by Hattie Myers
Anniversaries exist as a demand to remember and, as such, they have a great deal in common with the work of psychoanalysis. Looking back from the vantage of ROOM’s first anniversary, it is amazing to recall that ROOM might not have happened at all but for a fortuitous accident.
Twenty days after the 2016 elections I received an email that had not been intended for me to read.
“Hello from (Trumpland) The heartland, I am so fucking pissed I can barely see straight right now and I wanted to share with you the editor's response to my piece… She butchered it!!! I'm thinking if they don't publish it I'm going to publish it myself and send it out to the entire community anyway. I need some helpful validation right now SOS! And if this is a sign of things to come and it's happening in an analytic community, OMG!! Peace and love and more peace and love… We need it or maybe I should say I need it! XO Margaret”
Margaret Fulton, a psychoanalyst practicing in Minnesota, wrote this e-mail to a few of her close friends but inadvertently sent it to hundreds of mental health professional on a national listserv.
Intrigued, I asked Margaret for the back story.
It turned out that she had been invited by her local analytic society to write a short essay on the subject of ‘play’ in psychoanalysis, and they had just rejected the essay saying it was “too political during a time when it was important to strike a balance.” She was furious.
The essay had begun non-controversially enough with a quote from the British psychoanalyst, Winnicott:
“Psychotherapy takes place in the overlap of two areas of playing, that of the patient and that of the therapist. Psychotherapy has to do with two people playing together. The corollary of this is that where playing is not possible then the work done by the therapist is directed towards bringing the patient from a state of not being able to play into a state of being able to play.”
D.W. Winnicott (1971).
But after the election, Margaret’s interest took a turn and she had begun to wonder, “What’s at play when both patient and therapist are unwilling or unable to play?”
“November,” she wrote,
“has been a somber month; the cacophony of laments, tirades, raw images, disjointed thoughts, and emotional turbulence surrounding the election has taken a toll on the psychoanalytic playground, stressing the capacities of the ‘holding environment,’ rupturing potential space, and foreclosing on the mind’s capacity to process and ‘contain’ the complexities at play internally and externally.”
Margaret is from a purple state but her words fit well the feelings of my blue state colleagues. Were we seeing red in the light of fascism? A frozen state of play transcended color that month in this country.
Margaret gave me permission to post her essay on my analytic society’s listserv, where an editor on The Candidate’s Journal read it and asked permission to print it. And so, with the addition of a few paragraphs referencing Freud and Lacan, Margaret’s essay was formally published. Her essay’s plea for the importance of finding analytically informed ways to keep play alive in times of trauma became the spring board for our first issue of ROOM: A Sketchbook for Analytic Action.
ROOM was designed to be a space devoted to diversity of experience, depth of feeling, and complexity of thought. True to the root of the word ‘essay’ (‘essai’ means trial or attempt in French), we envisioned that IPTAR’s newsletter might be a place in which contributors would have room just to try things out. A year ago it felt to us that reading essays like Margaret’s, about the personal and collective meaning of our experiences, could help support our destabilized and bewildered analytic community.
We did not anticipate the extent to which ROOM would travel over the course of its first year nor did we envision that it would break new analytic ground. Over the course of ROOM’s first year we have had well over two dozen contributors and thousands of hits in over twenty countries. Three weeks ago we launched a website to help our readers access us more easily. ROOM is now being read by non-mental health professionals. But perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised. As Margaret wrote toward the end of her essay,
“In the wake of the election and with increasing tensions, everything becomes political and the political becomes personal, including the choice to be thoughtful and to speak truthfully from one’s emotional core.”
The ideas and experiences ROOM was “playing” with were hardly just local issues — nor were they issues that only concerned psychoanalysts. Speaking “truthfully and thoughtfully from an emotional core” is not just at the heart of psychoanalytic practice; it is at the heart of being human.
The art of psychoanalytic practice has historically been a private experience — existing between one patient and one therapist, or, in our professional literature between one analyst and the creation of a new theoretical construct. This private space that psychoanalysis inhabited may well have protected the development of our field during its formative decades. Psychoanalysis has come to the public party late in the game.
ROOM is a psychoanalytic space responding to our times — and the interplay between the public and private spheres is fully apparent in this anniversary issue. Along with Margaret Fulton’s seminal essay, here is a taste of “what’s at play” in ROOM 2.18: Betty Teng evokes a collective experience of trauma through the generalizations she draws from her clinical work with trauma victims and through the cultural artifacts she uses in her art. Natalie Korytnyk Forrester’s deeply private pain finds universal resonance in integrative work resulting in powerful and heartbreaking sculptures. Stefanie Hofer writes of the singular knowledge she carries as a mother unable to protect her small child from the ubiquitous violence that exists undigested and unabated in American culture. Ann Kaplan, a child of activist psychoanalysts, turns back to pick up the pieces her parents left undone. Young-Ran Kim poetically and musically illustrates the analytic paradox of discovering universal truths through the deep recognition of individual difference from her perspective as a patient and a therapist. Sara Taber’s “Camus for Fractured Times” and Diane Seuss’s “Still Life With Dictator” push beyond prose to touch the edge of an abyss. These poets recall the work of other poets and, for one of ROOM’s editors, Rick Grose, the work of Osip Mandelstam during the years of Stalin. Diving into the abyss, Joanna Goodman’s ink and alcohol rendering, Political and Francesca Schwartz’s bone sculptures, The Space Between, interrogate two kinds of abject interiorities.
Psychoanalysis is in a particularly advantageous position to see how the interface between the public and the private, and between the political and the personal, have much in common with the transitional space between self and other and between the past and the future. This mediating space has historically been the stomping ground of our psychoanalytic work. Psychoanalysts have much to offer about the contours of this crucial space that exists between the private and the public domains.
Margaret ended her essay as it began, by quoting Winnicott:
“In doing psychoanalysis, I aim at: Keeping alive. Keeping well. Keeping awake.”
In keeping with this aim, ROOM’s public mission is to remain a space that furthers our capacity to keep alive, keep well, and, in these terrifying and sometimes mind-numbing times, keep awake. –
- Hattie Myers is a Training and Supervising psychoanalyst at IPTAR. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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