As an article or essay that I am writing is nearing completion, I take the essential step of reading it aloud to myself. I have found that this practice helps me identify phrases, sentences, or paragraphs that feel awkward in the mouth, which I then imagine to be awkward in the ear of the readers. In the ear of the readers? Readers read with their eyes. But I have come to know, to feel, that when writing truly works, comes alive on the page, a reader is listening as well as seeing, hearing my voice. It is so very easy when writing to get lost in/entranced with one’s ideas. Writing, especially professional writing as most of us have been trained to do it, can so easily fall into expressions of disembodied intellect—words on a page, thoughts with no voice, ideas with no body.
An urgent sense of the possible contributed to my pursuit of psychoanalytic training over a decade ago, back when CO2 levels were still below 400 ppm. At the time, my analyst and my own analysis were introducing me to an unanticipated world of depth, beauty, and tolerable terror from which I rarely wanted to surface. At the same time, and still today, I was struggling to take in my lived experiences of marked changes in the weather along with a larger body of scientific research, which described climatic apocalypse in my lifetime. In my professional life—which spanned many years in the nonprofit sector as well as higher education—people were teaching, learning, and talking about smart, sustainable policies to reduce our carbon footprint, to mitigate and adapt. And yet, I wondered, what was everybody feeling? How were they sleeping at night? How did others handle what environmentalist Aldo Leopold described as “a new thing under the sun,” namely one species mourning the death of another or, in this case, the human species now mourning its own present and future?
“AWASSNI, AWASSNI.” The man screamed these words before letting
out a guttural cry. Awassni is Arabic for “he shot me.” It had been some years since the war began, and most of us had learned to distinguish sound more keenly. We can tell, from the sound alone, how far the bullets are being fired from, the types of exploding shells and likely shrapnel radius, the type of warplane buzzing above our heads. Depending on the distance of the warplane, we learned to anticipate the time it took for a missile to reach the ground in a fiery explosion. Death, destruction, mayhem, and the screams of people dying and grieving would inevitably follow.
The news photos—the bulky container ship straddled across the straight blue gash cut through yellow sands—prompted memories of my wonder and curiosity when, as an eight-year-old in June 1956, I gazed down from the deck of the P&O liner Strathaird at those sandy banks along the Suez Canal. I knew little of the world beyond the urban slums of northern England. Knew nothing of the lives, cultures, languages of the peoples I saw on my family’s journey aboard that migrant ship from England to Australia. Knew not that the opportunities awaiting us in Australia were inextricably linked to the color of my skin.
I stood in front of the granadillas for what felt like an eternity, holding an empty plastic bag in my right hand and a shopping basket in my left. (A granadilla is a small South American fruit, with a round orange hard outer shell, and a white velvety layer in its interior, holding black seeds swimming in a gelatinous sweet pulp). The people at the store, likely rushing to get out of there as soon as possible, felt like ghosts that somehow managed to get around my inert body. My stupor probably looked like a staring contest with these fruits. Their passive silence did nothing but increase my confusion. Perhaps I was waiting in vain for them to give me some clarity, whether an answer to my shopping nightmare or something that would help me make sense of the last few days.
Anton: The concept of loss or losing is important because it speaks to the ways that opening oneself up and allowing oneself to be moved is not just a benign thing to do; it involves relaxing one’s grasp of what one thinks one already knows, including about oneself, and taking the risk of losing one’s previous understandings.
All I can do is assert—with more passion than proof— a psychoanalytic mode that is more lyric than rational, more metaphysical than scientific. It has long been commonplace in our profession to say that Freud always hoped psychoanalysis would find itself on firm scientific footing, in which case his speculations would be replaced by biology and chemistry. My reading of Freud’s disclaimers about psychoanalysis is that it was his way of deferring the scientific question to some future time, thereby clearing a space for his more theoretical and often hypothetical, philosophical, and even novelistic pursuits. In my reading, he is being a bit sly, coy even.
I am the white Jewish mother of Black sons. My older child was called “the N word” for the first time in Fire Island, New York, when he was three years old. The younger one was called “the N word” for the first time in Massachusetts when he was six.
It is Tuesday at 4:00 pm, and it is time for Ben, a white man in his early thirties. He often refers to himself as “strange” for feeling out of step in not holding popular, mainstream views like most of his friends. He feels like that is due to a lack in him, and this lack makes him feel on the outside of things. He does not feel lacking or strange to me but familiar. I find myself holding him in warmth and fondness.
“I was thinking to myself, I can’t wait to tell them. They’re going to be so excited!” Or maybe the patient didn’t say excited—maybe they used a different word. I can’t exactly remember because my mind got stuck on them/they’re. It took a moment before I realized the patient was referring to me. They referenced me not as her/she but them/they. My preferred pronouns. I was moved, for a moment, out of the shared space of the session, out of the patient’s experience and into my own. Something caught in my throat, my eyes watered just a fraction, and my heart skipped a beat. I felt fear; I felt gratitude. I slowly settled back into attunement with my patient, and though they remained on the screen, many miles away, I felt closer to them than before.