to have that period of time when love is blissful, lately we are becoming less likely to rush into marriage. Once you’ve been around your intended for a year or so, it would be surprising if you didn’t pick up on a few of their idiosyncrasies. We still make mistakes, of course, and sometimes that can be due to being a bit starry eyed; nevertheless, I think couples generally don’t miss those foibles in each other; they just believe they can overlook them or overcome them. In Martin and Louisa’s case, they have known each other and lived with each other over a fairly extended period of time. By the time they decide to marry they have had plenty of occasions that should have given them enough opportunities to recognize the potential areas of conflict. Despite all of these moments, we are supposed to believe that Louisa doesn’t realize yet that Martin is inclined to be unwilling/unable to share his innermost thoughts and fears with her. (Interestingly, one letter to the NYTimes notes that “marrying the right person…requires the strength to lower your walls. All of your walls, all the way down.” Apparently there are many people who erect walls and have to find a way to lower them.) We’re also supposed to believe that Martin continues to have trouble knowing what makes Louisa happy. She has explicitly told him at the end of S5 that she wants to hear him say “nice” things to her, and she has been pretty clear that it matters to her that he join her in some school activities. Moreover, they have both stated they plan to do their best to prevent James Henry from becoming as introverted as his father (if we remember what Martin says to Louisa during that conversation at the end of S5, and what Louisa says to Martin when she asks him to take JH to the music group).

Botton’s title for the essay refers to marrying the “wrong” person. What he really means is that people may have an idealized notion of what marriage should be like, and how a marriage should unfold. Botton relates our tendency to have false expectations to the circumstances we experienced during childhood, which definitely plays a role in how  Doc Martin  has been constructed. Botton asserts “we marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.” This takes place if we have had troubled childhoods in which we’ve experienced feelings of “wanting to help an adult who was out of control, [or] of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes.” In Doc Martin Louisa has had to deal with parents who are out of control in the sense that her father’s gambling led to debts and possibly to problems between him and her mother. Martin has definitely been deprived of any warmth from his parents and on the receiving end of unjustified anger. He must have felt insecure. Thus, there is a sort of disconnect between the notion of love and that of happiness.

If Martin has no idea why it’s so important for people to be happy, and why he thinks happiness is overrated, it could be because he has never really known actual happiness. Now when he has brief flashes of happiness, they don’t seem to last, and Botton would consider this expected. Yet Martin is aware that Louisa finds being happy important, and we know that Louisa has had moments of happiness in her childhood (e.g. when her father took her for ice cream). Somewhere buried in Louisa, according to Botton, is that good sensation of happiness during her childhood that she wants to recreate.

But Botton is reassuring. He goes on to say “the good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person…We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them. There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.” And we can make a case for this point of view using the show as a guide. As a dramedy, Doc Martin uses both the tragic and comic aspects of marriage and shows us that some of the tensions arise out of situations we can laugh about. So when Martin wants Louisa to keep the baby quiet during his workday or when Louisa keeps the house less tidy than Martin would like, it’s amusing and these are very common problems.

By the end of S7, we have arrived at something akin to Botton’s view that “rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity” that is the key to making a marriage work. Martin is willing to endure more noise and mess while Louisa has decided that she can accept Martin’s quirks. Botton concludes that “we should learn to accommodate ourselves to ‘wrongness,’ striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners” and believes that “compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”

If we agree with Botton, then we can drop any difficulties we might have with whether Martin and Louisa are compatible, and should be married, and recognize that now they have reached a nexus point. Hallelujah!

[Some quotes from Alain de Botton:

“We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent, and witty as we are ugly, stupid, and dull. But what if such a perfect being should one day turn around and decide they will love us back? We can only be somewhat shocked-how can they be as wonderful as we had hoped when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us?”
― Alain de BottonOn Love

“If cynicism and love lie at opposite ends of a spectrum, do we not sometimes fall in love in order to escape the debilitating cynicism to which we are prone? Is there not in every coup de foudre a certain willful exaggeration of the qualities of the beloved, an exaggeration which distracts us from our habitual pessimism and focuses our energies on someone in whom we can believe in a way we have never believed in ourselves?”
― Alain de BottonOn Love

Do you love me enough that I may be weak with you? Everyone loves strength, but do you love me for my weakness? That is the real test.

Alain de Botton]


Originally posted 2016-06-05 18:01:51.

Another post coming soon — Really!

I know it’s been a long time since I published a new post. I honestly thought I’d have one ready by now, but it’s taking me longer than expected. Please do not despair and desert the blog!! We will have several new posts very soon. I’m pretty sure you will like what’s coming up.

My next blog post will be of some interest, I hope. However, here’s a teaser for one that will be popular…Some knowledgable contributors to this blog are putting together something about the Martin Ellingham character that everyone should find exciting and powerful. We’ll try to publish it as soon as possible, so keep checking.

Thanks for your continued support and participation.

Originally posted 2014-12-04 22:23:09.

Some additional comments

I can see our comments have kind of slowed, and I haven’t posted anything new for a little while. I would love to see more discussion about acts of kindness and acts of nastiness or unfriendliness. There’s Mrs. T’s comment that Louisa only had the baby to catch Martin and then her drugged up diatribe about Louisa being a trollop; there’s Edith and her reprehensible decision to make overtures to Martin even though, or maybe because, she knows that he’s about to become a father; and Margaret’s comment to Louisa that she looks terrible when she returns from the hospital; and several other examples. A small town can pull together and help each other out, or it can have a tendency to be petty and self-protective.

I won’t say more about that, and I probably shouldn’t bring this up again either, but I found this article very touching and it makes a number of good points about how clothing can matter. I thought it was worth posting. I particularly like how the author’s mother chose to dress to instill some sense of control over her life. There’s little question that the way ME dresses gives him a sense of control and is part of his armor against the demands of life. We might think of Edith’s clothes functioning similarly and possibly Joan’s and the receptionists’ too.

I also found it lovely that when the author went for her own colonoscopy, she decided to dress in something that made her feel good (and reminded her of her mother). (On the other hand, I would never wear anything nice to a colonoscopy. No offense, but I just want to get in and out of there as fast as possible without much bother.)

I think we can all relate to associating certain clothes with loved ones. I’ve kept a few things in my closet that used to be worn by people who meant a lot to me. They are nice reminiscences. I realize the clothing posts have not been all that stimulating to you, but I’m obviously hardheaded and can’t help saying more.

I hope to write a few other posts soon, although I will be away for the next week. I’ll be checking the blog regularly, however.

Originally posted 2014-11-22 16:47:02.

The Kindness Factor, Part III

Part III

The Role and Significance of Kindness

I believe the kindnesses displayed by the three major female characters outlined above (Part II) play an essentially transformative role for ME’s character and the story line, allowing Martin to reject and transcend his past in order to accept his future.  Kindness begets kindness (or so said Sophocles). It transforms the arena where it is revealed, and it transforms the doer. It keeps us grounded in who we naturally are and it serves as a reminder to those unkind among us, to return to what was once their natural state. (Recall that the root of kindness is from Old English “natural,” something “innate”. Recall Elwood P. Dowd’s comments on overcoming time and space and life’s obstacles to reach a new reality, by being kind. (Part I))

In S2, E6, Martin’s parents appear in the show for the first time. They have arrived to suck out the half-share of the family farm Martin’s father Christopher wants to lay claim to.  Joan, who cannot buy him out and will have to leave the farm, is in despair. It is in this episode that Martin’s mother Margaret informs her son that he is the problem, and that “40 years of my life was wasted because of you.” Delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, this is probably the most devastatingly cruel and unkind remark made in the entire show.  No child should ever have to hear it. Yet Martin takes it stoically. Says nothing.

When Margaret returns alone to Portwenn in S6 E6, she announces Christopher Ellingham’s death. Margaret tries to manipulate Martin claiming his father loved him but couldn’t tell him. In that same episode, she feigns contrition and says she wishes to make amends with him, as “we are all the family we have left.”

Martin decides to stand up to Margaret, and taking James in his arms replies, “I have a family. I have a wife, and I have a son, and I have Ruth .”  What he is saying here is that he has decided that what he wants is the genuine family he has been rejecting through Series 6 (subconsciously), not the birth family he’s had. He is saying he is ready, finally, to move out of his comfort zone and accept the sticky emotional ties of wife and child and aunt and all that that has to offer in unconditional love and emotional affection. He may also know too, at some level, that choosing to love them, he will no longer “be in the way” or a “problem,” as Margaret told him he was for her, since his birth. (S2 S6.)

By S6 E7, the sports day scene has occurred and Louisa has had her car crash. By S6 E8, Margaret is forced to depart after Martin refuses to give her any money and tells her he doesn’t want to see her anymore. In the face of Martin’s dismissal of her, Margaret makes off with Martin’s valuable clock, the only way she will ever extract any money from him. Louisa confronts her in the airport and reinforces (in her own way) Martin’s insight that Margaret is not good for Martin and she is not the “family” he wants.

Over several episodes, here in these moments of rejecting his mother, he is choosing to reject his family of birth, choosing to leave hate, selfishness, rancor, manipulation and unkindness, and to acknowledge that these were his birth family’s attributes. Finally realizing the depths of his mother’s narcissism, her conniving and dishonest ways, her unkindness, he now sees the differences clearly. He sees the hatred his own childhood was steeped in, and in those scenes, he chooses instead its opposite: love, care, kindness, generosity.

Those scenes with his mother (S6 E6, E7, E8) bring full circle the metaphor of the women-of-kindness in this show, and close out the cruelty of his upbringing, the manipulative narcissism of his mother and the cold disdain of his absent father.  In these encounters, he is showing that he has found the courage and strength he needs to acknowledge his past and change himself in order to keep his family of choice. I believe the source of courage and strength Martin finds comes from the three kind women he prefers over his mother.

The role of kindness exhibited especially by the three women, shows Martin a different way of being in the world, one that while risky, not so “secure,” and definitely outside his comfort zone, is also a world that can contain love and affection, providing an emotional and psychological “safety” he has never known.

Santa wrote in her October 28 post that she believed Martin is attracted to Louisa because she has parts of what he is missing.  She referred to Martin’s interest in Louisa as a longing for that “split-off part of him” that is gone or buried. Santa wrote: “The essence of Louisa is that high level of emotion that is the antithesis of Martin’s way of being in the world… at bottom, she seems to be a deeply loving person…I’m pretty sure that is a large part of what draws Martin to her.

On one level, being emotionally able to be socially kind is a part of himself that he is “missing”—or that he may yearn for (subconsciously). That is, the openly generous, affectionate side of himself Aunt Ruth described that he had as a little boy, but now replaced by gruffness and minimalist, shut-down behaviors.  But on another level, that quality of gruffness and off-putting behavior masks a deeper gap that goes to the heart of his problem: an inability to be close and intimate with another.

By aligning himself with Louisa and the Aunts, he is seeking and finding a way to return to it. Perhaps his special attraction to Louisa is to find/absorb/re-learn an aspect of himself that has been part of the split-off side of Martin—the “authentic self” that Santa talks about. By modeling the way Martin wants or might prefer to be in the world (if he could only learn), Louisa’s warmth and emotional generosity, along with the Aunt’s kindnesses, act as transformative agents to regenerate some of his missing parts.

And internalizing some of all three women’s kindnesses towards him, he has come to know some emotional and psychological safety.  He has suppressed and buried his ability to show kindness to protect himself from psychological danger and pain, but now he is realizing that it will be safe to exhume it.

Kindness is one of the big roadmaps Martin needs to follow to help him return to his original self. In those scenes where he rejects and ejects his mother, he is preparing himself to make the relationship with Louisa work. To do what he must do to acquire the tools he needs to be in full community with the new family he has made.

As referenced earlier, Aunt Ruth says that Martin was not unkind or un-affectionate to begin with, but rather the opposite as a child. Ruth’s stern and amazing lecture chastising Margaret in the café (S6 E7), makes clear Ruth’s convictions that Margaret has emotionally pummeled and psychologically brutalized her son by pushing him as far away as she could. Ruth’s analysis is that Martin’s defense against that rejection was to put up barriers.  To let them go, he must believe in a new reality. He must overcome the old reality. The main female characters he embraces as an adult are truly opposite from his parents, and it is through them that he comes to know that his barriers are no longer necessary with those who genuinely and honestly love him now.

I think the point of their kindness in this TV series is to help Martin return to his own natural state of kindness, sensitivity, generosity—the qualities that Aunt Ruth has described in him as being lost long ago, even by age 6. These qualities would increase his capacity for an “authentic” life based on the beloved community.

I tried to think of another quality that might have been so effective in helping Martin make a transition to fully accepting Louisa’s love, being less defensive and resistant to affection, and more easy in his own skin.  I could not think of an alternative.

* * * * * *

A Revolution in Kindness

About ten years ago, a book came out called A Revolution in Kindness. It was a collection of essays, quotes and questions by 180 contributors about what a society based on kindness might look like. For example, what would the world look like if people were kinder to nature, the environment, to animals? What would our health care system be like if it were kinder? Or if businesses were required to be kind? What if politicians and leaders were bound by kindness? Or industry in product safety, or parents towards their children?  The list was endless. On the back cover was a quote from Kahil Gibran:

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.


Originally posted 2014-11-13 11:54:38.

The Kindness Factor, Part II


Part II

Examples of Kindness in the Three Main Female Characters 

Reviewing the entire show, I found over 80 acts of kindness by all the characters  (women and men) spanning all 46 episodes; the three main female characters, however, account for almost half of them.  Cataloguing the three women’s kindnesses, both in relation to Martin, and in general, as their way of being in the world, was a revealing exercise. Aunt Joan is the show’s contest winner for most kindnesses performed. The rankings for the three women are: 16 for Aunt Joan, 11 for Louisa, 9 for Aunt Ruth.

Using our criteria for genuine kindness (doing something nice for someone without reward, see Part I), we can look at just 6 examples from each of the women—in chronologic order—that demonstrate their various kindnesses. (I’m sure readers will think of their own additional examples and are invited to share them.)

S1 E2: Louisa repeatedly tries to help Roger Fenn through his throat cancer operation, visiting him in hospital, showing him support and thoughtfulness. She knows he’s alone and needs someone. Though his animosity towards her and his anger at losing his job keep ricocheting back on her, she persists, and he finally accepts her friendship and she wins him over. So much so that he becomes the person who “gives her away” at the first fateful non-wedding a few episodes later. He also drops his bitterness and is able to move on to a “better place” himself with new love, a new life and a new family in the show.

S2 E2: Louisa, realizing the economic stress on parents whose children have contracted a contagious skin infection, defies the Doc’s orders to keep infected kids at home, sets up instead a separate room at the school, and quarantines them together so their parents can go to work during the day for much needed income. The kids are all safe, but Louisa incurs Martin’s anger and risks her own future job as head mistress in so doing….

S2 E3: Aunt Joan gently responds to Al when he asks her about who his real father is—since he has blue eyes and neither Bert nor his mother did.  Instead of stating what she knows which would be hurtful (that Al’s mother had a fling with another man) Joan instead focuses Al’s mind on how wonderful Bert has been as a father, and how much Bert loves him.  She helps Al see that what’s important is the care he’s been given and the love he has from a good father. This helps Al straighten his own ship and move forward in his life, accepting and reconciling with Bert.

S2 E8: Louisa, encountering Mrs. Tishall in her store one day, finds her despondent. She gets Mrs. T to tell her what’s bothering her: the Doc has chastised her for always wearing a neck collar, suggesting it’s a psychological crutch. Louisa encourages her to remove it, and prove she is not dependent. When the collar is removed, there is a momentary celebration, but when Mrs. T turns her head the wrong way, she experiences excruciating pain. This leads to the discovery of a prolapsed disk from a crushed spine (a fall in the bathtub) that allows Mrs. T the satisfaction of knowing her collar was not a psychological need, but a real need that now should be treated.

S2 E9: Aunt Joan displays great kindness to Louisa when, for many years, she withheld from Louisa her personal knowledge of Louisa’s father’s theft of the community life boat fund.  That kindness acted as a cushion for Louisa in her growing-up years while Terry Glasson, her father, was the solo parent. Though she finally confronted the truth when his sudden return to the village (and his shenanigans) brought the problem back to the surface, Joan’s years of silence were a kindness to a young girl, who had been abandoned by her mother as a young teen, and didn’t need another blow.

S3, E3: Aunt Joan intercedes for Penhale whose agoraphobia seriously impedes his job as constable. The Doc is about to write a report saying he is not competent, triggering his departure. Rather than do this, Aunt Joan asks Martin to consider getting him “treatment” instead – arguing that like many people with phobias, they can carry on working while getting help. Martin has an insightful moment and sees himself in Penhale’s dilemma.  Martin accedes to Joan’s request and prescribes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy while enabling Joe to continue to work.

S4 E2, E3: Aunt Joan is warm and welcoming to Louisa after her return from London pregnant. She takes her to the clinic, offers to help look after the baby, offers housing and even finds her old man’s Routledge’s apartment in the village to rent so Louisa can be close to school. Joan’s concern for Louisa is genuine and freely given. It stands in contrast to Martin’s steadfast decision “not to get involved.” It acts as a challenge to his behavior and heightens the tension his “hands off” approach causes in his relationship with Louisa.

S4 E5: Aunt Joan, though very tired and personally distressed over her desperate financial state, decides to “stop by after deliveries” to look in on and comfort a distraught Mrs. Selkirk who has just lost her husband to a heart attack. Mrs. Selkirk has been dismissed by Martin as suffering only fatigue and stress from her loss, and that her “hearing voices” is only imaginary. Arriving at Mrs. Selkirk’s sheep farm, Joan finds the woman injured in the sheep pen, unable to get up and stays with her until Martin arrives. He sees the telltale bulls-eye rash on Mrs. Selkirk’s arm, and realizes the woman is suffering from potentially serious Lyme disease that has caused her delusional condition. Martin is a witness to Joan’s act of kindness, which probably saved Mrs. Selkirk’s life.

S4 E8: Aunt Joan, in this final episode of her appearance on DM, thoughtfully brings Martin a “last supper” out of concern for her departing nephew. She also stops and asks if Louisa needs a lift to the clinic, but L declines and goes in the bio-fuels taxi instead.  Joan goes back to the Surgery to wave Martin off. She gives him a hug, cries, trying to be brave, showing him how much she loves him. It is on that day that Joan dies of a heart attack on the Bodmin road, and James Henry is born. Life meets Death for Martin.

S5 E3: Aunt Ruth, while trying to retrieve her stolen hub caps, encounters an arsenic-poisoned neighbor, Mrs. Shirley Dunwich, whose loony-tune, mood-swinging conversation tries Ruth’s patience and causes her alarm. She worries about the woman’s well-being and returns repeatedly to check on her—at considerable risk to herself (possibly at the hands of crazy son Michael). On the last check-in she is confronted by the son with a gun, and tries to avoid violent confrontation. No thanks to Penhale, a violent confrontation is avoided. But it is Aunt Ruth’s persistence and kindly manner that defuses the situation and brings the Doc to the house that leads to his discovery of Mrs. Dunwich’s arsenic poisoning. Knowing it is not dementia allows mother and son to be reconciled.

S5, E4: Louisa is kind to her mother after many years of absence. She allows her to take care of the baby and even forgives her after discovering that Eleanor has given the baby an alcohol-laced drink and Eleanor apologizes. It is another example for Martin.

S5, E7: Aunt Ruth is kind to Al by keeping him on as a worker at the farm despite Al’s use of her money to bail out Bert from the loan sharks.  She wouldn’t even take his motor-bike in partial payment, asking how he would get to the farm each day? While she could find another farm hand, she likes Al, and wants to see him succeed. She gives him the benefit of the doubt. Her continued support eventually leads Al to a new career and a newfound confidence in life.

S6, E1: Louisa shows her generosity and natural kindness towards the villagers when , upon seeing all the uninvited guests who’ve shown up at their wedding reception, and with Martin bristling at their appearance, turns to him and says: “They just showed up to wish us well Martin, that’s all.” She messages once again that it is important to be kind and give people the benefit of the doubt.

S6, E4: Aunt Ruth discovers that her neighbor Mr. Moysey’s water tank has broken and water is damaging her house. As off-putting as Martin can be, Mr. Moysey is worse. But Ruth persists with him and senses the old man is ill and needs help. She alerts Martin and gets Moysey examined. Martin discovers that his diet and Vitamin C deficiency is causing him to be very ill. Ruth probably has saved his life, and again Martin is witness.

S6, E5: Aunt Ruth, sensing Louisa’s anxiety over Mrs. T’s return to the village, offers to check on her to “reassure” Louisa that she is ok.  When she goes to Mrs. T., she is even quite kind to her, saying “So good to see you back. Hope you are feeling well.” Mrs. T is a bit taken aback by Ruth’s niceness, and tries to answer honestly. (Only the Cognitive Behavior elastic is a give away that all is not 100% well…increasing the sense of foreboding in the show of more problems to come with Mrs. T). Ruth returns to Louisa and reassures her that Mrs. T seems be ok now.

S6, E6: Louisa, upon meeting Martin’s mother Margaret for the first time, and wanting to put her new mother-in-law at ease, tries to make conversation and says to her kindly (but naively): “You must be so happy to see your son after all these years.”  Even after the rude non-response, Louisa offers Margaret James’ room, much to the horror of Martin. She is acting out her natural generous self, and again challenging Martin (rightly or wrongly).

S6, E7: Aunt Ruth deliberately corners Margaret while she is walking JH, and insists on speaking to her in the café. Over tea, she clearly and unequivocally chastises Margaret for being a very bad mother to Martin, and for emotionally and psychologically terrorizing him during his upbringing.  Ruth is warning Margaret off Martin now, and is doing so to protect Martin and to keep Margaret out of his life.  This took great courage and showed very strong and genuine love for Martin.

S6, E8: Aunt Ruth performs one of her greatest acts of kindness when she speaks what she has withheld from Martin for so long. Having learned that Louisa and their baby are leaving for Spain, Martin goes to Aunt Ruth for advice. She tells him that both his fear of blood and his emotional detachment (sometimes paralysis) stem from his loveless upbringing.  He must work on himself and look deeply into his own past for the crippling emotional handicaps placed on him by his distant, unkind and selfish parents. She advises him to work to change so he can stay with Louisa. At that moment, he is able to receive what she has said and he makes up his mind to do it. In addition, he finds the strength to confront his mother and throws her out of his house—and life—for good.  It moves the story forward to the most crucial turning point for Martin—his rejection of his mother.


Originally posted 2014-11-13 11:54:22.

The Kindness Factor


The following post is a guest posting that has been underway for quite some time. Marta approached me with this idea and offered to write it. She asked for my approval and feedback. I think Marta has identified an aspect of the show that is important and that I had not noticed was so significant until she delineated it.

Today (Nov. 13th) is World Kindness Day and we decided this was the ideal time to publish this post. The post has been divided into 3 parts so that reading it doesn’t become too onerous. We hope you enjoy reading it.

The Kindness Factor in the Doc Martin Show

 (A 3-Part Post by Marta D–Waxwings)

Part I

Why Kindness 

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. — Henry James  

In the 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey (written by American playwright Mary Chase, about an imaginary 6’ 3” rabbit and the nature of reality) the affable and charming main character, Elwood P. Dowd, claims it is possible—like Einstein—to overcome time and space, and all normal reality. “In this world,” Elwood says, quoting his mother, “you must be oh so smart, or oh so kind. For years, I was smart. I recommend kind.” (He may have said pleasant, but kind was the meaning in the play.)

The kindness factor in the Doc Martin series interested me almost immediately. I found it ironic that there should be so much of it in a show whose main character is a grumpy, insulting, mostly unkind village GP whose exterior abrasiveness and constant fog of self-awareness—about himself and his negative impact on others—is exasperating.  While the kindness of others softens some of the Doc’s sharpness and makes him more bearable, that is not the only part it plays.

The pervasive presence of kindness throughout the series also contrasts dramatically with its antithesis—the shockingly cruel and truly unkind behavior of the main character’s parents—Margaret and Christopher Ellingham—whose influence on Martin’s sense of what is “normal” serves as subtext for so much of the show’s tension.  They have not only had a crucial role in shaping his anti-social behaviors, but his fear of intimacy as well, and his inability to co-exist and live easily within the “beloved community.”

The Doc is not an unkind person at heart, as his aunt Ruth assures him on the cliff scene, S6E8, in which she describes an affectionate, sensitive little boy, even at age 4. His choice to practice medicine also shows that he cares for people and wants to heal them; he is quick to fix everyone’s medical problems, though he is rude and irritated with his patients’ ignorance, neglect and limitations. He even does several real kindnesses for others in the show. It is the emotional expression of kindness—either coming in our going out—that the Doc has trouble with. He’s buried or suppressed his own once affectionate persona, and replaced it with a protective wall, and overlaid it with a gruff, closed exterior. These are but symptoms of a greater underlying problem within Martin.

On this blog site we’ve discussed in various ways (including a recent post on “Happiness Is….”) how Martin Ellingham’s childhood influenced his adult behavior and was probably an impediment to his ability to navigate love, intimacy and marriage. Looking at the kindness factor that weaves through the show is another way to explore how other influences may work positively on the adult Martin Ellingham, to help him, as Santa, a writer on this blog site, would say, become his “authentic” self.

In Part II, I list examples of the kindness we find in this show; in Part III, I explore the questions: What is the role of kindness in the series, and why does it matter? My conclusions are that the kindness factor is transformative and plays a critical part in Martin’s own struggle for understanding himself and the “world” (marriage, family, community), and it provides the necessary vehicle that will allow him to work toward, and accept, another way of being in the world that is much closer to his natural self.

Kindness Defined

The OED defines kindness as “the quality of being generous and considerate, sympathetic or charitable towards another.” The word is from 14th c. Middle English kyndnes meaning “nation; produce, an increase.”  In fact the word “kind” is one of the oldest in the English language dating back to the 10th c. Old English word gekynde, meaning “natural,” or something that is innate, as in, “it feels right.”

In Book Two of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, kindness is defined as being “helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped….” This assumes empathy, compassion, generosity, charity.  It expresses sympathetic concern for the sufferings of others—especially an ability to imagine “other” or another’s pain, distress, need.

Empathy and sympathy are at the root of this deeper understanding. An important aspect here is the idea that one who performs a kindness does not seek reward or reciprocity. The mystics pondering this would say that openness of the heart is required: to see deeply, beneath surfaces—that there are no degrees of separation between us, but that we are each other.  “Say I am you,” wrote Rumi.

For a small village in a harsh environment, with Portwenn’s challenging and dangerous maritime work, dependence upon one another is a given; to find expressions of kindness shot through the events in the village may not be so exceptional then, but to have so many of them woven throughout the series by its major characters is notable. And when these acts are magnified primarily in the personalities of three of the show’s main female characters—who are all supporters of Martin—we have to think this is probably not accidental, not random. It is through these women that Martin will find his confidence to risk throwing over his past and stepping into a new future.

The Three Women

With definitions in hand, we can turn and look now at the three women and examine their place in Martin’s life. Playing his opposite co-star in the show is Louisa Glasson—a very kind, open, generous and naturally compassionate woman who senses the needs, and feels the pains of Portwenn’s villagers, the economic desperation of her students’ parents, and the emotional and physical distresses of her friends. Her demeanor towards everyone is quite open, sympathetic, empathetic and helpful. She is also kind towards her own selfish, absent parents and amazingly, still wants to see good in them. It is Louisa to whom Martin is deeply attracted, and she anchors half the show.

In addition, Martin is also drawn to his two aunts—Joan and Ruth—who echo and buttress Louisa’s kindness, and who rank high or higher on the kindness scale. All three lovingly surround Martin and stand as counterpoints to his social and emotional maladroitness and his stunted or repressed ability to show affection, social kindness and love. It’s my belief that these women recognize his genuine goodness, and work to help him—each in their own way—to protect his vulnerability and challenge his self-awareness to grow and embrace a different world than the one he has known. Together they also represent the opposite of what Martin’s parents embody in the show.

It is probably worth noting the differences in the types of kindness each of the three women model because it takes all three varieties to act as transformative agents on Martin’s psyche:

  • Louisa is open and unreserved in her empathy, warmth and sensitivity towards others; she is universally available and willing to help someone out. She does not hesitate to do a kindness or to speak a kindness. When it comes to Martin her love and kindnesses towards him are unreserved. That generosity and style of kindness is a large part of what attracts Martin to her.
  • Joan’s kindnesses, while equally grounded in empathy, are more motherly, and protective; she has a keen sensitivity towards the sufferings of others; she is also approachable. When it comes to Martin her love is unconditional and so are her many thoughtful gestures of kindness and care towards him.
  • Unlike Louisa or Joan, Ruth is not an “open” person, is quite reserved, and is picky about who she does her kindnesses for. She does not reveal a lot of empathy, but is keenly sensitive, however, to most of those she comes in contact with, and she can be quite generous towards those she tries to help. She selects her acts of kindness carefully, almost as a duty, and goes all the way when she does, as when she goes after Margaret in the cafe.

Originally posted 2014-11-13 11:54:00.

Clothing: Edith v. Louisa

While I’m waiting for a much more significant post to be completed, I thought that comparing how Edith is dressed to how Louisa is dressed in S4 would be a good way to point out how clothes can be used to define a character, especially since TV and film are such visual media.

Here we have two strong, independent women who are brought together through their association with Martin Ellingham. Edith, the former fiancee and med school colleague, and Louisa the former fiancee and love obsession who returns pregnant following a couple of nights of intimacy. Both women have known ME in the biblical sense, or at least we know he’s seen them both naked. At some point both women decided they didn’t want to marry Martin, but Edith went on to pursue medicine, and even surgery, like Martin (and got married briefly), while Louisa continued her profession of school teacher and decided pregnancy was her future plan. In S4 we get the contest between them magnified by their skirmishes due to Louisa having chosen to be followed in Truro and Edith being the obstetrician who takes her case. The stage is set for fireworks and we get them, but in an understated way — and the clothing they wear contributes substantially, if subtly.

Apart from Edith’s bright red spikey hair and lack of any curvaceousness, she is almost exclusively dressed in dark, severe clothes. We are already predisposed to dislike her because we root for Martin and Louisa to be together, then they create a woman who lacks sensitivity for her patients and misdiagnoses both diverticulitis and SGA (or small for gestational age). (Admittedly she could have been using the SGA diagnosis as a way to elicit the information about Martin and Louisa’s sexual history. She should do a differential diagnosis and she has no business asking about the date they last had sex.) She knows the situation between Martin and Louisa and still pursues him, a decision that is disconcerting at best. On more than one occasion, Edith schemes to manipulate Martin to distance himself from Louisa and from Portwenn. Sadly for her, his disdain for some of his circumstances is overshadowed by his sense of duty to Louisa as well as his genuine love for her. Edith’s clothes accentuate her masculinity despite her impractical shoes. She is primarily dressed in slacks with a vest and jacket and man-collared shirt. In fact, in S4E7, Edith and Martin are nearly dressed identically: Edith wears a blue and white striped shirt under a black vest and slacks while Martin wears the same sort of blue and white striped shirt under his dark suit. Dressing them alike insinuates that in addition to being a surgeon who went through medical school with Martin, Edith is too similar to him (or too masculine) to appeal to him as a love interest.

She wears a dark dress with tan polka dots on two occasions, and at the conference, she puts on a white, ruffle front blouse with her trademark black slacks. This time her ruffled blouse is reminiscent of Louisa’s blue ruffle front dress she wears walking to the baby shower when Martin sees her on his way out to meet Edith. It’s almost like they’re begging us to determine which woman looks better in ruffles and, in my opinion, they weight it decidedly towards Louisa. The last time we see Edith is after the conference when she barges into Martin’s last day of seeing patients. She’s back to wearing a pin-stripe vested suit with grey blouse and unwilling to believe that she has lost the battle for any amorous attention from him.

Meanwhile, throughout S4 Louisa wears many flowered dresses with cardigans of various bright colors: white, red, yellow. Or she wears a variety of other feminine outfits, including a blue and white striped sailor style top with bow when she makes the trip to the hospital for another check up. Of course, a pregnant woman has plenty of curves and looks about as feminine as possible. Often people say that pregnant women have a certain glow about them and Louisa reflects that throughout this series. There is a major contrast between how each of these women behaves, and their clothes contrast significantly too. We see two assertive and self-assured professional women clash in terms of how their appearance represents who they are. Edith may hold the upper hand in that Louisa is dependent on her care, however, Louisa is the one carrying Martin’s baby and there’s no way for Edith to change that fact. (Unfortunately, we also may be seeing how female doctors feel they must dress in order to achieve respect in a masculine dominated profession as opposed to the latitude allowed women working in what is perceived to be a feminine profession.)

There are two standoffs between Louisa and Edith — one when they meet for the first time at the hospital and Louisa is wearing a green floral dress; next when Louisa has an ultrasound and is wearing the sailor top. I particularly like the first confrontation between them because Edith tries to belittle Louisa and Portwenn and Louisa gives as good as she gets. The second time, Louisa has fallen part way off the bed in an effort to get a better view of the ultrasound scan when Edith appears. Not only is this funny, but also it puts Louisa at a disadvantage. Most of us feel at a disadvantage when talking to a doctor anyway. In this case, Louisa is particularly compromised as Edith’s patient. She has to rely on Edith’s judgements as well as expect her questions to be appropriate. But Louisa is always self-protective and does her best to deflect Edith’s personal inquiries. To me it looks like Edith is somewhat surprised to learn that Louisa and Martin had sex more than once, and I would think Louisa got some pleasure out of telling Edith their intimacy wasn’t just a one night event.

In the realm of clothing, S4 is a really good example of how it can be used to augment the interpersonal interactions of a scene. I hope I’ve made a stronger argument for the importance of how clothing functions. The wardrobe for each character is a distinguishing feature before they say a word. We could just look at the clothes of most of the characters on “Doc Martin” and know, without seeing their heads, who they belong to. More than that, though, two female characters with somewhat similar temperaments can be dressed totally differently and still appear self-reliant. But, really, is there any doubt that Martin would find Louisa a more attractive choice after we see these two women together?

Originally posted 2014-11-08 14:16:14.

The Importance of Story

I plan to respond to all the intriguing comments that have recently been posted about loneliness, aloneness, marriage conditions, and happiness. I have been trying to organize my thoughts so I can manage a cogent reply.

Until I get that together, I wanted to post another article I read in the NYTimes that says so much that I find important, for our discussion of the show and in general. Please read

First of all, for many years my contention has been that doctors can learn from not only the stories their patients tell, but also from stories told by highly observant writers. My literary studies have focused on 19th century literature where, I believe, we can find all sorts of perceptive work on disorders that were unnamed at the time. Many writers described signs and symptoms of nascent and previously unrecognized conditions that have now become well defined.

Secondly, the article makes a strong case for listening to patients and using anecdotal evidence as a means of transferring meaningful data to other doctors. I am excited that the NEJM published a report that stated “stories are better at capturing a different type of ‘big picture.'” I would apply this dictum to the show by drawing analogies among the stories we hear, read, or view on TV. We can learn from the examples of various conditions referred to on this show. The main thrust of the show is not to inform about medical problems; however, all of us are expanding our knowledge of these sorts of issues as its audience. We are also better able to grasp all of this information because of how it’s delivered. And that includes what we’ve been discussing recently about mid-life concerns.

Moreover, the article mentions the subject of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how it has become a popular treatment protocol. What Kramer argues is that change can come from listening to case vignettes and from including stories in the overall treatment plan. We know that CBT was used with Mrs. T and probably Joe Penhale. There’s no question that it can be very effective, but I like the idea of integrating storytelling with other forms of psychotherapy. I also like how this article dovetails with our discussion of what might happen in counseling sessions that Martin and Louisa may participate in. Their stories are what the show is about, and we have yet to really hear them.

Originally posted 2014-10-19 15:35:10.

Happiness is…

It seems to be a good time to revisit the concept of happiness. Rather than look at the many theories of happiness, it might be more productive if we stick to the show for evidence of what they consider signs of happiness.

What has been hardest for me is grasping how in two episodes Martin can go from, “Marry Me, I can’t bear to be without you,” to “You wouldn’t make me happy either.” It’s a bit easier to understand how Louisa, who has vacillated between finding Martin exasperating and being passionately drawn to him, could come to the conclusion that getting married might not be appropriate at this time. She hears all the jibes about Martin and his temperament and can only muster that he’s straightforward and moral when trying to describe him. For someone who’s been seen bicycling, surfing, enjoying the scene at the pub, and going out with friends, his preference for staying home and rarely doing anything beyond reading or working on his clocks might finally make her think twice. (I should say here that due to her upbringing and parents who were inclined to party a little too much perhaps, she might like someone who’s trustworthy and grounded even if he could be a bit dull.) We certainly have to take into account that throughout the final episode nearly everyone has been cautioning them against marriage and the Fates are against their marriage as well. We watch as Murphy’s Law takes charge. But if Martin can’t bear to be without Louisa, that would necessarily mean that he is miserable without her and bereft of any sense of happiness. That is exactly how he appears after their date goes wrong. Why is he now thinking that he wouldn’t be happy with her (ostensibly only 3 weeks later)?

Also, when in S4, Louisa snidely remarks that he may find being with someone prickly and emotionless like Edith makes him happy but she’d rather remain hormonal and filled with emotion, she is tacitly saying that she wouldn’t make him happy after all. Of course, Martin is once again totally baffled by her reference to Edith. Still, after S1, there is a concerted effort to keep Martin from looking happy in any overt way. The closest we ever get to seeing him look happy is a hint of a smile when he takes Louisa’s hand or when she says something complimentary to him, or when he looks at the ultrasound of their baby.

The first question we should ask is do we think there is evidence that ME has any awareness of the state of being happy? To answer this question we actually do have to consider the 4 major theories of happiness: Hedonism Theory, Desire Theory, Objective List Theory, and Authentic Theory. Simple descriptions of each can be found here. The proponents of the Authentic Theory believe that their theory takes all of the other theories into account. Happiness is a pretty complex subject that continues to be debated and refined. The dissertation by Ryan Hanlon Bremner written in 2011 does a very good job of addressing the various ways we use the term “happy.” While interrogating the philosophical approaches to this state, Bremner notes: “As long as the vast majority of people in Anglophone societies claim that one of their major, if not their main, goal is to ‘be happy,’ this desire and correspondent striving possesses a magnitude of importance that should not be ignored.” The fact that DM writers have made a point of whether Martin and Louisa are happy, both at the end of S3 and in S6, inspires us to look into what that means. They, too, are indicating that being happy is an important goal.

So what could Martin mean by saying Louisa wouldn’t make him happy after recently being despondent that she doesn’t want to see him anymore? At the risk of overthinking this, and not simply dismissing it as a goof or miscalculation by the writers/producers, it could mean that he’s nervous that he will have to make too many changes in his life to accommodate her. Daniel Haybron, a contemporary philosopher, believes that “well-being consists mainly in the fulfillment of the self’s emotional and rational aspects—i.e., in being authentically happy, and in success regarding the commitments that shape one’s identity. But our subpersonal natures may also count, so we might add, secondarily, the fulfillment of our “nutritive” and “animal” natures: health and pleasure.”

When given a chance to reflect, Martin may have gotten cold feet because he has reached a sense of well-being by distancing himself from others, sticking to his routine, and being content to treat medical conditions successfully and even insightfully. In addition, he has his own diet that he follows quite faithfully. He’s been doing all these things for around twenty years which means they are rather entrenched. He is pretty inflexible when it comes to his daily regimen and he resists modifying it. When Peter Cronk stays with him, for example, Martin is lost because he has trouble finding a way to manage someone else in his home and he doesn’t do very well with it.

What makes him happy? Well, his sense of well-being comes primarily from his work. He is confident of his medical knowledge and ability and we see him display satisfaction in saving a life or making a diagnosis. He accepts the gratitude he gets from the many patients, who sometimes grudgingly admit that he saved their lives, with some puffing out of his chest or pulling down of his shirt cuffs. He’s clearly pleased with himself. Next may be preparing fish/dinner. He takes pride in knowing how to clean and cook the fresh fish and vegetables he buys regularly, and putting together a nutritious meal. We can’t forget the clocks he enjoys working on. Saving the clocks is somewhat analogous to saving lives in that he staves off likely termination.

All of the above touches him on some personal level; however, his connection to people beyond medical cases boils down to family, Edith, and Louisa. We know that the only affection he’s gotten from family really comes from Aunt Joan. He must have had some intimate contact with Edith considering she alludes to his having seen her naked before. Hopefully he didn’t get stabbed by her hair or protruding bones! Once he sees Louisa, he knows he wants to get closer to her. Eventually that happens and the embrace they have after he’s asked her to marry him and she’s agreed shows him with an expression of joy and relief. We see expressions akin to this when he holds her hand both at the concert and then at the Castle, when she gives birth to their baby, and when he sees her at the entrance to the church on their wedding day. I cannot imagine that we aren’t supposed to think that he achieves a sense of well-being when he’s with Louisa.

My conclusion is that Martin does experience happiness on many occasions, but that his life hasn’t always been happy. Conversely, as philosopher G. H. Von Wright believes, it would be possible to say that someone had a happy life, even if for a long period of time he was a most unhappy person. We see both of these scenarios being played out and now we hope to see the happy periods combined with an overall sense of well-being. He’s got a wife, a son, and Ruth. He’s got his medical practice and ability. He should stop being so miserable!!

Originally posted 2014-10-14 18:11:55.

Now What?

I have to admit that I am pretty tapped out in terms of ideas for posts. I may have one or two more in me, but I need your advice on where to go from here. If anyone has a suggestion, I’m very happy to see it.

I also wondered if there might be some previous posts that could bear more looking into. I’m open for all thoughts, notions, proposals, etc.

There’s a long time before we have more material to work with and I want to keep the blog going. But how should we proceed?

Originally posted 2014-10-12 12:58:40.

Comedy and dialogue

Because I love language and dialogue and we just spent some time discussing some of the great linguistic ambiguity in DM, I thought it would be fun to look at a smattering of the best ambiguous dialogues in comedy over the last few decades. I know I won’t mention all the best ones, and I’m counting on the readers of this blog to come up with some from DM and anywhere they have come across good examples. I have previously reviewed some of my favorite comedic dialogues from DM, e.g. the fish monger’s monologue in S5E8; Mrs. T’s remarks to ME at the Castle and his comments to her there too; Louisa’s great commentary during their walk in the woods on the wedding night and many of the conversations during that episode. Most of these are not ambiguous, just excellently written and very amusing. A lot of the dialogue is sarcastic, with an edge. But what about those conversations that are ambiguous?
In addition to the scene we recently looked at where Martin tells Joan “It’s not my fault,” there are many others. Here are a few from early DM:
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Have you noticed an increased demand for diarrhea remedies lately?
Mrs. Tishell:-Yes – in fact you could say there’s been a *run* on them.

Joan: What’s going on Martin?
Martin: I needed to talk to Mark.
Joan: You needed to talk to him or needed to interrupt him?
Martin: I needed his help to section a man under 136 of the mental health act.
Joan: Then you saw him with Louisa, and you don’t need his help.
Martin: I’ll get a community psychiatric nurse in the morning.
Joan: Yes, Yes, she should make you feel much better.

Dr. Martin Ellingham: All right, Caroline, I’m going to give you an injection.
Danny Steel: [gets down on one knee, hands clasped together] I’m saying a prayer for you, Caroline.
Dr. Martin Ellingham: [eyeing Danny] Just a little prick.

Louisa Glasson:-Why do you have to upset everyone? When you are with patients, why can´t you make an effort? Just *smile*! Try some small talk! Have a laugh!
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Sick people don´t want a laugh. They want a doctor who knows what he’s doing.
Louisa Glasson:-They want a bedside mannner.
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-A bedside manner can´t cure you.
Louisa Glasson:-It makes them feel better.
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Can it diagnose an illness in a scanner? Write a prescription?
Louisa Glasson:-You know what I mean. Please, for once *just* agree with me. *You* know what I´m trying to say?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Actually I find it hard to understand you in the best of times. Whatever you say or do makes no sense to me.
Louisa Glasson:-What are we talking about? Are we talking about…? What are we talking about?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-I’m not quite sure.

(A group of twitchers are walking next to Doc’s house. Martin is taking his bottle of daily milk.)
Twitcher 1:-Which way to the choughs?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-At the top of the hill. And turn right.
Twitcher 2:-Thanks.
(The group continues up the road while the man watches his map)
Twitcher 1:-Why on the right there is the cliff? You mean left. Don’t you?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-(At the door) Right. (Slams the door)

The classic example is Abbott and Costello and “Who’s On First?” Could there be a better example of linguistic ambiguity and how funny it can get? (My grandsons love it and it’s from the 1950s!) Here’s a video of it.

The Three Stooges were famous for wacky dialogue much of it ambiguous. Here’s some from their “Dizzy Pilots” script”
MOE: Where’s your vice?
CURLY (angelically): Vice? I have no vice. I’m as pure as the driven snow. (Gestures with his two hands flat, then holds them in a praying position.)
MOE: (Nods sarcastically.) But you drifted. (Hits Curly on the head.)
MOE: Get outta here and get the vice.

MOE: Hey you nitwit! Don’t saw the wings, you saw the garage!
CURLY: I see the garage, but I don’t saw the garage. You are speaking incorrectly. You are moidering the King’s English. Et cetera. See? Saw? See? See?
MOE: Yagh! (Starts to strangle Curly.) Shut up! You saw one side and Larry will saw the other. (Moe points.)
CURLY: Oh, I see. I saw! (Curly grabs Moe’s left arm and begins to saw.)

Then there’s “Young Frankenstein:”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Igor, help me with the bags.
Igor: [Imitating Groucho Marx] Soitenly. You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the toiben.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I was talking about the luggage.

Inga: Hallo. Vould you like to have a roll in ze hay? [Dr. Frankenstein stutters] It’s fun. [She begins to roll in the hay] Roll, roll, roll in ze hay.

Just about all dialogue in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Look here AND here
“The Flying Circus” has a few choice examples too. Here’s an excerpt of their “Dead Parrot” sketch:
Mr. Praline: Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.
Owner: No, no…..No, ‘e’s stunned!
Mr. Praline: STUNNED?!?
Owner: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin’ up! Norwegian Blues stun easily, major.
Mr. Praline: Um…now look…now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ‘alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.
Owner: Well, he’s…he’s, ah…probably pining for the fjords.
Mr. Praline: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?, look, why did he fall flat on his back the moment I got ‘im home?
Owner: The Norwegian Blue prefers keepin’ on it’s back! Remarkable bird, id’nit, squire? Lovely plumage!
Mr. Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.
Owner: Well, o’course it was nailed there! If I hadn’t nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent ’em apart with its beak, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!
Mr. Praline: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this bird wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised!
Owner: No no! ‘E’s pining!
Mr. Praline: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
Owner: Well, I’d better replace it, then. (he takes a quick peek behind the counter) Sorry squire, I’ve had a look ’round the back of the shop, and uh, we’re right out of parrots.

I enjoy Simon Pegg’s crazy films. The language can be very vulgar, but the films have their moments. Here’s one from “The World’s End:”
Steven Prince: We need to be able to differentiate between them, them and us.
Peter Page: Yeah, I think the pronouns are really confusing.
Gary King: I don’t even know what a pronoun is.
Oliver: Well, it’s a word that can function by itself as a noun which refers to something else in the discourse.
Gary King: I don’t get it.
Andrew Knightley: You just used one.
Gary King: Did I?
Andrew Knightley: “It” it’s a pronoun.
Gary King: What is?
Andrew Knightley: It!
Gary King: Is it?
Andrew Knightley: Christ!

I’d love to see some of your examples. I had a lot of fun putting these together. Enjoy!

Originally posted 2014-10-10 12:22:56.

What does Aunt Joan NOT know?

On Facebook Allie Cavanaugh quoted a remark Martin makes to Joan after Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant. It’s a funny remark that is a great example of linguistic ambiguity. In S4E2, Joan has entered the reception area and approaches Pauline and Pauline tells her that Louisa has been hired at the school. Joan is unaware of Louisa’s resurfacing and, despite Martin’s efforts to stop Pauline from mentioning Louisa’s condition of being “with child,” Pauline tells Joan Louisa is expecting. Joan is not clear about what Louisa is expecting and Pauline clarifies for her that she is expecting a baby. Immediately, Joan looks at Martin and he ushers her into his office. Then, as Allie notes, he says, “It’s not my fault” and Joan looks a combination of let down and relieved. Right away Martin says, “Well, it is my fault, but it’s not just my fault. It’s not my fault that you don’t know. I didn’t know ’til yesterday.” Here’s another great sequence of linguistic gymnastics. It’s his fault that Louisa is pregnant–well, it’s both their faults; however, he doesn’t want to accept fault for not having told Joan. There is this contraption called the telephone that he could have used, but he seems to think of it as mainly a means of communicating about medical problems. He rarely uses it for everyday conversation. I think that could be another male personality trait, although I know a few women who hate to talk on the phone.

Being reminded of this scene started me thinking about the many times when Joan is surprised to find out something about Martin that others know before she does. Although Joan is his nearest and dearest family member, it’s a little startling that Martin often does not tell Joan personal and important confidences. The fact that Martin is late telling Joan these things reinforces our observation that he has a tendency to not talk about personal matters.

One of the most important of many examples is when Joan learns belatedly that Martin and Louisa have decided to marry. She is told by the postman that Martin and Louisa have spent the night together after several others in town have heard the news. By the time Martin arrives at Joan’s farm, she knows he’s been to see the Sawle sisters beforehand. She is remarkably unfazed by being told late, but we know Martin has not felt inclined to call her about that either.

We can go back to the first episode where Martin has gone through the interview process and seeing his office space before taking the time to visit Joan, despite having chosen to come to Portwenn because she’s there. Their conversation when he appears at her farm sounds very much like he had not contacted Joan before making a decision to take the position in Portwenn. In fact, even though she had been an important person in his childhood, he hasn’t seen or talked to her in 30 years, with the possible exception of Christmas calls.

Martin does not tell Joan that he will be at the concert with Louisa for their first date. Joan has been doing what she can to encourage Martin to go after Louisa, but she only finds out they are going on a date when she sees them walking to the concert setting. In S3 he does not tell Joan that he’s having second thoughts about marrying Louisa and leaves Joan to wonder where he is. Meanwhile she has been running all over town trying to make sure everything is ready for the wedding. She’s coerced Penhale into releasing the flowers, she’s asked Bert what he’s going to do now that the food tent has collapsed, and she’s stood with Roger Fenn at the church in expectation of Martin and Louisa’s arrival. Martin hasn’t only left Louisa at the altar;he’s left his aunt there as well.

These are a few of the important occasions when Martin has neglected to tell Joan what’s happening and they stand out because he wants Joan’s approval, she is his greatest supporter, and since moving to Portwenn they have reestablished their close relationship. When he leaves Joan out, it is a sort of precursor to shutting out Louisa in S6. That he doesn’t talk is an understatement!

Originally posted 2014-10-03 06:40:38.

More on Personality Inventories

Believe it or not I am going to refer to an article from The Wall Street Journal rather than the NYTimes. On the front page of Tuesday’s paper there was a story about Personality Tests becoming more widespread in the hiring process. The article states: “Such tests are used to assess the personality, skills, cognitive abilities and other traits of 60% to 70% of prospective workers in the U.S.” They also report that “workplace personality testing has become a $500 million-a-year business and is growing by 10% to 15% a year.”

We have had a lively discussion about the application of personality inventories in therapy. Now their effectiveness and fairness are being scrutinized due to their growing popularity in the employment world. The WSJ article is lengthy and mentions many concerns about how these tests can be used and misused. Food for thought…

Originally posted 2014-10-01 10:32:42.

Ambiguity Unbound

I am writing this post as a way to work through some of the positions I took while responding to comments made on this blog. I also continue to read comments on Facebook and elsewhere and I find it vexing that so many fans of DM have registered their belief that S6 was meant to take Martin to rock bottom so that he would be able to come to grips with his personal problems and work on them. In the process, they believe, he will understand what happened in his childhood to make him withdrawn, unsmiling, anti-social, and oriented toward ritual. He will also learn how he can change his basic approach to life and family and become a better family person. I see this as an affront to the show in that it was created as a dramedy with a main character who is grouchy, anti-social, focused on his profession, and with traits that are integral to him regardless of how he got that way. I like it that way. The show gives us hints of both nature and nurture sources for his behavior, but deliberately keeps it all ambiguous — that is, it does not provide any final determination to these potential origins. I don’t think the show should make any serious moves toward trying to “fix” Martin. Furthermore, what troubled me about S6 was how it took the show too much in the direction of a drama and sucked all the life out of the character of Martin Ellingham. We saw bits and snatches of it, but overall he was a totally different type — brooding, withdrawn from Louisa, and disengaged from the community to a greater degree than ever. As the series continued, we lost the miscommunications, the interactions with the townspeople, his physical clumsiness, and his need to appeal to Louisa. Some viewers argued these changes made sense on a grand scale. I am hard pressed to find a good reason to have taken the show in this direction except as an effort to shake things up or perhaps because MC lost so much weight and their best solution was to make him more handicapped. One asset they magnified in this series is the ambiguity inherent in the stories and relationships. Most episodes introduced a great deal of ambiguity and I find that something to applaud. I am writing this post to assess the value of ambiguity and discuss it.

Ambiguity in works of literature or other arts enriches our experience of them. Much of our discussions about DM have been generated by the ambiguity perpetrated by the show. In academic circles it is said that ambiguity can intentionally (or unintentionally) increase the interest in a work of art by refusing to allow easy categorization and interpretation. And studying ambiguity and how we resolve it can give us insight into both thought and interpretation.

We can go back to Aristotle in our investigation into ambiguity. He and other philosophers brought up the issue of ambiguity in relation to how thought and language interacted. Aristotle identified various fallacies associated with ambiguity and amphiboly (ambiguous words or sentence structure). An in depth study of ambiguity would take us into all sorts of usage examples. There are many manifestations of linguistic ambiguity: lexical, syntactic, various forms of speech ambiguity, and collective-distributive ambiguity, amongst others. The English language can be particularly filled with ambiguities due to the frequency of words that look the same on the page but mean more than one thing. Context always helps but cannot always resolve the problem. There is also some difficulty with language not being specific enough. So, if Doc Martin tells a patient to suck on a lemon but doesn’t say for how long, it is up to the patient to realize he can stop as soon as the doctor has determined a possible diagnosis. Persevering with the behavior longer than necessary makes the ambiguity more apparent and amusingly absurd. Often it is ME who takes what people tell him too literally, and that is another example of speech ambiguity. (I went through some of this in my post on “What Makes DM so Appealing?.”) From the beginning of the first episode of the first series when Louisa says to Martin “You’ve got a problem,” we are in the arena of linguistic ambiguity. What does she mean by “problem?” Initially we consider it her reaction to being intensely examined by a strange man sitting across from her. Soon we realize that his problem is the haemophobia that has brought him to Portwenn, and soon after that we learn he has a host of other problems including the townspeople. Finally, we know that his problem is that he is in love with Louisa. I am confident we could find a myriad of examples of all of the above types of linguistic ambiguity throughout all the series of this show. And S6 starts out in that vein too. I like the Martin who in S6E1 answers Louisa’s tender remark “Whatever you say” with “I didn’t say anything.” I like the Louisa who tells Martin she told him she didn’t want a honeymoon because she didn’t think he would want one, which totally confuses him. I like the Martin who reacts to Louisa’s request to be more social by spontaneously inviting someone to dinner, for that night. Yes, use language ambiguously and have fun with it.

In addition to the ambiguity of language there is ambiguity of action. I have been arguing pretty strongly for viewers not to forget that we are being maneuvered/manipulated by the writers, et. al. of DM and should not project too much onto the characters and their behaviors. This is as it should be because whoever writes the story controls it. I argued quite vociferously that we can’t answer the question “Should Martin and Louisa stay together?” because it is not our place to determine that. My position is that whether or not their marriage would work in a real life setting, this show will never separate them because it’s a dramedy and not a tragedy, and dramedies don’t have sad endings, and because any final separation of Martin and Louisa ends the show, the show will not be “Doc Martin” anymore. Without Louisa, there is no show. I brought up the example of Gone With the Wind and said how ludicrous it would be to wonder whether Rhett should have married Scarlett. I’ve now become aware that there was a lot of turmoil about the end of the story when it was first published. According to an article by Brad Leithauser in “The New Yorker,” (Nov. 20, 2012), “People all over America asked: Did Rhett abandon Scarlett forever? Or did the two of them eventually reconcile?” As Brad goes on to say, “I’d long considered this whole debate deeply silly. Wasn’t it obvious? Rhett and Scarlett didn’t do anything after the last page. With the novel’s close, they ceased to exist… But, of course, it was obvious only if you were approaching the book as a box rather than a keyhole.” What he means is “I might have said that there’s a special readerly pleasure in approaching a book as you would a box. In its self-containment lies its ferocious magic; you can see everything it holds, and yet its meagre, often hackneyed contents have a way of engineering fresh, refined, resourceful patterns.” But [his niece] might have replied that “she comes to a book as to a keyhole: you observe some of the characters’ movements, you hear a little of their dialogue, but then they step outside your limited purview. They have a reality that outreaches the borders of the page.”

Those of us, like Brad and me, who teach literature (film) treat it as a box, but many readers (viewers) treat it as a keyhole. I think it’s important for any story to draw its readers/viewers in and that often takes the form of inviting personal investment in the story, including speculation about what would happen “if.” Another author, Celeste Ng, notes “you need to leave a few unmapped places so the characters can step beyond the boundaries you’ve sketched, a few strings untied so that the puppets can move freely without your hand. In other words, you need a little ambiguity: a space, however small, for the reader to fit into the piece. A story needs a little room for the reader to interpret, to bring in his or her own perceptions and conceptions.” Her argument is very similar to one Stephen King makes in his revealing book On Writing when he advises writers to not be too specific, to write descriptively but leave room for the reader to imagine the setting in his/her own way. The primary factor is leaving some uncertainty.

Since we’re talking about a television show, I thought I would mention that Robert McKee’s book Story, which provides a road map for writing good stories for the screen, also notes the use of ambiguity there. McKee emphasizes that one element of good story writing is the climax, and one form of climax is the “open ending.” In an open ending a question or two are left unanswered and some emotion is left unfulfilled. In other words, there is ambiguity. This type of ending is what is used many times in DM and it’s what has led to so much speculation and conjecture from so many of us. I don’t think we have to get caught up in the possibilities of how various relationships could be resolved or could have developed to enjoy the show, but I am aware that wanting to relate to these characters on a personal level is a key facet of what keeps viewers coming back to see more.

S6 was particularly prone to using the open ending climax and may have, therefore, stimulated more speculation than usual. Let’s look at the ending of each episode from S6.
E1: The episode ends with Martin and Louisa returning home covered with blood and dirt, Bert bringing the bag he forgot to give them and hoping to pin the mistake on Morwenna while also worrying about the condition of the lodge, a patient complaining of an eye problem that needs immediate attention, and the dog entering uninvited.
Ambiguity — Will they explain what happened? Will they review their wedding night and laugh about it? Will they give Bert an earful? What exactly happens after they get back? All open ended.
E2: The episode ends with Morwenna accepting Al as a lodger and Dennis being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Louisa has cut her forehead walking into a door and Martin questions whether she washes her hair enough and rinses it sufficiently.
Ambiguity — How will Morwenna like Al as a lodger and how will it change their interaction? Will Dennis forgive Louisa’s criticisms? Will Martin’s comments about her dandruff once again cause a rift in their relationship? (Louisa never likes it when Martin comments on her personal hygiene
E3: The ending of this episode is when ambiguity gets much more meaningful. Martin is struggling to treat his slashed hand without vomiting and covers the gash when Louisa enters the room. She is somewhat concerned about him, but rather callously reads him Becky’s newspaper article criticizing him. He tries to be polite but is really just doing his best to hide his recurring battle with his haemophobia. The camera dollys back as Martin continues to fight his nausea and the shot magnifies his circumscribed world.
Ambiguity — How will Martin handle the return of his haemophobia: he can continue to claim he’s fine and try to ignore it or he can decide to seek help. Will Martin keep the recurrence of his phobia from Louisa? What about his isolation? What does his serious demeanor mean for his future and for them as a couple?
The other prominent ambiguity is what kind of show is DM becoming? We have now begun to see the symptoms of nausea due to his haemophobia treated as a serious issue rather than something that makes us laugh. The initial premise of a doctor who is phobic about blood was established as utterly inapt. This time, with some subtlety, they have shown Martin hiding his inclination to vomit at the sight of blood. Several of the following episodes will continue that difference in approach from previous series. Whereas Martin’s tendency to vomit whenever there is a bloody patient or he must draw blood has been well-known by the community and a source of humor, and they all took this reaction in stride, now he appears markedly humiliated by it.
E4: This episode was of a somewhat lighter nature with Martin more his usual self, telling off patients and calling them idiots. He also manages to sit through the music circle with James and actually impress the women by diagnosing a problem with one of the babies. The ending, however, shows him struggling to deal with the commotion created by a wife and child. This time Louisa is making dinner and he finds it hard to not participate. She asks him to feed James and in the last moment he gets a dose of James’ food on his face and suit.
Ambiguity — I find this ending much more typical of the show as a whole. Every ending has some ambiguity based on the mere fact that we don’t know what happens next. Martin could explode from being overwhelmed by the noise and activity level or he could manage to keep his emotions hidden.
But the kind of notable ambiguity is not so evident here.
E5: It’s during this episode that the series takes a serious turn. Not only does Louisa find out that Martin has been withholding the return of his “blood sensitivity” from her but the final scene takes place at nearly five in the morning with Louisa sleeping while Martin sits at his desk in semi-darkness. His clock and tool kit sit in front of him but he cannot engage in that as a comfort this time. His face looks troubled.
Ambiguity — This ending is very ambiguous. We can tell Martin is highly disconcerted. Why?
The possibilities include the return of his phobia, his insomnia, depression (which could be
the product of both the phobia and/or the insomnia), concerns about his compatibility with
marriage and family life, the return of Mrs. Tishell, all of the above. Prior to this last
scene Joe has rescued Al from sleeping on the beach and we seem headed for a fairly heartening conclusion. But all of that is undercut when they bring us back to the Ellingham household for the concluding scene. We are compelled to revisit the internal stresses in Martin.
E6: This is a pivotal episode when Martin’s mother appears and further shakes up their home life. It’s not enough that the blood phobia has returned, that Martin can’t sleep, that he and Louisa are having trouble relating to each other with Louisa beginning to wonder if she’s the reason for his unrest and whether the house is too small, but now we have to add another person in the small space and someone who is unwelcome. Isn’t this called stacking the deck?
Ambiguity — Throughout the episode Martin looks disturbed whenever he sees his mother with James. When we see him standing over the crib in the middle of the night about midway through the episode, we can imagine he might want to protect James from his mother’s injurious influence. The final scene has her entering Martin’s office carrying James, something Martin is immediately unhappy with. She tries to make a bid for a new start with Martin, but he’s not having it. He’s quite unreceptive to her and she leaves sadly disappointed. At the close of the scene Martin holds James and looks thoughtful. Is he pondering whether his father regretted anything? Is he suspicious of his mother’s motives? Is he confused about his feelings and conflicted about how he just spoke to her? Does he think he should warn Louisa not to trust his mother with James?
[Martin Clunes’ ability to stare into space with a troubled/thoughtful look on his face is
abundantly employed throughout S6.]
E7: During this episode life in the Ellingham house becomes extremely strained. Louisa can’t find a way to break through Martin’s defenses and Martin has become totally unyielding. He grudgingly attends Sports Day but wants to leave from the moment he arrives. It’s only after Louisa gets hit by a car and is taken to the hospital that Martin realizes his multiple blunders and tries to redeem himself by berating the doctor in charge of Louisa’s care. All that does is cement Louisa’s disenchantment with him and their marriage. If we can find a bright spot it is that their talk in the hospital is the first time in a while when they’ve actually spoken to each other for any length of time. The talk includes a few linguistic ambiguities, e.g. Louisa saying she’s not coming home because she needs a break and Martin unaware that she means a break from him. The open ended climax is when they return home only to find Margaret who promptly insults Louisa and only makes matters worse.
Ambiguity — Once again Martin stares after Louisa in total distress. He has the baby to deal with and his mother at hand. What will he do? Will he apologize to Louisa? Will he tell off his mother once again? Will he appeal to Louisa’s sense of loyalty? Will Louisa leave and not return? (You know that I think that would never happen, but the question must be asked.)
E8: Obviously the final episode should bring the series to some sort of conclusion. This last episode is more like the last episode of S3 — they both end with more questions than answers. Louisa is on the plane expecting to depart for Spain when Martin enters the plane in order to take her off because he’s discovered she has an AVM. Unbeknownst to Louisa, he had been making arrangements to come after her anyway but now there’s even more urgency. Once again we have an already trying situation between these two augmented by a medical emergency. And once again we are treated to a tender conversation between them under very
difficult circumstances. After Martin completes the operation, during which he vomits when he sees her blood and she rolls her eyes for humorous effect, he finds privacy in a bathroom stall where he is tearful. Soon after, we see Louisa in a hospital bed and asking for her husband. Martin appears and they talk. They agree that the operation doesn’t change how they’ve been interacting at home and they can’t continue as if nothing is wrong. He leaves without so much as a warm tap or comment, although he looks sympathetic. She watches him leave with a sad, but affectionate face.
Ambiguity — Where do we start? Martin tells Ruth he wants to be with Louisa and he tells Louisa he needs her help to be a better husband, but despite all of the signs that he’s ready to do what it takes to stay married to Louisa, in the end he’s back to being unable to express himself to her
directly. Will she go home when she leaves the hospital? Will he demonstrate his desire to make
her happier in the marriage? Is he tearful in the bathroom because he saved his wife’s life or
because he was able to perform surgery successfully again? Or Both? How difficult will it be for Louisa to go back home and try to work on their marriage?
Will we have the show we have come to love and admire back again? Can they find a satisfactory way to return the characters to their previous personas?
One thing that is unambiguous is that Margaret will not be back!

This exercise has been lengthy and time consuming, but has helped me look at the many ways that ambiguity can both enhance the humor in a show as well as stimulate greater viewer participation. Ambiguity demonstrates the versatility of language and, as The Handbook to Literature states: it is “a literary tool of great usefulness in suggesting various orders and ranges of meanings and enriching by holding out multiple possibilities.” Many of the greatest books in literature use ambiguity. The fact that great films and television shows use it too enhances their quality as well. What I am saying is that I like ambiguity and open ended climaxes to stories because they are more representative of life and because they make me think. Nevertheless, I will always think of works of literature, and excellent shows and films, as complete. Too much speculation beyond the scope of what’s on the page or the screen corrupts it. I cannot remember any occasion when a student has wondered how the ending to a classic book could have been different. We examine the text for the beauty of its contents and how it’s written. It’s a work of art and should be admired just the way it is.

[Post Script: I recently looked at my copy of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse and found this note from the author: “Of course, I neither can nor intend to tell my readers how they ought to understand my tale. May everyone find in it what strikes a chord in him and is of some use to him! But I would be happy if many of them were to realize that the story of the Steppenwolf pictures a disease and crisis — but not one leading to death and destruction, on the contrary: to healing.” Hesse realized that his own message was being subverted by readers’ misinterpretation. He was so unhappy about it that he felt the need to add a note of caution. Ambiguity creates its own hazards while leaving a space for readers to relate on a personal level.]

Originally posted 2014-09-12 21:27:33.

Work in Progress

So that you don’t think I’ve run out of ideas yet, I want to let you all know that I am working on another post. This next post will be more philosophical/literary and I hope that doesn’t put anyone off. I think it is a natural development of our discussions and will, hopefully, give us more food for thought.

I’m digging deep for more ideas and will continue to scrounge the newspapers and magazines for them. It’s getting harder by the week!!

Originally posted 2014-09-05 17:10:18.

Article on phobias

Just saw this article in today’s NYTimes about phobias.

For me it was a long way of demonstrating how important coaches are to overcoming a phobia. It also mentions the frequency,variety and genesis of phobias, and notes that both genes and environment play a role in the origin of a phobia. It explains phobias “tend to run in families, though not necessarily the same phobia.” We could do something with that. Margaret has a phobia of babies? Or children? I’d say intimacy except that she seemed to like the intimacy she had with Christopher until Martin arrived.

So many articles, etc. that trigger thoughts!

Originally posted 2014-08-29 10:30:46.