Every writer needs a personal writer-therapist-mentor friend to help them navigate through the highs and lows of showbiz and, yeah, everyday life. Dennis Palumbo is an overqualified expert in all the above.
This interview of course isn’t the same as speaking to him personally, but it’s valuable nevertheless. Check it out.
When Your Only Weapon Is Inaction
Dennis Palumbo via Writers Guild of America West
With the COVID-19 pandemic in its third month in the US, Connect spoke to psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo about recurring themes in his therapy practice with writers who are under extended stay-at-home orders and grappling with an entertainment industry on indefinite pause.
For three decades, Palumbo has been a licensed psychotherapist for working writers and others in creative fields. To the therapy setting Palumbo brings his own experience as a sitcom writer, screenwriter, and, more recently, crime novelist (2018’s Head Wounds is the fifth installment in his Daniel Rinaldi series). Palumbo’s non-fiction book Writing from the Inside Out (2000) was an adaptation and expansion of his regular columns for Written By.
You’re both a therapist for other writers and a writer yourself. So how is your writing going?
Dennis Palumbo: I’m a little more desultory because, like anyone else, I feel some of the stress of the uncertainty of this. Plus, you know, dealing with deliveries and putting on my mask and gloves when I go to get the mail. It’s certainly having an effect on my patients. My own writing is going ok. I have patients who are writing up a storm and I have patients who can’t focus for more than ten minutes. Because they’re thinking about the pandemic, and especially if they have young children they’re doing home schooling or trying to keep them entertained. Plus, there’s the omnipresent media. I have patients who just cannot stop watching CNN. As this thing has gone on and on, one of the first things I’m recommending to people is to very much curtail their watching of the news.
It’s a slippery slope between staying informed and getting lost in it all.
Palumbo: Check it in the morning and then check it in the evening to make sure there hasn’t been an alien invasion or something. Other than that, I think one of the problems that is endemic to this situation is, we have an enemy, this virus, and the weapon we use against the enemy is inaction, just sitting in your house. I think that’s very hard on the psyche. We have a fight-or-flight mechanism. When someone throws a rock at you, you pick up a rock and throw it back, or else you run away. And we can’t run away, we have to stay in the house, and we can’t fight it. So I think our cortisol levels are always being elevated because we’re in a state where there’s no tool we can use against the virus, other than staying put. I think the body doesn’t like that. The psyche certainly doesn’t like it. So no matter how busy you are, either with your children or with your writing, this sense of impotence contributes to depression and anxiety. And then you add to that, there’s no end date. Most people don’t like uncertainty. One of the real problems with the quarantine is the uncertainty….