I wanted clarity. The gray-haired man at the podium was supposed to provide us with it. I didn’t know about us. He should help me think clearly. How could he do that? He spoke for a few minutes and my imagination started to startle me. I imagined standing up, running out of the auditorium, hurrying to the airport in a taxi, and leaving Manhattan as suddenly as I’d decided to fly here a few weeks ago. The speaker was familiar to psychoanalytic audiences in New York. He wasn’t much older than me. His professional background couldn’t have been more different than mine. He was both a professor in neuropsychology and a psychoanalyst and he traveled across the world to Manhattan once a month. For reasons that remained unclear to me, I’d flown across the country to hear him lecture at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. Tonight was supposed to be the highlight of my trip. Tomorrow I would walk through Central Park. Images and words and then sentences in my mind returned me to the auditorium and to the tall man at the podium, who looked older than he was. Why had my imagination startled me? An answer came from somewhere inside of me while the speaker paused for a moment: I’d become angry or envious or both without realizing it. From the moment he started speaking I’d imagined talking with him over a coffee or a beer. There was passionate honesty in his words. He said that he’d thought a lot about what he might say tonight before deciding on what he would say. I welcomed these words. I wished I could handle uncertainty in such a creative way. Perhaps what I’ve written here, or what my narrator has written, has been my own creative way to discover what’s happening in my mind. Clarity has been more present in my mind than I’d thought.
Four ideas or images demand verbal representation simultaneously. My narrator seems in a hurry this morning. We’re in this together. He tells me that we’re in my psychoanalyst’s office, or in the waiting area, wondering what might happen once I reach the couch and wait for words to start leaving my mouth. Dissociation is an uncomfortable state of mind for me. Two of us are writing these sentences and imagining an experience in Sarah’s downtown Seattle office. Or should the psychoanalyst be a man, Martin, who’s also been part of these narratives? Don’t forget that you’re in four places at once, my narrator whispers in my ear. This experience has disorientated me. I don’t want to focus on four things at once. I imagine arriving on the couch and uttering these words before Sarah can become comfortable in her chair behind me. In reality, mental confusion is not unfamiliar to me. Writing sometimes demands it. Speaking on the couch, trying to say whatever comes to mind, with Sarah or Martin listening behind me, often leads me to wonder whether confusion isn’t part of how the mind works. My narrator reminds me that I’ve yet to mention the four ideas or images that introduced themselves in the opening sentence. They’ll have to wait, I hear myself respond. I’m not in a hurry, for now.
As if I’d never been in this situation before, I arrived at her office door and doubted what to do next. Action preceded thought and I knocked on the door, which was ajar, and then opened it enough so that I could glance inside. She was unprepared for this moment. This moment of introduction should’ve happened a minute or so later, when she would’ve been ready for me. Our initial phone conversation returned to me. How many days had passed since then, when I’d sensed that I was about to become involved in psychotherapy again. For a moment nothing came to mind. Then I remembered: four days ago at around 3 pm. The time when I phoned her seemed important. Wait, I said to myself, that’s not what happened. I left her a message and she called me back at three o’clock. I was about to walk out the door when the phone rang. Tension, hope, and uncertainty were part of that phone conversation, or that’s how I remembered it as I entered her office a minute or two early for our initial session. Maybe meeting would be a more accurate way to describe the fifty minutes we were about to spend together. Neither of us knew if I would return to her downtown Seattle office. I imagined, or maybe feared, that we would sit across from each other a few or perhaps many more times before it would become clear to us if this treatment had a future. Psychoanalysis would be a major commitment. Those initial fifty minutes didn’t constitute a meeting. Each moment was the definition of what a session should be. In retrospect, I glimpsed part of my future during those minutes, and she uttered what for me were magical words: I should say whatever came to mind, and that this way of speaking would form the foundation of our work together. I tried to do this in my writing, let the words come to me on their own, and after dreaming of experiencing psychoanalysis for twenty years, I was going to free-associate on the analytic couch. There would be enough time for both action and thought. I felt as if my life was moving with time into the future.
Months ago, the first words my narrator wrote down in his journal of notes were: my life changed this afternoon. My narrator was part of me, a fictional version of myself, that I’d imagined had his own story to tell. I felt as if my narrator should know how he was born. “The idea of creating you came to me last summer, in late June or early July, although I wasn’t aware of being so creative at the time.” This was an imaginary conversation I had with my own narrator last night. Maybe he and the psychological part of me were born together at the start of last summer when a dream of mine of the past two decades became reality. It was hard for me to write the last sentence because I’d assumed I’d been a psychological thinker for at least two decades. My first fifty minutes on the psychoanalytic couch, on a warm early summer day last year, was all the proof I needed that I remained trapped in my own mind. My narrator came alive in me after that initial session on the couch. I remembered returning home, also my office where I earned my living editing articles that didn’t interest me, and writing about what had happened in Sarah’s office. At some point in those sixty minutes I became aware that I wasn’t the only one writing, as if an unknown part of me were in charge. He wasn’t as interested as me in reporting what had occurred during the session in chronological order. He seemed to treat reality in an imaginative way. Fiction is as real as anything else, he seemed to say. Last night, as if for the first time, I realized that my narrator had been telling his own story about being in psychoanalysis ever since that initial session on the couch. So he and I had been in Sarah’s office together. My narrator continued to take notes after sessions, and I helped, and then we worked on creating a somewhat fictional narrative. Did all of this really happen in my mind? I imagined my narrator listening to my question and responding: let’s write and find out.
The paperback I held in my hands wasn’t what I thought I’d bought online. It arrived in my life at an interesting psychological moment. I was two weeks away from experiencing one of the most intensive forms of psychotherapy: four times a week psychoanalysis. Five times a week seemed too much even in my dreams. I’m writing these sentences a day or two after I first sat down with the two hundred fifty page account of a novelist’s experience in psychoanalysis. I was already on the couch three times a week. Reading is a significant part of my daily life, and I tend to spend more than less time with each page. My experience with this paperback in the last twenty-four or forty-eight hours has been different: I reached page one hundred in what felt like less than an hour. Strong coffee helped. More than caffeine, though, the familiarity of the experience of speaking or remaining silent on the couch kept me turning pages. The author’s experience was my own. It was also what the narrator of the novel I’d started writing was experiencing. He’s a novelist too. There must be fiction in these lines that I wrote an hour or so before my first of three sessions this week. Maybe I could read some more pages of the paperback. The author was on the couch for six years, and when I read what was the total cost of those six years of sessions, more than a thousand hours of forty-five minute sessions, I feared I was about to have a panic attack. A doubt about the author’s first-hand account came to mind: was it what really happened, or was the novelist in him unable to avoid creating fiction? This question remained unanswered in my mind more minutes than I realized, and suddenly I became aware that I would have to hurry to make it to my psychoanalyst’s office on time. Something in me wasn’t ready to leave home. There was time for maybe ten minutes of meditation. I hadn’t meditated in a while, and I wondered why I wanted to do so now. But I didn’t have time to think, which might have been why I preferred to focus on my breaths. Fifteen or twenty minutes later I was on the sidewalk, on my way to a familiar room. Life seems to be about experiencing moments. Perhaps one of my goals in life is to learn more about the kinds of experiences I want to have.
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.