Nothing and Everything

(This is a free-associative fragment.)

These sentences could have been about something else. All I know about so far are these two that I’ve written. The uncertainty in them makes me uncomfortable. More words demand to be written: I’m writing about nothing. No one will be interested in this. I’m interested in the words I’ve yet to write, which might be part of what motivates me to spend so much time at my desk, pen in hand or fingers on the keyboard: to discover or glimpse unknowns inside of myself. There was method to this. There is method to this. I wonder why I switched from the present to the past tense. Why not? It’s difficult to admit that rules control much of what happens in my mind. Control and uncertainty are in conflict with each other. Uncertainty seems to help me think about the rules I have for everything. I’ve returned to the present tense. Does a rule tell me that I can’t return to the past tense? I could have written all of these sentences as if they belonged to the past. In a way they do, since I’ve already written them. I’ve just returned from a walk. More uncertainty: should I buy yet another book online? This one was written by a psychoanalyst born in 1922, and was published in 2009. Perhaps he hasn’t published anything since. It consists of published and unpublished papers on various aspects of psychoanalysis. I want to leave this room, holding another book by the same psychoanalytic author, walk to the living room where a glass of beer awaits me, and read in silence. It’s silent in this room too, except for the noise of an airplane in the sky. Reading creates its own kind of inner silence, or the book and I create it together. It’s the kind of silence that makes everything I write possible, whatever I might write about, in this case perhaps nothing. Or maybe I’ve written about everything.


Beginnings in the Dark

(This fragment probably represents the beginning of a new part of my book of fragments. My narrator has become someone new, sort of.)

I was a different mind. I was a different voice. This wasn’t the same body. I was a narrator and a fictional human being who was discovering his life, as if it hadn’t existed yesterday. In an imaginative way, it hadn’t. The old me, the fifty year-old narrator who worked a Sunday shift at NonStop Books and rented a loft in the same building where he wrote on a wall, needed to become someone else. I also lived in Seattle, in the same neighborhood, Capitol Hill. I was also a writer, when I wasn’t listening to others in my consulting room. I would forever be a student. I was training to become a psychoanalyst. This afternoon a new patient sat down across from me for the first time. Sometimes I used the word client. I could call him a potential analysand. If our initial meetings went well for both of us, he would become my third and final control case, which meant that my work with him would be part of my training to become a psychoanalyst. He would experience the couch soon enough. He might experience my couch soon. Writing in this journal relaxed me. A cancellation made these sentences possible. I’d already written notes on my fifty minutes with him this afternoon. I was tired. For some reason it was hard to admit that I wasn’t ready to begin another psychoanalysis. My work with my second patient had finished recently. Analysis was quite a commitment, for both patient and analyst. Exploring a mind was a long and complicated process. It was hard work, for both of us. The case was required to last two years. It might last much longer. How long would it take me to discover my own voice as a psychoanalyst? This question surprised me. I thought I’d already discovered it, which was a crazy thought since I was still in training. I was on my own, which was a surprising thought. I was involved in my institute where I was training. Clinical work wasn’t new to me, and I’d had my own practice for years. Psychoanalysis had been part of my life for a long time, as a patient myself on the couch, as a reader of Freud, Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Lacan, and many others, and perhaps most importantly, as a way of listening to the other human being in my office. I reread all of these sentences. There was a mind and a voice in them. Psychoanalysis as a practice (patients coming three or four times a week and lying on the couch) didn’t appear to have much of a future in this country. Yet it was now part of my future. I could be this kind of narrator.

Recording of Contact with the Unknown

This was the first fragment I wrote without my hands. I hadn’t recorded my own voice in years. For some reason the words started coming out of my mouth instead of onto the page. Perhaps I wasn’t in a writing mood. Yet I was writing sentences in my head. A sentence came to me from a book on Lacan that I had been reading: I am a subject of meaning. I had been in a bad mood. Then forty or fifty minutes ago I stopped moving around outside (I was at my cabin, which had been my family’s cabin, and I’d been coming here since I was six; the acre or so of land was sacred to me), removed my boots, showered, put clean clothes on, and started moving around inside the cabin. I prepared myself an afternoon cup of coffee. The word sacred surprised me. The interior of the cabin was hearing my voice for the first time since breakfast, when I’d spoken on the phone. Was meaning sacred to me? Perhaps not. Meaning often changed in my mind. The word subject brought to mind an unconscious center of being, and I wasn’t in a mood to try to understand what that might mean. I paced the room between the wood stove and the table where I ate and where, when in another mental mood, I might be seated and writing strange sentences such as this one. Being alone often brought me more into contact with myself. Maybe as an unconscious subject (for reasons I didn’t yet understand, unconscious ego didn’t seem like a good term to use here) I was always in the process of becoming. Becoming what, I wondered aloud. Now I was walking around the main floor of the cabin holding a coffee cup. I checked to make sure that the audio recorder was on. For a moment I wished I hadn’t said anything about a subject of meaning. I didn’t know what I was talking about. Language seemed to be doing something to me. These sentences I was uttering were affecting me. I finished the coffee. “These sentences are a form of contact with the unknown,” I said in a loud voice. I heard someone else’s voice. Someone was outside, knocking on the cabin door. It turned the audio recorder off. Perhaps this fragment had reached its end.

One or the Other

(This is another fictional fragment. Thanks for reading.)

I thought he said fictional worlds. A few minutes later I heard him say fictional words. A memory came to me of a friend who told me once that sometimes she found herself creating her own language. I was tired. The beer seemed to slow things down in my mind. “Sometimes everything I write seems one big illusion,” the novelist said, seated across from me on the cabin deck. We had become friends during the summer. The word veil came to mind, as a noun, and I wondered what inner knowledge I might be trying to hide from. I glanced at my watch. It was six. We had been talking for an hour. This was his cabin for the summer. He couldn’t start preparing his dinner until I left. These sentences were unwelcome in my mind as I finished my beer, and I imagined writing them down on paper. James asked me if something was bothering me, or I thought he asked me that. It didn’t sound like something he would ask. What was wrong with me? I hadn’t overstayed my welcome before. “You’ve suddenly become quiet,” he said. I realized that his use of the word illusion was affecting me. Then I wondered: which word just came to me, illusion or allusion? What might I have been afraid that he was alluding to? Maybe I was afraid that he had accused me, in an indirect way, of using words that didn’t exist. I needed another beer. Something was wrong with me. I didn’t want to leave. This sentence surprised me, and for a moment I was afraid I would say it aloud. I had been outside all day. I went rowing. “I’m really tired. The beer has put me to sleep.” As I uttered this last sentence, I became certain that I was using the phrase “put me to sleep” incorrectly, as if some unwritten law prohibited me from using phrases creatively. James finished his beer, crushed the can under his foot, and stood up. “I’ve been frustrated today,” he said. “I spent most of the morning attempting to write a scene, which, after I wrote it, didn’t make sense.” I also stood up and found myself wishing that I’d asked that friend of mine, who had sometimes found herself creating her own language, to tell me some of the words she’d created. I could call her, if I could find her number. I could prepare my own dinner. I could also first have another beer on my own deck. Maybe the silence would calm me down. We said goodbye. I still didn’t want to leave. Or maybe I was unable to admit to myself how much I needed to be alone.

Letter to Myself

Can I write about craziness in fiction without a narrator? Perhaps I’m afraid I won’t be able to tolerate the fear of failing alone. A narrator becomes someone to blame. He might become the fulfillment of a wish to make my mind blameless. Nothing is my fault. I’m writing well. I just need a different narrator.

I seem to experience craziness in fragments. I associate craziness with mental uncertainty. Craziness keeps me awake, so to speak. My writing needs it. Right now my writing needs me to write a sentence waiting for me in the dark and which has nowhere else to go. I’m going to use a different word to describe what I write. I write fragments. Vignettes felt like the right word for a few years. An intuitive thought, before or without words, suggests that fragment might be a better word.

Perhaps my narrator becomes a creative way for me to write a fictional letter to myself. Communicating with oneself can be difficult. The word fragment returns to mind and is followed by connection. Maybe I write fragments to create and discover inner connections. I write a fragment to create a whole.

It is hard to think of myself as fictional. Experience has shown me that the more autobiographical my writing plans are the more fictional the narratives turn out to be. Are these short paragraphs fragments of a fictional whole?

There’s nothing fictional in what I’ve written here, is there? This could be fiction if the writer were my narrator. For years I believed I couldn’t write a story. When I did write one, I called it something else, as if I were threatened by fiction. Maybe unconsciously I created a dichotomy between fiction and reality or between imagination and thinking. I would have been afraid of my own creativity.

I have written these fragments or this whole on my own. Has a narrator been involved in its creation? I’ll ask him if he appears.


Words As Mysterious Gifts

(I am afraid I am not writing these fragments of my book, Writers in a Mind, in chronological order. Thanks for reading).

I imagined I was at my desk translating a text, a significant and difficult one, from Spanish into English. In reality, I was standing in a bookstore, between Fiction and Psychology. An uninvited thought came to me: they’re lucky I’m here. Who was lucky and why? Lucky brought last night’s reading to mind. I had struggled to understand a single sentence of Lacan. I was unable to translate what he’d written in this particular essay (was that the right word?) about speech and language into concepts I could grasp. Another uninvited thought took the form of a response: That’s your problem. Don’t try so hard to understand things. Experience them instead. Understanding comes afterwards. Both people and words surrounded me, people on the outside, words on the inside. Lacan had arrived in my life by chance. I counted how many years ago: eighteen. Until now, we had had a superficial relationship. I started moving toward Psychology, as if I were to look for the French psychoanalyst on a shelf. Someone called my name. Many years ago the writer within called out to me, and I responded. The voice and her words came from behind me. I knew her voice. I heard another name, House of Words, which moments later she told me was the title of a book she’d never written. Words seemed to be doing strange things in my mind. Maybe she said that we were standing in the House of Words, which was true. NonStop Books was more than a bookstore. “You work here, don’t you?” The speaker of these words, who now faced me, was important. She must be tired. Laura had spoken to everyone seated and standing about Everything, the title of her novel. Without thinking, I translated this word into Spanish. Wasn’t all of this translation of subjective experience, images and bodily sensations, into words and thoughts? Would Lacan be interested in this question? Laura and I spoke, and as we did, the thought came to me: value all of the words that come to mind. Each one is a mysterious gift.

Two Readers on a Train

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.