It was one week ago today that I arrived by car to visit my alma mater, my partner by my side. It is the place where we met, but didn’t forge our deeper bond till we re-discovered each other a decade later.
A place so dear to me, with beauty that defies description, a place where I grew and created meanings and widened to a more evolved self – experimented, played, cried and danced. A place that furthered my nascent subjectivity, I chose it, it was mine and me. While there last weekend, I visited old spots that called out to me so many years ago; homes with vines where I dreamed of living, ravines I waded through in the spring run-off, hallways I navigated with pride and sometimes anxiety when an important test lurked (I can feel it in my body right now). Friendships forged back then remain, though they’re more precious and tended to given their age. Also there are (of course), the things that are missing, buildings demolished, cobblestones paved over, people who have died. Memories taken with them.
During one point in my visit, I realized I was having an uncanny experience. For a flash of seconds, I succeeded in feeling I was actually standing there as my former college self. I contacted feelings I remember from back then, embodied the self I looked like and acted like as that college kid. Bell bottoms, Clark Treks, a ribbed turtle neck heading out to the Leon Russell concert, layers of flannel to stanch the snow and wind walking across the quad. As I looked out on these sacred places, in some ways they looked exactly as before. The familiar majestic elms, crispy red and yellow autumn leaves, stone bridges, all made it easy to time travel backwards. It was powerful, redemptive and exciting to summon up this self-state, to actually be a younger age. The moments passed and I returned to now, a strange zipping forward through time.
The warp of time is something we talk about endlessly and something I wrote about through a psychoanalytic lens. Lateness, mine or my patients, carries layered psychodynamic meanings that we should remember to consider since this can push things forward significantly (Zuckerman, 2012). The meanings and slipperiness of time – it is no linear affair. But as I placed myself back on campus, sloshing around in time, was I actually there if I felt so in my mind? Did the calendar day and year matter? What does being there mean? What are the prerequisites? My thoughts travel to therapeutic zooming in 2022 where we are there in time, but not in bodies. Do missing bodies matter in our being there? Many of us are coming to realize they do, and that what we invented in 2020 to carry us through desperate times falls short, often ineffably, from sharing physicality in therapy. As Lemma (2015; 2017) argues even before the pandemic, bypassing the embodied self in in our work can interfere with our sense of continuity over time and in our links to vital others, it can even disrupt our capacity to be intimate and our relationship to reality.
As I conjure up these ideas, I’m exercising (where the very best of ideas arrive) in my home, staring at a large photograph I took of Laguna Beach last year. I can do that trick again, place myself there right now, though not with the richness and memories of my college visit. Still, I smell the briny sea and wallow in the luscious poppies, lupines and sagebrush. I can return.
My college visit was by now a whole week ago, as it slips further and further away from the present and into the eternity of remembered moments. The clock ticks forward, the years accrue. “As the present now will later be past… For the times they are A-changin.’” (Dylan, 1964). Time transforms to yet another affair as we age, more precious, sometimes more threatening – even looming. Friends and lovers feel that much more treasured and our finiteness that much harder to ignore.
There is solace in knowing I can take time voyages in my mind that bring me deep joy and somehow help me integrate a more complex and enriched view of me. Knitting in old memories and feelings, adding them to the compendium of who I am, as I exist in this very moment.
Janet Rivkin Zuckerman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst with a private practice in Larchmont, New York. She is the Past Director of the Westchester Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy where she also teaches and supervises. Dr. Zuckerman leads supervision groups and study groups on interpersonal/relational psychoanalytic theory. She publishes in the area of female agency and self-assertion.
Dylan, B. (1964). The times they are a-changin.’ On The Times They are A-Changin.’
Lemma, A. (2015). Psychoanalysis in times of technoculture: some reflections on the fate of the body in virtual space. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 96, 569-582.
Lemma, A. (2017). The Digital Age on the Couch. Abington: Oxon. Routledge.
Zuckerman, J. (2012). Lateness, enactment and recognition. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 29, 472-493
Great blog post!
Thanx. Lovely Janet. Capturing how time strips space to its barest bones. And memories curl around loss so it can descend like a feather on our final path of grief (and sometimes regret?).
Janet—Thank you for this poetic and evocative meditation on time, history, the power of memory and rediscovered aspects of self. Warmly, Sharon
Yes, rediscovered aspects of self emerge as memory blends into the present moment. That process keeps life and our view of ourselves ever-fresh.
Thank you Sharon.
Thank you Janet for a beautifully written blog post about time- the idea of time and how we slip in and out of various “time” states is very resonant with analytic work, as we slip in and out of various mental states. I would love to read more! Especially about the experience of online therapy- I do miss the “bodies” of our in-person work.
Thank you for this. Alexander Lemma’s book on therapy in the digital world is an excellent resource. Well written, and very comprehensive, you might enjoy it.
Such a visceral experience reading this post! Makes me want to visit my college and try to experience my decades ago self state…….but hmmmm do I want to? What would I like to say to that self?
What a wonderful question, what would you like to say to that college girl self!
As well, what would she like to say to you!
Beautifully written. The vivid, descriptive language allowed me to be there with you, not in memory but in imagination. A gift from you that I appreciate.
As we enter the last month of an ending year, I am reflective and mindful of the passage of time and its preciousness, in my exchanges with family, friends and patients.
Yes, I believe we rediscover aspects of ourselves all the time, as you say. Memories weave into the present moment and are thereby changed by it. The picture re-shuffles and stays fresh all the time.
Thank you Jill,
Yes, you are so right – the holidays are the perfect time to remind our loved ones how precious they are to us – and to key in ourselves to that clock that keeps moving ahead no matter what.
Such a beautiful and evocative piece. Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience. It inspired me to write of my own recent experience!! Thank you for your thoughtful piece and for the inspiration!!!
No better compliment than the fact that my piece inspired you to write about your own experience! Thank you.
Janet, your writing is always so personal and evocative! I could see the campus in my mind’s eye from your descriptions. I also recognized that uncanny feeling you describe so well; for me it happens with music. A song from my younger years comes on and all of a sudden I am 20 again, with all the “feels,” so to speak. Such a bittersweet experience… thank you for sharing yours with us!
Tell us some of your songs! For me, Joni Mitchell (Blue) is a sure bet.
Janet- This is so beautiful and reminiscent of so many past and present times. Thank you!
Janet- This is so beautiful and reminiscent of all the times we’ve shared together.
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