Fact and Fiction Before Separation

My lapstrake rowboat Pepito is twelve feet long (the name is carved on the transom). If I were much taller, I wouldn’t fit on the couch where I lie several times a week for fifty minutes (and I’m 5 feet 6 inches). I feel comfortable in the small boat, without a motor, which surprised me at first since I can remember, as a child, being afraid of the water. Pepito and I will be together in the water in a few days, when (unless something unforeseen happens, which of course happens every day) I’ll travel on bus and ferry and bicycle from Seattle to a small community in the San Juan Islands and then, after launching the boat, row from one island to another. It was probably twenty-four years ago when I first imagined myself free-associating in a psychoanalyst’s office (the spring of 1994 comes to mind, and one afternoon I emerged from a second-hand bookstore with what, except for Irvin Yalom’s Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, were my first two psychological books, one on Freud, the other on Jung). Pepito was built by students at a wooden boat building school near Port Townsend while I was living in Madrid. A dream was one of the reasons why I wanted a lapstrake skiff (another was that, as a child, I was fortunate enough to spend time at my grandparent’s cabin in a Norwegian fjord where lapstrake boats were common). Psychoanalysis was a dream to me for years – I never stopped reading about it; in fact, I read more and more as time passed – and then, two years ago, five years after moving back to Seattle from Spain, I realized that I wasn’t going to wait any longer.

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An hour ago I had no idea what I was going to write about, although I sensed that something was awaiting me within. I’d written two pages of notes based on what I’d read in two books, which is unusual for me, and I assumed that the images, facts, and thoughts on those two pages would help me write a narrative. Maybe they have. My psychoanalyst and I don’t meet on Fridays, the day I’ll travel to our cabin, and I won’t have to work on that day either. Pepito was ten years old last month. The dream I had before the idea to have such a boat came to me took place in the water between the two islands where I will be rowing on Friday (if all goes according to plan, which rarely seems to happen). In the first image, I was driving a speedboat as fast as possible toward the nearest marina, while in the second and final image I was rowing in the same direction. I’m tired, and I have other work that I must finish before the end of the day. Most of what I’ve written here is based on what I consider to be facts. But I might be lying if I were to say that there is no fiction in these sentences. Perhaps I’ll reread them this weekend in the islands and find out.  

 

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Inner and Outer Reality

Uncertainty might be minutes or hours away. I’ll know when I walk through the door in my mind. I thought it would be easier to arrive home in my imagination. I’m in no hurry this afternoon, or that’s what I keep repeating to myself. It’s three o’clock. It’s 3:15. At 3:30 I wonder how much longer I’m willing to wait. I’m seated at my desk, checking my email. I walk to the kitchen. It’s too soon to prepare my afternoon cup of coffee. Too soon? It’s 3:40 pm. I would prepare it if I were certain that I’ll be writing on paper or on my laptop in fifteen minutes. A walk to the park three blocks away is another possibility. In an instant I realize that it doesn’t matter what I do outside of my mind. The moment has arrived, whether or not I’m willing to admit it, to be in my mind. I return to my desk, and as soon as I’m seated I’m also, in my imagination, a few miles away on my psychoanalyst’s couch.

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The clock on the windowsill reads 10:02 am. I walked up four flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. The images that come to mind as I reread the two previous sentences, of the clock on the windowsill beyond the couch in my psychoanalyst’s office, and of me walking up four flights of stairs, could be part of reality, except for the fact that my analyst’s office is on the second floor, not on the fourth. What I imagine next seems more plausible in a dream than in reality: I get up off the couch, walk to the window, and glance at the Olympic Mountains in the distance while my psychoanalyst, seated behind the couch, remains silent. The remaining forty-six or forty-seven minutes feel like an eternity. Years of psychotherapy as a client, and my experiences while training to be a psychotherapist, have taught me that fifty minutes can pass as if they were a handful of seconds. I wish I could stay on this couch, and my analyst remain in her chair, forever. All of these words are in my head. The word uncertainty returns. What am I afraid of? I glance at my laptop screen: 4:05 pm. I imagine preparing coffee as I continue writing about what could happen in my mind while I lie on the couch and wonder what might happen a second or minute from now. As I stand up and walk away from the desk and head toward the kitchen, I hear myself say: imagining coffee won’t put caffeine in my system.

Writing Home

(This is not intended to be fiction, to the degree that I’m capable of it)

I’m lying on my psychoanalyst’s couch in my mind. I feel safe in this room. The view of the Olympic Mountains from the couch reminds me of the home where I grew up, in this same city, where my parents no longer live, where the future has begun a new past, without me. My own secrets have been revealed to me on this couch, the real one, in reality, which sounds as mysterious as this experience in my mind, which has yet to end. In any given session, I start speaking, then interrupt myself when my own spontaneity makes me anxious, and on good days, when I allow images and words in my mind to be creative with me, my spontaneous speaking returns, and sometimes along with it, discoveries happen.

I’m in the fourth floor office in a way that would be impossible during an actual session. In reality, I’m seated at the round table at home where I do most of my writing (occasionally I leave home with a notepad and walk until images and ideas tell me to stop and write them down), in the room where I read, drink coffee, and take books from the shelves and either hold them or read sentences, paragraphs, or pages when my own sentences refuse to appear on the page. Yet I feel as if I were on the couch.

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The opening sentence of the previous paragraph – I’m in this office in a way that would be impossible in reality – confuses me. I picture myself sitting up on the couch, getting to my feet, and walking out the door, not in anger or frustration, but in fear. I’m afraid of discovering things about myself. Imagining the view of the Olympic Mountains from the dining room of the house where I grew up eating meals and where now another family enjoys meals feels calming from the couch where I find myself in my imagination. I feel free, on the couch in my mind, to experience confusion and then understanding, as if anxiety and calmness were in dialogue with each other inside of me.

I have written these paragraphs with my real voice, or perhaps my fictitious voice has discovered new ways to convince me that reality has always been my writing home.

Discoveries in Tweed

The image of a man, whom I assumed was a professor, pushing a stack of papers toward me seemed to be the reason why I looked up from the book I was reading. I was alone at the table. I hadn’t read in a public library in years. My decision to stop here on my way downtown surprised me. Thirty minutes with a book in silence might help prepare me to be in a more meditative state of mind once I reached my psychoanalyst’s office. The book came with me from home. Why couldn’t I say it was mine? I hadn’t realized I was paying such close attention to my own mental movements. My eyes returned to the words on the page. Soon another image of the professor appeared. The stack of papers were in his hands. THE stack of papers WAS in my hands. I held them in my hands. Why was I complicating things for myself?

The book remained in my hands. I imagined the professor in a tweed jacket reading alongside of me. Where was the stack of papers he wanted me to read? He expected me to report back to him with my findings. Understanding that all of this in my head were fantasies wouldn’t help. Where did that come from? The sentences on the page were waiting. There was enough time for me to read some more pages. Images might keep coming. I pictured myself wearing a tweed jacket. How many more minutes did I have? I took a deep breath. Maybe I was discovering more of what reading was all about.

Anxiety without Interruption

The image of the neighbor whom I was speaking to running away from me didn’t make sense. I wasn’t stuttering. We weren’t disagreeing about anything. The elevator would soon be at the ground floor. He smiled at something I said. Yet I pictured him shouting at me. We were speaking about something important. The elevator would take us in opposite directions, him down to the garage and me up to one of the upper floors. I was about to speak – I had been unable to utter what I most wanted to say – when the elevator doors opened (things were happening too fast for me: the elevator arriving so promptly, an important thought not giving me enough time to be ready for it) and another neighbor walked out of the elevator and started talking to both of us. A minute or two later he stopped speaking and turned to me, as if he expected me to comment on what he’d said.

I heard my own words before I realized that I’d interrupted the neighbor who had just put an end to the momentary silence. Seconds later I heard familiar noises, my failed attempts at speaking, and I wished I would have avoided glancing at the startled faces of my two neighbors. A sentence came to me, which I was surprised never had before: Stuttering was a conversation killer. A moment of silence seemed to last a minute. I pictured myself entering the empty elevator just as its doors started closing. But reality didn’t disappear. I took a deep breath and opened my mouth again, and my neighbors were listening to sentences. I could hear anxiety in my voice. And words kept coming, without interruptions.

 

In Red

I thought that writing in my journal would relax me. Then I wrote the first sentence: I slept in the garage and parked the car in my bedroom. The words were on paper when I stood up and moved away from the desk, as if the paper could hurt me. My reaction surprised me almost as much as the sentence. I sat back down. I chose another pen, this one blue. The black ones would remain untouched for a while. Two sentences wrote themselves, and the first one seemed to anticipate the second one: I covered my chest with my hands. I left her office to use the restroom moments after I realized that I might speak about my fear that this therapy was a waste of time. Another sentence appeared and disappeared before I could write it down.

Seconds or minutes later I wrote that stuttering would make it impossible to say: I will write this sentence. I felt that I wrote the words too fast. I was afraid of making a mistake. I thought I made a grammatical error.

I closed my journal. This craziness had to end. I needed it to stop. It was hard to write when I wasn’t in control of what I was doing. But I hadn’t finished. I chose a red colored pen to remind myself that I was in control. The images of me sleeping in the garage and of the car in the bedroom returned. They no longer felt threatening. Maybe they could help me relax. Therapy also helped me to experience my emotions without becoming overwhelmed. Writing in my journal seemed to be a way of bringing everything together in my mind. In red.

In Two Places at Once

When his book fell from my hands, the shock I saw on his face seemed to say that he was afraid it would disappear forever. He was speechless. I was wordless, and perhaps also mindless. Thoughts might come to me later. After I woke up, I wondered how long the dream might have lasted, and I realized that I knew very little about what happened in my mind during sleep. I prepared coffee. The dream seemed to continue while I was awake in the form of memory images from long ago, in the 1970s. A book salesman tried to sell my mother a set of encyclopedias. I watched, speechless. In the end, my mom said no.

Maybe there was a No in that book falling to the ground. And perhaps my friend’s look of shock was a reaction to that No. Coffee would be ready in a minute. I looked around the kitchen for paper on which I could write the dream down. Then I saw a scrap of paper in front of me, and I thought, similar to the dream it was one step ahead of me. The memory of the door to door book salesman seemed to encourage me to admit to myself how much I’d wanted my mother to buy my sister and me that set of encyclopedias. I couldn’t remember anything about my sister except that she was there. I was here, in the kitchen, coffee cup in one hand, the other hand having just finished recording the dream on paper. It was time to choose which book or books I would read from while drinking my coffee. I knew which book it would be, the one in the dream, without having to think about it. I had my own copy, which had never fallen to the ground. I knew which shelf it was on. And the dream reminded me that I’d wanted to return to it for a while.