This paragraph is from an early chapter in the book I’m working on.
It should have been easy to tell her the dream. The images were in my head, and all I had to do was speak. It should’ve taken me a moment to walk from her door to the couch. Sometimes the couch felt as if it dominated the room. For some reason, today I paused on the way to my destination for the next fifty minutes. I glanced at Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains through the windows, as if I’d never seen them before. Then I was on the couch, the windows in front of me, and dream images from the night before arrived and seemed to say: transform me into words. I spoke the words that came to me, Mary listened, I heard her silence, and the experience was one long struggle. I stuttered on what felt like every word. After uttering the final word, I found myself imagining what I’d just struggled so much to describe. When the dream images disappeared, I felt as if something or someone inside of me was imploring me to speak. I couldn’t. Maybe “I” had nothing to do with it. The unconscious was in charge. I was very familiar with the experience of stuttering, which was both an inner and an outer one. Mary remained silent. I was disorientated and couldn’t focus on the dream that had been so difficult to utter. I wanted to discard it. We would have time to talk about it more. I would decide.
(This comes from a chapter of the book I’m working on)
I never expected to see Mary when I came out of the restroom. There she was, seated on a chair, observing a little girl, a patient, play with something on the floor. Moments became minutes. I wanted to say something, anything, so that she knew that I saw her. Later on, I wondered what I meant by that. Then she motioned me with a hand to remain silent. I smiled and left the waiting room for a couple of minutes. When I returned, both she and the little girl were gone. How old might Mary’s patient have been? I thought she might be younger than six or seven. My mind went blank. It was time for me to take the elevator up to the fourth floor. As I left the elevator and walked toward my psychoanalyst’s office, I realized that I’d wanted Mary to acknowledge my presence downstairs in the waiting room. Without warning, I stopped moving. I remembered the words that had come to me downstairs: I wanted Mary to know that I saw her. More words came to me: she should’ve focused on me. I started moving again. Her door would be open. The little girl would be with her mother, and Mary could focus on me. I imagined Mary standing outside her office and motioning me with a hand not to come closer. The image was so real that I feared I was hallucinating, which felt like a bad word although I knew it wasn’t. It described a particular state of mind. Maybe I wanted to be that little girl and have Mary observe me playing with toys. When this last sentence had come and gone, I found myself facing a closed door. This was her door. I wasn’t mistaken about the day or the time. Should I wait, knock, or perhaps take a peek inside? In any case, we would have lots to talk about.
While I was writing over the weekend, an adjective and an adverb refused to let me delete them. They were in the same sentence, in the same clause. Probably came first. Open came six words later. I reread the sentence five or six times before an inner voice said stop. Probably wasn’t necessary. I wanted to make it disappear. But my intuition told me to keep it. The adverb made it clear that the narrator was uncertain about how many minutes he’d been on the psychoanalytic couch when he recounted a dream, the first dream he ever told his psychoanalyst, which included her. I didn’t think about why probably would remain. Or maybe I did, after the decision was made, which happened without or perhaps before thought. I imagine that I was exploring both my own and my narrator’s states of mind without realizing it. He was writing as if he were on the couch with his laptop. He was too immersed in the immediate reality of his own mind to have any idea how many minutes he’d been lying on his analyst’s couch. This is also how I experience psychoanalytic sessions. So maybe I needed the adverb to help include myself in the narrative. Six words later, the adjective open helped me and my narrator to describe the image of an open door, welcoming me into my psychoanalyst’s office, to a physical and mental place where new things might become real to me. My analyst and I would speak about a dream in which we had dinner together. It would’ve been easy to delete both words. I trusted my intuition. And probably and open remained six words apart.
A week away from writing has left me with an empty mind. Days before I left Seattle to spend time at our cabin on a small island in the San Juans, my intuition told me I should finish one writing project and begin another. The rational part of my mind said I shouldn’t stop one process and start another that would then be interrupted. But I did stop writing what I called vignettes on a daily basis and instead started to plan what I envisioned as a long-term book project. And I realized that I had already started to prepare for the new book: I’d been writing notes about it in the form of narratives for the past year, as if in my unconscious I’d been thinking about writing a book on my experiences on the psychoanalytic couch for the last twelve months. It would be a mixture of fiction and autobiography. I wrote a chapter and a half and then packed my bags for our trip to the San Juan Islands. Yesterday, my first full day back in Seattle, I finished the second chapter. I was surprised that it wasn’t difficult for me to immerse myself in what I hadn’t thought about for several days. It was as if my own nascent text had never left my mind at all. I have around three hundred pages of short narratives, and also notes, on the subject that I’m hoping to create a book out of: my first year as a patient in psychoanalysis. If I have enough time before dinner, I’m going to return to the text and probably add some sentences after I finish writing this paragraph. I’m afraid of taking another break from it. Yet in some mysterious way my time away in the San Juan Islands seems to have helped prepare me for the next chapter of my writing future. What remains to be done is the writing itself. I imagine that while I was in the San Juans walking in the woods and drinking wine on the cabin deck above the beach, a creative state of mind was preparing itself, and now that I’m back in the city and at my desk, I just have to write and the rest will take care of itself.
I have decided to stop posting here so often. In fact, I’ve decided to change what I write about on this blog. I’m going to start posting thoughts on my writing process. Whether for better or worse, my daily writing itself will not appear here. Instead of writing what I’ve called vignettes and posting them one at a time, I’m going to work on a book, fictional and autobiographical, about my first twelve months in psychoanalysis, which I’ve written about after each session. I don’t know yet what I would try to do with the book if I were to succeed in finishing it, but my intuition tells me that this blog would not be the place for it. I imagine that the book could consist of about fifty chapters, and each one might be around 1,500 words. I’ve avoided such a project for several years because my writing style seems conducive to short pieces, of no more than five hundred or so words. Then last week, while I was on a walk, it came to me that with a first-person narrator who recounts experiences in the past tense, I could create fictional events, with autobiographical aspects to them, that focus on particular themes, such as lying on a couch for fifty minutes and trying to say whatever comes to mind, which could fit into short chapters. I have been writing on a daily basis for sixteen or seventeen years, and spontaneous changes in direction are not new to me. Perhaps next week I’ll write here that this new direction no longer feels right. Writing involves taking risks, often on a daily basis.
Writing a novel whose narrator’s work was the same as my own complicated my real life more than I’d imagined possible. That’s what came to me in the shower this morning. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, as I tidied the bedroom before walking to my writing room at the other end of the hallway, I realized that caffeine wasn’t the only thing that had helped to change my state of mind since I’d sat down at my desk a couple of hours earlier to work on the first draft of what had yet to become a novel. I imagined that the writing itself had rearranged things in my mind. Things seemed to be moving around in my head in a more imaginative way than strong coffee could bring about on its own. My narrator had surprised me this morning at my desk. The paragraphs that seemed to write themselves on the screen moved me toward unexpected places. I pictured my narrator commenting on the previous sentence, as if he were an observer in my mind: isn’t that what’s supposed to happen during the creative process, that the writing itself moves the writer toward unexpected places in his imagination? My narrator and I had something important in common: both of us were writers and psychotherapists. This morning’s paragraphs were another attempt to create the opening scene of the novel. Maybe it was much more than an attempt. Perhaps I succeeded in providing glimpses of my narrator’s mental morning as he started his day working on his own novel and then walked to his consulting room where he would listen to others until evening. His consulting room was unlike mine. For some reason the appearance of the word unlike in my mind frustrated me, as if I had a choice which words came to me. Maybe I was envious of my narrator. My intuition seemed to say that wasn’t what frustrated me. There wasn’t a couch in his office. All of his clients (he didn’t use the word patient) sat across from him. My narrator, unlike me, was a Jungian psychotherapist. Was it hard for me to imagine a narrator who practiced psychotherapy in a different way than I did? Years ago I was a client in Jungian psychotherapy. So I knew something about it. Yet I felt somehow threatened by my narrator’s theoretical approach. All of this constituted a writing mystery, which I knew from experience the writing process was full of, and fortunately, I was feeling creative. I had a long day ahead of me. As I was about to leave home and walk to my office, I thought that perhaps my morning writing was my way of preparing myself for the mysteries of my other work, listening to and trying to understand other human beings. Both processes, that of writing and of psychotherapy, seemed to lead me to unexpected places every day.
I could see myself on this couch for another four or five years. I don’t know how many minutes I’d been in her office when these words uttered me. This last clause demanded that I wrote it as it came to me. I could’ve said no and written a clause that made more sense to me. Yet if I had, I wouldn’t be writing this sentence, and my intuition tells me these sentences are headed somewhere, which as a writer, I know from much experience too often isn’t the case. The phrase made more sense makes me anxious. It almost sounds dangerous. Dangerous to whom or to what, I wonder. The phrase danger to these sentences arrives on its own. The part of me that tries to make sense of things becomes a stranger or even a danger to the writer in me. Perhaps this mysterious or unknown inner writer, which I imagine ultimately creates the grammatical, thought, and emotional structures that become my sentences, is perceived by another part of me, the I, as both a stranger and a danger. I imagine that I sense imminent defeat at the hands of this Other, so I cling to whatever feels real. Enough of this inner confusion! Can’t I be both one and several writers simultaneously? These sentences seem to have answered the question for me. I can see myself in psychoanalysis for a long time to come. I don’t have to differentiate between fantasy and reality. They’ve made things clear enough on their own.