The following nine words might change what happens next in my mind: I don’t know what I want to write about. Then a voice belonging to an image I can’t see yet speaks: Words aren’t enough to bring me back. I imagine this something disappearing behind a door that closes as I realize that I’m having a creative experience.
My inner vision becomes clearer. The image is of a human being, a writer like me, who needs time alone on the other side of the door, in his imagination.
An email appears in my inbox. The phone rings. I’m needed in the world outside of my mind. I glance at the time on my laptop screen. Whatever is happening on the other side of the door, in the world of my imagination, will have to wait.
The nine words repeat themselves. An image of a large room, with a stone floor and stone walls, appears. It’s as if emails, phones, deadlines, jobs, don’t exist. I’m standing barefoot on the cold stone floor. I’m on the other side. I know what I’m writing about: this.
Anxiety everywhere, in my body, in my head, says: not this. That. That pays the bills. This is fantasy. I’m about to respond to the email or phone the person whose call I missed or attempt to do both at the same time, when the inner voice that said words aren’t enough to bring me back speaks anew: the heart is the language of truth. Words become words after the heart speaks them.
The image speaks to me as if it were part of my waking life. I’m trying to translate it into words in my journal. A woman who knows me quite well awaits me in a forest. I’m within a few feet of her when I wake up.
I’m preparing my morning coffee when I see the woman’s face again. A bridge appears, and I imagine it connecting my current state of mind with the world of fantasy, where dreams live.
My coffee cup is empty within ten minutes. I haven’t left the kitchen. I can’t remember the last time I drank my morning coffee without a book in my hands. The caffeine should start waking me up soon. I feel as if I’m in a dark tunnel, and I’m uneasy because I can’t see the end of it.
I’ve returned to my desk. I’m writing more words in my journal. The image of my psychoanalyst in the forest returns. She appears different in the woods than she does in her consulting room, although what she’s wearing I’ve seen many times. She looks as if she belongs there. What are we going to do together in the middle of nowhere?
Why couldn’t the dream have continued? I woke up too soon. These words in my mind are interrupted by another voice, as if someone else were also in my head. “The dream hasn’t ended yet. You two encounter each other in the forest. Let the dream continue. Imagine what might happen next.”
I’m on a bus in downtown Seattle. It’s mid afternoon on a chilly, sunny day in the city where I grew up, and which, thirteen or fourteen years ago, I thought I would never call home again. I picture myself writing the following words in my journal: Perhaps I’ve been searching for my childhood in the wrong place.
The bus has left downtown and is moving uphill into my neighborhood. Maybe the right place to discover or rediscover my childhood is here in my imagination.
I imagine the bus making an unscheduled stop. A tall elderly man dressed in a dark suit stands on the sidewalk waving a book at those of us on board. My intuition suggests that he’s waving it at me. These images feel so real that I remind myself that this psychological thinker and author died in 2011. Seconds or minutes pass in my imagination. He’s seated alongside me. The images that follow don’t show how his book ends up in my hands.
His spoken words feel as if I’m reading them in his book. “How do you know you’re not dreaming and seated alongside a god?” I don’t utter the words that come to mind: You don’t look like a god to me.
I see the words myth and image in the title of the book, but I can’t see the whole title. The word childhood comes to me, alone, as if it were too important to be confined to a sentence or clause. “Don’t search for childhood,” the author says in a soft voice, as if he can read my thoughts. “Read and imagine and you’ll find what’s looking for you.”
I imagine myself seated at a table in a small room with no other furniture. The word monastery comes to mind to describe where I am in my imagination. Paper and pencil appear on the table. I pick up the pencil and write: I can’t change anything from inside these stone walls. I stand up, as if I know of no other way to protest my own written words. I have chosen solitude, haven’t I? There is no car for me to drive. The sea is far away, and I am without a boat. I glance around the bare room. Where is a bicycle when I need one? These sentences aren’t enough. I picture a stack of books by my new favorite psychological thinker, James Hillman. Reality doesn’t allow me to create books with my imagination. I picture a door appearing in one of the stone walls, and I know where it leads: to a bookstore where I can find all of Hillman’s books in one row. Without warning, my hand holding the pencil stops moving across the page, and I realize that I have created something: all of these words on the piece of paper that I have been reading and rereading in the form of sentences. Silence has helped create this paragraph. I am in a monastery in my mind.
Such things don’t happen in reality as I experience it in my daily life in the presence of others. No one knows we are coming. Maybe a person isn’t what I‘m imagining. We are ninety miles from the city. The only noise I hear is the river in the distance. If I start running now, I’ll see it within a couple of minutes. The image of my body in motion returns me to reality, to the painfulness and sadness of the present. I am imagining standing before the entrance gate to an acre or so of property that felt as if it would always be mine when I was a child. That was decades ago. Today my mother has Parkinson’s Disease and will never move on her feet again without the help of a walker. My father would not know where we were if the three of us were suddenly to find ourselves standing before the gate leading to memories that I realize now, as I near the end of this sentence, I’m fortunate enough to still have. I’m here at my desk, writing in my journal, and I ask the invisible presences that inhabit what I call reality: what is the meaning of all of this?
My own book is in my hands. I feel it. It exists. Then I let go of it. It falls to the ground. There’s broken glass on the sidewalk. What’s worse is that I don’t remember the contents between the covers. It’s as if I wrote a book while I was asleep. I picture myself screaming in a forest. I’m so certain that I’m alone that it doesn’t occur to me that someone might hear me. The hardcover remains on the dirty sidewalk. Dirty doesn’t seem to belong in the previous sentence. Would I feel comfortable on a city sidewalk that was spotless? I’m afraid of what’s inside of me. I know that my head and my heart aren’t spotless. My own book is a journal in which I write about both my inner and outer lives. I lean down to pick up the journal. I prefer hardcover journals. The journal doesn’t have to return to my hands. Maybe it’s time to start writing in another. Perhaps I’m afraid to finish filling this one with what might be fictional journal entries. Am I allowing my own creative work to fall to the ground? The reality that I’m writing with both my heart and my head might be overwhelming me. I’m screaming in a forest. My readers can hear me. My unfinished book of journal writing is back in my hands. That’s the last time it will fall to the ground. I feel anxiety in the last sentence. My sentences are alive, which my imagination tells me is a good thing. Hopefully, I am also alive while I write what I realize is the final sentence.
The room, with a wall of bookcases and windows facing the park, was my imagining and writing home when I lived there. Now it’s a room without an occupant, which I’ve been told should change soon. I left Madrid and Southern Europe, after a week’s visit, two or three days ago. These sentences are being written in what became my new writing room when I returned to Seattle seven and a half years ago. Most of the books in Spanish that were on the shelves in the fourth floor flat with a view of the park in Madrid are with me here in Seattle.
Last week I was alone in my old writing and reading room in Madrid for what felt much longer than a few moments. It was a visual experience of memories that seemed to choose and control me during that fragment of time. Where is the desk where I wrote every morning and afternoon? I knew that this question didn’t leave my mind, that it wasn’t spoken aloud, and yet I glanced around the room to reassure myself that I was alone. Sadness and anxiety were too alive within me to be named. I was sad that my days of writing in journals in that fourth floor flat were over. They ended seven and a half years ago, or so I wished to believe. As I stood motionless in the empty room, I pictured myself seated at the desk that had been there to welcome me when I moved in, writing about my day in a red journal. What I wrote often became something other than factual. I wrote about my daily life as if it were fiction, which perhaps it always has been. Before my moments alone last week came to an end, I pictured myself sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag. I would remain in that room in my imagination. And now I can stop writing. I have arrived in two cities and in two countries at once, in my imagination, where a few moments can last a lifetime. I was anxious last week about facing my past. This week I realize that I can imagine it instead.