Letters by Freud written over a hundred years ago are important to me, to my imagination, to my mind, to my writing. I’ve felt this since 2007, when I bought my first volume of his correspondence in Madrid, in Spanish translation.
Another, seemingly unrelated book found me on May 2, 2016, in Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle (there are advantages to writing the date of purchase on the flyleaf). In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis by Casey Schwartz felt good in my hands. I walked home on that warm midday in early May feeling that part of my mental and emotional and writing futures was within my grasp. What awaited me were the experiences of discovery themselves.
At around the same time I discovered a video on YouTube, a lecture by the neuropsychologist and psychoanalyst Mark Solms, who is an important part of Schwartz’s book, on the brain in psychoanalysis (these words come to me now), and as months passed, I wondered why I kept watching the video of him speaking at this event in New York sponsored by the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) over and over. At the beginning of his talk, Solms said that he was going to speak about something simple. Then I heard him say that his talk was called “A neuropsychoanalytic perspective on the talking cure (which is psychoanalysis).” During the following several minutes, what I heard was simple in a complicated way. Solms seemed to be wondering aloud about what happens inside the two human beings in a consulting room. He used the term communication. As he continued talking, it became clearer to me that he was referring to what happens in the two brains of the two people in the room. Rudimentary communication starts inside our brains. I have written these last several sentences while watching his talk once more. Feeling states become means of communication. “Emotions are a perceptual modality.” These were Solms’s words in his talk. The two human beings in a psychotherapist’s office react to each other in their brains, in their minds, with feelings, which can lead to thought. Words become proof that feeling action has happened in our brains and minds. The final words of his talk were: “The talking is about feelings.”
I’m wondering what all of this has to do with letters Freud wrote in the early 1900s. Freud’s mind interests me. His brain interests me. What kinds of feelings do I imagine in him while he wrote his letters to colleagues and friends? I feel as if I’ve been drinking coffee all day. In reality, I finished my morning mug of coffee at around 7 am. I’m excited that after more than a decade of reading from around a dozen volumes of Freud correspondences that I’ve finally found an imaginative focus: what I imagine he was feeling while he wrote his letters late at night, after a long day of work. And somehow, from these imaginings, I have faith that images and ideas will come to me here at my desk as I become anxious about writing words on paper.
I imagined that the six digits had escaped from my mind. Thought would have allowed me to realize that I’d forgotten them. I needed them to reappear in 120 seconds. In two minutes I would be standing before the keypad alongside the door that clients and their families used to enter the building. I didn’t think of myself as a client. Neither did my psychoanalyst. I was a patient or an analysand. Most of the people I saw in the waiting area were children and their parents. My psychoanalyst was also a child therapist. I was seconds away from the building when the six digits returned. It was as if my mind had returned.
I was alone in the waiting area for the two minutes I waited before the light alongside my analyst’s name on the wall switched off and I walked up a flight of stairs. As if out of nowhere, it came to me that my psychoanalyst’s couch might be the only one in the building. I was a stranger here. I didn’t belong. Hundreds of fifty-minute hours on the couch had changed my mind in some way. I felt it. The sentences about being a stranger and not belonging were related to what was happening in my own mind, right now, as I sat waiting.
I didn’t wait long. As Freud said in different words, it is impossible to understand what psychoanalysis is about unless you’re in the room. I had read about psychoanalysis for years before my initial fifty minutes on the couch. I could attempt to describe today’s session in words, but my inner experiences on the couch were before or beyond words. Things happened. Insights and understandings sometimes came to me. After some sessions, I wished that I’d said something more or different or nothing at all, moments of inner experience which I would hopefully reflect on. I forgot the six-digit entry code today before remembering it. We spoke about this while I was on the couch. Tomorrow something else will happen. And I’ll still feel like a stranger in here.
The couch in my imagination has been asking me to lie down on it for several minutes. We must talk. I imagine myself standing before Freud’s couch, the one that appears on this blog. Things are evolving in my mind. I can feel it more than imagine it. Perhaps the couch has appeared to help me imagine what is happening. The thought comes to mind: the name of this blog, writingsfromthecouch, chose me. Psychoanalysis on the couch had been part of my life for three months when I created this blog two years ago. The fifty-minute experiences on the couch, my attempts at putting into words whatever came to mind, felt like a dream come true.They still do. Yet words don’t seem enough anymore. The image of a couch speaks more to me than does the word itself. Perhaps the couch in my imagination has been suggesting that I allow images to reveal words to me that otherwise might have remained hidden. An image of the ocean is followed by the word water. In metaphorical terms, am I swimming in the ocean (hopefully near land) while I struggle to speak and make sense of my words on my psychoanalyst’s couch? Maybe I should replace Freud’s couch on my blog with the sea. I wouldn’t want to rename this blog writingsfromthewater. I would be afraid of drowning. The couch asks me: why don’t you continue dreaming in your mind here at your desk? I imagine that I dream while I’m awake on Freud’s couch, both in reality and metaphorically. A realization comes to me: these writings on the couch aren’t finished with me, and they probably won’t be for a very long time. Why can’t I experience images of God on the couch? Indeed, why not? Another question appears: why can’t I experience images of God while I write these vignettes? The couch and I are still talking. And things continue to evolve in my mind.
I wasn’t accustomed to hurrying to my chair when a client entered the room. As I watched him move from the door to the chair opposite mine, which was his chair from 5:30 to 6:20 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I thought: he’s running. As a former runner, I wanted to move as fast as possible when I saw someone else do so. Then the thought above seemed to complete itself: maybe both of us were running from something. This sentence reminded me that I felt as if I had too much to do today. I was a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. I was training to become a psychoanalyst. Another client would sit across from me before the end of my workday. And then I hoped to read and write, perhaps for an hour, maybe more, maybe less, before heading home. Listening to my own words, I seemed anxious about another person facing me. I needed to be alone. I was tired. I was excited about all of the ideas in my head that I imagined writing on paper. My narrator was a psychoanalyst. He was writing a paper on knowledge and the state of mind of not knowing, which would be published in a psychoanalytic journal. Perhaps my client was in a hurry to recount a dream. A sentence came to me that I imagined writing in a journal that appeared in my hands: All of this is a dream. For me, being with a client involved a sort of dreaming while awake. I never knew what would happen next. Neither of us in the room did. Or so I dreamed.
I have brought this book with me. I don’t know why. It’s here on my chest. I’m lying on your couch with it. This experience has been a surprise. And you’re silent. I’ve been listening to my own words. I want you to say something! The book was written by another psychoanalyst. You might know her. I imagine that her theoretical approach is similar to yours. I was about to say that her approach to psychotherapy is familiar to you, which would’ve been my way of trying to make you frustrated with me. I should’ve said: of attempting to make you frustrated with me.This book on my chest makes me uncomfortable. I’m afraid it’s going to fall to the floor and be damaged. You could tell me I’m acting out or that what I’ve done is what some psychoanalysts would call an enactment. Perhaps I’m trying to discover something that I want to get off my chest. And I’m realizing, one image and word at a time, that this book, which in a way is about forgetting and remembering, is connected to my fear that you’ll reject any interest I might show in psychoanalysis. Growing up, I wasn’t passionate about my own books. I’m remembering my first bookshelves, which I think I got in my last year of high school. You haven’t rejected me yet, and the book remains with me. I hadn’t thought of those bookshelves in years. And I finally feel ready to start thinking about why I’ve brought this book with me.
Last night I thought I heard the speaker say: everything originates in the mind. A moment ago, I was about to say exists instead of originates, and then I changed my mind. She gave a talk on knowledge and the unconscious. I wasn’t going to go. I changed my mind at the last minute. I’ve said “changed my mind” twice in the last few sentences, haven’t I? Listening to myself as I speak here on the couch still feels new to me, although I’ve been attempting to say whatever comes to mind three times a week for two years. Perhaps I chose originates instead of exists because I’m searching for truth in my mind. I’m frustrated with myself and maybe also with you. I’m trying too hard to think. Something doesn’t feel right inside, as if I don’t trust what I’m about to say. I’m afraid of how you might react, although I know you’re not listening to me in a judgmental way. Speaking like this makes me anxious. I’m not in control. The words are. My mind is where everything originates and exists. This is hard work.
Did I hear him say a new direction in thirty years or new directions of the last thirty years? Past, present, and future tenses, and singular and plural forms all became one during a disorientating moment. He was in an art museum yesterday, he mentioned it a second time, and then I imagined that he spent the day at his desk studying a text on psychoanalytic methods and theories of interpretation. There wasn’t time for me to wonder what he was talking about, I was focused on his words, as if possible connections between them would lead me to moments of mental clarity. I glanced at my desk where I’d been reading before he entered the room. Perhaps reading wasn’t the right word. I’d struggled to finish a single sentence. Interruptions came in the form of nameless anxiety. Nameless became named as the middle-aged man on the couch returned once again to his experience at the Seattle Art Museum yesterday. As he spoke, I realized that, in the minutes before the session, I’d been afraid that I might spend the next fifty minutes alone, that he would not appear at my door. The word afraid appeared without my conscious consent. I glanced at the clock on the windowsill beyond the couch. I glanced at it again. I still wasn’t sure what time it was. Then I heard the number thirty again: “Thirty years ago next week something traumatic happened to me. I remember the date.” I was no longer disorientated. Without knowing how I knew it, I sensed that truth was near. Words would lead us there. They had brought us this far.