Letter from San Francisco
by Drew Tillotson
San Francisco, California, USA
Dear colleagues and friends,
It is difficult here in San Francisco. We are officially in “shelter in place” mode, encouraged to remain at home. We expect our situation to be similar to what Italy has gone through. We’re told the onslaught is a matter of time, not if, but when.
I am at home, conducting phone and camera sessions only. This frame requires a lot from both sides of the electronic chair/couch/computer/home/kitchen/dining room/playroom. Betty Joseph meant something quite different in her idea of “the total situation,” but this is indeed a very 2020 total situation. Transference is only one part; there are many objects—dangerous, loving, dead, overstimulated, terrified.
In Bion’s version of “catastrophic change,” the process of relinquishing old object ties, the terror and survival of that, of coming alive, is internal. Yet I keep thinking about it. It seems very apt at this moment. Now, all is new, hour by hour, literally. The old must be relinquished in order to take in the reality of calamity, but the terror of surviving it is not only psychic at this point. It is bodily, a literal danger. A catastrophe of being forced to bend, of contending with a body that won’t be ignored, of being forced to contend with each other as vectors of disease.
Today was day two here of “sheltering in place.” Yesterday, day one, I struggled with sessions, restless, annoyed, sleepy; coffee tasted stale. Today, something shifted. At moments, in both phone and camera sessions, it was like meeting a whole new patient, a different version. I worked to open my mind, to dilate the frame. I kept turning to analytic intention as a mooring line. I started having reveries of holding sessions on the street, in a café, in a meadow, on the moon.
As the day went on, the work became freeing. Something powerful was occurring in the disruption of asymmetry—the fact that we were facing the same catastrophe evoked very playful, loving, surprisingly erotic moments. All amidst a tsunami of terror and disease moving towards us. It was a paradoxical soup of pain and pleasure, of love, great disappointment, impatience, crawling out of and into our skin.
The frame has to shatter and reconsolidate right now, from my little home office, in a corner of San Francisco. If it can’t bend, I can’t help or think. If I can’t help or think, I will be forced to disappear in Netflix or googling factoids of terror.
So here’s to the resilience of our minds. We can do analytic work from a lily pad, a flatbed truck, a dance hall, or billiard room. At least I am counting on that.
Warm solidarity from a heavily endangered, beautiful city by the bay,
Drew Tillotson, PsyD, FIPA, is vice president of North American Psychoanalytic Confederation (NAPsaC), member of the IPA Psychoanalytic Education Committee, and past president of the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (PINC).
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