Every time you try to describe me, you simplify me. You limit me. Immediately I am no longer me (not, perhaps that I would do any better). The only kind of truth that will ever reveal as much of me, of you, as would a lifetime of getting to know each other, is in poetry; and then, perhaps it could even be more.
A couple of the posts I’ve written recently have ended up with me mentioning narcissism. Where does my mind go when I think about that? There’s Narcissus, a figure from a Greek myth. I find the thought of him, transfixed at his reflection and losing the will to live, more like an explosion than an idea. I would – my father was such a narcissist. Can I ever have an ‘idea’ of Narcissus: the silent scene from the myth, of him staring into the water? I always hear noise around him.
I think of people I work with as a psychotherapist who are disgusted by their bodies but who remain just as trapped looking at them, not seeing what I or other people see, stopping eating and slowly dying. I then think of the narcissists I’ve known who lose sight of other people in different ways (in both cases there’s fear of other people) and the angry sound of them colliding with individuals who they won’t truly acknowledge as other people … more as ideas from their own minds: knowable, malleable, useful.
I think of beautiful things, too. The vase of daffodils (narcissus) on a table at work that so surprised me when I saw them. My writing (if ever there was a narcissistic project). My clothes and other people’s clothes. All the colours and shapes in the world, dressing people. I love fashion without looking particularly fashionable.
Fashion is superficial but everything happens on the surface. Without fashion there would be no form to the living world; no attachment to the things we cover ourselves and our environment with. Fashion’s sometimes stupid and the fashion world, having dealt with some of its casualties, often particularly cruel. But there will always be things we consider beautiful, and as a phenomenon fashion will always happen.
How can you keep sane in the face of fashion?
- Don’t wear the same coloured socks and trousers.
- Fashion needs to leave room for movement. If you can’t move freely it’s wrong.
- Fashion should never look down. Fashion must look up, because we are the ideal.
- People criticise fashion and waste their time on money on so many other things.
- Don’t talk about size, talk about how you’re feeling.
I’m dumbfounded when I hear people dismiss telepathy. Freud was very probably a believer. I know many people who’ve spent a lot of their life around people struggling to find words for something that’s often beyond words have a sense that a thought can pass between two people without either of them being particularly conscious of it. In my training as a psychotherapist it was called projective identification, transference, counter-transference … You may know it simply as a feeling you get when you’re with someone ‘noisily quiet’, and after having that feeling something pops into your head and you can’t think where it came from. Look across at your silent friend. Maybe you get a strange sense that she or he is straining to tell you something. You may be about to receive a telepathic message (far more fun than a text, I can tell you, although there’s something uncannily telepathic about what a text message suggests that it doesn’t actually say). So what can I say about telepathy that isn’t too X-Files (although I used to like the X-Files) and doesn’t get too Melanie Klein?
- You won’t find this mentioned on the UKCP or BACP web site but it’s possibly a way of thinking about something that most psychoanalytic psychotherapists engage with every day.
- Strangely being in synch with someone relies on more than guessing. How much of your relationship is telepathic?
- It can all go terribly wrong if you don’t take a lot of time to get to know yourself. Instead of receiving you project: you see someone through the lens of your own emotional circus (like feeling really glum, going to work and thinking ‘God, what a sad bunch’).
- Telepathy isn’t mind-reading. It’s picking up on an unspoken message using my mind, without getting anywhere near the inside of another person’s head.
- Narcissists are not telepathic, they just think they know better than anyone else. Don’t let one fool you that she or he can read your mind. There are some very good mind-guessers.
I’m a psychotherapist who writes. I’m a lot of other things, too, but I don’t think I’d ever call myself a writer. That feels cut off. I find what happens when I start to write interesting: either I start making things up or I begin looking at how things are made up … like writing and reading, perhaps.
I was talking to someone last week who said she couldn’t write at the moment, but who loves writing. Are you reading? I asked her – yes, she was reading, voraciously. So it’s happening, I suggested, just not yet. Maybe reading’s like dreaming while the writing animal’s asleep. And then it wakes up, the reading stops. I do find it hard to read a lot when I’m really attached to something I’m writing.
But I’m digressing. I’m going to write seven micromanifestos: little explorations of the unknown, the uncertain and the difficult, one a day for a week. I’ve a feeling this comes out of reading William Shatner’s book about him and Leonard Nimoy (the original Kirk and Spock from Star Trek), re-feeling a feeling of wanting to boldly go somewhere that sat well with me when I was a child and probably had more to do with my becoming a psychotherapist than anything else.
Which makes me think: it’s Mother’s Day and I want to give a thought to my mother, a strange, wonderful kind of explorer: an extraordinary person who climbed mountains and cycled round the country without, until she was old, ever actually leaving it. I’m glad I’ve managed to understand her limits as I’ve grown older, and to see how much she gave me. We used to watch Star Trek together.
This micromanifesto is about closeness, then; about how to try and let it happen. I prefer ‘closeness’ to ‘intimacy’ for all kinds of reasons, but perhaps mostly because it reminds me how close I can feel to somebody even when she’s no longer here.
- Stick to the surface. Don’t try to go deep.
It’s like reading a book: remain faithful to every word or you’ll begin making things up that are more about the book you’d write than the one somebody else has.
- Spend time noticing only small things, peripheral things, and the things that don’t make sense.
- Don’t interrupt. Let things come to you.
- Don’t assume you know more than the other person.
Allow things to make sense, don’t force them.
- Remember who you are.
- Stay open.
It’s easy, for example, to confuse feeling sad with feeling guilty or ashamed. When I’m sad I’m often still open to other people. When I feel guilty or ashamed I can feel closed off or preoccupied, or can want to stop someone being angry with me … or hurt. I might stop doing things 1-5.
- Happiness tends to happen, so be ready for it.
Turn your phone off when you’re with someone you love. Shut the door to your work when you’re not at work. Or, if you don’t, accept the difference it makes, don’t deny it.
There’s a part to emerging from a difficult situation that is sometimes overlooked: the inertia that can creep into a life out of a fear of taking risks again. I mean ordinary, everyday gambles over remembering and feeling things. The past can feel too much. Getting closer to someone or something can feel too frightening – and perhaps what makes this most difficult is that the fear I’m referring to is almost impossible to catch hold of. It might simply come upon you like an itch, a sense of wanting to squirm; an instinctive no, or a sense of relief if you move towards it (away from where you might actually need to be: getting to know another person, trying out another way of doing something, or looking back at something you did and realising it wasn’t quite like you’d imagined). Continue reading “Emergency Inertia”
I’m not sure what’s beautiful, but I appreciate it. What appeals to my senses might not appeal to yours, but I can’t be certain. The attraction I find to certain figures in the world … is it the degree of uncertainty that really draws my attention? The ‘who or what’s this?’ rather than the ‘that is’? Certainty makes me less interested, perhaps, because it’s an insistent lie. I can’t be certain. I lose interest in whatever I can’t trust; and I know I can’t be certain. Continue reading “Beautiful, I Don’t Know and Love”
Perhaps you like keeping things to yourself. It may be that you feel life will spin out of control if you talk about it too much, or that you might jinx it, spoil it or take the fun out of it. Sometimes these things can be true but be careful about holding onto secrets. If people around you detect something about you is unknowable they’ll find it very hard to trust you. Relationships need trust if they’re to offer us the things we hope they can contain.