I’m realizing that I’m uncomfortable with my own creativity sometimes. The thought comes to me that perhaps I should focus on how I’m uncomfortable in my mind. The adverb “sometimes” at the end of the opening sentence suggests that I’m not being honest with myself. Writing in the way that I often do, without controlling the narrative, as if someone else were creating the sentences I write, becomes an anxious experience. And it’s much more than that. It’s exciting to observe how my creative mind works. Confusion and frustration don’t last forever, although it sometimes feels as if they do. A confused and frustrated me must remain at my desk (or I walk around the block or prepare myself coffee or tea) long enough until I’m not afraid to write a word, phrase, or sentence that will become known to me only after I’ve written it. Another uncomfortable thought appears: I have faith in my unconscious mind. What might that mean? I’m faced with more uncertainty. I’m uncomfortable. And uncomfortable is what I must be when I write in the way that I do.
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.
Multiple images come to mind at once. The elderly woman in front of me in line at the coffee shop can’t be whom I think she is. She turns her head to one side, and the following words seem to take control of my body: It’s Helen! The years count themselves: our six and a half years of Jungian psychotherapy ended seventeen years ago this month, a few days before I moved from Seattle to Madrid. Seven years later I returned to her office twice, the first time to say hello, and the second time I’m unsure why since I was still living in Madrid and not consciously interested in more psychotherapy. These sentences feel as if they might become part of the beginning of a narrative.
The coffee shop where this imaginary encounter occurs is four blocks from where I’m seated, in my office at home. Helen is around the same age as my parents. I forget how I know that. She helped me to begin changing my life in my late twenties and early thirties. Around a year ago I discovered online that she has retired. It is hard for me to picture her outside of her office. To me she was her work. Why am I afraid to finish my own sentence? Her healing work. She helped me start the lifelong process of healing myself.
Things could have ended better between us. When I moved to Madrid with Javier at age 34, I had only recently started listening to my intuition. Dreams suggested that our work had continued for too long.
Present, past, and future feel as if they’re speaking to me at once in these images and memories. I don’t frequent coffee shops anymore. The one where I imagine encountering Helen has always felt welcoming to me. Maybe my imagination has become a more welcoming place for my own inner experiences. Helen also helped me to discover my own imagination. I had never recorded my dreams before. This sort of writing could only have happened in my dreams. Now I can write like this awake.
I’m in my reading chair at around 6 am. I’ve yet to drink coffee. A full cup is within reach. As if my hands were acting without the cooperation of thought, I select the book from one of the rows of shelves, which I’ll spend the next hour with. On most mornings I have at least some drops of caffeine in my system before trusting my intuition to find me a good reading companion for sixty minutes. I did not intend in the last sentence to use the words “reading companion” to describe a book. They were the words that came to me in the moment, so I wrote them down. The hardcover feels alive in my hands.
Hours pass. I work at my desk. After lunch I walk in the neighborhood to clear my head, to prepare myself for the next several hours. It’s a sunny day, and it feels warmer than the high 40s. This isn’t January weather. I surprise myself by stopping at the nearby QFC. I am without a shopping list, not even a mental one. The store manager says hello, and he shows me photos of the remodeled bathroom that he’s been working on on his days off on his phone. Capitol Hill is within walking distance of downtown Seattle. It feels like the city. I leave the QFC. The sidewalk is crowded. I both enjoy the sudden proximity to others and I want to find a quiet street.
Two images came to me during my morning reading and remained long enough for me to write them down: an elderly man writing at his desk, and a young painter at work on her canvas.
My day’s work is finished before sunset. I glance at the time on my laptop screen. The two images from this morning, of the writer and painter at work, return, and I picture myself writing “reading companion” in large letters on what had been a blank sheet of sketch paper. My imagination has given life to an inanimate object, a book of psychological lectures and papers by my most recent favorite psychological thinker, and I’m in my working chair, waiting for an image, a thought, or a feeling, to suggest what I might do next.
I glance around my desk. The hardcover I spent an hour with this morning is still here. It’s in my hands. I read a sentence, a paragraph. That the book might be alive, capable of communicating things to me, feels like creative truth. I am a reading and writing artist at work, in my imagination.
Can this be my mind right now? Seconds stop. Time travels. I’m frustrated with person X, and with Y and Z. I’m uncertain whether or not I want to attend an upcoming lecture on myth sponsored by the local Jung society. Everything feels uncertain. The experience might be calmer if I were meditating. My decades of life on this planet feel as if time has decided that they’re unnecessary for future thought. I feel paralyzed, as if bodily and mental movements were no longer possible. I’m stuck in a dark tunnel. What if I never experience another beginning in the light of day?
The anxiety I feel in my body tells me that all of these mind movements are real. My imagination is real. I imagine myself as a fisherman of mysteries deep inside of me, most of which will probably never see the light of consciousness. I fish in my imagination because my pen keeps moving across the page, because of the images, feelings, and thoughts that never stop reminding me that I’m alive.
Fishing for the unknown within me becomes a moral activity. I feel as if I’m searching for the unborn inside of myself (or maybe it’s searching for me), whose birth must happen in consciousness.
The dark tunnel is behind me. There will always be anxiety in my future. Yet I’m experiencing another beginning, in the light of day.
(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.
These are my first words on paper in a new writing room. A moment ago I counted the number of days a year I might sit here, and I thought: twenty or thirty days isn’t enough. During the past two years, I’ve spent little time inside when I’ve been at this cabin. I’ve worked with my hands outside. I enjoy being outside here, in the cold, in the rain, in the sunshine. Right now, in what up to two years ago was my parent’s bedroom, I’m seated at a side table that I took from the living room. There’s room for a cup of coffee and a book or two (I always have one or more within reach while I write). I hold this journal in my hands as I write in it. The two windows in front of me with views of a harbor across the water, a small mountain, and lots of trees help me feel at home in my mind while I’m uncertain about a possible new writing idea.
At around seven this morning I left the cabin, walked a short distance on the dirt road that encircles the island, and then entered the Nature Preserve, which occupies much of the center of the island. Near the end of my walk in the woods, an idea came to me: I could write a series of fictional vignettes on a particular theme, with the title, Thoughts between the two of us. An anxious thought followed: I shouldn’t write about that. My experiences with my psychoanalyst are our shared secrets.
It’s strange creating sentences where my parents slept. Dreaming comes to mind. The other place in this cabin for me to write is the loft, where we sleep under a skylight, and I’ve tried this over the past two years, and something was missing. What’s missing now is what I’ve yet to write. The series of vignettes I’ve thought of writing wouldn’t be about what happens in my psychoanalytic sessions. They would be about how the work with Mary affects what happens in my mind throughout the day. She’s on my mind right now.
A fictional version of my psychoanalyst has appeared in my mind. I’m seated at the small table with the beautiful view of water and trees. I wish there were fewer boats on the water. My father designed this space where I’m working with pen and paper. This cabin was his one project as an architect that was his own. He is a practical person. There are a couple of things about the way this cabin was designed that I don’t like, and they are practical things. I hope to learn more about my father from his design. Growing up, I didn’t think of both of us as creative persons. I imagine that Mary studies psychoanalytic sessions. She’s passionate about it. A somewhat fictional version of me would be the narrator of this vignette. So far I believe I haven’t written anything fictional about myself. Or maybe I have. Fiction might be present in these sentences without my knowing it. The following sentence is fictitious, or at least part of it is not true in reality. Four times a week I walk forty minutes from home, where I work, to her downtown office. Some days I don’t know why I’m lying on her couch for fifty minutes, attempting to do what seems impossible: to say everything that comes to mind. Being in psychoanalysis often doesn’t seem practical. Yet I sense I am changing, slowly, as a result of the work.
Perhaps what I’ve just written about lying on a couch, trying to do the impossible, is also fictional. My psychoanalyst studying psychoanalytic sessions might be true. She’s in search of the truth in me that she and I discover together. There’s also the truth in her that, according to a psychoanalytic theory that I think she believes is true – the only thing I know about her with certainty, even with a Google search, is that as part of her psychoanalytic training she has experienced psychoanalysis on the couch – she might also discover during our work together.
Writing in this way disorientates me at times, which is often how I feel on the couch. Like my narrator, I experience my mind on the couch four times a week. Since our first session two Julys ago, I experience much more of what happens in my mind moment to moment than I did before. Sometimes I’m frightened to realize how few facts I’m aware of in my head at any given moment. Fantasy seems a significant part of how I think.
The sunshine, the water, the trees, and all the noise of boats on the water are real. I’m eager to go outside, to work more with my hands. I need a break from working in my head. If only it were possible.