How Do I Say Anything At All?

Some of the most important things seem to happen between things that are said, in the silences when people hold back and don’t continue the conversation. I was talking to someone today about this but the conversation was cut short. I wonder what will happen next time we speak to each other as I didn’t call her back. I think about:

  • someone I don’t want to talk to as he seems so out of control.
  • the LRB. Nothing worth saying about that. Hugely boring issue.
  • a problem looking for someone to do something important and realising a possible lead, but not getting someone’s email address. So the idea stalls.
  • how tired I am. Too tired to say anything.
  • that I am 50 next week. Nothing to report on that.
  • October, when darkening happens.
  • the heat going. I love the heat.
  • Bed.

When I Read Aloud

I’m not sure what happens when I read aloud from my book. I did it this evening and it went something like this. I found I was better sitting rather than standing, partly because of my back aching and partly because why would you read something standing up? I can’t do it. I’ve never read standing up anywhere apart from in church, when I was a child, and it was forced on me, or once or twice at assembly at school, when I remember my voice became thin and listless.
        I talked a little, which comes easily enough given what I spend most of my day doing, describing what I was doing when I thought of writing the book and several things came to me: Harley Street, all the voices I have heard speak to me, and the silences; that I wrote a ghost story, I didn’t write about anything, and I remembered the beginning of The Turn of The Screw, in Harley Street.
        And there was something about the other writers reading this evening, Sean and Seraphina. I’ve met a lot of authors and they’re usually creepy, like men wandering in and out of sex shops, but Sean and Seraphina weren’t like that. Sean and Seraphina didn’t feel as if they had something to be ashamed of: they knew something about writing that they didn’t have to say. It came out as they read, like the hum of bees or something. And then I read something from my book that Sam, my friend, Dodo-Master of Ceremonies, suggested. I didn’t get lost in it but it seemed to happen. It must be something like singing a song, for which I’d probably stand up and throw myself around. So songs are in some ways different from reading, but I’m not entirely sure how.
        Perhaps you can’t hold a book and throw yourself around, and I wouldn’t throw myself around anyway (back ache).
        Nico stood still. Most of the singers I like stand still. None of them sit down.
       There’s a problem with tenses here, which is less to do with a grammar failure than what happens when I read aloud..

To the Wonder

I think: ‘have I died, gone to heaven?’ I realise … no, I am in a Terence Malick film, and it isn’t Badlands … and isn’t The Thin Red Line … and OH GOD –



This is, that was, To the Wonder. I watched the first fifteen minutes of a perverted American Dream. A de-souled loafer of slick misogyny.  Terrence, what happened? I loved your films for so many years. Badlands got me through a particularly nasty weekend, I remember.
        I have never written in capitals before. This is, this was, like waking up and feeling so at home, so completely relaxed and so content until I realise this is not my house, this is a hotel in Milton Keynes, a flat I don’t know where (although that can also keep becoming better.)
        Why did I buy this film? How can I get rid of it?
        Now I will watch Cléo de 5 a 7, which I know and love. An antidote
       And I don’t believe in God, although some things nearly drive me there.

Reading Difficulties

Some people get stuck on the surface of things. The protagonist in my novel, The Eleventh Letter, is always off the beat, just outside of knowing someone,  or in other ways falling out of time. He’s a reader who doesn’t understand that although things only happen on the surface, that there’s no such thing as depth, getting lost in wondering what the surface means is a trap.
        Everything reads as it says, but you have to let it into you for something to happen. Things you don’t accept, that you don’t understand, they hang around like static, messing up the message, showering you in question marks like shrapnel from word bombs. Or you may break away from what is being said without realising it, the feelings of starting to know something deeply being too much. You dissociate.
        Reading things closely involves a special kind of emotional connection, whether it’s faces that we’re talking about or pages of a book. The closer we look the more we can experience the intention behind the word, the sentence; the smile, the frown. We may see something the author didn’t intend to be seen, or didn’t even know was there to be read, like a slip of the tongue.
        I’ve worked with people who have dyslexia, and discovered the way they read is connected to the way that they over- or under-feel, their difficulties with words collateral damage from early life trauma.
        I’ve worked with slow readers and found that the slowness of their reading is a kind of sifting and sensing. When they have read something they know it, they recognise something of its force, far better than I could ever have imagined it, myself. And I am quite a slow reader.
        I know fast readers, too, who move through streams of words following something like currents in water; something like patterns in clouds that show the force of the wind and the heat. This is more how I read, true to the letter but also to the qualities printing.
        Reading. Now I am starting to meet people who read things as broken: the discontinuous effects of the internet and text messages, at a further remove from an author than writing has ever been, but right inside something, too: in fantasies differently, perhaps more completely than a pen ever managed.


Noticing Changes in #Psychotherapy

People often write about change in psychotherapy. Fewer people seem to write about how changes are noticed and acted upon, especially in clinical teams. This piece is written for people working in teams and tries to suggest a few things about accountability among clinical groups.
        When you see something that you believe someone has missed it can feel alarming. (I’ve heard it can also be gratifying.) There’s a kind of noticing which can either be constructive or divisive, depending on how it’s approached, and it goes like this: someone (a therapist, a  counsellor, a nurse; let’s not get too hung up on titles right now) is responsible for a client, perhaps something goes wrong or a situation deteriorates, or nothing seems to be happening, and another person is invited in (hopefully by the first person) to take a look at that client as well. I’ve experienced this from both sides.
At worst, the person being called in might see what they call negligence.  Negligence happens and is probably as likely as ever to happen now, although I won’t get into that here (if you’re interested, I imagine all would be revealed rather quickly if you watched Ken Loach’s latest film and then read some Adorno on administrative culture). More often I imagine that what might be regarded by the second person as having been ‘missed’ by the first person has actually been subject to one of, broadly speaking, three kinds of process.
        The first person may have been aware of what has been ‘missed’ but chosen to approach it in a way that does not seem immediately obvious to the second (process one); or it could have been seen and not considered as important as the second person believes it to be (who may or may not be right in believing this – either way, this is process two); or it could have been become perceptible as a result of the way the first person has worked, but remained undetectable, immediately, to him or her, such are the defences at play (process three).
        There’s much I would say about the first two categories of process listed above. It’s the third, however, that I want to say some more about here. If you have some kind of affinity to what’s usually called ‘psychoanalytic’ work then the third category is possibly one that you never let slip out of mind. But I think any experienced clinician, in fact anyone who’s had the regular experience of joining in with work someone else has begun, might recognise that some things will never be immediately perceptible to the people who begin to make them knowable.
        Good clinical work is work from which something emerges over time. This calls for a kind of continuity in which accountability is isolated, as far as possible, from blame – where it’s sought after by the person accepting it, rather thrust upon them as part of a move to account for what apparently hasn’t happened, with no acknowledgement of ‘yet’.
        The idea that clinical work can predictably happen in the time we would like to allocate to it is of course most seductive. Given the ways in which clients live their lives, how treatment is paid for, and how therapists work it’s almost too much to bear, to think that the most useful thing in someone’s treatment may be happening only unrecognisably so. But holding onto the idea that perhaps something hasn’t happened yet, and that some clinicians are going to complete what they see as their work without perhaps feeling with their client the greater sense of achievement that comes with a life ‘turning around’ calls for a rare and special kind of collaborative work.
        Supervision and cooperation must hold strong without starting to become steely. Experience needs to be contained without being restricted or constricted; growth needs to happen while being shaped as little as possible by containing forces (directive work needs at some point to give way to a client finding his or her own direction).
        Plato  (the Timaeus), Heidegger (Was heißt Denken?, 1954 [What is Called Thinking?, trans. 1968]), Bion (Container and Contained, 1962) and Derrida (Sauf le Nom, 1993 [On the Name, trans. 1995]) wrote about this. Still, it seems somehow to so often become forgotten.
        And of course I am not suggesting that certain other important things be forgotten, like looking closely at what is evident to everyone involved and making sure certain parameters are not exceeded: the ones written into the ethical codes we subscribe to and the bottom lines relating to the forms of treatment or engagement we begin. It would be a mistake, however, to believe these things are always decided beforehand, in another place, such as a room inhabited by a UKCP ethics committee. Things begun in those places have a life of their own, too.


Mysterious Gratitude

Something came up about gratitude earlier in the week that left me thinking. It can be pleasant when someone thanks you for something, and it might not be. When power plays out gratitude can be an angle of attack, as much as it can be a feeling of love, of connection. A lack of gratitude can signal that no debt’s felt as much as that someone wants to deny any indebtedness. No gratitude can mean unconditional love or relentless aggression. (And gratitude can mean unconditional love or relentless aggression …). Expecting gratitude suggests a desire to be suspicious of, but finding it unexpectedly most often doesn’t.

The Logic of Blue Skies

I was standing in a street in London, taking half an hour to myself, staring up at windows and rooftops, and  above them the blue sky. Telepathy felt possible. Who was that whispering in my ear, who wasn’t there? All the ghosts, bombs from the 1940s to smoke from the Great Fire, (I could smell it); frills and lace from Victorian love affairs and horses’ hooves, it all felt real. Nobody could interrupt my perfect logic of looking up, and leaving it all behind.