Writing a novel whose narrator’s work was the same as my own complicated my real life more than I’d imagined possible. That’s what came to me in the shower this morning. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, as I tidied the bedroom before walking to my writing room at the other end of the hallway, I realized that caffeine wasn’t the only thing that had helped to change my state of mind since I’d sat down at my desk a couple of hours earlier to work on the first draft of what had yet to become a novel. I imagined that the writing itself had rearranged things in my mind. Things seemed to be moving around in my head in a more imaginative way than strong coffee could bring about on its own. My narrator had surprised me this morning at my desk. The paragraphs that seemed to write themselves on the screen moved me toward unexpected places. I pictured my narrator commenting on the previous sentence, as if he were an observer in my mind: isn’t that what’s supposed to happen during the creative process, that the writing itself moves the writer toward unexpected places in his imagination? My narrator and I had something important in common: both of us were writers and psychotherapists. This morning’s paragraphs were another attempt to create the opening scene of the novel. Maybe it was much more than an attempt. Perhaps I succeeded in providing glimpses of my narrator’s mental morning as he started his day working on his own novel and then walked to his consulting room where he would listen to others until evening. His consulting room was unlike mine. For some reason the appearance of the word unlike in my mind frustrated me, as if I had a choice which words came to me. Maybe I was envious of my narrator. My intuition seemed to say that wasn’t what frustrated me. There wasn’t a couch in his office. All of his clients (he didn’t use the word patient) sat across from him. My narrator, unlike me, was a Jungian psychotherapist. Was it hard for me to imagine a narrator who practiced psychotherapy in a different way than I did? Years ago I was a client in Jungian psychotherapy. So I knew something about it. Yet I felt somehow threatened by my narrator’s theoretical approach. All of this constituted a writing mystery, which I knew from experience the writing process was full of, and fortunately, I was feeling creative. I had a long day ahead of me. As I was about to leave home and walk to my office, I thought that perhaps my morning writing was my way of preparing myself for the mysteries of my other work, listening to and trying to understand other human beings. Both processes, that of writing and of psychotherapy, seemed to lead me to unexpected places every day.
Calmness appeared, disappeared, reappeared. My feet were touching the sidewalk. There was no screaming in my head. I knew what I was making contact with physically. What was controlling my imagination? Seconds earlier, the image had been clear: I was screaming in an empty field. Then an inner door seemed to close, which barred the screaming me from making contact with the rest of me. Contact as a form of communication seemed important. My feet were on the ground. It was 12:03 pm. The July midday sun reminded me that I was in a hurry to reach the door of our building. I didn’t want to sweat right before returning to my desk and to the editing work that would occupy my mind during the rest of the afternoon. In the previous sentence, I imagined writing: I didn’t want to scream right before returning to my desk. Some inner door had closed behind me. Where was the screaming me now? Seconds felt like an hour. I was so afraid of something that I had no idea what it was. A child me and an adult me appeared, they were as real as the sidewalk below my feet, and for a long second it was uncertain which one would scream. Maybe both of them would. I was lonely as a child, although I was too anxious ever to realize it. Years and decades passed, and I didn’t change. I wanted to write that nothing changed. “I” didn’t have to become part of this. Writing a sentence like the previous one was hard. It was painful to see how afraid I could be of even glancing at myself in the mirror. One moment I saw one thing, the next moment something different appeared. I walked a few more feet and glanced at my watch. It was 12:04 pm. The sidewalk remained below my feet. The screaming me would reappear or not reappear, in its own time.
Moments ago, pen in hand, I imagined painting what I was about to write. I’d never imagined painting words before. I’m wondering how I would paint the sentence that just appeared. How am I writing this sentence? Mind and body are mysteries. So far this experience with pen in hand, this blue ballpoint pen that I bought along with four others at a nearby art store last week moving across the page without lines as if on its own, has happened without struggle. Maybe that’s a bad thing. Then this last sentence, along with all of the preceding ones, disappears, as if it had never been written. This is how writing should happen, isn’t it? The word should in the last sentence makes me anxious since I’m just writing sentences. The real work behind the appearance of these words, one at a time, is in subjective reality beyond my control. Or so I believe. For some reason it’s hard to admit that I don’t know what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Such is the life of a writer, or it’s how I’m imagining my writing life right now. Who knows what images will come to me in a moment or two, when the blue ballpoint pen is no longer in my hand.
I was about to write myself a note in my journal so that I wouldn’t forget something when I wrote: I don’t want a vacation. Maybe part of me didn’t want a break from what I perceived as craziness in my head. Perhaps craziness would be too much for me to handle on my own. Sometimes I want to believe that there’s room for only one in my mind: the crazy one. These sorts of mental confrontations can be difficult to deal with in words. Maybe part of why I write in a journal is to help myself become aware of the conflicts in my mind. Imagining in words can do wonders to create inner calm, even if for only moments at a time. Time itself sometimes reveals new sides of itself to me in a single sentence. The work of writing a single sentence requires passion. I’m seeking something passionate in these sentences, or maybe passion is seeking me. Past and present tenses have become one. I no longer feel crazy. Maybe I’m ready for a mental vacation, if only for a moment. Soon part of me will want a break from calmness. Writing these sentences shows me, once again, that there’s room for more than one in my mind. It’s as if I can see my mind in action in this journal, one sentence and word at a time. Writing doesn’t let me forget where I am: in my own head and body. I imagine my body saying: you almost forgot about me. Craziness helps when words keep appearing as if the word end didn’t exist.
Three days ago I thought I lost my mind. Four days ago I thought I’d found it. Both of these mental events happened here, at my desk, which makes me wonder what might happen next. I thought that my mind, or body, or both, had become more predictable. Change doesn’t happen only outside of me. It also happens on the inside, where mystery prevents me from knowing with certainty what happens moment to moment. Am I curious to know what might happen next, or am I afraid to face the uncertainty of what kinds of inner experiences I’ll have today? Rigidity and frigidity come to mind. I don’t want to change how I experience my mind or my body. An unwelcome sentence arrives: this attitude sometimes leaves me cold or unimaginative, as if my mind and body were agreeing on something. What might that be? Perhaps that repetition likes things to remain the same. I almost wrote religion instead of repetition. In high school, I forgot what happened the day before religiously. Who wants to remember losing one’s own mind? Another word demands to appear on the page: congeal. As a high school student, fear seemed to block me from imagining and thinking. In this paragraph, I’ve struggled to form thoughts from images and words. Yet I don’t feel as if I’ve either lost or found my mind. It’s been here all along.
I was waiting to pour myself a cup of afternoon coffee when an unexpected sentence formed itself in my mind: I can’t stop writing. I was standing motionless, my hands unoccupied, when these words came to me. It was an unusual day for me in that I’d yet to write a single sentence. Yet it seemed as if sentences had been writing themselves in my mind all day, beyond conscious awareness. They’re sentences for the future. I wanted to write this last sentence down before I forgot it. Sentences for the future intrigued me. I left the kitchen with my cup of coffee and was about to start focusing on the editing work I had to finish before the end of the day when another thought arrived unannounced (I almost wrote uninvited): the sentences themselves aren’t important. The books that they’re leading you toward are what matter. I was more frustrated than I realized. My eyes told me I had a lifetime of books on my shelves. I stood in my office, glanced at hardcovers and paperbacks before I sat down and returned to work, and I thought: my reading future is before me. Then I was seated at my desk, editing words someone else had written, when a related thought came to me: the books themselves are less important than the new attitude I might develop from reading them. I didn’t have time to wonder what this new attitude might be. The words time and attitude seemed connected. Sometimes time brings us new attitudes. This was another sentence that seemed to say: I couldn’t concentrate on my work. Something else seemed more important, and that something else was part of my future. There was something in me, an attitude, that was unborn. Now I was ready to focus on the editing I had to do on the screen. Sentences might continue writing themselves in my mind. As a writer, I couldn’t complain about that.
When I read that the psychoanalyst of Budapest celebrated his fortieth birthday on the day he wrote the letter I was reading, I wished I could forget how old I was when Spanish became my second, or maybe first, language. Sándor Ferenczi sounded sad in his letter to Freud. I was sad before I’d finished reading the opening paragraph. Translation has seemed to become part of this writing experience of mine. What kind of translation is at work here? Emotional translation comes to mind first. Ferenczi’s letter, written in July 1913, has affected me in a way that remains unclear. I was sad. I am sad. I was thirty-five when I moved to Madrid and immersed myself in learning a second language, which I’d failed at in high school. This last clause appeared on its own. I seem to be doubting myself. Ferenczi wrote of inner struggles in his letter to Freud. When he mentioned his psychoanalytic work with patients, I was uncertain how he felt about the work. Uncertainty can lead to creativity. This last sentence helps me remember that my heart beat faster when I read that Ferenczi had turned forty on the day he wrote the letter to Freud. Freud has become part of the uncertainty I’m experiencing as I write this sentence. For years I struggled to read Freud. I still do. His correspondences discovered me one day in a Madrid bookstore a decade ago, and I’ve been reading them ever since, both in Spanish and in English translations. I also have several volumes of Ferenczi’s correspondences. It’s as if these books on my shelves have something to teach me that I’ve done my best to avoid. I’ve been avoiding Freud’s major works, such as The Interpretation of Dreams, less this year than in the past. Another of his works, Psychopathology of Everyday Life, has been my evening reading for a few days. Changes seem to be happening inside of me. I hope the translator in me can keep up with them.