At the age of 70, Barbra Streisand is back in the limelight, and with that we can ponder her unusual success. How many celebrities remain in the public eye over the course of five decades? How many singers can command those ticket prices for concerts? And how come we never tire of her? And, for that matter, why isn't she tired this late in the game? Where does she find the energy to tour, release a new movie, promote a new CD and work on philanthropy projects, when others might retreat to the golf course?
Back in 2006, a Toronto Star journalist, Richard Ouzounian, asked how it was that Barbra exerted such a grip on our imagination. He found an answer in a biography by Santopietro. That biographer conjectured that what makes Streisand so compelling to us are her paradoxes: she is attracted to the limelight, yet strongly hungers for privacy; she has expressed insecurity about her looks yet her face appears virtually everywhere in popular culture; she comfortably assumes leadership in many projects yet easily expresses both vulnerability and femininity when performing.
I'm a graphologist and a clinician; I tend to get to know a little bit about people by peering at their handwriting. Looking at Streisand's signature, we do find the theme of duality. Barbra's first name (representing the private self) is scripted in one style of writing whereas her last name (representing her professional self) is scripted in a completely different style of writing. When signing her first name, she favours a style that is detail-oriented as seen in the fact that she renders every letter very carefully.
In the last name, her style is impressionistic, abstract and even artistic. The letters here are not defined. These two writing styles show different natures within, one that is oriented towards precision and detail, and one that is mindful of the Gestalt, sensitive to appearances and interested in making impressions that are artistically compelling. It means she is mindful of detail but also easily able to see the big picture. It's not surprising that she aspired to be a director.
Why do we notice Barbra? Because, I suggest, she really does embody the duality of life. In fact, she has said as much about herself, remarking, "I am simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy and driven." She expresses the wide bandwidth of personality, demonstrating the power available to those who deliberately cultivate and express both Yin and Yang. And I suspect that she garners energy, personal power and wealth by accessing the resources available from both sides of the psychological spectrum.
Perhaps that feat sounds nebulous. We know that humans are comprised of conscious and unconscious, right brain and left brain, sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. One might think that bridging opposites is among the most basic of human activities. As a practicing psychotherapist who routinely uses graphology and projective personality assessment as a means of understanding something of the inner workings of personality, I have found that at the root of any number of mental health difficulties is an imbalance between the two fundamental facets of self. It turns out that integrating these two is no easy feat, something that psychologist Timothy Wilson well documents in his book, Strangers to Ourselves.
And where is that point of integration for these two facets of self that seem compelled to drive us in two completely different directions? Yogic psychology explains that our masculine and feminine aspects meet and marry in the heart. Given her strongly dualistic nature, we're not surprised that Barbra registers the importance of that vital organ.
Of late, she donates significant funds to support research in women's cardiac care. And if she ultimately funds research that betters the plight of women with heart disease, we will all be better for it. But regardless of that, she is an iconic character who has role modelled the importance of being full-bodied, psychologically speaking, demonstrating the power that can be garnered by unpacking the gamut of potentials that lay within. We can learn from her productivity and her process, deriving lessons about how to bring agendas to full fruition, or how to make a life out of doing what you love.
This column is designed to introduce the clinical application of the psychology of handwriting, a European technique mostly unfamiliar in North America. Readers can bear in mind that graphology is appropriately used alongside other assessment methods, never used in isolation. This method is discussed fully in my book Clinical Graphology, recently published by Charles C Thomas Publishers.