Frustration must be at the heart of this work. Nothing comes to mind. Frustration has become my mind. Leo or Matthew and I are having a similar experience. Which of these two names will become my narrator’s name? Both of us are at work. For the moment Leo feels like the right name. Leo and his consulting room exist in my imagination, whereas my working space exists both in reality and in my imagination. I’m seated at my desk, and I glance around the room at the bookshelves, two chairs facing each other, and the couch. An hour ago I didn’t imagine myself writing on my laptop at 11:02 am. The cancellation has disappointed me. The last sentence surprises me. Am I surprised that I have an emotional reaction to a client missing a session? My narrator and I can escape reality together. Leo was the name of my narrator in the first novel I wrote. I wrote only one draft, and for the moment the year in which I wrote those one hundred fifty or two hundred pages refuses to come to mind. A few sentences have been written on the screen. I wrote the previous sentence without a personal pronoun, as if I wasn’t involved in its creation. The sentences on the screen were written by Leo, in my imagination. He’s also had a cancellation. And after preparing himself a coffee, he’s also looking at the screen in front of him. Reality doesn’t feel threatening to him at the moment. And it does to me? I feel as if I’m on the couch here in my office trying to free-associate, which is perhaps a good sign. Maybe my narrator and his morning that I’m hoping to create in words will become clearer to me in the next forty or forty-five minutes. I imagine that Leo writes a handful of sentences in which his own narrator, also a therapist (now there’s three of us), writes about the imaginative ways that he listened to a client earlier that morning. These two narrators seem more imaginative than me. This thought feels unwelcome, and seconds later, both narrators have disappeared, or have they? I’m without creative help in my imagination, or perhaps I must wait for the images, words, ideas, and feelings that sooner or later will appear, all at once, one at a time, or in another order not of my choosing.
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.
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.
A poet friend of mine and I had lots of work to do. I’d cleared the table of books and papers and I could hear the coffee machine making its noises in the kitchen. One of us would speak while the other would write. I think that was our initial plan. Plans remained uncertain in these kinds of writing experiments. Was it a psychological writing experiment? The one writing would speak too. The room would hear speaking and writing voices. We’d decided beforehand on a goal for whatever might happen during this hour of experimentation: we would let meaning find us. I knew the best words would come from my poet friend. She was an artist with words. I depended on words to help me think intuitively and write sentences, and I felt naked without a book within reach of my writing pad. No book would rescue me during the next hour, unless I left the room and ran to the bookshelves. Why did part of me always need to be rescued? Maybe the words I was about to speak or write for sixty minutes would help me think about this question. I heard a knock on the door. It was time for us to be creative together.
My imagination wouldn’t leave the words on the page. I read one sentence, two sentences, and I was far away, in my mind, both times. Reading each sentence became an imaginative experience. As I read the first sentence, I found myself on a small island in a Norwegian fjord. As I read the second one, I imagined myself on another island, in the San Juan Islands, grasping a tree during a storm. The sentences themselves were written by Carl Jung over a hundred years ago, in which he said that fantasies were important, and that historically they’ve been an integral part of how the human mind has worked. I enjoyed experiencing that the words left the page. I became a creative reader. I was studying Jung’s words, and my imagination seemed to study me, as if it were creating mysteries about me in my mind. It’s a collaborative effort, mind and imagination together, an inner voice said. Aren’t they the same thing, I imagined myself asking this inner voice. You’re learning, it responded.
I was in two places at once. There wasn’t much to observe, or was there? In the waiting area, a man in his forties fidgeted in the chair and glanced at the two or three people who walked by him. Then he opened the black hardcover journal he held in both hands. His mind was open to me. I could feel what his body felt. Suddenly, as if the same second weren’t finished yet, I was also in the room where the fidgeting man was headed. Another man, probably in his fifties, sat in a chair that faced another chair, which for the moment was vacant. Something told me that he wasn’t alone only physically. The turbulence I sensed in his mind suggested that he was also isolated within himself. What did I mean by that? Several feet away, at his desk, papers and books were scattered across its surface. What kind of mental confusion was this, I wondered. Without warning, once again I realized that I was inside two minds simultaneously. Both men were grappling with troubling dream images. Not realizing what I was doing, I compared the dream images of the two men, and I couldn’t avoid seeing the obvious: they’d had the same dream. What would happen when these two confused minds came together? I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out: the psychotherapist stood up, organized the papers and books on his desk, and opened his office door. Dream and reality would now meet.
I write several sentences and stop with a period. Something is wrong. Or maybe the sentences are better than I allow myself to imagine, which frightens me. I’m trying to create a scene in a psychotherapist’s office, or is it in a writer’s office? My narrator is the client, or perhaps an anxious writer, who enters the room and fears that something bad might happen before he leaves. My narrator originates in me. Perhaps something is awry in my mind. I might be afraid of what I imagine could happen in my mind. It is time to pause and reread the previous sentence. As a writer, being afraid of my imagination is a death sentence. I imagine both work spaces: a psychotherapist’s consulting room and a writer’s writing room. In either space, I seem to struggle with what I experience inside myself. Or maybe this is how I experience my mind today. An idea comes to me: why not make all of this uncertainty part of the narrative? Before I can spend time with this question, my mind becomes a calmer space. Perhaps these sentences have absorbed the uncertainty that threatened to prevent me from imagining what might happen on this page. My narrator, or me, or both of us, are in two places at once. I pause again, imagine the client entering his therapist’s office and the writer writing on his laptop, and the struggle to experience my mind becomes mine. Calmness returns, for a moment.