I am afraid that what remains of last night’s dream will soon disappear. The problem is that I can’t record only what I remember, as if this were my dream journal. Other images have appeared, and I imagine them saying in unison: “We want to be part of the dream, too!”
I stand before a familiar door. I’ve climbed a flight of stairs without remembering it. She’s not here today. I feel my own anxiety in the last sentence. It’s Saturday. These two words seem to turn my body around so that I’m facing the other doors on either side of the long corridor. I often see these doors closed, but today I somehow know that all of the offices are empty. My psychoanalyst would never know I was here. Before I open the familiar door, an image from last night’s dream appears: I’m standing before the front door of my childhood home, which somehow I know now belongs to my psychoanalyst and her husband (I thought she wasn’t married!). This image has yet to disappear when I lie down on the couch where, in reality (which reality, external or internal, am I referring to?), I attempt to say whatever comes to mind a few times a week. It’s strange to be in this space alone, and I connect this feeling to my experience in last night’s dream: I don’t belong here, not now. This isn’t my office. We don’t have a session today. My childhood home belongs to someone else now. I can’t open the front door as if my parents were waiting for me inside.
The dream hasn’t been completely lost. An image has been saved, one with valuable imaginative information. She has become the owner of our old home. I first wrote “my old home,” and then I replaced “my” with “our” before I could think about what I was doing. Home is an emotional place. I am at home, expressing all of this in words, we have a session today, in what feels like a dream. I’m writing and I’m dreaming, while I’m awake, unlocking inner doors that I didn’t know were here to be opened.
“I journaled in my mind this morning.”
An image of him in a coffee shop writing in a black hardcover journal came to me. Then I realized what he’d said: I journaled in my mind. I had avoided listening to his words. Or maybe I needed to be more patient with my own imaginative ways of listening. He might have written in his journal in a coffee shop this morning, and he might have had moments during the experience when he felt or imagined that he was writing in his mind instead of in his journal.
Neither of us spoke for what felt like several minutes. A sentence came to mind: Journaling helps me understand who I am becoming. Was I thinking about myself, the thirty-five year-old man on the couch, or both of us? This question felt less important than the next sentence that came to me: This is journaling in my mind. Perhaps the man on the couch was describing how he experienced his mind this morning. I realized that it was a few minutes before noon. Maybe he was describing his frame of mind now, while both of us were in the same physical space, and neither of us held a journal or pen in his hand.
“That last sentence has kept me quiet. It surprised me. I’m a bit disorientated.” The number thirty-five returned to my conscious thoughts in a sentence that seemed to disappear moments after appearing. Thirty-five, though, remained. “Last night I read some pages of a journal of my mom’s from thirty-five years ago. I can’t remember when she gave it to me. Or why. What I read surprised me. She did this. I knew she was in psychoanalysis. She did what I’m doing. I’m doing what she did. And she wrote about it on the pages I read last night. She was sad. I was born that year.” Silence again.
I imagined both of us journaling in our minds. The image felt alive. It helped. I was sad. We were sad. Journaling in our minds.
Letters by Freud written over a hundred years ago are important to me, to my imagination, to my mind, to my writing. I’ve felt this since 2007, when I bought my first volume of his correspondence in Madrid, in Spanish translation.
Another, seemingly unrelated book found me on May 2, 2016, in Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle (there are advantages to writing the date of purchase on the flyleaf). In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis by Casey Schwartz felt good in my hands. I walked home on that warm midday in early May feeling that part of my mental and emotional and writing futures was within my grasp. What awaited me were the experiences of discovery themselves.
At around the same time I discovered a video on YouTube, a lecture by the neuropsychologist and psychoanalyst Mark Solms, who is an important part of Schwartz’s book, on the brain in psychoanalysis (these words come to me now), and as months passed, I wondered why I kept watching the video of him speaking at this event in New York sponsored by the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) over and over. At the beginning of his talk, Solms said that he was going to speak about something simple. Then I heard him say that his talk was called “A neuropsychoanalytic perspective on the talking cure (which is psychoanalysis).” During the following several minutes, what I heard was simple in a complicated way. Solms seemed to be wondering aloud about what happens inside the two human beings in a consulting room. He used the term communication. As he continued talking, it became clearer to me that he was referring to what happens in the two brains of the two people in the room. Rudimentary communication starts inside our brains. I have written these last several sentences while watching his talk once more. Feeling states become means of communication. “Emotions are a perceptual modality.” These were Solms’s words in his talk. The two human beings in a psychotherapist’s office react to each other in their brains, in their minds, with feelings, which can lead to thought. Words become proof that feeling action has happened in our brains and minds. The final words of his talk were: “The talking is about feelings.”
I’m wondering what all of this has to do with letters Freud wrote in the early 1900s. Freud’s mind interests me. His brain interests me. What kinds of feelings do I imagine in him while he wrote his letters to colleagues and friends? I feel as if I’ve been drinking coffee all day. In reality, I finished my morning mug of coffee at around 7 am. I’m excited that after more than a decade of reading from around a dozen volumes of Freud correspondences that I’ve finally found an imaginative focus: what I imagine he was feeling while he wrote his letters late at night, after a long day of work. And somehow, from these imaginings, I have faith that images and ideas will come to me here at my desk as I become anxious about writing words on paper.
I am unsure why he wants me seated alongside his desk where he appears about to start writing in a sketchbook, which he says is his daily writing journal.
“Think of it as an experiment,” he wrote in one of his initial emails to me on the subject.
I have arrived at his writing room prepared for anything, which is a translation of the following series of images into words: he stands up, walks away from his desk, leaves his writing room, then returns, sits back down in the chair, and opens the sketchbook, as if he were waiting for an inner event to cause external action.
His writing hand, with which he grips a blue pen, trembles. An unwelcome image of my mother, who has Parkinson’s Disease, comes to mind.
Words, lots of them, start appearing on what less than sixty seconds earlier was a blank sketchbook page. I write the following sentences in my mind: I imagine this stranger before me as a Jackson Pollock with words. Perhaps he wants me here as a witness. This really happened.
An image of me standing behind his chair, peeping over his shoulder to glimpse a clause or even a complete sentence, seems to become everything in my mind for a long anxious moment. I’m afraid that my body might act without the permission of the rest of me. I picture this writer in action, standing in front of the closed door, preventing my leaving. I realize that I might be here for longer than I thought.
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.
(What follows is written in the form of a journal entry.)
An imaginative experience happened inside of me this afternoon while I prepared myself a cheese sandwich for lunch. I wished I’d eaten earlier. It was two o’clock, and I’d spent more minutes than I was willing to count at my desk unable to imagine or think. I was in the kitchen, preparing the sandwich, glancing at the Olympic Mountains in the distance, when the thought came to me: there’s a better way to prepare for the conversation tomorrow that you don’t want to have. Imagine her. Before my thinking could interfere with the creative process, I found myself picturing her in the coffee shop where three of us will meet at noon to talk about a problem we’re trying to solve together. She was sad in my imagination, not angry or frustrated with me. I knew that this image of her, sipping coffee, spoke the truth. She didn’t want to criticize me.
The image seemed to speak emotional truth. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, so it’s possible that my recurring thoughts warning me of an uncomfortable conversation will be right. Yet the reading I’ve done today suggests I should listen to my imagination.
I have discovered or rediscovered the psychological thinker James Hillman, whose writings remind me that my mind is an imaginative place. Hillman was born in 1926 and died in 2011. In the late 1990s I read The Soul’s Code for a course in the master’s degree in psychology I was completing. For reasons that I don’t wish to try to imagine now, I didn’t remember much of the book after reading it. I remember thinking that I enjoyed it. Two images of me twenty years ago come to mind. In the first, I’m reading Hillman’s book. In the second, I throw it into the water. The second image is full of energy.
A reading journal has finally become a reality in my life. The notes I’ve been taking on Hillman’s writings have helped me return to Carl Jung’s Collected Works, which have been with me on my shelves for more years than I wish to count. I’m sad. Perhaps I’ll imagine my sadness. First I must walk to the kitchen to prepare myself a coffee.
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.