Loren A. Olson is the author of the new book No More Neckties: A Memoir in Essays. He also has written the book Finally Out. He has been a physician for more than 50 years and still practices psychiatry. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
Q: What inspired you to write your new memoir?
A: When I grew up in Nebraska during the 1950-60s, I tried to fit in by doing what I thought were the right things. I fit in but I never felt I belonged, and I was lonely.
In my psychiatric training, I was taught to be a blank screen upon which my patients would project their problems. I understood why it was necessary, but sometimes it felt dishonest.
Now I am old, and I don’t need others’ approval. I wanted to come clean.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: When it was a work in progress, the title was “Fitting in Is Not Belonging.” But that didn’t capture the essence of the main message of the book which is throwing off expectations.
When I was 60, I decided I would stop attending cocktail parties with people I didn’t like; I would not sit through boring lectures; and I would never wear a necktie. No More Neckties stuck for me and metaphorically represented the freedom to live the life I was meant to live. That was the message I wanted to send to others.
Q: What do you think the book says about family dynamics?
A: Love and risk are inseparable. When we love someone, we accept that we will inevitably hurt them and be hurt by them. The question is, “How do you keep people in your life once you’ve hurt them or been hurt by them?”
Anger is our first response, but to heal the relationship we must then look for a way to find empathy for what the other was going through. Once we find it, forgiveness becomes a possibility. The alternative is to get stuck in the anger and victimhood and sacrifice the relationship.
Q: What impact did writing this book have on you, and what do you hope readers take away from it?
A: I learned there are risks to letting people know me as I am; they may prefer to see me as they want me to be. I can no longer sacrifice who I am to please others. But when we tell our stories, we inevitably tell the stories of others who may not want them told.
We all seek connection with others. It is my hope that telling these deeply personal stories will help others feel less alone. We face risks when we talk about the hard stuff, but there are greater risks when we avoid it.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a good start on another memoir about practicing psychiatry for 50 years, but much of my work now involves the launch of No More Neckties.
For the next few months, I will be on a speaking tour throughout the US and Canada. I will publish those dates in my newsletter. I respond to everyone who contacts me, and their questions and comments inspire me to write on my blog, “Ask the Doc.”
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: When we consider major life changes, we have three options: Fix it; put up with it; or get out.
Fix it if you can, but sometimes that’s not possible. Putting up with it may be the right choice for some, but it keeps us locked in our pain. When we think about leaving a difficult situation, we often magnify the negatives and minimize the positives. I want to offer people hope they can find a better outcome.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Loren A. Olson.