A Poem: The World Needs a Good Shrink

Reading about all the gun violence and resistance to gun control, I looked for a poem about how the world had gone mad but would somehow be OK. I didn’t find one, so I wrote this.


The World Needs a Good Shrink
By Valerie Reiss

I would give the world a good referral, someone who really helped me/my friend/my aunt out in a time of great need.

Someone wise, calm, compassionate, insightful, and evolved in her own life—with many tricks up her sleeve.

The world would come in every Wednesday at 12 (telling her boss she’s at lunch) and, understanding the cancellation policy, the fee, and what insurance will cover, will sit on the beige or brown sofa.

The therapist will sit across so the world doesn’t have to crane her neck. The therapist will sit far but not too far. About six feet away in a comfortable chair, a notepad balanced on her knee. She will open with something like, “So, I know we spoke a little on the phone about your stress and concerns about balance and a mild depression, but tell me some more—what brings you here today?”

The world will cast her eyes down because she’s not used to being asked questions so directly, to being seen like this. She’s never been comfortable in the spotlight, even though the galaxy has been watching her and her massive population and dwindling forests and polluted waters and declining wildlife for years. Truth is, what the world feels right now is shame. A shame she’s had since childhood, really, if she thinks about it.

“Um,” she says. “Well, things have been extra-hard lately. The humans are really out of control. I mean there’s less war, but there’s so much misery and violence and suffering that seems unnecessary. And I can’t help but feel like it’s my fault.” The world starts to cry, a salty tear streaming down an ocean on her face.

The therapist nods, connecting with the planet’s pain. “That sounds really hard,” she says slowly and softly. The planet nods, almost in spite of herself. She’d been resistant to going this route because to her, getting help was a sign of weakness. I mean, she’s the world! She could handle these feelings and problems! But lately, even spinning through the day had felt like a strain. So a friend suggested coming here and it turned out her insurance would cover 80 percent after the deductible.

And now, with the nice lady with the present eyes nodding, she was glad she came. It felt like a relief to get herself off her shoulders even for a moment. She began to sob. The therapist stayed, quietly, comfortably. After a time she asked, “What else?” The world told her more—about the children dying and the people who value guns above lives and the lack of kindness. And then a whole new sob shook the world. “What are you feeling?” asked the therapist.

The world couldn’t quite believe it, but now she was actually crying tears of bittersweet joy. In between sobs she said, “It’s not all bad. I’ve been seeing it that way lately, but also, there is such enormous kindness happening in me every day. People helping, people sacrificing, people protecting, people aligning with love, making art. Kids laughing, strawberries growing, people falling in love, people protecting vulnerable creatures, creating cures, tending to the ill, governing rightly, and all of the hugging and dancing and celebrations. And puppies, of course.” The therapist nodded again, tears streaming down her own human face. The best therapists allow themselves to be moved by their patients.

After some time, the therapist explained that she thought she might be able to help the world with a combination of narrative therapy and CBT and connecting the dots from the past to the now. She thought this might all help the planet release some stress and become more in balance—and thus help all that lived and grew inside of her. “That sounds good,” said the world, meaning it.

“Great,” said the shrink. “That’s all our time for today,” she added gently.

The world nodded, grateful. All in all, it was a good first session.

Valerie ReissA Poem: The World Needs a Good Shrink

snowy spring gratitude

i am grateful for…

1) a relatively calm, non-snowy winter.

2) a very happy birthday weekend that involved the porches inn, mass moca, a small boy i love, the man i love, good food, baking muffins, and more. (oh yeah, and laundry. because, birthday or no: i’m a mom.)

3) the freshest, juiciest mango yesterday on one of the snowiest days of he year. (what’s up global weirding?!)

4) a boy who is growing out of his clothing and socks and shoes all at once! and talking in full sentences so much of the time!

5) homemade morning glory muffins.

6) a warm, cozy home filled with love.

7) working on projects that make me happy.

8) how silly i get to be with said boy. today the mason jar and a muffin talked to him at breakfast and though he was like, “mommy, you cray,” he also seemed to like it.

9) my new pink $15 sweater from the gap.

10) Bernie, killing it in wisconsin. go, my alma mater cheeseheads, go!


Valerie Reisssnowy spring gratitude

it’s spring, it’s spring gratitude

springit’s spring, it’s spring! i am grateful for…

1) sunshine

2) sprouting green things

3) my boy being able to play outside pretty much all day when it’s nice out. grateful for a daycare that lets him!

4) better produce. the tomatoes are shaping up, strawberries too.

5) being able to wear my green peacoat instead of the black down coat i’ve been wearing every day since we moved. green! stylish! not freezing! ahhh.

6) not risking life and ass every time i step outside. no ice, no snow, just grass, dirt, mud, cement. i want to kiss that naked ground.

7) neighbors! who knew? those houses around us the last four months? they have PEOPLE in them! many of them nice people! with kids! and animals! who come outside! and speak!

8) driving. yup, i’m driving. a little. with my instructor, mostly. with my man, a little. today, to daycare and back. highways still make me sick, but i think i can do this around-town driving. i think i can, i think i can, i think i can…

9) smashdub, my new favorite app. you lipsynch, it records 9 seconds of video. i’m a dork but it makes me smile. and i had a revelation. instead of this “doing something every day that scares you” stuff, which can be good, but really, i’ve had enough fear in my life. that just doesn’t sound fun. so my new goal: “do something every day that embarrasses me”! yesterday, this meant posting me lipsynching. i’m not sure what it will mean today. but the idea at least, is freeing for someone who cares waaaaay to much what people think of her. someone once said to a friend of mine, “when you’re embarrassed you know you’re on to something spiritually.” i think it’s because it’s such a vulnerable, raw emotion that indicates our cover has been blown. and covers don’t serve our highest, most authentic, creative self. they actually stymie it and make us unhappy. so, embarrassment, here i come!

10) iced coffee. cold brew. with soy. from the roost.

happy spring! xo


Valerie Reissit’s spring, it’s spring gratitude

trying to the snow gratitude


trying to embrace the snow with a snowmmmmm.

i am grateful for:

1) a healthy baby boy. big fever, lots of coughing, but now just a steady drip of snot. whew.

2) that I HAVE A CAR. yeah. a car. i don’t know how to drive it of course. it’s been 10 years since i’ve driven and i’ve never liked it or been good at it. and just the thought of it tightens my stomach and throat. but it’s a cute, green, four-wheeled faith in my ability to overcome this terror i have of driving and merging and changing lanes and oncoming traffic and roads with no shoulder and bridges and pedestrians and mean drivers and distracted drivers and drunk drivers. i can overcome all of that. i think? or enough to move ahead? or enough to take my boy to and from daycare, really. first driving lesson is on the calendar!

3) working from home. cozily typing away in my kitchen = yay.

4) tea. alternating between paris and a chocolate chai, both with homemade almond milk. chai with honey from friends’ local hives, of course. so warming and constant and good. and makes me nicer than coffee.

5) my dear husband. for listening. for talking. for watching tim gunn with me when needed.

6) food tv. top chef was freaking fabulous. spoiler alert: GO MAI! a chef’s life is so good. such a deep crush on the brilliant and neurotic and funny vivian howard. want to eat her food some day. and chopped, of course, my dirty little fun standby. is it weird that i follow all of the judges on instragram? even grumpy chris santos? i just wish amanda posted more often.

7) the best christmas present ever: a vitamix. it’s not a blender, it’s a lifestyle (you’re welcome, vitamix. that’ll be $56,438). yesterday i made almond milk from nuts and water. today i made a veggie paste of sorts for my baby boy’s omelet. later today, i’m thinking a chocolate smoothie: banana, almond milk, raw cacao powder. plus maybe some frozen blueberries. and spirulina.

8) a baby boy with such a bursting personality and sense of humor. yesterday he got some food down his onesie by accident at dinner. then he became fascinated by it, checking it out. i peeked too. he liked this. he added more food. this made us laugh. he added even more food. we laughed more. i tried to fish it out of his belly button. more laughing. the best comedy show ever.

9) bubbles. also, he discovered bubbles. the aunties came with little bubble bottles and they were a hit! you can touch them, but they go away. they can rain down everywhere without falling. they’re shiny and pretty and wet. he was just out of his mind with joy and glee chasing them and trying to catch them.

10) snow? ok, i’m trying. snow. i’m even sick of complaining about the snow there’s so much snow. so maybe now it’s pretty? insulating? peaceful? instead of bleak, bleached, and isolating? yeah, peaceful. going with that for now.

Valerie Reisstrying to the snow gratitude

northampton new year gratitude

i am grateful for:

1) our cozy house. even though it’s cold, and i want to kvetch about having moved to the north pole instead of northampton. but in the rooms where the heat is on, it’s cozy-warm. and when i’m not freezing, it’s just cozy-cozy. to have a home for our boy and us and our familiar things and colors.

2) painting! we painted the sad green out of the goffice (guest room/my office). it’s now white with a “lily lavender” accent wall in front of my desk. i have a room of my own in which to write, do projects, nap, and dream.

3) peanut butter puffins.

4) the growing boy. omg, we can play games now! like hide the red stick toy thingy! he drops it into the couch cushions and i fetch it for him, over and over and over and over. to his ever-delight. and it’s fun! i’m not having an internal dialogue wondering when this might be over and when i can escape for a snack or sneak a peek on facebook. it’s actual fun. which surprises me and ever-delights me too.

5) sleep. getting more of it. though baby boy is sick (uh-gain!) and last night he was up at 11, then 5, then for good at 6. but other nights lately it’s been like 7-7. heaven.

6) 2014. it was a good year. i learned how to be a mom, sort of. i made peppercorn shrimp for the first time. i published about 10 articles, not including stuff for my day job. i moved. to the artsy arctic. i loved living with my man—we hit some bumps, had one wicked fight, but really nothing major. (it’s truly a bonus to live with and love someone who loves serenity and non-drama as much as i do—the unnecessary crap is mostly dispensed with. we just need to make sure we’re fed and rested before any large conversations. which, one time we weren’t. but even that was just one crappy evening.) in 2014 i wasn’t a great friend. i’ve been out of touch and i regret that. but/and—tending baby, self, husband, and home = hard. trying not to over-beat myself up. i edited a TON of articles about babies and moms. i donated more money than i ever have. not because i had more, but because i decided to tithe. which has been put on hold for the moment. i want to feel better about it than i do, oddly. i think i’m supposed to give time, not money. or time and money. maybe that will give me a philanthropy rush? in 2014 i also got a cortisone shot (it helped, i think). i did lots of PT for my shoulder. i didn’t do much yoga at all due to said shoulder, sacrum, and baby. i consumed an enormous amount of world news, local news, listicles about gut health, sleep, marriage, happiness, etc. also consumed a lot of chocolate, a moderate amount of coffee, and a decent amount of green juice and kale. i went to martha’s vineyard, florida, rhinebeck, and woodstock. i changed a ton of diapers, fed a person from my body for most of the year, and got more puke, pee, poop, and food on me that i ever have.

7) people welcoming us to northampton. friends, friends of friends, and more. people keep telling me they like my winter hat, which no one ever mentioned in BK. i’m thinking a) it’s more of a noho hat than a brooklyn hat and b) in ny compliments are only given to extract information—as in, “i like that hat so much i’m willing to break the fourth wall and speak to you to ask you where you got it.” and it’s just not that level of hat. at least not there.

8) driving down main street and getting caught in “traffic,” i.e., a few cars, and seeing a fire engine and thinking, “oh, it’s like a normal city here, they have fires and traffic. not so different from brooklyn after all. then the fire truck pulls over and i think “ohhh, a fire at the academy of music?” and then: santa pops out. waving. greeting a mass of carolers i hadn’t noticed. that was the entire source of said traffic and presence of fire fighters. so, yeah, different here.

9) easy access to target. what? i can’t help it. target within a 10-minute drive? a good target? i’m there. go and trader joe’s. how did i ever live without trader joe’s? in nyc they have them, but it’s really not possible to shop there if you’re employed or have kids. you basically need to be 22 or 75. and still the lines are crazy-crazy.

10) 2015. i’m excited to write some things, interview some people, care for a baby bear, get back to yoga and meditation, make some collages, sleep, cook, eat, and get WARM, somehow, some way.

happiest new year, friends. i hope it’s unfathomably lovely for you. xo

Valerie Reissnorthampton new year gratitude

maté gratitude

i am grateful for:

1) a maté tea brew my teacher/healer/friend valerie simonsen gave me. it’s keeping me awake without making me cranky.

2) my cough almost healed thanks to another brew, this one from my dear acupuncturist caroline radice.

3) the amazing bursts in development by my lil guy. since walking he’s started pointing, waving, and handing us stuff. like: here, book, read it to me. it’s this explosion happening as his brain makes so many millions (billions?) of connections. go dendrites!

4) the pumpkins around my house. on this gray day they are providing nice spots of juicy color.

5) my aqua mug that tells me to “trust the process.” mmmk. trying.

6) toys in my house.

7) that moment when baby boy goes to actual sleep for five whole hours at a time (or more). it’s just so good to have a moment for my brain to rest.

8) obama supporting net neutrality.

9) changes afoot!

10) socks. warm, colorful, fuzzy socks.

Valerie Reissmaté gratitude

dream insight gratitude

a little local brooklyn graffiti, third eye, looking within action for you.

a little local brooklyn graffiti, third eye, looking within action for you.

I just had a dream that reinforced this insight I had the other day: Experiences that are troubling, intense, or traumatic cannot just be “let go.” They need to be processed, digested, and integrated. Then, we grow. But this idea that we need to “let it go,” does us and our experiences a disservice. Sure, the momentary upsets—someone cutting you off, not giving you what you want, or displaying a character trait that upsets you—by all means practice letting go on that stuff. Do your breathing, imagine it sliding off of you, whatever.

But the big stuff is a full meal that needs to be enzymatically processed—with movement, therapy, prayer, writing, art, talking, ritual, etc. Usually with more than one of the above. And possibly over years, with regular re-do’s as the new old fragments surface. Let’s be clear, though: There is no sealing off, either. When you seal off the old stuff, it costs you the suppleness of your self; it ferments and then explodes or seeps toxins into your life. Sorry for the icky digestion metaphors, but a) I have a one-year-old, so it’s right there and b) it’s apt—we truly digest our lives or we don’t or we do it halfway—whatever we can bear. That is fine. But we do not “let it go.” It’s our life, possibly the only one we get, not a red ballon we can release, which we now all know just pops eventually and hurts a dolphin.

We are all holding something that we think we should have let go of already. Can we all agree on this?: No beating ourselves up over it. No “letting it go.” But no holding it tight and sealing it off, either. Acknowledge its presence and be tender toward it—if it’s such a big deal that it didn’t just evaporate, it probably requires your attention and your care. What does it need? What is it trying to tell you? Listen, write, move, talk to someone OK with dark and tender things, and digest a little bit at a time. I’m pretty sure this is how we get more wise, more loving, and more magic.

Valerie Reissdream insight gratitude

namasté, grim reaper

This month marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with cancer. I was 31, working for a magazine called Breathe, doing yoga, and living a relatively healthy life. It was unexpected. So unexpected that I spent months with a persistent cough, slight fever, then night sweats, an upset stomach and feeling generally awful. I thought my liver chi was rising, again. You know how it is. I thought it was stress. Or unresolved issues about something. So I went to acupuncturists, massage therapists. I drank nasty herbs. I pulled tarot cards. I journaled. Then I finally went to a “real” doctor whose nurse told me “You people never push hard enough” when I held the cotton ball over where she had just drawn blood. The doc herself sent me home with cough syrup. But she did call back a week later when my blood work came in and sent me to get an abdominal ultrasound, “just in case.” Her lab was booked for a month, but I made an appointment.

But I kept getting worse. More coughing. My colleagues pushed me to get checked, again. I finally went to the magazine’s health columnist, an MD who’s also an acupuncturist. He looked over my blood work and shook his head. A lot. “There’s something really wrong with you.” He said it over and over, like a mantra. He palpated my belly. He injected me with some vitamins, which normally perk the unperky right up. They did nothing. “You’re seeing my internist—tomorrow morning.”

I went. He sent me for tests. First that ultrasound. The ultrasound doc, an older guy who asked if I was single while he wanded my belly, got serious mid-swirl. He saw stuff. A lot of stuff. He turned kind. He went animal on my insurance company to get me a same-day MRI. (Which I think is like getting last-minute seats at Per Se.) He did. As I walked out his door, he handed me my file and said, “Let’s hope this has a happy ending.” At the MRI I looked around at the clinicians’ faces, trying to read them. I could. And it wasn’t good. But it also got them suddenly very nice. Offering me water when I got dizzy, telling me not to rush.

Finally, the internist called me back for my results, in-person on a Friday evening. Everyone at work found this as ominous as I did. But we were closing—a late night ahead. I said, “I’ll be back unless I have some terrible disease or something!” No one laughed.

The doc barely looked at me during a cursory exam. When we got to his cramped office with a giant mahogany desk, he squirmed in his seat, shifting papers. His opener: “I don’t mean to be the Grim Reaper, but…” Yeah, really.

A lot of words followed while I fell from a steep inner cliff, grabbing tissues as I dove. I found myself comforting him; he was young and nervous and had clearly not much experience in the shitty news delivery department. I left, I knew I needed to check in with work, but also that I needed to talk to other people. It was cold, dark, November. I stopped in a church in midtown that was so incredibly bright. Sat a moment. Walked more. Finally called work and told my boss it was bad. We both cried but I couldn’t tell her more. I called my boyfriend at the time and a best friend, leaving messages to meet me at my house, and just kept walking the 80 blocks home.

From there, I entered a world foreign to my organic, yoga, nothing-bad-in-my-shampoo, please self. A world of bad doctors and sainted doctors. Of dosages and multiple prescriptions. Of treatments and side effects. I knew some people in my new age community would tell me I brought this on myself. Later on someone did wonder aloud to my face why I didn’t just use wheatgrass instead of chemo. I lived downtown and was at the World Trade Center site on 9/11. I worked next to the pit starting a few months after, in an office that was never properly cleaned. Two years later I worked in another office that was never properly cleaned; one day I opened a window and dust—that dust—flew up into my face. Blood cancers have been prevalent with residents and responders. Mine is a blood cancer that usually affects 65-year-old men. I don’t know what caused it. But I have some ideas, ones I can’t let go.

Since becoming cancer-free mid-treatment, I have stayed that way. I would like to stay that way forever, until I die of some sweet thought in my sleep when I’m 100. I do my best to do the things I can to stay healthy. But I also know we don’t actually know what causes cancer, and thus, what keeps it away. And once your house has been robbed, every creak is a masked guy. The PTSD has abated. But I have a cough right now. It’s been going on a while. And it’s that time of year. So I’m moving up my annual appointment. Also, pregnancy in so many ways mimicked the symptoms of being sick. And my birth experience echoed the sense of being a disempowered patient, judged by caregivers for how I (sensitive, always) responded to their treatment and treatments.

I have tried to gorge on gratitude, feast on love, call on grace. Some days, like today, when someone posts one of those stupid “Cancer Truth” bullshit posts that say “everyone who has had chemo will die in 10-15 years” I get that kind of fear that is just solid belly cold and then I want to scream, and worse. Like I want to yell at the people who say, “Well, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so why does it matter if you had cancer?” It matters. It matters a lot. I’ve been hit by a “bus” and I know there’s no cure for it, and though it might be down the road another could be coming for me, cuz they talk, the buses. See? Shitty metaphor, shitty metaphor taken too far.

And now. Now I have this incredibly beautiful person in my life who I want to tend for every day he could possibly need or want me. For every milestone and graduation and crisis and romance trouble and everything else he will and will not want to talk to me about. I want to be there. I NEED to be there. When I first told my oncologist I wanted kids, when I was just a year or two out of treatment, he didn’t think it was the best idea. He wasn’t sure if I’d be here that long, I think. Then later, with more years behind me, I asked more seriously what he thought my odds were. And he just didn’t know—this is a cancer that affects older guys. Fertility and cancer and chemo is vastly under-studied. Fertility and this particular blend of mine? Totally unknown. But he didn’t think it could hurt—no hormonal concerns. Also, I think he had more faith in me. That I would make it, as he saw other patients who didn’t. I had more faith then. And meeting someone I wanted to have babies with—well, it was done.

And now I am someone’s mother. There are people with this disease who never recur. I think. Honestly, I’m here, I’m good. I stopped Googling. I gambled on going forward. On staying healthy. On being loved and giving love. Some days this feels wise. Others, stupid. It’s all so precarious, right? I mean I hate that stupid bus metaphor, but we all live on a slender stalk and a delicate earth. I feel like all there is to do, ok, not all, but mostly—line up how we want to live and do it. Be with who gives us love and energy, do what gives us joy, and minimize the crap we need to do to be grown-ups. Make choices based on the big yes in our chest whenever possible. Be kind along the way, as best we can. Be gentle when we mess up, which we will. Afford others the same. Realize that our rage at others is pointing at something in ourselves we haven’t acknowledged or embraced. And once we do that, clarity happens.

I make gratitude lists. I talk to friends. I sleep. I eat greens. I drink water. I snuggle and kiss. I help my baby with his verbal skills and walking skills and do my best to mirror him and see him and acknowledge his essential self. I write, for a living. I walk. I breathe. Sometimes I meditate. I rest on the community I live in. I mourn for my dear friend who died of cancer well after I healed. I keep it real, but not too real. I like reality cooking shows and shopping and reading celebrity memoirs.

And now I’m realizing how this could sound like I’m signing off into the great beyond. But I think I’m actually signing on, again, to life. Chapter 2: The Next 10 Years. Life as a mother—to a person, to my body and my soul. Life as a wife and lover to my dear husband who will cry reading this, which I love (and sorry!). Life as a friend. Life as a writer who gets braver. Life as a survivor, though not just of cancer—life as a survivor of the indignities of being on earth. Of illness and trauma and grief and agitation and of course joy and love and laughter and bliss. Of pleasure. I welcome grace into this next chapter. And warmth and friendliness and love and peace and cells that are happy and balanced.

That is not the whole story, or even half of a half. But it’s what I’ve got on this blustery November day that reminds me of another one, 10 years ago, when the Grim Reaper seemed to bow his head and say “Namasté.”

Valerie Reissnamasté, grim reaper