I had my last session with my therapist on Monday March 12, 2018. I thought it was very revealing psychoanalytically, but I had no idea what I revealed about myself. The last session sparked a train of associations about loss, death, mourning and immortality — resurrection? It wasn’t just intellectualization. It was genuine analytic work.
So this is our last session. I was sitting outside experiencing a kind of emotional high. I felt like I was floating. You know I was feeling — and maybe you had this feeling as a kid — on the last day of class in elementary school. You feel nostalgia about the past year and a sense of loss. But there’s also this excitement. This anticipation. You’re anticipating the next school year in September and your new teacher. You have a feeling as if you’re floating; everything takes on an unreal quality. [The ego defense of derealization?]
I feel we did important work. Some of the most important work I’ve done. I thought my letters were very important for me. They helped me work out things in my mind. I revealed things through the letters. And now I’ve turned the letters into a book. And you inspired me to do that. I feel so strongly that we are what we create. That’s what lives on after us. I think about the cavemen. They lived 40,000 years ago. And we would know nothing, absolutely nothing, about them today if they hadn’t left us their cave paintings. And their tools, their flint tools. That’s what’s left and they have gained a kind of immortality — these people who lived 40,000 years ago. But they are immortal only because of what they created. Otherwise we wouldn’t know anything about them.
I feel so strongly that we have to make our inner world public. Put it outside ourselves. Otherwise, when we die, nothing is left. I mean, you place so much emphasis on relationships. But relationships are not the road to immortality. I mean the cave men had relationships. They were social just like us. But we know nothing — absolutely nothing — about them based on their relationships. Their relationships mean nothing after they’re gone. We remember them only because they took their inner world and put it outside themselves. It reminds me of what Freud told Joan Riviere. I think Freud trained her. She was English. She did English translations of Freud’s writings. He said to her: “Put your inner world outside yourself. Put it down on paper. Give it a separate existence — outside yourself.” I think about that quote a lot. It means so much to me. It just resonates with me. I mean, take Shakespeare. If Shakespeare had been sent to prison before he had written anything, say he committed a crime — so he was in prison and the jailors refused him any writing implements. He spends his life in prison and he never writes anything. We would never know who Shakespeare was. When he died, that would be it. The end of Shakespeare. He would have been just another prisoner who spent his life in jail. It’s through what he wrote that people remember him and who he was. I think about that. And yet, in his inner world he was still the very same Shakespeare, whether he wrote or didn’t write.
[What I seem to be saying is that by giving the “I” an independent existence outside the self , the “I” not only preserves itself but something else. By the act of giving the “I” an independent existence, the self clarifies the “I”, defines the “I”, and establishes the uniqueness of the “I”. Without our creations we remain simply indistinguishable human animals — members of a herd. Our creations, that is, our memorialized symbolization, actually create the “I” in an important way; through these creations we stand outside the herd and establish our humanity. These are the introjective concerns of identity and self-definition. A person’s creative products, therefore, both immortalize and actually modify and even create the “I.” The “I” is actually redefined and changed by those parts of itself that are given an independent existence.
The following is an excerpt from Alexandra Zapruder’s book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust. The book is a compilation of 60 diaries of children who had survived the Holocaust.
This is a diary entry from June the 11th, 1944 by an anonymous Jewish boy writing in Lodz ghetto:
“I go on dreaming, dreaming, about survival and about getting fame, in order to be able to tell ‘the world’. . . to tell and ‘rebuke,’ ‘to tell and to protest,’ both seem at [the] present moment remote and unbelievable—but who knows maybe, perhaps. I dream about telling to humanity but should I be able? Should Shakespeare be able? And what yet I who am only a little proud of understanding Shakespeare?!”]
THERAPIST: It sounds like you want me to remember you.
[Note how the therapist keeps coming back to the notion that I want something from her.]
Well, I want to be remembered.
THERAPIST: Did you really value our relationship?
Yes. You know it reminds me of when I was a kid. We used to go to Atlantic City every summer in early July. My father had friends in Atlantic City and we stayed with them for two weeks each year. I loved that so much. That was the high point of the year for me — two weeks in Atlantic City. And to get from Philadelphia to Atlantic City you have to cross the Delaware river. So you have to go over the bridge. You were a bridge for me. You helped me get across the river.
[Shengold believed that the symbol of the bridge represents incest with the mother. The penis is the bridge that connects the man with the woman in the sex act.]
And something even more powerful for me. When I was very young we used to take a different route. We didn’t cross the bridge. There was a ferry boat that crossed the river and we crossed over on the ferry. I loved that in the late afternoon, in the late afternoon sun. The excitement was so powerful that I would start to feel sick. I remember when I was little I said to my parents, “I’m so excited that I feel sick.” And they said, “Well, if you’re feeling sick, maybe we should turn back.” I shut my mouth! And the ferry was so powerful an experience for me. You were like the ferry boat. You helped me get across the river.
[In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. A coin to pay Charon for passage was sometimes placed in or on the mouth of a dead person. Some authors say that those who could not pay the fee, or those whose bodies were left unburied, had to wander the shores for one hundred years.]
THERAPIST: That’s a powerful symbol. . . . Usually at the last session, I talk about my feelings about the client.
Oh, I would prefer that you not do that. It would make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to know what you think. I want to preserve the mystery. [An Oedipal boy who contains his sexual desire for his mother retains the mystery of his mother.] I don’t want to be burdened by your feelings. I don’t want to remember that and maybe be haunted by what you say. I want you to remain a blank screen. The blank screen is a safe place. I have powerful feelings of curiosity. Intense curiosity that’s almost painful for me at times. And I think I get off on having these feelings. I want to remain curious about you and your thoughts. It’s emotionally gratifying for me to be curious about people. I think the state of being curious is more important to me than actually knowing what I want to know. You know, we were talking about Shakespeare. It reminds me of curtain calls at the theater. At the end of the performance, the actors return to their actual identity and stand in front of the curtain for the applause. And I hate that. I don’t want to lose the illusion that the characters were real. I want to just remember the characters — not the real actors. You know, talking about Shakespeare, it reminds me of The Tempest. That was Shakespeare’s last play. He died after that. That famous speech that Prospero gives at the end of the play. “Our revels now are ended.” That was Shakespeare’s curtain call. But he put it in the voice of the actor, in the voice of the illusion. Talking about death it reminds me of President Kennedy’s kids, Caroline and John. Do you remember John Kennedy? Well, he died in a plane crash in 1999. And his sister, Caroline read Prospero’s speech at his funeral. I guess analytically, I guess I’m saying I’m really playing a role here. This is not my real self.
What role do you think you’re playing?
I don’t know. It’s just intuition based on my associations here. Well, I don’t think I present my complete self here. For example, I’m a funny person.
You’ve never said anything funny here.
Yeah, I’m a funny guy. Remember the TV show Seinfeld?
Well, at the end of each season of the show I would send Jerry a letter. It was a funny letter. I don’t know if he ever read them. I read that he doesn’t read fan mail. The letters were funny. As a matter of fact, my very last letter talked about Shakespeare and Hamlet. I talked about the characters on the show as if they were characters in Hamlet. I talked about Elaine as if she were Ophelia [Ophelia committed suicide, drowning herself in a lake, because of her unrequited love for Hamlet]. So I guess I didn’t reveal that aspect of myself.
But, you know, I think maybe you’ll be reading about me in the newspaper in the future.
[I picked up the vague feeling that this comment irked the therapist. Her mood seemed to change after this comment. She seemed mildly angry from here on.]
I want to get my book published and I want it to be a best seller. Maybe made into a movie. [Like Shakespeare in Love?] Someday you’ll be in a movie theater watching the movie and you’ll say to your friend, “The guy who wrote the book was once a client of mine.”
THERAPIST: I could never do that because of client confidentiality. I need you to sign a release of information form so that I can talk to your next therapist.
[The therapist gave me the form and a pen and had me fill out the form in her presence, seated in front of her. I sensed that the therapist’s action was an enactment on her part; or maybe that was my subjective sense only because of my associations to writing and Shakespeare at the session — perhaps, I needed to believe that she was placing me in the role of a writer.]
THERAPIST: Good luck.
Thank you. Good bye.
[I had the feeling that the therapist was angry that I never talked about wanting anything from her. It’s as if she wanted confirmation for that idea (or projection) that I wanted something from her in a powerful way. She had to face the fact that I didn’t seem to want anything from her and that angered her.]