The Couch

Chapter 23 of a novel

Comments on Chapter 23 of a novel

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Avatar Nexus
Posted 03/22/08 - 5:48 PM:
Subject: Chapter 23 of a novel

Things had been happening quickly to Stephen since the first return, he thought he had found a place to rest a while when change would come and he would again be nudged on; that this was to a significant degree a result of his psychological state has already been posited. If not a period of stability then the months following the funeral at least unfurled whilst he lived in one location and followed but one job. Both situations were tortuous and he discovered himself more than ever before taking long walks to avoid the house, forging a forever enlarging mental map of Brighton and Hove's zones and even straying into areas like The Downs that were remote from the human life of the towns. His absences aroused his house mates suspicions that they were not liked and Eric and Shane continued, when sober, a campaign to try and psychologically undermine him. This worked to a degree; it was Eric he despised the most, at least Shane had his animal energy that forced him to interact with the world on some kind of terms, the other man seemed beyond reach, sickly and decrepit. What remained was a timid but disturbed desire to influence others; this would work with the criminally minded such as Shane and the dire pseudo Buddhist in sunglasses who would still come round, due to their mental weakness. He also seemed able to influence adolescent minds and a couple of young people arrived from the north on weekend visits while Stephen was there. Somehow Eric had befriended these young minds while he had lived away from Brighton, perhaps through some Buddhist organisation; it gave Stephen insights into how easily some people are influenced. Eric was so physically unattractive Stephen felt sure he had no sexual influence over them although he did not rule out that as a motive. The first to arrive was a girl of about sixteen years old; the first time she had visited Stephen had tried to make polite conversation. He mentioned how he considered it of no great importance what university one went to in a throw away manner. Both she and Eric had latched onto this fairly neutral statement and when she returned on another weekend trip he was subject to a mad outburst from the girl; she said that he was bitter about his experiences of higher education and was trying to spoil it for others. Eric muttered something about graduates being stupid; the atmosphere was becoming so poisoned with the man's decayed mentality and his influence on the spoiled girl so evil seeming it began to give Stephen murderous thoughts. For the first time he could imagine himself strangling a human being, he actually felt it would be to do the world a service. A young man came around one weekend who was about to go to university. He seemed intelligent enough if a little week willed; Stephen tried to make polite conversation but the young man was promptly whisked away by Eric, something seeming to be muttered in the hallway.

Things came to a head one day when Stephen could no longer keep up his stoical bearing. Eric had made a comment in a sniggering way which he felt he could get away with, it was something to do with Stephen's education which he was obviously envious of; he had only got through a few months of university and then had to leave. Ever since he would seem to have floundered.

'If you make one more little snide remark about me you snivelling little fuck up I'll kill you, I mean it.'

Eric sat silent for a moment, not able to believe Stephen could produce such aggression. He'd been smoking opium the day before and still seemed only partially consciousness. 'What? I didn't say anything, you're going mad.'

At that moment it was just he and Eric in the room, Stephen would gladly have grabbed his neck and squeezed. 'Don't push me ok? Just don't fucking push me, you think I won't, I tell you I'm scared of what I could do to you; you disgust me, you know that? You are a disgusting human being.'

He was hardly alive enough to detect the threat, he assumed a pitiful defensive mode. ' I don't know what you're talking about.'

Then Shane came in. He had been in his room; already there was heightened tension between him and Stephen. Weeks before there had been a phone bill for over two hundred pounds mostly due to his lengthy conversations with his 'girlfriend' in America. He said he had tried to borrow money from his parents but when they had refused had thrown the bill out of the little car he drove around. Stephen, by this time, was surprised he had even attempted to find a way to pay it; he already decided he wouldn't be able to reclaim the money. 'Shut up you two, what is this? Why are you shouting?' Oddly he seemed to be taking the role of peacemaker, the shouting seemed to even upset him.

'He's been digging at me since I moved in; the cretin is jealous of anybody he can't have control over, you are evil!' He pointed at Eric, he was literally shaking with emotion now.

Shane started giggling in his manic way. 'You can't be arguing like this, the landlord is next door ain't he, come on you two, shake hands.'

Stephen refused and warned once more he would do something unpleasant if the endless undermining of him didn't stop. Shane knew he was part of this; he started giggling as Stephen left the room, probably the two of them about to begin another opium session.

Luckily Stephen had something to focus his life toward. The law college in London had offered him a place and he was now just waiting for the bank to ok a loan. It was now summer and this was also a consolation; he could spend plenty of time outside the house walking around the town and countryside, seeing new friends he had made and what remained of the old. He could forget about his problems in social situations to a degree but had recently managed to upset a girl at a barbecue party Dylan and Helen had held. He had been drunk and had persisted in singing songs by The Smiths and Morrissey in a kind of triumphant evocation of misery. The girl had been a fan and seemed rather low and he thought he was cheering her up but it seemed to be interpreted as a kind of mockery. Later Dylan had told him about his behaviour; Stephen thought the reaction was partly to do with a certain hyper sensitive atmosphere that had built up between them and their friends, symptomatic of any group, he felt, where there was a degree of superficiality in relationships. He was just being boisterous but he lacked self control due to the psychological pressure he was under; the atmosphere of the gathering and the overly sensitive girl couldn't relax enough to accept this. Part of him despaired at the thought that one had to remain so socially alert even at parties, was everyone part hypocrite?

Although there was still no definite news on the loan Stephen had decided to give Dylan the futon, his only significant belonging, to lessen the number of possessions he had and make it easier to move on when the time became ripe. He came over to his attic room one night, Stephen realized it had the aura of an artists loft and without knowing the atmosphere of the house he could be forgiven for thinking the place was adequate. Dylan decided against taking the futon all of a sudden so they sat and drank and talked and Stephen lost a few games of chess to him. Stephen couldn't help but begin discussing the loathed flatmate, Eric; he had already disclosed information about Shane which shocked Dylan.

'I'd never been close to it before, just had a theory. I think the word 'evil' didn't mean much to me until recently; there is no centre or moral sense though he was educated to 'A' level and probably had as many chances as me to improve himself. I tell you, it's got me thinking about the power of choice; we're so ready to believe everybody is a victim of circumstances.'

'He probably had a difficult childhood, he had a mental breakdown yeah?'

'Yes but wasn't there, maybe, a degree of choice involved? If he had voluntarily always taken a wholly selfish view of reality, never properly considered what it is like to be another person, only ever wanted self aggrandizement.'

'He sounds quite infantile. You are maybe just trapped in a bad situation and are reading too much into things.' He was a sensible man and a self declared 'rationalist'. Stephen felt, though, he wasn't looking deeply enough into life and people at some points.

The subject slipped away, he had been trying to assert a new insight into human nature he felt had occurred to him but Dylan only wanted a quiet drink. He had mentioned that things had changed with Helen since the earlier stages of the relationship and now that they were expecting a baby. He didn't go into many details, there was just a small sense of dissatisfaction; Stephen felt they were a strong enough couple to make it through though wondered how their tiresome jobs would influence things. They went on to a pub near Hove station, Dylan started talking about important moments in his life.

'Well first would be when I lost my virginity at twenty one. The travelling was great, I saw a lot in a short time, I think I grew most then as a person, finally felt in some control of my happiness or something. Then there was meeting Helen and of course the baby; oh and the photography, the show.'

There had been an exhibition of his photography recently that he had arranged in a small gallery in The Lanes. Stephen had gone along; Dylan manipulated photo's using an improvised dark room; there were shots from his travels and new pictures from his time in Brighton. The were images of both piers in shocking bright colours with distortion effects and the Pavilion. They were all quite good Stephen had thought but maybe he was exaggerating its importance in making it a life achievement; however this was in line with the slightly eccentric way in which Dylan saw things.

Back at the DVLA he was called again one day to the managers office. There had been more errors and now the hot shots were in a state of despair over repeatedly being made to look like the fools they were in a court room. Such a ceremony was made by each of them when they would leave for that special place; there would be a careful process of correcting their appearance and collecting their files together carefully making sure their colleagues were observing just how important they were. The thought that Stephen was doing his part to undermine this, with the utter lack of power over things he felt at that time, pleased him.

'Now Stephen, I realise you have been having some family problems and this has been distracting you but these mistakes cannot continue; it is making this office seem like a joke.'

'But it is, it is a joke!' Stephen felt like shouting but instead responded, 'I see.' She put an envelope on the desk.

'I'm afraid we are going to have to ask you to leave, it is all laid out in the letter.'

'Ok.' Stephen walked out of the office and then out of the building with a feeling of real relief. He had never had to take that job but through some kind of masochism had put himself through it. It felt at that moment that the finest feature of a democratic society was the fact that one had that choice: nobody is forced to take one particular job; also that it was possible to make oneself unemployable in a situation that had grown unbearable. Perhaps the dismissal was the first event that would help him to get his life back on track.

It wasn't long after being dismissed that the loan came through; he could escape to London! He had been keeping Charles informed of the progress of his application progress through the weekly sessions; obviously going to London would mean they would be coming to an end.

'What's wrong with Brighton? You could follow the course here, London is an expensive city.' To Charles the therapy clearly took first priority, he seemed to think it was working while Stephen still had mixed feelings. He had read about a mysterious moment between both parties that can sometimes occur in successful therapies, the patient had a vital insight that would transform their understanding from then on.

'Well I feel like I've 'done' Brighton, being in the city would challenge me.'

'Well it's up to you; sometimes it seems you are waiting for me to decide for you, obviously I can't do that. You know of course you would be leaving me as well; think about that.'

'It certainly isn't just to get away from therapy! It's been on my mind for ages now, I just seem to be drawn there.'

'London is your father.'

'Really? I will find, I mean I think I will find acceptance there you mean?'

'Yes, that's what I think.'

'There's probably something in that; it gets me out of a shitty living situation too.'

They went over the usual ground, Charles eternally patient as always. Stephen didn't feel that consciously he wanted to leave this sometimes challenging and usually helpful arrangement. In a previous session Charles had said he felt he needed 'to be held like a baby', that he'd always lacked the quality both of tactile and emotional support; there was even mention of the possibility of massage; Stephen had shied away from that. Such observations did seem to penetrate the psyche and resurface in future situations to provide additional grounds for discussion and insight.

'You've talked about me needing to be held; I've thought a lot about it. I always had a fantasy of being a tough guy as a kid, James Bond was my hero and all that. I've been wondering whether it was a way of distancing myself from the lack of affection, saying 'I don't need it I'm special'. In fact I needed as much as everybody else.'

'Exactly, why wouldn't you? Why don't you deserve love and affection like everybody else? What did you do wrong not to deserve it?' He was appealing, his hands were upturned. He didn't use gestures much, except the occasional crazy Zen routine that Stephen wasn't sure was such an effective device.

'So my way of processing the lack was to affect not needing it. There's the rational element as well though; you know, men do seem to be islands pretty much and then there's Descartes' observation.'

'Yes that's intellectual reflection. I wonder why you chose philosophy, after all it's all about this isn't it?' He pointed to his head. 'Is that really all you want from life, to think about it?'

'I thought that was what therapy was I suppose but found it helped me to feel more, at least that is how it seems after a session. It's confused me quite a bit too; I don't directly blame it but my chaotic life may owe something to it.'

'Are you angry at me do you think?'

This had been a reoccurring theme as well, transference. 'I don't think so. I think most people's anger is mostly without an object, at least it becomes so.'

'But originally it had an object or objects?'

'I don't know, perhaps, but look at the world; we're pretty angry aren't we as a species? It's just part of our make up.'

'Perhaps, but you're generalizing. How about you?'

'I told you about when my grandma died; there was that controlled fury at them, that was affirming. There seemed complete justification, it just flooded up from a sense of being wronged.'

'You had the outburst, has the anger gone?'

'No, it will probably come back. There's my house mates or house enemies if you will; I've told you about them. Well I had a run in with Eric the other day, I almost felt like I could have killed him.'

'Yes but that's persecution; your response is understandable, what do animals do if they are corned? They are cornering you psychologically.'

'Like my parents or parents generally do maybe?'

'Yes. Whether consciously or unconsciously.'

'Well what do I do, go around being angry at people, work a bit out every day?'

'That's not how it works. It would help if you felt loved. You talk about all these emotional issues but you know I've never seen you cry.'

Indeed, Charles seemed to be more tearful than he did. This had often been mentioned, it was as if he was trying to push a fact home, a glaring fact that was apparent to him.

'I know but I've never been able to, I don't know how actors manage it; I can at some movies if I'm alone and there was that time with my friend when I'd talked to my grandma.'

'Maybe it's that you weren't allowed to.'

'Oh as a kid I think I did it quite a bit.'

'But less and less until never.'

'Yes. Isn't it self pity to cry?'

'To some degree yes; it's very human isn't it? Did you feel more human when you did it that time?'

'Yes, it was liberating, I felt back in touch with my life.'

This had been a particularly animated session; they had done more speaking in one burst than sometimes would occur in an entire session. He fell silent and thoughtful now and as always Charles would not speak until he did.

'I suppose my biggest fear is that I'll never find it.'

'Find what?'

'Well, love.'

'Where should you look?'

'I don't know..'

'No ideas?'

'I don't know where to look, I don't know where people find it I don't know whether people just fool themselves and use that word.'

'Still doesn't mean you can't look though, find out for yourself does it?'

It was then something peculiar occurred to Stephen. He felt filled with a similar energy he had felt when fighting with his brother on the promenade, a sense he had got hold of something vital, an issue that wouldn't go away and had to be understood before his life could really go forward. If tears didn't come he did feel his whole being bend in appeal, turn to the demon itself perhaps and cry for mercy.

'You say love helps but how can I love if I've never been loved?!' He put his hands to his head but felt he'd hit something. It was that moment he had heard about when a vital insight is achieved; the words may not have meant much in themselves but what they represented for him was huge.

Silence ensued and then the words he had grown used to.

'Well, our times up.' There was a smile on Charles' lips. 'So, that is why he does this,' thought Stephen still reeling from the realisation as he walked out.

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Posted 04/03/08 - 1:40 PM:

What remained was a timid but disturbed desire to influence others; this would work with the criminally minded such as Shane and the dire pseudo Buddhist in sunglasses who would still come round, due to their mental weakness. He also seemed able to influence adolescent minds and a couple of young people arrived from the north on weekend visits while Stephen was there.

hi nexus,

on this latter sentence, i would suggest switching it around so that it reads, "Stephen also seemed able to influence adolescent minds and a couple of young people arrived from the north on weekend visits while he was there." having stephen's name at the beginning of the sentence helps to establish it more clearly that stephen is the one with the desire to influence (wasn't totally clear to me in the previous sentence, such that i arrived at this sentence wondering if "he" maybe referred to eric?) i think if you put stephen's name at the beginning of the sentence it radically reduces any ambiguity, for me, at least. i think the confusion for me came from thinking of shane and eric as the ones with the timid and disturbed desire to influence others, since it was established that they had this campaign to passive aggressively undermine him. i didn't understand initially how similarly the issue of control pervades all of the roommates.

also, when you say "what remained was a... desire", it's not clear to me why you are using the word "remain" - it seems to beg the question in my mind of what is not remaining. maybe if you said "what remained in stephen" it would help, in which case the pronoun change in the above-quoted sentence would not be necessary.

the desire to influence appears to continue manifesting from both eric and stephen, so as i continue reading on, i'm still not able to feel sure about who the desire to influence is referring to in that initial sentence, except by virtue of the fact that stephen is the POV character so it must refer to him. perhaps in the context of previous chapters it would not be as ambiguous.

He had read about a mysterious moment between both parties that can sometimes occur in successful therapies, the patient had a vital insight that would transform their understanding from then on.

here i was not sure if "he" referred to charles or stephen until i got to the end of the chapter.

overall, it is an interesting read; you have a knack for describing human tendencies in such a way that is immediately accessible; writers are often counselled to "show, don't tell" and i would say you do this very well, in all your stories. as far as plot development, it's interesting to me the way stephen is made to feel the butt of his roommates' jokes and in turn retaliates in the work environment, sort of the shit-rolling-downhill effect, or uphill as it were, but it's not totally clear to me if these events are meant to be specifically conducive to the realizations he makes later on in therapy at the conclusion of the chapter. again, perhaps this is more clear in the context of previous chapters.

thanks for sharing,
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Avatar Nexus
Posted 04/03/08 - 5:07 PM:

Well there was no causation meant, you probably thought this as it is very diificult to 'get' the 'intended' meaning from just one chapter (it's a bit like looking at a section of a picture). The book is now finished and I am reviewing so your input is welcome. You may be interested on a clash I had with another poster on another site (whihc I know you are aware of). I guess I posted these excerpts just for the hell of it; I thought it would interest people to see 'a work in progress'. If you click on the link you will notice neither I nor he (or is it she?) come off so well; I get to reactionary but there is some justification. One gets the impression that he is just cruising the net to off load his bile. I feel this must be something many do; the anonimity allows one to say things one would never dare in real life. It is a fascinating exchange... I know you didn't like me using material from other sites (I kind of understood) but you mat want to consider publishing the exchange here - it has real entertainment an deven intellectual entertainment value and says something about the intentions people have when writing/reacting on the web...
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Posted 04/03/08 - 5:21 PM:

hi nexus,

i really don't mind if you post relevant excerpts from other forums as long as there's a link to the source. as e. mentioned, it's mainly a matter of etiquette, or netiquette, more than anything. thank you for understanding.

smiling facelib
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