You most certainly can have your relationship and career too:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I am not some throw back to pre-feminism. I do believe that a woman should be able to support herself and that we deserve equal pay for equal work.
However, I am in a debate with my sister over an issue, and I wonder if you can throw your two cents in.

I really believe in the value of a good relationship- I think that if two people can help and support each other, they can go farther than someone going it on their own.
I want to have a career, but I do not want to wait until I am established and successful before I have a relationship. I am actively looking for a partner.
As you know, this isn’t a simple thing these days- I don’t want to hook up with some loser just to be in a relationship. I am willing to put the time into attending meet-up clubs, even trying some online contacts (cautiously!) and getting out to openings and functions so I have choices.

My sister tells me that I would be much better off putting my time into my career and going to night school to get another degree. She is working on her master’s in business and has her eye on a job with big pay checks. I can’t help but notice that she is alone though. And she doesn’t seem to be any happier
for her career intensive life.

Am I a fool for spending my spare time dating instead of toiling at books? Is my sister right? Will I end up with less of a career because I want to have a relationship?

Notta Lone

Dear Notta,

I once was in your shoes and everyone told me the same thing- focus on yourself and your career first! However, my priority and intent for my life was to have a family and not end up alone. My career and own interests were important too, but I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do both. A person can also learn a lot about themselves through dating. To me, the important thing (besides finding someone nice, not insane) is to gauge how a potential partner will fit into your life. We all are packages and you get the whole thing when you are with someone; people often forget that. If you both have a mutual intent, and the same picture of the future, this helps to insure that you will enhance each other’s energy rather than suck it dry.

I think too many people wait too long and believe that their entire life must halt when they are with someone. Anyone who needs that, you don’t need. Once kids come and the focus can’t stay on your partner any longer, these relationships tend to fall apart anyway.

As long as you find a partner who is on the same page as you about relationships (this is an ongoing conversation you must be having) I’d say go for it.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I have no idea why people think that they can parcel their lives and neatly take care of one goal after another. A family certainly doesn’t operate that way.

If you want a relationship, don’t wait until you have your life all set up. If you do, there will be no room for a relationship at that point. You will have developed a system that operates efficiently on it’s own. Fitting another person into it will be a complex task.

To be honest though, I can think of certain professions where one might prefer to get a degree before assuming a family- my son went through law school and told me that he saw every relationship his fellow students had, both married and dating, fall apart due to the stress of too much work. If you are a medical intern and you don’t already have a partner, you may want to wait until after you get back to a normal sleep schedule to pursue new partners. Otherwise you may sleep through your dates rather than getting to know them.

But let’s face it- as we go through life, we constantly face challenges and difficulties. Two people who are helping each other can often go further than someone operating on their own. It sounds as if you want to go through life with a partner. Put your life together with that potential in mind. You don’t have to put either your career or your emotional life on hold. They really do both go together.

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Stay or go aren’t always the only choices

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliche;

When I met Lianna, I thought she was amazing. She was as beautiful as a model and extremely well-spoken. She worked in PR at my company. She came after me, for some reason, and at first it was great. We had a good time together and the sex was great. She had two kids and I really liked them a lot.

But little by little, the flaws came out. Lianna was incredibly manipulative, was constantly asking me for money, and had an unholy alliance with her mom, whom she called four times a day. As Lianna showed more and more of her dark side, I was on the verge of leaving- but then she had some personal problems and really needed my help and the kids depended on me because their mom was acting like a ranting loon. To make a long story short, I ended up staying 8 years, intending to leave most of the time, but having one tragedy after another make me feel like I’d be a heel if I walked out. It wasn’t just minor, manufactured dramas that kept me hanging on. Lianna’s dad died, and then her brother. I felt that if I hadn’t been there, her kids would have gotten thrown to the wolves. I couldn’t stand the thought of that happening.

I finally left, but I can’t get around the fact that I knew this woman was a monster and yet I stayed. I even went on medication to help me deal with the stress. I threw all my pills out when I left and I never went back.
Still, I wonder why it took so long to leave. I know that my own mother was a nightmare, so I probably don’t have a healthy role model. I really do not want to make this mistake again. Any thoughts?


Dear Zorro,

Black and white thinking puts us in tiny boxes; and not seeing the big picture traps us there. Stay and Go were never the only options you had. They are simply the two black and white extremes. Eight years ago, if you were honest with your feelings and said “this isn’t working out for me but I want to remain friends and be there for you and the kids,” this would have been a middle option that would have allowed for flexibility…and a potentially better outcome. Of course, she may have told you to go f__k yourself. Then it would have been her choice, and that would have been that. Her kids are, after all, her kids, not yours. You have to realize that it ended eventually anyway- but if you’d been honest earlier on, there might have been a more balanced outcome for all involved now.

This much is true- you are accustomed to ignoring bad situations and just drifting through time. Learn to ask this question daily: “do I agree with this?” That will prevent the same situation from happening again and again. All relationships seem great during initial attraction; but if you learn to ask questions you won’t miss the bigger picture.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I am having a good laugh at the thought of a guy telling a ranting woman, in a reasonable manner, that he doesn’t want to be with her anymore but he hopes to stay friends and help with the kids. I hope that if he tries this, he is wearing a football helmet and some protective gear.

OK, I am willing to grant you, Zorro, that a neurotic, manipulative woman with whom you also work may not the easiest tie to break, but I can’t buy the part about sparing her feelings. Let me tell you something about neurotic, manipulative women- their intuition is better than you think. If you don’t want to be there, but are pretending because you are afraid to leave, she will sense this the same way a dog smells fear. It will just make her crazier. You are not doing her a kindness by staying. You are setting the stage to send you both over the edge. No wonder you needed to resort to medication.

When two people are intimately involved, they build their world together on the information that is given. If you are giving out a pack of lies, you can’t build anything but a house of cards. In the end, it will always fall apart- every slight breeze that blows threatens the foundation. This is not a favor to the children either. They need something real.

I will relate a story to you. I lived with a man for four years back in my 30′s. We had a tempestuous, destructive relationship that finally blew up. A month after our demise, he discovered he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In his fear, he came and begged me to go back with him, saying he couldn’t make it without me. I wanted to cave in because I knew it would seem like a terrible thing to deny him. But I also knew that his being sick wouldn’t change the way we interacted; in fact, the stress from constant fighting may have contributed to his condition. I told him as gently as possible that I just couldn’t pretend. Then I felt like I killed a puppy. But wait! The story has a happy ending, or at least as happy as it could. The guy found another woman with whom he really was compatible; he married her and spent his last year in peace. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d tried to “spare his feelings.”

If you want my advice, it is this: be honest, Zorro. It takes courage, because people will be hurt and yell and make threats and all sorts of crap. But pretending won’t make any of that go away. It will just prolong the agony, for everyone.

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Armageddon what a party:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

Do you think that the profit from catastrophic news actually fuels the occurrence of other catastrophes? For example- school shooters get widespread attention in headline news… and the woman who killed her boyfriend sold the movie rights to her story. The Zumba aerobics instructor who ran a prostitute ring is already in negotiations for a movie contract!


Dear WTF,

For some people the profit from catastrophe is a great incentive; for others it is not. There are those who could justify any heinous act for 5 minutes of attention. Copycat catastrophes are the direct result of media coverage. But the biggest problem caused by the constant reporting of the worst of human behavior is the sense of hopelessness and apathy that the 14 to 28 year old segment of the population is experiencing. “Why bother? Live for the moment! Who gives a F__k!”

My generation grew up with the prevailing threat of nuclear war but our cultural myth was that we would regroup bigger and stronger to carry on the American way. I don’t think that this new generation expects to survive. They welcome Armageddon. As George Carlin said, “ I want front seats. It will be a great show.”

I believe the anticipation of anarchy can help to bring about anarchy. The media gives us the impression that it is already occurring so why not join in? Hell, some people even believe the bible foretold it so it is necessary for their salvation.

Yes, there is big money in profiteering off fear and anxiety, ignorance and gossip.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: if you build it, they will come. Let’s assume that this glib axiom from Field of Dreams is true. If so, the media is building a circus of freaks.

The world is a big place, and it is becoming so overpopulated that I think we all feel like grains of sand on a vast beach, with no chance of distinguishing ourselves through respectable means. If you get up on a tower and shoot a bunch of people, you will get noticed. But only a sociopath would see this as a real achievement.

I think that the media provides psychopaths with a ready stage. However, I do not think that a healthy personality would ever consider taking this stage as the route to stardom. We can’t blame the news for the fact that there are screwed up people, because people were screwed up long before the news was on. But I do wish to hell that Lifetime would stop making movies of the week that feature the antics of nut cases. It sure doesn’t do anything to discourage them.

Is our current crowd of youth just waiting for Armageddon? I don’t think so. I know and work with quite a few people in the 14 to 28 year old segment of the population and although there is the usual percentage who would be happy to do nothing but play video games until their back yard becomes Ground Zero, there are also a very large percentage with hopes and dreams for the future. Dr. Brilliant sees more than his share of dysfunctional young people. But there is still a very large world outside of the therapy offices, and there is still a passion for life that lives within us all. It’s the only explanation I can find for those off-key, juggling hopefuls who wait 10 hours in the rain to audition for America’s got Talent.

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His EX is so ugly I no longer desire my boyfriend:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I’ve been seeing Richard for about a year. We have common interests and I find him attractive. We have had a lot of good talks about our past relationships because we both had been hurt and knew we had some issues to work out. I know that the loss of his last girlfriend, Jolene, did a number on him.

Last weekend, we went to his mother’s house for dinner. I’d been there once before, but the last time we were on our way to a movie and didn’t stay long.
This time, when his mother offered us tea and dessert, we ended up in the living room looking at photo albums. In the family pictures from two years ago, I saw, for the first time, a picture of Richard with Jolene.

Ever since that night, I have struggling with unwanted feelings. It’s starting to affect our relationship because I just can’t bring myself to talk about it but Richard can tell something is up and who knows what he’s imagining.

What is causing all these conflicted feelings? I am embarrassed to say, because I don’t know what it says about me as a person but I need perspective so here goes.
All the time Richard was talking about Jolene and his emotional pain, I had been picturing her in my head. Because of the depth of his misery, I somehow envisioned her as heart breakingly lovely. But the real Jolene was overweight and rather dumpy. In the picture, Richard was also about 20 pounds heavier.

Ever since I saw the picture, I have been thinking less of Richard. I know it’s superficial and I’m awful for feeling this way, but I can’t help myself. I see him as a sort of loser now. His emotional pain, which used to make me feel sympathy, makes me feel as if there’s something pathetic about him.

Obviously, you can see why this is hard to bring up. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do. Now what?


Dear Wilhelmina,

On one hand yes, this is entirely superficial and a silly non relevant line of thinking that will ruin you if you continue. On the other hand humans are social animals and you discovered an innate thing about the female of the species. Females are preprogrammed to compete for the most genetically fit mate. Women compare themselves to other women for this reason. Women are attracted to a man that other women want. Using this line of reasoning, any man you want must have been wanted by the fittest of the species, i.e. someone you see as hot as you think yourself.

Here’s what you are not taking into account- genetic fitness can also be measured by brains, personality or strength of character. Jolene may have been your equal in these other areas. People are attracted to similar traits in most of the people they date.

Your attitude also tells you that amongst all the traits you possess you judge your self-worth by how you look and compete with other women on that level. This is not only unhealthy but it is a character weakness. I wouldn’t tell Richard all this as he might lose interest in you. He seems to be a person who values woman of strong character.

Instead I would try role playing cave man/cave woman with Richard. Have Richard beat up a couple of large stuffed bears and a large stuffed woolly mammoth in front of you. This show of aggression with rather a lot of grunting and sweat should trip your attraction genes into gear again. By the way, this is one of the reasons people get off on S&M…it trips some of the innate genetic aggression, dominance/subservience triggers we have.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: whoa there, Dr. Brilliant. You’ve made a lot of assumptions here that I think are as misplaced as you view Wilhelmina’s feelings to be.

First, we don’t know that Jolene was either intelligent or had a strong character. All we know by her photo is that she was overweight and dumpy. This does not automatically qualify her as a stunning personality or a genius. There are overweight and dumpy people who are stupid and mean as well. Over-eating can also be seen as the sign of an unhealthy personality- people who over-eat often do so to comfort and indulge themselves rather than dealing with life. This is something everyone who goes to Weight Watchers knows.

Second, you are not putting any value on a very important fact- Wilhelmina IS questioning her knee-jerk reaction. As you have said many times yourself, Dr. B, there are no right or wrong thoughts. It is how we act on them that determines their impact. Yet you are accusing Wilhelmina of character weakness because of what you admit is an instinct which every other woman on the planet shares! Do all women suffer from character weakness?

What I see as important here is that Wilhelmina values her relationship with Richard enough to question her reflexive, unwanted thoughts. She is making an effort to process past them. I applaud her for this, and see it as a sign of strength in character. Far too few people question their reflexive thoughts or feelings.

So rather than judging you, Wilhelmina, I am going to give you the advice you seek- these feelings you find yourself with only have as much weight as you give them. They feel very heavy right now because they are accumulating in your head. However, a word of caution- I don’t advise you to discuss them with Richard. They have little to do with him and everything to do with you.

Understand that these feelings are a natural instinct and that there is a valid reason for them- if one is concerned with genetic fitness, weight IS an issue. Whatever other qualities a person has, obesity is a serious health risk and affects longevity. Food can also be an addictive issue the same as over-indulgence in booze or drugs. You are not a bad person for having these thoughts.

But now ask yourself this: how you would see Jolene if you knew she was as brilliant as a rocket scientist, was a celebrated author and had five other men after her besides Richard? Would that make you feel better about Richard?

OK, now let’s get back to the reality of the day. You had a momentary lapse of knee-jerk instinct. Now that you see it for what it is, how do you really feel about Richard? How does he treat you? Do you respect the way he is living his life and the way he sees the world? He’s lost weight, which takes resolve and discipline. Can you help each other grow and do you have fun? These are more important factors in your potential relationship than his last girlfriend.

Don’t judge yourself so harshly…and I think you can process your feelings without any asinine role-playing.

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Childhood lost love:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

When I tell this story to other people, they say, “oh, grow up!” But I am hoping you can give me perspective on it.

When I was a kid, I was in love with the little girl next door. We played together nearly every day.
We both just assumed we’d get married when we grew up. Of course we were too young to understand any of it, but it felt very real to us.

When I was 12, the girl’s mother decided she needed to play with girls not boys and cut off our friendship because she thought it wasn’t good for us.
I never knew this; I just thought my friend stopped caring. I’ve carried the pain like a piece of shrapnel in me all these years. When I saw her at a school reunion, I was still so angry I couldn’t speak to her. Of course I found out later that my anger was misplaced.

I guess that what I want to know is WHY? It makes no sense. We couldn’t have maintained our fantasy, I know, but the loss of our plans, the dollhouse we decorated every day planning out our life together.

Life is life but I can’t help ponder how it affected me. It feels as real now as it did then. Are children really capable of this type of emotional reaction?
And can it affect my relationships now? I know that I am very self-protective and have been reluctant to get close to anyone in my adult life.

Ned Nostredamus

Dear Ned,

Kids absolutely do feel love, but not as adults experience it. It seems that, for you, this girl was like your left arm; she was an unquestionable given. Losing her would be an experience similar to losing a parent or a sibling. It would leave an empty void in the world as you knew it.

Kids have no mechanism to process this type of loss because they have no understanding of it. You dealt with it by simply avoiding it. But you have to realize that love takes many forms. How you felt love as a child isn’t what you will experience as an adult. If you compare the two, that will just confuse the issue.

Feeling like someone is your left arm is like seeing them as an extension of you. As an adult, this is often an immature kind of love which will take you on a roller coaster. It is not the sort of love that is amenable to longevity or healthy stability. To answer your question- yes, your loss as a child affects you as an adult. It might cause you to live in your head and avoid direct experience.

In the movies, lovers meet after 20 years and pick up where they left off. This isn’t amenable to real life. It is fantasy.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: We all drag our childhood into our current relationships. I’m surprised you even have to ask! Every expectation we have is from the past; they certainly aren’t from the future.

As far as how vivid your childhood experience was- I’m sure that it was probably more deeply felt than anything you’ve experienced since. Once we begin padding ourselves against anticipated pain, we diminish sensation on many levels. This is not entirely a bad thing, as some people are such raw, open nerves that they need to develop some padding or they will sizzle and burn out quickly in the barrage of energy throw at them from life.

You, however, seem to have done a bit of unnecessary padding. What I find interesting is that you formed your ideas and expectations about relationships from a misconception, not a reality- your friend didn’t abandon you, her mother meddled. And you did the rest by running away and assuming the worst.

If you are going to allow a set of expectations to affect your life, make sure they come from something that really happened. Right now, you are letting an outright lie color your expectations, and probably any relationship you’ve ever had. That just doesn’t make sense.

So, now that I’ve told you it makes no sense, you’ll just stop it, right? NO! Of course not. It has become a reflex, an unseen knee-jerk reaction that happens before you know what’s happening. I’d just like to make a note here- these knee-jerk reactions run most people’s lives and they never stop to question them.

I’m glad you did. Keep asking questions and you’ll figure this out.

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The price of art:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

My daughter is just out of college with a degree in fine arts and beginning to work in her chosen field.
She is uncomfortable with her skill set and doesn’t know how to price herself. She was very good at a workshop which her mom and I attended. But it is 3 hours and she’s only getting paid $50 a workshop! I think she’s underselling herself.

I had this same issue when I got out of school, although I work in the medical field, not art. All of us recent grads were uncomfortable charging for services too. Luckily, for my first job I inherited the previous doctor’s secretary and she knew what to charge for everything and how to set my fees.

I learned in school to always go up from job to job, and that worth is a perceived value. How can I help my daughter to make what she’s worth?

Dr. No

Dear Dr. No,

As I am more of a hobby artist, I will defer this question to the Granny Doctor, a working artist. Her livelihood is dependent on just this question whereas mine is not. The rules of a trade can differ greatly from profession to profession. In the medical profession, for instance, the professional climb and rates are mapped out for you. In the art world that is not the case.

As far as the psychological aspects of dealing with the self-worth, value is arbitrary. You are worth what you think you are worth, along with your innate talent and learned skills. The most successful people often feel they are winging it but they trust in themselves and the universe. They know they are creative, have skills and are flexible enough to figure it out. More often than not things do work out. But when they do not, the pros are able to learn from their mistakes, quickly regroup and recognize new opportunities.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: neatly done, sir! I will accept the passed buck and enlighten Dr. No about the realities of the art world. I will begin by saying, PLEASE remember, Dr. No, that you are her dad and she is worth the world to you, but your daughter is worth nothing to anyone else. They don’t know who she is, she hasn’t proven she can do anything but school assignments. She probably has a nice portfolio. This means she has the potential to develop her skills in the market; that is ALL it means. She will have to earn the right to ask for what seasoned professionals are getting. If your daughter is just out of school, she will have no experience with deadlines, departments, dealing with printers, adjusting her work for multiple usage, learning file protocol etc, etc… If you fill her head full of “you’re worth so much more!” you will send her to a freelance grave. She has to work her way up through the ranks and learn the game. When your daughter gets the appropriate experience under her belt, she will have no problem understanding the value of her work and knowing how to price it. The self doubt she feels now is a good healthy instinct. She will feel confident when she knows what she’s doing.

About pricing art- you first have to make a distinction. Your daughter may have a degree in fine arts, but this is the starting point for more than one field and the commercial art world is a very different place than that of gallery art. If your daughter is an illustrator or graphic designer going into commercial art, she can find out exactly what her services are worth by reading the Graphic Artists Guild Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook. This will tell her what other professionals are making. Then she can strap on a set of brass balls and begin the long trek to reaching that level herself. If she is going find jobs for herself, she will have to sink some serious money into promotional materials and mailing. This will need to be invested without any guarantee of return or results. If she gets work, she is going to have to negotiate contracts. The first thing she needs to learn is that she should avoid “work for hire” situations. A “work for hire” job provides a flat fee for which she gives up the copyright and all control of her work and potential royalties therein. Does she want to go into publishing? Editorial art? Greeting cards and gift products? Magazines? Graphic design? Science and botanicals? Each field has it’s own rhetoric and it’s own standards. She needs to know what the current market is, because it changes constantly.

If she plans to go into gallery fine arts, best of luck. My advice to her is to get a steady job at some other work that requires no creative thinking at all and will not drain her, so that she can develop her art without living in constant fear of ending up on the streets or back in her old room at your house. Fine arts is a highly competitive field which generally requires years and years of beating one’s head against closed doors and indifference. If she paints nice landscapes, she can probably sell her stuff. If she does extremely original work she may end up dead before anyone else figures out what the hell it means or wants to have anything to do with it. But if she is lucky enough to find an audience, she will need to infiltrate an established gallery, which will probably require exclusive representation. Again, the negotiation of contracts will come into play.

Many artists, both commercial and otherwise, get reps or agents because the artistic mind does not work like the business mind, although there are many artists who have no problem wearing both hats. You should be aware that it is just as hard to get an agent or rep who will handle you as it is to land a publishing contract. A lot of work goes into marketing and promoting an artist and a rep wants to make money. They are very choosey about who they take on.

Grant funding is also available to fine artists of every discipline. But here, as with the job market, grants go to those with experience and proof of ability. Few applicants get them on their first try, a track record of some sort is required. This is called “paying your dues.” Every artists has to do it before they are taken seriously. Grants are generally not given to anyone enrolled in school. They are targeted for emerging and established artists.
If your daughter wants security and a steady art job where she can count on an income, I suggest she look into teaching. There, the corporate ladder can be climbed with fair assurance of order and sense.

The artist’s life is fraught with uncertainty, rejection and pain. Most of us go through living hell trying to make a place in an impossible market because we simply have no choice in the matter. We HAVE to do art. We’d like to have security and a solid future but we just can’t do it because something won’t let us sleep.

Good luck to you, Dr. No. But I advise you to stay out of this and let your daughter learn from those who are traveling the same path. Many schools offer workshops for alumni to help them understand operating as a professional. If you want to steer her in the right direction, check into that. But it would be better if she made the effort herself. She’s going to have to learn to do a LOT of that and there’s no time to start like the present.

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Teenagers can be Entitled and parasitic:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I can anticipate your response, but I really need to vent these feelings.

I am an artist, age 16, and I have already been in shows in three galleries. I really have a sense of direction and a passion for what I am doing. But I am having a hard time
reconciling myself with so-called “reality.” To most people, it seems that reality means being logical and directional about every choice, creating back-up plans and making careful selections of mates according to mutual interests. I can’t relate to them at all so I don’t have many friends. My parents call me moody and withdrawn and sent me to a therapist.

The advice that the therapist gives me just seems irrelevant. I feel like my parents are paying him to program me the way they want me to be; but I’m just never going to be that.
It just won’t work? I wonder if I need a therapist who thinks a bit more out of the box? Or if I don’t need one at all? My current therapist seems to want to convert me into a duty-ridden plan-every-step homeowner. But if I try to live like that, I feel like I am stumbling in shoes that don’t fit. I can’t go to school to get a degree in a field and then look for a job.
I am moving through life in a different direction- the people and experiences I have along the way are part of what creates my own understanding of life, and a big part of why my work means something.

My question is this: what if I am just different?
Why am I being treated as “challenged” just because I’m not staying nicely in my box?

Stewart Notlittle

Dear Stewart,

There is no one way to live life; but you have to be fair about it. You can do whatever you want to do with your life so long as you don’t expect anyone else to support you financially while you are doing it. You can’t take and give nothing back.

If you want to be “out of the box” you need to find a way to support that life style. Our society is set up with specific rules and expectations. The lower your educational level the more expendable you are and lower you’re earning potential. These rules may not be “god given,” but they are the way it is. Sure there are ways around it with work experience or creative expertise. But who is paying for your food and shelter at the moment?

You were in three galleries. Great for you but is your work selling like hot cakes and earning $1200.00 a piece? It is easy to be unique and live like a rebel when all your needs are being taken care of. If you want financial support from your parents you need to give something back. Usually that’s good grades, an education, no drugs, and some respect. Otherwise you are just a parasite.

Remember- you may be unique but so is everybody else. It takes hard work and perseverance to be successful in anything. It also takes years and years of plugging away. Most people I have read about were rejected for 10 years or more before they became successful. Anyone who did finally succeed usually had the support of friends and family along the way which means they probably worked with and not against everyone. Life is not all about you. You need to find some balance.

If you truly are a genius and extraordinary in your talents then you will be discovered no matter what. Otherwise you will have to play the game just like everyone else which means having a plan B.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: Actually, you can be the most amazing artist that ever lived and still have zero success during your own lifetime. All we have to do is look at art history to see that. All this talk about one’s earning potential is beside the point. Parental expectation is a separate can of worms, to be opened at another time. Money isn’t the immediate issue here either, nor is talent, nor is having a Plan B. To me, the real issue is that Stewart is setting his life up as a “me against them” game and he has decided how a whole lot of people think, and what they believe, without really knowing any of them.

If a person is going to create art that matters, it needs to communicate something meaningful. If all you are communicating is: “look at me! I’m a great artist!” you aren’t saying much and you sure aren’t producing great art. Meaningful art doesn’t come from closing your mind and deciding that you are different from other people. It comes from opening your eyes and looking at the world around you and seeing something meaningful in it. Right now, Stewart is so full of himself that I don’t think he sees much of anything but his own reflection.

Having work in three shows means nothing. I’d had work in over ten shows by the time I was 18. In the real world, this is small change. When I got to RISD, I met students younger than me who’d been in even more shows and had won awards at them. Interestingly, they were not the students who held themselves apart or had an attitude. They just worked and watched and kept exploring the world with curiosity.

Life is most certainly easier, and more doors will open to you, if you have a degree…or money. But money and plans are not your problem right now, Stewart. You are a human being on planet Earth. There are a lot of us here. Get a little more experience under your belt before you come to any conclusions. Your parents are on your back because they don’t want you to grow up a social outcast. I don’t think a therapist is the answer, and I don’t think you owe them your life, but I think they have a valid point.

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Tried everything, nothing works. I see no future:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I have been suffering from chronic depression since I had an operation two years ago- the surgery was supposed to be for an appendectomy, but it was discovered that I had a chronic health problem that wasn’t going to go away. My doctors aren’t sure if my depression is from an emotional reaction or a physical one, but the gray cloud just won’t lift.

They have tried more than one type of antidepressant but not only don’t they work, the medications seemed to make me feel even more removed and detached from life. I finally made a decision to just try to live with it. I use every trick in the book to left my mood- I exercise, I eat right, I meditate, get out of the house and join groups. I’ve tried acupuncture. I do yoga. It is all a distraction for a short time and then the gray cloud settles in again.

I know I am struggling with a difficult problem. I am proud that I haven’t given in to drinking or drugs or other destructive behavior.But sometimes I just feel like I want to kill myself if the rest of my life is going to be like this.

Other than suggesting another opinion (I’ve gotten at least seven of them) or another pill (there’s nothing left to try), do you have any ideas?

Greta Gray


Dear Greta,

You are right- SSRI antidepressants do work by creating detachment. So do benzodiazepines, opiates, and marijuana. But there are many other options both pharmaceutical and non pharmaceutical.

I guarantee you haven’t tried all the options available.

There are medications you have not tried. There are many types of acupuncture treatments if one didn’t work for you. The Sarno method is helpful for chronic pain. There are hundreds of alternative medication options and many different types of yoga. They make a portable TENS unit for pain. Bee sting therapy is good for arthritis, pain , inflammation, and immune system troubles.  TMR (trans cranial magnetic resonance) has a lot of promise for pain , mood, and abdominal issues.  EEG biofeedback is a good alternative option to improve pain, mood, and focus.

Pain and mood are directly related to one’s attention span so sometimes ones attention span needs an adjustment to reestablish equilibrium.

 It might seem like you tried everything but you have not. Not every method works for everyone but something works for everyone.  You just might need to really look for a while to find what works for you.

Good luck,

Dr. Brilliant Cliché



Granny says: Rather than suggesting lots of other stuff to try, I am going to give it to you straight- nothing is going to work. No matter what you do, you will not achieve what you are really looking for which is a return to the way things used to be. And that is probably a good thing.

You need to understand- whatever you were doing or however you approached life before your operation is a huge part of why you became ill. Many people who have had cancer or a heart attack end up saying it was the best thing that ever happened to them. This is because it forced them to change the way they thought, the way they lived, and the habits they’d fallen into. Every health “disaster” can also be viewed as the opportunity to make changes that you would never otherwise make.

From the way that you describe your efforts, I can tell that you gave one thing after another a “try” and then abandoned it when you didn’t get the result you wanted. This is the kind of thinking that results in frustration and stress; it can induce a sense of hopelessness and lead to health issues. If anything is going to “work”, it is going to have to be YOU.

Whether your current depression was brought about by a chemical imbalance that resulted from your operation or an emotional reaction to news of a life-long problem, you need to accept that there is a shift in your entire system that has occurred. No one-time remedy will change anything about this. If you try acupuncture, a single visit will not help you. You need to get a series of treatments and then keep it up with visits at regular intervals. If you try exercise or yoga, you need to do it on a regular basis for optimum results. Trying anything a few times is pointless when it comes to managing life-long issues. The only solution that works with one try is shooting yourself in the head. And believe it or not, such attempts also fail an astonishing amount.

Change your attitude, and your whole world will change. I suggest going to some support groups so that you can hear firsthand from other people who are struggling with chronic illness and depression. They, far more than your doctors, will know what works.

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Love is blind or Romance is the reflection of your desire:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I go to a high school which is very cliquish. I like Steve, who is part of the upper crust- he is really cute, good at sports, and his parents have money. I am part of the group that is known as “the artists.” I am in the drama club and I write stories and I have a lot of my work displayed in the art showcase.

I feel like I can’t even think about getting together with Steve because we just don’t run with the same crowd. I had a friend who had a crush on this other guy from Steve’s crowd. After one date, his friends started pressuring him into dumping her. It got to both of them and they just gave up.

I know it sounds petty, but you can’t imagine what the social pressure is like at my school.
It really bothers me that I feel paralyzed to follow my feelings; but my intellect
keeps sending the message that I’ll just be setting myself up to be hurt.
My friend was humiliated by her experience for weeks. I don’t want to go through the same thing and I’m pretty sure that’s what would happen. But I don’t want to let peer pressure keep me from even trying either.


Lori Notsinger

Dear Lori,

Last night on NPR there was a program on cliques. They said that Harry Potter couldn’t have been written in America because Harry was a nerd and a jock at the same time.

Why are you interested in Steve? Because he is cute and popular? Cliques aside, from what you describe you have nothing in common with him. How would that work as a relationship? I would hate to think that the only point of connection between you and someone you crush on would be sex. That is often the case, and a recipe for disaster, as your friend discovered.

The really important question here is- are you happy being yourself? If you are not, having a popular boyfriend is not a solution. The story of Romeo and Juliet is probably ingrained in your psyche as the standard for true love; but that is pure horse manure. Romeo was a superficial playboy type who dumped his current girlfriend after a single glance at the pure physical perfection of Juliet. In other words, he followed his dick. Juliet was just fed a lot of sweet talk. Romeo was handsome, popular and different; and he told her what she wanted to hear about herself. This is not the basis for a grounded relationship.

Your intellect is smarter than you think. If a lake looks deep do you have to jump in just to make sure? Your head is warning your heart that it is about to be stupid.

There are, and always will be, cultural stereotypes, cliques, disparate religions, socioeconomic class distinctions, and body type variations. You will encounter them over the course of your entire life. It is very difficult to live with another human being who is different from you. So if you want a relationship to be anything more than painful chaos, you had better both have good communication skills and a mutual picture of the future; as you are going to have to work many issues out together. Romantic love isn’t a skill it is a feeling. Romance is like looking into a mirror, and the reflection is your own desire. Feelings come and go. Love from mutual respect is a more grounded type of bond because it is based on reality.

Not all experiences need to be lived in order to learn. That is what your imagination is for.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: This sounds more like a dare you have given yourself than a real attraction. What is it based on? Imagination from afar. If this guy was your mother’s gardener, I’d advise you the same way- wise up! There is nothing real here to fight for. You are having a dream.

The class distinctions in high school can be brutal. But they have nothing to do with whether or not you should pursue this fantasy. Just say no! Don’t ever put your emotional energy into anyone unless there’s a real connection and you know that your attraction is returned.

We’re encouraged to believe that if we “take a chance” we can find our one true love. But this is like walking around on the street asking total strangers for a ride home before you even know if they have a car. On the one hand, it’s dangerous. On the other hand, it’s also futile. Just like half the people you meet might want to go out with you, but they don’t have the ability to have a relationship, i.e. “give you a ride home.”

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Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

My cousin Donna is a painter and seems to have applied her artistry to her own view of herself as well. As she explains it: ” I suffer from a philosophical melancholy and yearn for the world of perfection that I strive for in my work.” I think this is a way of romanticizing what is really just a sense of entitlement. I don’t know what she expects. She has never wanted for anything; maybe that’s the problem.

My family had very little money when I was growing up and I just sort of expect to make do with whatever I find. Perhaps you could call me a sidewalk shopper, compared to a woman with a platinum card out for a day on Rodeo Drive.

Now Donna thinks she needs therapy for her moods. What are they going to do, put her on an antidepressant because she has “philosophical melancholia?”

Fred Up

Dear Fred,

An antidepressant alone isn’t the answer for your cousin. However, given the nature of insurance, if that is what she asks for, that might be all she will get.

Your cousin seems to be a self-imposed perfectionist. These people are often very black and white, all or nothing. A client of mine with similar thinking said she was a pessimist because optimism is a delusion. She doesn’t understand that pessimism is a delusion as well. Optimism and pessimism are both black and white thinking.

Perfectionism is all about control. Perfectionists impose themselves on reality and often on everyone else as well. They don’t understand that so-called “imperfections” are what make everything and everyone unique.

The play RED is about artist Mark Rothko. He was a perfectionist and all about control. I sense that his impressionistic vivid colors contained in geometric shapes/boxes were probably his attempt to control a bipolar disorder and extreme emotional sensitivity via his art.

I agree with what you said: “ romanticizing what is really just a sense of entitlement.” That is one way of looking at it. Therapy might help your cousin if it focuses on concrete skills acquisition (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) rather than just talking about what she thinks or feels. For her these ideas aren’t grounded in reality so focusing on them won’t change anything. On the other hand, learning to how to self-regulate will make a huge impact on the quality of her life and possibly might expand the nature of her art as well.
A balanced life is a mix of impressionism and realism. Artists who have only been able to see one side of life have often been very unhealthy. Rothko’s art, although a valid attempt to create balance, failed him in the end- probably because he treated himself and didn’t fully understand what was going on. He eventually killed himself.

Your cousin, whether from nature or nurture, can’t use your more flexible and imaginative building approach to life. Hopefully with the help of a good councilor she might gain some of that ability.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: Your cousin may well be romanticizing the pain of her inner yearning, but I am not so quick to write it off completely as something so shallow as a sense of entitlement.

All sentient beings on earth are suffering. I do have to say though that I think that artists in every discipline and media tend to be more sensitive than most. It’s part of what makes them artists- they perceive more intensely and react beyond mere acknowledgement. The expression of feelings is behind their drive to create. It can be unsettling to have all those emotions running around inside with nowhere to go.

People who deal with life more matter of faculty tend to sneer at artists. This is natural- it’s like the tendency of those who fall asleep and snore like logs to sneer at those with insomnia…or the tendency of those with money to judge those who can’t pay their bills. If you haven’t had the experience, it is easy to judge.

However, all that being said, I have this advice for your cousin- if she can’t figure out how to deal with her feelings, she is going to spend the rest of her life making mountains out of molehills and being sneered at by people with no imagination. She may also end up medicated, which will mute her feelings to the point where she has no desire to express anything at all.

We all have to play the hands we were dealt. If we had a choice, things might be different. But we don’t. Life is full of unpleasant things; otherwise we wouldn’t know what happiness was when we saw it. I hope your cousin doesn’t end up in some quack’s office who has an itchy prescription pen. It is better to feel, and be ripped apart by something that matters, than never to have felt at all.

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