‘Um, I’m a bit embarrassed – urghhh – I think I’ve blocked your toilet … I’ll check it again before I leave,’ Karl offers as he enters the room.
‘Oh,’ I reply.
‘I know I’m full of shit, and you’d probably say I’m just really “anal”.’ Unlike the toilet, Karl’s humour flows with the same apparent ease with which his lithe body moves from the door and into the chair.
‘You’ve been saying that for some time,’ I reply.
‘Yes, you complain how shit your life is, about how you dump here and on me, you apologise and then you do the same thing the next week. Blocking the toilet was inevitable.’
‘So you think your blocked toilet is a manifestation of my internal world?’
‘Sure,’ I reply. ‘You’ve brought together two key aspects of your life: writer’s block, and how shit your life is. The toilet is a beautiful embodiment of your perspective.’
Karl thinks for a moment, ‘So I’m a blocked toilet? And I thought I was the one who’s full of shit!’
‘Maybe I am, but you often say how you’ve lost your creativity – then when you do create something you devalue it.’
Adjusting his glasses as though to emphasise his incredulity Karl asks, ‘You’re seriously suggesting I value a blocked toilet?’
‘Yes. You say nothing much ever happens to you; well this is it – it’s happening right now. Writers write from experience – so write about this.’
‘Great, I can just see my editor’s face when she asks what I’m working on, and I say, “The time I blocked my therapist’s toilet – oh, and yes, my writing really has turned to shit.”’
‘See, that’s good; you just don’t see it, or you don’t value it.’
Karl pushes back, ‘Seriously? Come on …!’
‘Why not? You’re not writing anything else. Besides, whatever your stuckness is it’s forcing you to be with yourself; it’s confronting you with yourself.’
‘You’ve said that before; maybe it’s you who’s stuck.’ He has a point.
‘You don’t trust your process; you restrict yourself creatively – you don’t risk being spontaneous.’
I’m not sure if Karl’s lack of response is a grudging acknowledgement. After a brief pause a thought appears. ‘What’s brown and sticky?’ I ask.
Karl looks quizzically at me, ‘What, really?’
‘Yeah, what’s brown and sticky?’
Karl shrugs, ‘A stick?’
‘No, you are …’ Karl’s face is expressionless; I suddenly feel very exposed.
‘Are you serious? You think it’s okay to say that to a black man?’
The moment steals my breath. Karl’s eyes look pained, then almost imperceptibly, the corners of his mouth curl up as uncontained laughter ruptures his serious expression: ‘I gotcha! Ha … I’ve never seen anyone whiter than you!’
Lost for words and unable to laugh, I utter, ‘Wow … that wasn’t nice!’ He laughs louder still. I want to laugh but I first need to breathe, ‘I don’t know about you being brown and sticky, but I think I’ve soiled myself!’ With this the tightness in my abdomen releases as laughter bubbles up; we’re now laughing together and wiping the tears from our eyes.
‘I’m sorry, but you did challenge me to be more spontaneous!’ Karl pauses allowing me to take his words in. ‘You thought you’d offended me?’ His voice has a tenderness that often comes through in his playfulness. ‘You know your joke could have backfired.’
He is acknowledging the risk I’d taken; perhaps it’s testament to our relationship that we are able to connect in a place where we’re both potentially vulnerable; it was this that set the context for our exchange. I began wondering about other times when I may’ve got it wrong; there are probably more than I’m even aware of.
Karl interrupts my thought, ‘Don’t worry; your joke was racial, not racist; there is a distinction – they’re not synonymous.’ Karl’s sincerity gives way to giggling, ‘I am sorry, but your face; you looked like a ghost.’
As our laughter subsides we sit in silence for some time like a post-coital couple enjoying the warm afterglow of a brief and intense encounter.
‘So you really think I should write about this,’ Karl concludes.
‘Why not? Treat it as a writing exercise – it might unblock you, and it might not.’
‘Hmm,’ Karl ponders, ‘But who’d read it?’
‘Write it for yourself.’
Karl laughs at a private joke, ‘“Write for myself”; I’m a professional writer.’
‘Maybe that’s where you’re stuck; you only ever write for other people.’
‘I might as well just flush it all away,’ Karl replies as though he hadn’t heard me. His words belong to another ongoing conversation; rather than deflecting perhaps he’s making a connection.
Glancing at the clock and addressing himself, Karl declares, ‘Times up, and time to face the music.’
‘If it doesn’t work I’ll deal with it; I work with people’s shit all the time.’ My words follow him out of the room.
Karl disappears into the downstairs’ toilet. A loud swooshing sound accompanies Karl as he emerges triumphant, ‘All good.’ Then with irony he adds, ‘Well at least the toilet’s not blocked anymore.’
Rather than criticism, I take Karl’s comment as a reassurance to us both that our work is not yet done. He was right about me being stuck – we are, as it were, stuck in it together.
Glenn recommends …
If as a psychotherapist you ask someone to do something, you either first have to have done it yourself, or be willing to do so.
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