Red and Black

I woke up and saw the door I’d walked through in my sleep. I imagined myself drawing this door with a colored pencil, which surprised me since I lacked the skill to do so while awake. Maybe there was some new or old space I hoped to explore in my writing today. Was the door red or black in my dream? I wanted to write all of this down since I was half awake and hadn’t prepared coffee yet, and I was afraid that these images and words would be forgotten in twenty minutes. Another sentence came to me: I wanted to walk through the door to make a confession in the dark. So the red or black door led to darkness? I pictured the word STOP in red. Another image arrived: I was in a chair or on the floor, counting my breaths. Then I pictured myself inside my mind in this meditative position. One word kept reappearing on the screen of my mind: confession. As if I’d committed a crime, I realized that I had no idea what I was going to write about today. I imagined myself running out into the street on a rainy day without a jacket or an umbrella. My first morning cup of coffee was ready when I found myself associating rain with uncertainty. Was uncertainty a dark place in my mind? I walked to my writing room with my red cup full of coffee, and with a black pen wrote in my journal that I was afraid of drowning in my own emotion. What? I wanted to close the door to my mind. Don’t shut the door. Imagine drowning in your own uncertainty. I’d intended to write emotion, not uncertainty. I pictured myself in a box the size of a small swimming pool that was quickly filling with water. Swim, I wrote in my journal. This was happening in my imagination. I was seated at my desk. Yet I was afraid of opening doors in my mind and becoming overwhelmed by the uncertainty I would then experience. I was certain about one thing: I knew what I would write about today.

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Chaos on the Wall

I wasn’t inside the words enough. I felt an immediate need to be more part of the originating images of what I wrote, as if my survival depended on it. Silence filled the loft, except for the sounds of an ambulance siren from the street below. It was calming to write three floors above a bookstore. I would write in the same way as yesterday: on the walls, on long vertical sheets of paper wide enough to fit twenty words on a line, and I would switch every few sentences between red, green, black, blue, yellow, and purple pens. I imagined a pack of Camels, which I hadn’t smoked in over twenty years. Then I pictured myself seated cross-legged on the hardwood floor, gripping a light brown hardcover on a famous abstract expressionist painter, which I’d spent several minutes with last night, standing in the art section of Nonstop Books three floors below, asking myself why I didn’t pay the thirty dollars and take it with me upstairs. This empty space was my writing home. My work wasn’t only subjective. I wanted to believe that there was also something objective in it. I pictured myself as a scientist in a laboratory, and then I glanced at the writing on the wall in different colored pens that I’d done yesterday. Could I reconcile a fantasy with reality? An image of Freud, from around 1900 when he published The Interpretation of Dreams, came to me, and I thought: maybe a short couch (I was a short person) would occupy space here in the future. I could smoke a cigarette, lie on a couch, meditate cross-legged on the floor, or write on the wall. These last few sentences on the wall were in green. Was that what my imagination wanted?

There was much light in the silent room. My imagination seemed interested in what came before my words. I wrote on the wall that there were two other artists in this silent space. One of them, younger than me, his black tee shirt and jeans splattered with paint, walked toward the coffee pot in a corner of the room. The painting that had been on an easel was now on the floor. How had I missed those moments of motion? Perhaps I hadn’t been ready to observe him experiment in such a nonstop way. I glanced at cans of various colors of paint on the floor, such as yellow, red, black, and blue, and I realized that part of me was afraid to walk over and have a closer look. The red pen in my hand stopped moving and I moved away from the wall. I’d forgotten about the second artist in action. He wore a lab coat and was seated in front of a computer that appeared out of nowhere. He was studying research done on the fractal nature of Jackson Pollock’s poured paintings. What kind of artist was he? An answer came to me from within in this silent room. “I practice an imaginative art.” “Are you a sort of alchemist?” I returned to the wall, to a blank vertical sheet of paper, and with a blue pen wrote down this imaginative content. Another sentence from this inner figure came to mind: “I study inner chaos in motion.” Chaotic motion described how I experienced writing on good days. I wrote that on the wall too. My mind and body needed a break. I imagined walking down three flights of stairs and buying Willem de Kooning Nonstop: Cherchez La Femme by Rosalind E. Krauss, which I’d imagined buying last night. Meditating on the floor was another option. Cigarettes belonged to my past. I would lie on my psychoanalyst’s couch tomorrow. My feet seemed to lead me toward the door. I had done enough writing on the wall for now. Walking would help. Other kinds of chaos would find me on the sidewalks.

Surrealist Red Wine

I drank black coffee while I wrote some paragraphs on watercolor paper, which I had never written on before. Then I rewrote the paragraphs, and I changed the physical location of the narrator from a stool in an architect’s drawing room to the back seat of a taxi moving along a river. Had I also changed narrators? Maybe the two were one. In a way, both were based on me, on memories that I had also imagined on paper. All of me said that the black coffee wouldn’t be enough. The image of my narrator glancing out the window of the taxi at the river brought to mind the phrase No Exit. Did he feel trapped in the back seat? I felt trapped in these two different drafts. Three o’clock was too early for red wine. Suddenly, my narrator asked the taxi driver to stop. He recognized a familiar four-story red brick building that they had passed seconds earlier. Somehow, he knew that a lecture on surrealism in the 21st century, on the first floor of that same building, would start in half an hour. The other version of my narrator, observing an architect alone at a drafting table, glanced at his watch and realized that he had lost track of time. He also wanted to attend the lecture on surrealism in the 21st century. In an instant, I realized that my two drafts had become one in my mind. I imagined enjoying a glass of red wine and allowing time for my imagination to prepare me for writing the third draft.

Waterproof Drawing Pads

I glanced across the street at what appeared to be an art supply store. Then I noticed the name above the door: Meditation Room. I was about to cross the street when a middle-aged man wearing black leather walking boots passed by on the sidewalk, and I imagined following him. His boots must be waterproof, I thought, and I realized I’d forgotten my blue umbrella at home (I’d never had such a colorful umbrella before, and when I saw it the day before I bought it in an instant). The sky was dark. It might rain on the windows. As this last sentence wrote itself in my mind, I glanced across the street again, at the windows of what I now knew to be the Meditation Room, and I wanted to doubt my own eyes, but I couldn’t: how could I see raindrops on windows across the street when I struggled to make out details of things a few feet in front of me. There wasn’t time to think. The middle-aged man wearing black leather walking boots had crossed the street and was opening the door to the Meditation Room. I imagined myself jumping across the street in one leap and entering the store with him. It was also an art supply store, wasn’t it? I glanced at the old running shoes I was wearing. Why don’t I draw myself a new pair of waterproof leather shoes? A woman who appeared middle-aged left the store carrying what looked to be an artist grid canvas (these descriptive words came to me on their own; why didn’t she have them in a bag with the dark sky above?; and I wondered if people were appearing middle-aged to me because that was my own age), and as I crossed the street I pictured myself leaving the art supply store/Meditation Room with a drawing pad and colored pencils. Something told me that an experience awaited me on the other side of the door.

Once inside, I was surprised that the space was so brightly lit. It appeared to be one big room. A poster of stairs leading down to a New York subway station covered part of one wall. Several paintings hung on the walls, one of a tree trunk, another of a hammer with a black handle, and a third of four light bulbs alongside each other on a flat surface. And in the center of this dream-like space stood the man with the black leather walking boots, before an easel, painting something, which I imagined to be a waterproof drawing pad. Did such a thing exist? As if that mattered. Raindrops didn’t need rain to appear on a canvas. This was a meditation room, wasn’t it? Everything, internal and external, appeared and disappeared on its own. An employee, whom I imagined to be an artist himself, approached me with a stack of drawing pads. No words were spoken. Both of us seemed to know that this was supposed to happen. I left the store with the drawing pads, and when I felt the rain on my head I knew I would soon find out if they were waterproof.

Broken Speech

What came to me lacked verbs: flurry of activity, no time for a break. I seemed afraid of verbal action, for instance breaking something. I imagined throwing my laptop to the floor. Then I glanced at it on my writing table. No, I didn’t want to break anything outside of myself. Why was I so afraid of the word break? The noun form felt less threatening than the verbal form. The word interruption came to mind, which was how I experienced both inner and outer speech. I imagined that stuttering had often made me want to break something. Things had been broken, torn to pieces, in my mind. My mind had been full of fragments, all of the time. Stuttering had been a way of life for me. Speech remained dangerous to my mental stability. I still stuttered when I was more anxious than usual, which, depending on the circumstances, could be often. Perhaps my inner speech, all of the words and sentences that existed only in my head, had consisted only of interruptions and repetitions, repetitions of what had been interrupted.

I needed a break. I imagined myself composing sentences, without interruptions, repetitions, or fragmentation, away from this table, either lying on a couch with a pillow or two supporting my head, or on my knees on this hardwood floor, a sketch pad on its surface, awaiting my words, one after another, without interruption. Or I could paint words in various colors on a canvas. Or I could sit on a park bench and write in a sketchbook. Blank space on a page suggested possibilities to me. Or I could create symbols and substitute them for words. I could create my own symbolic language, which might not remind me of stuttering. A myriad of possibilities existed in my mind. All I had to do was imagine them. Imagining involved taking risks, though, such as picturing myself throwing my laptop to the floor. What if I were to actually do it? Writing could be one big risk. Images, words, and sentences were sometimes destroyed in the mind. For me, it was part of being human.

No Time for Confusion

Four days and seven hours later, I was still confused about what had happened. Maybe it hadn’t happened at all. I wasn’t that confused. I imagined Jackson’s face if I were to tell him that I’d spent time in his office without his permission. “You trespassed!” he might shout. Of course he wouldn’t shout. But how would he react? I realized that I hadn’t thought about the psychoanalyst’s possible reactions. My minutes alone on his couch, the couch of psychoanalysis, weren’t real to me yet. I hadn’t been alone. I’d brought with me both a pillow and a laptop (I couldn’t remember how the pillow had made it to my own office, or writing space, in the room next to Jackson’s consulting room; maybe I’d brought the pillow to my office to sleep on the floor, and then later confused the experience with a dream). I wanted to write in that particular position and imagine Freud himself seated behind me, out of sight, listening to the sounds of me working. And I did. I saw myself in my own experience, there on Jackson’s couch. Fantasy became reality on the screen, too, as I struggled to type in the unfamiliar and somewhat uncomfortable position, lying on my back. The dialogue between two artists that I found myself writing kept me where I was, for another minute, then another. I was surprised that I was still there. The sixteen-ounce beer that I’d drunk next door in my real writing space (what was more real about it than Jackson’s couch?) before entering without permission must have been part of the reason why my anxiety wasn’t able to make me leave. In the dialogue that was appearing on the screen, one of the artists, who both wrote novels and practiced psychoanalysis, asked the other, who was an oil painter and created flash fiction, what were the most difficult and satisfying parts of his work. “They’re one and the same thing,” he said. “Letting the work take control.” Control was the last word I wrote on the psychoanalyst’s couch. It was nine in the evening. I didn’t have to run out the door. This could be my secret. But I wasn’t the only one who knew. The writer in me wasn’t confused. All of it was his experience.

Inspiration from the Bookshelves

I arrived at my writing table with a mug of strong coffee. My laptop was alone on the surface, and I imagined books, my black hardcover journal, and pens surrounding it and creating a sense of intimacy that without my imagination didn’t seem to exist at that moment.

Coffee wasn’t enough. There was something invigorating about a cluttered writing space. Perhaps the sight of untidiness motivated me to create order in my mind. Books and writing paper scattered around my writing table were always welcome. Maybe the laptop was an unwelcome and impersonal object during these initial creative moments before I started to create sentences outside of my mind.

Papers, pens, and books that appealed to me made the writing experience real. I often read from one or more books before and while I wrote. The books seemed to choose me, and when the writing went well I felt that the images, words, and ideas that became part of my text originated in the paperbacks or hardbacks, in English or in Spanish, that I imagined had spoken to me from the bookshelves.

Reading at my desk seemed to help me move into a writing state of mind. Coffee also helped, but I needed the inner presence of an author or authors to reach a mental place where I felt at one with my own imagination. I set my coffee mug down on the table. It was time to spend the decisive moments before my bookshelves.