Book Review: Talking to Crazy

Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life by Mark Goulston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It’s sort of like a pop psych version of The Prince, but instead of manipulating snooty European nobles with “near truths” and tactical surrenders, you use it on coworkers and loved ones when they’re acting screwy.

Goulston gives examples of the various crazy people will act out in their day to day lives — focusing primarily on every day, garden variety crazy, not axe murderer crazy — and how to disarm it. Most of these disarmaments require a sacrifice of dignity. You’ll be flattering them unduly, you’ll be lying about their capability, you’ll be pretending they’re right or that you’re scared or something like that as a means of “leaning into their crazy” which gives you the leverage to frog-march them back into sanity.

He seems like an excellent psychiatrist, if duplicitous. I like the prospect of leaning into crazy. People get really embedded in delusional thinking, and to challenge that delusion challenges their whole self-concept, which feels like an attack not only on the individual, but on the whole foundation of the individual’s world. Burning it down and salting the earth. So when you try to talk somebody out of crazy, it feels like bombardment, and they’ll start deploying whatever weapons they have to stop what they perceive as your assault. And guess what? Those weapons? Real crazy.

Whereas, leaning into crazy, it’s like a trojan horse. They won’t realize you’re dragging them back into sanity until it’s too late, at which point they won’t be irrational anymore, which is the point.

Goulston’s methods are sketchy because yes, they are deliberately, premeditatedly manipulative. In that respect, it reads like a pick-up artist book. Here’s a list of canned responses and insight into the psychology of others to coax them into doing what you want. It’s just, in this case, doing what you want is “acting like a reasonable adult”, and I think that’s probably the greater good.




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Barcelona: The Gothic Quarter and Other Medieval Crap

Monday, September 23, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Blind Guardian – The Maiden and the Minstrel Knight

An Australian joined us for tapas the night before. Over mojitos, he and I commiserated on the ennui that first drove us overseas.

“I’m a month into it now, so I’ve got about two months left.”

“That’s a long haul.”

“Fuckin’ right,” he said. “I miss it back home, but I just gotta power through it.”

“When you’re here you wanna be there, and when you’re there you wanna be here,” I said.

“Exactly.”

Ladygirl sipped at her oversugared mojito.

She and I dropped off to resolve our sleep debts; Australia also hadn’t slept in a few days, but said he was going to head out for a few beers before turning it.

The next morning I was tickatackin on the terrace and he bodily dragged himself out in a demonstration of top-of-the-line ragdoll physics.

“Did I wake you two coming in?” he asked.

“Naw,” I said. “I was out by midnight, so it must’ve been after that.”

“I just got in at 7, mate.”

I looked at my watch.

“You’re talking like, fifteen minutes ago?”

“Yeh. I went on the pub crawl, then we wound up at this club. Somebody gave me a pill. I only took half, figured I’d be good. I wasn’t good.”

“What kind of pill?”

He looked around, visibly insane, but I would look visibly insane if I had his week too.

“Ecstasy,” he said.

“So much for a couple beers.”

He exploded with manic laughter, then announced he was going to bed and disappeared. I encountered him again when I went to get my stuff from the locker. He was snoring like a backfiring chainsaw. I’m glad he found peace.

We would have liked to stick around Gracia, but the hostel was full up. We booked one next to the Arco de Triunfo, gathered all our stuff, and made our way across the city of dreams.

The city of dreams was drowsy this morning. The demographic had changed. A lot more oldos were puttering around, wearing more clothing than the established average. The oldos in Barcelona have no sense of spatial awareness whatsoever, and will attempt to hip check you off the sidewalk or drive a baby carriage into your leg.

I was sad to see Gracia go. The tapas were all $2, and it was far enough removed from the tourist sites that you were only occasionally swarmed by teenagers screaming in English. Still, I wasn’t disappointed for long.

You know you’ve hit the Gothic Quarter because evil wizard castles start growing out of nowhere, but the deal is really sealed in the twisting, labyrinthine side-streets that make up the medieval district. You never know what’s around the next corner, but “weird tourist shops” would be a fair bet.

Who is this handsome gentlemen, to be placed in the pantheon alongside Einstein and Obama? Could this be the Christmas Lad of Iceland, prior to his scientific gelding?

The Caganer is a popular figure in Catalonian culture, associated with the Nativity. Yeah, the Christmas one. With Jesus in it. His name translates to “the shitter”, and most families will pop his figurine somewhere clandestine in the nativity scene, whereupon the children will try to find it. It’s like a little Where’s Waldo, but with shit.

“Why?” you may be asking. “Isn’t it kind of blasphemous to have a dwarf shitting next to Jesus?”

That’s a reasonable conclusion to draw, but nobody knows. There are a bunch of possible explanations for the Caganer’s presence and symbolism, but it’s empty conjecture. I’m partial to the Jungian representation of Caganer as “the Other” myself, but I’m also certain it’s a load of psychobabble cagada and 17th century peasants just thought poop was funny.

I know you’re wondering. No, I didn’t buy it. But only because his little red cap clashes with my office.

We scrounged up some beer and bocadillos at a cafe not far from the Cathedral. While there, we had to move to another table because a waiter had to open an honest-to-yog trapdoor and descend into the cellar for more wine.

There was a sign over the door that I managed to noodle out despite my at-best halting Spanish. It said:

Bienaventurados los borrachos, porque ellos verán a dios dos veces.

Blessed are the drunks, because they’re going to see God twice.

Love,

B.