Voices in a Red Book

All of me wanted to speak. Come on, speak! I imagined my body saying these words as I lay silent on the couch, as if I were uncertain what to say. I couldn’t tell her what was passing through my mind. I couldn’t. The last two sentences sounded definitive, as if I were eager to decide something. I wanted to know the immediate future, even if it were the future of only a few minutes. What was passing through my mind? Mary stood up in my imagination and walked past the couch to a chair nearby where clients in face to face psychotherapy sat. Maybe I was anxious to see the expression on her face. I almost wrote know instead of see, as if someone could know what a look on someone else’s face meant. In reality, I saw clouds outside, and I heard silence from Mary seated behind me. The images in my head didn’t stop with Mary walking to the other chair. A red hardcover appeared in her right hand, she opened it as she sat down, and from the couch I glimpsed images on a page. I imagined that the images were the ones passing through her mind as she listened to the silence in the room. Or maybe the images in the red book were what she imagined was happening inside of me. In reality, this might have been when Mary started to hear my voice again, while I imagined her studying a heavy red hardcover filled with spontaneous images that were appearing and disappearing in my mind. As I spoke and listened to myself speak, I wondered whether voices in plural was a more accurate way of describing my moment to moment imaginative work. As if my body were listening to everything, I somehow knew that silence was ready to return.

Intensity on Fire

The thirty something year-old man on the couch speaks intensely about a recent argument with a friend. If this were another moment, I might recognize the intensity as my own. As if out of nowhere, an image that I seem unprepared for comes to me, which in itself shouldn’t surprise me, but does. I imagine my patient at home writing a letter – another part of me interrupts and wonders why it isn’t an email – and as I read the sentences that appear on the paper, I realize he’s writing to me. These images seem to communicate more than words can formulate, and experience in this chair behind the couch has taught me to wait for images to speak to me in their own time. The session started fifteen minutes ago, and I try to remember whether he was this intense when he entered the room. Don’t try to remember, I say to myself. Listen and imagine. Don’t try to think or remember. They’ll happen on their own. I hear more words from the couch, and I wonder whether the intensity I’ve heard in his voice might be own: “I got to my feet and left the room. I couldn’t take any more.” What was the argument with his friend about? The image of him writing me a letter returns, and I realize I don’t know what to do with it. Inner words speak to my uncertainty: Let the image speak to you. As the patient continues speaking, a new image of him and his letter to me arrive: he takes a lighter from his pant pocket and lights the page on fire. My own intensity has become undeniable. I glance at the clock. We’ve spent less than thirty minutes together. Minutes matter much less than our words and images, and again I imagine him burning the letter he was writing me. Somehow, fire and speech become connected. Together, they seem to say that the room is full of emotion, which is a good thing in a session.

Writing Vacation (Part II) (Open Doors)

I heard a knock on the door. I’ve reread the sentence several times. The silence in the room reminds me that I’m alone. The knock exists in my head. This story exists in my head. For seconds or minutes, disorientation reigns. Am I lying on the couch alongside this table, which is my temporary writing space, or has the writing of these sentences led me into a less rational and more fluid state of mind, which for a writer is both good and necessary? As a writer, I can be in both places simultaneously, at the desk and on the couch, which for me on good days is the same mental place. A knock reminds me I’m not alone in my mind. This is fiction. In reality, I’m a few miles from my psychoanalyst’s office, in my own office, where I read and edit other people’s words, and where I write my own words, which on good days surprise me. Maybe I imagined that Mary, my psychoanalyst, knocked on some inner door in me. Earlier in this narrative, she knocked on the door and we spoke face to face, in my fictional writing home for a week. It was Monday, and I sensed I would need all five days to write enough so that I would feel as if I were on vacation. My narrator wrote in the second to last sentence of Part I that Mary and I decided to cross the street for a coffee and talk about writing and psychoanalysis. Such a conversation would likely never happen in reality, and for sure won’t happen while I remain her patient. Perhaps my narrator is on a writing vacation in the same physical space where I lie on a couch four times a week, and find myself free-associating when the process works well, because for me Mary’s office has come to symbolize creative mental work. Reality permits me to lie on the couch for two hundred minutes a week. Fiction allows me to spend as much time there as I wish. This way I hope to maximize the possibility both of doors opening in my mind and of my being able to listen well enough to know when it happens.

Writing Vacation (Part I)

Sometimes it helps to remember particular dates. Last year I started to keep a journal days before a significant surprise occurred in my mind. I meant to write life, but mind appeared on the screen instead. I pause before welcoming another thought that seems ready for me, and I drink from the cup of coffee alongside the laptop on this table that has become my temporary writing space. I’ve written what seems to have appeared on its own, while another part of me wants to censor what becomes the contents of my sentences. This small office with windows facing Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains has another creative center, which only now I’m imagining, although I can turn my head to one side and there it is. It’s a simple thing, a couch, which now that I stop and rest my eyes on it, I realize must have been difficult to fit into the elevator and then through the door behind me. I picture the woman who sits behind this couch during psychoanalytic sessions help move the couch from the elevator into this consulting room. Mary has been my psychoanalyst for a year. She’s part of the fiction that I’m starting to create in her office while she’s away on vacation, which is also fiction, since I’m sure she wouldn’t allow me to be here in her absence. It feels natural to imagine myself in her creative working space for a week, silent inside myself while I create noise with my sentences. A sentence comes to me, which I can see myself creating on the screen on my first morning of a much needed writing vacation: Each time I free-associate on Mary’s couch, I experience verbal and nonverbal surprises that remind me of writing sentences that somehow come together to form a narrative. The idea of keeping a journal came to me last June when I was feeling that my writing lacked spontaneity. Three days later I surprised myself by contacting a psychoanalyst, and the following week I was in Mary’s office for the first time, which must also have been when she became involved in my writing as an unconscious inner object. In other words, that’s when she became a permanent part of my inner world. It’s mid morning, and I’m seated at the desk in front of the windows with a clear view of the Olympic Mountains, and I wonder how many coffees I’ll need before I’m comfortable in this temporary writing space. I hear a knock on the door, and then I’m speaking with Mary, who I thought was on vacation. We decide to cross the street for a coffee and to talk about writing and psychoanalysis. I remind myself that these sentences are fiction, or so I imagine.

Change without a Sound

My narrator doesn’t have to make the same mistakes I do. Perhaps he learns from what I do in anxious moments when what feels most pressing is that I do something, anything, to relieve myself of the tension that I imagine threatens my mental survival. If only life in the imagination were so simple. I imagine the two of us alongside each other, each one lying on a couch, struggling to say whatever comes to mind. Is there anyone seated behind us, listening? This last sentence might suggest the source of much of my daily anxiety. Am I alone in my mind? Who says this, me or my narrator, or both of us simultaneously? We’re in this therapeutic process that I call my writing together, aren’t we? Writing these paragraphs is therapeutic for me. The image of him on a couch alongside me changes things in my mind. How might my narrator and I learn from each other? I don’t think my words on the couch create change in him. Something inside my narrator, who might be part of my unconscious mind, changes before or after words, or both. And in a mysterious way, when he changes I change, and vice versa. We impact each other in a nonverbal way. I imagine that I say all of this on the imaginary couch, and my narrator, alongside me, experiences my words in his body instead of in his mind. Mental work happens later. In this metaphor for how my mind works, my narrator and I have the same psychoanalyst, who listens to both of us simultaneously. Maybe I feel listened to when I write my paragraphs, which becomes therapeutic, and sometimes leads to mysterious inner change.

Wait without Waste

The few minutes I had to create word wisdom on my iPad felt like a lifetime. An image of my narrator had come to me moments earlier, as I entered this building. Instead of using the restroom as I’d planned, I sat down in the nearest chair in the waiting room, removed my iPad from its bag, and waited for words to come. Somehow, I knew they wouldn’t disappoint me. The phrase word wisdom in the opening sentence surprised me as I wrote it. I’d intended to write noise. I was afraid that my typing would sound like noise to the others waiting to see their psychotherapists. Word wisdom, as it appeared on the screen, was new to me. It was the opposite of noise. An image of my narrator came to me, as I sat with my iPad on my lap, waiting for words, and he was also in a waiting room, to see his therapist, and I imagined his mind full of noise. My narrator thought of it as mental noise. His mental pain was real to me. My mind was real to me as I wrote these sentences in the waiting room, before the few minutes were up.

Sentences in a Second

Twenty years ago in this situation I might have lit a cigarette. My head felt as empty as my stomach, and I kept glancing at the clock. In fifteen minutes the laptop would be alone again. I had to shower and start the real part of my morning, as if this work in my imagination wouldn’t affect everything else I did during the rest of the day. These sentences in my head frustrated me. My writing wasn’t real? I was trying to get words on the screen before finishing my first cup of coffee because I knew, more in my body than in my head, that the experience would help make everything I did during the following ten or fifteen hours easier. One clear sentence would be enough. I couldn’t do this on my own. Maybe one of my favorite thinkers could rescue me psychologically. My hands knew where his hardcovers were on my shelves, and my unconscious mind seemed to sense which book could help me. Seconds later, I was leafing through a volume of his correspondence with Freud, and then I was reading a letter he wrote to Freud in March 1911. I was still on the opening sentence when I sensed this wouldn’t be an ordinary reading experience. The reader in me was doing something unusual. He wasn’t focused on the words. His imagination seemed in control. My imagination became his imagination, or vice versa. I pictured Jung at his desk, late at night, writing to his older colleague in Vienna. It was as if I were inside his mind, and I saw more images than words. Seconds, or a minute later, I was back at my laptop, and several sentences seemed to appear on the screen all at once. My writing work was done, for now.