Paper and Pencil in a Monastery

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.


Familiar Friends

(These paragraphs are a sort of travel journal, which I wrote during a recent trip to Madrid).

Recently I have felt as if I were writing in a tunnel far underground. Images have been more important than words. I picture myself climbing stairs. Soon I’ll be on the sidewalk. Soon is not the same as now. Time seems to have become an obstacle in my mind. I do not want things to slow down, which my writing state of mind needs.

I wrote the sentences above in another language, my second one, which for several years, while I lived in Madrid, I dreamt was the one I learned first. Time moves differently in me now. I am in a different time zone, the one I lived in in Spain, where I arrived yesterday and will remain a week. The paragraph above was written in the airport in Frankfurt. Perhaps I felt far underground after nearly ten hours on a plane. The flight from Frankfurt to Madrid was delayed. A couple of hours separated me from my destination. Maybe the experience felt similar to climbing stairs. I’ve written these sentences in English in the lobby of the hotel where I’m staying in Madrid.

Walking takes time. This sentence has come to me after my return to the hotel from another long walk in the center of Madrid. Spanish sidewalks have become my friends again. Even in December, people are seated at tables outside bars, on the sidewalks, creating the sense of crowded spaces. I walked to my favorite bookstore this morning, Casa del Libro, on Gran Vía, which has been renovated since my last visit, and I was surprised when I reached the top floor to find the Psychology section on a different wall. My familiar friends, the shelves of books on psychoanalysis and on Jungian thought, greeted me in their new location. I walked back to the hotel along narrow, crowded streets with a book related to Jungian psychology. Time has felt slower since I left Casa del Libro. Later on in the day I’ll spend time with printed words, my familiar friends, on the page.

My days in Madrid pass as if time doesn’t know what to do with me. I visited the building where I lived, spoke with the building manager, and when he offered to show me my old flat, which is vacant, I said yes without a pause. During my minutes in my old home, memories of reading and writing both in Spanish and in English came to me, and I felt as if the past were becoming the future.

I walked around in my old neighborhood. I walked without purpose, or perhaps I was waiting for a purpose to find me.

The two paragraphs above have taken me longer to write than I expected. I’m tired. I’ve slept poorly since my arrival. Now I must leave the hotel for a dinner.

At night, while I’ve been unable to sleep, I’ve read some pages of the book on archetypal psychology that I bought on my first day here. And I find myself rereading the same sentences without comprehending anything, as if the underground tunnel has become reality in my mind. I’m trapped. I seem unable to imagine stairs that I can climb back to the street level, so to speak, to the surface of things in consciousness. Finally, last night, moments before I fell asleep, I felt calm, and I imagined myself walking slowly on a crowded Madrid sidewalk, as if I had the space all to myself.

I’ve struggled to reflect on my time in Spain several years ago in the form of images. I lived here for a period of time that didn’t feel too long until the end. And then I couldn’t leave soon enough. I’m writing these sentences in a bar while I drink a café con leche. I’m also listening to the conversations in Spanish around me. An image appears that seems to describe my years here in Madrid: I’m walking in an underground tunnel, headed toward a destination that remains unknown to me. I finish the coffee with milk and leave the bar. The hotel is nearby. I imagine myself running on the sidewalk and then walking slowly. Perhaps climbing inner stairs won’t be part of my immediate mental or imaginative future. Time doesn’t feel like an obstacle or as a friend. It simply is. Or maybe it has been a friend. I’m thinking now. I don’t feel trapped. And soon I’ll fly home.

Yes and No

This book shouldn’t feel familiar to me. I’ve read parts of some of the author’s other books, but I saw this title for the first time ten or fifteen minutes ago. I’m on the sidewalk. I’m sweating. I glance across the street, see shade, cross, and then look back at where I was, the local bookstore, where I hadn’t thought of going until I imagined myself speaking about spontaneity with this author, a psychoanalyst who publishes books that non-psychoanalysts read. I should have worn shorts. I could have brought them with me in my backpack and changed into them after the meeting. After the meeting it occurred to me, as if I hadn’t thought about it, that I was a few blocks from here. Here was the bookstore, which I entered with the intention of losing myself in Fiction for a few minutes. As I approached Fiction, my body said No. I turned around and headed toward psychology. My body said Yes. No author or title came to mind. Then the psychoanalyst whom I’d imagined speaking with about spontaneity came to me again, and moments later I was holding one of his books. I didn’t open it. I returned it to its place on the shelf, as if I were afraid of it.

I remembered the section with secondhand books that look new. I walked there. My body said No again. I returned to Psychology, and this time I wasn’t afraid to open the book by that psychoanalyst. Spontaneity was in the title.


This book should feel familiar to me. Its author and I have conversed in my imagination. I have spent time with some of his other books. I almost wrote: I’ve spent time in his mind. The book I’ve bought was published last year. I read the opening page and a half before leaving Psychology with it. There seemed something new about his mind in those paragraphs, which at first felt unfamiliar. He was the same psychoanalytic thinker and author that I’d read before. Yet his thinking appeared to have evolved since his previous book. He was changing, growing.

I’m walking on the sidewalk where there’s no shade. I’ll be home soon enough. Walking is my exercise. Reading is another form of exercise. Was I spontaneous in buying the book? Maybe an answer will come to me while I read and hopefully discover why spontaneity is in the title. I wish thoughts wouldn’t come to me as surprises. I ask myself whether I really wish that. Yes and No.


Wisdom in the Ocean

(I am trying to find a way to continue working with the characters in my book or novel without writing in the same narrative structure)

Two verbs were on my mind. I imagined myself in action, either with my pen or at the keyboard. Either medium would work. Medium in the sense I was using it was a noun. Nouns were things. The things in my head were overwhelming me. Something needed to change. I was writing a book, a novel, maybe an experimental or an autobiographical one, maybe more of a magical one, something fictional, and the forty-eight hours I was creating in my imagination and on the page were part of me. Writing, one of the two verbs on my mind, appeared in the last sentence. I imagined the other verb, perhaps in the form of “I was reading,” as writing’s companion. Reading and writing were work. Both experiences were creative acts, which reminded me of translation. I hadn’t thought of reading as an act. Experimental novel seemed significant. This writing project of mine was an experiment. The laboratory was my mind. I was my narrator while he was alive in my imagination. How could reading not be action? Perhaps the two verbs were encouraging me to be spontaneous. Then I found myself in a fictional place, alongside my narrator, he said this was a dream, we were in a bookstore, walking toward books. Could he and I have the same dream, even if we were in a dream? “The words reading and writing won’t leave me alone,” I said. “Is that a bad thing?” he asked, and I realized our voices were similar. Something was missing. We appeared to be the only ones in the store. His words interrupted the silence: “the books you’ll find here aren’t the ones you thought you would find.” I imagined myself swimming in the ocean. For a moment I feared I might drown. Then I was standing on the hardwood floor of the bookstore again. I was about to ask him what kinds of books I would find here when he spoke, as if he had read my mind: “you’ll have to discover what’s on these shelves alone, and first I imagine you’ll read and write some more.” I felt I needed to translate my narrator’s words, but into which language?