A Man and His Therapist Tackle Far More Than Just His Demons


Dialogues With the Wise Woman by Richard Todd Devens

That great philosopher and former boxer Mike Tyson said it best: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Or consider this example. A man is waiting for a train with his wife. Suddenly, another man quickly rushes up to the wife and it appears he might push her in front of an oncoming train. So what is the husband’s plan?

Matters of the mind and heart, and right and wrong, are contemplated deeply in Dialogues with the Wise Woman (Gatekeeper Press) by Richard Todd Devens, a loose novel that provides a vehicle for the author to communicate his life philosophy in a storytelling format.

“Often,” writes Devens, “when someone is in acute emotional pain and is experiencing severe anguish, there is no time to explore someone’s upbringing and context … An exhaustive exploration of one’s infancy and adolescence might hold clues as to the ‘why,’ but the wise woman would be more concerned with the ‘how.’”

The fictitious wise woman in this case is 67-year-old psychologist/philosopher Mildred Markowitz, that rare therapist who doesn’t tolerate any bull or tell people what they want to hear. She attacks and solves problems “like a dentist extracts a rotten tooth.”

We are introduced to Mildred through George Sistern, a 46-year-old pianist in deep depression. He comes to Mildred to discuss how he has been scammed by a Las Vegas “Poker Queen,” but that isolated incident sets the stage for a thorough examination into the mind and psyche of George, similar to that found in the films Ordinary People and Good Will Hunting.

George is that common creature with low self-esteem, examining why he makes certain choices, understanding what he can and can’t control and distinguishing from good and evil people. His interaction with the Poker Queen, who convinces casual card players their chances are better with her playing, strikes at the heart of his insecurities and depression. Mildred offers the saying, “Why let an evil person live rent-free inside your head?”

But is good and evil so cut and dry? While this discussion starts as interactions between patient and therapist, it extends to a larger stage in a formal debate, on prison reform, between Mildred and a local college professor, Markov. The debate takes in matters of morality, crime, the criminal justice system and punishment.

While one thought is simply “lock ‘em up and throw away the key,” there’s also a case to consider the person’s upbringing, socio-economic status and other factors.

Then we come back to what a husband would do if he believes — but of course isn’t sure — a man is about to push his wife in front of an oncoming train. Some actions, and instincts, don’t provide the luxury of evaluating a person’s background when split-second decisions are required.

And what are readers to make of Tony, a close friend of Mildred’s who happens to be connected to the mob? Why is he introduced and what does he represent?

Richard Todd Devens certainly gives readers a lot to think about in his heady Dialogues with the Wise Woman. It forces readers to put themselves in many “what if” situations and contemplate what they would do. And it’s fascinating to listen to the dialogue and points of view — on the therapist’s couch and in a crowded auditorium.

One way to sum up the philosophy in this most thought-provoking book might be to borrow a phrase from a college basketball coach, Jim Larranaga, who tells his players: “Ten percent of life is what happens to you, and 90 percent is how you react to it.”

Put that in your bag as you consider the many sides of Dialogues with the Wise Woman.

Richard Todd Devens is a professional pianist, piano instructor, award-winning writer, and speaker. His last book, Rational Polemics, was the recipient of four awards and is considered must reading for open-minded people who think outside the box. As a speaker, he speaks on a wide array of topics, but his favorite genre is motivational speaking. As a child, he was put away in an institution from the age of 7 to 13. He has endured physical and emotional abuse, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, extreme poverty and debt and severe depression. But he is a firm believer in the power of the human spirit, self-responsibility and transcendence. He stresses that you can learn from the past, but you cannot do it over. He does not tell people only what they want to hear; he tells the truth without sugarcoating it.

Publish Date: February 8, 2024

Genre: Fiction

Author: Richard Todd Devens

Page Count: 238 pages

Publisher: Gatekeeper Press

ISBN: 9781662933219

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