If you haven’t read the first part of this story, go to: Dr. Frankenstein and the Curse of Self Awareness. Then return here for the conclusion.
The phantasm was your standard-issue genie, up to a point: skyscraper tall, with a long, twirling mustache and broad shoulders, but his bug eyes were friendly. Once past the imposing size, you realized he offered a welcoming smile. In other words, the sort of genie you wouldn’t mind having a beer with, if you found a bar with a mile-high ceiling.
I am at your service, Master. You may request one wish and one only. I must warn you, however. The maker of this lamp wanted certainty that no one would use it to cause harm. He therefore required me to tell its possessor this: any wish that would damage another will produce the same injury to the person who makes it.
The genie took a deep breath before speaking again:
OK, now you’ve heard what my maker demanded I tell you. But, over my 3000-year career, I’ve had lots of time on my hands when the lamp lay undiscovered. So, you should know — I took a junior college course in psychology and dabbled with becoming a therapist. What I’m trying to communicate is this: I will give you 50-minutes to discuss possible choices before you decide; breakfast included, no extra charge!
With that, the food appeared. “Wow,” said Ralph. “Thank you so much. I never persuaded Fox to go to marital counseling and she almost never cooks, so this is great! I kind of thought I should enter therapy myself, but never had the time.” Ralph didn’t receive consideration often. His, interest in talking was as much for the semi-human contact with a congenial genie, as to help him decide how to use the gift of the lantern.
“So, what’s on your mind?” asked the ancient apparition. The human proceeded to describe his marital life and his wife’s bankrolled journey to glamour, emphasizing her regular side trips to his personal complaint department. The ageless magic creature listened patiently.
Wow, Ralph said to himself. No one interrupted me.
“Well Ralph, have you considered returning your wife’s body to its pre-surgical status? No problem at my end.”
“No, I don’t want to do that to her. She ‘d be depressed and never forgive me.”
“OK, how about if I make you as handsome as she is beautiful?” offered the genie.
“No,” said our hero again, “She’s never been bothered about how I look. My appearance is the only thing she accepts. Besides, she’d adjust to any change.
Ralph looked away. “I don’t think there is a solution.”
“Sure, Ralph. Bring her here tomorrow before dawn. I’ll need a hand-mirror, as well. Your wish will be granted.”
As instructed by the man of the lamp, Ralph carried a small satchel and walked with Fox to the empty beach. The genie reduced his stature to nestle in Ralph’s ear, where he whispered precise instructions.
Now came the dawn. In an instant Fox saw not her a reflected image of expensively achieved features, but a self-interested personality in its self-unforgiven ugliness. By the fifth second, she realized how vain and narcissistic she was. In the eighth she became aware of the chronic unkindness she visited on her family.
For an instant — enough time for a horrified, heart-rending sigh and the formation of a single tear — Ralph stared at the devastation wrought by his attempted salvation of his marriage. His wish was innocent: to make Fox as beautiful inside as her oft admired face and form; a person whose acquired self-awareness would morph her into the compassionate, loving wife and mother Ralph and his children yet ached for.
But his gasp signaled only the dawn of Ralph’s own insight, just as the genie warned earlier, as unexpected by Ralph as his wife’s tortured demise.
In the first second he realized how weak he had been with Fox; by the 10th, how much he failed to provide their children with a strong role-model. Thirty-seconds on, penetration of the word ENABLER knocked him back into the sand.
Though the day was still new, Ralph’s consciousness sensed a curtain lowering on creation. He saw a sign emblazoned on an antique gate: ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE. In his slow-motion entry to hell, Ralph perceived himself as an indulgent Dr. Frankenstein. He was the creator of a monster, one surgery at a time: the man whose life would have been different if he had learned to say “no.”
At the end of Ralph’s single minute of enlightenment, his heart also stopped. He slumped over his deceased wife, closer than they had been during life.
Like two intimately bound elderly people in a long marriage, the scientist and his creation had to die close in time. One could not live without the other, if indeed they ever lived.
The genie crawled out of Ralph’s right ear. He assumed his full height and stood over the wreckage of the magic lamp’s too illuminating wish-fulfillment.
Gosh, this never happened before, he thought to himself. Criminy. Maybe I need to get out of this business. Three-thousand-years is enough. I don’t want another catastrophe.
Back in the day, I wanted to be a therapist.
The phantasm crawled back into his lamp, lost in his own lostness.
He’d been so focused on the wishes of others, he never created a decent Plan B.
The top image is a poster for the Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein. The Arabian Nights Entertainments by Milo Winter, published in 1914 by Rand McNally and Company is sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The final image is a Magic Lamp.
That is not where I thought this was going to go..
Well, I hope you weren’t disappointed. Of course, the story is a comment on the sometimes extraordinarily painful nature of self-awareness. It actually comes by way of my wife, who believes that one minute of self-awareness would be a very powerful punishment for many people.
No, not disappointed — surprised. I almost said “pleasantly”, but that’s not the right word, since I’m a sucker for happy endings. But this ending was right.
And I agree with your wife.
I really liked reading this story because of the way it was written. The story, itself, was sad. It seemed like everyone lost themselves. Everyone played a role. Everyone was broken at the start, and everyone shattered at the end. It reminds me of Romeo and Juliet, except for their conscious choices to end their own lives. In this story, however, they did not make the choice to die; it was a consequence. Both couples died from a broken heart, I think. Their hearts just broke differently, I suppose.
Since I’m not normally a fiction writer, I think I’m not supposed to say much about what this story “means.” Here is a bit, though. It is important to realize that, however awful the “end” came to this couple, it was perhaps because their self-awareness came all at once. The unanswered question is this: would they have survived if their self-awareness was either 1) greater or 2) came more gradually? I’ll leave it to you, Multinomial, to answer that, along with anyone else who cares to take it on.
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I love fiction stories, and I love how the interpretation is left up to the audience. You wrote very well, and I could picture this turned into a movie or a cartoon, which is to say that your writing was very captivating! I was in suspense and shocked at times, though the foreshadowing along the way was really cool.
I’d like to pretend that everything is symbolic, but then again, survival is more than life-death situations. I really don’t know what the answers are. All I can see in my brain now are different types of people, different walks of life, and different situations that may warrant different approaches. Thus, given a different scenario with different types of people, the outcome may have been different – or would it have (am I just assuming that)? This also seems like a “trick” question because self-awareness is not always about the negatives; they seemed to lack the self-awareness of their strengths, and the genie seemed to focus on solving problems, as opposed to enhancing what was working; so greater for the self-awareness about internal and external strengths, but gradual awareness about the negatives that could impact internal and external strengths as well as the entire person’s identity/well-being and their relationship with others. I’m just guessing. I can be an insufferable know-it-all at times, which is why I like stories like Harry Potter and characters like Hermoine Granger (it was Hermoine’s character that I mimicked as an undergrad, and even here, though I think that my negative self-image is balanced with the positive by looking at the knowledge I’ve gained and attempting to find wisdom by answering a question). Hee hee. That’s a lot to say, sorry, I’m being verbose again.
Your point about knowing one’s strengths is well-taken. While this two-parter is much longer than anything I usually write, I would say that I sometimes am confined by the awareness that blog readers don’t want a full-length book from me, nor do I wish to write one. So, there is often more to say. Since I intend to write more about self-awareness, you will find other aspects of my point of view down-the-line.
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Yay – I can’t wait! Your blog is turning into like a sort of weekly reality series of some sort, which is cool because it’s interactive and also gets us to think, self-reflect, other-reflect, and learn about different or new points of view. I watch certain television series to get some additional (yet indirect) insights, too, such as Showtime’s “Homeland” series, Showtime’s “Shameless” series, HBO’s “Westworld” series, USA’s “Suits” series, and Hallmark’s “Good Witch” series. I typically schedule time to read your blog like I do when I schedule time to watch my favorite shows, though I get more interaction with the blog reading and commenting. Thanks for making it fun and interesting for your followers/audience, including me! 🙂 I read other blogs, too, which I cannot wait to catch up on (I’ve just been hooked on psychology-based items lately, but I also enjoy reading other topics and others’ stories, too).
Thanks for your devotion, Multinomial.
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Holy Cow! I was hoping for some rays of sunshine in this story! … lol …
Thanks, Mary Ann. But do read my response to Multinomial’s initial comment.
I am starting to see the humor after reading this story again. This could be a movie or a cartoon short.
I can identify with Fox’s neediness, but not the plastic surgery part. And I feel bad for the guy and the undergrad genie psychotherapist.
There are so many morals to your story, but I cannot help but laugh at the theatrical possibilities. The visuals in my head make me laugh. I am twisted. Thanks for the story.
You are welcome. Glad you got some laughs. Yes, these people were exaggerated in some elements, for sure. The story got both funnier and darker as I wrote and rewrote it. The initial posts came from 2012 and, you can still find the unchanged first one on the site.
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Oh, I haven’t gotten to that part of chronically reading your blog. But it would be great to compare your 2012 version to this one!
I related to him and did not like his wife at all, but the ending left me feeling very badly for the both of them. This is a story to contemplate. 🤔
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Thanks, Nancy. Yes, the question of the value of self-awareness — too much, too little, too abrupt, too late — are all either explicit or implicit.
I think Joan made a good point (in her comment under the Part I version of this story), that there’s “a fine line between empathy and enabling” – paraphrased from memory. The first impression I got when I finished reading the story was that of codependency. It’s one thing to want to help others, another thing to feel obligated to help others, another thing to ask for help from others, another thing to intervene in helping two parties, another thing to potentially triangulate the situation, another thing to offer well-meaning advice that could produce unintended effects, another thing to see the flaws in everyone else but yourself, another thing to see only the flaws in yourself and no one else, another thing to obsess over material appearances, another thing to marry virtue with relational health, another thing to negate the different forms of philosophical ethics at play, and another thing to negate the pain that everyone experiences when they are drawn to certain people and certain behavioral patterns with those certain people. For some in society, they avoid people-based triggers (i.e., certain personality types or certain people with certain characteristics that remind them of some past negative experience) at all costs, whereas others cannot help but seek out those who are just not 100% compatible with them (i.e., not a good fit). For some in society, they lack empathy or sincerity or authenticity, whereas others are considered obsessive helpers (see research on helping professionals who grew up parentified). Should codependent relationships be severed? Should the guy have left the woman before he married her, or gotten divorced? Should the guy have continued to stay in the relationship? The deaths of the guy and gal in this story are like symbols of identity – not real deaths. They were blind to their identities until they saw all these flaws in a therapeutic mirror, and then they were no more because their identity as they knew it ceased to exist; reality killed their fantasies. Who are we really? Who are we to others? Who are we to ourselves? Instead of seeing only what was WRONG with the other person, what appeared to be missing is the identification of the hurt and pain behind their behaviors; empathy with wisdom would see the pain in the behavior and the reasons behind the blindness to that behavior. Empathy with wisdom would see that those who are blind and get surgery need medication to prepare the eyes for surgery, need bandages to heal post-op, and need time to adjust to the light once the bandages come off. And even then, once the bandages and light have been adjusted, the once blind person needs time to adjust to a new lifestyle – to reintegrate with themselves and with others. Too much light too fast after an operation can re-blind that person, thus re-injuring that person with even more wounds and disabilities than if the blind person would have been left alone. The complexity to this situation is that the blind person isn’t the only one affected by his/her blindness; everyone who engages with the blind person is also affected by the changes that occur with the blind person – and vice versa; the blind person is affected not only by the surgery, but also by the ways in which their relationships change because of that surgery, and how they see themselves thereafter. We’re never ourselves only; we are our perceptions of ourselves alone, perceptions of how others see us, and perceptions of how we see others.
Wow, Multinomial…..this is deep and you are good! 🤗
It was deep because I make all of those mistakes and more, yet it is hard to do that which you know when your own blinders come back on. I have not really learned feom my mistakes yet, but I am getting there.
I’ll add to only a couple of your perceptive points. First, the question of whether one or the other should have left the relationship. While the answer is up to the readers, people generally stay in flawed relationships (100% have imperfections) because of what is positive and because of the fear of leaving. They need to imagine how their lives would be if divorced and what alternative relationships might be like, or perhaps the benefits of a solo life.
Second, the issue of “blindness” and “sight” are present in such very old tales as “Oedipus Rex.” Oedipus is “blind” to who he is until the moment before he puts out his eyes. The seer Tiresias is himself a blind man.
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Biblical exegeses on the gospels (I totally forgot what the argument was called when theologians would compare the gospels) also depict themes concerning “blindness” and “sight.” I either forgot having read or have never read Oedipus, which sounds really interesting and parallel with the fictional story you provided here. I wonder if therapists could just read stories like this to their clients, and then have their clients describe their reactions to such stories, and to see if their clients can connect that story to their own lives in some way – sort of like the Socratic method, but more indirectly, and perhaps more gently. Besides, whenever I read stories or attend story-reading events, I feel like a child again, and I get the experiences I have never had as a child (or, put a more positive/optimistic way, I get to experience new things as an adult): Being read to. My parents never read stories to me as a child, though my mother did sing to me (“You are my sunshine”; which I have never forgotten). As an adult, I read to myself, but I enjoy hearing others read to their audience. I thought that the combination of reading a story and having it relate to a client for the purpose of the client finding strengths to identify, comprehend, and problem-solve would be great. But maybe that’s too much to ask in a one-hour appointment.
I did read stories on occasion to my patients. Not “Oedipus Rex” or anything like it. Sometimes children’s stories. But I would say these were mostly for comfort, for the sense of care imparted in the reading, and demonstrating a simple moral. Unless one has been well-trained in the act of reading, I fear most would miss such essential points as the blindness/sight one we are discussing. And, I should say, I don’t believe I was as good and thoughtful and insightful a reader as I now am, until I started a course of study at the University of Chicago in 2012, where the Socratic model was employed. Put differently, I managed get a Ph.D from Northwestern and teach at Rutgers and Princeton without being the kind of reader I now am.
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Wow, your background is highly impressive! Although, I did read some of your blog’s profile, and I had it on my to-do list to actually search any of your published works, though I didn’t want it to come off as cyberstalking, LOL. It sounds really great that you were able to read to your clients; I’m not sure that my VA therapist would do that, but who knows. We are working on a book together – I have the workbook and she has the instructional book. Right now I’m working on preparing for the GRE, among other things, and I feel as though I’m on that “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader” show when it comes to learning vocabulary and reading comprehension. I’ve been procrastinating, but I want to get better to at least do well on the GRE, even if I never get into grad school (though I’m hoping to one day, but more for like R3 or R2 programs). I don’t know how I earned mostly A’s when I get below-average scores on the GRE. The R1 programs you attended or were appointed to are way out of my very humble league, but it is interesting that you say that you’ve improved your reading recently at a different university. That’s awesome! 🙂
There are at least a dozen words from your story that I have to look up in the dictionary, but I understood them well enough without a dictionary in order to read your story.
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Thank you, but my point was to indicate I don’t think we can easily become good readers. It seems so natural, but it isn’t. Most of us stay on the surface. I did and thought I was a good reader for decades. I got good GREs, but it didn’t touch what I’m referring to. The kind of thoughtfulness that would benefit just about everyone requires either an innate tendency or a provocative and persistent questioning. Questions that get you to ask, why did the character say that, what did he mean by that, why at this moment in the story, where is the author going with the narrative, etc. Most of us don’t stop or hesitate enough to ask these questions, but instead just proceed with the story. Most of us don’t read the material more than once in a short space of time. Not all literature is worth digging into, but the classics (which the U of C Basic Program emphasizes) are. As a reader you become more active. By the way, though it isn’t cheap, you can take some courses online.
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I just saw this reply now. I will miss your replies, by the way, in reference to your latest post. I grew up hating to read, but now I love reading. Your suggestions about reading, to pause and ask what the author intends, is well taken. I rarely read like that, but now I will try. I easily get intimidated and star struck. I have three really awesome mentors now and a sweet therapist at the VA. One of my mentors is helping me with both the GRE and writing. Both you and my mentors have these amazing resumes, apart from your amazing words. I really feel privileged by knowing and interacting with you, and for you to take time to answer me in the comments. I feel privileged by having met so many different people in my life, come to think of it. But your responses have gotten me to think and grow. I will miss that. Thank you so much for the time you took to interact with me. And for sharing these stories. Sometimes I read what is not written and I think, what is going on in the author’s life, and is this passage a clue to that answer. I think that this story could be interpreted through many lenses, and that there is no real absolution to it. No matter the outcome, life is filled with mysteries about our past, present, and future. We all learn as we go along, and we all get suspended from time to time. If you ever think back on your days as a therapist, please do reflect on the good things – heroic even – and stay there a while. You have touched the lives of so many, both in and out of practice. I know that you have touched mine.
A very depressing tale, Dr. Stein. Our self-awareness as a species has not prevented us from our self-destructive tendencies. Only death, it seems, brings release.
As a species we are self-aware, but perhaps less than we sometimes think. Our psychological defenses allow us to do many things, not all good either for ourselves or others. But today we celebrate MLK, so I’ll end with that triumphant and upbeat note.
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Such an intriguing read! Very well done Dr Stein. One of those posts that do well with re-reading a few times.
Thank you, Rayne. Glad you enjoyed it.