Why did these words have to interrupt what I’d been speaking about? An image of getting to my feet and walking out the door frightened me. What was happening in my mind felt foreign, as if I were struggling to learn the grammar of an unknown language. The word unknown surprised me. I was sure I’d intended to think of another word, such as unfamiliar or new. These sentences probably occupied a few seconds of mental time. I was also speaking on the couch, about what had happened over the weekend, when I rode my bike, and part way through the ride realized that I’d forgotten my helmet. It was raining. I went up and down lots of hills. The feeling of vulnerability overwhelmed me when I first realized what I’d forgotten to wear before leaving home. Did part of me want myself to get hurt? I almost wrote: an unknown part of me. I feel as if this paragraph is full of unknowns. What am I writing about? The opening sentence was supposed to introduce what had transpired during my last fifty-minute hour of psychotherapy. I didn’t want to end the last sentence. There was more to say. Psychotherapy has different forms. I’m experiencing the psychoanalytic form, the on the couch form, with the psychoanalyst seated behind me. I didn’t have to hurry in talking about forgetting to wear my bike helmet. The couch would see me again this week, several times. Interruptions in my own speech have been happening more frequently on the couch. The ensuing disorientation passes. I imagined writing ensure instead of ensuing. I must have wanted to become certain about something. Did I want to ensure that I would become disorientated? I’m disoriented as I write this sentence. This might be how I felt during the session, when suddenly I found myself speaking about my head without a helmet. There must be some sense in all of this. There’s form to this kind of writing. Perhaps if I keep listening to the words in my head the form will reveal itself. I feel as if I’m on a bike without a helmet, or on the couch experiencing my own verbal interruptions. What might happen next? Another sentence might tell me.
These things can’t be spoken. I wish I knew what they were. Nothing is clear. Nothingness seems to describe what I am or am not experiencing in my mind right now. This has been happening more often recently. I lie here, glancing out the windows and around the room, then I start talking, and it’s not long before I’m convinced that to the silent listener seated behind me I sound like a crazy person. Crazy person is too easy to say. It can be spoken. There’s no threat in such a sentence. Feeling crazy, though, experiencing my own naked mind on this couch, becomes an existential threat. I’m not going to tell him the crazy thoughts that come to me in his presence, in his space, not mine. Isn’t this office my mental space too, during these fifty minutes? If not, why would I be here? These sentences in my mind make me feel naked. Mental space can feel like this. The phrase divine punishment comes to me. Where does it come from? This isn’t working. I must start speaking again, or remain silent and listen to the naked words that come with their own authority. No one said this would be easy. Why can’t I speak the truth? What’s happening in my mind?
It was as if he could read my mind. We hadn’t seen each other in eighteen or twenty years. There wasn’t time to count. We were in a public space, people were seated and standing around us, reading or looking at books, yet the encounter also felt private, as if we were alone in a bar, having a drink together, remembering what might have been. I hoped he couldn’t read that thought. I’d hid or forgotten my feelings for him. Why did they appear when he happened to be standing before me, looking at me as if my mind were an open book. We’d never been close. We studied psychology together at the same graduate school. His voice interrupted these mental wanderings. We should stay in touch. I agreed. What he hadn’t said saddened me. He might have wanted to have a drink, the drink of my fantasy. Seconds or minutes passed. He had to go. His partner was waiting for him at a restaurant. Did he know my secret? What secret? I’d had feelings for someone twenty years ago, someone who’d pursued his dream of becoming a psychoanalyst and now had his own private practice in California. I was happy for him. I wished I could read my own mind. I had no idea what I was feeling, which was a start. It was time to count those eighteen or twenty years.
I enjoy reading letters written by dead psychoanalysts. Freud is one of them. Jung is another, who stopped being a Freudian to become his own kind of analyst. These two men, colleagues at the time, wrote each other letters for several years. I pause while I write these words to glance at the volume containing those letters on a bookshelf across the small room that I call home during much of the day. This reminds me of work that I must finish before lunchtime, editing business articles that helps pay the bills. I don’t have time to write about whatever comes to mind. Time reminds me of what I was reading half an hour ago, in the living room, with a morning cup of coffee, before my body and mind transported themselves to this room, where sometimes I feel trapped in a job that I sense will soon become part of my past. Thirty minutes ago I read a letter written to Freud in 1910 by another psychoanalyst, Sándor Ferenczi, who was teaching an evening class to a diverse group of professionals interested in psychoanalysis. Ferenczi’s passion and dedication to his work was clear in his words. Freud, in a letter of his own, warned his younger colleague not to overdo it, since several months remained before summer vacation. Both men died in the 1930s. Yet they were alive to me this morning, in their words, and I imagined entering Ferenczi’s consulting room in Budapest, and the idea for this paragraph had arrived.
When the email arrived, I thought I would ignore it. Yet it remained in my inbox for days, until finally I realized that I must have kept it there for a reason. I prefer to limit what I see in my inbox every morning. For an anxious person like myself, creating order in small things helps me to keep calm more than I wish to admit. A week or so after its arrival, I read it, reread it, and it occurred to me why I might have avoided it: it was an announcement for a psychoanalytic lecture, which I’d not attended, I didn’t want to admit to myself, in nearly two decades. A psychoanalyst from New York would give a talk at a local art museum near downtown Seattle, within walking distance from where I lived. I’d forgotten when I’d given my email address to the psychoanalytic society and institute that was sponsoring the event. What was I afraid of? I hadn’t abandoned psychoanalysis. Where did the word abandon come from? I almost wrote: I hadn’t avoided psychoanalysis for so long. Twenty years was a long time. And now I was experiencing it myself, on the couch. All of this confused mental activity was becoming too much. The unconscious seemed too much in control. My life had been full of work in the last two decades. The last sentence felt as if I was trying to rationalize something. As the date of the talk neared, I considered not attending because I might meet someone there from a previous life, when I’d trained to be a psychotherapist. I did attend. She spoke passionately about her work, and as I listened, I imagined lying on her couch in Manhattan, with her listening behind me. Imagination is a wonderful thing, sometimes. During the past twenty years, I’d never stopped reading about psychoanalysis or the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. When the talk ended, I wondered why I’d come, and I felt fortunate to imagine the answer: to have this experience.
What would’ve been these opening words were ready to appear on this screen. Then I finished reading the news online and told myself it was time to write. Anger and fear seemed to control me. I realized that my experience of reading the morning news had changed. Change seemed an important word. A memory came to mind, of a national political change, in August 1974, when Richard Nixon resigned. The memory of hearing the news felt as if the intervening decades had disappeared. We were camping on our new property in the San Juan Islands, without radio. Our neighbor, now dead, whose A-frame cabin was being built, came running over to tell us the news, which all these years later I recall how happy he was about. These weren’t the sentences I’d planned on writing. I’ve no idea what will follow. Our neighbor became an important figure in my life. As soon as he could, he retired as a public school teacher in Los Angeles and moved to his cabin on the small island where we were his neighbors. Over the years, when I was a teenager, and then a twenty-something-year-old, and my life seemed without a future, I made the trip, sometimes alone, to our acre of land in the outer islands of the San Juans and knew that he was there, nearby, in silence, living his life. These last words, living his life, also seem important. Life isn’t easy to live. Perhaps part of why I write every day is to help myself discover how to live each day. I’ve written enough sentences. Today won’t wait for me.
This wasn’t happening, was it? I was in a safe place. Yet I was experiencing things in my mind that overwhelmed me. I was recounting a dream. How could a dream about a broom disorientate me, here in a fourth floor office in downtown Seattle? The image was so clear. It was waiting for me, as a welcoming object, at our cabin in the San Juan Islands. Wait a moment, I said aloud, the broom hasn’t arrived at our cabin yet. In a year I will find it there, and then I’ll have to assemble it. How would I assemble a broom? It’s a dream, I reminded myself. The broom needs me to clean something that’s dirty. Did I say that aloud? I imagined getting to my feet. This couch and the silent psychoanalyst seated behind it were too much. My mind was becoming too much. Then, without warning, my mind became silent. I imagined myself holding a broom, cleaning my mind. Or maybe the broom was doing the cleaning itself. My mind felt cleaner than it had seconds earlier. The silence behind the couch overwhelmed me sometimes. What was he thinking? An unwelcome thought arrived: I didn’t want him to have his own thoughts. I wanted to control everything. I spoke aloud for the first time in what felt like several minutes: why is it so hard for me sometimes to realize that we’re not the same person? He might respond this time. I would have to wait and see. Time was beyond my control. How long was a year in my mind? Maybe, if I kept cleaning my mind, or if I allowed my mind to do its own cleaning, the question would become clearer to me. Uncertainty wouldn’t leave me.