Old Shrinks Never Die; They Just Write On and On . . .
At the turn of the 20th century, Oscar Wilde said, “… When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” I was determined early in my career not to wait. I wanted to have a life in Paris, not just to be buried here.
Once my husband and I became established in our profession as psychoanalysts, we began to save a good portion of our monthly income, just in case the opportunity for retirement in the city we adored became a real possibility. I also dreamed of writing without the pressure of “publishing or perishing” and in another city, one well-known as a stimulant to creativity.
Throughout my training to become an analyst, and during my nearly four decades of clinical practice, I had written, edited, and published
several books and too many articles to keep track of. So far, writing since retirement has developed a whole new flavor. I no longer write to share my clinical experience, nor to teach, nor as a way to learn why I do what I do, (perhaps the most significant motive of all.) But even in retirement, I write in reaction to someone or something in my life. I confess that I write because I must. Like sharks that must continuously swim and whales that must surface to breath, writing fills my body with an oxygenated liveliness of spirit that my age no longer affords me. Writing is an essential part of me. These days, it is a calling rather than a necessary aspect of a profession.
Although some people think of writing as an extreme act of individualism, of isolation, or even a sign of narcissism – just me and my computer – it is my experience that writing is a deeply “relational” act.
It is the way I respond to the beings and the universe around me, as well as to my inner world and those people whom I have internalized. For me, the act of writing is physically limited to a specific place, one in which I usually play classical music at high decibels as a way of preserving that sacred space, keeping myself in a protective sound bubble, perfectly shielded from distracting influences.
I have recently realized that I am not just writing in the wind; I am always speaking to an audience. When I write, I want and need someone to receive and react to my thoughts. Often, I may be too shy to speak to people. Yet words, as they become articulated through the intermediary 'voice' of my computer, allow me to share my ideas and the essence of who I am.
I can even live vicariously through my characters. My first work of fiction, just launched on September 6th, has allowed my imagination to run wild, creating scenarios that spring forth from a context or even a reality that I know something about, a life that I have lived. Fantastic acts and outcomes, causes and effects, are some of what separates fiction from memoir.
A memoir can start out in one direction, yet through a mystical process that Proust called “involuntary memory” -- not dissimilar to what Freud called ”free association” -- the flow of the initially intended story might diverge substantially from the mainstream, and may often branch out into endless tributaries of recollection. Or at least this is what happened with my memoir, which was published this past June.
As one French friend told me after reading my memoir, “The only thing that is ordinary about you is the fact that you like cats.” I believe that this might be true for almost anyone who yearns to write a memoir. Although not everyone likes cats, my experience as a psychoanalyst has been that each human being is as unique as a fingerprint and endlessly engaging if they dare to plumb the depths of their soul without undue hesitation.
In some ways, both first-rate fiction and moving memoirs have some features in common. The first draft comes straight from the unconscious mind. If the writer just gets out of the way and trusts in ‘the force,’ the groundwork will be laid for an exciting read. The second and most premeditated quality is discovered in the subsequent dozen drafts, which result in a polished surface while also adding depth and substance, poetry and music to the original spontaneous undertaking. This last element is the perspiration that must follow every creative inspiration.
Both my memoir and my murder mystery were written and published during the Covid-19 confinement here in Paris. The writing was not only a necessary outcome of the pandemic, but it was indeed lifesaving, keeping me indoors while allowing a path in which my mind could wander freely without deadly consequence. For the first time in my life, writing was a full-time occupation and not just a sideline. It became my day job. My writing was not a pastime but a way to pass the daylight hours productively. Writing occupied me and lessened my preoccupation with a genuine death threat.
Now doubly vaccinated, and only a week away from becoming triply vaccinated against this endlessly adaptable foe, I am ever so much more relaxed and able to write while looking forward rather than into the past, to write more passionate novels, rather than to continue writing in a genre steeped in crimes of passion.
As Ernest Hemingway once said, “There are only two places in the world where we can live happy, at home and in Paris.” I am fortunate to be able to live the rest of my life in both simultaneously.
Perhaps by writing these blogs I might have the opportunity to take you with me as I travel throughout this wonderful new country of mine!