(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.
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.
My narrator is crazier than I thought. And we haven’t known each other for very long. He has another story to tell. The words, another story, return me to the present outside of my mind. The middle-aged woman on the couch in front of me is trying to explore her own mind. My mind should be focused on her mind. It is, and perhaps it isn’t. Images, words, thoughts, and sentences appear and disappear, and I try to watch them come and go as I listen to the other human being in the room speaking. His (my narrator’s) name appears in the form of a doubt, which interests me. Should Leo be his name? Matthew is another possibility. I imagine these previous three sentences moving downstream in a river that somehow feels familiar. Is the image of a sentence floating downstream a metaphor for what I imagine happens in my mind while I both listen to the words of another and write my own on a screen or in my journal? The woman on the couch is speaking about something she experienced yesterday while she read a book and drank Irish tea. What happened? I’m reminded of my favorite Irish tea, which I sometimes drink in the afternoon. Did she just say that the book devoured her? It’s one I wish to read. Perhaps I’m envious of her, or I’m feeling competitive: I wanted to read it first. It’s about a psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, who died in 1979, and who many have said was one of the most innovative thinkers in the history of psychoanalysis. She probably said that she devoured the book. Why do I doubt that she made a slip of the tongue? Am I afraid of being devoured by the fear that I won’t be able to create my narrator? She read most of the two hundred some pages last night. I imagine her reading in bed, gripping the paperback or hardback with both hands. Intensity comes to mind. She found herself imagining and thinking new things last night. Why did she drink strong tea at night? She said night, didn’t she? Questions like these sometimes make me wonder if I’m crazy. I imagine my narrator speaking to me: Listen to the doubt. You can’t make it disappear. Listen, and learn from the listening experience, as if you were reading a book that often feels as if it were written in a foreign language unknown to you. All of this imagining is now floating downstream. And she continues speaking about her reading experience.
Writing a novel whose narrator’s work was the same as my own complicated my real life more than I’d imagined possible. That’s what came to me in the shower this morning. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, as I tidied the bedroom before walking to my writing room at the other end of the hallway, I realized that caffeine wasn’t the only thing that had helped to change my state of mind since I’d sat down at my desk a couple of hours earlier to work on the first draft of what had yet to become a novel. I imagined that the writing itself had rearranged things in my mind. Things seemed to be moving around in my head in a more imaginative way than strong coffee could bring about on its own. My narrator had surprised me this morning at my desk. The paragraphs that seemed to write themselves on the screen moved me toward unexpected places. I pictured my narrator commenting on the previous sentence, as if he were an observer in my mind: isn’t that what’s supposed to happen during the creative process, that the writing itself moves the writer toward unexpected places in his imagination? My narrator and I had something important in common: both of us were writers and psychotherapists. This morning’s paragraphs were another attempt to create the opening scene of the novel. Maybe it was much more than an attempt. Perhaps I succeeded in providing glimpses of my narrator’s mental morning as he started his day working on his own novel and then walked to his consulting room where he would listen to others until evening. His consulting room was unlike mine. For some reason the appearance of the word unlike in my mind frustrated me, as if I had a choice which words came to me. Maybe I was envious of my narrator. My intuition seemed to say that wasn’t what frustrated me. There wasn’t a couch in his office. All of his clients (he didn’t use the word patient) sat across from him. My narrator, unlike me, was a Jungian psychotherapist. Was it hard for me to imagine a narrator who practiced psychotherapy in a different way than I did? Years ago I was a client in Jungian psychotherapy. So I knew something about it. Yet I felt somehow threatened by my narrator’s theoretical approach. All of this constituted a writing mystery, which I knew from experience the writing process was full of, and fortunately, I was feeling creative. I had a long day ahead of me. As I was about to leave home and walk to my office, I thought that perhaps my morning writing was my way of preparing myself for the mysteries of my other work, listening to and trying to understand other human beings. Both processes, that of writing and of psychotherapy, seemed to lead me to unexpected places every day.
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.
In her dream she was writing on a new manual typewriter. She said she was surprised that the words appeared on the page without interruption. I was curious what she might’ve meant by that, and I wondered whether or not I should say anything so early in the session. She hadn’t finished recounting the dream, or had she? Was she speaking about the dream or reality? The two were related to each other in my mind, and I imagined this was also the case in her mind at the moment. There were advantages to her lying on the couch with me seated behind her. This arrangement was new to both of us. I imagined a manual typewriter on my lap. I was experiencing mental interruptions, which was part of the job of listening to another. She was my first patient on the psychoanalytic couch. I was training to become a psychoanalyst, and she and I had agreed that she would lie on the couch and try to say what came to mind four times a week. Both of us were silent. Maybe I should’ve spoken moments ago. As though she could read my thoughts, Mary said that she was confused and couldn’t remember the rest of the dream. “I was writing on this manual typewriter, which I’d just returned home with from the store, and I was amazed that I typed so well, without any problems. I wonder why the end of the dream has disappeared, or maybe I just need to wait for it to reappear.” In my own mind, things were appearing and disappearing. Seated behind the couch, without having Mary’s eyes on me, I felt somehow freer than I did seated across from a client to listen imaginatively, both to her and to myself as I listened to her words. I heard her voice, in reality: “I remember the ending of the dream. I read the words of what I felt would be the final sentence after I finished typing them, and I wondered what they meant: writing is an art of imagining interruptions without end.” I glanced at the clock beyond the couch and realized that our time was up.
It felt good to write like someone possessed. I felt more alive than I had three or four minutes earlier. Three or four sentences appeared on what had been a blank page, as if time didn’t exist. There was one problem. I would have to stop in a sentence or two, or maybe sooner or later than that. Time did exist. At three o’clock, if I was fortunate, my next client would – for some reason, I couldn’t decide how to finish this sentence in my mind – arrive. This last word, arrive, sounded simple and perfect when it arrived. Perhaps I was in a good state of mind for a session. My mind was neither a blank page nor overly chaotic. Moments later, as another sentence demanded to be written, everything changed, in the room and in my mind. My client appeared in the doorway unannounced. I wished I could’ve edited this sentence in my head. As if in an instant, he moved from the doorway to the couch, where he was uninvited to sit. Things were getting out of control in my mind. He didn’t arrive unannounced. Even minutes earlier, when I’d been writing like a man possessed, about something which I couldn’t remember at the moment, images of him had come to me. Jonathan didn’t sit on the couch. He was lying on it before the previous sentence had been written in my head. The word uninvited bothered me the most. But we’d never spoken about him lying on the couch. Yet this was his time. Did he know that I was training to become a psychoanalyst? His movements and current position on the couch seemed to tell me what he needed, at least until he moved again. For the moment, both of us were silent. I imagined that we were speaking to each other in an unspoken language. Each of us, in his own way, was seeking something. Both my intense writing experience and his hurrying to the couch seemed to speak to silent desires, alive in us, if only we knew it.