(This is another fictional fragment of my book of fragments, Writers in a Mind. Thanks for reading.)
The sentence seemed to write itself on what had been a blank sheet of paper: The help you could give me is not the help I need. I was on a ferry, on my way to the San Juan Islands. The journal had made its way from my backpack into my hands as if on its own. It was late morning. Writing often helped me wake up, and since these were my first words of the day, I told myself that I didn’t have to understand the sentence that had seemed to write itself. Another unexpected sentence appeared on the page, in the form of a question: it’s not easy to think, is it? I seemed to be having a conversation with myself. I found it interesting that I’d written a mysterious sentence. Maybe I was bored without knowing it. These sentences were waking me up. I did need help, didn’t I? This brief trip to the cabin which I had never expected to inherit wasn’t real to me yet. I would have to return home to Seattle tomorrow. I was here for my writing, or so I told myself. Craziness in fiction wouldn’t leave me alone. I loved it as the title of the creative writing course I was taking, but the word craziness seemed to warn me of possible bad news in my mind. Our instructor had asked us to write about an important inner experience. Before I could think about the decision I was making, I decided to leave town for a couple of days. I didn’t have to work at NonStop Books again until Friday. I trusted that something worth writing about would happen to me before I returned to Seattle on Thursday evening. So far the mysterious sentence was the only significant inner experience I’d had. Maybe, if nothing else came to me, it would be enough. It was raining outside. I’d written a spontaneous sentence. Wasn’t that an important inner experience?
Can I write about craziness in fiction without a narrator? Perhaps I’m afraid I won’t be able to tolerate the fear of failing alone. A narrator becomes someone to blame. He might become the fulfillment of a wish to make my mind blameless. Nothing is my fault. I’m writing well. I just need a different narrator.
I seem to experience craziness in fragments. I associate craziness with mental uncertainty. Craziness keeps me awake, so to speak. My writing needs it. Right now my writing needs me to write a sentence waiting for me in the dark and which has nowhere else to go. I’m going to use a different word to describe what I write. I write fragments. Vignettes felt like the right word for a few years. An intuitive thought, before or without words, suggests that fragment might be a better word.
Perhaps my narrator becomes a creative way for me to write a fictional letter to myself. Communicating with oneself can be difficult. The word fragment returns to mind and is followed by connection. Maybe I write fragments to create and discover inner connections. I write a fragment to create a whole.
It is hard to think of myself as fictional. Experience has shown me that the more autobiographical my writing plans are the more fictional the narratives turn out to be. Are these short paragraphs fragments of a fictional whole?
There’s nothing fictional in what I’ve written here, is there? This could be fiction if the writer were my narrator. For years I believed I couldn’t write a story. When I did write one, I called it something else, as if I were threatened by fiction. Maybe unconsciously I created a dichotomy between fiction and reality or between imagination and thinking. I would have been afraid of my own creativity.
I have written these fragments or this whole on my own. Has a narrator been involved in its creation? I’ll ask him if he appears.
(This is another fragment of my book of fictional vignettes. Thanks for reading.)
It felt like the first original idea for a story that I’d had in a long time. If only it had come to me at a better time. I was walking and running to the bathroom. If I were to stop for a moment, I could take the mini spiral notebook from the back pocket of my jeans and the pen from my shirt pocket and record the idea on paper. I walked a few feet. I ran several more, and then I was alone in the bathroom. Once I had returned to the mostly empty space of the large room that I rented to write away from home, I thought of it as my writing home, the word idea brought to mind association, which led me to think that there was more to come, that perhaps the story idea was only starting to emerge in my mind. I had just finished my last cup of coffee of the day, which I drank in ten or fifteen minutes. In less than an hour I would walk a couple of blocks to the community college for the weekly creative writing course I felt I wasn’t enjoying enough, as if enjoyment could be measured and I could wake up one morning and say aloud: Now I’m doing well! My own associations were getting me into trouble with myself. How could I enjoy the course if I was worried about how well I was doing. I was making a mistake right now: I had yet to write down the idea, or the initial part of it that had come to me. I could translate what would become the idea into written words in one of two places. There was a desk here in the loft. I could also write on the sketch paper that I’d attached to one wall. I had pens of various colors: red, brown, blue, black, purple, pink, and green. I needed to hurry, before the idea disappeared, never to reappear. With a blue pen, I approached the vertical sheet of sketch paper on the wall, and I was about to start writing when I doubted the value of what had come to me. It would be a real story, with a beginning, middle, and ending, not a makeshift narrative like this one, which at this point was writing itself in my head. I was doubting everything, wasn’t I, since in a real way my work with paper and pen and keyboard was everything to me. The blue pen was outstretched in my hand. Something was about to happen. I would have to speak in front of the creative writing class tonight. I had no idea what I would say. Or perhaps all of this I was experiencing was what I was going to say about my process of writing, which was what I was supposed to speak about. I did have an original story idea: this one.
(My book of fictional vignettes with the same narrator during the same two days in January continues.)
How could I be at home away from home? This question came to me as I walked toward the bookstore where I would have to remain for eight hours. Excitement didn’t seem one of the words in my mind at that moment. Part of me sometimes wanted time for reflective moments such as the one that my question to myself seemed to create inner space for, as if time and thought were interdependent. In retrospect, another part of me might have been afraid of the creative uncertainties that such a question could make possible. It was raining on this Saturday in January in Seattle. Home was more than my apartment, my writing loft in the same building as NonStop Books where I worked, or my mind. Home was also the physical space of the Capitol Hill neighborhood where I lived, walked, worked, wrote, and read. As these thoughts that did or did not have to do with being home or away from home, I approached an arts supply store which I suddenly realized I wanted to enter. Paper was magical. I imagined finding a brown hardcover with pages of sketch paper. Someone appeared at the door. He was opening the store for the day. I would be the first customer. I thought: I can buy all the sketch paper I want. Paper without lines occasionally helped me create magic on the page. Magic wasn’t always friendly. I might imagine throwing my laptop out the window and then write about it. Perhaps something magical would come of it in my imagination. “Are you opening now?” I asked the man whom for a moment I thought I recognized. Maybe he also wrote strange things on sketch paper. My sentences weren’t strange. They were mine. He responded with his hands, opening the door, allowing me to enter ahead of him. I imagined writing a fictional paragraph about a passionate experience in an art supply store. Fictional paragraph didn’t sound right. Or maybe I shouldn’t doubt my own writing mind. All of this was a fictional paragraph, wasn’t it? These words would probably never exist on paper that I wrote on. So I was calling everything that happened in my head fiction? “Can I help you find something?” I wasn’t going to tell him that I was looking for a passionate experience. I wanted to be at home in my mind. My mind was my writing mind. “I’m looking for journals with sketch paper, and I know where to look. I’m just not awake yet. I guess I need more coffee.” He looked at me as if he understood. I heard another customer enter the store. A passionate or magical experience would have to originate inside of me. I walked toward where I hoped to find paper that could become part of such an experience.
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.