Michael Harding: How I ended up on a Zoom call with a psychotherapist

She was in an embarrassing fix: listening to nonsense from a stranger on the internet

‘And what do you do for a living?’ I wondered, trying to reclaim the upper hand. ‘I’m a psychotherapist,’ she announced with a grin. Photograph: Getty Images

Someone asked me to give a creative writing workshop on Zoom recently. There was supposed to be half a dozen participants, but by the time the Zoom app was ready to connect everyone, five had cancelled and I ended up face to face with a woman in suburbia who wanted to write a memoir.

“So what does a writer do in a lockdown?” she wondered, as she sat at her kitchen table with a mug of coffee beside her laptop.

“Write,” I suggested.

“And what do you write?” she wondered, putting the focus on me.


“I write stuff on blank pages without thinking too much,” I said. “Sometimes stuff that embarrasses me; and sometimes it’s like a voice that doesn’t belong to me.”

“Who does it belong to?”

“Nobody,” I suggested, digging myself deeper into a mire of muddled ideas and beginning to realise that I wasn’t capable of delivering a workshop online, especially to just one person.

“I write down lots of neurotic stuff,” I confessed. “Usually in emotional narratives. And then I try to figure out where the story is inside the mess. I’m like a sculptor chiselling something from stone.”

She moved the mug of coffee to her lips and back to the table with lethargy and I suspect she was wondering how she got herself into such an embarrassing fix: listening to sh**e from a stranger on the internet.


“How can you cope with that kind of life?” she wanted to know.

I suppose I should have shut up and found an exit strategy but like the gobdaw my teachers regularly assured me I would eventually become, I plodded on.

“Writing is like therapy,” I declared, by now utterly muddled. “It’s my way of discovering who I am.”

But she wasn’t buying that rubbish.

“Sounds very self-centred to me,” she muttered; “alone in a room, turning yourself inside out, instead of going out and meeting people”.

“And what do you do for a living?” I wondered, trying to reclaim the upper hand.

“I’m a psychotherapist,” she announced with a grin.

When the ordeal was over I sat by the stove for the rest of the day, but I couldn’t write a single sentence. And because the stove was hot and the room was stuffy, I opened a door, gazed at the clouds, and listened to the rain pattering on the galvanised shed.

In the distance I could hear an artist’s chisel; my beloved in her studio hammering on stone. And maybe because I began dozing, and maybe because I could hear her chisel’s gentle tapping, my dreams gathered up all the years we have been together and I realised how easy it is sometimes, to forget.

I forget the places we have travelled, and the hotels we have slept in; the mountain paths we have walked on and the cathedrals we have stumbled into in the dark. I forget the manic intoxicated afternoons in Dublin bars, and the parties until dawn in various painters’ studios; the barbecues in backyards, and mid-summer nights in magical woodlands.

I forget the dull hours we have spent doing nothing except watching television or sitting across from each other at the breakfast table or wandering around car boot sales and open-air markets on Sunday mornings.

Tunnels of anxiety

I even forget all the snow in Poland, the train to Lodz, and the sun in Arizona blinding sheep in the Navajo territories of that state. I forget the smell of the sea on Donegal beaches, the taste of oysters, and the stench of garbage on the streets of New York; back when those streets were really mean and dirty and we found an apartment on Bleecker Street for a few weeks, and watched history unfold on Tiananmen Square every night.

Sometimes I forget that I am in love and I end up in tunnels of anxiety. But the truth is that underneath everything, human beings are always in love. And when I remember that, I can write again.

The rain had stopped and the stove was cold and I decided to compose an email to the therapist who wanted to write her memoir.

“Perhaps we should continue next week,” I suggested. “You’re right about selfishness. But I think writing can also be about love. Or to put it another way, writing is exactly the same as life. The only difference is that life is about living, and writing is about remembering. And the sweetest pleasure in life is never in the actual moment, but in the remembrance of things.”