With A Woman’s Voice: A Writer’s Struggle For Emotional Freedom (Book Review)

Author:  Daniels, Lucy
Publisher: Madison Books, 2002
Reviewed By: Bryant Welch, Spring 2003, pp. 53-54

I should probably preface this review of Lucy Daniel’s In a Woman’s Voice with a disclosure. I have known Lucy and felt close to her for over thirty years. We were graduate student classmates at the University of North Carolina Clinical Psychology doctoral program in the early 1970s and rapidly bonded over our shared interest in psychoanalysis. Although we have had relatively little contact in recent years, the bond feels very much intact to me.

No doubt this predisposed me to like her book. Having said that, however, let me note that Lucy’s memoir succeeds in doing justice to what I have always felt was one of the most interesting life stories in the mental health field. For those who do not know Lucy, to read her memoir is to encounter that life for the first time--a fascinating experience for anyone interested in psychoanalysis, art, and the relationship between the two. It is also a wonderful stand-alone story of a very bright young woman’s struggle with mental illness and her ultimate victory at forcing her creativity to triumph over the confusion and conflict she faced. Lucy is a psychoanalytic artist and an artistic psychoanalyst. She is also a superb synthesizer and writer.

Lucy’s story has always reminded me of a tragic-comic-ironic novel. And it can certainly be described in those terms. A child is born into a highly charged and psychologically confusing Southern family with enormous expectations both overt and subtle. She is bright, sensitive, and cross-eyed. Her grandfather had founded the most prominent newspaper in the state and was inevitably in the center of most political controversies in the state capital. Her father took leave of the family newspaper business long enough to be press secretary in the Roosevelt White House, where the little cross-eyed girl played with FDR’s grandchildren.

Her mother was from Charleston and regarded her move to Raleigh as a journey into the cultural backwater. Gushed about, as powerful women are by those who hate them, she was placed on a distant pedestal as a woman who ran the perfect home. Decades later, when asked by a friend what her mother was like, the little girl would say, with neither sarcasm nor venom, “She was sort of like a, a, Nazi.” Lucy was the oldest of four girls. Her father’s passion, combined with her mother’s distance, intensified the inevitable triangular and dyadic issues one would expect from such a family constellation.

And so in her adolescence the little girl stopped eating. If anorexia nervosa is a difficult illness to treat today, in 1950 it was an invitation to apply the radical and grotesque interventions of the day. Insulin shock and ECT were her primary treatments, along with a pragmatically coercive approach. They were not helpful. After she finished her tour of hospital duty and as she was recovering, she wrote a best-selling novel that was one of the first of a genre about race relations in the South. Soon she was feted in writing circles and in the popular press. She appeared on the newly emerging national media including the Today show with Dave Garroway. She was a writer.

Her second book did not “do well.” It was an attempt to describe life in a mental hospital, an experience most people do not want to have even vicariously. She would not write again until the present work over forty years later. Instead, she made babies. Four of them in a marriage that was difficult for her and ultimately ended in divorce. Each of the births was followed by a painful depression that at the time went largely unnamed. With four young children in tow, she decided to get a formal education and started at the University of North Carolina at the age of thirty-four. She did well and in 1972 joined a group of twenty-somethings in the UNC clinical psychology doctoral program.

The doctoral years for Lucy were marked by the break-up of her first marriage, leaving her with four children and a graduate program at the age of forty. She was depressed and eventually turned to analysis. For the next two decades, her relationship with her analyst was a struggle to unlock the creative expression of her childhood and young adulthood. Her analytic work is described throughout her book and, again, in its own right makes for a very rich “case” study, although I hesitate to use such a term in discussing Lucy.

Lucy wanted very much to receive analytic training herself, although in retrospect, it is quite clear the Duke-UNC Institute at the time had very little to offer her and probably would have been more akin to her earlier hospitalizations than to an institute of higher learning. Nonetheless, she did apply. She received a one-line response from the Director of the Institute, Milton Miller: “The Institute does not accept non-physicians. M. Miller.”

With the exception of a short-lived second marriage, the period after graduate school was lonely for Lucy. While living in her home community of Raleigh where her name was widely known, she was hardly a good candidate for Raleigh’s “high society.” She started her own successful private practice, which provided a badly needed source of income.

Next, Lucy became a millionairess. Through a complex set of developments with the family newspaper, the Raleigh News and Observer, Lucy was able to sell her inherited share of the paper for a small fortune.

Despite her childhood affluence (or maybe because of it), I have never seen Lucy display so much as a hint of materialistic interest. Her reaction to the money was bold and unabashed, if somewhat unorthodox. She did buy some things for herself--for example, a beach house along the North Carolina coast--and educating four children is, of course, not an inexpensive endeavor. However, these conventional expenditures were the tip of the iceberg of Lucy’s financial evolution. She rapidly became a philanthropist, a role for which she has been very well suited.

To an outsider, Lucy’s philanthropic style may seem a bit odd, or at least idiosyncratic. For example, to the best of my knowledge, Lucy is the only philanthropist ever to purchase an office building for her state psychological association. For the most part, however, Lucy has spent her money on psychoanalysis, creativity, and children, supporting projects that have facilitated her ability to encourage a creative component to psychoanalysis, to advance the discipline, and to provide therapeutic innovations for children through applied psychoanalytic techniques. She has funded, developed and run for several years now a therapeutic school and through her foundation has provided support for artists and analysts in a host of creative programs and events.

The psychoanalytic community has benefited enormously from Lucy’s creative use of her inheritance. In yet another irony in Lucy’s life, all of this has earned her a special category of membership in the American Psychoanalytic Association. Lucy was declared a “Special Friend” of the American.

Lucy has never exhibited any resentment at her treatment by the American in the earlier years. I do not know whether her equanimity expresses a magnanimous spirit or a deep recognition that psychoanalytic training at the time would have been an awful and ultimately destructive experience for her. Given the arrogant cold shoulder she received when applying to the UNC-Duke Institute, however, I rarely miss the opportunity to rib medical analysts that I had the foresight to consider Lucy a “distinguished friend” of mine before she had money.

For all of the positive things I can say about Lucy’s memoir, the truth is that I think it stands on its own as an item of great interest because of who and what Lucy is. In that regard, the reader sees many facets of Lucy.

Yet there are two aspects of Lucy that I do not think come through as much as I would like. The first is her wonderful comic sense of the ironic and the absurd that I think is more robust in person than it is in the book. I remember Lucy showing me a newspaper article about one of her prominent family members. It displayed a long list of lifetime achievements. Lucy laughingly said, “They didn’t tell the whole story.” Lucy’s sense of humor has obviously been an enormous comfort for her in some very difficult times. However, it stands in such contrast to many of her life experiences that I think it is difficult for it to emerge fully in a written document. If it had come through more, her book would probably resemble “The World According to Garp,” and I do not think that was her purpose in writing it.

The second regret I have is that in writing, Lucy synthesizes more than she does in person. Lucy is a veritable fountain of free association. If one can keep up with her, the experience is a rich lesson in the creative process. If one cannot, it is a frustrating sense of being in the presence of artistry and creativity to which one cannot quite gain access. In writing, this all evaporates into lucidity that only confirms the feeling I sometimes had in talking with Lucy, that if I were just a little smarter or a little more creative, she could teach me much more. Capturing her associative verbal style would have made for a different book, but the lucidity in this one has given me a rare glimpse of how an artist transforms her raw material into the structure of a creative work.

Lucy’s memoir is a vivid explanation of the role psychoanalysis can play in the life of a struggling but creative person with the capacity for psychological insight. Good psychoanalysts must be as much patient as analyst, and Lucy has her bona fides in that requirement. To me, her work and her patienthood have always been a seamless entity. Her memoir is a fortunate confluence of cultural richness, writing skill, analytic sophistication and creativity. And while it is not the first word one would think of on meeting Lucy, her doggedness shows through.

Lucy was born with a physical handicap that made seeing difficult and stigmatizing. And yet she now sees far more than most. She suffered from mental illness and yet became a healer. She was born into a family that was confusingly oppressive and yet she became creative. She was denied analytic training by a community that worships the value of its own training, and yet she now stands out as a recognized creative figure in that community.

Lucy has done what great people do. They transcend. As a result the analytic world is richer.

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