Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blogging about blogging - The Reluctant Psychoanalyst Navel Gazes

I have been blogging for two years.  I started on a whim.  The reluctant wife and I had watched a DVD and I thought I had something to say about it, and so wrote a brief essay about that and explored how to put the essay up as a blog.  I was curious about whether this would be something that I would stick with and whether it would be something that people had an interest in.  Two years later, this will be my sixty fourth blog - so I have written, on average, more than three blogs a month.  But my production has not been that steady.  I tend to write more in the summer - last summer, when involved in two retreats, I was writing a blog a day.  More often than not I am writing about every two weeks - generally a book or a movie will contain something that seems worth writing about - something that I think I have something to say about - at about that rate.

Blogging has provided an outlet for something that has been bottled up in me - the analyst would say inhibited - for a very long time.  My own analysis (all analysts have to undergo their own analysis - something that I knew about for a long time and I have wondered whether I maneuvered myself into this profession to justify getting my own analysis without appearing as self-indulgent as analysis appeared to me) was a difficult undertaking.  I was terrified on a daily basis of what I would talk about.  I became quite a student of my dreams - both because they were interesting in ways I had never imagined - but also because they created a text for me to take into the analysis.  I would have something to talk about and, I think this is important, something that would be of interest to my analyst.

I think that I have always questioned the value of what I have to offer to others.  I am sometimes quite wide of the mark in my understanding of a text - I went to a college where we engaged in discussions of multiple texts - and I was far from the most astute reader.  More fundamentally though, I think that I have wanted to make sense of things from a very early age.  I know, this doesn't distinguish me.  We all want to be up on what's new, to not be out of step, to not be blindsided.  And I have this anxiety and belongingness wish in spades.  But I think there is also a wish to have a conceptual and, particularly apt for the blogging aspect, a narrative understanding - a cogent story or script that holds things together and that makes them make sense.  Blogging offers an opportunity to do just that.  And I can offer it without imposing it -people can make use of it if they will.  But I can offer it - for though I have questioned the value of what I have to offer - I also believe that I do have something to offer.  One of the things that became clear in my own analysis was the wish - almost a truism of the psychotherapeutic professions - to make others happy.  I think what prepared me to be an analyst, and a professor, is the wish to do that by making sense of things (including the experience of people I cared about).

It also, and here I beg the indulgence of my readers, offers the opportunity to get the ideas out there without having to get them into perfect shape.  I don't have to submit them to a magazine or a journal and have an editor think about whether what I have to offer is useful - and to pore over my work and do multiple rewrites as it slogs towards publication.  I generally read through the blogs three or four times, making changes each time, before posting.  Sometimes a blog requires major revisions and I start it over from scratch, but this is rare.  It generally feels, as I am writing them, that I do have a narrative thread that makes sense.  I am not always able to fully exploit that.  I often become frustrated in arriving at a conclusion that would pull multiple threads together.  And on rereading a few months later, I am sometimes not able to see the threads as clearly as when I was originally working - and am able to see redundancies in language and poor grammar that eluded me the first time through.

That said, I am generally reasonably pleased with the product.  One of my mentors complained that I "clearly cannot write, and my concern is that may indicate an inability to think."  My writing has improved as the result of lots of close attention from multiple editors over the years, including him, though I could have done without the attack.  It is still far from compelling - indeed it can be clunky - but I believe that it serves to get some messages across.

What do I wish to get across and why?  I am a reluctant psychoanalyst because I wish there were a model of the mind that was simpler, that was more user friendly, and one that wasn't so difficult to become conversant with.  I want to convey some of the beauty - some of the power - of the analytic perspective to make sense of the world without becoming too preachy.  I would like to invite others to consider how the analytic perspective can inform - can open up new and worthy perspectives on the human condition.  I would like to clarify why, reluctant as I am, I continue to work from this perspective - caught in it and by it despite its complexities, its internal inconsistencies and its intermittent opaqueness.  Because sometimes it does illuminate things clearly.

I think I am also a reluctant psychoanalyst because of the public persona of psychoanalysis.  I think there has been a huge emphasis on psychoanalytic content - what we "know" about the deeper, unconscious aspects of the mind.  Terms like anal retentive - which is based on a theory about early development that does not carry much, if any, weight with contemporary psychoanalysts, is so firmly entrenched in our culture that I doubt it will disappear, in part because it does resonate with some "deeper" truth - the relationship between our fascination with our own messes - with our feces - and our wish to keep things neat and orderly - as a way of simultaneously denying and engaging in contact with chaos.  But these are exactly the kinds of statements that I found off-putting when made by psychoanalysts.  While I indulge in them (as I just did), I think part of what I want to do is to emphasize the process of analysis - the discovery that is part and parcel of every analytic engagement and that is filled with unpredictability - with a sense of the unknown - rather than with "knowing" what is "really" going on inside the other.  It is this sense of the openness of psychoanalysis that I would like to share with others, even if I fail to do that regularly.

I also want to record my experience.  To leave a legacy of my lived experience.  What I have been reading, viewing and experiencing, and how I have thought and felt about it.  Whether there is a God, it is truly remarkable that this complex, beautiful universe has been able to create sentient beings who can appreciate and divine that complexity.  And, not surprisingly, those critters are themselves complex and intriguing.  And for some reason I believe that my perspective on that is worthy of my putting it out there - of having an audience for it.  And that, in turn, is part of what makes blogging attractive - someone may come across this and read it.  And that is exciting.

To date, more than 2,000 hits have been recorded on the blog.  Most are from the US; Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia also figure heavily.  But people from India, China, and places like Venezuela also have searched for things on the internet and come across the blog. (Note: less than two years later (4/1/16 , more than 30,000 pageviews have been recorded, though the distribution is about the same)

People rarely reply to the blog.  I do have friends and family who read it and may comment on this posting or that.  Sometimes I will bring a post to the attention of someone and they will respond directly to me about their experience of reading it, but there is a weird sense that lots of people have had some exposure to what I have written and not responded - sort of what an author must feel who writes a book that is bought - perhaps reviewed (or blogged about, I guess) and sits on shelves in people's homes and in libraries being read by - whom?  Freud was astounded, on his one trip to the United States, to discover that the cabin boy was reading his dream book.  That was when he concretely realized just how widespread his ideas had become.

In my own analysis, it was sometimes frustrating to not know what my analyst was thinking.  Sometimes I did know, and sometimes he and I were very much on the same page.  He might say something that I was in the process of forming - or was just about to say or even, and this is more speculative - to think.  At other times he was wide of the mark.  He misunderstood me  - in a variety of ways.  He might have misheard something - or his ideas may have taken him in a direction that seemed tangential.  He was also, at times, way ahead of me and I could not yet make sense of what he was saying.  I don't think I ever got a complete sense of his ambivalence about me.  About the ways that he appreciated me - but also the sense of the limits that he recognized in me and the feelings that he had about that.  Part of what makes an analysis different from being parented is just that - not to know the wishes and dreams that our analyst has for us - and the ways in which we have disappointed our analyst by not achieving his or her dreams.  It is hard enough to know ourselves from within - and the point of an analysis is not really to know, objectively, what another thinks about us - but it sure does make me curious to know what a person that I have spent all that time telling my thoughts - someone who is thoughtful himself - thinks about what I have had to say.  That said, a couple of times he said complementary things, and I quickly minimized them.

When I started blogging, I was curious about whether I would continue to have new things to say about the things that I observed - or whether I would become a drudge - saying the same thing about lots of different subjects.  I think that the psychoanalytic perspective - the psychoanalytic tent - is broad enough that I continue to be surprised by all that it contains, and I hope that I am able to bring some of those many perspectives to bear on topics in ways that are fresh - that the reader can find different analytic ideas in the different blogs across time.  I hope that I have not bored my reader, just as I hope that I did not bore my analyst.  I hope that, while both blogging and analysis are self indulgent, that they have also proven to be, in some palpable measure, productive.  That the investment of time and money in understanding the human condition - and more particularly one person's condition - generalizes in ways that are useful to others.

I expect that some people are searching for this blog because they have essays to write of their own, perhaps as school assignments, and they are looking for what others have written about what they must write on.  Certainly I frequently check Wikipedia and other reviews - especially to keep the narrative of a movie straight in my head - as well as the names of characters, something that is very difficult for me to track.  But I hope that it is the psychoanalytic perspective that is attracting hits.  That people really are interested in what a psychoanalyst would have to say about this or that.  That there is still curiosity about this perspective and that, like Freud's cabin boy, people from all over are still interested in how the unconscious is constructed and what looking from that perspective might do to our understanding of the world that we live in.  And I hope that this blog does not disappoint.  That despite its lack of polish - and despite its sometimes wandering narrative - that it can illuminate a text, a movie, or an aspect of our experience in ways that seem novel and yet vibrant - unexpected and yet somehow true.  That this thing called analysis, despite our ambivalence about it, is useful to us.

Postscript:  It is now two years later and a lot more hits have occurred - The blog is approaching 20,000 hits.  I am in the process of going back through the posts and editing out some of the more egregious scanning problems and making the posts more cogent.  I am also adding links and pictures to them, where relevant.  All of this is part of an effort to create a narrative index - and later a more bare bones index or two - to the site.  I guess, in the context of this post, I am trying to organize the mess.  One thing that is apparent to me now in a way that was not then is that my writing style is more psychoanalytic than I knew.  It is free associative.  A movie or a book or an experience interests me and I think a bit about it, have a general outline for how I will articulate my experience, but mostly write what comes to mind and see how that resolves.  Tom Ogden's Creative Readings has helped me realize that this is what is happening as he has written about how to read psychoanalytic writing (someday I will blog about this book, for now I have included a link to another's review of it).

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