psychoPEDIA: Inside the Outpost

Vienna Triangle by Brenda Webster

Interview by Rebecca Wells with Laura Albert

Vienna Triangle is a brilliant novel that combines fact with the author's ingenious imagination to bring to life the historical figures of Freud and his disciples through the journey of a young academic in the 1960s. Kate, a young graduate student at Columbia University, is hard at work on her dissertation when a chance encounter brings her into contact with Helene Deutsch, one of the first prominent women analysts and one of only a few surviving members of Freud's inner circle.

As Kate begins to interview Helene, the narrative falls back into the mysterious and compelling world of Sigmund Freud and his disciples, where Helene introduces us to the humanity behind the masks of theanalysts. This journey becomes increasingly personal to Kate, as she begins to suspect a link between her own family and the world of the enigmatic Freud. At the same time, she is embroiled by the tangled set of questions raised by Helene's story. Who was Freud, really? Was his paranoia justified? And were his ideas even his own?

Vienna Triangle is a captivating experience. Part fact, part fiction, part imagination, this novel is a wonderfully detailed portrait of history for anyone interested in delving into the time of the analysts. Brenda Webster paints her characters effortlessly, allowing us to peer briefly into that space which any history devotee must be frustrated to miss: the space between historical portraiture and what really happened. And Kate is the perfect lens through which to view this story; her dual journey of historical and self discovery draws us intimately into the narrative and encourages us to care, deeply, both about Kate and those whom she studies. Below is an interview with author Brenda Webster.

Where did the inspiration for Vienna Triangle come from? Was there something specific about this historical period and its characters (Freud etc.) that sparked your interest?
I had written two books of psychoanalytic criticism, one on Blake, one on Yeats, so I was very familiar with Freudian theory. Then in 2000 I wrote a memoir, The Last Good Freudian, which chronicles my history in therapy and what amounts to abuse on the part of my therapists. I had gone on to other things in my next novel, The Beheading Game, and certainly had no conscious intention to do anything further about psychoanalysis. But one day I was in Rome reading Thomas Mann’s Lotte in Weimar, Mann was describing how the great Goethe sucked the life out of people close to him and used them for his own purposes. This made me think of Freud and Viktor Tausk. I wondered if genius couldn’t tolerate the existence of great talent in its vicinity. Since my artist mother thought of herself as a genius this had some resonance for me. Also, Helene Deutsch who briefly analysed Tausk and adored Freud, was my mother’s analyst.

Then I had to create a way of telling the story…how to engage the reader and that brought in another time period, the 1960’s. I created a frame in which a young scholar, Kate, gradually finds out what happened between Tausk and Freud while interviewing the elderly Helene Deutsch. So Kate’s research roughly echoes mine.

Did you find it difficult to allow yourself the freedom to craft fictional characters out of historical figures?
Helene Deutsch was difficult at first. I got bogged down in her biography and the result was wooden. I was simply transcribing facts into fiction. That went on for several months. But after I had created a narrator, Kate, and set her to interview Helene, the character came alive and I ended up being very fond of her. Tausk on the other hand was easy. I started writing a diary for him and it just flowed. Critics steeped in psychoanalysis have told me that they can't distinguish his fictitious diary from the real documents. That is one of the miracles that sometimes happens. You feel as if you are channeling someone. After the book was published an astonishing thing happened. Someone wrote from Amsterdam asking if any of the relatives of my 60’s heroine were still alive because she wanted to meet them. She was the great grand-daughter of Viktor Tausk! I had to tell her that Kate was a fictional character.

What sort of research did you do in order to prepare?
I read everything I could get my hands on about that period biographies of Deutsch and Lou Andreas Salome and Tausk--background material. My own analyst, Kurt Eissler had written two books defending Freud’s treatment of Tausk. I had no impulse to write a polemical book—either pro or con. I wanted to explore what happened, to re-create the people and the situations to decide for myself what motivated them, what their conflicts were. For me fiction was from the beginning a way of answering questions, a way of gaining insight. And as I researched my story, I came to feel that Freud had really played an important role in Tausk’s suicide and a subsequent cover-up. It became clear to me that because they feared Freud’s power, no analyst dared talk about what happened.

What is your favorite part of Vienna Triangle?
Brenda: I like the last part where all the strands of the double plot come together with what I hope is striking effect. Kate who has idealized Helene Deutsch as a model for her own life has to face the fact—along with the reader who must re-evaluate her feelings about Helene-- that Helene has colluded in hurting her friend, had put her career above everything. The question is what lesson will Kate take from that? What does she learn?

Beyond an entertaining book, do you hope your readers would also come away with perhaps another way to understand this time period and its characters? And who do you imagine as your audience?
I think I have given a fairly accurate picture of the very closed, hermetically sealed analytic world that may startle some people: The incestuous nature of their interactions. As when Freud analyzed his daughter, Anna. But beyond that, the way they put each other under the microscope, watching for slips, interrogating each other’s dreams. Freud kept a tight hold over them, not allowing the slightest deviation, banishing opponents and labeling them as psychopaths. I would imagine that many people don’t realize these things and it might cause them to wonder whether Freud, by keeping such a tight hold not only hurt people but kept psychoanalysis from developing freely.

There are other things I would want readers to think about, too. As my heroine, Kate develops a close relationship with Helene Deutsch, I was able to explore Deutsch’s views about women, about masochism in particular,which I had written about earlier defending her to the feminists. Now she was able to defend herself to Kate. Other issues came up: the conflict between motherhood and work, female loyalty and friendship how strong or weak it was in relation to a bond with a strong man. Thinking of my potential audience, these subjects should appeal to women more generally. The book became Tausk’s story filtered through the eyes of two women, one old, one young.

When did you discover you wanted to be a writer?
When I was little I thought my mother was a magician. She made things come to life on canvas. Branches weighed down with fuzzy peaches, blue-green bulls, enormous lilies, goldfish in an underwater world. Naturally, I assumed I would be able to do that too—but I was hopelessly bad at it. By the time I was ten, I’d resigned myself to painting with words. I started writing seriously when I was in High School. I was fourteen. My father had just died and my mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I wrote to save my sanity, alternating between Laurentian hymns to my boyfriend’s body and images of despair: black pools, screaming gulls wheeling over a lonely place. The poems were extravagant but they gave me a feeling of control. I was hooked.

When you write, do you find, beyond the story you tell, you have particular themes or a goal?
Several of my books have dealt with mother/daughter issues but my only longterm goal is to improve with each book. It has been a slow process. When I was in my twenties I wrote two autobiographical novels. I had a good agent and got encouraging letters from big presses but they mostly wanted me to change things I thought were essential and I wouldn’t. At that point I had no idea that much of writing is re-writing. I thought you just wrote down your story, typed it up and that was that. Discouraged I veered into criticism and wrote Psychoanalytic Studies of Blake and Yeats. It wasn’t until twenty years later after a divorce and re-marriage that –with the encouragement of my new husband–I dared go back to fiction. With my autobiographical novel Sins of The Mothers, I was fully aware of re-writing but took too much wrong advice and compromised too much. I think the subject, a masochistic marriage, was too painful and I didn’t yet have the tools yet to carry it off. I By the time I got to my memoir, The Last Good Freudian, I was able to put things in perspective and situate my life—much of it spent in analysis—in a historical and social context. But it is only with my new novel, Vienna Triangle, that I’m starting to do what I was meant to do: meld my understanding of psychoanalysis with what a lifetime has taught me about my subjects and my craft. Of course there is always more to learn and as one of my characters says in Vienna Triangle: “It is hard to get things right.” But trying and getting closer, is what makes writing so compelling.

What is your writing process?
Brenda: I work every morning for a couple of hours. In the beginning my thought is very fluid. Sometimes the “idea” is very slight. For instance for the novel The Beheading Game, I knew that I wanted somehow to revise the classic tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and make it more favorable to women. Otherwise, all I knew was that my hero Ren must be a drag queen. His voice came to me almost immediately but it took me many drafts before I decided that he would have to so something other than fantasize about the Green Knight. So I made him a theatre director putting on a transgendered version of the play. From there it was clear that the conflicts in his life should echo the events in his play and the book took off. The fact that I don’t work with a real outline and that I don’t know ahead of time how a novel will end makes it exciting to write. Unexpected things are always happening.

What literature do you read?
For the last 8years I have been on the Northern California Book Reviewers committee for the annual prize and so I have read a great many California authors. When I am feeling worn down and need nourishment, I tend to go back to certain old favorites, Tolstoy, Mann. Proust and especially Virginia Woolf. Every year in Rome, I treat myself to a re-reading of one of her books.

Is there a story that you are waiting to tell?
Again, chance came into it. When I finished Vienna Triangle, I was very unclear about what would come next. Then a producer in New York called and told me she loved Vienna Triangle and asked me to collaborate on a play. And that’s what we are doing! All I can say is that it turns out to be full of new stories.

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Bathing in Primordial Soup
A Review of Hotel Kabuki and O Izakaya Lounge

I craved infinite pools way before they were the ideal of luxuriant swimming. Maybe it's the longing for the good old days that arouse my craving for overflowing waters. And I mean the massive olden days when a very great grandma Ardipithicus ramidus launched herself from the primordial soup. I suspect there is some vague genetic echo of longing for that pure abundance of sloshing water, which means more than just, Dude, check out how well off we are, we can waste water! I think it's pleasing because, in our deep unconscious, we equate it with moving on up to the East Side, Darwin-style – lifestyles of survival of the fittest! We evolved out of the vast roiling ocean, and it's nice to be reminded of where we came from, like an evolutionary Jenny from the Block – when a tub overflows, I am Laura from the Sea.

Maybe my craving is just as simple as a desire to return to the womb and the constant flow of liquid. There is nothing to do but be nakedly warm, safe, and snuggly. In my momma's placenta sack, I was never troubled by any enraged superintendent banging on her belly and accusing me of causing a flood. But in the bathrooms in which I grew up, tubs were not meant to be turned into infinite pools, and the neighbors in the apartment directly below us furiously reminded my parents' insurance company of this fact...

I settle in the tub and the water starts flowing in. I am floating in a comatose state of abiogenetical bliss, only to awake from my reverie as my parents and the building superintendent bang on the bathroom door. I gasp in horror that my tub indeed runneth over – rushing the ramparts of my bath, streaming onto the floor tile – and it is clear that my waters have invaded the ceiling of the neighbors' bathroom below us, creating what I would regard as a lovely rainforest effect, but they have no appreciation for it.

Bathing was not an option in my home in San Francisco – lead paint dripping with black mold that peeled from the walls with any extra moisture; the tub so overrun with mold that a bath would be the equivalent of soaking in a sod pond. My bathroom was more of a car wash: a fast in-and-out experience.

After a court ordered clean-up, my home was sealed off as toxic-menace wasteland. Men in space suits entered as I left with my belongings in protective garage bags.

I am to stay at a hotel, and I pick the Hotel Kabuki. The description of this boutique hotel, "inspired by the rituals and customs of Japanese culture," evokes not the samurai's battle for survival, but the geisha's attentive delicate care. The staff does not offer to dispose of my Hefty trash-bag luggage; instead, they handle my sacks as if they were antique Louis Vuitton. Along with a breathtakingly lovely view of the city, my room has delicate paper shoji screens, sliding closet doors, and a Japanese-style tea service that I normally would get all fetishistic over. But the mannered polite orderliness of the property only increases my feeling of displacement. I want to be home, with my stuff, in my disorder.

Then I peer into the bathing room. It is not the usual bathroom – the tub is its own room! They even have a special name: furos, or deep soaking tubs. There is even a bath butler who will draw your bath – but I Vanted To Be Alone. Serenity, Love, Courage, Zen, Awareness are the heady titles of the bath salts they have at hand, but I have the scent of LUST waving under my nose, rousing me into a prehistoric frenzy – my primeval soup beckons.

No one is enraged as teeming water crests the porcelain walls of my furo. But my inner Al Gore forces me to halt this carnal water waste after three minutes, with loud calculations of how rapidly I am contributing to our species' extinction in an ironic return to primal mush.

But I'm able to sustain a cocoonlike sensuality, for in the elegant lobby every evening is a complementary sake tasting. Nobody minds if you don't ask what the differences are and just knock back the rice wine like whiskey shots. They indulge me with glowing smiles of good will, which only consecrate the knowledge that I am now in an alternative universe of love and pampering for all anthropoid types. (The five sakes have no influence at all, I assure you.) My joyous bountiful bliss reaches new crests when I join in a group activity hosted by the Kabuki Hotel. The Taiko Drum instructor graciously smiles as I respond to his prodigious beats by slipping rather quickly into the depth of my unconscious to pound the beat beat beat of my mother's heart on the drum. Who knows what primitive creation I fashion in Bonsai Lessons, Origami Instruction, or Sushi Preparation?

My need for nourishment is easily sated – I only need to stroll into the hotel's O Izakaya Lounge. With huge screen hangings of animated traditional Japanese baseball cards, the sense of play is immediate, yet there's a careful attention to detail: cork floors, bamboo trim, welcoming leather booths and communal tables – this is no iHop! Executive Chef Nicolaus Balla's menu for O Izakaya Lounge is meant to be shared with friends. This is the rare find of gourmet bar food, and I sip the most perfectly made Sake Mojito. Then my friends and I gasp at what is at least gastronomic proof of evolutionary genius.

Berkshire pork belly braised with house-made kimchee, Mendocino seaweed salad with mustard greens and umeboshi, and saba with beets, cucumbers, and freshly grated wasabi is a long way from club and catch. The presentation alone would impress Jackson Pollock.

If our planet does return to the sea, engulfed by global warming – a massive undulating liquid that was our world – perhaps one day a species will evolve out of our leftovers. If they ever start excavating to uncover what our civilization was, when they come to beer tempura mushrooms and spiced ginger chicken wings, they will know we were a lucky tribe, loved by our Gods and chefs. Oh, if only we kept to our furo tubs to overflow our delicate boundaries. Then life could go on forever.

~Laura Albert

Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post Street, San Francisco, CA. (415) 922-3200
For reservations, call 1 (800) 533-4567
O Izakaya Lounge, (415) 614-5431
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The Many Reincarnations of JT Leroy

Model: Laura Albert
Photographer: Trevor Traynor
Styling and Hair: Rudy Rivera, Hair of the Gods (SF)
Clothing by Miss Sixty Makeup by Smashbox

First row, center:
Hat by Jasmin Zorlu for Cassel Goorin "Legionnaire"
Second row, left:
Sunglasses by Richard Walker for Blinde "Obviously Oblivious"
Second row, center:
Sunglasses by Richard Walker for Blinde "Apparently Arrogant"
Third row, center:
Sunglasses by Richard Walker for Blinde "Sweet Vendetta"
Hat by San Diego Hat Co. "Jersey Knit Newsboy"
Third row, right:
Hat by San Diego Hat Company "Wool Felt Cap with Bow"
Fourth row, left & right:
Sunglasses by Richard Walker for Blinde "88 Special" in Olive and Blue
(left) Hat by San Diego Hat Company "Canvas Baker Boy with Trim"
Fifth row, left:
Sunglasses by Richard Walker for Blinde "Obviously Oblivious"
Hat by San Diego Hat Company "Jersey Newsboy Hat"
Fifth row, center:
Sunglasses by Richard Walker for Blinde "Lickety Lips"
Hat by Jasmin Zorlu for Cassel Goorin "Asymmetrical Fisher Girl" in Brown and Cream Tweed
Fifth row, right:
Sunglasses by Richard Walker for Blinde "Apparently Arrogant"
Hat by Jasmin Zorlu for Cassel Goorin "Asymmetrical Fisher Girl" in Black Suede with Fishskin Leather band
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Roots Restaurant

This aint HOJO's! Street cred begins ground floor of San Francisco's first and only "green" hotel - The Orchard Garden. It's Cinderella's cozy (56 seats) pumpkin transformed into luxuriant stagecoach; fall squash colors, turret like mirrors, soft coach seating which invite a new gastronomic ritual -- enmeshment into the joyous labor-intensive artistry of Chef Rummer (MC2_). Sustainable, local, organic means nothing without lick your plate and beg for more artistry. Scallop Ceviche with Blood Oranges and Buddha's Hand Oil?! The carpet is low VOC, ready made dropping to ones knees in prayer for more.

Roots Restaurant, 466 Bush Street (at Grant Avenue, in the Orchard Garden Hotel), (415) 659-0349

~Laura Albert

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Rejouvenance Skin & Body Day Spa Version 2.0

In preparation for a hot date the best advice I’ve gotten was to either lose ten pounds or get a spray tan. Whether at the original, or its new (open as of Sunday, 12/2) sister spot, with one visit to Rejouvenance you can do both. Rejouvenance boasts the kind of attentive, personalized care that is unique to a female owned, non-corporate business. They have the best spray tan – the only one where you don’t look like an overcooked carrot. And, as far as the immediate wait loss – who would think a treatment from behind the old Iron Curtin would save our behinds? The Russians invented Whole Body Vibration (WBV) to form muscle mass on their cosmonauts – now 50-years later we being let in on their secret weapon. 20 minutes on a vibrating plate at 50 hertz per second = 1 hours of resistance training. Build muscle, reduce cellulite, increase collagen, and augment groovy human growth hormones without a doping scandal! Serotonin even gets a boost (you might not need your Prozac!).

Explore the mystery for $20 for 20 minutes.

As of this Sunday, also find Rejouvenance at its new location 1500 Vallejo Street, San Francisco, (415) 567-7222
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Vegan Cupcake Comes to Rescue of Troubled Author

By Jack Rake, UPI, San Francisco, Oct. 4

In a striking development that sheds light on the emergence of purely vegetal matter in the literary world, a so-called vegan "cupcake" all but saved the life of a California fiction writer who was found liable for fraud in a Manhattan courtroom this past summer.

The authorities said the cupcake, a chocolate-vanilla swirl made of rice flour with a soy-based icing, was instrumental in stopping the writer, Laura Albert, 41, from checking herself into a state psychiatric ward this week. "Without that cupcake there's no doubt in my mind that crazy bitch would have committed herself to the bughouse again," said one investigator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It's a nifty bit of work for a baked good."

While cupcakes have long served as the dessert of choice for the writerly set, the selection by Ms. Albert (author of the novel "Sarah" and creator of the fictional persona, JT LeRoy) of a strictly vegan cupcake suggests, however dimly, that animal products from eggs to milk to cheese may finally be falling out of favor among authors. In a related development in Burundi, a little-known writer of East African situation comedies was discovered to have hanged himself last month in his blue Mini-Cooper with what the authorities in Africa have said was a suicide note taped to the steering wheel, stating he could "not go on" given the lack of vegan sweets in the region.

"I wouldn't say it's reached the level of a trend yet, but it's undeniable that things are popping at an almost alarming rate," said Demetrius T. Beauregard, professor of forensic gastronomy at Harvard. "We've seen an unprecedented rise in aggressive veganism not only among nonfiction writers but, unfortunately, among those who make shit up as well."

How this leaked to the press, I don't know, but nothing is sacred any more. You can't drive with a baby in your lap or try to jump off bridge in privacy! It is true; I had had a hard day. I had no more dark chocolate in supply. I couldn't even find a suitable fictional persona to get me through the day.

So I had one of those George Bailey It's A Wonderful Life moments. I live in San Francisco and thus I went to the Golden Gate Bridge. Leaning over the rust colored railing snow crusted my face – well, actually, it was fog frothing in – a small unromantic detail.

"I'm worth more dead then alive…." Did I say that aloud? I must have because suddenly a chocolate with white frosting cupcake sailed over my shoulder. It did not sally forth toward the water, but alongside me, heading into oncoming traffic! I instinctively jumped to the rescue of cupcake – the way anyone would if a baby were tossed toward you. I grabbed it, the vanilla butter crème frosting swooshing against my palm just before it would have collided with a Hummer.

I looked up – manna from heaven? A man-boy's form made its way toward me through a bluster of fog.

"Are thou an angel and art thou in search of wings?" I held the stigmata-like dripping mess on my palm out to the gangly being in front of me.

"Yes I am," the being said. A starched white cloth cape flapped behind him.

"But my name bee'th Sasha: Protector of Men." His eyes had a blue marble gloss.

"But I am not a man," I sighed, "Or have you not heard?"

"I have heard rumor of such, indeed." He stepped forward. "Your breasts are a clue as well. But I am not really a protector of men. That's just what my name means."

I noticed what I initially took for a cape was really an apron. It was just tied on like a cape.

"I am a provider of cupcakes!" He wore clogs, not the wooden little boy type, but the chef laboring in a kitchen kind.

I gulped, realizing who this was and what was smooshed all over my hand.

"Good humored sir," I held up my hand, "Is this vegan?"

He nodded. "How did you know?"

The chocolate under the frosting was the color of peat soil. It had an allure of something not sickeningly sweet yet still maintaining the promise of intense oral joyous satisfaction.

"I hear the call of all that need The Vegan Cupcake Treatment." He thrust his hand out, clutching a brown paper bag holding more of its kind. Six more to be exact.

"You are sent from the gods," I gasped.

"Kinda. Actually we have a deal with the Golden Gate Bridge – I have a jumper phone at my restaurant, Lettus. Someone reported you. Said you had that fraudulent fiction writer despondency vegan aura to you."

I nodded solemnly as I licked my fingers.

My attention was suddenly taken by police sirens. By the time I turned back, Sascha had vanished. I tried to assure the police I was not really going to jump, I was just into --chasing cupcakes.

Alas it was too late. An AP reporter now stood in the space vacated by Sascha.
Upon my release, I took to strolling into the habitat/restaurant, Lettus, in search of my vegan cupcakes, where I sometimes catch glimpses of the legendary clogs and apron/cape of Sascha Weiss as he jousts out of his kitchen toward bridge duty. Sometimes he is joined by Elizabeth Falkner of famed Citizen Cake. It turns out there were too many old-schoolers that balked at the sacrilege of a vegan cupcake – even though you would never know if you bit into one. (Midwesterners-- they can tell five feet away.) So Elizabeth's cupcakes can reach the purist suicidals. They are thick and juicy, the steak of cupcakes, but in the aesthetic San Francisco perfection way. Would-be jumpers often report, that after their first bite of a Citizen Cake cupcake they hear a big band playing swing – the taste of nostalgia that accompanies the senses.

I myself found redemption patrolling the ramparts of the wind- swept Golden Gate Bridge in search of fellow lost artists craving a leap into the beyond. I freed up Elizabeth and Sascha so they can stay chained to the kitchen and make more compact missiles of grace - no more bridge duty. My heart overflows to know that I can be of service. It matches the ache of my overstuffed stomach as I usually eat my supplies of cupcakes, both vegan and not, my melancholia getting the better of my virtue.

I have found delight in my work, except when I encounter a journalist. For them, there is only one thing that will work, which is not in my repertoire - I don't stock Twinkies.

~Laura Albert

Go There:
Lettus, 3352 Steiner, San Francisco, (415) 931-2777
Citzen Cake, 399 Grove Street, (415) 861-2228
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