Psychoanalysis as Place: Diary Entry

The safes of memory are ... protected.  One cannot get into them at will; one cannot pick their locks. One can only hope for an accident that leaves the door carelessly open for a few minutes, allowing one to slip in before the director is recalled to his duties.                                                                                                       
               - Janet Malcolm

April 22, 1993
Thurs. 6 am                                            
3:35 pm appointment

Psychoanalysis is a place/where accidents occur/not by accident/not at all by chance/but quite deliberately.  It is here in this space that is psychoanalysis/the meeting of two minds in relation to a couch/that mistakes are never made even when they are.  All that is said and done/is of use.  All that is present/in the room/as on the page/is material to restage (in Joyce McDougall's  words) the theatre (the layers/the structural content) of the mind. 

Five days a week I lie here/wondering/what the bottom of my/self is filled with/where substance began/to gather/meaning/and shame.  Trust.  And distrust.  Guilt/and responsibility:  One layer atop another.  Building.  And/not.

From abandonment/and change/disruption and movement away from a self/that might have been/had history not intervened/to create/the self that is. Here.  With you/me/us.  Looking/waiting for  accidents to happen/yet shocked (and not shocked) when they do.  A slip of the tongue.  A slip of the pen.  Movements to re-adjust/by just a sliver/the self's most interior self/on its way back to what it might have been.  Before it became/whatever/it is/it became.  Today.

There is nothing careless here.  Doors open carefully/or not at all.  You and I know this.  The Czech-born writer, Janet Malcolm, knows this. Surrounded by her keen intellect and stunning prose is a European child/a Jewish child/searching for a self lost in Prague.  Before World War II/ rearranged it. 

"She's the quintessential writer's writer," I tell him, "teaching how not to be silent.  Say what you mean.  Say what you see. Tell it/loud.  In your voice and style. Regardless. 

Her research is meticulous/her mind probing/and razor-sharp.  She's so good - her use of language and wit - that I get intimidated and have to close the book; but, then, I miss her and open it back up again. 

      "The dream." 
      "Geeze," he says.

And we laugh.  At his outburst (Jeeze).  And also because we know I've been forgetting to remember a Malcolm/me dream of a couple weeks ago/and all that goes with it.

I'll remember now though.  Because he needs for me/him/us to remember.  And I don't feel hostile enough not to.

"The Carol/Malcolm dream?  Is that what you mean?" And with a sigh that swells/the earth/will always be round/it seems, he relaxes back into himself.  As I lie my/self down/to take us through and out the dream.  Again.

"I'm in Baltimore.  At Forest Park High School/in my12th grade homeroom/English class.  Carol/Malcolm and I are in the classroom/standing by her desk talking.  She sat on the right side of the room/against the wall.  By herself.  Or not.  It didn't matter; she was so self-contained and sure. 

"Mr.  Martin was our homeroom teacher, and, sometimes after school, we'd hang around.  The girls had a crush on him (boys probably did too); except I don't know if Carol/Malcolm did because her face didn't turn red like mine or Sandy's.

"I sat four rows over to the left of Carol in the row directly in front of Mr.  Martin's desk. My seat was two or three up from him.  To the left of me were two more rows and then the windows to look out of when my body started/my stomach gets queezy/ideas jumble on top/of each other/fall/beneath me.  I can't call them up again. And, again, like always and forever, I become too scared to know/all I know/because/I'm not supposed to know.  My brother/is/my father/is my cousin.

" 's eyes hold me so tight inside his/their gaze that/some girls/women forget to know their bodies are their own.  That a female body doesn't have/to become known/through a brother's or a  father's or a cousin's stare.

"Is a blatant disregard of a/girl-child's presence/her strange/smelly/ womanness (not/to be/touched).  Denies her ability to entwine her body with her own (and her mother's) mind.

Joyce McDougall writes:
"... since the infant has intense somatic experiences in the earliest months of life, that is, long before it has any clear representation of its body image, it can only experience its own body and the mother's body as an indivisible unit.

"I didn't focus on Mother's body. Where was her body in all this ...?

"Where I lived - on top of Press's Kosher Grocery Store, where the TA boys went everyday (except (sabbath/Saturday) or (holidays, Rosh Hashanah and such) to get soda and coddies and barrel pickles, (I could watch them from my window/a flock of knitted yarmulkas- sex was a strange place.  Nobody talked about it, and it was something a girl better not do until she got married.  And a boy/my brother/should keep himself clean, my mother said and my father watched me like a hawk and my sister was bad for having gentile friends.

"And in such a rebelliously anti-relgious/household as ours, where (the truth of) one's (Communist) politics was hidden and where egalitarianism was an idea from somebody else's world, girls had no brains/to speak of. 

"There was no tenderness here.  Gentleness/and love I read about in books (and magazines) swinging/on the glider on Marlyn's front porch.

"I wonder:  What must it have been like to be born to a psychiatrist father, as Malcolm was, or, for that matter, to a man who had a regular sort of job/most of the time/who didn't play the horses/played chess with me instead.  I wonder what it would have been like growing up/in the same house/with an older female/who didn't lower her eyes.  I imagine Malcolm's mother, a lawyer, looking straight ahead doing/saying what she needs to - as Malcolm's writing suggests, she, herself, does.  Strange, Malcolm doesn't mention her mother in the whole book, not once, not apart from the word parents.       

"I never saw my parents sit side-by-side on the couch together/kiss or hold hands.  Not once did I witness a civil conversation between them or see them look in each other's eyes/peaceably.  At least, I don't remember, not today/here/now. Instead, I hear him telling her (me) you're stupid, and I watch her continue sewing.  She/takes it. Like a woman.  Quietly/silently.

"A few other students are mulling about, mostly girls and a couple of boys.  Somebody's erasing the blackboard.  Another's doing homework.  Mr. Martin's standing by his desk shuffling through some papers, but he stops and smiles when any of the kids want to talk to him.  

"In the dream (as in real life), Carol/Malcolm is the smartest girl in the class/the whole school; and I admire her more than anybody.  She's always smart/gets good grades all the time, not like me/sometimes real high, then low/er.  She knows lots of subjects, as well as English - math/biology/ history/ physics/ geography.  

"I only know how to write a sentence or a half of one and sometimes a strange one (that Carol/Malcolm would never write); and I wish I could be as smart as she, but I know I can't ever. At least, that's how it was in real life.

"In the dream, life was different:  Carol/Malcolm and I were talking as if we were intellectual equals.  I had none of that terrible/ness of feeling she's so brilliant I shouldn't even be talking to her.  We talked to each other unselfconsciously.  We talked about our work.  As if Mr.  Martin's presence didn't matter.  (As if my father's and mother's and brother's didn't).  As if my particular way of learning/and creating/and writing was as ok as Carol's/Malcolm's more controlled and matter-of-factly-practical way.  

"I awaken:  a thirteen-year old/seven year-old/three year-old/one year-old/girl-child self/that might have been.  Knowing/she's not dumb/after all. Maybe."

I scrape myself up off the couch, put my shoes back on and leave the office without so much as a quick goodbye. #

Malcolm, Janet.  The Purloined Critic: Selected Writings. New York: Knopf, 1992.
McDougall, Joyce. Theatres of the Mind: Illusion and Truth on the Psychoanalytic Stage. New York: Basic Books, 1985.
_______________. Theatres of the Body: A Psychoanalytic Approach to Psychosomatic Illness. New York: Norton, 1989.
Originally published under a different title in The Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Review, vol. 4, no. 2, 1993; re-printed The Dakota House Journal, Spring/Summer 2002
copyright 1993, 2002, 2004 Esther Altshul Helfgott, All Rights Reserved.

Esther Altshul Helfgott:
"I underwent a four-and-a-half year five-day-a-week analysis with a traditional male Freudian psychoanalyst (or he tried to behave that way).  The maternal aspects of the analysis were wonderfully  gentle, but the paternal/fraternal aspects were horrendous.  He came to hold an incredible amount of power over me and would not help me leave, terminate, be done with the process that was, from the beginning, highly sexualized and erotic...  He refused to confront the "here and now" between us, always taking me back to my past; in so doing, he helped repeat/reenact a condition that brought me to analysis in the first place... In the end, I thought he would keep me there forever ... and so I left.  Eventually I came back to the study of psychoanalysis which is, with all its faults, one of my intellectual homes; another is poetry."
- Esther Altshul Helfgott

read Esther's

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