A Man
Overboard

 

 

 

An interview with Don Williams


The Jung Page (www.cgjungpage.org) was founded in 1995 to "encourage new psychological ideas and conversations about what it means to be human in our time and place." Don Williams is Webmaster for the page and a Jungian analyst in private practice. He is also Websmaster for The International Association for Analytical Psychology (www.iaap.org).

"I always had two interests - literature and psychology," he related in a telephone interview. "So, when I went to college I studied literature and also worked at a state psychiatric hospital." (Dorthea Dix in North Carolina). I did the same while in graduate school at Wayne State, working full time with emotionally disturbed children.

"Synchronistic things happened" that took him from being a student at Duke University in 1961, to Wayne State (missing Vietnam), to teaching at the College of William and Mary in 1967, and to working in an experimental Jungian program in Haight Ashbury in 1969.

"I applied to a PhD program at Santa Cruz in the history of consciousness but as 'luck' would have it, my application was tossed because one letter was missing. The consultant to the Jungian treatment program then paved the way for me to study in Zurich (the San Francisco institute only accepted MDs at the time). I arrived in Zurich in Sept. 1970 and stayed there the entire time until graduating in 1975 and moving to Boulder."

Williams refers to his training in Zurich as a kind of initiation.

"It was like a descent into hell," he said. "I was in analysis 2-3 times a week, struggling to pay for training on an ultra-slim budget. Zurich was radically different from San Francisco, and I was very lonely. I eventually found a way to work 30 hours a week to pay for training and by the 4th year had learned German and felt right at home in Zurich and in Europe. Though always a foreigner, Zurich became home. That was another initiation."

Williams multi-faceted passions include his ability to review movies from a Jungian point of view. A Perfect World (see review) is an example of masculine initiation, he related.

"The little boy in the movie was an abused, neglected child, as was the escaped convict who kidnapped him," Williams said. "Other people defined both the man and boy by the rules he had to obey."

Williams' own childhood began in North Carolina where his father was "the authority in the family."

"He was a good man, he was quiet, and he was uncomfortable with his own voice, I'm sure. He worked and was away most of the time. I wanted a relationship with my father, but he was inaccessible."

As the youngest child, with much older siblings, Williams said he essentially grew up as an only child spending most of his time with his mother.

"She was unhappy and wanted to talk to someone, and I was there," he recalled. "All the stories I heard about my father were hers with her particular slant and tone. It was not first hand knowledge for me."

Every person has a "story" or "myth," the Websmaster stated.

"The one I grew up under was that my mother loved me when I listened to her. She felt better when I paid attention to her," he said. "When I appreciated the experience that she and other women had with men, then I was good. But it left me feeling empty. She didn't have too much of an idea of who I was or what I needed. While being close to my mother, I felt like I was betraying my father."

Without a close relationship to his father, Williams said he had "no clue about what masculine essence was."

Williams said he was considered "different" than other family members.

"Fortunately, being 'good' allowed me to do some different things without much protest from my parents. Though a rural southerner by heritage, I grew up in Baltimore and my first 'close' male friend was Jewish and lived in an all black neighborhood where his family ran a deli. My white southern Methodist parents left me on my own. We moved back to North Carolina where I was then 'different' as a northerner. In college, the first thing I did was to join the civil rights movement. That finally caused some conflicts at home. Later I was involved in the Vietnam protests."

"More and more of my self definition came from experiences of following my own interests and values - experiences that placed me on the edge of any group I might be part of. I suppose I've gotten better at defining myself and at respecting others as they present themselves. I wish I'd inherited more charisma, a knack with money, and some other things but these shortcomings also gave me the unusual life I've lived along with friends, meaningful work, and a few intimate sustaining relationships."

Williams' favorite author is Reynolds Price, a prolific southern writer with some 20 novels to his credit [A Long and Happy Life, Blue Calhoun, Clear Pictures], whom he describes as having "a rare depth of soul." Williams was a student of Price's at Duke University.

According to Williams, Price once described his goal as a writer this way: "first, understand (or at least catalogue) the threatening mysteries of the world, of my human fellows and of myself; second, that I might communicate my understandings, however feeble, to a few other men as baffled and endangered as I by all the controllable and uncontrollable mysteries of the universe, God, and human nature."

Williams soft-spoken voice carried an intensity when speaking of his writer friend and mentor.

Modern society does not provide role models encouraging young men to look deeper, Williams noted.

"It's very difficult to find many people
who are interested in thinking
about themselves ..." 

"It's very difficult to find many people who are interested in thinking about themselves, others, and their own experience," he explained. "They have their goals and want to feel better, but they don't have any interest in personal reflection."

"Men need some sense of what they feel, what they experience," he said. "They need to find the words to express what they feel, what their intuition is. They need to define themselves rather than let others define them. If we don't define ourselves, someone else will. That's a tremendous problem in most relationships and it shows up regularly in couples therapy. We've probably all heard someone tell us convincingly that we are 'too defensive' at which point we lapse into guilt instead of saying, 'Of course I'm defensive! I wish I could defend myself better. I feel like I'm being attacked and it makes me anxious to think that I don't have the voice or words to make myself understood. Another person can define the rules real quickly by defining one, for instance, as 'defensive' when we all know 'defensive' is a bad thing," he added. "The person who defines the rules and your identity, wins. It takes hard work to think clearly and to speak up. We need to recognize when other people define us."

Men are at a disadvantage with communication skills because "most women are used to talking with other women."

Williams said that Jung's great talent was not just talking, but listening.

"Jung's basic premises were that everyone has a story, the story makes sense, and it is worth listening to," Williams noted. "He didn't impose his theories. He was willing to hang out with people when they were pretty far out there. He was able to stay with them and respect them."

Like many men, Williams lamented that he didn't have someone teach him the essentials of good communication.

"Sometimes I think it would have been so much easier if I had taken 'the right course,'" he said, "though it wasn't offered back then. I sort of learned [communication] by picking it up on my own on the street and by listening to people carefully in analysis. The people I love to work with are the ones who have had to create the world on their own terms. They're ultimately more creative and original."

Williams referenced Reynolds Price again as a man with those "original" qualities.

"He was determined to be who he was," he said, "and no one else."

Williams visited his one-time mentor at a book reading in 1995. It had been thirty years since he'd been in his class at Duke University.

"I took my son to see him in Denver. He recognized me in the crowd and still knew my name. My son got to meet him and later to take one of his courses. When I dream of Reynolds, it brings me back to my gratitude and to my own creative drive."

As Williams keeps up with his busy schedule, it appears he has his priorities in order as he continues "to learn to be a good father through ongoing changing conversations with my son ... who will probably be going to China to work for a second year in Beijing. Last summer he and I and my closest friend of 40 years traveled to out-of-the-way places in China, in the Ganzu province. What a great time we had!" Contact Dan at dwilliam@boulder.earthnet.net

© 2005 Reid Baer

*     *     *

The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.



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