Danzy Senna's mug

Photo: Burcu Avsar



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A decade ago, I stole this mug—which features a caricature of Sigmund Freud—from my Freudian analyst. I drank tea from the mug each time I visited her office, where she said very little, only coughed occasionally from her seat behind me. She was elegant, with long white hair and a weathered face. She let no personal information slip. I decided she'd led a perfect life. On my way out, I would glance in the window of her Subaru and hungrily note the clutter of her grandchildren's toys and car seats.

I was nearly 30. I'd written a successful novel, and was working on another that nobody liked. I thought it was darkly hilarious. My editor did not. I had recently rejected a marriage proposal from my sane and handsome boyfriend, unable to imagine myself living the charmed life he seemed to offer. All I could see ahead was divorce, alcoholism, madness—my family inheritance. I explained this to my therapist, who said nothing. Sometimes I wondered if she was listening. Once, I whipped my head around, hoping to catch her asleep.

"Why did you just turn to look at me?" she asked.

"To see if you were awake."

"Do you think what you're telling me is uninteresting?"

I shrugged.

After my session one afternoon, I carried the Freud mug to my car and felt a sting of shame. Before each visit I told myself to take it back. I never did. Spring came, and the second novel was published to mostly terrible reviews. I spent a weekend weeping, then dragged myself to the therapist's office, wondering aloud why I'd written such a strange and offensive work. She asked me if I'd liked my book. I said I didn't know yet. When I moved to another city, we parted ways. As I left her office for the last time I was gripped by a grief so fierce I had to steady myself on a fence. And then I lurched forward into a new life. I published another book, to better reviews. I married and had children and bought a Subaru, which is now cluttered with toys and car seats.

For years I regarded that second novel as my abominable mistake. But Freud said that there are no mistakes. One night not long ago, after the children finally fell asleep, I dared to look at it again. It read to me like something created out of fearless conviction. I finished it in one sitting, happier with it than with anything else I'd written. I keep the mug because it reminds me of my therapist, who suggested, in her own delicate way, that I learn to privilege my own voice first rather than living and dying on the opinions of others. And it's her cup that accompanies me to the blank page each day, her cup that I drink from as I work, her cup that reminds me to be brave.

—Danzy Senna, author of You Are Free (Riverhead)

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