Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Benefit of Piano Lessons

One of my most memorable students was from an Eastern culture.  She was very conservative.  Dating was controlled by her family.  I would tease her about the strict rules she lived by.  One morning she announced that she had become engaged to her boyfriend.  He had asked her family and they had consented to the union.  I asked how being engaged would change their relationship.  She seemed to respond in wonder.  “William, we are now allowed to be alone together.”  Almost conspiratorially she went on, “When we were alone for the first time, we held hands.  William, it was incredible!  I felt this warm surge of energy coming through his hand into my hand.  It was magnificent.”  
I was stunned and fascinated by her confession.  There was a reverence in her voice.  This had been an incredibly powerful experience for her.  She was mature enough to appreciate this very special moment in her life.  I felt a touch of jealousy.  Her recounting the experience had an impact on me.    
That night I remembered the first time I held hands with a girl.  I was in 6th grade.  Thursdays at 5 PM I had a piano lesson with Miss Gilbert at the Eastman School of Music.  For the most part, it was tortuous.  Miss Gilbert couldn’t stand me.  The one redeeming quality about Thursdays was Nina.  Nina took violin lessons at the same time as my piano lesson.  Nina had this exotic gorgeous beauty.  Her long brown hair was captivating.  She wore a school uniform, but rolled up the waist of her skirt.   She had big brown eyes and these knee high boots that I will never forget.  And she liked me!  Or maybe she was just taking pity on me.  I’ll never know.    
On one occasion, she and I walked into downtown Rochester together.  While we walked we held hands.  It was my left hand and I can remember the energy I felt coming from her hand.   I don’t know how else to describe it.  It was one of the high points of my adolescence.  Holding Nina’s hand while we walked downtown made me feel euphoric.  While I remember feeling it, I didn’t appreciate what was happening at the time.  Having remembered the experience, it now stays with me.   
When I transferred to the private high school, I didn’t fit in with the other students.  In order to make myself seem bigger, I told them that Nina was my girlfriend.  Within the day, she had denied it, which made me look like an even bigger fool.  
She may have never been my girlfriend, but on that day, on that walk, when we held hands, she was everything I could ever dream of at the age of twelve.  

Thursday, November 2, 2017


How do you figure out your identity when it keeps changing?  Who I am today is different then who I was yesterday.  Each day I have experiences that continue to shape my personality and attitudes.  Some people seem to know who they are from childhood.  Others never figure out who they are.     
Professionally, when people first meet me, they tend too refer to me as doctor.  They do it out of respect for the work I did to earn a Ph.D.  But I always ask them to call me William.  When they question me, I explain that the doctor title was the result of a few years of study and an extensive research paper.  “William” was the result of a lifetime of looking inside and figuring out who I am.  I worked a lot harder on becoming William than I did becoming doctor.  
Repeatedly in season six of Game of Thrones, they ask the question, “Who are you?”   It started me thinking about my own identity.   Who I am is the most important thing I bring to my clients in my office.  If I don’t know who I am, its difficult to help others figure out who they are.  Then again, knowing who you are is important in intimate relationships.  
Growing up I didn’t know who I was.  I was probably as lost as the next person, but that doesn’t make it any easier.  I didn’t have an identity.  I was whatever my parents, teachers and friends said I was.  This didn’t get any better in adolescence.  When I would begin a new relationship, I would immediately lose myself into the “us.”  I didn’t know how to hold on to me, because I was so poorly defined.  
I know what this looked like.  It would be Friday night and we would be deciding what we would eat and I would keep repeating, “What ever you want.”  I didn’t have enough substance to say, “I want Chinese, or Italian,” or anything specific.  I wanted whatever she wanted.  The person that they were initially attracted to got lost.  
It was all about my insecurity.  I wasn’t valuable enough to myself to think that someone would stay with me if I really let them see me.  So I would hide behind, “You choose.  I’m good with whatever you want tonight.”  
Successful relationships are usually found through each person growing and finding out who they are and then being themselves with the other person.  It took me a long time to figure out who I was.  But I know one major contribution.  
I was a Freshman at Monroe Community College.  I don’t remember which class it was, but the professor was taking role.  I responded when he called out my name, “Bill Boylin.”  I had been “Billy” all my life.  I never really thought much about my name.  The girl behind me tapped me on the shoulder.  She was very pretty with jet black hair and beautiful brown eyes.  She looked me square in the face and confidently informed me that I was not a Bill, I was a William.  The name stuck like glue.  It was as if it was tattooed on my forehead.  From then on, I was William.  She was right, that was a significant part of my identity.  To this day I only have a couple of friends who call me “Billy.”  Predominately they are friends from my childhood who knew me when I was Billy.  

That girl and I almost got married.  We were deeply in love.  We did get engaged after we finished college.  But I wasn’t ready.  It would have been a disaster, because I didn’t know who I was and I was still too immature to maintain a relationship.  Another step in figuring out who I was happened when I realized I wasn’t ready to get married.  We talked and ended the engagement, but not without fighting and tears.  She helped me in figuring out who I was.  All those wonderful relationships I had as a young man each contributed to my discovering my identity.  
                 Today I have a pretty good idea who I am.  I'm just not sure who I will be tomorrow. 

Monday, April 24, 2017


Having had a great experience at Syracuse U. doing telephone crisis counseling, I joined a similar organization when I got to grad school.  I started the Masters in Psychology program at SUNY Geneseo in 1973.  Upstate New York was the home of the suffragettes and Susan B. Anthony.  At that time, our culture seemed at the height of liberalism and feminism.  Char was an undergraduate but the Director of the Telephone Crisis Counseling program at the school.  She and I worked together to teach the skills needed to be on the phones.  She was pretty, petite, insightful with beautiful long brown hair.  
Char gave me my first lesson in systems therapy.   After a training seminar a number of us went out to eat.  Char and I had barely started our conversation when she turned to me, her eyes got thin and almost accusingly she said:  “You’re the younger brother of a brother, aren’t you?”  She had a confidence and an authority in her presentation.  I had no idea how she knew this.  She proceeded to give me my first lesson in family therapy.  She explained how my personality signaled my placement in my family.  She showed me how behavior is tied to the family of origin.  This may have been the beginning of my love for family therapy.    
Char was in an open relationship when I knew her.  On a couple of occasions we ran into each other when we were both single.  It was a time of romance and love without the necessity of trying to maintain a relationship.  The morning after our second encounter she sent me a bouquet of flowers.  It was the one and only time that someone sent me flowers.  It was a very loving thing to do.  Initially, I was confused by the gesture, being that I’m a guy.  It seemed upside down, that she was sending me flowers.   But I quickly came to accept her message.  

Char taught me about the family and how the dynamics affect the people.  She taught me that feminism meant I didn’t have to follow gender stereotypes, I could define for myself who I am and who I want to be.  Finally, she gave me a lesson in love.