Anectodal Evidence
October 1998

I had a long talk with Uncle Bill about the notion
of fate. Actually, it was about the differences in each of our
notions of fate. We got into the discussion after I read
him Anthony Lewis's article in the Times about the recent
developments in the libel suit struggle between Jeffery
Masson and Janet Malcolm, which Lewis titled: Stranger than

Masson sued Malcolm for (his contention) libeling him in
her New Yorker article and book when she quoted him
calling himself an "intellectual gigolo" who slept with over 1000
women; for saying that he wanted to turn the Freud estate into a
haven of "sex, women and fun"; and for saying he was "after
Freud, the greatest analyst that ever lived". The court case
turns exactly on those specific quotes. The problem for Malcolm
was that she could not find her original hand-written notes for
the quotes. She could only provide the courts with the
typewritten transcripts, so it was her word against
his. In other instances of disputed quotations, she had been
able to provide either written notes from their conversations, or
better, audiotape recordings which substantiated all of the words
she attributes to him in direct quotation.

To quote Lewis: "Two weeks ago, in Janet Malcolm's summer
home in Sheffield, Mass. her 2-year-old granddaughter was playing
near a bookcase and apparently pulled out a thin, red-covered
book. Ms. Malcolm found it on the floor: a notebook filled with
her own handwriting. There were some of the missing notes,
including the three crucial Masson quotations...".

My point to Bill was that fate had stepped in for Janet Malcolm and
provided her with the key to ending a 10-year dilemma. Bill
couldn't agree. In fact, he and I had disagreed earlier tonight.
We were driving in the car with Lydia, on our way to the
Hollywood drive-in, to see Something to Talk About.

Bill's sense of fate, especially regarding the idea of tempting
fate, is that to tempt fate is to put yourself at risk. To do
something extravagant and probably
dangerous. Fate is then the retribution you receive for having
the temerity to attempt your foolhardy idea. I reminded Bill
about the discussion Lydia and I had while we were rushing to the
airport in Milwaukee. That was when she wondered aloud about what
would happen if we were to be crushed by a huge boulder falling
from the back of the dumptruck we were following at 75 mph.

I told her you should not tempt fate. I also told her that there
were two aspects to fate, the good and the bad. If you wanted to
avoid the bad effects of fate, then you should avoid the
temptation. In other words, don't talk outloud, especially in a
mocking or joking manner about bad consequences. However, if you
are interested in good things happening to you, then your task is
exactly one of tempting fate to come to you.

I don't know what Janet Malcolm might have been doing
recently, or for that matter, for the past 10 years to convince
fate to lend her a hand in her problems with Jeffery Masson; but
it certainly looks like something good happened there for her.

Whenever I find pennies in my pocket change, I look
around for a hiding place and I put them there, a little out
of the way, or a little out of the ordinary. Someplace visible,
but not too easy. My assumption is that soon, they will be found,
and the finder will feel a little bit lucky. If I can pass
around enough of that luck; if it can accumulate, then maybe some
if it will come back on me. I didn't tell Bill about this;
I haven't told anyone about this; probably because I don't
want to break the spell.

But, because I was trying to convince him of my theory
of a two-headed fate, I did tell him about how I
forced myself on the family from Bogota who were
sitting in the row in front of us on the plane ride back to
Albany. That was when I gave them the typescript of the earlier
sections of this story. By now, their stay in Albany is probably
over, and they're back in Columbia; but they have my story with
them, as a reminder of their visit to Albany and our encounter. I
see that as having planted a talisman, much the same as the

Uncle Bill was particularly interested in the Malcolm -
Masson story because he is an Freudian analyst. Bill studied at
Columbia University and has been practicing for over 20 years. He
specializes in family therapy and is interested in, and good at,
working with children, particularly children from broken, or
about to be broken, homes. He has an especially good manner in
working with the kids, in that he manages to get down on their
level, to see the problem from their perspective, and to talk
about it with them in their terms. Sometimes this is literal.

Bill will get down on the floor and play games with the child,
playing by their rules and following along with their fantasy.
Bill is not really Lydia's uncle; it's her affectionate name for
him. He's actually Lillian's ex-husband, from 20-years ago. I
find it remarkable that they have stayed involved with each other
for such a long time with no rancor that I've been able to
notice. We see Bill a few times each month, and he's certainly
the best uncle Lydia has around here.

Bill is a strict Freudian. He thinks that Masson is wrong in
his basic interpretation of Freud's theory about the secondary
role of early childhood sexual abuse as a cause for adult
neurosis or psychosis. Bill agrees with Freud that sexual abuse
is not treatable by psychoanalysis. He says that the effects of
childhood sexual abuse can be treated, since they manifest
themselves in all kinds of classically treated symptoms. He
believes that if sexual abuse is the root cause, it cannot be
rooted out using psychoanalytic techniques and in and of itself.
It must be understood for what it is. The patient is left with
having to learn to live with this terrible thing that has
happened to them, so much earlier in their life.

Siskel and Ebert gave Something to Talk About "two thumbs
up". Bill and I gave it two thumbs down, and left early. Lydia
was disappointed, but since the soundtrack was being broadcast on
the FM radio, the night was saved by leaving the radio playing as
we drove away. The premise of the film was interesting. The late-
twenty-years-old daughter of a rich horse farmer, was struggling
with a dissolving marriage and moved back home with her parents,
younger sister, and her own daughter, to try to straighten out
her life. Her problem was that she couldn't keep her mouth shut.
Her bigger problem was that she was compelled to tell the truth;
even if the truth was harmful to those who heard it, which it
always was. For instance, she ultimately tells her mother about
the affair her father had (was having) with the mother's best
friend. It took most of the rest of the film, right up to the
point where we drove away, to get the mother and father back
together again. I'll never know what the coda of that
story was, but I don't care.

Copyright: 1999
Jan Galligan Jan Galligan c/o Sprynet
All Rights Reserved
Last modified Dec 10, 1999