I thought that writing in my journal would relax me. Then I wrote the first sentence: I slept in the garage and parked the car in my bedroom. The words were on paper when I stood up and moved away from the desk, as if the paper could hurt me. My reaction surprised me almost as much as the sentence. I sat back down. I chose another pen, this one blue. The black ones would remain untouched for a while. Two sentences wrote themselves, and the first one seemed to anticipate the second one: I covered my chest with my hands. I left her office to use the restroom moments after I realized that I might speak about my fear that this therapy was a waste of time. Another sentence appeared and disappeared before I could write it down.
Seconds or minutes later I wrote that stuttering would make it impossible to say: I will write this sentence. I felt that I wrote the words too fast. I was afraid of making a mistake. I thought I made a grammatical error.
I closed my journal. This craziness had to end. I needed it to stop. It was hard to write when I wasn’t in control of what I was doing. But I hadn’t finished. I chose a red colored pen to remind myself that I was in control. The images of me sleeping in the garage and of the car in the bedroom returned. They no longer felt threatening. Maybe they could help me relax. Therapy also helped me to experience my emotions without becoming overwhelmed. Writing in my journal seemed to be a way of bringing everything together in my mind. In red.
When his book fell from my hands, the shock I saw on his face seemed to say that he was afraid it would disappear forever. He was speechless. I was wordless, and perhaps also mindless. Thoughts might come to me later. After I woke up, I wondered how long the dream might have lasted, and I realized that I knew very little about what happened in my mind during sleep. I prepared coffee. The dream seemed to continue while I was awake in the form of memory images from long ago, in the 1970s. A book salesman tried to sell my mother a set of encyclopedias. I watched, speechless. In the end, my mom said no.
Maybe there was a No in that book falling to the ground. And perhaps my friend’s look of shock was a reaction to that No. Coffee would be ready in a minute. I looked around the kitchen for paper on which I could write the dream down. Then I saw a scrap of paper in front of me, and I thought, similar to the dream it was one step ahead of me. The memory of the door to door book salesman seemed to encourage me to admit to myself how much I’d wanted my mother to buy my sister and me that set of encyclopedias. I couldn’t remember anything about my sister except that she was there. I was here, in the kitchen, coffee cup in one hand, the other hand having just finished recording the dream on paper. It was time to choose which book or books I would read from while drinking my coffee. I knew which book it would be, the one in the dream, without having to think about it. I had my own copy, which had never fallen to the ground. I knew which shelf it was on. And the dream reminded me that I’d wanted to return to it for a while.
The two books in my hands merged into one in my imagination. I assumed that I’d bought them. Each of them appeared again separately, and they remained long enough for me to see who had done all of the work. Publishing a book was something I desired to do and which I had not yet done. The two authors in my hands and in my imagination knew me and of my struggles with self-publishing my own work. I was certain that each one had his or her psychological explanations of what was wrong with me.
This Friday afternoon was slower than most. Perhaps I had too much time on my hands. I imagined saying to each of these two people in my life that I was interested in writing as an experiment. Others could focus on publishing. Yet I was envious of what these two authors had accomplished.
I was in my reading chair. Perhaps what I thought was wrong with me was in truth my biggest strength. Experimenting in my writing involved irrational experience. Maybe the image of two books becoming one was an experiment. It could also be part of a narrative. There were stories I could tell about each of the two books. I was seated without a book. Where was my desire? What did I desire to read? As if part of me were waiting for such a question, the thought came to me: I was waiting to read my own book.
I knew where he was standing and where I was sitting. Yet in my imagination this wasn’t clear at all. I imagined that we sat across from each other in the middle of a nondescript room, staring into each other’s eyes with an intensity that brought to mind a mind-meld. The eighty-two year-old psychoanalyst and author was speaking to us about his career. What was I doing in Manhattan and in this auditorium?
His most recent book was in my hands. I imagined opening it to a random page and rewriting a particular sentence that seemed to choose me. I wanted to create a first-person narrative out of this psychological text. It felt like a real need as I listened to him at the front of the room. Another image came to me. I was finishing the final sentence of the long paragraph I’d just written. Listening and writing simultaneously seemed to help me realize that reading needed to be part of this. I’d been in such a hurry to create my own fiction that I’d forgotten where much of my writing inspiration came from. A single sentence of his book had been transformed into a paragraph of my own, and then that sentence became a dream in my imagination. The images that came together to form this dream weren’t interested in my help, as if they were warning me not to try too hard to understand.
The image of the mind-meld returned. We formed a whole. This mind to mind experience felt as real as the eight-two year-old speaker at the front of the room. I experienced myself in fragments, fragments searching for a way to form a whole. The psychoanalyst’s talk was real. His book in my hands was real. He was real. I was real. So was my imagination. This combination of inner and outer realities was overwhelming me. I imagined standing up and leaving the auditorium. It didn’t matter. The dream would end when I least expected it.
I imagined I was in my favorite bookstore in Madrid searching for hard to find books in English. It didn’t occur to me to search for them in Spanish translation. I knew I wouldn’t remain there long. My feet were on the floor in Casa del Libro on Gran Vía in Madrid.
The pen in my hand stopped moving. I knew where I really was. I didn’t bring a pen with me to my psychoanalyst’s couch. The images in my head were so clear: I was at my desk in Seattle, a coffee within reach, writing about entering the bookstore in Madrid, walking up the stairs to the third floor where I knew I would find books on psychoanalysis. These imaginary movements occupied seconds in my mind. Yet I felt as if I were silent on the couch for minutes. I realized that I was experiencing a wordless reality.
The pen in my hand in my imagination didn’t need words to exist. It was moving again. I was in my favorite bookstore in Madrid. But something was suddenly different. Now became thirteen or fourteen years ago, when I lived there, on a Sunday afternoon, which in reality was when I often walked to Casa del Libro. It was 2004 or 2005 in my imagination. I came across a Spanish translation of one of the books by the British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. After leaving the bookstore, I stopped at a bar and had a caña, a small glass of beer. All of these images were real to me as I lay on my psychoanalyst’s couch. Should I tell her, seated behind me, where I really was in my imagination, both at my desk at home and in a bookstore in Southern Europe?
Another image interrupted this question to myself: I got up off the couch and walked to the door, opened it, and left. I had somewhere else to be. In the next image I was inside my favorite bookstore in Seattle, standing in Fiction, a softcover in my hands, which at first I didn’t recognize. Then I saw the author’s name: my own. There was much to tell the silent psychoanalyst behind me. Maybe words could wait while I spent more seconds with the image of the softcover with my name on it.
Three books written decades apart from each other were in a stack on my desk. The screen of my laptop was blank. Three or four minutes had passed since I’d sat down and hoped to write the opening sentence. Maybe last night’s dream had encouraged me to sit down and try to write without any caffeine stimulating my mind: I walked through a forest at night without fear. It was a sunny afternoon in Seattle, and I wondered what these three texts wanted me to do with them. My fingers had yet to touch the keyboard. I imagined myself on the fourth floor of a downtown office building around forty minutes away by foot. I entered a familiar room. I was alone. Where was she? I asked this question once I was lying on the couch. No one else was present to hear it. My eyes opened. I hadn’t realized that they were closed. The three books and the blank screen remained in front of me on my desk.
One of the three books was in my hands. There had been no conscious thought involved in choosing it. The softcover felt purposeful. I knew that its author was a psychoanalyst who lived in Johannesburg, South Africa. The author of one of the two other books was also a psychoanalyst, who lived in Cape Town. I imagined having a coffee with each of the two men. Why wasn’t one of them a woman? All three of the books were written by men. The office in downtown Seattle was that of a female psychoanalyst. She wouldn’t read my writing. I pictured her entering her office holding a cup of coffee, and when she saw me lying on her couch she asked me to please leave and come back at the agreed upon time. The last three words felt forced. Perhaps one more word before the period could magically help create a more natural kind of meaning. And then my fingers could start touching the keyboard.
A woman dressed in white waded in toward the middle of the river. A dove landed on her head as she moved through the rushing water. I was afraid that at any moment she would disappear under the surface. Who was she? She looked familiar. Where did the dove come from? Maybe I was experiencing a religious hallucination.
Where did I just disappear to in my head? I glanced at my watch: 11:23 am. I found myself subtracting 11 from 23, and twelve brought to mind a memory of a summer afternoon when I was twelve and I jumped into a river headfirst. I wouldn’t have done that, I thought. I would’ve been afraid of rocks below the surface. In reality, I was at my desk, holding a blue pen, as if I had faith that an image would soon come to mind and lead me to write another sentence. I imagined a windy day on the water, on a lake or in the ocean, and I was alone in my lapstrake rowboat.
I wrote another sentence, reread it, and realized that a preposition was missing. Perhaps my mind was missing, which seemed to lead me to the word craziness. Then I pictured myself climbing a tree, in a hurry to reach the top, as if I were afraid of danger below. Another sentence wrote itself: There’s hope. Remember where you are. I had disappeared again. I was back, at my desk, writing with my blue pen. The woman in white returned. She was crossing the river. She would reach the other side. Maybe I was reaching some other side in my mind. I no longer felt in danger. This wasn’t superficial work, was it? I could drown. I imagined myself crossing a river, and soon I was on the other side. I had made it. Maybe I wouldn’t dive in headfirst next time.