I almost gave up a chance to glimpse the solar eclipse this morning. I was walking to my psychoanalyst’s office, and I was a block away when an elderly man asked if I wanted to borrow his eclipse glasses to have a look. I said thanks but no, that I had to be somewhere in a few minutes, and then, moments later, I realized my mistake and walked back to where he stood and had a look. When I said no, he looked at me as if I were from another planet and asked if I was crazy. When I returned moments later and said I would like to take him up on his offer, he said that I would remember the experience years from now. The view of the eclipse was spectacular. As I walked the final block to my analyst’s office, I sensed that something important had just happened: first I behaved like I’d often behaved when I was younger, hurrying from one thing to another, when what I actually wanted to do was enjoy moments, and then I behaved in a creative way: I listened to myself, and I slowed down, both in my mind and body, long enough to enjoy one long moment.
My writing seems to be leading me in yet another unforeseen direction. Experience has taught me that this is usually a good sign. I remind myself that I’m doing something wrong if surprises don’t happen while I’m at my desk. The book that I recently started to work on has changed form in my mind. It’s not the same book I thought it would be three weeks ago. The previous sentence sounds as if I’m criticizing myself. Change should happen in the mind. I wish I were more comfortable with my own inner experiences. Uncertainty and frustration aren’t fun. Yet they are as real as reality itself. These sentences are real. I’m at work on a book, although it’s not the book I thought it would be.
Years ago I wrote an essay about the role of the reader in my writing. I was referring to an inner reader that I imagined read my sentences as I wrote them, similar to a psychotherapist listening to his or her client during a fifty-minute session. Somehow, this image and idea of an inner reader helped me to see structure in my paragraphs where before I’d sensed series of sentences disconnected from each other. Therapy and writing process became connected in my mind. I realize that I was searching for ways to explore my own mind through the study of what I’d written. My intuition seemed to suggest that I needed to know, or imagine, that someone was listening to me as I wrote one sentence after another. I lived in Madrid when I wrote that essay on the reader. I wrote notes on the subject. An imaginary reader soon became my imaginary psychotherapist. This was during my initial years in Madrid, while I studied Spanish at a language academy and started to read psychoanalytic texts in Spanish translations. I imagine that I wanted my writing process to become my own inner experience of what I imagined psychoanalysis to be (I hadn’t experienced it as a patient or analysand): a dialogue between two unconscious minds, in addition to a conversation between two human beings. So I hypothesized that in most paragraphs I wrote, at least a sentence or two was written by what I thought of as my inner reader or inner therapist. Soon I started to see this structure in every paragraph I wrote, as if I were conducting a scientific experiment. I felt as if I were both writer and therapist (my own) while I wrote at my desk, with the sounds of Madrid traffic four floors below reminding me that there were no other sounds in the room while all of this activity was happening inside of me. My imaginary inner reader and inner psychotherapist have become real to me again. I feel as if I’m connecting with both my writing past and future, in the present.
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.
My new book has taken me in unexpected mental directions. One minute I know what I’m writing about. Three or four minutes later my narrator finds himself in a different state of mind. Whose state of mind am I dealing with in these writing moments? Is it a sort of mutual mental state within one mind? My narrator exists in my imagination. I created him. To some extent his life is based on my own. Yet I also feel sometimes that he’s moving me around in my imagination, as if he represents the right hemisphere of my brain, the intuitive part. He often reminds me that I’m writing about mental moments. I’m writing a book about moments in the mind of my narrator. Is it that simple? In reality, I’ve had similar mental experiences to the ones my narrator tries to describe in words. Maybe the two of us, my narrator and I, translate an unknown text, which has yet to be imagined or thought, into a written one. We need each other. I know I need him, which seems strange to see in words. Perhaps my narrator represents the spontaneous writer in me in action. He’s not afraid to translate images into words. This new book of mine has started to become a reality in my mind. I’m writing short chapters, each one consisting of a few vignettes, on what it was like to be on the psychoanalytic couch for the first twelve months of the treatment. My narrator and I are creating a fictional version of what I experienced. We’re in this together, or are we?
(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.