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.
Moments ago, pen in hand, I imagined painting what I was about to write. I’d never imagined painting words before. I’m wondering how I would paint the sentence that just appeared. How am I writing this sentence? Mind and body are mysteries. So far this experience with pen in hand, this blue ballpoint pen that I bought along with four others at a nearby art store last week moving across the page without lines as if on its own, has happened without struggle. Maybe that’s a bad thing. Then this last sentence, along with all of the preceding ones, disappears, as if it had never been written. This is how writing should happen, isn’t it? The word should in the last sentence makes me anxious since I’m just writing sentences. The real work behind the appearance of these words, one at a time, is in subjective reality beyond my control. Or so I believe. For some reason it’s hard to admit that I don’t know what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Such is the life of a writer, or it’s how I’m imagining my writing life right now. Who knows what images will come to me in a moment or two, when the blue ballpoint pen is no longer in my hand.
We met for the first time on a warm Tuesday afternoon in mid August. For a few years before that day, after returning to Seattle from Madrid where I’d lived for nearly a decade, I passed the building countless times without imagining it, as if part of my future remained near me in silence. Our voices had met on the phone the previous Friday. I’d already left her a message when I left another, and she called twenty or thirty minutes later. Writing about this phone conversation ten months later, I’m relying more on my imagination than on anything else. I’ve read the notes I took afterwards. They don’t help me much in trying to discover what kind of narrative I want to write. Sometimes writing sentences helps me feel as if I were on a psychoanalyst’s couch. How I wish I could write freely without having to stop to correct something, which perhaps is why I try to welcome fantasy into my sentences. Fortunately, reality doesn’t disappear, either here in my writing room or on my psychoanalyst’s couch. My efforts of these last ten months to free-associate for fifty minutes at a time in Mary’s consulting room have convinced me that Freud’s ambition was limitless. Saying whatever comes to mind can sometimes feel like an impossible task to me, and I haven’t felt much better about myself after reading papers by psychoanalysts who agree with me. I can’t remember for how long Mary and I spoke on the phone. Maybe I’m afraid to remember. It was a frightening experience, which is not what I’d hoped to write. She could have said no to treating me. It’s difficult to see my anxiety in the last sentence. The phone call ended, and over the weekend I wondered what might happen on Tuesday when I would enter the building I’d never imagined for the first time.
I was in a hurry in my mind. I wanted to be anywhere instead of where I was in my own head. There was something dangerous and unknown about where I seemed to be inside of myself. Danger and unknowns seemed connected in a threatening way. I wasn’t alone in my mind. Something awaited me in mental darkness. Don’t forget about me, I felt my body saying as I fidgeted on the couch. I imagined myself saying in a defiant tone: there’s no room in me for sadness. Then I heard myself speak, and I felt the person seated behind me listening: Darkness, sadness, body, and mind are all together, in me. But it’s a crime for me to think these things. More words left my mouth, as if arriving out of nowhere: I don’t want to witness what’s sad and dark in me. Seated behind me, Mary said something about me being a witness to my own mind. I associated the word witness with a crime or an accident, as if I were breaking the law by thinking creatively. I stared out the window at the dark sky. I glanced up at the ceiling, at bookshelves across the room, and I imagined turning around and looking at my psychoanalyst, which I knew I shouldn’t do. Should I speak or should I be silent? As if the realization had been waiting for this particular moment to reveal itself to me, I realized I was no longer in a hurry in my mind. I was remaining in what had felt like a threatening mental and bodily space, and I was sad. I said this aloud. Something important was happening inside of me. I imagined a cross, thought of sacrifice, and I was sad. And it wasn’t a crime.
All of me wanted to speak. Come on, speak! I imagined my body saying these words as I lay silent on the couch, as if I were uncertain what to say. I couldn’t tell her what was passing through my mind. I couldn’t. The last two sentences sounded definitive, as if I were eager to decide something. I wanted to know the immediate future, even if it were the future of only a few minutes. What was passing through my mind? Mary stood up in my imagination and walked past the couch to a chair nearby where clients in face to face psychotherapy sat. Maybe I was anxious to see the expression on her face. I almost wrote know instead of see, as if someone could know what a look on someone else’s face meant. In reality, I saw clouds outside, and I heard silence from Mary seated behind me. The images in my head didn’t stop with Mary walking to the other chair. A red hardcover appeared in her right hand, she opened it as she sat down, and from the couch I glimpsed images on a page. I imagined that the images were the ones passing through her mind as she listened to the silence in the room. Or maybe the images in the red book were what she imagined was happening inside of me. In reality, this might have been when Mary started to hear my voice again, while I imagined her studying a heavy red hardcover filled with spontaneous images that were appearing and disappearing in my mind. As I spoke and listened to myself speak, I wondered whether voices in plural was a more accurate way of describing my moment to moment imaginative work. As if my body were listening to everything, I somehow knew that silence was ready to return.
The thirty something year-old man on the couch speaks intensely about a recent argument with a friend. If this were another moment, I might recognize the intensity as my own. As if out of nowhere, an image that I seem unprepared for comes to me, which in itself shouldn’t surprise me, but does. I imagine my patient at home writing a letter – another part of me interrupts and wonders why it isn’t an email – and as I read the sentences that appear on the paper, I realize he’s writing to me. These images seem to communicate more than words can formulate, and experience in this chair behind the couch has taught me to wait for images to speak to me in their own time. The session started fifteen minutes ago, and I try to remember whether he was this intense when he entered the room. Don’t try to remember, I say to myself. Listen and imagine. Don’t try to think or remember. They’ll happen on their own. I hear more words from the couch, and I wonder whether the intensity I’ve heard in his voice might be own: “I got to my feet and left the room. I couldn’t take any more.” What was the argument with his friend about? The image of him writing me a letter returns, and I realize I don’t know what to do with it. Inner words speak to my uncertainty: Let the image speak to you. As the patient continues speaking, a new image of him and his letter to me arrive: he takes a lighter from his pant pocket and lights the page on fire. My own intensity has become undeniable. I glance at the clock. We’ve spent less than thirty minutes together. Minutes matter much less than our words and images, and again I imagine him burning the letter he was writing me. Somehow, fire and speech become connected. Together, they seem to say that the room is full of emotion, which is a good thing in a session.