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.
Eleven minutes passed without my eyes leaving the words. The number eleven came to me first. I could’ve imagined any number of minutes that the letter and I communicated with each other. I have no idea for how many minutes or seconds I was able to read this letter written one hundred and seven years ago without averting my eyes from the text. Perhaps the colleague of Sigmund Freud who wrote it would’ve been pleased to know that more than a century later someone would refer to these paragraphs of his personal correspondence as a text. I imagine that I’ve been studying it as a source of a writer’s subjective reality on the page. I probably could’ve chosen any one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in this room and found the same kind of material. So why have I spent x number of minutes with sentences that I imagine Ernest Jones wrote late one night before going to bed? He was around thirty years old and would live for another forty-eight years or so. A thought comes to me: when he died, in 1958, psychoanalysis was alive and well. When he wrote this letter to Freud, in 1910, he was just starting to work as a psychoanalyst, or so I imagine. He hadn’t yet experienced psychoanalysis on the couch himself, which he would a few years later. This has been a new kind of reading and writing experience for me. Hopefully the letter will let me know when it’s done with me.
This is unusual for me to observe my own mind. I’ve been reading some of my recent sentences. And I’ve reread them. This opening sentence, the one I wrote above, surprises me. I didn’t think it was unusual for me to observe my own mind. Yet what I’m doing here feels new. Before the word surprise found its way into a sentence, I had a somewhat clear idea of what I would write next. As I reread my own sentences, I identified a few themes that I imagined I’d written about unconsciously. Did I identify them, or did I do something else? Maybe what I did was before thought. Thought remained in the future. I noticed that the first and final sentences of the paragraph I was rereading were connected in a chronological way. In the opening sentence, I was anxious about what might happen during a particular experience, which started to take place in the last sentence of the paragraph. I remembered how I felt before my initial face-to-face meeting with a psychoanalyst last summer, and I imagined an anxious me that couldn’t think about the upcoming conversation. This was the opening sentence of the paragraph that I’ve been rereading during the last hour. Then, twenty-three sentences later, I was inside her office, anxious and confused. I’ve just reread these sentences, the ones I’ve written in the last hour, and I’m no longer surprised that I wrote it is unusual for me to observe my own mind. The sentences I wrote were about someone, a fictional me, who struggled both to imagine and think. A few of the sentences were in present tense, in which the writer wrote about the experience of writing the words, and the rest were in past tense, and dealt with what the writer or narrator remembered. It was as if writing in the present tense overwhelmed me. I almost wrote, overwhelms me, in the present tense.
We met for the first time on a warm Tuesday afternoon in mid August. For a few years before that day, after returning to Seattle from Madrid where I’d lived for nearly a decade, I passed the building countless times without imagining it, as if part of my future remained near me in silence. Our voices had met on the phone the previous Friday. I’d already left her a message when I left another, and she called twenty or thirty minutes later. Writing about this phone conversation ten months later, I’m relying more on my imagination than on anything else. I’ve read the notes I took afterwards. They don’t help me much in trying to discover what kind of narrative I want to write. Sometimes writing sentences helps me feel as if I were on a psychoanalyst’s couch. How I wish I could write freely without having to stop to correct something, which perhaps is why I try to welcome fantasy into my sentences. Fortunately, reality doesn’t disappear, either here in my writing room or on my psychoanalyst’s couch. My efforts of these last ten months to free-associate for fifty minutes at a time in Mary’s consulting room have convinced me that Freud’s ambition was limitless. Saying whatever comes to mind can sometimes feel like an impossible task to me, and I haven’t felt much better about myself after reading papers by psychoanalysts who agree with me. I can’t remember for how long Mary and I spoke on the phone. Maybe I’m afraid to remember. It was a frightening experience, which is not what I’d hoped to write. She could have said no to treating me. It’s difficult to see my anxiety in the last sentence. The phone call ended, and over the weekend I wondered what might happen on Tuesday when I would enter the building I’d never imagined for the first time.
Several psychoanalysts, both dead and alive, are vying for attention in my imagination. If images are capable of patience, these inner parts of me are very patient, considering that they’ve been appearing and disappearing in my mind for years, without my ever figuring out how to relate to them. They’ve never been far away, since I usually spend several hours a day in the room where my nearly thirty volumes of psychoanalytic correspondences and diaries – which includes Jung’s volumes of correspondences – each have their place on the shelves. The writers of all of these correspondences are the sources of my images of dead psychoanalysts. They were human beings who committed their professional lives to helping others. And psychoanalysis, which was then in its infancy, started to provide its practitioners with a way to help themselves (it was decided that all analysts had to be analyzed as part of their training), as well as their patients. Books by contemporary psychoanalysts, including Jungian analysts, occupy much more shelf space here in my office at home than they did a decade ago. Just in the past year I’ve bought twenty books – some of them at discount prices – by a psychoanalyst in New York who’s been writing about his work with patients for over thirty years – and I’ve read parts of all of them, enough so that the author has become an intriguing mental image. Yet, until earlier today, I’d mispronounced his name. I’d watched interviews with him online, but I must not have listened to the interviewers say his name either at the beginning or at the end. Then today I spoke with someone who pronounced his name correctly, and I was reminded of the difference between knowing an author through his or her books and also having listened to that author in person speak about his or her work. Maybe my inner version of this New York analyst is trying to speak to me in new ways. Can I be creative enough to learn how to listen better?
I had no idea why I was calming down. Tomorrow morning a dream of mine would come true. I almost wrote that tomorrow a dream would come to me, as if I thought myself capable of foreseeing the immediate future. Tomorrow felt overwhelming. The meeting wasn’t so important. I would talk with an author whose books I’d enjoyed reading. We would meet over coffee. Why did I write meeting? I hoped it would be more informal than that. What would be formal about two people talking over coffee? It was hard to admit that this dream would soon come true. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe he would send me an email at the last minute and say he was busy writing and didn’t have time to talk to me about writing. I was anxious again. This dream was so real. I was ready to wake up. But the author hadn’t rejected me yet. My dream of speaking with an author whom I’d enjoyed reading couldn’t come true. He would have no reason to drink coffee with me. As if I’d forgotten, I remembered that we were related somehow and that he was in Seattle for a few nights. And somehow, each of us knew that the other was in psychoanalysis. I might have something to write about afterwards. Or maybe he would. Or maybe both of us would. The dream had to finish first.
The hardbound journal was in my hands before I realized what I was doing. I opened it unprepared for what I would find: nothing. The pages were blank. How many years had it waited for me on the shelf? I could either count years or sit down and become part of the experience of pen meeting paper. Pen and paper seemed to need each other. What about me? I was afraid to get into trouble with subjective facts. Where did that come from? This question surprised me since my fear could come from only one place: inside of me. A memory of a frustrating journal writing experience came to me, as if from a previous lifetime. I’d attempted to do the impossible. The memory became clearer. I’d filled a few pages with free associations, with the hope, or maybe with the expectation, that I would remember something meaningful. I’d attempted to control the writing process. In the present, my mind felt emptier when paper and pen (I’d intended to write pen first, and then paper said, “I’m first”) started imagining together, and these sentences of journal writing appeared, one image and word at a time. Perhaps the feeling of emptiness originated when I would write in my journal without thinking. I loved to free-associate in my journals, and I realized that I’d forgotten how often I used to write in one. Meaningful memories had come to me in my journals, always as a surprise, when my conscious mind had least expected it. There were no longer only blank pages in my hardbound journal. A writing future was in it. Was there a writer in that future?