Therapy in the Holy City: Writing Life

I felt happy.  It was a beautiful day in Tel Aviv and I had reason to be there.  After getting off the 480 bus from Jerusalem, I asked a passerby, in Hebrew, to point me in the direction of Kikar Hamedina.

“Why walk?” he said, and indicated the many vehicles lined up outside the Arlozorov station for the express purpose of transporting people around the city.

“Because I want to!” I exclaimed.  He showed me the way, and I was off.

A few days before, I had received an invitation to be interviewed on a radio program that featured local writers talking about the writing life.  Although my initial reaction was one of fear and trembling, it didn’t take me long to accept.  For the past twenty years I had felt invisible; why not say yes to the possibility of being visible, and audible, for a change?

I had Google-mapped the studio’s location that morning.  Unsurprisingly, I discovered that it was just a hop skip and jump away from the street address now listed at the top of Ronit’s receipt: unsurprising, to me, because it was so central, so Israeli, so happening. Though she had moved a while ago, she had only recently printed up new receipts, and the sight of her Tel Aviv home address – in undeniable black and white – had kicked off old painful feelings.

I didn’t feel pained right now, though; I felt grateful.   Ronit had once said how the work we were doing together was meant to help me avail myself of the world, and here I was: availing.  To achieve visibility was pretty much impossible if one never made oneself visible, and because of her, I had.  According to Adam Phillips in his book Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst, “Psychoanalysis was to be a therapy in which modern people could work out for themselves what, if anything, mattered most to them,” and what mattered a lot to me was writing.  While editing academic texts was what I did for pay, writing was my first love, and this love was now being recognized.

I had arrived in Tel Aviv early, with plenty of time to spare, so I felt free to take a leisurely look around as I walked down Weitzman Street.   I loved the greenery, the sidewalk benches, the juxtaposition of the residential and the commercial. I loved the feel of the whole area, and I allowed myself to.  Ronit was away on vacation this week so there was no chance I would run into her:  a fear – and wish– that I’d often had when she still lived in Jerusalem.

There was another thing I had done during Ronit’s vacation.  I had called Dr. S again, and I had gone to see her the day before.

“What’s happened between the last time you were here and today?” she asked.

It was a good question.  Not a lot.  I wasn’t sure why I was there again, although I knew I wanted something clarified.   I repeated many of the things I’d said the time before, to which Dr. S said, “You’re just repeating what you said last time.”

Yes, she was right, I was.  What was I doing there?  I remembered how once, early on, I’d said to Ronit how it didn’t seem fair that she was allowed to have lots of patients while I was only allowed to have one therapist.  Was that what I was doing:  leveling the playing field?  Or maybe I was using Dr. S as a babysitter; it didn’t escape me that the two times I’d come to her were times when Ronit was inaccessible.  But maybe there was another, kinder way of looking at it:  perhaps my need for a babysitter spoke to the fact that I was a better candidate for traditional five-session-a-week psychoanalysis, something I had experienced in New York, than I was for psychotherapy.  I obviously had a great wish to talk; a lot to say; and more than Ronit was prepared to hear:  she was neither trained as an analyst nor did she live close enough by for us to see each other every day.

“I’m usually a very loyal monogamous person,” I said to Dr. S.  “The fact that I’m here must mean something is not right.”

The mood in Dr. S’s office was different this session.  Although it was only our second meeting, there had been time enough for impressions and opinions to form.  I wondered whether she was feeling used.  I wondered whether, despite the fact that I had paid in full for the first session and would pay in full for the second, she felt irritated.  On the one hand, it was clear from the things she was saying that in her professional opinion I should not end my treatment with Ronit by slamming the door behind me and running to her instead.  On the other, she was a person whose business it was to enter into an ongoing therapeutic relationship with a patient: was I or was I not going to be that patient?

On my way home from this second appointment, it hit me why I had returned to Dr. S.  I reflected back on how I’d felt the previous day, when she’d called to ask if we could move up our meeting by one hour.  What I had felt – to be honest – was a kind of despair.  Yes, that was it:  I hadn’t liked it one bit when she’d requested this tiny change. Why couldn’t other people be as fastidious as I was?  Why couldn’t they be as punctilious, as organized, as committed, as reliable, as dependable?  Why?  And that’s when I realized:  It was me!  I was the problem!  I was rigid! I was inflexible!  I would always be disappointed in the other! And Dr. S?  She was just going to be another flawed human being who changed appointment times!  A human being like Ronit:  with her own needs, her own schedule, her own life, her own priorities.  She was going to make mistakes, she was going to get sick, she was going to take vacations.  Also, she was not going to live forever, which meant that one day I would have to separate from her too.  Nobody, neither Ronit nor Dr. S, would be able to spare me from this reality.  What I had wanted Dr. S to do – before I did anything drastic like make a therapist switch – was nothing less than guarantee me that she would be perfect, that she would never let me down, that she would never hurt me.  Oh, and yes, this too: that she would never move, retire, or die. She of course could not oblige – most likely didn’t even know she was being asked to oblige – and so there I was again, having solved nothing.  Could it be that I was simply going to have to wait it out?  That I was simply going to have to live the questions – a la Rilke – until one day I lived into the answer?

In the meantime, I found the broadcasting studio easily and conducted myself pretty well; I had less post-interview-regret than I thought I would.  Afterwards, I met a friend for coffee and cake.  We sat in a café on a sun-drenched corner of Kikar Hamedina, and while we were there another friend stuck her head in to say hello.

Availing oneself of the world had its perks.  Being visible wasn’t bad.

About the Author
Eve Horowitz is a freelance editor and writer living in Jerusalem. Her novel Plain Jane was published by Random House, New York, in 1992.