Reading As Emotional Practice Before Writing

The moment I’m seated at my desk, I glance at the time on my laptop. I know it won’t take me long to forget when I started. Time and silence become one in my mind. I imagine and remember what I experienced during the opening thirty or sixty seconds of yesterday’s session on my psychoanalyst’s couch: deafening silence. Outer silence became inner noise, and I felt an overwhelming need to end it. Two softcovers await me alongside my laptop. Both of them seemed to insist on remaining in my hands a few minutes ago when I browsed through books on my shelves. I decide to read some paragraphs of each and write down anything that comes to mind before starting to type on my laptop.

Twenty or thirty minutes later I’m disorientated. What comes to mind are two minutes and twenty-five seconds of a video of professional basketball star Stephen Curry practicing his 3-point shot, which I watched last night. I watched it several times. Each time I noticed things that I hadn’t been aware of the previous time, for instance that he missed two shots in a row and then another couple of times he missed once and then made the next shot. Details became increasingly important as I spent more time with those two hundred forty-five seconds of basketball video. Reading is my practice before I start writing (I also read in between writing sentences). The team had just finished its practice the day before a game, and the video was of Curry shooting 3s from various places on the court. My mind has experienced its own kind of practice as I’ve been reading and rereading paragraphs by two contemporary psychoanalysts, Michael Eigen and Thomas Ogden. I wonder what kind of reading experience might be equivalent to Curry practicing his 3-point shot. Before glancing at Eigen’s The Psychoanalytic Mystic and Ogden’s This Art of Psychoanalysis: Dreaming Undreamt Dreams and Interrupted Cries, I remind myself that both reading and writing are emotional experiences. I picture the two of them seated across from each other. It’s unclear where this conversation happens. Eigen is in his eighties. How old is Ogden? A minute later I discover online that he’s seventy-one.

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I have yet to start writing. Maybe I need some more reading practice first. Too much noise fills my head. Somehow, at the start of yesterday’s psychoanalytic session, I was able to tolerate outer silence that seemed to intensify inner noise. I remember the conversation between the two psychoanalysts that I have yet to imagine. Perhaps I’ve had enough emotional preparation and I can start writing at any moment. Then something unexpected happens. I come across a newspaper interview with Ogden online and learn that he not only writes on psychoanalysis. He also writes fiction.  The first thought that comes to me after I finish reading the interview is: I must buy his novels now! I take a couple of deep breaths. The moment to start typing seems to have arrived. I’m ready for more intense inner experiences, thanks to my emotional reading and remembering.

 

 

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Interruptions as Part of Creative Moments

During a quiet hour at home this morning, it occurred to me that what I had always considered a bad thing for my mind might be a good thing for my writing. A mug of espresso coffee seemed to help me connect a vignette I’d written in the second week of May to the vignette I hope to write in the next several hours. After rereading the vignette of six weeks ago, I found myself focusing on the opening sentence. Something was there to be discovered, which would create a connection in my imagination between itself and whatever I had yet to start writing. I was sure of it. Faith is an essential part of my creative process. I believe that, as I write, things come together in my mind. The opening sentence of the vignette I wrote on May 8 was about my narrator attempting to do two things at once: read a book on psychoanalysis and watch a panel discussion on YouTube about what kind of science is psychoanalysis. I started writing down images that came to mind as I continued rereading the opening sentence. I noted that the images appeared unconnected to the contents of the sentence. Most of them were of me struggling to speak in Spanish at the language academy in Madrid where I attended classes for a couple of years. Once all of the images were written down, I wondered what I was going to do with them.

I was surprised by what I wrote next. I asked myself what possible connections there were between these two sets of data, of the opening sentence and of the images I’d written down. Then I wrote: writing=stuttering=reading. Maybe I’d drunk too much coffee. As another question came to mind, I sensed that thoughts were finding me. Is interruption at the heart of my creative process?

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How can I equate stuttering with writing and reading? I imagine myself on a psychoanalytic couch saying that stuttering is an interruption in the mind. Interruptions often frustrate me. Writing well involves frustration, a thought I would prefer to ignore. Reading aloud in front of others has always been frustrating for me because I’m afraid I might stutter, and although I love reading books I sometimes become frustrated with my inability to maintain focus. Learning comes to mind. On good days, I learn from mental interruptions. Reading in Spanish, my second language, has taught me that frustration can help me focus more on words and on what different meanings sentences might have. For too long I refused to learn from stuttering. It is part of who I am. So is interruption. Another thought finds me: Interruptions can become part of creative moments, as long as frustration and imagination can find ways to connect with each other.

Fact and Fiction Before Separation

My lapstrake rowboat Pepito is twelve feet long (the name is carved on the transom). If I were much taller, I wouldn’t fit on the couch where I lie several times a week for fifty minutes (and I’m 5 feet 6 inches). I feel comfortable in the small boat, without a motor, which surprised me at first since I can remember, as a child, being afraid of the water. Pepito and I will be together in the water in a few days, when (unless something unforeseen happens, which of course happens every day) I’ll travel on bus and ferry and bicycle from Seattle to a small community in the San Juan Islands and then, after launching the boat, row from one island to another. It was probably twenty-four years ago when I first imagined myself free-associating in a psychoanalyst’s office (the spring of 1994 comes to mind, and one afternoon I emerged from a second-hand bookstore with what, except for Irvin Yalom’s Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, were my first two psychological books, one on Freud, the other on Jung). Pepito was built by students at a wooden boat building school near Port Townsend while I was living in Madrid. A dream was one of the reasons why I wanted a lapstrake skiff (another was that, as a child, I was fortunate enough to spend time at my grandparent’s cabin in a Norwegian fjord where lapstrake boats were common). Psychoanalysis was a dream to me for years – I never stopped reading about it; in fact, I read more and more as time passed – and then, two years ago, five years after moving back to Seattle from Spain, I realized that I wasn’t going to wait any longer.

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An hour ago I had no idea what I was going to write about, although I sensed that something was awaiting me within. I’d written two pages of notes based on what I’d read in two books, which is unusual for me, and I assumed that the images, facts, and thoughts on those two pages would help me write a narrative. Maybe they have. My psychoanalyst and I don’t meet on Fridays, the day I’ll travel to our cabin, and I won’t have to work on that day either. Pepito was ten years old last month. The dream I had before the idea to have such a boat came to me took place in the water between the two islands where I will be rowing on Friday (if all goes according to plan, which rarely seems to happen). In the first image, I was driving a speedboat as fast as possible toward the nearest marina, while in the second and final image I was rowing in the same direction. I’m tired, and I have other work that I must finish before the end of the day. Most of what I’ve written here is based on what I consider to be facts. But I might be lying if I were to say that there is no fiction in these sentences. Perhaps I’ll reread them this weekend in the islands and find out.  

 

Inner and Outer Reality

Uncertainty might be minutes or hours away. I’ll know when I walk through the door in my mind. I thought it would be easier to arrive home in my imagination. I’m in no hurry this afternoon, or that’s what I keep repeating to myself. It’s three o’clock. It’s 3:15. At 3:30 I wonder how much longer I’m willing to wait. I’m seated at my desk, checking my email. I walk to the kitchen. It’s too soon to prepare my afternoon cup of coffee. Too soon? It’s 3:40 pm. I would prepare it if I were certain that I’ll be writing on paper or on my laptop in fifteen minutes. A walk to the park three blocks away is another possibility. In an instant I realize that it doesn’t matter what I do outside of my mind. The moment has arrived, whether or not I’m willing to admit it, to be in my mind. I return to my desk, and as soon as I’m seated I’m also, in my imagination, a few miles away on my psychoanalyst’s couch.

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The clock on the windowsill reads 10:02 am. I walked up four flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. The images that come to mind as I reread the two previous sentences, of the clock on the windowsill beyond the couch in my psychoanalyst’s office, and of me walking up four flights of stairs, could be part of reality, except for the fact that my analyst’s office is on the second floor, not on the fourth. What I imagine next seems more plausible in a dream than in reality: I get up off the couch, walk to the window, and glance at the Olympic Mountains in the distance while my psychoanalyst, seated behind the couch, remains silent. The remaining forty-six or forty-seven minutes feel like an eternity. Years of psychotherapy as a client, and my experiences while training to be a psychotherapist, have taught me that fifty minutes can pass as if they were a handful of seconds. I wish I could stay on this couch, and my analyst remain in her chair, forever. All of these words are in my head. The word uncertainty returns. What am I afraid of? I glance at my laptop screen: 4:05 pm. I imagine preparing coffee as I continue writing about what could happen in my mind while I lie on the couch and wonder what might happen a second or minute from now. As I stand up and walk away from the desk and head toward the kitchen, I hear myself say: imagining coffee won’t put caffeine in my system.

Writing Home

(This is not intended to be fiction, to the degree that I’m capable of it)

I’m lying on my psychoanalyst’s couch in my mind. I feel safe in this room. The view of the Olympic Mountains from the couch reminds me of the home where I grew up, in this same city, where my parents no longer live, where the future has begun a new past, without me. My own secrets have been revealed to me on this couch, the real one, in reality, which sounds as mysterious as this experience in my mind, which has yet to end. In any given session, I start speaking, then interrupt myself when my own spontaneity makes me anxious, and on good days, when I allow images and words in my mind to be creative with me, my spontaneous speaking returns, and sometimes along with it, discoveries happen.

I’m in the fourth floor office in a way that would be impossible during an actual session. In reality, I’m seated at the round table at home where I do most of my writing (occasionally I leave home with a notepad and walk until images and ideas tell me to stop and write them down), in the room where I read, drink coffee, and take books from the shelves and either hold them or read sentences, paragraphs, or pages when my own sentences refuse to appear on the page. Yet I feel as if I were on the couch.

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The opening sentence of the previous paragraph – I’m in this office in a way that would be impossible in reality – confuses me. I picture myself sitting up on the couch, getting to my feet, and walking out the door, not in anger or frustration, but in fear. I’m afraid of discovering things about myself. Imagining the view of the Olympic Mountains from the dining room of the house where I grew up eating meals and where now another family enjoys meals feels calming from the couch where I find myself in my imagination. I feel free, on the couch in my mind, to experience confusion and then understanding, as if anxiety and calmness were in dialogue with each other inside of me.

I have written these paragraphs with my real voice, or perhaps my fictitious voice has discovered new ways to convince me that reality has always been my writing home.

Discoveries in Tweed

The image of a man, whom I assumed was a professor, pushing a stack of papers toward me seemed to be the reason why I looked up from the book I was reading. I was alone at the table. I hadn’t read in a public library in years. My decision to stop here on my way downtown surprised me. Thirty minutes with a book in silence might help prepare me to be in a more meditative state of mind once I reached my psychoanalyst’s office. The book came with me from home. Why couldn’t I say it was mine? I hadn’t realized I was paying such close attention to my own mental movements. My eyes returned to the words on the page. Soon another image of the professor appeared. The stack of papers were in his hands. THE stack of papers WAS in my hands. I held them in my hands. Why was I complicating things for myself?

The book remained in my hands. I imagined the professor in a tweed jacket reading alongside of me. Where was the stack of papers he wanted me to read? He expected me to report back to him with my findings. Understanding that all of this in my head were fantasies wouldn’t help. Where did that come from? The sentences on the page were waiting. There was enough time for me to read some more pages. Images might keep coming. I pictured myself wearing a tweed jacket. How many more minutes did I have? I took a deep breath. Maybe I was discovering more of what reading was all about.

Anxiety without Interruption

The image of the neighbor whom I was speaking to running away from me didn’t make sense. I wasn’t stuttering. We weren’t disagreeing about anything. The elevator would soon be at the ground floor. He smiled at something I said. Yet I pictured him shouting at me. We were speaking about something important. The elevator would take us in opposite directions, him down to the garage and me up to one of the upper floors. I was about to speak – I had been unable to utter what I most wanted to say – when the elevator doors opened (things were happening too fast for me: the elevator arriving so promptly, an important thought not giving me enough time to be ready for it) and another neighbor walked out of the elevator and started talking to both of us. A minute or two later he stopped speaking and turned to me, as if he expected me to comment on what he’d said.

I heard my own words before I realized that I’d interrupted the neighbor who had just put an end to the momentary silence. Seconds later I heard familiar noises, my failed attempts at speaking, and I wished I would have avoided glancing at the startled faces of my two neighbors. A sentence came to me, which I was surprised never had before: Stuttering was a conversation killer. A moment of silence seemed to last a minute. I pictured myself entering the empty elevator just as its doors started closing. But reality didn’t disappear. I took a deep breath and opened my mouth again, and my neighbors were listening to sentences. I could hear anxiety in my voice. And words kept coming, without interruptions.