I almost gave up a chance to glimpse the solar eclipse this morning. I was walking to my psychoanalyst’s office, and I was a block away when an elderly man asked if I wanted to borrow his eclipse glasses to have a look. I said thanks but no, that I had to be somewhere in a few minutes, and then, moments later, I realized my mistake and walked back to where he stood and had a look. When I said no, he looked at me as if I were from another planet and asked if I was crazy. When I returned moments later and said I would like to take him up on his offer, he said that I would remember the experience years from now. The view of the eclipse was spectacular. As I walked the final block to my analyst’s office, I sensed that something important had just happened: first I behaved like I’d often behaved when I was younger, hurrying from one thing to another, when what I actually wanted to do was enjoy moments, and then I behaved in a creative way: I listened to myself, and I slowed down, both in my mind and body, long enough to enjoy one long moment.
My new book has taken me in unexpected mental directions. One minute I know what I’m writing about. Three or four minutes later my narrator finds himself in a different state of mind. Whose state of mind am I dealing with in these writing moments? Is it a sort of mutual mental state within one mind? My narrator exists in my imagination. I created him. To some extent his life is based on my own. Yet I also feel sometimes that he’s moving me around in my imagination, as if he represents the right hemisphere of my brain, the intuitive part. He often reminds me that I’m writing about mental moments. I’m writing a book about moments in the mind of my narrator. Is it that simple? In reality, I’ve had similar mental experiences to the ones my narrator tries to describe in words. Maybe the two of us, my narrator and I, translate an unknown text, which has yet to be imagined or thought, into a written one. We need each other. I know I need him, which seems strange to see in words. Perhaps my narrator represents the spontaneous writer in me in action. He’s not afraid to translate images into words. This new book of mine has started to become a reality in my mind. I’m writing short chapters, each one consisting of a few vignettes, on what it was like to be on the psychoanalytic couch for the first twelve months of the treatment. My narrator and I are creating a fictional version of what I experienced. We’re in this together, or are we?
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.
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.
His first words were about someone else. Our fifty minutes together had started seconds earlier. I found myself rewriting the last sentence in my head: our fifty seconds together had started minutes earlier. Part of me didn’t want to have this session with him. Did he just say something about me? He seemed to be speaking about a recent trip to Madrid. Maybe I missed something. How much could I have missed in a minute or two? My own question surprised me. I knew from years in this chair that much could happen in and between two minds and bodies in a hundred and twenty seconds. We’d been separated for over a week. Separated was my word, not his. Or maybe he’d used it, too. I felt an ocean of distance between us, although we were seated across from each other. A dream from the night before came to me, in which I walked through the rooms of the apartment where I’d lived in Madrid, how many years ago I wondered, when I’d believed that the therapist in me wanted only to write for the rest of his life. I realized that I’d yet to record the dream on paper. I wasn’t an artist. That wasn’t true. Writers were artists. I didn’t feel capable of drawing or painting the dream. My former Jungian psychotherapist would surely challenge this last thought. I imagined her encouraging me to allow the unconscious to speak through whatever I created on what had been blank space. The man across from me sounded frustrated about how busy he’d been in Madrid. He didn’t seem to enjoy his work much and all of the traveling it involved. Suddenly, or maybe not, my mind was a total blank. I heard him say something about losing too much time to all of his traveling for work. My associations to his words led me in various directions. Might he be saying that he felt he was traveling too far in his mind during sessions with me? Was he suggesting that our work together was a waste of his time, or that he was losing too much time having these psychotherapeutic conversations with me? Something was missing. It seemed to be my lack of presence in the session. Emotionally, I was somewhere else. He was silent. Were we now two blank minds? I wanted to wake up, so to speak, before it was too late. Every second counted.
It’s as if I’m the last one to arrive in my own mind. Images and words have been waiting a while. Thoughts are here too. Things have been happening, without me. A sandy beach and ocean waves appear. I imagine a thick hardcover of Freud’s writings. Then I see the words vacation and dreams, as if there were some hidden logic in all of this. Something becomes clearer: the thick hardcover is Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, which I’ve recently read about in a few of Freud’s letters to Wilhelm Fliess, which he wrote while writing the book. Another word, the verb block, arrives, and it feels unwelcome. Where am “I” in all of this? I associate the word vacation to freedom in my mind, and then, a second or two later, a wall crashes down on top of the word vacation and breaks it in two. What am I supposed to do with this verbal wreckage? Not everything in my mind has been destroyed. Some form of I has written these sentences. Ocean waves have reappeared, and so has Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, this time in paperback, which resembles the one I bought at a nearby bookstore last winter. The verb block returns too, and I imagine a car in a narrow driveway, blocking my way. Since I feel welcome in my mind, I simply leap over the car, as if my imagination had nothing to do with it.
Calmness appeared, disappeared, reappeared. My feet were touching the sidewalk. There was no screaming in my head. I knew what I was making contact with physically. What was controlling my imagination? Seconds earlier, the image had been clear: I was screaming in an empty field. Then an inner door seemed to close, which barred the screaming me from making contact with the rest of me. Contact as a form of communication seemed important. My feet were on the ground. It was 12:03 pm. The July midday sun reminded me that I was in a hurry to reach the door of our building. I didn’t want to sweat right before returning to my desk and to the editing work that would occupy my mind during the rest of the afternoon. In the previous sentence, I imagined writing: I didn’t want to scream right before returning to my desk. Some inner door had closed behind me. Where was the screaming me now? Seconds felt like an hour. I was so afraid of something that I had no idea what it was. A child me and an adult me appeared, they were as real as the sidewalk below my feet, and for a long second it was uncertain which one would scream. Maybe both of them would. I was lonely as a child, although I was too anxious ever to realize it. Years and decades passed, and I didn’t change. I wanted to write that nothing changed. “I” didn’t have to become part of this. Writing a sentence like the previous one was hard. It was painful to see how afraid I could be of even glancing at myself in the mirror. One moment I saw one thing, the next moment something different appeared. I walked a few more feet and glanced at my watch. It was 12:04 pm. The sidewalk remained below my feet. The screaming me would reappear or not reappear, in its own time.