He was forty years old when he wrote these words. I’ve read them once and I’m about to read them again: two paragraphs and two hundred seventy-two words in total. They appear at the beginning of a text written over one hundred years ago, and published in 2009, nearly fifty years after the author’s death. The book itself is close to six hundred pages long. Eight years ago, I bought it as soon as it was published, and I tried to forget how much it had cost. An image of myself, seated at a table, reading this red leather-bound book, saddens me. This image could’ve become reality eight years ago. Only now do I see the obvious: this text is not meant to be read. It’s meant to be studied. I’m meant to study it. I’ve read the nearly three hundred words a few more times. I imagine the author, Carl Jung, writing them in his study late at night. This doesn’t seem like scholarly writing. He was listening directly to the unconscious. I imagine that he might’ve felt sometimes as if he was writing in a foreign language. It seems like experimental writing. The word experimental helps me realize what I’m doing while I reread words he originally wrote over a hundred years ago late at night: I’m experimenting with my own mind, or maybe it’s experimenting with me. The nearly three hundred words come at the very beginning of Jung’s The Red Book. I’m studying fantasy material. And I’m studying the images and thoughts in Jung’s sentences. After rereading the two paragraphs several times, I’ve identified two of what I call Jung’s writing voices. One is his personal voice, in the first person, while the other is in the third person, a he who seems to have the power to control Jung’s mind. I need a break from this work. Studying minds, both my own and that of the dead author, is difficult.
This book brings to mind so much personal history that part of me imagines returning it to its place on the shelf and leaving the room. For a moment I compare this room with my mind. In that case, if I were to leave, where would I go? I can’t leave my own mind, can I? I’m very particular when it comes to my books. I wash my hands carefully before touching them. Yet once a book is open and I’m reading it, I don’t hesitate to pick up a pen and write in the margin. It’s my book. No one can tell me how to be creative with it. This particular hardcover with its black dust jacket has been with me for nearly two decades. We met across the country, in upstate New York, where I lived for six months. That summer I travelled to Scandinavia to visit family, and for some reason, I took the black book with me. I probably wouldn’t do that today. A couple of sentences above, I wrote that this hardcover and I met across the country. What is this writing doing to my mind? Maybe these sentences have helped me to feel creative, as if I were with the black hardcover, Volume 11 of Jung’s Collected Works, Psychology and Religion: West and East, pen in hand, and an image or a thought, or both, came to me. I imagine writing in the margin on one of its pages: my mind is big enough for fear. I can be afraid and remain in the room of my mind. That summer nearly twenty years ago, the black book returned with me to Seattle from the trip to Norway and Sweden with a few stains on its pages. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve opened it since then, not counting today, as if I were punishing myself for being creative with Jung’s Volume 11 all those years ago. We have much more creative work to do together, my black book and I.
It was a long sentence. I read and then reread it. It was the opening sentence. Today was my first day studying this book. It wasn’t unknown to me. I remembered when I bought my first copy of it, in 1999, at a bookstore in downtown Seattle that no longer existed. An image of me holding the volume in both hands on a crowded downtown sidewalk suddenly became so real that I was forced to realize that this moment happened eighteen years ago. That opening sentence contained eighty-seven words. The author was a psychiatrist, not a novelist. It was widely accepted among those interested and perhaps not so interested in the writings of this Swiss thinker that he was difficult to read. I’d often told myself that the complexity of C.G. Jung’s intuitive thinking attracted me most to his work. Eighteen years had passed since I’d embarked on an intellectual and spiritual journey with the twenty volumes of Jung’s Collected Works and several more volumes of his writings. And today, for the first time, I counted the number of words in one of his sentences. I wasn’t a scholar. Perhaps I secretly desired to become one. These sentences seemed to suggest that I was in the process of becoming one, whether I was aware of it or not. In a recent dream, which I’d recounted on the psychoanalytic couch where I tried to say whatever came to mind several times a week, my psychoanalyst, who in reality and in my imagination was much more Freudian than Jungian, was a Jungian scholar. Maybe I projected onto her what I myself wished to become. The long opening sentence demanded to be reread once more. The minutes that this took me felt much longer. Something important happened in my mind. Two words in that long sentence spoke to me. They seemed to suggest that I should turn to another page in the book where the same words appeared. I did. And on that other page those two words were part of several sentences that spoke to me in a similar way as the first long one. The book was next to me on the desk. I was deep inside myself without realizing it. Then I reminded myself that it wasn’t 1999.
It wasn’t my fault that work at my desk kept me from hurrying out the door sooner. I struggled to concentrate on the text on the screen. Editing the article took me longer than I’d expected. But I still had time to walk to his office. The sidewalks between my apartment, where I worked, and his consulting room, had become friends of mine, which sounded strange once I read the sentence. How could a public walking space that I shared with thousands of others become a friend? Anything seemed possible in my mind today. My editing work had nothing to do with inner chaos. Perhaps I felt isolated in my thoughts and desired a bigger mind in which I would be too occupied traveling around to feel isolated. In any case, the pavement didn’t increase my walking speed, and I was halfway to his office when I realized I would arrive late. Why didn’t I wait to finish the editing until after the session of psychotherapy? The work could’ve waited. I didn’t think about it clearly. It was important to me to arrive to the session on time. I wasn’t sure why. The why didn’t seem to matter. Nothing seemed to matter except the fear of arriving late. Then the fear said: no more words.
I observe myself watching him read a page of text. I wish I knew what he was reading. It doesn’t matter since I can read his mind. Then I realize where he is, which helps to explain the mental turbulence that seems to take over his thoughts as he reads particular sentences. The word fragmentation comes to mind. Whatever the book is, it’s difficult reading, and I know from personal experience that reading on the bus can cause confusion and anxiety. What city, which country, is he in? Wherever he is, I imagine that he’s seeking answers to unanswerable questions in a text that welcomes limitless interpretations. The bus keeps moving. Mental moments pass, in both of our minds, as the bus nears its next stop. His workday has just ended. This must be his time to unwind. Another possibility emerges: maybe he’s not interested in relaxing; maybe this is his time to immerse himself in words, images, and ideas that the text presents him, sentence by sentence. He might be afraid of where his mind will be when he reaches home. Or maybe his mind isn’t creating confusion. Maybe the confusion involves more than the mind. Maybe I’m observing him read a sacred text. If only the words on the page would reveal themselves to me, maybe my own mind would no longer feel fragmented. Fortunately, since I can read his mind, I know that the bus will soon reach his stop. Then we can both go home.
Images from a life not lived appear on the screen. I write the words that make the images appear. Or do I observe the writing of them, or do I do both? I’m the writer since my hands are on the keyboard. Yet what I’ve been imagining doesn’t feel like my own creation. Brief sentences are the best I can do, although they don’t capture the pain and magic of the images: I could’ve been a scholar; I could have dedicated my life to religion; I could’ve been a lawyer. These words originated in what came to me while I read earlier this afternoon with a cup of strong Irish tea. The text wasn’t unfamiliar to me, or maybe it was. I read and reread the notes I’d written in the margin. Why did I take notes while reading an interview? The interview with the psychoanalyst in his Manhattan office comprised the last chapter of a paperback that, until this afternoon, had remained untouched on the shelf for many months. A month isn’t much time. This psychoanalyst sounds unlike any other psychoanalyst I’ve listened to; the craziness I sense in his mind attracts me to his work. Craziness exists in my mind, too. It’s painful to glimpse the lives I’ll never live. This life, the one that my writing is part of, is painful enough.
No one likes to be thrown into the middle of something. How could I be calm? Somehow, I knew I had to be. Psychotherapy was serious to me, and I found myself where I didn’t belong. Something important was happening, inside both of these human beings seated across from each other. There was nothing calm in what I imagined was happening between these two bodies and minds. Tension wasn’t the right word. Word wasn’t the right word. One of the two minds was trying to get rid of what was overwhelming it. Or maybe both of them were. The destination of these unwanted mental contents was a few feet away: the psychoanalytic psychotherapist who was listening to him. In my own mind, I became the therapist and the recipient of these unconscious communications. I wanted to speak. What could I possibly say, to either one? I didn’t want these images and words in my head. Was this all a dream? Maybe I was asleep, in a metaphorical way. Maybe my imagination, my unconscious, was informing me about what was happening in my own mind. I was in the middle of something: my own inner confusion. These words helped. I felt as if I were recording last night’s dream on paper. The rest of the day awaited me.