Writing on the Moon: Stories and Poetry from the Creative Unconscious by Psychoanalysts and Others

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This innovative book offers a collection of creative writings by psychotherapists - poems, short stories, and creative non-fiction. Thethemes tap into our most passionate and spontaneous selves, raiding the inarticulate, as we hear the creative voices of psychotherapists as never before. Two questions are implicitly addressed: Why is creativity important to psychoanalysis? And how can a therapist's analytic mind be receptive to the artistic voice?Writing on the Moon: Stories and Poetry from the Creative Unconscious by Psychoanalysts and Others is a collection of the best works published over the past fifteen years in the Creative Literary Section of Psychoanalytic Perspectives, along with imaginative introductions by literary editor Bonnie Zindel.Some writings are raw and honest, some are dark and access our primal being. Others, filled with beauty, illuminate the internal life, the playful mind, and unconscious doodlings that might otherwise remain unformulated. The work is not scholarly or polite. Creativity has long fascinated psychoanalysis, from Freud's studies of Michelangelo and Leonardo, to Marion Milner's interest in artists and analysts. Plato called creativity "divine madness."The book's contributors include Robert Stolorow, Thomas Ogden, and D.W Winnicott, and submissions came from as far as South Africa, Australia, England, France, Israel, and the United States - offering a glimpse into the private world of psychotherapists, who hold so much in their work with patients. In the romance between poetry, stories, and psychoanalysis, the book exalts the rich soil of our originality and imagination -- and raises the question: Why is creativity important in psychoanalysis?

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Chapter One - Dreams as Poetry

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You see things, and you say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were and I say, “Why not?”

—George Bernard Shaw

Dreams and poetry are the crown jewels of our imagination, springing from the creative unconscious and touching our originality, aliveness, and unknowable self. And whether a dream is a poem or a poem is a dream really depends on where you choose to enter the circle.

Some poems begin in us as children, long before we are able to speak, and even longer before we have the ability to write a word. Then, when ready, an unexpected gift arrives.

A writer once told me the dream is the most perfect story because it is all unconscious. It captures the unthinkable, uninhibited newness, and vivid images.

In this chapter, poets pull their dreams from a place of timelessness. Sometimes they write in a hypnogogic state—between awake and sleep—that dreamy state between our conscious and unconscious, the land where images, feelings, and reveries glide through, waiting to be caught.

 

Chapter Two - From Image to Words: One Unconscious Speaks to Another

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Seven psychoanalysts were invited to respond to a range of surrealist paintings—including works by Picasso, Dali, Giacometti, Magritte, Max Ernst, and Jackson Pollock. The respondents were asked to select an image that provoked an unconscious response and to put that response into words: from one sensory modality to another, one unconscious speaking to another.

Influenced by Freud, the surrealists seized the elusive unconscious. Their works often contained elements of surprise, unexpected fun, and disturbing juxtapositions. They disdained literal meanings, but rather looked for undertones, very much like psychoanalysts.

During the 1920s when surrealism flourished, a sign hung on André Breton's bedroom door while he was sleeping: “Do not disturb, artist at work.” The young poet saw surrealism as a revolutionary movement that would liberate the imagination and eliminate the effect of reason.

As for Dali, in his studio in Cadaques, he would sit holding a paintbrush dangling over a metal pail. The instant he'd fall asleep the brush would clatter into the pail and awaken him from his dreamlike state. Then he would paint disjointed images directly from his unconscious. Dali said, “There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.”

 

Chapter Three - Love Calls: a Call for Love

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Love calls us in the most astonishing and exciting ways. The experience of love often catches us by surprise, from the simplest quiet moment to wildly dramatic delirium. The currents of feeling flow back and forth, lighting up the darkness with intense fire. We get up before dawn and think of the other. Passion sends us into complete euphoria, both terrifying and exhilarating, filling us with intoxication. Love makes us dance, sing, write, paint, laugh, and run wild. And in these incandescent moments we feel most alive.

In response to our call for poetry and short stories, we were flooded with submissions. Contributors ran the gamut from psychoanalysts to new as well as accomplished poets and writers.

The selections in this chapter examine the ecstatic exuberance and delight of pure love, the sensual desire and aching for erotic love, the exhilaration of finding a new chance at love, the heartbreak of losing love; they explore playful love in a wheelbarrow, and cross-species love between a primate and a winged creature: all that illuminates the universality of love.

 

Chapter Four - Creativity and Madness

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The creative insane have always been objects of fascination. One can get close to the edge and then pass to the other side. Aristotle said that no great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness. Madness. What is it? Can it be categorized according to the DSM-5? Is it craziness, oddness, abnormality, a loss of contact with reality, unsound, or an unhinged and darkened mind? What about when someone's a bit nutty or daft? Or is madness the same as psychosis?

We associate so many adjectives, ideas, and characters with lunacy, including brilliance, creativity, and artistic expression. There's the imago of a raving lunatic, the Madwoman of Chaillot, and the lunatic asylum at Charenton from Marat/Sade. Madman or genius? Sometimes a fine line separates the two, but where do we make the distinction?

“Is there a single individual in the whole of humanity free from some form of insanity?” asked Erasmus in the sixteenth century. He noted that a man who sees a gourd and takes it for his wife is called insane because this happens to very few people. Mark Twain expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “Let us consider that we are all partially insane; it will unriddle many riddles.”

 

Chapter Five - The Art of Thomas Ogden

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Thomas Ogden, a psychoanalyst in San Francisco, is among the most creative analysts practicing today. For him, psychoanalysis is an art and he uses poetry and writing as part of the analytic process. He suggests that we turn to both poetry and psychoanalysis with the hope of reclaiming human aliveness.

Recently Ogden has written two novels: The Hands of Gravity and Chance and The Parts Left Out. For him, writing is an essential part of life. “I always want to be in the process of writing, it enlivens me. When I'm not writing, I feel a tension in me. When I can't think of anything to write, I write anything—a sentence, an idea I cut out from a previous paper. Until I get past a certain point, I think of myself not as a writer, but as one who used to be a writer, or who will be a writer one day; but right now I'm not a writer. Until my writing goes out into the world, I guard it. I don't want input from anyone. What interests me is not what we know, but what we don't know. And sometimes we don't have the words yet or the mind to conceive it. Often I write twenty handwritten pages to yield a good sentence or paragraph. I can't be afraid of wasting time, because productive time couldn't happen without it. I create a state of mind. I live it and breathe it when I'm writing. The work suffuses me. If I get stuck, I wait until I fall asleep and then the answer occurs to me. When I wake up, I write it down. I know then that the process has taken hold.”

 

Chapter Six - Letters to Dearest Mother From Famous Writers

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We lay aside a letter never to read it again and at last destroy them out of discretion, so dispense with the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life.

—Goethe

Dear Reader,

I am writing to you about the magic of letter writing from long ago, an art that has all but vanished—the art of taking pen to paper, and with reflection, capturing innermost thoughts, raw and unedited, then sending them to another.

In this chapter we will read fragments of correspondence by five brilliant authors as they write uncensored letters home to their mothers—speaking eloquently of simple everyday experiences as well as significant emotional moments. The letters reveal the intimate, complex relationships that these literary figures had with their mothers. George Sand responds to her mother's harsh critique of her lifestyle. James Joyce speaks of his “villainous hunger” and the impoverished life of a writer. Flaubert, on a long voyage to the Near East, longs to be united with his mother. Proust writes a midnight letter to his mother sleeping in the next room. Some of the letters are loving, some angry, others disappointed at feeling unseen or unappreciated. Still others cause us to gasp at their audacity. Many of the emotions expressed have the intensity of an analytic session.

 

Chapter Seven - Poetry by People in Analysis

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The outpouring in response to my call for “Poetry by People in Analysis” was overwhelming. For some contributors, the writing added new levels of understanding to their therapeutic relationship. I asked our readers to suspend the expectation of scholarly tone and method usually found in psychoanalytic journals. For what we have here is not necessarily scholarly or polite.

Therapist and patient are collaborators in telling a story; some have been told a hundred times, and yet have never been told. Analysis is mutual storytelling. Some are simple stories told with staggering originality; some stories have the ability to glimpse change. What complicates the process is that each of us has multiple ways of telling our story. Have you wondered what story you are in at any given moment? An adventure story? A ghost story that haunts? A romantic one? A separation tale of standing up to a parent is a universal drama. One thing for sure, when you change the story, you change the storyteller.

 

Chapter Eight - Voices Out of New Orleans: Hurricane Katrina

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How does the creative unconscious process trauma and catastrophic loss? For some, writing about the trauma helps work through what they had been unable to handle.

In 2005, the world watched with disbelief and horror as Hurricane Katrina, one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, thrashed furiously across New Orleans—leaving in its wake over 1,245 people dead and countless homeless. Like many, overwhelmed by scenes of the devastation, I felt a sense of profound helplessness.

On a hunch, I placed a call to Peter Cooley, a poet whose work I knew. Peter is a professor of English at Tulane University in New Orleans, and a member of a local poetry group. I asked him if he had any poems on Hurricane Katrina. “Are you kidding?” he said. “We have so many. We want our voices heard. We do not want to be forgotten.” The meeting place for poetry readings had been destroyed by the hurricane, so the group had been meeting as nomads at various places around the ravaged city. Professor Cooley asked his students and colleagues to send me their poetry about Katrina. Lives were lost. Personal histories were lost. The poets of New Orleans would very much like their poetry read. So here are some of their voices: Professor Cooley, his daughter, his son, and one of his students at Tulane University.

 

Chapter Nine - Presence and Absence

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Presence and absence. Connection and separation. What are the ways we hold on to another even when that person is not physically present? Exploring these questions is part of what happens in psychotherapy. It also happens in writing. Stories carry both memory and longing and offer moments so vivid that both writer and reader become immersed in their sensual vitality. In memory, no one is ever absent; rather, persons we've lost continue to inhabit an emotional inner landscape, infused with the treasure of what they mean to us.

In writing about his psychiatrist father, Mark Singer, also a psychiatrist, draws an inner portrait of a man who strongly influenced him. “When my dad retired, I inherited some of his patients. Writing about him was a bittersweet experience that evoked the notion of memory and the passage of time. My father took great interest in the stories of people's lives. He seemed to be particularly moved by nostalgic experience. He seemed to find comfort in the ways that a feeling of loss could be paradoxically linked to a feeling of pleasure. And how a sense of longing for the past could be affectionately fastened to a quality of hope for the future.” Mark Singer wrote this story in the months before his father died.

 

Chapter Ten - Emotional Travel Writing

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One way of travelling is to throw away the Michelin Guide and read a good book set in the region you're visiting and let the book guide you to discover beauty in unexpected corners. In this way a traveler can go off on a different kind of journey, one where she searches for the visceral world of a historical person by retracing the emotional places in that person's life.

One summer not long ago, I visited friends from New York who had bought a house in Arezzo, Tuscany. In a letter they told me that Michelangelo's birthplace was only an hour's drive away. My imagination went wild. I had to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of this Renaissance man, one of the greatest inventive and tormented geniuses ever born. Curious about his internal space and creative process, I was impelled to follow his footsteps. I hear Michelangelo's words, “Remember, the map is not the terrain.”

Five hundred years after he created his masterpieces—the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Pieta, and his David—I set off on an adventure in search of this man who reinvented art, with his life as the raw material. I started at the house where he was born, in the small village of Caprese. Then on to Florence and the Galleria dell'Accademia to see his David and the Bearded Slave, chiseled out of Carrera marble. Michelangelo glimpsed the slave in the marble and carved until he set him free. That same afternoon I went to his final resting place, the Santa Croce Basilica, where his tomb is cradled by marble sculptures. Nearby lay other geniuses—his eternal neighbors—Galileo, Rossetti, and the empty tomb of Dante.

 

Chapter Eleven - The Unexpected Poet: D. W. Winnicott

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D. W. Winnicott was an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst best known for his ideas on the true self and the false self, and the transitional object. Central to Winnicott's work is his vision of creativity, which he saw as fundamental to being human. He believed that life without creativity is not worth living and is equivalent to psychic death. He is not talking here about the creativity of a genius like Cezanne or James Joyce, but the creativity accessible to all of us—an aliveness and originality in our everyday life. Winnicott encourages us to leap off the beaten path. At his 1970 lecture to the Progressive League in London, Winnicott said that to draw like Picasso one has to be Picasso. He was saying that we each need to be our own original self.

When one thinks of Winnicott, certain attributes come to mind: originality, spontaneity, playfulness, freedom, and paradox. He was interested in imaginative living. For him, it is in the transitional space between the inner and outer world that creativity occurs, an area of interest to philosophers and poets—who, Freud acknowledged, discovered the unconscious long before he did.

 

Chapter Twelve - Mothers of the Milky Way Part One: Poetry

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This chapter is dedicated to our mothers and to the mothers in all of us.

Here we pay homage to the complex relationship we have with our mothers: Ma, Mommy, Mom, Mama—mothers here and mothers gone, those vanishing before our eyes and those who are mothers themselves. Here we celebrate and mourn. Part One consists of poetry; Part Two is a collection of creative nonfiction.

In these chapters we offer a glimpse into the complexities of mother love. Mothers who nurture and inspire and offer exuberance and joy and blessedness, protectors of the hearth and the children; who laugh together until we cry, in good times and hard times, the creator and the lion-hearted. There is also a glimpse of the mother of many shadows—mothers where boundaries blur, who disappoint, who colonise us, live through us, and don't see us, who neglect and abandon, who cause us pain and even hate.

This is about older mothers and young mothers and women about to become mothers, capturing the most simple, quiet moments and the most dramatic and passionate. Some of these pieces recall a time gone by. Others are very much in the present. Some describe a reversal of roles. We hear the bold voices of daughters and mothers, mothers and sons.

 

Chapter Thirteen - Mothers of the Milky Way Part Two: Creative Nonfiction

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Mothers of song, mothers of trees, and mothers of thunder. Here, we continue exploring the complex relationships we have with our mothers through an intimate collection of creative nonfiction. We offer a second glimpse into the complexities of mother love, the nurturing mothers and the mother of many shadows—those who disappoint, neglect, and abandon, who cause us pain and even hate. The stories are filled with delight and with sorrow. They capture mothers of all ages. The words evoke simple and peaceful moments, as well as the most startling and powerful.

I recently read an anonymous quote on this theme that touched me. It evokes the sense memories that a good-enough mother can offer—though, as many of these contributions suggest, some mothers fall very short. “Your mother is always with you. She is the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street. She is the smell of certain foods you remember, the fragrance of life itself. She is the cool hand on your brow when you're not feeling well. She's your breath in the air on a cold winter's day. Your mother lives inside your laughter. She's the place you came from, your first home. She is your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy. But nothing on earth can separate you—not time, not space, not even death.”

 

Chapter Fourteen - Art Brut—Outsider Art

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I have long been interested in “outsider art”, or art brut (raw, unrefined art)—work by self-taught creators who might be patients in a psychiatric hospital, or physically disabled, or people on the fringe whose lifestyle does not meet societal expectations—all of whom work unmindful of public esteem and the accepted traditions of art. The very first collection of outsider art was assembled by the French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet in 1945 and now numbers 60,000 works at a museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.

On a lovely spring day in Paris in 2003, walking through the Tuileries, I passed the Jeu de Paume Museum and went in to an exhibit of art brut, called “La Clé des Champs”—a metaphor for freedom. It turned out to be one of the most exciting and original art exhibits I had ever seen. Most interesting was the work of Aloise Corbaz, who had been institutionalized at La Rosière Asylum in Gimel, Switzerland for forty-four years until her death. She divided her schedule between drawing and ironing. She did her drawing in secret, sometimes using the sap of petals, crunched leaves, and toothpaste. But she never seemed to finish her ironing. All this attests to the transcendent power of the creative spirit.

 

Chapter Fifteen - Strong Women's Voices

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The eight women writers featured in this chapter continue the great tradition of strong women's voices. Their writing is tough, blunt, and emotionally charged as they reflect on their life experiences from a feminine perspective, struggling against convention to liberate themselves. Simone de Beauvoir, the mother of feminism, knew about writing. She wrote about her life ceaselessly—in letters, diaries, articles for the journal she edited, four autobiographies, and several novels. She broke though gender roles and believed that women are made and not born. She didn't concern herself with pleasing others or being liked. She was bold and audacious.

Do women write in a different voice than men? Sometimes it's hard to tell. But often women are authors of profound emotions in poetry and narrative. They give voice to pains, joys, passions, loneliness, and struggles to understand relationships—all in the name of making something authentic and meaningful, often in spite of demons.

Among the contributors in this chapter, Joan Cusack Handler ushers in the ghost of her mother and transforms her deep feelings and yearnings into a universal language. Salita S. Bryant recalls Sex Ed at the playground. Claire Basescu writes a finely tuned lament about the shattering existence that begins at birth and accelerates as we age. Maggie Bloomfield declares her independence in a raw and fearless slam poem about empowerment. Another contributor writes amorously while her therapist is away on August break. Other contributors with an intuitive feminine perspective include Kim Bernstein, Amanda Hirsch-Geffner, and Gwenn A. Nusbaum.

 

Chapter Sixteen - Capturing Moments: Four Very, Very Short Narratives, Three Poems, and a Photograph

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Can we really capture a moment in writing—be it unspoken, spoken, or filled with an evocative image? Can we engage the creative unconscious in that moment and tap into our imagination? If we succeed, we are usually surprised at what turns up. Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words. “For sale: baby shoes never worn.” And he called it his best work.

At the heart of things is chaos and it lives in our unconscious, where we learn to raid the inarticulate. We listen for the rumblings from those uncoded voices, and we translate them into our creative work, not in a literal sense but in a poetic metaphoric way. The writer has to be open to hearing those rumblings when they arrive, usually when she is busy doing something else.

While the unconscious mind plays, the conscious mind finds words and images to express the messages from the deep. As when the Greeks settled new colonies and always brought an urn filled with Greek soil to plant in the new territory, nothing is ever lost or forgotten. But the nature of the unconscious changes; it is continuously altered by experience. When we put pen to paper, the conscious mind makes choices and edits and turns these cryptic messages into writing. And something changes. It is an exhilarating moment.

 

Chapter Seventeen - Ferenczi and Relationality: On Losing One's Analyst

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Sandor Ferenczi, a Hungarian psychoanalyst and intimate of Freud until he was ostracized from Freud's inner circle, placed an inordinate emphasis on the concept of mutuality. For him, the cure was in the relationship, and he introduced for the first time a two-person psychology in which patient and analyst become mutual partners in a reciprocal relationship within the analytic hour.

My interest in Ferenczi is also a personal one. My training analyst, Emmanuel Ghent, was analyzed by Clara Thompson, who herself was analyzed by Ferenczi. When we trace our analytic ancestry back through time, we can discover our unconscious family tree. We are great-grandchildren in the lineage of psychoanalysis as one generation's unconscious is passed down to the next.

Recently, there has been a growing appreciation of the importance of Ferenczi's contribution, and his influence on the evolution of modern psychoanalysis. In his Clinical Diary he allows us to experience moments between him and his patients where the “analytic encounter is curative.” Ferenczi emphasized that the interaction between analyst and analysand was primary, and in his practice he engaged in a high degree of self-disclosure.

 

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