We hadn’t seen each other in thirty years. Has he appeared in any of my dreams since 1987? Nothing comes to mind. Yet lots of things have come to mind. Yesterday I left our apartment in late morning and spontaneously decided to walk to Ballard, another neighborhood in Seattle. The trip on foot there and back would take me several hours. I didn’t plan on stopping for a beer, and I couldn’t have anticipated who I would meet in a bookstore a mile or so before I saw the familiar brewery. And I’d never imagined that the old friend I encountered in the brewery, whom I hadn’t seen since university, was now a pastor. The sequence of events unfolded in a mysterious way that reminded me of a dream. I entered both the bookstore and the brewery on a whim. In each place, someone from my past returned me to an old state of mind, or maybe it was states of mind, since perhaps the psychoanalyst in the bookstore and the pastor in the brewery evoked various states of mind in me. The psychoanalyst, whom I knew from when I’d trained to become a therapist, was in the psychology section when I arrived there. I’d wondered whether Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams or any volumes of Jung’s Collected Works would greet me from the shelves. Suddenly, I was speaking to a psychoanalyst. Half an hour or so later, as I entered the brewery and imagined different kinds of beer to drink, I saw a familiar face. An hour or two later, I was back on the sidewalk, ready to try to walk home. Over beers, an old friend had become a new friend. I’d enjoyed experiencing different states of mind.
Reality struggles to find a place in my mind. This makes sense since I imagine myself in my fictional home. It’s a single room, which in reality I’m familiar with, since I spend fifty minutes there, on the couch, several times a week. My writing table faces the windows, and through them, two other familiar sights, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, greet me. Reality welcomes imagination with the presence of the writing table. Together, reality and imagination seem to be preparing me for something. Words, or if they exist, pre-words, gather somewhere inside of me. I’m seated at my writing table, or am I on the couch, or in both places at once? In any case, the words childhood homes come to mind, and I’ll see where the following sentences lead me. In reality, or in the reality of my fiction, this room exists in downtown Seattle, near Pike Place Market. I grew up in a neighborhood not far from downtown, in a beautiful home built in the 1920s, with a spectacular view of Puget Sound, where I’m no longer welcome. I’m welcome here, in my mind, and these words help me realize what I’m doing: creating, or recreating, that childhood home and its memories in my mind, where they’ll always be with me.
I hadn’t planned on listening to a podcast. I didn’t have time. If I was going to sit at this desk, I had to work, not listen to an author talk about his new book on creativity in psychotherapy. An idea came to me: I could work in a more creative way, writing about whatever came to mind, and listen to moments, maybe minutes, of the podcast, when my creativity needed me to pause. Maybe spontaneous writing and a podcast about two people being creative together in a room could help each other, could help me, in being creative. A sentence seemed to write itself on my laptop: Pauses had never been part of my mental vocabulary. As someone who’d stuttered his entire life, pauses in speech would’ve helped so much, and perhaps for that reason I’d struggled so much to pause before uttering a difficult word. So I paused. The podcast started. A psychotherapist talked about his work with a client who’d brought his own writing to sessions. The words and sentences he’d written revealed unconscious meanings as client and therapist spoke what came to their minds. These minutes of listening were all I needed, were what the writer in me needed, to realize why I was writing this paragraph: I’d needed a time-out from my job, from editing. I was ready to return to my daily tasks, in a creative way.
This is what can happen to a writer when his inner world becomes real to him on the page. I was an invisible observer. Neither of the two people in the room knew of my presence. I felt as if they were having this conversation for me. These were their moments. Yet I felt that the moments of these fifty minutes were also meant for me. I wonder why I imagine such a situation, me eavesdropping on someone else’s session of psychotherapy. Maybe I imagine myself seated across from the therapist, and I’m telling her my personal story. A story comes to mind, of how psychology discovered me. I was alone on an Amtrak train, traveling from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and back again. I’d just quit my first real job after university, as a reporter at a small newspaper, and I wasn’t ready to think about my future. I also knew my future wouldn’t wait for me. Those days on the train felt like a lifetime, and they felt like a single moment. A single, momentous moment happened, on the final day, as the train crossed Montana, on its way to Seattle. I was in my mid 20s. My emotional, intellectual, reading, and writing futures were about to introduce themselves to me. In many ways, I was unprepared to become an adult. I was an adolescent in a twenty-seven year-old body. During those days on the train, the obvious had become clear to me: I had no interest in being a reporter. On that final day, as the train crossed Montana, I walked from my seat to the restroom, and as I opened the door to enter, an inner voice spoke to me, for the very first time: You’re meant to be a counselor. I knew nothing about therapy. I didn’t even know that I was an introvert. In a moment, my life changed. I haven’t been the same since. This is my inner world. I’ve been imagining and observing my mind as I’ve been writing these sentences. Much of what I’ve written is true. Yet my imagination has been involved. This is what happens when I imagine myself eavesdropping on someone else’s session of psychotherapy. I become part of it and find myself telling my own story. Perhaps I must ask myself: what kind of writing counselor am I becoming?
The piece of paper that my hands and pen touch in my imagination feels real. So does the laptop that I imagine next. Can I imagine these two objects, paper and laptop, existing simultaneously in the same physical space? I seem to be doing so right now. In reality, I should be editing an article about a particular tool manufacturer, which was translated into English, and the translation is of such a poor quality that what I’m actually doing is rewriting. In my imagination, I’m writing these sentences, one moment on paper, the next on the laptop. Where I am in my imagination reminds me that, in reality, in my office at home, I’m frustrated and disoriented. In these images that come to me as I rewrite sentences in English at home, I’m seated at a wooden table, just wide enough for the laptop and the perfect size for the yellow notepad on which I find myself creating these sentences. This imaginary reality occurs in my psychoanalyst’s office. If I were to express what I’m thinking in mathematical terms, I would say that the images of me in my analyst’s office, writing at a table, equals my mind, or a state of mind. Writing at a table can make me anxious. My mind is often an anxious place. A yellow notepad brings to mind a forgotten memory from decades ago, when I aspired to one day becoming a lawyer. I bought a hardcover on the history of American law when I was around twelve years old. A few years later I read a firsthand account of someone’s experiences during his first year at Harvard Law School. Then the dream seemed to disappear, and life continued. Right now, in reality, I imagine that my psychoanalyst is seated in his office listening to another human being struggle to explore his or her mind. Maybe in our next session I’ll tell him that I’ve spent time in his workspace, in my imagination, when my mind felt too much an anxious place for me.
The only thing about this morning’s writing that I’m certain of is that the narrator is a man, like me, and sometimes he’s uncertain about everything, also like me. Maybe that’s all I need to know. Images of others, in the process of becoming fictional others, might join my narrator in these sentences. Maybe one other will be enough. Certainty isn’t my friend this morning. In reality, I know a few psychotherapists, and their offices, whom I could create fictional characters out of. And I have fictional versions of a few of the early psychoanalysts, such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Sandor Ferenczi, ready in my mind. For years I’ve been reading Freud’s correspondences with both of these younger colleagues. Of the four therapists whose offices have become familiar to me in the past two decades, all of them have experienced psychoanalytic training. Perhaps one or all of those four physical spaces can become part of this and future narratives, a series of narratives, that seem to be forming themselves in my imagination. Perhaps one or all of the four psychotherapists I’ve worked with might join one or more of those early psychoanalysts in my imagination to form a new fictional voice. I’m uncertain about everything. Fictional voice seems to be what I’m seeking this morning. In reality, in the present tense, I speak on the couch in the office of one of those four psychotherapists, who’s also a psychoanalyst, several times a week. I imagine that a writing table suddenly appears in her office, and I’m sure I’m hallucinating it until I sit down and start writing on a laptop, which also appears. One of the sentences is: Perhaps this is my fictional home. Now I know where my narrator is this morning, in his new writing home, alongside a psychoanalytic couch, certain about where he is, for the moment.
Pen and paper wouldn’t have needed much of my time this morning. Even a few sentences would probably have helped me calm down a little. Time is crazy. I’m sure that if, ten years from now, I were to look back at this morning and ask myself why I couldn’t have put aside ten or fifteen minutes to write about what was bothering me, no answer would come to me except that I didn’t want to. Since I’m writing these sentences later in the day, I must’ve decided to listen to myself. I imagine that I’m calm enough now to have written these sentences this morning. What made me so anxious this morning seems trivial at 5 p.m., and will undoubtedly seem more so after a full glass of red wine. Daily life often seems crazy by definition. Perhaps I’ve taken the time to put into words what’s been bothering me because I’m committed to the work I’m doing with my psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, who’s on vacation. Time seems an integral part both of this journal work and of our work together in sessions. Dreams have helped shape sessions, as if the images and symbols that leave my mouth in the form of words during a fifty-minute hour somehow affect what both of us say in what remains of that session. The unconscious becomes real in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. These sentences seem part of a new attitude, which was born, or is in the process of being born, in Sarah’s office. But the birth of a new attitude happens inside of me, and it doesn’t disappear when I leave her office, no? It’s time for that glass of red wine. Time takes time to understand. The seconds, minutes, and hours I spend on listening to myself are worth it. The proof seems to be in these sentences. In my experience, sentences written on paper and sentences spoken in sessions of psychotherapy work together in mysterious ways. Life has happened today, and I’ve tried to record fragments of it on paper. Now it’s time for a glass of wine.