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.
Frustration must be at the heart of this work. Nothing comes to mind. Frustration has become my mind. Leo or Matthew and I are having a similar experience. Which of these two names will become my narrator’s name? Both of us are at work. For the moment Leo feels like the right name. Leo and his consulting room exist in my imagination, whereas my working space exists both in reality and in my imagination. I’m seated at my desk, and I glance around the room at the bookshelves, two chairs facing each other, and the couch. An hour ago I didn’t imagine myself writing on my laptop at 11:02 am. The cancellation has disappointed me. The last sentence surprises me. Am I surprised that I have an emotional reaction to a client missing a session? My narrator and I can escape reality together. Leo was the name of my narrator in the first novel I wrote. I wrote only one draft, and for the moment the year in which I wrote those one hundred fifty or two hundred pages refuses to come to mind. A few sentences have been written on the screen. I wrote the previous sentence without a personal pronoun, as if I wasn’t involved in its creation. The sentences on the screen were written by Leo, in my imagination. He’s also had a cancellation. And after preparing himself a coffee, he’s also looking at the screen in front of him. Reality doesn’t feel threatening to him at the moment. And it does to me? I feel as if I’m on the couch here in my office trying to free-associate, which is perhaps a good sign. Maybe my narrator and his morning that I’m hoping to create in words will become clearer to me in the next forty or forty-five minutes. I imagine that Leo writes a handful of sentences in which his own narrator, also a therapist (now there’s three of us), writes about the imaginative ways that he listened to a client earlier that morning. These two narrators seem more imaginative than me. This thought feels unwelcome, and seconds later, both narrators have disappeared, or have they? I’m without creative help in my imagination, or perhaps I must wait for the images, words, ideas, and feelings that sooner or later will appear, all at once, one at a time, or in another order not of my choosing.
My narrator is crazier than I thought. And we haven’t known each other for very long. He has another story to tell. The words, another story, return me to the present outside of my mind. The middle-aged woman on the couch in front of me is trying to explore her own mind. My mind should be focused on her mind. It is, and perhaps it isn’t. Images, words, thoughts, and sentences appear and disappear, and I try to watch them come and go as I listen to the other human being in the room speaking. His (my narrator’s) name appears in the form of a doubt, which interests me. Should Leo be his name? Matthew is another possibility. I imagine these previous three sentences moving downstream in a river that somehow feels familiar. Is the image of a sentence floating downstream a metaphor for what I imagine happens in my mind while I both listen to the words of another and write my own on a screen or in my journal? The woman on the couch is speaking about something she experienced yesterday while she read a book and drank Irish tea. What happened? I’m reminded of my favorite Irish tea, which I sometimes drink in the afternoon. Did she just say that the book devoured her? It’s one I wish to read. Perhaps I’m envious of her, or I’m feeling competitive: I wanted to read it first. It’s about a psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, who died in 1979, and who many have said was one of the most innovative thinkers in the history of psychoanalysis. She probably said that she devoured the book. Why do I doubt that she made a slip of the tongue? Am I afraid of being devoured by the fear that I won’t be able to create my narrator? She read most of the two hundred some pages last night. I imagine her reading in bed, gripping the paperback or hardback with both hands. Intensity comes to mind. She found herself imagining and thinking new things last night. Why did she drink strong tea at night? She said night, didn’t she? Questions like these sometimes make me wonder if I’m crazy. I imagine my narrator speaking to me: Listen to the doubt. You can’t make it disappear. Listen, and learn from the listening experience, as if you were reading a book that often feels as if it were written in a foreign language unknown to you. All of this imagining is now floating downstream. And she continues speaking about her reading experience.
As a psychotherapist, I needed professional help. The thought seemed new, which surprised me. Couldn’t everyone benefit from someone listening to them every week? I’d chosen a difficult profession. I often felt that it had chosen me. I knew that the thought in the opening sentence had come to me a hundred times. Maybe this was the first time I was listening. I was walking toward my psychoanalyst’s office. Soon I would be lying on her couch, where I felt safer doubting the contents of what I said. That sentence didn’t sound better than the opening one. I might’ve said that I felt safer in my psychoanalyst’s office to say whatever came to mind without judging the contents, and that I was able to do this in good moments. How could I expect my own clients to risk feeling safe with me in a session if I didn’t continue to have the same experience with my own therapist? My analyst’s office was a block away. Another thought seemed to form itself, the sounds of downtown Seattle traffic started to push it away, I thought that maybe I should find a coffee shop and order a small coffee, and then the following sentence came to me: I’d been judging what had been coming and going in my mind during the last few minutes. I glanced at my watch, realized that I wouldn’t physically be in her office for another twenty minutes, and imagined myself writing in the hardcover journal that I held in one hand. I was a therapist who desired to write whenever possible, before and after sessions with my own clients, and before and after sessions on the couch with my psychoanalyst. As I stood in line and doubted whether or not I should order drip coffee or an Americano, I remembered thinking a minute or so earlier that I would have to wait another twenty minutes for the session, and the writer in me rewrote the sentence: I would have to wait before I could jump into her office. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to doubt what I assumed was the meaning of whatever I thought or felt at any given moment. I must have been more in a hurry to have someone else listen to me than I wished to admit. With the help of caffeine, I spent several minutes writing whatever came to mind in my journal. I somehow knew, without looking at my watch, when it was time to stop and cross the street for another fifty minutes of professional help.
In her dream she was writing on a new manual typewriter. She said she was surprised that the words appeared on the page without interruption. I was curious what she might’ve meant by that, and I wondered whether or not I should say anything so early in the session. She hadn’t finished recounting the dream, or had she? Was she speaking about the dream or reality? The two were related to each other in my mind, and I imagined this was also the case in her mind at the moment. There were advantages to her lying on the couch with me seated behind her. This arrangement was new to both of us. I imagined a manual typewriter on my lap. I was experiencing mental interruptions, which was part of the job of listening to another. She was my first patient on the psychoanalytic couch. I was training to become a psychoanalyst, and she and I had agreed that she would lie on the couch and try to say what came to mind four times a week. Both of us were silent. Maybe I should’ve spoken moments ago. As though she could read my thoughts, Mary said that she was confused and couldn’t remember the rest of the dream. “I was writing on this manual typewriter, which I’d just returned home with from the store, and I was amazed that I typed so well, without any problems. I wonder why the end of the dream has disappeared, or maybe I just need to wait for it to reappear.” In my own mind, things were appearing and disappearing. Seated behind the couch, without having Mary’s eyes on me, I felt somehow freer than I did seated across from a client to listen imaginatively, both to her and to myself as I listened to her words. I heard her voice, in reality: “I remember the ending of the dream. I read the words of what I felt would be the final sentence after I finished typing them, and I wondered what they meant: writing is an art of imagining interruptions without end.” I glanced at the clock beyond the couch and realized that our time was up.
It felt good to write like someone possessed. I felt more alive than I had three or four minutes earlier. Three or four sentences appeared on what had been a blank page, as if time didn’t exist. There was one problem. I would have to stop in a sentence or two, or maybe sooner or later than that. Time did exist. At three o’clock, if I was fortunate, my next client would – for some reason, I couldn’t decide how to finish this sentence in my mind – arrive. This last word, arrive, sounded simple and perfect when it arrived. Perhaps I was in a good state of mind for a session. My mind was neither a blank page nor overly chaotic. Moments later, as another sentence demanded to be written, everything changed, in the room and in my mind. My client appeared in the doorway unannounced. I wished I could’ve edited this sentence in my head. As if in an instant, he moved from the doorway to the couch, where he was uninvited to sit. Things were getting out of control in my mind. He didn’t arrive unannounced. Even minutes earlier, when I’d been writing like a man possessed, about something which I couldn’t remember at the moment, images of him had come to me. Jonathan didn’t sit on the couch. He was lying on it before the previous sentence had been written in my head. The word uninvited bothered me the most. But we’d never spoken about him lying on the couch. Yet this was his time. Did he know that I was training to become a psychoanalyst? His movements and current position on the couch seemed to tell me what he needed, at least until he moved again. For the moment, both of us were silent. I imagined that we were speaking to each other in an unspoken language. Each of us, in his own way, was seeking something. Both my intense writing experience and his hurrying to the couch seemed to speak to silent desires, alive in us, if only we knew it.