Interruptions as Part of Creative Moments

During a quiet hour at home this morning, it occurred to me that what I had always considered a bad thing for my mind might be a good thing for my writing. A mug of espresso coffee seemed to help me connect a vignette I’d written in the second week of May to the vignette I hope to write in the next several hours. After rereading the vignette of six weeks ago, I found myself focusing on the opening sentence. Something was there to be discovered, which would create a connection in my imagination between itself and whatever I had yet to start writing. I was sure of it. Faith is an essential part of my creative process. I believe that, as I write, things come together in my mind. The opening sentence of the vignette I wrote on May 8 was about my narrator attempting to do two things at once: read a book on psychoanalysis and watch a panel discussion on YouTube about what kind of science is psychoanalysis. I started writing down images that came to mind as I continued rereading the opening sentence. I noted that the images appeared unconnected to the contents of the sentence. Most of them were of me struggling to speak in Spanish at the language academy in Madrid where I attended classes for a couple of years. Once all of the images were written down, I wondered what I was going to do with them.

I was surprised by what I wrote next. I asked myself what possible connections there were between these two sets of data, of the opening sentence and of the images I’d written down. Then I wrote: writing=stuttering=reading. Maybe I’d drunk too much coffee. As another question came to mind, I sensed that thoughts were finding me. Is interruption at the heart of my creative process?

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How can I equate stuttering with writing and reading? I imagine myself on a psychoanalytic couch saying that stuttering is an interruption in the mind. Interruptions often frustrate me. Writing well involves frustration, a thought I would prefer to ignore. Reading aloud in front of others has always been frustrating for me because I’m afraid I might stutter, and although I love reading books I sometimes become frustrated with my inability to maintain focus. Learning comes to mind. On good days, I learn from mental interruptions. Reading in Spanish, my second language, has taught me that frustration can help me focus more on words and on what different meanings sentences might have. For too long I refused to learn from stuttering. It is part of who I am. So is interruption. Another thought finds me: Interruptions can become part of creative moments, as long as frustration and imagination can find ways to connect with each other.

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Inner and Outer Reality

Uncertainty might be minutes or hours away. I’ll know when I walk through the door in my mind. I thought it would be easier to arrive home in my imagination. I’m in no hurry this afternoon, or that’s what I keep repeating to myself. It’s three o’clock. It’s 3:15. At 3:30 I wonder how much longer I’m willing to wait. I’m seated at my desk, checking my email. I walk to the kitchen. It’s too soon to prepare my afternoon cup of coffee. Too soon? It’s 3:40 pm. I would prepare it if I were certain that I’ll be writing on paper or on my laptop in fifteen minutes. A walk to the park three blocks away is another possibility. In an instant I realize that it doesn’t matter what I do outside of my mind. The moment has arrived, whether or not I’m willing to admit it, to be in my mind. I return to my desk, and as soon as I’m seated I’m also, in my imagination, a few miles away on my psychoanalyst’s couch.

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The clock on the windowsill reads 10:02 am. I walked up four flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. The images that come to mind as I reread the two previous sentences, of the clock on the windowsill beyond the couch in my psychoanalyst’s office, and of me walking up four flights of stairs, could be part of reality, except for the fact that my analyst’s office is on the second floor, not on the fourth. What I imagine next seems more plausible in a dream than in reality: I get up off the couch, walk to the window, and glance at the Olympic Mountains in the distance while my psychoanalyst, seated behind the couch, remains silent. The remaining forty-six or forty-seven minutes feel like an eternity. Years of psychotherapy as a client, and my experiences while training to be a psychotherapist, have taught me that fifty minutes can pass as if they were a handful of seconds. I wish I could stay on this couch, and my analyst remain in her chair, forever. All of these words are in my head. The word uncertainty returns. What am I afraid of? I glance at my laptop screen: 4:05 pm. I imagine preparing coffee as I continue writing about what could happen in my mind while I lie on the couch and wonder what might happen a second or minute from now. As I stand up and walk away from the desk and head toward the kitchen, I hear myself say: imagining coffee won’t put caffeine in my system.

Writing Home

(This is not intended to be fiction, to the degree that I’m capable of it)

I’m lying on my psychoanalyst’s couch in my mind. I feel safe in this room. The view of the Olympic Mountains from the couch reminds me of the home where I grew up, in this same city, where my parents no longer live, where the future has begun a new past, without me. My own secrets have been revealed to me on this couch, the real one, in reality, which sounds as mysterious as this experience in my mind, which has yet to end. In any given session, I start speaking, then interrupt myself when my own spontaneity makes me anxious, and on good days, when I allow images and words in my mind to be creative with me, my spontaneous speaking returns, and sometimes along with it, discoveries happen.

I’m in the fourth floor office in a way that would be impossible during an actual session. In reality, I’m seated at the round table at home where I do most of my writing (occasionally I leave home with a notepad and walk until images and ideas tell me to stop and write them down), in the room where I read, drink coffee, and take books from the shelves and either hold them or read sentences, paragraphs, or pages when my own sentences refuse to appear on the page. Yet I feel as if I were on the couch.

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The opening sentence of the previous paragraph – I’m in this office in a way that would be impossible in reality – confuses me. I picture myself sitting up on the couch, getting to my feet, and walking out the door, not in anger or frustration, but in fear. I’m afraid of discovering things about myself. Imagining the view of the Olympic Mountains from the dining room of the house where I grew up eating meals and where now another family enjoys meals feels calming from the couch where I find myself in my imagination. I feel free, on the couch in my mind, to experience confusion and then understanding, as if anxiety and calmness were in dialogue with each other inside of me.

I have written these paragraphs with my real voice, or perhaps my fictitious voice has discovered new ways to convince me that reality has always been my writing home.

Random Dream

I knew where he was standing and where I was sitting. Yet in my imagination this wasn’t clear at all. I imagined that we sat across from each other in the middle of a nondescript room, staring into each other’s eyes with an intensity that brought to mind a mind-meld. The eighty-two year-old psychoanalyst and author was speaking to us about his career. What was I doing in Manhattan and in this auditorium?

His most recent book was in my hands. I imagined opening it to a random page and rewriting a particular sentence that seemed to choose me. I wanted to create a first-person narrative out of this psychological text. It felt like a real need as I listened to him at the front of the room. Another image came to me. I was finishing the final sentence of the long paragraph I’d just written. Listening and writing simultaneously seemed to help me realize that reading needed to be part of this. I’d been in such a hurry to create my own fiction that I’d forgotten where much of my writing inspiration came from. A single sentence of his book had been transformed into a paragraph of my own, and then that sentence became a dream in my imagination. The images that came together to form this dream weren’t interested in my help, as if they were warning me not to try too hard to understand.

The image of the mind-meld returned. We formed a whole. This mind to mind experience felt as real as the eight-two year-old speaker at the front of the room. I experienced myself in fragments, fragments searching for a way to form a whole. The psychoanalyst’s talk was real. His book in my hands was real. He was real. I was real. So was my imagination. This combination of inner and outer realities was overwhelming me. I imagined standing up and leaving the auditorium. It didn’t matter. The dream would end when I least expected it.

White Surfaces

A woman dressed in white waded in toward the middle of the river. A dove landed on her head as she moved through the rushing water. I was afraid that at any moment she would disappear under the surface. Who was she? She looked familiar. Where did the dove come from? Maybe I was experiencing a religious hallucination.

Where did I just disappear to in my head? I glanced at my watch: 11:23 am. I found myself subtracting 11 from 23, and twelve brought to mind a memory of a summer afternoon when I was twelve and I jumped into a river headfirst. I wouldn’t have done that, I thought. I would’ve been afraid of rocks below the surface. In reality, I was at my desk, holding a blue pen, as if I had faith that an image would soon come to mind and lead me to write another sentence. I imagined a windy day on the water, on a lake or in the ocean, and I was alone in my lapstrake rowboat.

I wrote another sentence, reread it, and realized that a preposition was missing. Perhaps my mind was missing, which seemed to lead me to the word craziness. Then I pictured myself climbing a tree, in a hurry to reach the top, as if I were afraid of danger below. Another sentence wrote itself: There’s hope. Remember where you are. I had disappeared again. I was back, at my desk, writing with my blue pen. The woman in white returned. She was crossing the river. She would reach the other side. Maybe I was reaching some other side in my mind. I no longer felt in danger. This wasn’t superficial work, was it? I could drown. I imagined myself crossing a river, and soon I was on the other side. I had made it. Maybe I wouldn’t dive in headfirst next time.

Meditative Explorations

The psychoanalyst and I were in the same room together. We were a few feet from each other. How about in our minds? To write such speculative sentences, I imagined myself in two mental positions simultaneously: lying on the couch and standing, seated, or moving about the room, observing what happened moment to moment both inside each of the two participants and between them emotionally. I was invisible, or so I thought. It was hard to imagine myself standing still, even when I couldn’t be seen, which probably helped me become a particular kind of observer. I’d never been both speaker and observer before. And me and myself weren’t alone in the room. This was his office. The psychoanalyst was seated behind the couch. The couch was for both analyst and analysand (or patient). They were trying to reach, or so I imagined, particular states of mind. Maybe writing about what felt like potential meditative moments was disorientating me, which was not an uncommon experience for the me lying on the couch.

Perhaps all three of us were invisible to our own inner selves to some extent. The third participant, the observing me, must have been present for a reason. I, the hidden observer, wondered whether it was a hidden reason. Nothing remains hidden for long, I wrote on a notepad and with a pen that suddenly appeared in my hands. The three of us were together in this space for fifty minutes. I had conflicting feelings about the reality that they couldn’t see me. Maybe they sensed my presence. The sudden silence between them made me anxious. Then, from the couch, I heard sentences that seemed to originate from somewhere else. At first I couldn’t understand his words (and in an imaginative way they were also my own), as if he spoke in a foreign language I knew nothing about. Seated behind him, the analyst moved in his chair.

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I’d thought I could see inside their minds. Perhaps I could if I knew what I was looking for, if I had more experience with meditative states of mind. The words from the couch became clearer to me. “Last night I dreamed I was exploring inside your mind. Obstacles appeared everywhere, and I realized that these obstacles were words, images, thoughts, and feelings. The word fear said something to me before the dream ended.” Then silence filled the room. Spoken words were replaced by inner words, inside both of them. Many of the unspoken words and sentences inside both minds seemed disconnected from each other. Yet, as I continued observing, connections appeared, which didn’t yet seem to be thoughts. Perhaps they were pre-thoughts. It was as if each of the two visible participants was speaking inside of himself spontaneously. Fear also seemed present. I wondered whether the fear was connected to the reality that they shared this physical and psychic space, in which case the fear would have belonged to both of them. I realized that I was waiting for either one of them to speak. Both of them were speaking inside of me. These were unexpected moments. Then the thought came to me: all three of us were in meditative states of mind.

Imaginative Help

Basketball courts and grammar books came alive for me this morning, as if they had been waiting for imaginative moments such as these. I imagined watching a video on YouTube, which as far as I knew, didn’t exist. I’d read that a tape of the seminar existed. My imagination must have insisted on a video. The imaginative experience was so real that there were moments when I forgot what year or decade I was born. I was in Los Angeles. It was April 1967. In reality, I was less than a year old that month. Reality seemed to give me some time to myself this morning between nine and ten. Facts were involved. Some months ago I listened to a podcast in which a psychoanalytic author spoke about how she had experienced the seminars that a British psychoanalyst gave in Los Angeles in April 1967. I pictured myself seated alongside her. Language came to mind several times as I listened. I heard grumbles from others in the audience. Wilfred Bion was speaking clearly, and yet there seemed nothing simple about what he was saying. I imagined shooting baskets alone, which I had often done growing up in Seattle. Perhaps that was when I realized I wasn’t alone in my mind.

A young me, maybe eight years old, shouted in my ear that I should run away immediately, and find an empty room where I wouldn’t feel reminded of my inability to think. I was almost certain that as an eight year-old I had been unaware that all language felt foreign to me. Stuttering had made speech a traumatic experience.

Then I heard Wilfred Bion, who turned 70 in 1967, mention the reality of anxiety and the thing itself, the fundamental reality that psychoanalysts faced in their work with patients. He didn’t sound like how I thought a psychoanalyst should sound. As a stutterer growing up, I’d attempted to forget how I sounded to others. When Bion mentioned his concept of O, ultimate reality, absolute truth, I imagined my grammar book in perhaps eighth grade. I was afraid of it, or so I imagined in my fantasy of attending one of Bion’s Los Angeles seminars in the spring of 1967. He and I could shoot baskets together in my imagination. We could study grammar together.

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Don’t forget about reality, the psychoanalytic author seated alongside of me said. Reality was real too. I was no longer afraid of grammar books. I hadn’t held a basketball in years. I’d read Bion’s 1967 seminars. Reading was no longer such a confusing or overwhelming experience. Maybe the terrified child in me just needed some imaginative help.