What came to me lacked verbs: flurry of activity, no time for a break. I seemed afraid of verbal action, for instance breaking something. I imagined throwing my laptop to the floor. Then I glanced at it on my writing table. No, I didn’t want to break anything outside of myself. Why was I so afraid of the word break? The noun form felt less threatening than the verbal form. The word interruption came to mind, which was how I experienced both inner and outer speech. I imagined that stuttering had often made me want to break something. Things had been broken, torn to pieces, in my mind. My mind had been full of fragments, all of the time. Stuttering had been a way of life for me. Speech remained dangerous to my mental stability. I still stuttered when I was more anxious than usual, which, depending on the circumstances, could be often. Perhaps my inner speech, all of the words and sentences that existed only in my head, had consisted only of interruptions and repetitions, repetitions of what had been interrupted.
I needed a break. I imagined myself composing sentences, without interruptions, repetitions, or fragmentation, away from this table, either lying on a couch with a pillow or two supporting my head, or on my knees on this hardwood floor, a sketch pad on its surface, awaiting my words, one after another, without interruption. Or I could paint words in various colors on a canvas. Or I could sit on a park bench and write in a sketchbook. Blank space on a page suggested possibilities to me. Or I could create symbols and substitute them for words. I could create my own symbolic language, which might not remind me of stuttering. A myriad of possibilities existed in my mind. All I had to do was imagine them. Imagining involved taking risks, though, such as picturing myself throwing my laptop to the floor. What if I were to actually do it? Writing could be one big risk. Images, words, and sentences were sometimes destroyed in the mind. For me, it was part of being human.
There was much light in the silent room. Three of us were at work. A wall of windows, facing a dark building across the street, reminded me that afternoon would soon become evening and this experiment would finish before dinner. Or would it? They were experimenting, weren’t they? These sentences of mine weren’t anything new. I was supposed to be here with them to discover things on these toned tan pages. Five or six photographs alongside me on the table awaited my use of them. One was of a bridge, another of a house, a third of a light bulb, a fourth of a painting, and a fifth of a busy downtown street during rush hour. What was I going to do with them? I wasn’t a descriptive writer. I could write about a house without light bulbs. Another image appeared, of a man (was it a substitute for myself?) on a bridge, alone at night, wondering if he should jump. I didn’t want to imagine myself as that man on the bridge. I wasn’t suicidal. My imagination wasn’t interested in my words. The image of myself, and maybe it was also a memory, of crossing a freeway overpass at night and picturing myself jumping, was a frightening and real mental event. The image disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Perhaps part of me needed to die, maybe a writer part of me, in order for something new to be born. Should I be writing all of this down? The fear I felt made it clear that the sentences must not stop. One of the two other men in the room, his black tee shirt and jeans splattered with paint, walked toward the coffee pot in a corner of the room. The painting he’d been working on was no longer on the easel. It was on the floor. How had I missed this series of movements? Maybe my mind had been like a downtown city street during rush hour, filled with its own noise. Or perhaps I hadn’t been ready to watch him experiment in front of me. The word fear returned. I glanced at cans of paint of various colors, yellow, white, red, and black, alongside the wall near the canvas on the floor, and I was about to walk over and see what was happening on the canvas when the third man in the room, an accomplished psychotherapist and author, asked me to come to his table. “What do you think of this sentence?” I hurried over in time to hear him read it aloud: “I am not a fast writer.” I could have written that in my sleep. Why would he want my opinion of it? My own reply would have frightened me in any other situation: because the dream demanded it.
Four days and seven hours later, I was still confused about what had happened. Maybe it hadn’t happened at all. I wasn’t that confused. I imagined Jackson’s face if I were to tell him that I’d spent time in his office without his permission. “You trespassed!” he might shout. Of course he wouldn’t shout. But how would he react? I realized that I hadn’t thought about the psychoanalyst’s possible reactions. My minutes alone on his couch, the couch of psychoanalysis, weren’t real to me yet. I hadn’t been alone. I’d brought with me both a pillow and a laptop (I couldn’t remember how the pillow had made it to my own office, or writing space, in the room next to Jackson’s consulting room; maybe I’d brought the pillow to my office to sleep on the floor, and then later confused the experience with a dream). I wanted to write in that particular position and imagine Freud himself seated behind me, out of sight, listening to the sounds of me working. And I did. I saw myself in my own experience, there on Jackson’s couch. Fantasy became reality on the screen, too, as I struggled to type in the unfamiliar and somewhat uncomfortable position, lying on my back. The dialogue between two artists that I found myself writing kept me where I was, for another minute, then another. I was surprised that I was still there. The sixteen-ounce beer that I’d drunk next door in my real writing space (what was more real about it than Jackson’s couch?) before entering without permission must have been part of the reason why my anxiety wasn’t able to make me leave. In the dialogue that was appearing on the screen, one of the artists, who both wrote novels and practiced psychoanalysis, asked the other, who was an oil painter and created flash fiction, what were the most difficult and satisfying parts of his work. “They’re one and the same thing,” he said. “Letting the work take control.” Control was the last word I wrote on the psychoanalyst’s couch. It was nine in the evening. I didn’t have to run out the door. This could be my secret. But I wasn’t the only one who knew. The writer in me wasn’t confused. All of it was his experience.
I arrived at my writing table with a mug of strong coffee. My laptop was alone on the surface, and I imagined books, my black hardcover journal, and pens surrounding it and creating a sense of intimacy that without my imagination didn’t seem to exist at that moment.
Coffee wasn’t enough. There was something invigorating about a cluttered writing space. Perhaps the sight of untidiness motivated me to create order in my mind. Books and writing paper scattered around my writing table were always welcome. Maybe the laptop was an unwelcome and impersonal object during these initial creative moments before I started to create sentences outside of my mind.
Papers, pens, and books that appealed to me made the writing experience real. I often read from one or more books before and while I wrote. The books seemed to choose me, and when the writing went well I felt that the images, words, and ideas that became part of my text originated in the paperbacks or hardbacks, in English or in Spanish, that I imagined had spoken to me from the bookshelves.
Reading at my desk seemed to help me move into a writing state of mind. Coffee also helped, but I needed the inner presence of an author or authors to reach a mental place where I felt at one with my own imagination. I set my coffee mug down on the table. It was time to spend the decisive moments before my bookshelves.
Should I allow this sentence to create itself? What choice did I have? I imagine that this third sentence says to me that I will soon have to decide the course of this narrative that I think has yet to be born. An image appears, disappears, then reappears, which has been here in my mind an indeterminate number of seconds or minutes, and something inside of me seems to say that it will soon disappear again. I imagine that the image suggests I listen to it. How do I listen to an image? Another image appears, or maybe it appeared along with the first one. An inner voice speaks to me again: you’re not listening. What you think of as two separate images are in reality one image. I’m surprised that the word reality appears on the screen that I’m imagining as my mind. Everything that has appeared on this mental screen exists only in my head, no? I realize that I have yet to put either of the two images or the single one into words. Maybe the important image is of myself seated at my desk, staring at a blank screen.
I am running toward the end of a corridor without a single door on either side. My body refuses to stop moving. All of this motion happens in my mind. I can imagine myself motionless in an instant, or can I? Maybe my imagination will cooperate with the rest of me if I write, in a declarative sentence, that my mind shall be motionless. I’m still running, but I’m no closer to the end of the corridor than I imagined myself to be when I wrote the opening sentence. Then, in the next image, a door appears on the left side of the corridor. All of me stops. A question mark has been painted on the door in blue. I open the door without hesitation and feel as if I’m moving both backward and forward in time. Several men and women are seated at a long table, everyone is reading or writing or both, and as I stand motionless, wondering where I should sit, I realize that I recognize all of these authors, they’re my favorites, and the words come to me: some of them are dead. I glance around the room. I want to find a seat between two authors that remain among the living. But is this imaginative experience concerned about what I want? Words paint themselves in my mind, once more in blue: don’t stop imagining. I wish I could run far away, back into reality. I move one foot forward and then the other, a chair appears, I sit down, I’m behind an author seated at the table, I imagine looking over her shoulder to see what she’s working on, and I realize I’m here to observe – for now.
I have just finished writing the paragraph above. I’m disorientated. My first impression, without having reread the sentences that didn’t exist in my head half an hour ago, is that my words speak of my unknown future as a writer.
An inner voice speaks to me: you’re experimenting, playing with images and words, or perhaps they are playing with you. I don’t feel in control of this narrative. I want more narrative structure. The same or another inner voice whispers to me: wait. The images haven’t finished with you yet. Return to them in your imagination.
I have returned to the room with the long table in my imagination. I get up from the chair where I’d been seated, move to the long table and find space to sit down between two living authors. Now I can read and write alongside writers and thinkers who are important to me.
Perhaps my imagination has finished playing with me, for the moment. I’m at my desk. What kind of inner confession in images have I written? I glance at my laptop and realize that I must leave this room and start the rest of my day in less than a minute. My imagination has spoken to me in these sentences: slow down and involve yourself more in the process of creating something in words. I hope to imagine more doors with question marks in blue painted on them.
I hadn’t written on a train in my imagination before. My favorite Spanish novelist, Javier Marías, was with me in my mind as I imagined the two of us creating a sentence together. It was a bilingual act of creation. We spoke both in English and in Spanish as we wondered aloud what we might write, and in which language. In English I said that I wanted to approach our task first and foremost as a reader. He glanced at me as he lit a cigarette. “Perhaps we could write a few sentences in Spanish, read them, then translate them into English, and from there create our own text.” His words were so real in my imagination. They were really his in my imaginative act. We were seated alongside each other in a Spanish AVE high-speed train, and no one around us seemed bothered by the author’s cigarette smoke. Time has seemed to slow down in my mind while I’ve translated these images into words. Before writing the previous sentence I’d almost forgotten that the present tense was still with me, as if the scene on the train in the past tense had become the present to me. I’ve been immersed in the writing, reading, rereading, and rewriting of my own words. Maybe Marías and I have written these sentences together in my imagination. Why not? “The text chose us,” I imagine him saying as one of us writes this sentence, the last one of a text with its own imaginative style.