There Is Always Another Part: An Origin Story

The coincidence that keeps on giving.

Posted Mar 11, 2018

Septimiu Balica / Pixabay
Source: Septimiu Balica / Pixabay

In the summer of 2011, in a neighborhood book store in Western Massachusetts, I was on the hunt: for a good summer read. I poked around for a while, getting lost amongst the stacks, tempted by a few titles, but ultimately feeling uninspired. A woman working there must have picked up on my struggle, and asked me if she could help. I told her I was looking for an engaging novel, one that could pull me in quick but that had depth and substance. She pulled a book off the “Staff Picks” shelf, sharing that she herself had just recently read this one and thoroughly enjoyed it, and thought it just might check all my boxes. I read the title, then looked up at her with my mouth agape. The Good Psychologist By Noam Shpancer. Of all the books for her to suggest, she hands me this one?

Shaking my head with disbelief, I explained to her that in mere weeks, I’d be starting my first year of graduate school, studying, of all things, Clinical Psychology. She laughed at the coincidence as she rung me up, and I walked out of the store clutching the book in my hand, stirring with incredulousness at the funny ways that the universe lets us know that it’s keeping an eye out for us.

I devoured the book, finishing it in days, highlighting passages, making notes, having become rapidly, deeply, engrossed in the story, as one does when they find a book that moves them. Standing at the starting line of my formal training in the field, to get to be inside of head of a seasoned clinician, the book’s unnamed protagonist, to have insight into the ways that personal and professional lives interact as a psychologist, ignited in me what felt like an appropriate mix of intense excitement, anticipation, and ambivalence about my own impending journey. I kept the book on my bedside table for months after I finished it. Looking back, I think having it there reminded me that the feelings it brought up in me somehow validated that I had made the right choice in pursuing this career, even as the weight of the first few months of school exhausted and exasperated me.

The story could have ended there. Alas, it does not.

Xopher Wallace / ISO Republic
Source: Xopher Wallace / ISO Republic

It was about a year later that the book caught my eye, now relegated to a pile of other once – beloved titles, in a stack collecting dust on the bookshelf underneath the TV. Something had me reaching for it once again; perhaps related to where I was in my life at the time: twenty-three, a year of school under my belt, certain about approximately nothing in my life, from changing friendships, to complicated romantic entanglements, to my attempts in weekly therapy to iron out the way lifelong struggles with self-worth were continuing to get in my way as a young adult.  I re-read the book, breezing through it as I had before, touched by the notes and passages I had highlighted the last time,  intrigued by what had stuck out to me then, noticing new lines and phrases that for whatever reason didn’t resonate with me until now.

There was one passage in particular that jumped out at me:

Don’t say I feel such and such, he always tell his clients; say a part of me feels such and such; because there is always another part...

I ferociously underlined those words, as though doing so would somehow glue them into my brain. They felt revelatory, yet somehow familiar and comfortable at the same time. It made so much sense to me, the pull to be blinded by one strong feeling or reaction, forgetting the nuance in our own experience. The acknowledgment that we are as humans complicated composites of emotions, all of which may seem contradictory but in fact are natural expressions of the grayness that defines life. Yet I also read Shpancer’s words as a soothing reassurance, a reminder that no experience in life is static, that when depression or anxiety or circumstance makes us feel as though whatever mind space we are in right now will last forever, we must remind ourselves that situations evolve, our story ebbs and flows, not always in a predictable way, but as sure as the rise and fall of the sun. There is always another part, and there is always another part to that part, despite a tendency to feel that whatever part in which we are currently stuck is our endgame. 

It was only a few weeks later that I was reading through old journal entries, something I found myself doing during periods of particular introspection, following up on old thoughts, curiously tracking the relative status of certain internal conflicts. It was then that I came across it, a one-lined entry, dated August 19, 2011, bearing only these words:

There is always another part.

My heart swelled as I realized the irony. In my second reading, as the phrase had not been marked or noted in anyway within the book, I had assumed that I was discovering these words for the first time. When I had read them weeks earlier, I felt so galvanized by them I felt immediately compelled to have them tattooed. I had gotten my first tattoo that summer, at the culmination of the first year of school; “let go”, written in script at the base of my left arm. But I had been cautious about jumping into another one, having noticed the intoxicating pull of getting a tattoo, and the way it makes you yearn to get more. Not wanting to make such a permanent decision based on what might be a fleeting emotion, I had hesitated. Yet seeing those words written down on the page amongst my thoughts, in my own hand, evidence of the impact they had on me back then, blurred with the emotion I had felt as I reread them just recently, I felt a powerful wave of synchronicity that filled me with warmth and a sense of ease. Within days, they were inked on the inside of my right wrist.

Emily Green
Source: Emily Green

The story could have ended there. Alas, it does not.

Cut to 2017: I had submitted a blog post to Psychology Today that I had originally written for the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW-NYC) about my experiences doing therapy with adolescent girls. Psychology Today got back to me, indicating they were interested but that the website rarely publishes one-off posts; would I consider writing an open-ended, ongoing blog? Putting myself and my writing out there for the NOW-NYC blog had been an exercise in tolerating the discomfort of self-doubt that had always plagued me, and when proposed the idea of producing content for a website so prominently recognized in my field, my immediate instinct was to avoid that discomfort, to find some justification to turn it down. Ultimately, there was none; an opportunity had fallen into my lap, one that I may not have sought out for myself, one that a part of me was terrified of, but that another part of me knew was a chance to push myself beyond the bounds of my traditional comfort zone. 

Going back and forth with the editor about potential names for the blog, bugging friends for advice, crossing out half-baked ideas on a yellow legal pad and becoming frustrated at the lack of a suitable option, I finally realized that the answer was right in front of me, right there on my wrist. “How about, There Is Always Another Part?” I wrote to my editor, explaining that it had come from a novel, by Noam Shpancer, that it had inspired a tattoo of mine. It wasn't until just after sending the e-mail that it occurred to me that he might turn it down, feeling suddenly vulnerable and exposed. I opened his follow-up e-mail tentatively:

“Incidentally, Noam is also a PT blogger (and has been for some time). I imagine he’d be flattered to find out that his book inspired a tattoo!”

There are a lot of moments in life which are complicated by ambivalence and mixed emotions. We rarely feel one way about anything, and sometimes our marriage to the idea that we are supposed to sets us up for an unrealistic standard of emotional control that ultimately brings us more suffering (a concept I found beautifully complimented by various teachings in my clinical training, most notably Marsha Linehan’s concept of the Dialectic in DBT). The influence of Shpancer’s words on my personal and professional life has been immense. I’ve shown client’s the tattoo and shared with them the origin of the quote, folding it in to larger conversations about black and white thinking and the importance of becoming comfortable with uncertainty and contradiction within ourselves. But as I read the editor’s e-mail, smiling wide from ear to ear, buzzing with the serendipity of all the moments that got me to that moment, I can confidently say that all of me felt the universe giving me a big fat wink.

I would say that this is where the story ends, but experience tells me that there is always another…. Well, you get the idea.

References

Shpancer, N. (2010). The Good Psychologist. New York, NY: Heny Holt & Co.