Thursday, 24 April 2008

The student on the couch

I’ve just finished my essay, the first piece of writing I’ve had to do for the course, the first piece of academic writing I’ve done since, well, since Gary Glitter was a chart-topper and Margaret Thatcher was the education minister.

I won’t tell you what I wrote about. You don’t have the time, frankly. I read the question aloud to one friend and, by the time I’d finished reading it, we’d buried him and on our way back to the house for a cup of tea, a sausage roll and just-a-small-one-to-take -the-chill-off.

Instead, I’ll just tell you how hard I found it. Moan, more like it. Unlike my family and everyone else I’ve told about it, you can’t walk away while I’m talking . . . though you can click away, I suppose. Oh, well, goodbye.

So now none of you are left, I’ll have a little chat with myself about it. I’ll put one of me on the couch and the other of me on a chair, stroking my chin. There’s a regular section in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis called the Analyst At Work. I’ll think of this as the Theoretical Psychoanalytic Student On The Couch and use the IJP format, in which the one on the couch is P (for patient) and the one on the chair is A (for analyst).

First the analyst sets the scene . . .

Peter is a 53-year-old-writer who has been coming to see me for 53 years now. For this paper, I’ve chosen one recent session. As usual, he is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He could do with a haircut. Currently, his presenting problem is — he says — writing his first essay. This is not the first time he has brought this kind of issue to our daily sessions. I perhaps should make the point here that not all my interpretations and comments are strictly orthodox.

P: I had no idea how difficult it would be writing an essay. I shouldn’t have done the course. I should’ve stayed in bed.

A: You’re a professional writer. I’m sure it will be fine.

P: That’s what everyone tells me. I don’t believe them.

A: They’re probably right.

P: You, too?

A: Tell me, what exactly is the problem? Or rather, what do you think it is?

P: I know I can write. See, that last sentence made sense — this one, too. I know I did the reading. I know I got it in on time.

A: Was that a problem?

P: Only the normal problem. Three printers went wrong on me the day I had to hand it in. All attempts to email it failed.

A: So why are you so worried? The worst they can do is fail you. What’s the real problem?

P: That I’ve somehow got it all wrong. I know it was clear and made sense, had an argument and some references — though I’m not sure if I got the citations quite right. They weren’t obsessive about citations in my day.

A: Mine neither. Anything else?

P: They’re really tough and fussy. One word over the limit and you get a five per cent penalty. The full-time students have already done an essay. One told me hers came back with marks all over it about things like bracket placement in the references.

A: Sounds like a sub’s job to me.

P: Abso-psycho-lutely. I’m hiring one next time.

A: So, again, what’s the problem?

P: So I’m not sure it’s what they want. I worry it’s not ‘academic’ enough. know there’s an ‘academic’ way of writing things. Someone I know started an MA in military history and got into endless rows with his lecturers whenever they raised that post-modernist stuff they do at universities these days. He gave up in the end and dropped out. I’m not daft. I’m quite happy to bend their way. I’m just not sure how to.

A: Are you telling me the truth here?

P: Possibly not. I suppose I could have bent further their way.

A: So why didn’t you?

P: I guess I was worried about what you’d say.

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