Beginnings in the Dark

(This fragment probably represents the beginning of a new part of my book of fragments. My narrator has become someone new, sort of.)

I was a different mind. I was a different voice. This wasn’t the same body. I was a narrator and a fictional human being who was discovering his life, as if it hadn’t existed yesterday. In an imaginative way, it hadn’t. The old me, the fifty year-old narrator who worked a Sunday shift at NonStop Books and rented a loft in the same building where he wrote on a wall, needed to become someone else. I also lived in Seattle, in the same neighborhood, Capitol Hill. I was also a writer, when I wasn’t listening to others in my consulting room. I would forever be a student. I was training to become a psychoanalyst. This afternoon a new patient sat down across from me for the first time. Sometimes I used the word client. I could call him a potential analysand. If our initial meetings went well for both of us, he would become my third and final control case, which meant that my work with him would be part of my training to become a psychoanalyst. He would experience the couch soon enough. He might experience my couch soon. Writing in this journal relaxed me. A cancellation made these sentences possible. I’d already written notes on my fifty minutes with him this afternoon. I was tired. For some reason it was hard to admit that I wasn’t ready to begin another psychoanalysis. My work with my second patient had finished recently. Analysis was quite a commitment, for both patient and analyst. Exploring a mind was a long and complicated process. It was hard work, for both of us. The case was required to last two years. It might last much longer. How long would it take me to discover my own voice as a psychoanalyst? This question surprised me. I thought I’d already discovered it, which was a crazy thought since I was still in training. I was on my own, which was a surprising thought. I was involved in my institute where I was training. Clinical work wasn’t new to me, and I’d had my own practice for years. Psychoanalysis had been part of my life for a long time, as a patient myself on the couch, as a reader of Freud, Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Lacan, and many others, and perhaps most importantly, as a way of listening to the other human being in my office. I reread all of these sentences. There was a mind and a voice in them. Psychoanalysis as a practice (patients coming three or four times a week and lying on the couch) didn’t appear to have much of a future in this country. Yet it was now part of my future. I could be this kind of narrator.


Logical Uncertainty

(My book of fictional vignettes that covers a period of two days in the inner life of the narrator continues.)

Unanswered questions must have a hidden logic. Perhaps if I were able to answer them, the logic might reveal itself. I didn’t have more than a few minutes to write these words. Three or four minutes ago I had been on my psychoanalyst’s couch on the fourth floor. I left her office in silence. It was a good session, wasn’t it? I usually crossed the waiting area outside of her office in what felt like seconds. Today, before reaching the elevator, I paused for a long moment. A woman, in her twenties or thirties, sat in a chair writing something on her phone. Alongside her, on the wall, next to the list of psychotherapists who had their offices on the floor, I saw one light on, Sarah’s light, who moments earlier had exchanged glances with me as I left her office. I paused to look again, to make sure it was her light that was on. Who was this woman who was about to replace me as the focus of Sarah’s attention for fifty minutes? I assured myself that I was the only one who used her couch. I was special, a sentence that embarrassed me and made me want to put away my pen and paper. Before the elevator had reached the ground floor, I decided to write in my journal for a few minutes in the lobby before leaving the building. It felt important to write these things down. I must have been afraid of everything disappearing. My mind would become a blank, which I wished wouldn’t frighten me. I was writing in the lobby. Didn’t the flow of sentences in my head mean that my mind wasn’t a blank? I had no more minutes to write words or entertain such questions. But I couldn’t stop writing if whatever hidden logic there was in my mind hadn’t yet revealed itself, This last sentence helped me to get to my feet. What I needed was time to walk in uncertainty.

Secrets in the Substratum

(My books of vignettes with the same narrator continues.)

I was about to lie down on the couch when I realized I wasn’t ready. We had looked each other in the eyes as I’d entered her office. Something seemed amiss in my mind as I did so. Why did I doubt that we had stood a few feet from each other yesterday? Her silence at the bookstore didn’t make sense. It was senseless. I was being harsh. Sarah didn’t move. She always stood alongside her chair when I walked through the door. Something needed to change. Sarah’s job was to study my mind. I was still moving. In a moment or two I would be on the couch. I imagined saying to her, before lying down: we had a traumatic moment yesterday. This was becoming a traumatic moment. I didn’t know what was happening in the substratum of my mind. I never knew. The unconscious was the foundation of my conscious thoughts. Sarah must have been waiting for me to lie down. Such moments of nonverbal delay had never happened before in our eighteen months of spending fifty minutes together in her fourth floor consulting room. Without warning, I knew I was ready. I thought: I’m ready to start the ceremony, which I realized meant that I thought I was ready to be self-reflective. I’d never thought of a therapy session as a ceremony before. A healing ceremony came to mind. These visits to my psychoanalyst’s office were part of my weekly life. Yesterday’s encounter at NonStop Books kept me awake half the night. What needed to change, I wondered, returning in my mind to a question that had come to me moments or minutes earlier. “I wish I wouldn’t become overwhelmed so easily,” were the first words I spoke aloud. I’d been overwhelmed yesterday afternoon when for the first time I saw Sarah outside of my office, at the bookstore buying books, as if I couldn’t accept that she was a human being just like me. I was aware of what had happened in the previous sentence in my mind: I made her office mine. I secretly seemed to want to be in charge of what happened in this room. Something inside of me wasn’t making sense. My next words were: “I didn’t say hello to you yesterday. You were at the bookstore, waiting in line to pay for your books, and you were talking with my creative writing instructor, who you must know is also a psychoanalyst. I felt as if I were in a dream, and I was speechless.” Another question came to me: I was in this room, on this couch, for help with my psychological distress, wasn’t I? I was frustrated. I was angry. I was here to discover inner secrets and to talk about what was amiss in my mind. The couch was ready for me.

Separation without a Name

My own words insisted that I listen to them. There wasn’t much else for me to do. The silence in the room reminded me of what I’d just said: I really felt bad that I had to reschedule our next session. I knew that wasn’t true. I didn’t feel bad at all. There was something else I had to do that day. The word “really” demanded my attention. Listening to these sentences in my head, I felt that I was overconfident about what was happening in my mind. How could I know if the words in my head were insisting on something? My spoken words ended the silence, and I heard myself say that I wanted to postpone our next session. I corrected myself. I wanted to reschedule it, which I’d said a minute or two earlier. But it was too late. My words had spoken. Were my words separate from me? They were expressing things against my will. Suddenly, my will, whatever it was, didn’t seem important. Our next session would be important, and I realized that I didn’t want to reschedule it. I wanted to be here on that day. She would be away for a week after that. The word “separate” returned to me. I felt more than thought that I didn’t want to be separate from her. It would only be a week. She wasn’t my mother. The words in my head were overwhelming me. I needed inner silence. I also needed a name for what I was experiencing.

Equation without Numbers

There was no time for me to do what I wanted. I wished I knew what that was. Time was running out. I glanced at the clock across the small room, and I realized I was anxious. The couch was between me and the clock on the window sill. My sense of time in this room would soon change. The couch’s lone occupant would arrive, I hoped, in fourteen minutes. Time was on my mind. Or maybe my mind was lost in a mysterious sort of time in which seconds and minutes weren’t part of the equation. Or maybe they were, but I would never know for sure. Was something trying to figure itself out in my head? A long moment seemed to refuse to end. Then I turned my chair back toward the desk and checked my email on my laptop. There was a new mail that must have arrived in the last few minutes. A colleague commented on the book our study group was reading. It was difficult reading for me. The book was antiquated somehow, as if I weren’t satisfied with it. Maybe it wasn’t satisfied with me or my work with patients. Or maybe I was antiquated. Perhaps I needed to change how I worked. This was too much irrationality and uncertainty twelve minutes before a session. What work was I referring to? My own inner work was the most important, and doing it was the only way I could help anyone else. Time always seemed to be running out. Maybe I had to forget about time and numbers, for a minute.


I was stuck in traffic. I would probably arrive late to my office, and he wouldn’t know what had happened to me. He didn’t have a cell phone. If I were to send him an email right now, he might see it before leaving home to walk to my office. He didn’t drive and he didn’t have a cell phone. The word primitive came to mind. I was frustrated that I couldn’t call him. Whether or not to send him an email would be an interesting therapeutic decision for me, or maybe not. Did the word primitive refer to part of my own mind? He was my only patient in psychoanalysis. In addition to my regular psychotherapy practice, I saw him four times a week as part of my training to become a psychoanalyst. I was about to start writing an email on my phone when a disturbing thought came to me: I was never sure of anything in my work with him. All of the cars around me were motionless. Maybe that’s how I felt in my mind. If I was going to send him an email, I should do it now while he might still be seated in front of his computer. The sentences in my head seemed to have become repetitive. Perhaps that’s what I hoped for, a sort of mental push to help me decide what to do. My fingers started to type words on my phone. I deleted them. Then I wrote another first sentence, added one or two more, and sent it. I wrote that I might be a bit late. I wasn’t sure yet. The cars in front of me started moving again. I was moving again, both in my car and in my mind. The email was sent. I still didn’t know whether I would arrive late to my office. Was I facing what was happening in my own mind, or was I avoiding something? Uncertainty was overwhelming me, for the moment. I seemed afraid of becoming both stuck and unstuck.

Dreaming on My Feet

I realized I had no idea what would find me in the psychology section of the bookstore where I would meet a friend in half an hour. Thirty minutes was enough time for me to walk there, but I wasn’t on the sidewalk yet. I hoped to have time to glance at some titles before meeting him in the coffee shop that was connected to the bookstore. My shoes were on and I was about to open the door when it came to me that maybe something surprising would happen to me in front of the shelves. I was excited about walking. As a psychotherapist, I spent much of the week seated in a chair. I realized I was less excited to meet my childhood friend for coffee. Why did the words “childhood friend” come to me? In reality, we had met at university. He was in Seattle for a few days, and I’d thought I was looking forward to seeing him again. His life seemed to have creative purpose. And mine didn’t? I’d been a confused and unhappy child. My dream had always been to spend my life doing something meaningful, meaningful to me first and foremost. The last few sentences came to me as I was about to enter the bookstore. I decided to spend a few moments in the psychology section before facing another reminder of my past in the coffee shop. The twenty-five or thirty minutes of walking had helped. I no longer felt confused or lost. A few minutes later, in front of my favorite books, I felt as if I were dreaming on my feet. The hardcover on the history of the psychoanalytic couch might as well have appeared to me in a dream. I’d imagined finding a book like this. Now I held it in my hands. I was a therapist. I was training to be a psychoanalyst. My own dreams were finding me.