American Society for the Alexander Technique AmSAT Journal #4 Book Review




It’s Your Fault

My Journey Through Back Pain, A Teenager and Self-Discovery

By Wendy Coblentz

Minneapolis, MN: Mill City Press, 2013

By Ruth Diamond



This short memoir traces Wendy Coblentz’s journey towards finding the Alexander Technique and establishing a friendlier relationship with physical, emotional, and interpersonal pain. Born and raised with a passion for movement, Wendy filled her life with hiking, dancing, and many other forms of physical exercise. Still, since early adulthood, she struggled with recurring bouts of depression and intermittent bouts of back pain. She became addicted to constant exercise, which created an emotional release and gave her a sense of control.

Unfortunately, she kept getting injured. Meanwhile her teenage son was going through a crisis of his own. As Wendy’s inability to control his increasingly rebellious behavior and the pain of her own injuries became more and more unbearable, she turned to a breathtaking array of traditional and alternative modalities in an attempt to keep moving.

The book’s breezy style reflects her use of humor to cope with pain. Each short chapter describes an aborted attempt to find relief with physical therapy, myofascial release, yoga therapy, and emotional freedom technique and body synergism, among others. The comedy in her descriptions deflects the disappointment of each new encounter.

She tries medications, which make her nauseous or dizzy; exercises, which injure her more; as well as self-healing techniques and meditation. She even tries the Alexander Technique, which she rejects when she does not get the quick fix results she is looking for. The one constant in her life during this period is her psychiatrist, who supports her through the many frustrations on her journey toward healing over a ten-year period.

Gradually she becomes aware of her tendency to try too hard. When a set of exercises does not help, she increases her effort and exacerbates the injury. The conversations with each of her practitioners take on a familiar pattern of criticism and failure.

Finally, in desperation, she returns to her Alexander Technique teacher, John Baron. “I weighed the pros and cons of the Alexander Technique. Benefits included remaining fully clothed, in addition to keeping my eyes open. The teacher encouraged communication instead of forced tranquility. No statues of demi-gods sat in the room next to sticks of burning incense. The only real negative was the un-known. I had nothing to lose.”

This time Wendy stuck with the Technique, gradually allowing awareness, inhibition, and direction to develop into new skills for coping with pain and rebellious teenagers. Six years later, although she is not always pain-free, much of the time she is without the chronic pain that plagued her for so many years. For this she is grateful. She is grateful, too, for the gift that the Alexander Technique has given her of a method for learning how to take better care of herself.

Wendy’s story may serve as an inspiration for other chronic pain suffers who are lost in the maze of traditional and alternative healing modalities. The trick may be to give up just being a patient in order to learn the appropriate skills for taking better care of oneself.

Ruth Diamond graduated from ACAT in 2003 and maintains a practice in New York City. She is a clinical nurse specialist with an MA in psychiatric/mental health nursing. She has worked as a psychotherapist and has a continuing interest in mind-body unity.

Coming home: Author’s Family history tied to Reno bookstore

Coming home: Author’s family history tied to Reno bookstore

Reno Gazette Journal

Sep. 7, 2013   |

Wendy Coblentz walked through the door at the big house at 121 California Ave. last week and into a flashback of family memories.

It had been 35 years since her last visit to the home her great-grandfather had built in 1906. That late summer day in 1978, she and her father traveled from the San Francisco Bay Area to Reno to remove the last belongings of her great aunt, Mildred “Tinker” Levy, who lived alone in the home, which is now Sundance Books and Music.

“I remembered it being larger,” said Coblentz, an author and nonprofit fundraising specialist who lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Jim. “I think I first came here when I was 5 (in 1960), and we came here every summer for five or six years.”

The “we” included her grandmother, Mimi, the older sister of Tinker who also grew up in the house.

“Every year, Mimi brought (her cousin) Sally and myself to visit Tinker for a week or 10 days,” Coblentz said. “We used to love coming here.”

Family ties

The home was built by Wilhelm Levy, a Prussian immigrant, who moved to Reno and, in 1895, opened Palace Dry Goods and Carpet House on East Second Street. He also had mining interests in the state.

A month after the store opened, he married Tillie Goldsmith in San Francisco. They had two daughters — Fritzie (known as Mimi to Coblentz and her family) and Mildred (known as Tinker). The family split time between Reno and San Francisco before building the mansion in Reno.

Built in “Classic Revival” style, the home originally faced Granite Street (now Sierra Street). In 1940, it was rotated 90 degrees to face California Avenue. William and Tillie Levy had passed away, leaving the house and property to their two daughters.

The oldest daughter, Mimi, had preferred San Francisco from an early age. In high school, she attended Miss Hamlin’s School for Girls and Young Ladies in San Francisco, while younger daughter, Tinker, stayed in Reno and attended Reno High School, graduating in 1915.

Mimi married Zach Coblentz and settled first in Santa Maria, Calif., and, later, in San Francisco.

After the mansion was rotated in 1940, the open portion of the lot became home to a series of service stations that were in place until Sierra Street was widened in the 1970s. Tinker continued to live in the mansion, often hosting weddings and other receptions.

Annual visits

Mimi Coblentz made annual visits to Reno starting in the 1930s — visits that often made the “Society” column in the Nevada State Journal and Reno Evening Gazette.

Wendy Coblentz said she started making the trip to Reno with her grandmother and cousin, Sally, by the time she turned 5. She loved visiting her aunt, who always had new dolls and toys for Wendy and Sally (a few months older than Wendy). She also made matzo ball soup, smoked tongue and shortbread cookies, the recipe for which is still in the family today and called “Tinker cookies.”

Basically, her aunt urged Wendy and Sally to just be kids.

The visits waned as Coblentz got older and had high school, college and other priorities to handle. Her final visit to the mansion was in 1978 after her great aunt died.

Full circle

The mansion later became a law office and was a day spa for a short period. It was also rumored to be haunted and can be found on various paranormal websites.

Ultimately, it was purchased by the Nevada Museum of Art, which leased it to Sundance Books and Music two years ago.

News that the home had become a bookstore made its way to Coblentz. She had written a book titled “It’s Your Fault: My Journey through Back Pain, a Teenager and Self-Discovery.”

She called the bookstore and said, “Let me tell you the back story …” before relating her family’s history with the building.

Sundance now carries the book.

Mention in San Francisco Chronicle Leah Garchik’s column May 29, 2013

Wendy Coblentz, whose new book is “It’s Your Fault: My Journey Through Back Pain, a Teenager and Self-Discovery,” is the daughter of the late lawyer William Coblentz, a pillar of the San Francisco community and regent of the University of California, often regarded as the most powerful behind-the-scenes mover and shaker in San Francisco. Coblentz’s book is, of course, about the travails indicated in its subtitle. It also, however, sheds some light on her father:

“It wasn’t until my mid-40s,” she writes, “that I realized that ‘I’m as Lonesome as a Gentile in Miami,’ which dad had sung in full voice in the lobby of the Diplomat Hotel, wasn’t a real song.”