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.
Reality needed to be permissive for a few moments. I wanted to observe an event and could only do so in my imagination. The hotel room where the interview took place would remain a mystery to me, or would it? I’ve watched the conversation online several times. Two men probably in their fifties, the one being interviewed wearing a tie, met in what appeared to be a comfortable hotel room, to talk about psychoanalysis and neuroscience, or what has become to be called neuropsychoanalysis. What was so exciting about a journalist and a psychoanalyst speaking about the mind? I trained to become a journalist. I know how to ask questions so that people say what they would prefer not to. The interview, the conversation, which I’ve watched online, and which I believe took place in Prague in 2013 during the annual congress of the International Psychoanalytic Association, reminded me of listening to one of my grandfathers when he and my grandmother would visit us. I remember him as being able to talk about complex subjects in a simple way, which my training in journalism taught me is not easy to accomplish. The psychoanalyst and neuroscientist who was interviewed in Prague seemed to speak that way. He reminded me of my grandfather. I imagined myself in that hotel room in Prague, invisible to both participants, and the psychoanalyst said that “we study subjective experience.” Subjectivity came alive to me, in my imagination, as I pictured myself listening to words and sentences about how the mind works. I was having a subjective experience, or it was happening to me. My unconscious and I were communicating with each other, which as a writer I feel makes me a more creative person. Thanks to my imagination, or to my unconscious mind, I’ve experienced two versions of that interview, one in reality, which I’ve watched online, and the other, which has come to me on its own.
We hadn’t seen each other in thirty years. Has he appeared in any of my dreams since 1987? Nothing comes to mind. Yet lots of things have come to mind. Yesterday I left our apartment in late morning and spontaneously decided to walk to Ballard, another neighborhood in Seattle. The trip on foot there and back would take me several hours. I didn’t plan on stopping for a beer, and I couldn’t have anticipated who I would meet in a bookstore a mile or so before I saw the familiar brewery. And I’d never imagined that the old friend I encountered in the brewery, whom I hadn’t seen since university, was now a pastor. The sequence of events unfolded in a mysterious way that reminded me of a dream. I entered both the bookstore and the brewery on a whim. In each place, someone from my past returned me to an old state of mind, or maybe it was states of mind, since perhaps the psychoanalyst in the bookstore and the pastor in the brewery evoked various states of mind in me. The psychoanalyst, whom I knew from when I’d trained to become a therapist, was in the psychology section when I arrived there. I’d wondered whether Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams or any volumes of Jung’s Collected Works would greet me from the shelves. Suddenly, I was speaking to a psychoanalyst. Half an hour or so later, as I entered the brewery and imagined different kinds of beer to drink, I saw a familiar face. An hour or two later, I was back on the sidewalk, ready to try to walk home. Over beers, an old friend had become a new friend. I’d enjoyed experiencing different states of mind.