Note on My Life
Larry Hartmann, M.D.
We talked about growing old gracefully
And Elsie, who's seventy-four,
Said 'A) It's a question of being sincere,
And B) If you're supple you've nothing to fear'
Then she swung upside down from a glass chandelier.
I couldn't have liked it more.
I've been to a marvelous party.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
Donald Winnicott famously and usefully said that "the reality principle is an insult." So also, one might say, is aging. I have noticed as I grow older, and have begun to retire from some of my work life, that , despite some of its comforts, and even advantages, and despite some wisdom and humor, there are many ways in which aging is an insult ----and one that the reality principle only partly helps us to cope with, no matter how good and healthy and effective and happy we may at times have been, as children and as grownups.
John Schowalter kindly asked me to contribute a few words in this space about what I am doing with my life nowadays, perhaps in the spirit of : There are three stages of adult life : youth, middle age, and "You're looking good." I'll try.
I still see patients, but I am publicly far less active than I used to be. I no longer do much with the APA, on whose Board ---and Assembly , many councils and committees, and some corporate spinoffs, like APPI --- I was rather active for several decades. I still try, in quieter ways, to teach, practice, develop, and foster, locally, nationally, and internationally, a psychiatry of humane values and biopsychosocial integration.
Still living and working in the house in Cambridge where we have lived for about 40 years, I like seeing some patients , which I do about one-third time, mostly at this point university students and adults. I formally retired from teaching at Harvard after 40 years, and now do for Harvard only an occasional seminar or talk or consultation. Also I do a bit of supervising of young child psychiatrists, which I find useful at least for my own listening and learning.
What else do I do now ? Having withdrawn from a lot, some of which was occasionally even colorful, I am afraid a short current list may seem a bit tame. I do go to occasional Harvard lectures, and CME and other psychiatric or related meetings (e.g. APA, MPS, AACAP, NECCAP, AASP (Social Psychi), BPSI (Psa), Cambridge Hospital ), and I chair the board of a good local therapeutic school (Community Therapeutic Day School). I still peer review a bit, and write an occasional book review, for psychiatric journals. In a different direction, I recently enjoyed doing a translation of a well known fable by La Fontaine, which is going to be published in an obscure journal.
Many aspects of brain biology seem to me wonderful and fascinating, but biobiobio psychiatry can also, I often think, unbalance our focus and our funding. I also notice, as I suppose do many colleagues my age, that a good bit of true and useful psychological and social psychiatry is being denigrated, isolated, and lost.
I enjoy doing many things with my spouse, and I enjoy seeing friends and family. I read a lot : many books in many fields and genres, and some journals, and I probably spend more time than I would really like on newspapers and the New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. I do, of course, sometimes skim. Recent books I've read include these : Swerve , The Hare With Amber Eyes , the Patrick Melrose Novels, Ill Fares The Land , Arguably , The Evolution of Childhood (bits and pieces), Sacred Monsters , Justice , The Invisible Line , Individualizing Gender and Sexuality , The Sense Of An Ending .
I watch nearly no TV, but I do like movies, theater, opera, concerts, and museums, and several times a year go to New York City, partly to enjoy a wider array of those. I explore the world a bit with my computer, though I am far from an expert with electronic applications. I am not on Facebook. I usually do not carry a cell phone. I regularly and consciously spend some energy trying not to be a routinely disapproving curmudgeon, since there are, currently, a great many aspects of American society and government that are not, I think, admirable or working well.
Having since childhood very much enjoyed travel, we still travel now and then ----recently to Spain, and to Guatemala ----but less than we used to, partly because we so much enjoy our vacation house in Maine, where we go for summer but also for long week ends in fall, winter, and spring. We built a house there a few years ago, on Mount Desert Island, in a style that is a bit hard to describe : lots of wood and glass, a small barn, and some Scandinavian modern furniture. It sits comfortably on the shoulder of a small mountain, with woods going down to a calm and very swimmable lake. It has no near neighbors, and has good views in all directions, of small fields and woods, a bit of lake, and two small mountains. From the house we see our land and National Park and the sky and nothing else. I sometimes play with birchbark there , mostly creating panels for walls. (One rather large panel, about eight feet tall, has been on a wall of the Jordan Pond House, a venerable more-or-less-tearoom in Acadia National Park, for the past several years).
The light is lovely. There are blueberries, and sometimes deer. It is often serenely quiet.