When I read that the psychoanalyst of Budapest celebrated his fortieth birthday on the day he wrote the letter I was reading, I wished I could forget how old I was when Spanish became my second, or maybe first, language. Sándor Ferenczi sounded sad in his letter to Freud. I was sad before I’d finished reading the opening paragraph. Translation has seemed to become part of this writing experience of mine. What kind of translation is at work here? Emotional translation comes to mind first. Ferenczi’s letter, written in July 1913, has affected me in a way that remains unclear. I was sad. I am sad. I was thirty-five when I moved to Madrid and immersed myself in learning a second language, which I’d failed at in high school. This last clause appeared on its own. I seem to be doubting myself. Ferenczi wrote of inner struggles in his letter to Freud. When he mentioned his psychoanalytic work with patients, I was uncertain how he felt about the work. Uncertainty can lead to creativity. This last sentence helps me remember that my heart beat faster when I read that Ferenczi had turned forty on the day he wrote the letter to Freud. Freud has become part of the uncertainty I’m experiencing as I write this sentence. For years I struggled to read Freud. I still do. His correspondences discovered me one day in a Madrid bookstore a decade ago, and I’ve been reading them ever since, both in Spanish and in English translations. I also have several volumes of Ferenczi’s correspondences. It’s as if these books on my shelves have something to teach me that I’ve done my best to avoid. I’ve been avoiding Freud’s major works, such as The Interpretation of Dreams, less this year than in the past. Another of his works, Psychopathology of Everyday Life, has been my evening reading for a few days. Changes seem to be happening inside of me. I hope the translator in me can keep up with them.
Eleven minutes passed without my eyes leaving the words. The number eleven came to me first. I could’ve imagined any number of minutes that the letter and I communicated with each other. I have no idea for how many minutes or seconds I was able to read this letter written one hundred and seven years ago without averting my eyes from the text. Perhaps the colleague of Sigmund Freud who wrote it would’ve been pleased to know that more than a century later someone would refer to these paragraphs of his personal correspondence as a text. I imagine that I’ve been studying it as a source of a writer’s subjective reality on the page. I probably could’ve chosen any one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in this room and found the same kind of material. So why have I spent x number of minutes with sentences that I imagine Ernest Jones wrote late one night before going to bed? He was around thirty years old and would live for another forty-eight years or so. A thought comes to me: when he died, in 1958, psychoanalysis was alive and well. When he wrote this letter to Freud, in 1910, he was just starting to work as a psychoanalyst, or so I imagine. He hadn’t yet experienced psychoanalysis on the couch himself, which he would a few years later. This has been a new kind of reading and writing experience for me. Hopefully the letter will let me know when it’s done with me.
This is unusual for me to observe my own mind. I’ve been reading some of my recent sentences. And I’ve reread them. This opening sentence, the one I wrote above, surprises me. I didn’t think it was unusual for me to observe my own mind. Yet what I’m doing here feels new. Before the word surprise found its way into a sentence, I had a somewhat clear idea of what I would write next. As I reread my own sentences, I identified a few themes that I imagined I’d written about unconsciously. Did I identify them, or did I do something else? Maybe what I did was before thought. Thought remained in the future. I noticed that the first and final sentences of the paragraph I was rereading were connected in a chronological way. In the opening sentence, I was anxious about what might happen during a particular experience, which started to take place in the last sentence of the paragraph. I remembered how I felt before my initial face-to-face meeting with a psychoanalyst last summer, and I imagined an anxious me that couldn’t think about the upcoming conversation. This was the opening sentence of the paragraph that I’ve been rereading during the last hour. Then, twenty-three sentences later, I was inside her office, anxious and confused. I’ve just reread these sentences, the ones I’ve written in the last hour, and I’m no longer surprised that I wrote it is unusual for me to observe my own mind. The sentences I wrote were about someone, a fictional me, who struggled both to imagine and think. A few of the sentences were in present tense, in which the writer wrote about the experience of writing the words, and the rest were in past tense, and dealt with what the writer or narrator remembered. It was as if writing in the present tense overwhelmed me. I almost wrote, overwhelms me, in the present tense.
The thoughts in my head seem to know I’m listening to them. They appear to struggle to express themselves. There are lots of starts and stops, as if the thoughts themselves were controlled by a more powerful force. I imagine my mind in two places at once: lying on a couch, speaking, revealing, hiding, or ignoring what’s happening in its interior, and seated behind the couch, listening both to the account of the other and to its own inner imaginings. Why don’t I write person or persons instead of mind? Something about the mind as a subject of incessant activity seems important. My thoughts need another part of me to focus on them, since I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my own inner world. I don’t want to create a fictional account of a psychoanalytic session. I don’t need to. I’m interested in what I experience when I feel listened to, from within. The thoughts in these sentences, whatever they might be, seem to point toward a mental future that remains unclear in words. This last sentence surprises me. I associate the creation of thoughts more with images than with words. Maybe I’m learning how to think in images. Such work takes time. If part of my mind is on the couch, and another part seated behind the couch, I imagine I’m prepared to spend time on this endeavor. My mind might let me know, if I listen.
An imaginative idea took control of me, and within seconds it felt more real than the sidewalk under my feet. The room I was walking toward became two rooms, separate yet mysteriously connected. Several seconds passed before I realized that I was imagining myself in the two separate physical spaces simultaneously. I was both a participant and an observer. In one room, with a couch and a chair behind it, I was in my own inner world, as an anxious speaker. In the other room, with pen and paper in hand, I recorded as much as I could of what I heard and saw of the psychoanalytic session. In metaphorical terms, was I both studying myself and learning to listen to myself? I was climbing a hill when this question came to me, and for a moment my imaginary situation felt real, as if such an experience were possible in reality. I was afraid to give this fantasy a chance to speak more to me. I had to hurry if I wanted to arrive at my psychoanalyst’s office on time. Maybe I needed to be on the couch more often if I thought that my fantasies spoke to me. What else did they do? My fantasy of the two me’s in two separate rooms was real, in my imagination. I was minutes away from her office when I realized that I might have imagined a way to think about what happens in my mind, when things are going well, while I’m on the couch: I become both participant and observer of my own inner experience. The imaginative idea still felt in control of me when I entered her office, and as I was about to lie down on the couch, I asked myself: and what’s wrong with that?
I couldn’t pronounce the word, as if it were stuck inside of me. I was on my feet, surrounded by people. This wasn’t my kind of crowd, although I secretly wanted it to be. They were all psychotherapists, or so I imagined, and I realize that I wanted to write professionals instead of psychotherapists, as if I weren’t one. I grew up in a family of successful professionals, and without being aware of it until now, I’ve enjoyed not being one. I have a vocation. And I’m an editor. My passion is in writing as a therapeutic process. These sentences are in the present tense. I’m watching the words as they appear on the screen. I’m also in the past tense, my narrator represents me, at a lecture that remains unclear to me in my imagination. A psychoanalyst stood at the lectern. I wished I understood more of what she was saying. It had to do with the mother, and with the father, and I remembered that she was a Jungian psychoanalyst and worked in San Francisco. She spoke about archetypes. My first therapist was a Jungian. I’m speaking or writing again as the writer, not the narrator. Perhaps I’m hurrying my narrator. He was attempting to speak in public, to ask the Jungian a question. And the words and images inside of him wouldn’t cooperate. Something in his mind didn’t work. Or maybe that’s what he wanted to think, or what I wanted him to think. My narrator returns, and he seems ready to reach the final word. Finally, I pronounced the word, a series of words, enough to make my question. When I imagine the mother and the father inside of me, am I imagining only my own parents, or also God? Some questions can’t be answered with words.
Words come to me as if I were observing someone else writing, and I write them down as quickly as possible. “Sometimes it’s hard to admit that I’m the author of my own life.” I imagine saying these words in a psychoanalyst’s office, seated across from someone I’ve met only through his books. I’m not in his Manhattan consulting room for psychological treatment. Why am I here, I wonder, as I write these sentences. I need help are the first words to appear on the screen. I need help to tell my own story. Why have I flown from Seattle to New York to speak whatever comes to mind for fifty minutes to someone who, in reality, was born in 1922? My return flight to Seattle leaves in the morning. Perhaps I’m writing this narrative to discover something that is waiting for me to find it. Anger comes first. I want the old psychoanalyst to ask me what I’m angry about. Instead, he seems to listen to the silence. I become frustrated with him, although I don’t interrupt the silence, not yet. The writer in me thinks that the imaginary me in the ninety-five year-old psychoanalyst’s office must be afraid of something. More words are spoken in the Manhattan consulting room. “For some reason I had to cross the country to tell a stranger that I’m afraid to be the conscious subject of my own life story. It’s not easy to be conscious of oneself, is it?” To write my own story is harder than I thought it would be.