I’d never imagined dancing in a sentence. Would I move alone or with a partner? There would be several to choose from: a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, or a substitute for a noun or noun phrase: a pronoun. But that would be like dancing with myself. You don’t have to decide, not yet. Talking to myself was a good sign. I was ready to work. An image of a blank wall appeared, and I imagined myself in a New York art gallery, staring at it. In a flash, numbers appeared on its surface, and I reminded myself, seated at my desk, that I was not standing in a New York art gallery: 2009, 1943, 70, 39. I glanced at the empty coffee cup alongside my laptop. Maybe I’d made the last cup too strong. What did these numbers want me to do with them? Dance with them, let a rhythm find you, and you’ll know. I imagined splattering pink paint on the blank wall. This was one way to find a writing prompt. Two and nine might dance together, and maybe forty-three and thirty-nine as well. I started to type numbers and words on what had been a blank screen. A phrase appeared: a figment of my imagination. I knew that none of this was real. I touched the return key a couple of times and wrote myself a question: why hesitate to believe, while you’re writing, that you’re really splattering pink paint on a wall? The final sentence wrote itself: I don’t hesitate while I’m dancing.
The two books interrupted each other. How was that possible? My own sentence presented it as something that happened. Language created a subjective experience. Six words created a series of images. Or were the images present before the words? I found myself imagining ways that the two books alongside me, on my writing table, could have collided with each other, and I imagined something similar happening in my own mind. The laws of mind seemed in control, and I wondered what they were. I pictured my mind screaming: Write these things down! I touched the hardcover and paperback to make sure I wasn’t in a dream (how could I have known if I wasn’t?). Then I created a document on my laptop and started typing. Two books interrupted and collided with each other. I imagined the hardcover falling to the hardwood floor. Wham! I almost leaned down to pick up a book that wasn’t there. More sentences needed to be written. I wanted to reach the end. Minutes passed while images and words helped me to create sentences. One of the two books was on the painter Jackson Pollock. The other was on language and dreams in psychoanalysis. I realized I hadn’t been in control of my own words. They were responsible for whatever nonsense I’d written. I reread these sentences and was relieved that I hadn’t interrupted myself. I hadn’t done anything. My mind had been in control.
Not a single word had appeared on the screen. Everything or nothing remained in my head. I seemed afraid of what was happening in there, as if I perceived anything that I couldn’t control as a threat. On good days, control wasn’t part of my writing vocabulary. Was today a bad day? Images and words in my head didn’t listen to me, or did they? If I wanted to, I could observe them working. That was how my sentences came to be written, the good ones, not those which frustration later led me to delete. It was hard work to write a good sentence. Now I was unable to write a single word. I imagined a door to my mind, either closed or open. Maybe the image couldn’t decide. I couldn’t decide on which word to write first, or the first word hadn’t appeared in my head yet. An image of coffee came to me, and I sensed I was about to get to my feet. Instead, my fingers returned to the keyboard. Maybe in my imagination they had never left. This work demanded my physical and mental presence at my desk and in my mind. There wasn’t time to wonder how I might be physically present in my own mind. Time was running out. I glanced at the time on my laptop. What was the hurry? Words inside of me were in a hurry. Then these sentences became their home, and my head was empty or full again. I was certain of one thing: work would allow me to experience all of this tomorrow.
Fiction has allowed me to be in two places at once. That’s a good enough opening sentence, and it explains how I’m at two desks simultaneously, one in my imagination and the other in reality. Yet the sentence seems to say nothing about how I’m experiencing this in-between place, where what’s imaginary and what’s real have found themselves together. Maybe I’m attempting to determine where I am, in my mind and in physical space. That shouldn’t be hard, should it? I’m seated at a desk with one drawer on the fourth floor of a condo building on the same ground where thirty-two years ago I graduated from high school. My past sometimes feels lost to me, but in this case I’ve remained in physical contact with it. Yet right now, in my imagination, I’m also in a writing and living space where part of me feels more at home than here in the city. Our cabin is several hours from Seattle by car and by boat, on a small island without ferry access, where silence itself seems to help me be creative. It’s hard for me to feel lost in silence when I’m alone with pen and paper. I remind myself that the desk at the cabin is without a drawer. It’s a side table that I took from downstairs near the wood stove up to the loft where I write. Our cabin is both imaginary and real, with its own history, where I hope to go this weekend. It occurs to me here at my desk in our condo in Seattle that I don’t have to worry about feeling lost anymore, either in reality or in my imagination. Being lost is part of becoming found, which I often experience at either of my two desks, while I’m alone with pen and paper.
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.