A Psychotherapist Muses on the Blue Door, Recognition and Our Craving for Community


I didn’t see it coming.  We had met once before, left two messages each on our respective voice-mail, and agreed in principal that a rental agreement was in the offing but nothing seemed firm. 

Anxiety is the corruption of certainty. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal demonstrates that on the subatomic level nothing is predictable since the observer affects that which is observed: ah, the bittersweet illusion of certainty. 

blue-doorThe Blue Door that for decades marked the entrance to Timothy Tate's practice on Main StreetBut I needed assurance that my private practice had a place to land. That my Blue Door had hinges expecting its load.  Nine weeks of searching our fair community’s soul center, its downtown complexion, had yielded either a place on a waiting list that was as long as my impatience was short, or a sincere offer of $950 a month triple back at ya’ this and that all in. What? 

As a psychotherapist I wrestle with my people, the ravages of mental constructs that overlay ordinary reality with expectations of secure outcomes. Like tag team professional wrestlers we take turns trying to pin, sometimes body slam, the wiggly nature of reality. But reality is a red flamed masked rival that will not take the ten count. Am I the referee, the opponent, the cheerleader, the drunken first row screaming debutante or some compassionate detached color commentator? 

All I know is that I need a level of order in my daily life to combat the flux of perception and projection that comes into my ring seven times a day. 439 E. Main Street provided that stability for twenty-seven years. What I thought might be true for others as well was that the character of location and space also played mightily in the psyches of the people coming to visit. (Notice the use of the term ‘people’, not clients, not patients, people). And as I scouted our town for such a place I heard from others that it is equally true. We crave a stable place in the mayhem of the lazy, leaky anarchy of modernity. 

It’s like the consulting room is the container, the ring, for the encounter that might be as mild as an earnest conversation or as animated as a screaming rage unfettered from its shadow prison. A rickety container will not hold the alchemy of transformation, should that be a simmering of delicious ingredients or the full boil of matter changing shape. Both for the individual sitting across from me and for my own sense of stability the room we are in will always be the same. The same artifacts, albeit rearranged, the same artwork on the walls, the same greeting, the same lingering scent of freshly burned cedar. 

In other words, a sterile office with overhead neon lights, complete with a receptionist and paper work to be completed does not match my idea for the ground of engagement. Rather a place that is unique, has been tempered by the ravages of time, and is in the neighborhood of everyday life is required to meet the culture of archetypal psychotherapy.  Imaginative space looks like your childhood holding hands with a zepher. 

1223110819Like other proprietorships on Bozeman's Main Street over the years, Timothy Tate's tasteful sign marketing his psychotherapy practice was a landmark and safe haven for many in the community.So there I was making my daily rounds around Bozeman’s Main Street, up North Church, down East Mendenhall,  over to the North Rouse block. I take fifteen minutes after each session to circumnavigate this block of the Western Café, the Garage, Gerties, (anybody remember the sign shop that was once there?), Mike’s architectural practice, (what year was that bungalow moved there, 1984?) a brick house with three apartments, Potter’s building where the court reporters moved to as well as a dental fabricator, and yoga/message studio, another architectural firm in the once purposed brick garage, the labor temple, the fire station and police office, Rockford Coffee, another architectural firm, (both housed in the former city hall owned now by the same folks who own the Willson designed concrete apartment building next door (oh what a majestic crab apple tree between the buildings that I seek refuge under), McPhie Cabinetry, the autobody center, and back to home base behind The Blue Door, the portal to my practice. 

What began years ago as a need to stretch my legs has become a combination of neighborhood watch and walking meditation. I notice if a lilac fades in its blossom as much as I know who’s on duty in the firehouse.  We might not know our names but as familiar strangers we greet one another assured that we are still here doing our work. So when Jason, our fire chief’s child suffered from egregious cancer, or a detective sergeant was promoted to Captain of Detectives, or Christine’s family visited her from New Mexico, or Heather McPhie nailed her mogul run in the Winter Olympics, or Mike taking a smoke on his stoop answered, “Yes, I know the number of the landlady of that brick house with apartments, I’ll leave the number on your voice mail,”—and did, then I know I am in community. 

On one of my walks several weeks ago, I noticed a tenent in the brick house on the corner of North Church and Mendenhall was clearing out his stuff from the ground level corner apartment. He drove a scooter that he parked on the walkway covering it from stormy weather with a carpet remnant, moving through his space with an urgency that defied circumstance. 

We know that once a “For Rent” or “For Sale” sign is posted on property in our town, it’s already too late to snatch it up. Word-of-mouth is the ‘Lingua of Opportunity’ spoken by the invisible network of locals. I count on this language for all of my vital contacts. “Who is your doctor, your mechanic, your therapist, your beautician, your astrologer?” This invisible network binds community giving it character, coherence, and inside information. 

Noticing that this college student was departing stirred within me the sensation of genuineness. A genuine, matter-of-fact way to continue the momentum along an arc of imagined reality that gives my life meaning. But who owns this property? There is no number to call, no address to send inquires to: Back to Mike. I asked him on my next round if he knew who owned the building and you already know his answer. 

Here we are now, inside the apartment, Deborah the landlady, Susan, my wife and me visiting over the lunch hour about the terms of the lease. I looked out the North-facing window across Mendenhall to Hawthorne’s elementary school’s playground. I remembered writing a letter to the editor about the annual end of the school year blasting off of home made water pressurized rockets that signal summer vacation. I let myself feel the joy of children’s laughter on the playground. Is there a sound of faith more fulfilling than a playground’s soundtrack? Yes there are bullies, evil little demons, fights, and conflicts over whose ball it is, but I’ll tell you that the playground monitors jump on any sign of such nonsense protecting our inalienable right to happiness, at least in childhood. 

We talked in pauses customary to Montana’s code of ethics for visiting. Not too forceful, not too quick, ease with silences, share common references or people, don’t force the issue, tell stories, let subjects surface on their own accord. Utilities, length of lease, use of space, and terms of agreement were reached. And then without warning Deborah reached out her hand to me and firmly shook it. I sizzled. Should I warn her that I have a handshake deal with three dead people? Should I hold the firm warmth of her hand and accept the resilience of the moment that endlessly offers us a reliable exchange? Do I tell her that the fourth time signals completion, wholeness, and totality (the four seasons, the four directions, the four parts)? 

Instead I said to her: “Is it okay with you that I paint my name on the window,
“Timothy J. Tate”? 

“Sure, I don’t care.”

“And oh yes, may I carry my Blue Door from around the corner and hang it on your hinges?”


The Blue Door has its new home at 37 N. Church providing a portal to those among us who know that mind matters.


Read Timothy Tate’s preceding column, A Handshake Deal With Three Dead People


Editor’s Note: Come back for more of Timothy J. Tate’s excursions  into the shadowlands of full-mindedness and learning how to live beyond the comfort zone where meaning is found.