I was so anxious about setting foot in a psychoanalyst’s office for the first time that I didn’t imagine what might happen while I was there. I’m not thinking clearly, which means that I’m not writing clearly. This wouldn’t be the first time I’d set foot in a psychoanalyst’s office. It would be the first time I would speak with an analyst about the possibility of me becoming a patient or analysand on the analytic couch. Perhaps the confusion I’ve experienced while writing these one, two, five sentences reflects the confused state of mind I was in both before and during my first face-to-face conversation with a psychoanalyst about transforming a dream into reality. This last word, reality, makes me pause. In rereading the notes I took last summer while searching for a potential psychoanalyst in Seattle, I didn’t sound confused about reality. When I’m in a dream that is happening to me, reality remains far away, no? These last few sentences remind me of what I discovered later on, when the dream had become reality, and I spoke on the couch a few times a week, with only windows in front of me, my analyst seated out of sight, behind me. Speaking, or writing, without conscious control can disorientate me. I’m disorientated right now. Last August, a psychoanalyst and I spoke on the phone on a Friday, and we met face-to-face for the first time the following Tuesday. There seemed to be no hurry for me to lie on the couch. Yet I was in a hurry to set foot in her office. Before I appeared unannounced at her open door, she’d known only my anxious voice. In this way, our first session started a minute or two early. I shouldn’t have let the waiting room. I blamed my confusion on anxiety. I couldn’t remember whether I was supposed to wait for her in the waiting room or appear at her door at the designated hour. Thought was far away. The part of me that demanded certainty won, and I appeared at her door, which was when thought returned, and I realized I should have waited in my seat in the waiting room. She wasn’t ready for me. She let me enter. I was safely inside what had long been a dream space to me. Where was reality in this image?
We met for the first time on a warm Tuesday afternoon in mid August. For a few years before that day, after returning to Seattle from Madrid where I’d lived for nearly a decade, I passed the building countless times without imagining it, as if part of my future remained near me in silence. Our voices had met on the phone the previous Friday. I’d already left her a message when I left another, and she called twenty or thirty minutes later. Writing about this phone conversation ten months later, I’m relying more on my imagination than on anything else. I’ve read the notes I took afterwards. They don’t help me much in trying to discover what kind of narrative I want to write. Sometimes writing sentences helps me feel as if I were on a psychoanalyst’s couch. How I wish I could write freely without having to stop to correct something, which perhaps is why I try to welcome fantasy into my sentences. Fortunately, reality doesn’t disappear, either here in my writing room or on my psychoanalyst’s couch. My efforts of these last ten months to free-associate for fifty minutes at a time in Mary’s consulting room have convinced me that Freud’s ambition was limitless. Saying whatever comes to mind can sometimes feel like an impossible task to me, and I haven’t felt much better about myself after reading papers by psychoanalysts who agree with me. I can’t remember for how long Mary and I spoke on the phone. Maybe I’m afraid to remember. It was a frightening experience, which is not what I’d hoped to write. She could have said no to treating me. It’s difficult to see my anxiety in the last sentence. The phone call ended, and over the weekend I wondered what might happen on Tuesday when I would enter the building I’d never imagined for the first time.
His words were doing something to me. Did I just say his? Her words were moving my imagination in unexpected directions, which was a good sign. The therapeutic process was in motion. Yet part of me seemed unprepared for this receptive role, which alarmed me since listening to others was at the heart of what I did. We’d been in the room together for eight or ten minutes. In therapeutic time, hours remained before we would say goodbye. Or maybe there wouldn’t be a goodbye, the images of which made me anxious: she would walk out of the room without glancing at me, or the look on her face would make me doubt that I would see her next week. Part of the reason I’d been in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis myself for years was to learn how to deal with such inner conflictual moments. Yet here I was, struggling with images in my mind and emotions in my body, while the woman across from me remembered a trip to Rome with her family years earlier. On some level, was she speaking about wanting to escape from daily life? This didn’t feel right, at least for the moment, and once again I thought: her words are doing something to me. Minutes were disappearing into what would soon be a previous session. The trip to Rome years ago had become part of the present in her mind. It was the last time she remembered having enjoyable moments with both of her parents. As I listened to her say this, something inside of me started to change, a moment to moment kind of change. Everything happening inside of me was fluid. Fear had disappeared, for now.
I heard his voice. I heard his words. Several minutes passed in this way. It was Monday. Twenty-four hours earlier, I’d been reading a book by one of my favorite psychotherapists on an airplane. I felt my body telling me that not all of me was back in the office. For months this client had been sitting across from me once a week. The psychotherapist I’d read the day before wrote as if he were a novelist. I often felt as if I were in the room with him and his clients as an invisible observer, which was how I felt now, during this fifty-minute hour: invisible. This word felt unwelcome. I felt unwelcome in my own office. My client was speaking about an email he’d written yesterday. I imagined reading his sentences, as if I would be a welcomed reader. I was welcomed in his mind sometimes, and I wondered whether fatigue was preventing me from discovering if I was welcomed there now. He was asking me what I thought about the email he’d sent. I wished I’d felt more welcomed at the workshop I’d attended and returned home from last night. My client was silent. Maybe he didn’t feel welcomed, either in his own mind or by me, and he was searching for a way to connect with me, right now. The psychotherapist who wrote as if he were a novelist came to mind again. In his books he was honest about his struggles as he listened to clients. I was struggling, right now. And this wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time. This was not the time for me to be invisible to myself. We were seated across from each other. What was happening between us, in silence? The silence in the room seemed to invite me to listen.
Several psychoanalysts, both dead and alive, are vying for attention in my imagination. If images are capable of patience, these inner parts of me are very patient, considering that they’ve been appearing and disappearing in my mind for years, without my ever figuring out how to relate to them. They’ve never been far away, since I usually spend several hours a day in the room where my nearly thirty volumes of psychoanalytic correspondences and diaries – which includes Jung’s volumes of correspondences – each have their place on the shelves. The writers of all of these correspondences are the sources of my images of dead psychoanalysts. They were human beings who committed their professional lives to helping others. And psychoanalysis, which was then in its infancy, started to provide its practitioners with a way to help themselves (it was decided that all analysts had to be analyzed as part of their training), as well as their patients. Books by contemporary psychoanalysts, including Jungian analysts, occupy much more shelf space here in my office at home than they did a decade ago. Just in the past year I’ve bought twenty books – some of them at discount prices – by a psychoanalyst in New York who’s been writing about his work with patients for over thirty years – and I’ve read parts of all of them, enough so that the author has become an intriguing mental image. Yet, until earlier today, I’d mispronounced his name. I’d watched interviews with him online, but I must not have listened to the interviewers say his name either at the beginning or at the end. Then today I spoke with someone who pronounced his name correctly, and I was reminded of the difference between knowing an author through his or her books and also having listened to that author in person speak about his or her work. Maybe my inner version of this New York analyst is trying to speak to me in new ways. Can I be creative enough to learn how to listen better?
I had no idea why I was calming down. Tomorrow morning a dream of mine would come true. I almost wrote that tomorrow a dream would come to me, as if I thought myself capable of foreseeing the immediate future. Tomorrow felt overwhelming. The meeting wasn’t so important. I would talk with an author whose books I’d enjoyed reading. We would meet over coffee. Why did I write meeting? I hoped it would be more informal than that. What would be formal about two people talking over coffee? It was hard to admit that this dream would soon come true. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe he would send me an email at the last minute and say he was busy writing and didn’t have time to talk to me about writing. I was anxious again. This dream was so real. I was ready to wake up. But the author hadn’t rejected me yet. My dream of speaking with an author whom I’d enjoyed reading couldn’t come true. He would have no reason to drink coffee with me. As if I’d forgotten, I remembered that we were related somehow and that he was in Seattle for a few nights. And somehow, each of us knew that the other was in psychoanalysis. I might have something to write about afterwards. Or maybe he would. Or maybe both of us would. The dream had to finish first.
I almost didn’t write this sentence. Perhaps something meaningful will come of it. I’ve started to remember a phone conversation that happened eleven months ago, and I’m frustrated, which is a good reason to write a sentence about something else. It was probably the most important phone call I’ve had in years, and part of me wishes to forget it. I decided to give psychotherapy one last chance. I was about to embark on the most intensive of psychotherapeutic experiences, and I might not have been aware of what I was doing. The page that I wrote in my journal last July is alongside me here at my desk. How I could not have been aware that I was about to make a considerable commitment of time, effort, and money to a process, four times-a-week psychoanalysis, whose outcome would be unknown? There was fear in many of the sentences on that page of journal writing. I was afraid that I’d asked my potential psychoanalyst too many questions, and I feared that she would reject me. I’m uncomfortable as another sentence struggles to form itself in my mind. It’s difficult for me to admit that I’ve enjoyed studying a paragraph of my own personal writing from last summer. I might be afraid of rejection by you, the reader. The psychoanalysis started four days later. That’s not true. We had our initial interview four days later. The final several sentences of that journal entry were perhaps the hardest for me to read. In those sentences, I tried to convince myself that the phone call had ended well. Maybe part of me still wishes that I didn’t write the opening sentence.