The early morning fog still sits on the lake blurring any sense of a horizon. There is a sense that perhaps the world is really round after all. It is the kind of day when everything feels possible. Betty and I sit at the ferry dock again, another summer. The white chairs and tables and bright, red, yellow, and blue umbrellas have been put out again, and another small ritual in our lives begins. My work, which turned into our work, is almost completed.

Betty holds up he coffee cup, ready for a toast. “First I want to celebrate that we have made it through eye surgery, knee surgery, a hamstring injury and an abscessed tooth!”

Our coffee cups touch. “You forgot about my fall and my arm fracture last year.”

“Do you remember my initial resistance to you writing the book?”

“How could I forget it? You brought up my worst fears.”

“Well, I was right about anticipating the problems that we might have with fatigue and finding the time to take on such a huge task. It took you longer than you expected—six years—but you’ve done it.”

“Yes, but I know that I could not have done it without you—both your belief in me and your actual labor. Also, you couldn’t really be left out because your work in my office is such an important component of the healing process. ”

“I don’t need to ask you if you are happy with your decision to write the women’s stories. I know the answer to that. I am wondering about what challenges and problems you ran into along the way.”

“The isolation was difficult at times. The work of therapy itself, as you well know, is done in relative isolation, and then I would have go off again and be working alone. I would write before and after work each day and of course on the weekends. You know, Betty, now I know what Tillie Olsen meant. Let’s see if I can remember it. ‘Literary history and the present are dark with silences: some the silences for years of our acknowledged great; some silences hidden; some the ceasing to publish after one work appears; some never coming to book form at all.’”

“Beautiful. Which silences have you experienced?” Betty sips her coffee as I reflect on her question.

“Probably two out of four.”

“What was the stress about?”

“You know some of it. Primarily I worried that I was taking much too long, too many years, and more importantly that I was letting Astra, Nancy and Clare down by not getting the work done. Whenever I started that negative self-talk I was in trouble. It slowed me down. My creative work weakened. I lost my ability to problem solve.”
“Just what we worked on with the women.”


“Then there was the problem of my voice. I had very good verbatim notes, and even some taped sessions, as in Nancy’s story. As you know, I usually keep a record of the questions I have posed and where I have inserted them in the course of working with a woman. I also keep a record of the books and tapes that I bring in. This way I can track the results of my own interventions and what is happening to the therapy process, but I did not have my own words recorded after my questions. I was too busy being there in the moment with each women.”

“You said voice but then you talked about getting your own words in. What do you mean here about voice?” Betty persists.

“I tended to underestimate the strength of what I was saying, the strength of my own words or ideas as the therapist—to take a back seat, or assume the lesser voice when actually, I was more actively engaged in the process than that. It is like doing a painting or composing or performing a piece of music in a quartet. The color and sound must be more intense than the beginner musician or artist might think. In music, the dynamics must be played out clearer, stronger, more dramatic often than the original reading of it. So I tended to make the woman’s voice strong, but my own voice wasn’t accurate. I had to re-compose my voice many times until it matched more authentically the overall work.”

“Another point about the writing. I could experiment up to a point, but I felt that I had to monitor my own experimentation. How much could I experiment with the narrative and write a poetics of therapy? How could I interrupt, rupture the usual case study and at the same time sing and weave a text?”

“I have heard you talk about improvisation. What do you mean?”

“Improvisation, in regard to both the therapist and the woman with whom she is working. The well-prepared mind is free to imagine, to play with ideas, to improvise. You know, there is the idea of the controlled accident in art, and the same activity exists in therapy. I had no idea how Nancy would use the cloth poster I gave her as a gift. I can come close to a match but it really depends on how a woman uses or doesn’t use what I put out to her. Improvisation was a strong image and theme in Nancy’s story, the dance, and the movement of her body through time and space. As I worked with Nancy I researched how dance is choreographed. Each woman and her therapist are creative and idiosyncratic in how she does this.

“I am not only a mirror reflecting back her own stories to the woman. I am using very basic therapeutic skills; listening, perceiving, responding and attending to what the woman is saying to her. I am also organizing this data in some way. What I hear, what I attend to, how I listen, i.e., through which theoretical lens or templates I ‘read’ and ‘write’ the woman sitting before me will either enlarge or constrict the repertoire of stories available to both of us.

“From this it follows that it would be required of a feminist therapist that she do an analysis of her own autobiography because her own stories and changing stories are an integral part of this dyadic relationship and its progress. This analysis will require an understanding of her own perceptual processes, her own library of knowledge from which she draws, her own modes of inquiry, and knowledge of theory making.”

Betty continues with her questions. “What are the elements in the writing of the stories?”

“Well, there is the woman’s life story, what she says about herself…There is the therapeutic relationship itself and what this evokes in each of us. There are my interventions that come into her narrative. Then the work that you do with each woman needs to be incorporated. Then, there is the text that is created and structured around all of our original words, and the retelling of it by me. Finally, the collaboration and validation by the woman herself, or a community of women friends, as in Clare’s story.”

“You know, this brings up another challenge I ran into. Describing the effect of our age, our friendship and collegiality on each woman as you and I worked together was difficult to write in. Yet, it is so important to talk about this. There is very little research on friendship between women, particularly older women, and certainly very little about how older women collaborate at work. I know that the model of our work had a profound effect on the women, not only in the world of ideas but seeing and experiencing how two older women might ‘do’ getting older. The women experienced two older women valuing each other’s thoughts, staying open to new possibilities, speaking profoundly to each other. It’s just the opposite to all of the stereotypes about older women and what we do with our lives as we get older.”

Betty agrees.“ There is the personal relationship of friendship, but there is the public work as well.”

“Yes, Pat O’Connor’s work on friendship has concluded that we need to record and explore the actual discourses which are created in various friendships. Sidonie Smith, who has written extensively about women’s autobiographical writing, stresses this as well. She noted that until the mid-seventies women’s friendships had been ignored, derogated, trivialized within the traditions of history, sociology, anthropology, sociology and psychology.”

Betty nods and looks out over the lake. “These are the golden years of our friendship. All of the problems that are usually associated with the difficulties of women creating or maintaining friendships, that is not having the personal resources of time, money, and the responsibilities of raising young children, don’t apply to us. We are really at a privileged time on our lives, at a place of some wisdom.”

Betty puts down her decaf coffee. “This seems like a resting place for us. To understand wisdom completely and correctly probably requires more wisdom than most of us have. Yet, the recognition that total understanding will always elude us is perhaps itself a sign of wisdom.”

“I can just hear Clare joining us now. She would remind us to look up Proverb 4:7, ‘Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore, get wisdom.’”

Betty, smiling, leans down and pulls something from her purse. “Here I found this Biblical saying for you, ‘The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those who published it.’ Psalm 68:11.”

The fog has lifted.