Speed Shrinking

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New York   You’re 25 and still live with your parents?,’ she asked, aware of the ticking clock and all the other potentials she’d meet in the next two hours. ‘Just for now, until I get my organic cream cheese business running,’ he rushed to finish. ‘I-’ ‘They’re holding you back,’ she interrupted, as the buzzer went. ‘You need to overcome your ambivalence. It masks your fear of success.’

This isn’t the kind of conversation you’d normally have while speed dating — even in Jewish neurotic New York — but this is not speed dating but the next best (or arguably first best) thing: speed shrinking.

At this series of events, the tenth of which was held in January at Housing Works charity book store in Soho, the general public can come — for free — to have their heads shrunk and their careers stretched. One side of the room is lined with a row of sex therapists, gay specialists, addiction shrinks and Jewish Freudians and authors like Diana Kirchner, Jonathan Fast, and Sherene Schostak; the other side is lined with literary agents and editors from the likes of William Morris, the New York Times and Marie Claire. Participants choose a queue — depending on whether they want to solve or sell their personal stories — and move along, given three minutes with each head-doctor or literary guru. A comedian hosts, keeping strict time with the buzzer.

Speed shrinking can be more emotional than speed dating, and is probably more worthwhile. Participants know it. They come armed with pressing life and love questions, and with pitches for articles, essays, novels and non-fiction book projects, including studies of orthodox breakdancing to kosher locavore cookbooks. Business cards are flying, if someone is slow moving on to their next seat, another person jumps right in. The vibe is creative: agents and editors looking for work, writers hoping to sell it. Therapists looking to help achieve happiness (and pick up new clients), people seeking tips toward self-actualisation and introductions to therapists whom they might continue to see for 50 minute sessions. (Disclaimer: the three minutes do not comprise actual therapy.)

These happenings — which have taken place in NYC and LA and already featured on CBS and CNN — are organised by New York-based author and journalism professor Susan Shapiro. Its title comes from her first novel — it’s a double entendre for a story about controlling weight and finding a new therapist (and self-acceptance). The protagonist visits 8 shrinks in 8 days, realising she is addicted to therapy. Shapiro’s memoir Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex, is about her experience in addiction therapy. She hopped between dependencies — from cigarettes to alcohol to gum — before transforming her habits to writing books and advancing her career. So, this party that celebrates potential combines both therapy and the writing-marketplace.

January’s shrinkage — which featured acclaimed Jungian astrologist Robert Cook, psycho-pharmacologist Sheri Sprit, and sex hypnotherapist Cathy Beaton as well as editors from Penguin and Out — functioned as a launch for Shapiro’s new book. Co-written with Frederick Woolverton, founder of the Village Institute for Psychotherapy, and her former substance abuse therapist who inspired many of her works, Unhooked: How to Quit Anything, is a collection of case studies that explains addiction as a coping mechanism for handling underlying depression and overwhelming feeling. It guides readers to suffer better, and manage discomfort in a healthy way.

If Jews seem to be addicted to confession, writing memoirs, and therapy, Speed Shrinking evenings salute them all. Plus, refreshments are free.

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