Or I guess you could call it a story. Straight as it could possibly be. As in: one voice, narrating. Bullet-points and all. A guided journey, really. Hand-held from beginning to end. Then to just forget all about it. As if it never happened. Forgetting and going about your daily life.
First of all, three simple steps:
What I’m trying to say here is that it could have gone—the event could have gone—in a number of different and somewhat contradictory ways.
What I’m trying to say here is that what’s appealing about it, about the event, might as well be retraceable in its intrinsic openness to potential bifurcations and variations.
What I’m trying to say here is that, rather than having anything to do with objectivity, or inherent meaning, what’s fascinating about the event is probably the way I interpreted it… and the way I consequently rendered it back into a story that could be narrated, that might be dramatised.
That, I suppose, is all you need to know. At least for now. A, B and C. Three easy steps and nothing else. Enough to catch a glimpse of the complexity of the matter at stake. As in: defining something from the point of view of what it is not. Or, of what it is no more and yet might have been. As in: things being more about the invisible than the visible, where the invisible should not be considered the realm of the Gods, the dead, the ancestors, or the past as a whole. Because I’m not suggesting infinite options here. Sure, the event could have developed differently altogether. And true, I had to choose which version to go with… I had to guide it, so to speak. But I’m still talking of a definite number of potential variations. Some different enough records of the same event, all making me wonder which side to believe and which to dismiss. A layered story if ever there was one. Yet a straight story nonetheless.
Then, the facts:
Let’s just say that, at the time, I was running into some troubles… personal troubles.
Let’s just say that, due to the sudden and unpredictable unmanageability of such troubles, I ended up seeking help… no shame in admitting that.
Let’s just say that I soon found the help I needed—or at least thought I had found it—in the elegant living-room of an Edwardian house in North London… bow-windows overlooking a large space framed on three sides by well-kept Sweet Amber, Raspberry and Dog Rose, and a perfectly trimmed green lawn punctuated by seemingly random birch and willow trees.
Let’s just say that this very room was the studio of a Lacanian psychoanalyst I stumbled upon in one of those pay as much as you can schemes highly recommended by the Public Health Service.
And let’s just say that, as a consequence, I soon found myself cycling there, week in and week out, at what seemed like a brutally early hour of the day.
No need to stress how these facts are indeed facts, as long as you call them so. Meaning: they are as straight truths as you want them to become. For instance: I soon realised how my weekly appointment with the Lacanian psychoanalyst wasn’t scheduled for such an early hour as I originally thought… certainly it wasn’t brutally early. In the psychoanalyst’s rather singular habit of numbering the patients in his daily schedule and boldly displaying the ranking list on a piece of paper taped right over his working desk, I was in fact Number 3. Logically I was coming after Number 2—a middle aged lawyer from the City—and Number 1—a thirty-something part-time schoolmaster from Kent. Still, the untameable feeling of being up against forces larger than myself (a feeling I ended up facing each time I got on my bike to cycle the four miles that separated my flat from the psychoanalyst’s house) appeared to me in retrospect as a true cypher for the trouble that brought me to that house in the first place. And that was, and still is, a fact.
Corollaries to the facts:
Throughout my time spent visiting the Lacanian psychoanalyst’s home in North London I noticed a decisive lack of women’s names on the therapist’s daily numbering of his patients.
Throughout my time spent on the road towards the Lacanian psychoanalyst’s home, I ended up establishing something of a route, a routine really. It consisted of cycling as fast as I could on the way there, and then pushing my bike back while calling a friend to tell her what I had talked about during the session. Nothing of this curious behaviour seemed red-flag material to me at the time. Now I might think differently about it, yes… but the now doesn’t really matter does it?
The rest of the time, when I wasn’t cycling towards, or talking to the Lacanian psychoanalyst, or pushing my bike, I would fancy myself an artist, or a writer, or both at the same time… but I would be careful enough not to say so aloud or in public.
I came to recognise the expression ‘in retrospect’ as a distinctively and beneficial aura I enjoyed lingering on. And indeed, in retrospect, I guess I can comfortably say that the above corollaries to the actual facts might be—at times, and especially for the most observant and sensitive person—somewhat more revealing than the facts themselves.
Suddenly, a digression and the introduction of a new character: an acquaintance of mine:
A flashback or a flash-forward: I saw him again, that acquaintance of mine, at a wedding of a childhood friend from my school years. I soon discovered he had finished his studies in psychology—the acquaintance had—and moved on fast into his training period, so that, less than two years after graduation, he was already receiving more than ten patients every week in a small rented studio in the outskirts of Milan.
A flashback or a flash-forward: I realised then, at that wedding, how I had lost and consequently regained contact with said acquaintance at least three times throughout the previous twenty years.
A flashback or a flash-forward: during the wedding banquet of the childhood friend from my school years, I ended up telling my acquaintance about an incident with an expensive-looking leather sofa in the living room of a stranger, still trying to hide—I guess it came natural to me—the crucial detail that would have revealed the identity of such stranger— my psychoanalyst—and the exact location of that living room—in a beautiful Edwardian house in North London.
A flashback or a flash-forward: after my story of the sofa, my acquaintance produced a half-smile I could not place and wondered if that’s what they actually teach them at Psychology School. Finally, he queried why didn’t I simply ask the stranger to use his bathroom to dry myself off?
A flashback or a flash-forward: the recent news about my acquaintance’s fresh marriage—another wedding, yes!—, an event I wasn’t at all aware of and that came somehow as a surprise, made me suddenly realise how, at this very moment in time, I might be on my fourth round of losing contact with him. I’m still waiting for our future reconciliation.
If a digression is needed, it is usually for a determinate reason… as in this case, for instance, it is indeed an essential block of my narrative arc. Let’s say it is a pretending mechanism allowing me to introduce some ideas that, at a later stage, will inevitably and ruthlessly pop up again. And let’s be clear: when those ideas appear a second time around, they will naturally convey a new and enriched meaning.
Now… I leave open to considerations whether this digression should be considered a flashback or a flash-forward. It doesn’t matter all that much, actually. It doesn’t matter whether the newly introduced concepts will reflect a past or a future. That’s just formalism. What counts is that, once these very same concepts are established, the present will never be the same again.
Finally, the incident:
It went like this: Monday morning,9am. Or it should have been 9am but I was running late. Not too late, actually. Not for my standards. But late enough for a Lacanian psychoanalyst that, despite repeatedly mentioning how there were no specific time limits to any session, somehow manages to always interrupt you and draw things to an inevitable close after exactly thirty minutes. Better than an alarm clock. He would then escort you to the door where the next patient—Number 4, I suppose—is already awaiting his or her well-timed turn. So, yes: I wasn’t running all that late, but late enough.
It went like this: Monday was the day of the week I chose as ideal for my trips to the psychoanalyst’s North London’s apartment. I felt good about it. A solid decision. Fancying myself an artist, or a writer, or both somehow, I still had to overcome the somewhat existential difficulty of not having something really important to do with my time. This feeling fed straight into a general sense of inadequacy within the bourgeois milieu I still felt bound to, if not by attitude, at least by birth… a milieu that didn’t comprehend, never mind accept, anything that wasn’t inscribable into a Monday-to-Friday and 9-to-5.30 schedule. As such, I saw in my new Monday routine an ideal answer to my anxieties and a sure enough surrogate for the very same issues that I was almost certain would be at the core of the discussions with my psychoanalyst.
It went like this: half way along Seven Sisters Road, past the traffic light at the corner with Green Lane, just as I enjoyed an exceptional passage of steady cycling due to the impressively hard pumping of my legs on the pedals, that’s when I finally had to admit to myself how the gentle drizzle that welcomed the first part of my trip had now transformed itself into heavy rain, a real full-on shower. An eventuality for which, by the way, I was utterly unprepared despite the years of experience living in this city. Result: I was soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes.
It went like this: a decision had to be made… continue or turn back. At that moment I didn’t have the faintest idea that such choice would be the first in a series of multiple ones I would be asked to make in the relatively short timespan of a few of hours.
It went like this: I cycled all the way to North London under torrential rain. I arrived so drenched that I barely managed to lock my bike in front of the Lacanian psychoanalyst’s home and move slowly through the front garden to climb the three steps separating me from the entrance door. That’s when I realised how I felt what I could only describe as a mild case of frostbite in all the extremities of my body.
You know how they say one should mostly focus on the very last statement, the very last pronouncement that comes out of one’s mouth before the psychoanalyst interrupts and brings the session to a close? I’m not even sure it has to be a statement, actually. It might as well be a question, or a softly punctuated, an ever so feeble idea you’ve been trying to construct in your mind that suddenly slips out, uncensored. I don’t think it has anything to do with certainty, or even confidence. Instead, I guess that whichever syntactical form this final phrase might end up taking, it is in itself a confession. And as any confession, it is determined by circumstances. Not extorted, no. But somehow provoked by what came before and what happens after. Meaning: the end of the session.
I say: I recurrently dreamt about the death of one of my childhood dogs. He says STOP.
I say: I feel my stern middle-class upbringing taught me to believe I could achieve anything I wanted to achieve, but my everyday life tells me the exact opposite. He says STOP.
I say: are you a Christian? I was brought up as one but… he says STOP.
I say: she’s amazing. I truly want to be with her. She might as well be my biggest failure. He says STOP.
Apparently, when living in the US, my psychoanalyst went through two painful, chaotic divorces. The beautiful Edwardian house in North London was nothing but the result of a third separation, this time with a woman he had thought better not to marry—two times is a mistake, but three is pure idiocy—yet with whom he had still become sentimentally involved enough as to agree on the partial custody of her three kids. I reacted surprised at this unforeseen revelation, and not just because it suddenly flipped the rules of the game: he was paid to listen to my confessions, not to come out with some of his own. The truth is that the sudden revealing of such a deep personal wound felt precisely as it must feel when you discover that your doctor has fallen ill. You know how they say: one train might hide another… and so your little sick brain starts wondering whether an illness might not suddenly hide another illness. There you go: an irrational yet irremediable discrediting of your doctor’s professionalism is already unstoppably in place. But, in all honesty, that’s not the real reason why I ended my Monday morning visits.
Question: if you find yourself in the somehow uncomfortable situation of being dripping wet in the living room of a stranger and if, on top of it, that very same stranger invites you to sit on his expensive-looking leather sofa somehow disregarding—or voluntarily ignoring—the possibility of you staining it and, worst of all, ending up feeling anxious and humiliated by the whole situation, well, how do you think you would react? I will give you a clue: 1) you refuse the invitation to sit and storm out of the building, or 2) you embarrassedly take your seat on the edge of the sofa feeling self-conscious and sorry for yourself for the whole duration of the appointment, or 3) you solicit the man's pardon and ask where the bathroom is so that you can use a towel, dry yourself properly and finally resume the meeting like an adult would.
Forget about North London, cycling, the rain… forget about it all. Now, along with Wednesdays and Fridays, Mondays are my running days instead. And to satisfy my intellectual needs of artist slash writer slash both at the same time, as well as my ever-present guilt of wasted days and meaningless nights, well, I started the regimented activity of listening to lectures while running, running while listening to lectures. It’s not the same thing as paying a fixed amount of money to talk about my childhood dog to a Lacanian psychoanalyst in his beautiful North London Edwardian house, I agree. Still, that’s how I discovered that, apparently, the number of variables you have at hand when analysing a situation don’t matter much at all. A system simply cannot change while you're witnessing it.