I imagined that three things were happening at once in two different minds. A dream with a key in it was alive in both of us, in my psychoanalyst and I, after the session, while each of us wrote about what had happened during our fifty minutes together. I’d dreamed of a key that unlocked what to me felt like a forbidden door. Somehow I knew what was behind the door: shelves of books that had been waiting for me for two decades. Once I was inside and had opened a few of the texts, I discovered that they were written in a foreign language. Could I learn it? Did I want to? Yes, I wanted to. That was the end of the dream. I imagined that the symbol of the key appeared to my analyst and I at the same moment, in our two different physical spaces, while each of us tried to remember the feeling of the session. Perhaps both of us wondered whether there were locked doors in those fifty minutes and what might be discovered if the key to open them appeared in one or both of our hands. Maybe the hour was about the fear and mystery involved in having an experience. My analyst and I would wonder about these things alone, each in his own work space, each in his own mind, each in his own imagination.
Sixty minutes might not have been enough time for me to come up with an idea and write a short narrative. A black hardcover was in my hands, which might have made things easier. It was one of my special books. There were twenty of these black hardcovers in a row on a shelf, and they were expensive, many of them around seventy or eighty dollars, one around two hundred. One psychological thinker wrote them all. I bought most of them back in 2000 and 2001, one after another, as if they were part of my destiny. As the years have passed, they have become an integral part of my reading life, along with around seventeen other volumes of C.G. Jung. The black hardcover in my hands, volume five of Jung’s Collected Works, of more than 550 pages, would hopefully provide the inspiration for whatever I would write on the page. My hands opened the book, a page found me, then five sentences, and soon images for a narrative arrived in my head. In those five sentences, Jung seemed to write about the dangers involved in living in external objects from the past instead of looking inside and facing one’s difficulties in the present. These sentences spoke to me because I knew of these dangers from firsthand experience. Many years ago, I became obsessed with a cabin from my childhood, lost to me, and I would drive the ninety or so miles from Seattle, head east toward the North Cascades, and drive almost to the front gate of the property before turning around and heading home. Although I was already in my late twenties, I’d yet to start living my own life. The past must have seemed safer, but I knew that in reality there was nothing there for me. My life would have to happen in the present. And since then, hopefully it has for the most part. Had an hour passed since I’d started writing these sentences? Writing is never without mystery.
I went for a walk with my mother and found myself imagining her sleeping on a stranger’s farm in July 1952. Our walks take time. My mom’s walker helps her only so much. I’m by her side, and we talk. Some of the corridors are long and quiet. She sometimes asks me how soon until we reach the next chair where she can sit down. I haven’t told her I’m in psychoanalysis and speaking on a couch about my childhood. Sessions seem to provide me with both the physical and mental space to explore the various symbolic ways I’ve remained by my mom’s side all of these years. When my mom and I are on our walks, and I see firsthand what Parkinson’s is doing to her body, I enjoy moments like the ones we had today, when she talked about coming across one of her mom’s diaries, written in Norwegian, that her mom had kept during that summer of 1952. My mom was twelve. They drove from Toronto to Seattle and back, and according to my mom this afternoon, asked permission to camp on farms. Her voice and face came alive as she spoke about her mom’s diary that she read this morning. My mom can’t read much anymore, and this was the first time in months that she’d spoken about something she’d read. She said she would translate and read some of the diary entries to me. I said I looked forward to it. Fragments of memories came to me from camping trips with my mom and dad and brother and sister when I was around twelve. Life is so short, and there’s so much inside each of us of each moment.
How could a dream about going to a costume party frustrate my psychoanalyst? Was I going to regret bringing it to the session? Around half of the session was over before I recounted it. Then there was silence, an unusual kind of silence for us, which seemed to say that something was wrong. She asked me what I felt in the dream. I didn’t know, which made me anxious, and I uttered many sentences that I’m sure were without meaning. Seated behind the couch, Sarah said the dream seemed flat, which must’ve been when I panicked, although I was unaware of being frightened. She was criticizing me, wasn’t she? I also thought the dream seemed flat and said so. Fear was now in control of me. I was helpless, and when I find myself in this state of mind, I often talk without stopping, filling the air with anxious tension. In the dream I was standing in a room, silent, looking at a friend who was dressed up in a costume. A woman stood near us, and when I glanced at her, she didn’t seem interested in my presence. My so-called friend, who in reality I haven’t seen in nearly thirty years, didn’t appear interested in my presence either. Unfortunately, during the session, I wasn’t aware that both of them were ignoring me. Perhaps I was afraid that knowing this would overwhelm me. In any case, as the hour continued, both Sarah and I seemed to think that the dream was a dud. Yet it wasn’t, and isn’t. The moment I left her office, I knew what I’d felt in the dream: I was frustrated about being there. Maybe both my psychoanalyst and I had been frustrated, or maybe just me.
I haven’t moved my hands in her sandtray in around twenty years. It happened only twice. Every other time I was in her office, I sat on her couch and she sat across from me. Both of us spoke. Words were our medium of communication. Occasionally I glanced at the adjoining room, where nonverbal work with clients happened in the sand, and where she also had her desk. I often wondered whether she wrote papers there, and once I searched to see if she’d been published, and I found an article she’d written on sandplay therapy. She was around the same age as my parents. I was in my late twenties when I spent those two fifty-minute hours creating symbols in the sand. I created an island with my hands. What were my hands listening to? Where did the inspiration come from? I remember the moment, around twenty years ago, when the shape of an island started to appear in the sand. It was a familiar island, in a Norwegian fjord, where I’d been as a child, and where my mom had played as a child. I was playing in the sand, wasn’t I? I hadn’t yet read anything on sandplay therapy. Twice now, while writing these sentences, I’ve written sandtray instead of sandplay. The tray itself, with sand inside, felt like a container for everything I was experiencing in my mind and body. I wish I remembered more from those creative moments at the sandtray in the adjoining room of Helen’s office. We haven’t spoken in years. I struggled to play as a child. Speech, visual, and cognitive problems made things difficult for me. Three or four years ago I passed by Helen’s office and glanced at the windows and imagined a client inside with her hands busy in the sand. Creation before words would be happening. Creation is happening here too, and these words are witnesses of it.
A poet friend of mine and I had lots of work to do. I’d cleared the table of books and papers and I could hear the coffee machine making its noises in the kitchen. One of us would speak while the other would write. I think that was our initial plan. Plans remained uncertain in these kinds of writing experiments. Was it a psychological writing experiment? The one writing would speak too. The room would hear speaking and writing voices. We’d decided beforehand on a goal for whatever might happen during this hour of experimentation: we would let meaning find us. I knew the best words would come from my poet friend. She was an artist with words. I depended on words to help me think intuitively and write sentences, and I felt naked without a book within reach of my writing pad. No book would rescue me during the next hour, unless I left the room and ran to the bookshelves. Why did part of me always need to be rescued? Maybe the words I was about to speak or write for sixty minutes would help me think about this question. I heard a knock on the door. It was time for us to be creative together.
Sometimes reality seems too real to grasp. I experienced something like this the other day. I felt that the world would come to an end if I didn’t arrive at my destination by 3:10 pm, which for some reason became a mental deadline for me. The ferry wouldn’t wait. During this tense state of mind – I was on a bus, which was stuck in Friday afternoon traffic, from Seattle headed north toward the Anacortes ferry terminal – I recalled that I had a dream about this situation. I was in the San Juan Islands in the dream, which in reality was my final destination that day, last Friday. The dream returned to me as I started to sweat on the bus – I was confused how recently I’d had the dream – and its images startled me: a familiar female face was full of anger, directed at me. Fortunately, I knew there was a very small possibility that anyone would become angry with me that weekend, since I was traveling alone and would be alone in an isolated spot until Sunday. Yet the reality of that dream image made me as anxious as my 3:10 mental deadline. Somehow, I arrived at the ferry terminal in time, and I rode the ferry to Orcas Island, and from there a much smaller boat took me to my final destination. And what about my mental destination last Friday? Numbers in my head helped me during the day as fear wouldn’t seem to let go of me, and I remember what time it was on Friday evening when I finally sat down in the quiet cabin and opened a beer. It was time for my mind to slow down, if only it would listen.