(This is another fragment of my book of fictional fragments, Writers in a Mind. Thanks for reading.)
Contact with the wall was real. I could feel its solidness when I touched the sketch paper attached to it. This was my writing surface. I could also walk several feet to my desk. For the moment there was something appealing about facing a blank page as if it were a person standing in front of me. The dark January evening outside reminded me that I would leave in a few minutes. A sentence came to me: An inner wall separates me from what I might write on the page. For some mysterious reason I connected wall with language. What was my intention, standing before a blank sheet of sketch paper, gripping a red pen as if it were my only contact with reality? Language as a potential barrier between me and my own creative possibilities hadn’t occurred to me before, which was another mystery since as a stutterer I had too often experienced words as obstacles to speech. I would have to speak in front of others tonight. I imagined writing a question on the paper: How can I speak to the group without being afraid of stuttering? The group would be the other students in the creative writing class and the instructor. I wrote more sentences in my head: None of them have heard me stutter. They don’t need to know. I had gone months without stumbling in my speech. Stumble in the sense of coming unexpectedly or by chance upon something seemed connected to what might be happening in my mind as I stood before the wall gripping a red pen. Something told me there was a logic in these moments which extended beyond my mind. There was something solid about reality outside of me. I would tell the others seated around the long table where we gathered once a week what I’d been working on since our last class. The speaking experience would last a few minutes. It would be real contact both with myself and with others. I was still holding the red pen, staring at the blank page on the wall. There was nothing preventing me from moving a few feet forward and writing whatever came to mind, or so I thought. Maybe I didn’t want to believe in invisible obstacles. There was nothing invisible about stuttering. I moved closer to the wall and recorded this sentence in red ink. I reread it a couple of times. There was something special about the sentence, as if I’d written it on the wall itself. I no longer felt in a hurry. Time was on my side. I would speak to the group without stuttering. I believed it, although I feared that the inner wall might reappear, separating me from myself.
I wished to be left alone. No one was speaking to me. I was talking in my writing. If only speaking and writing were magical and I knew beforehand that nothing could go wrong. Everything was wrong. My mind was in disorder. Maybe I was one big disorder. Perhaps I wished to believe I was. Anything could go wrong while I spoke. As if disorder were a bad word. I was afraid to utter a bad word. I imagined my psychoanalyst listening to me. She knew the difference between a good and a bad word. What nonsense! I wished I could think. I knew I could. Maybe there was a she in my mind. I was listening to myself and recording what I heard on paper.
I was writing in my journal, where language often became both real and imaginary to me, where my mind slowed down on its own. These sentences were helping me to create order in what was otherwise a chaos of images and disconnected thoughts. Connections were my goal. I needed to believe I was in control. This was my journal. Who else could be in control? Somehow I felt separate from what I was writing. I had grown up with a speech disorder. My use of language had never been in order. Each sentence I had attempted to utter was a potential disaster.
Perhaps I was afraid of thinking. Too much noise in my head or in sentences I wrote could affect me in that way. I became afraid of what might be missing in my sentences. I wanted everything, both to be left alone and have someone listen to me. As I wrote what might have been the final sentence in my journal for the day, I told myself to spend more time with the word disorder. Words could teach me a lot about being human.
Can I write about craziness in fiction without a narrator? Perhaps I’m afraid I won’t be able to tolerate the fear of failing alone. A narrator becomes someone to blame. He might become the fulfillment of a wish to make my mind blameless. Nothing is my fault. I’m writing well. I just need a different narrator.
I seem to experience craziness in fragments. I associate craziness with mental uncertainty. Craziness keeps me awake, so to speak. My writing needs it. Right now my writing needs me to write a sentence waiting for me in the dark and which has nowhere else to go. I’m going to use a different word to describe what I write. I write fragments. Vignettes felt like the right word for a few years. An intuitive thought, before or without words, suggests that fragment might be a better word.
Perhaps my narrator becomes a creative way for me to write a fictional letter to myself. Communicating with oneself can be difficult. The word fragment returns to mind and is followed by connection. Maybe I write fragments to create and discover inner connections. I write a fragment to create a whole.
It is hard to think of myself as fictional. Experience has shown me that the more autobiographical my writing plans are the more fictional the narratives turn out to be. Are these short paragraphs fragments of a fictional whole?
There’s nothing fictional in what I’ve written here, is there? This could be fiction if the writer were my narrator. For years I believed I couldn’t write a story. When I did write one, I called it something else, as if I were threatened by fiction. Maybe unconsciously I created a dichotomy between fiction and reality or between imagination and thinking. I would have been afraid of my own creativity.
I have written these fragments or this whole on my own. Has a narrator been involved in its creation? I’ll ask him if he appears.
(I am afraid I am not writing these fragments of my book, Writers in a Mind, in chronological order. Thanks for reading).
I imagined I was at my desk translating a text, a significant and difficult one, from Spanish into English. In reality, I was standing in a bookstore, between Fiction and Psychology. An uninvited thought came to me: they’re lucky I’m here. Who was lucky and why? Lucky brought last night’s reading to mind. I had struggled to understand a single sentence of Lacan. I was unable to translate what he’d written in this particular essay (was that the right word?) about speech and language into concepts I could grasp. Another uninvited thought took the form of a response: That’s your problem. Don’t try so hard to understand things. Experience them instead. Understanding comes afterwards. Both people and words surrounded me, people on the outside, words on the inside. Lacan had arrived in my life by chance. I counted how many years ago: eighteen. Until now, we had had a superficial relationship. I started moving toward Psychology, as if I were to look for the French psychoanalyst on a shelf. Someone called my name. Many years ago the writer within called out to me, and I responded. The voice and her words came from behind me. I knew her voice. I heard another name, House of Words, which moments later she told me was the title of a book she’d never written. Words seemed to be doing strange things in my mind. Maybe she said that we were standing in the House of Words, which was true. NonStop Books was more than a bookstore. “You work here, don’t you?” The speaker of these words, who now faced me, was important. She must be tired. Laura had spoken to everyone seated and standing about Everything, the title of her novel. Without thinking, I translated this word into Spanish. Wasn’t all of this translation of subjective experience, images and bodily sensations, into words and thoughts? Would Lacan be interested in this question? Laura and I spoke, and as we did, the thought came to me: value all of the words that come to mind. Each one is a mysterious gift.
(I am afraid I am not writing these fragments of my book of vignettes with the same narrator in chronological order. Thanks for reading.)
Everything came to me at once. If only I could have found words for it all. There was no time. I had all the time in the world. A flood of words arrived in my head uninvited after I left her office. The words were of no use to me now. They had been intended for her. I stood on a crowded sidewalk. Four images, four faces, four names, four separate people, seemed inseparable in my mind. Separation was the problem. Separation was the solution. Enough! No more fragmentation! I was speaking in my imagination. No one on this crowded sidewalk could hear me. I could hear myself. These four names and faces were intended for me. Everything had a name, didn’t it? Everything meant that I was afraid of being left with nothing. Yesterday, at NonStop Books where I worked, all four of them stood together, in line to pay for their books, and none of them acknowledged my presence a few feet away. I wanted, no, I demanded consistency, calmness, and normality from the images that in a way constituted my memories, as if what I experienced in my moment to moment life, both in inner and outer reality, had to conform to my own expectations. I walked toward the light rail station. No one was waiting for me at home. There was nothing consistent with past experiences, neither calming nor normal, about my psychoanalyst, my creative writing instructor (also a psychoanalyst), my former neighbor for a summer (also a novelist), and an author (also a Jungian psychotherapist training to become a psychoanalyst) who had just finished speaking to an audience in the bookstore about her recently published novel ignoring me, although it was only for a few moments. I didn’t remain motionless for long. I worked at NonStop Books, after all. It was Sunday, and all of us had listened to the author talk about her novel on, what she said, was everything. Of course what happened as I stood there feeling ignored was consistent with past experiences, or else I might have been able to think instead of simply react to the immediate situation. Maybe this flood of words was everything. I left Sarah’s office a few minutes ago without having said that I was angry with her. She could have said hello yesterday as she stood in line to pay for her book. Was I angry? I was still searching for words. Why didn’t I say hello to all four of them before they left the store together with their books?
(This is another fragment of my book of fictional vignettes. Thanks for reading.)
It felt like the first original idea for a story that I’d had in a long time. If only it had come to me at a better time. I was walking and running to the bathroom. If I were to stop for a moment, I could take the mini spiral notebook from the back pocket of my jeans and the pen from my shirt pocket and record the idea on paper. I walked a few feet. I ran several more, and then I was alone in the bathroom. Once I had returned to the mostly empty space of the large room that I rented to write away from home, I thought of it as my writing home, the word idea brought to mind association, which led me to think that there was more to come, that perhaps the story idea was only starting to emerge in my mind. I had just finished my last cup of coffee of the day, which I drank in ten or fifteen minutes. In less than an hour I would walk a couple of blocks to the community college for the weekly creative writing course I felt I wasn’t enjoying enough, as if enjoyment could be measured and I could wake up one morning and say aloud: Now I’m doing well! My own associations were getting me into trouble with myself. How could I enjoy the course if I was worried about how well I was doing. I was making a mistake right now: I had yet to write down the idea, or the initial part of it that had come to me. I could translate what would become the idea into written words in one of two places. There was a desk here in the loft. I could also write on the sketch paper that I’d attached to one wall. I had pens of various colors: red, brown, blue, black, purple, pink, and green. I needed to hurry, before the idea disappeared, never to reappear. With a blue pen, I approached the vertical sheet of sketch paper on the wall, and I was about to start writing when I doubted the value of what had come to me. It would be a real story, with a beginning, middle, and ending, not a makeshift narrative like this one, which at this point was writing itself in my head. I was doubting everything, wasn’t I, since in a real way my work with paper and pen and keyboard was everything to me. The blue pen was outstretched in my hand. Something was about to happen. I would have to speak in front of the creative writing class tonight. I had no idea what I would say. Or perhaps all of this I was experiencing was what I was going to say about my process of writing, which was what I was supposed to speak about. I did have an original story idea: this one.
(My book of fictional vignettes that covers a period of two days in the inner life of the narrator continues.)
Unanswered questions must have a hidden logic. Perhaps if I were able to answer them, the logic might reveal itself. I didn’t have more than a few minutes to write these words. Three or four minutes ago I had been on my psychoanalyst’s couch on the fourth floor. I left her office in silence. It was a good session, wasn’t it? I usually crossed the waiting area outside of her office in what felt like seconds. Today, before reaching the elevator, I paused for a long moment. A woman, in her twenties or thirties, sat in a chair writing something on her phone. Alongside her, on the wall, next to the list of psychotherapists who had their offices on the floor, I saw one light on, Sarah’s light, who moments earlier had exchanged glances with me as I left her office. I paused to look again, to make sure it was her light that was on. Who was this woman who was about to replace me as the focus of Sarah’s attention for fifty minutes? I assured myself that I was the only one who used her couch. I was special, a sentence that embarrassed me and made me want to put away my pen and paper. Before the elevator had reached the ground floor, I decided to write in my journal for a few minutes in the lobby before leaving the building. It felt important to write these things down. I must have been afraid of everything disappearing. My mind would become a blank, which I wished wouldn’t frighten me. I was writing in the lobby. Didn’t the flow of sentences in my head mean that my mind wasn’t a blank? I had no more minutes to write words or entertain such questions. But I couldn’t stop writing if whatever hidden logic there was in my mind hadn’t yet revealed itself, This last sentence helped me to get to my feet. What I needed was time to walk in uncertainty.