In the first draft of the novel I’m writing, one of the main characters is a therapist called Lucie. Trying to create this character, I was stuck. I live in Oman, interviewing UK therapists was not an option. I wanted Lucie to seem real. I wanted to know how a therapist would think.
I finally came across a website called ‘What a Shrink Thinks’. A blog where a therapist in America shares her daily work:
‘I’d leave therapy drenched in sweat. As if I’d fought a dragon barehanded. Or wrestled with an angel all night long. I never understood why I’d leave so damp from exertion until I sat in the therapists chair and watched my clients, one after another, search for their sticking place and screw their courage there committing staggering acts of bravery. Of will, of strength.
From ‘The Sticking Place’: https://whatashrinkthinks.com/page/3/
Spurred on by therapist-blogger Martha Crawford’s vision, I had something to shape into a character. So humane was her writing, that reading it was therapeutic in itself. I had, thanks to a complete stranger, found the holy grail of my research.
One afternoon last week I was driving to the bank in Muscat. The city consists of freeways which join communities, a bit like LA but the speed limit over here is a fantastical myth. The distances feel so vast that sometimes I wonder if I’ve actually covered London-Aberdeen to pick up the dry cleaning. Roadworks are frequent so that occasionally the painted arrows on a re-directed motorway are still pointing back at you. It’s unnerving. A little thrilling.
I had settled into a program on World Service Radio.
A man called Burhan Sönmez was talking about his time, decades ago, in a Turkish prison. Enclosed in a dungeon-like cell the size of a Persian rug, he shared the space with a number of other people. Routinely removed from their jail and tortured in terrifying ways, Sönmez was describing how he and his companions endured the situation.
In a cramped prison?
What they would do is line up around the perimeter of the space, and they would start by arguing.
‘I want to go to the Bosphorus,’
‘But what about the park?’
‘We went there last time,’
After a while they would decide on their route and as they walked along each wall, they would comment on what they saw.
‘The sky is so blue today,’
‘It’s true. Do you know what kind of bird that was?’
‘The one that flew right past your nose,’
For a certain time each day the prisoners’ imaginations outstripped the ink of here and now; their hourly hell became a paradise of Turkish countryside. They had turned the lead of hardship into gold, just by walking, talking, telling tales .
I entered the bank with tears streaming down my face and later tweeted the man, who is now an author, to tell him how deeply his story had touched my heart. He ‘liked’ my comment’ and ‘followed’ me back and I couldn’t help but think of Tennessee Williams’ line about the ‘kindness of strangers’.
Our tools today connect us to distant corners of the globe. At the click of a mouse another different life can fill the frame. Despite the tide of hate on media, news and print, our ocean of humanity still makes its presence known. The Turkish author, the therapist-scribe, our world so overcrammed with human care if only we would let the light fall there.