For years I fantasized about writing in an A-frame and seeing water through large windows. I wrote a rough draft of a novel in which the narrator lived in one, near a river. Two or three years ago the image returned: I was seated at a small table, with just enough room for a laptop, me and my work together in the A-frame. I glimpsed my mental future as a writer in that image. I know someone who has an A-frame and escapes there to work on it and to be alone. Perhaps my new writing project, in which I’ve started to write about things I’ve experienced in reality in fictitious ways, is about me searching for new ways to imagine what happens in my mind. Too often my mind becomes a painful place. Recently I started to meditate again, and I am calmer afterwards. Twelve months of psychoanalysis have helped me become more aware both of the pain and calmness I experience moment to moment. I’ve been reading notes about fifty-minute sessions that happened last July and August. They were my initial hours on the couch. As I wrote the previous sentence, I sensed that a few words and an idea that brought those words together in my mind eluded me. I almost wrote that the words and the idea were missing. Now they come to me: a meditative state of mind, an inner place where calmness and pain can coexist. The more time I spent on my psychoanalyst’s couch the more I felt that my own mind was missing. Thought often seemed absent. Much of what I said during sessions seemed to exist only in my head. I struggled to become aware of how confused I was when my mind seemed filled with disconnected images and words, which only later on did I sense were related both to fantasy and reality. These are some of the themes I’ve been reading about in my notes of sessions from last summer. I must spend more time with my narrator. We have much work to do together, inside the quiet A-frame of my imagination.
A week away from writing has left me with an empty mind. Days before I left Seattle to spend time at our cabin on a small island in the San Juans, my intuition told me I should finish one writing project and begin another. The rational part of my mind said I shouldn’t stop one process and start another that would then be interrupted. But I did stop writing what I called vignettes on a daily basis and instead started to plan what I envisioned as a long-term book project. And I realized that I had already started to prepare for the new book: I’d been writing notes about it in the form of narratives for the past year, as if in my unconscious I’d been thinking about writing a book on my experiences on the psychoanalytic couch for the last twelve months. It would be a mixture of fiction and autobiography. I wrote a chapter and a half and then packed my bags for our trip to the San Juan Islands. Yesterday, my first full day back in Seattle, I finished the second chapter. I was surprised that it wasn’t difficult for me to immerse myself in what I hadn’t thought about for several days. It was as if my own nascent text had never left my mind at all. I have around three hundred pages of short narratives, and also notes, on the subject that I’m hoping to create a book out of: my first year as a patient in psychoanalysis. If I have enough time before dinner, I’m going to return to the text and probably add some sentences after I finish writing this paragraph. I’m afraid of taking another break from it. Yet in some mysterious way my time away in the San Juan Islands seems to have helped prepare me for the next chapter of my writing future. What remains to be done is the writing itself. I imagine that while I was in the San Juans walking in the woods and drinking wine on the cabin deck above the beach, a creative state of mind was preparing itself, and now that I’m back in the city and at my desk, I just have to write and the rest will take care of itself.
In retrospect, recent changes in my writing seem to have happened for a reason. I have been writing in a different narrative structure during the last few days. Perhaps changes in how or what I write about happen more often than I wish to admit to myself. And it is as much of a mental as a writing change. I wrote single-paragraph pieces of between two and five hundred words for four years, and I did so on a daily basis for three years. Writing in this way helped me to spend time, in and out of my writing room, in a particular state of mind, which is hard to describe in words. I finished something different every day. I experienced the process of beginning and ending something every twenty-four hours, six or seven days a week. Then several days ago my intuition told me it was time to return to something I hadn’t done in several years: writing a book. I’m confusing myself since I’ve been writing books of vignettes for four years. What I’m working on now is a mixture of autobiography and fiction, and the only thing I’m sure of is that it is both fictitious and autobiographical. It’s about my first year in psychoanalysis, which I experience several times a week on the couch. Ever since the first session, I’ve written about each fifty-minute hour in narrative form, and as I reread these narratives in my journals, I realize there’s a lot for me to write about. This afternoon I finished writing a rough draft of the first chapter about my initial interview with the psychoanalyst. A sense of narrative time is creating itself in the sentences and paragraphs I’ve written, and I’m enjoying myself. What more can I ask for?
I have decided to stop posting here so often. In fact, I’ve decided to change what I write about on this blog. I’m going to start posting thoughts on my writing process. Whether for better or worse, my daily writing itself will not appear here. Instead of writing what I’ve called vignettes and posting them one at a time, I’m going to work on a book, fictional and autobiographical, about my first twelve months in psychoanalysis, which I’ve written about after each session. I don’t know yet what I would try to do with the book if I were to succeed in finishing it, but my intuition tells me that this blog would not be the place for it. I imagine that the book could consist of about fifty chapters, and each one might be around 1,500 words. I’ve avoided such a project for several years because my writing style seems conducive to short pieces, of no more than five hundred or so words. Then last week, while I was on a walk, it came to me that with a first-person narrator who recounts experiences in the past tense, I could create fictional events, with autobiographical aspects to them, that focus on particular themes, such as lying on a couch for fifty minutes and trying to say whatever comes to mind, which could fit into short chapters. I have been writing on a daily basis for sixteen or seventeen years, and spontaneous changes in direction are not new to me. Perhaps next week I’ll write here that this new direction no longer feels right. Writing involves taking risks, often on a daily basis.
Frustration must be at the heart of this work. Nothing comes to mind. Frustration has become my mind. Leo or Matthew and I are having a similar experience. Which of these two names will become my narrator’s name? Both of us are at work. For the moment Leo feels like the right name. Leo and his consulting room exist in my imagination, whereas my working space exists both in reality and in my imagination. I’m seated at my desk, and I glance around the room at the bookshelves, two chairs facing each other, and the couch. An hour ago I didn’t imagine myself writing on my laptop at 11:02 am. The cancellation has disappointed me. The last sentence surprises me. Am I surprised that I have an emotional reaction to a client missing a session? My narrator and I can escape reality together. Leo was the name of my narrator in the first novel I wrote. I wrote only one draft, and for the moment the year in which I wrote those one hundred fifty or two hundred pages refuses to come to mind. A few sentences have been written on the screen. I wrote the previous sentence without a personal pronoun, as if I wasn’t involved in its creation. The sentences on the screen were written by Leo, in my imagination. He’s also had a cancellation. And after preparing himself a coffee, he’s also looking at the screen in front of him. Reality doesn’t feel threatening to him at the moment. And it does to me? I feel as if I’m on the couch here in my office trying to free-associate, which is perhaps a good sign. Maybe my narrator and his morning that I’m hoping to create in words will become clearer to me in the next forty or forty-five minutes. I imagine that Leo writes a handful of sentences in which his own narrator, also a therapist (now there’s three of us), writes about the imaginative ways that he listened to a client earlier that morning. These two narrators seem more imaginative than me. This thought feels unwelcome, and seconds later, both narrators have disappeared, or have they? I’m without creative help in my imagination, or perhaps I must wait for the images, words, ideas, and feelings that sooner or later will appear, all at once, one at a time, or in another order not of my choosing.
My narrator is crazier than I thought. And we haven’t known each other for very long. He has another story to tell. The words, another story, return me to the present outside of my mind. The middle-aged woman on the couch in front of me is trying to explore her own mind. My mind should be focused on her mind. It is, and perhaps it isn’t. Images, words, thoughts, and sentences appear and disappear, and I try to watch them come and go as I listen to the other human being in the room speaking. His (my narrator’s) name appears in the form of a doubt, which interests me. Should Leo be his name? Matthew is another possibility. I imagine these previous three sentences moving downstream in a river that somehow feels familiar. Is the image of a sentence floating downstream a metaphor for what I imagine happens in my mind while I both listen to the words of another and write my own on a screen or in my journal? The woman on the couch is speaking about something she experienced yesterday while she read a book and drank Irish tea. What happened? I’m reminded of my favorite Irish tea, which I sometimes drink in the afternoon. Did she just say that the book devoured her? It’s one I wish to read. Perhaps I’m envious of her, or I’m feeling competitive: I wanted to read it first. It’s about a psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, who died in 1979, and who many have said was one of the most innovative thinkers in the history of psychoanalysis. She probably said that she devoured the book. Why do I doubt that she made a slip of the tongue? Am I afraid of being devoured by the fear that I won’t be able to create my narrator? She read most of the two hundred some pages last night. I imagine her reading in bed, gripping the paperback or hardback with both hands. Intensity comes to mind. She found herself imagining and thinking new things last night. Why did she drink strong tea at night? She said night, didn’t she? Questions like these sometimes make me wonder if I’m crazy. I imagine my narrator speaking to me: Listen to the doubt. You can’t make it disappear. Listen, and learn from the listening experience, as if you were reading a book that often feels as if it were written in a foreign language unknown to you. All of this imagining is now floating downstream. And she continues speaking about her reading experience.
Writing a novel whose narrator’s work was the same as my own complicated my real life more than I’d imagined possible. That’s what came to me in the shower this morning. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, as I tidied the bedroom before walking to my writing room at the other end of the hallway, I realized that caffeine wasn’t the only thing that had helped to change my state of mind since I’d sat down at my desk a couple of hours earlier to work on the first draft of what had yet to become a novel. I imagined that the writing itself had rearranged things in my mind. Things seemed to be moving around in my head in a more imaginative way than strong coffee could bring about on its own. My narrator had surprised me this morning at my desk. The paragraphs that seemed to write themselves on the screen moved me toward unexpected places. I pictured my narrator commenting on the previous sentence, as if he were an observer in my mind: isn’t that what’s supposed to happen during the creative process, that the writing itself moves the writer toward unexpected places in his imagination? My narrator and I had something important in common: both of us were writers and psychotherapists. This morning’s paragraphs were another attempt to create the opening scene of the novel. Maybe it was much more than an attempt. Perhaps I succeeded in providing glimpses of my narrator’s mental morning as he started his day working on his own novel and then walked to his consulting room where he would listen to others until evening. His consulting room was unlike mine. For some reason the appearance of the word unlike in my mind frustrated me, as if I had a choice which words came to me. Maybe I was envious of my narrator. My intuition seemed to say that wasn’t what frustrated me. There wasn’t a couch in his office. All of his clients (he didn’t use the word patient) sat across from him. My narrator, unlike me, was a Jungian psychotherapist. Was it hard for me to imagine a narrator who practiced psychotherapy in a different way than I did? Years ago I was a client in Jungian psychotherapy. So I knew something about it. Yet I felt somehow threatened by my narrator’s theoretical approach. All of this constituted a writing mystery, which I knew from experience the writing process was full of, and fortunately, I was feeling creative. I had a long day ahead of me. As I was about to leave home and walk to my office, I thought that perhaps my morning writing was my way of preparing myself for the mysteries of my other work, listening to and trying to understand other human beings. Both processes, that of writing and of psychotherapy, seemed to lead me to unexpected places every day.