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.