This Is Us

Holding up a mirror to our true nature

American flag reflected on the glass surface of a building, distorted.
American flag reflected on the glass surface of a building, distorted.
Photo: SDI Productions/Getty Images

Narcissist. The insult just rolls off the tongue. Whether directed at the self-involved “frenemy,” crazy ex-boyfriend, or social-media show-off, the epithet seems to be the perfect catch-all for the assholes we encounter on a daily basis.

It’s so commonplace one wonders if we’re on the verge of a national reckoning — perhaps a truth and reconciliation for all the narcissists in our lives. But in a country like the U.S., so universally oriented around individual liberty and personal expression, the label can start to feel meaningless.

For one thing, we tend to overuse it. But more importantly, though we criticize…

How to Stay Present When the Future is Far From Perfect

Pic: Cdpedersen | Creative Commons

A patient of mine has been inside for weeks, without so much as taking a daily walk. Like most of us, he’s sheltering in place. Unlike many of us, he seems to be taking it well.

Where some of my patients have relied on creature comforts to avoid the uncertainty and anxiety outside, he has turned to even deeper self-reflection. And free from social obligation, he now has the mental space to dig into what has been a consistent aspect of work together: separating what he wants out of life from what he thinks he should want out of it.

‘Doing’ in the Time of Disease

Photo: Pxfuel

I started re-reading the first draft of a new novel two weeks ago. The initial pass was genuinely enjoyable. (This is not always true.) Though it had been years since I had worked on a long-form creative project, everything just seemed to click. And my favorite part of the process—the rewrite—lay ahead.

The only problem is the main character is alone and in extreme quarantine for a significant part of the book.

New York City, where I live, is effectively on lockdown. (Our governor calls it a “PAUSE.”) In the time since I started the second draft, the COVID-19 pandemic…

The New Mathematics of Love

Photo: HatM / License

There’s a swinger’s club down the street from our apartment. We discovered it after some simple internet research—curious what the windowless bar, named for an infamous sex fiend, might have in the way of a happy hour menu. We found its rules of conduct instead. The last: “NEVER assume anything, always ask politely.”

Rules are essential in the culture of non-monogamy and sexual experimentation. After all, we can’t test the limits of our desires without agreeing to them with our partners—and can’t draw these boundaries without first articulating them for ourselves. …

A manifesto for middle-aged creatives

Photo: Manit Plangklang/EyeEm/Getty Images

I remember the moment I first felt old. While watching a band that shall remain nameless, I thought the men of a certain age—with their dad bods and hairlines—looked weird playing guitars. Perhaps it was a simple identification—I remember buying their first CD—but the idea persisted. Robert Smith applying lipstick night after night at 60 years old. Bono and The Edge, still without surnames. And Thom Yorke, in his fifties, surely must get sore dancing like that, right?

Then, on the edge of 40, I joined a band.

Three years in, I still feel self-conscious pulling up to a dive…

The Perverse Psychology of Passing the Buck

Free stock image illustrating a common adult fantasy of childhood

Late last March, Senator Mike Lee of Utah addressed the Green New Deal. His speech roundly received the same level of derision he shares for the proposition. Stephen Colbert, for example, dismantled Lee’s performance with his typical satiric clarity. But Lee’s message nonetheless deserves some psychoanalytic clarity (which Colbert has yet to offer).

The ostensible purpose of the floor speech was to refute the resolution as a mere “token of elite tribal identity” for the “chic and woke.” (By the way, “woke” should probably be reserved for the people it describes.) Armed with both props and sarcasm, the Senator treated…

Sex, Secrets, and Separation

Kids are hardwired to out-gross each other. The reliable strategy throughout elementary school is to stay scatological. But things change sometime during adolescence. A light switches on. Suddenly the subject turns to sex. The more intrepid kids might audition material about parents having sex (yuck). Some even specify the couple, say your parents. Cue the gag reflex.

Imagining one’s parents having sex is, in an objective way, gross. Then again, seeing anyone do anything that intimate can be off-putting. There’s a reason we feel vicarious shame walking in on someone using the bathroom. As an adult, I certainly don’t want…

On the Mind and Its Many Worlds

In another world, I’m a famous novelist. Resident faculty at a prestigious university and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (or, at the very least, a Pulitzer). I’m invited to write short stories in the New Yorker and thought pieces in The Atlantic. My wife tears up at award shows when I thank her for being my rock and rescues me from sycophants at the post-show receptions. There, my parents finally appreciate what all the work was for.

But in this world, the world in which this essay appears, I’m living a modest existence—the person I am. Still, that…

How to Not Waste a Good Midlife Crisis

My elementary school teachers often said that—in America—any one of us could become president. I had different plans as it turned out (namely, writing and psychoanalysis). Of course, the point of that innocent platitude was not that we could actually win the highest office in the land but rather that we could do whatever we wanted if we only put our minds to it.

Now I want to be president.

Well, I don’t actually want to sit through intelligence briefings, economic summits, or state dinners. And I certainly don’t want to sell myself and my policies at rallies, town halls…

Costco, Crowded Subways, and Why New York City Persists

Image taken by Daniel Schwen, licensed under the following Creative Commons license

Before moving to New York, I was in town for a bachelor party. We were spending a long weekend upstate and shopping for supplies at a Costco in Queens—a relatively modest location tucked away on the East River. I had already planned on relocating sometime later that year but hadn’t even started packing.

I knew I had made the right decision somewhere between the canned goods and refrigerator section. In the span of a few aisles, we had encountered Spanish, Russian, Hindi, a Chinese dialect, and some Slavic language neither of us could discern. …

Michael Sendrow

Writer, psychoanalyst-in-training, and music fan otherwise

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