Let me introduce myself.
My name is Eric Maisel and I was born in the Bronx in 1947 into an immigrant Jewish family. I moved with my mother to Brooklyn when I was about five years old. I never knew my father and did not experience that as absence or loss. I had the clear feeling that my friends—the boys I hung out with—were regularly tyrannized and brutalized by their fathers. I wanted no part of that. I was very happy to be left alone to my own devices as a latchkey kid who, already as a very young child, was out exploring Brooklyn on his own.
At the age of about seven or eight, I woke up one morning with my left leg paralyzed. I had contracted what I’m told was rheumatic fever. This illness permitted me to stay in bed, unable to move, for two months or so, during which time I “wrote” my first book: a retelling of the history of everything, put together with cut-outs from piles of National Geographic magazines. Sadly, at some point, I had to return to school, which was far less exciting than writing about “everything.”
I was good at math and science, went to Stuyvesant High School, one of three math-and-science high schools in the New York City school system (my older brother went to one of the other two, the Bronx High School of Science) and seemed destined to become a physicist or an astronomer. But I don’t think that science ever fully interested me or engaged me. What I truly enjoyed was reading fiction, especially existential fiction by Camus, Kafka, and Dostoevsky, political fiction by Orwell, and tons of Scandinavian fiction set in some very cold places.
I have certain clear memories of those early years that constitute what might be called lifelong themes. First, I was upset—I want to say, from birth—by every aspect of religion: by the yeshivas, the Catholic schools, the rabbis, the priests, by the idea that there was someone somewhere who rooted for the Dodgers and had nothing better to do than to care whether you covered your head or put sour cream and pastrami on the same plate. From birth, I knew for sure that religion was a certain sort of tyranny and one of the ways that the authoritarian personality made itself felt in human affairs.
I started college at the age of sixteen, flunked out by the age of seventeen, got a certificate in commercial photography while not having a clue what to do with myself, and enlisted in the Army in 1965 when I was eighteen. In the Army, I served as a platoon sergeant in Korea and then, back home, as a drill sergeant at Fort Dix in New Jersey. When I got out of the Army, I studied philosophy at the University of Oregon and got a degree in philosophy. But it wasn’t formal philosophy that interested me but post-WW II existential literature. And so, I began writing fiction.
I got a Master’s in creative writing, made actual money as a ghostwriter of fiction and nonfiction and, while it was lovely to be making money from writing, that wasn’t enough of a contribution to our household income. So, I decided to become a therapist. Of course, I had no idea what that meant, but I headed off in that direction, getting three additional degrees and a license. I supposed that becoming a therapist was bound to make for a smart career path.
However, very early on I “saw through” the mental disorder model and the other pillars upon which contemporary mental health services are built. To this day, I am active in the camp (sometimes called critical psychology, sometimes called critical psychiatry, and sometimes called anti-psychiatry) that disputes the legitimacy of the mental disorder model and believes that what is going on is primarily a naming game and not medicine. This is such an important subject!
For those first years, while I engaged in therapy (as a California licensed marriage and family therapist), I quite consciously decided to focus on helping creative and performing artists, because I had the clear sense that their particular issues were not being addressed. Rather quickly, I left the practice of therapy and begin doing what I first called creativity consulting and then, as coaching became a known commodity, creativity coaching. I’ve been coaching creative and performing artists for thirty years now, including creatives whose names you would instantly recognize.
Over the years, since I started writing my first novel at the age of twenty-four, I’ve written about sixty books and had more than fifty of them published. A few of their titles will give you a good sense of my abiding interests: Coaching the Artist Within; The Van Gogh Blues; Creative Recovery; Mastering Creating Anxiety; Life Purpose Boot Camp; The Power of Daily Practice; and my latest, Lighting the Way, in which I introduce kirism, the philosophy of life I’ve been exploring and developing.
This column is a new weekly feature and one of three columns I’ll be writing each week for the Good Men Project.
On Mondays, I intend to focus on issues dear to my heart: creativity and the creative life; issues of life purpose and meaning; and mental health issues, especially problems with the current “mental disorder” paradigm.
Thursdays will be devoted to exploring a subject that amounts to a secret epidemic: the epidemic of authoritarian wounding that occurs in families. I’ll have a lot to share with you about this and I’ll be inviting you take my Authoritarian Wound Questionnaire.
On Saturdays, I’ll introduce you to something a bit out of the ordinary: a contemporary philosophy of life called kirism. You’ll learn why possessing a solid, sensible philosophy of life is so important and you’ll hear first-hand stories of kirist living.
I hope that you’ll find what I share interesting, provocative, and personally useful. If you suffer from the thing commonly called “depression,” I’ll be speaking to you. If work is a challenge for you, I’ll be speaking to you. If you’re trying to live a creative life, I’ll be speaking to you. If you were bullied in childhood by a family member, I’ll be speaking to you. I hope that I can help you make better sense of life, better meet your life purpose needs and meaning needs, and come closer to living the life you always intended to live.
I hope you’ll join me.
Eric Maisel is the author of 50+ books. His three blogs on the Good Men Project are Eric Maisel (on Mondays), Authoritarians in the Family (on Thursdays), and Kirism Today (on Saturdays). You can visit him at https://ericmaisel.com/, subscribe to his weekly newsletter at https://ericmaisel.com/newsletter/, or write to him at [email protected]. You can learn more about kirism, the contemporary philosophy of life that Dr. Maisel has developed, in Lighting the Way: How Kirism Answers Life’s Toughest Questions.