When I heard a woman say on the phone that she was waiting for me on the sidewalk outside our building, I thought I was imagining her words. Maybe it was the initial image of what would become my next fictional vignette. Fictional seemed to insist on its presence instead of experimental, which had come to mind seconds earlier. Fictional vignettes can be experimental. I pictured myself writing this last sentence as a note to remember. The woman’s voice was real. “You are the writer with whom I exchanged emails, aren’t you?” I glanced at my laptop screen: 11:02 am. That’s when I remembered. She would sit here alongside my desk and watch me write from 11 to 12. I had placed a chair a few feet from where I was seated. When I asked her in an email why she wanted to do such a thing, she responded that she preferred to explain it to me in person.
“What are you going to do?”
It was an intuitive question. What would I do while she sat observing me? I would do what I always do at my desk: write.
“What if I read instead of write?”
“I can observe reading too. What I need to see is creativity in action.”
Images stopped appearing. I waited, pen in hand. Who was this observing woman? What was happening inside of my mind? Another image appeared: the woman walked toward my desk and sat down in the chair I’d placed alongside it. I started moving the pen across the page again. Something must have been happening in my mind. I thought of it as invisible creativity.
I imagined that the six digits had escaped from my mind. Thought would have allowed me to realize that I’d forgotten them. I needed them to reappear in 120 seconds. In two minutes I would be standing before the keypad alongside the door that clients and their families used to enter the building. I didn’t think of myself as a client. Neither did my psychoanalyst. I was a patient or an analysand. Most of the people I saw in the waiting area were children and their parents. My psychoanalyst was also a child therapist. I was seconds away from the building when the six digits returned. It was as if my mind had returned.
I was alone in the waiting area for the two minutes I waited before the light alongside my analyst’s name on the wall switched off and I walked up a flight of stairs. As if out of nowhere, it came to me that my psychoanalyst’s couch might be the only one in the building. I was a stranger here. I didn’t belong. Hundreds of fifty-minute hours on the couch had changed my mind in some way. I felt it. The sentences about being a stranger and not belonging were related to what was happening in my own mind, right now, as I sat waiting.
I didn’t wait long. As Freud said in different words, it is impossible to understand what psychoanalysis is about unless you’re in the room. I had read about psychoanalysis for years before my initial fifty minutes on the couch. I could attempt to describe today’s session in words, but my inner experiences on the couch were before or beyond words. Things happened. Insights and understandings sometimes came to me. After some sessions, I wished that I’d said something more or different or nothing at all, moments of inner experience which I would hopefully reflect on. I forgot the six-digit entry code today before remembering it. We spoke about this while I was on the couch. Tomorrow something else will happen. And I’ll still feel like a stranger in here.
Multiple images come to mind at once. The elderly woman in front of me in line at the coffee shop can’t be whom I think she is. She turns her head to one side, and the following words seem to take control of my body: It’s Helen! The years count themselves: our six and a half years of Jungian psychotherapy ended seventeen years ago this month, a few days before I moved from Seattle to Madrid. Seven years later I returned to her office twice, the first time to say hello, and the second time I’m unsure why since I was still living in Madrid and not consciously interested in more psychotherapy. These sentences feel as if they might become part of the beginning of a narrative.
The coffee shop where this imaginary encounter occurs is four blocks from where I’m seated, in my office at home. Helen is around the same age as my parents. I forget how I know that. She helped me to begin changing my life in my late twenties and early thirties. Around a year ago I discovered online that she has retired. It is hard for me to picture her outside of her office. To me she was her work. Why am I afraid to finish my own sentence? Her healing work. She helped me start the lifelong process of healing myself.
Things could have ended better between us. When I moved to Madrid with Javier at age 34, I had only recently started listening to my intuition. Dreams suggested that our work had continued for too long.
Present, past, and future feel as if they’re speaking to me at once in these images and memories. I don’t frequent coffee shops anymore. The one where I imagine encountering Helen has always felt welcoming to me. Maybe my imagination has become a more welcoming place for my own inner experiences. Helen also helped me to discover my own imagination. I had never recorded my dreams before. This sort of writing could only have happened in my dreams. Now I can write like this awake.
(Last Thursday I left Seattle for a few days alone in the San Juan Islands. I wrote most of what follows on Wednesday, the day before my departure.)
In a moment of visual clarity, I picture where I’m headed tomorrow on light rail and bus and in a truck and outboard as if the experience of traveling to the small island were a map of images, images as memories.
I see Lou, our old neighbor, who lived alone in his A-frame cabin for thirty years, as I remember him the last time I saw him alive, a few weeks before his death in May 2014. He sat on a log alongside the dirt road that encircles the island. He held his walking stick close to his chest. His dog Rolly was a few feet away. I said, “Hi Lou,” and he said, “Good morning, Paul.” I started walking again. Lou remained seated, and I heard him say something to Rolly as I turned a corner in the road. A few weeks later, Lou died of a heart attack in his kitchen. One of the few other full-time residents on the island found him, and she told me that Rolly was nearby.
The images have disappeared, for now. I’m tired. I forgot that remembering can be so much emotional work. I feel like the introvert I am after talking with friends over drinks. My need to be alone is so great that I became aware of it only moments ago.
Everything I have written here originated in images. Probably much of what I remember did not happen that way in reality. For instance, I imagine that Lou said, “Good morning, Paul,” and that he spoke to Rolly as I continued my walk. My imaginative version of what happened feels right in a creative way. Memories can be creative. A good narrative is, which is what I imagine these sentences to be.
The image of me angry and motionless feels more real than the anger itself that seemed to possess me from within yesterday.
I worry that I spoke too loud, that I said things I shouldn’t have. The image has become me. I stand silent in the middle of a crowded room. People move around me. I hear their voices. And I remain silent and still.
I doubt myself. The image does not. In it I am more than the anxious me. I am the image. The image is me.
An experience is in search of me. Last night I dreamed that I had my car washed. In reality, I don’t own a car. I also dreamed that I sat on the ground in a forest, in a meditative position, watching a tree grow. I felt it growing. I don’t want to drive again, which is strange to see in writing, although I haven’t sat in the driver’s seat since 2002, the year I moved from Seattle to Madrid. I’m afraid to count the years between then and now. The counting happens on its own. A tree grows on its own. I don’t control my mind. I experience it. What might it mean to me to be in the driver’s seat of my own inner experiences?
I imagine the opening sentence in the paragraph above appearing and disappearing on the surface of my mind, as if I were meditating in a forest and observing a tree experience its own natural process of growth. I pause before writing the next sentence. Silence becomes the pause, before noise in my mind returns and the pen moves again. Trees belong in a forest. My imagination has made the impossible possible: I sit on the ground, and the growth of a tree becomes a moment to moment visible experience.
More words that feel strange to see in writing come to me: this experience is experiencing me. I am being experienced by life in the forest. The mind is a miraculous place.
Can this be my mind right now? Seconds stop. Time travels. I’m frustrated with person X, and with Y and Z. I’m uncertain whether or not I want to attend an upcoming lecture on myth sponsored by the local Jung society. Everything feels uncertain. The experience might be calmer if I were meditating. My decades of life on this planet feel as if time has decided that they’re unnecessary for future thought. I feel paralyzed, as if bodily and mental movements were no longer possible. I’m stuck in a dark tunnel. What if I never experience another beginning in the light of day?
The anxiety I feel in my body tells me that all of these mind movements are real. My imagination is real. I imagine myself as a fisherman of mysteries deep inside of me, most of which will probably never see the light of consciousness. I fish in my imagination because my pen keeps moving across the page, because of the images, feelings, and thoughts that never stop reminding me that I’m alive.
Fishing for the unknown within me becomes a moral activity. I feel as if I’m searching for the unborn inside of myself (or maybe it’s searching for me), whose birth must happen in consciousness.
The dark tunnel is behind me. There will always be anxiety in my future. Yet I’m experiencing another beginning, in the light of day.