Red and Black

I woke up and saw the door I’d walked through in my sleep. I imagined myself drawing this door with a colored pencil, which surprised me since I lacked the skill to do so while awake. Maybe there was some new or old space I hoped to explore in my writing today. Was the door red or black in my dream? I wanted to write all of this down since I was half awake and hadn’t prepared coffee yet, and I was afraid that these images and words would be forgotten in twenty minutes. Another sentence came to me: I wanted to walk through the door to make a confession in the dark. So the red or black door led to darkness? I pictured the word STOP in red. Another image arrived: I was in a chair or on the floor, counting my breaths. Then I pictured myself inside my mind in this meditative position. One word kept reappearing on the screen of my mind: confession. As if I’d committed a crime, I realized that I had no idea what I was going to write about today. I imagined myself running out into the street on a rainy day without a jacket or an umbrella. My first morning cup of coffee was ready when I found myself associating rain with uncertainty. Was uncertainty a dark place in my mind? I walked to my writing room with my red cup full of coffee, and with a black pen wrote in my journal that I was afraid of drowning in my own emotion. What? I wanted to close the door to my mind. Don’t shut the door. Imagine drowning in your own uncertainty. I’d intended to write emotion, not uncertainty. I pictured myself in a box the size of a small swimming pool that was quickly filling with water. Swim, I wrote in my journal. This was happening in my imagination. I was seated at my desk. Yet I was afraid of opening doors in my mind and becoming overwhelmed by the uncertainty I would then experience. I was certain about one thing: I knew what I would write about today.


Insides of Things

Word was alone on what was otherwise a long blank vertical sheet of paper tacked on the wall. It was written in blue. Thirty and then sixty seconds passed as I stood staring at the lone word on the wall. As if Word in blue were communicating with me, I pictured a closed door in the middle of this word that I could open and walk through, to the other side. What if faceless, nameless groups of words were on the other side of the word, waiting to frighten me so that I would be unable to write or speak another word? Another word, three letters longer, control, appeared, and I realized that’s what I was afraid of losing. Maybe I thought I’d already lost control of my mind. As if out of nowhere, a sentence from a book I had at home came to me while I stood in front of the sheet of paper tacked on the wall (I almost wrote canvas instead of sheet of paper): “An elephant is ‘true’ because it exists.” Was the same true of the word Word on the wall? I imagined that I’d written work in blue instead. Most mornings, after arriving at this loft to write for several hours, I imagined walking down three flights of stairs to the bookstore Nonstop and ordering an Americano to go at the adjoining coffee shop. The imaginative experience itself seemed to energize me more than caffeine could have. I couldn’t believe that “An elephant is ‘true’ because it exists” had remained in my memory since whenever I had read it in Volume 11 of Carl Jung’s Collected Works, Psychology and Religion: West and East (I knew I had read this sentence of Jung’s more than once; for me, reading his writings was rereading them countless times). The word canvas came to me again. Perhaps my narrator imagined he was a painter. There was a book on painting here in the loft. I found it on the table where I kept the colored pens that I wrote with on the wall, opened it to a random page, and read that a particular painter seemed to forget who he was while he painted. That sounds chaotic. I heard my own voice in the otherwise silent space. The one hundred fifty-page black hardcover on the work of an abstract expressionist painter remained in my hands. I turned to another page, where I read that this particular painter would imagine himself inside what he was painting. Word was waiting for me to create a sentence with it on the wall. Would I use the same color, blue? I heard my own voice again: imagine another word and see what color it is.

Chaos on the Wall

I wasn’t inside the words enough. I felt an immediate need to be more part of the originating images of what I wrote, as if my survival depended on it. Silence filled the loft, except for the sounds of an ambulance siren from the street below. It was calming to write three floors above a bookstore. I would write in the same way as yesterday: on the walls, on long vertical sheets of paper wide enough to fit twenty words on a line, and I would switch every few sentences between red, green, black, blue, yellow, and purple pens. I imagined a pack of Camels, which I hadn’t smoked in over twenty years. Then I pictured myself seated cross-legged on the hardwood floor, gripping a light brown hardcover on a famous abstract expressionist painter, which I’d spent several minutes with last night, standing in the art section of Nonstop Books three floors below, asking myself why I didn’t pay the thirty dollars and take it with me upstairs. This empty space was my writing home. My work wasn’t only subjective. I wanted to believe that there was also something objective in it. I pictured myself as a scientist in a laboratory, and then I glanced at the writing on the wall in different colored pens that I’d done yesterday. Could I reconcile a fantasy with reality? An image of Freud, from around 1900 when he published The Interpretation of Dreams, came to me, and I thought: maybe a short couch (I was a short person) would occupy space here in the future. I could smoke a cigarette, lie on a couch, meditate cross-legged on the floor, or write on the wall. These last few sentences on the wall were in green. Was that what my imagination wanted?

There was much light in the silent room. My imagination seemed interested in what came before my words. I wrote on the wall that there were two other artists in this silent space. One of them, younger than me, his black tee shirt and jeans splattered with paint, walked toward the coffee pot in a corner of the room. The painting that had been on an easel was now on the floor. How had I missed those moments of motion? Perhaps I hadn’t been ready to observe him experiment in such a nonstop way. I glanced at cans of various colors of paint on the floor, such as yellow, red, black, and blue, and I realized that part of me was afraid to walk over and have a closer look. The red pen in my hand stopped moving and I moved away from the wall. I’d forgotten about the second artist in action. He wore a lab coat and was seated in front of a computer that appeared out of nowhere. He was studying research done on the fractal nature of Jackson Pollock’s poured paintings. What kind of artist was he? An answer came to me from within in this silent room. “I practice an imaginative art.” “Are you a sort of alchemist?” I returned to the wall, to a blank vertical sheet of paper, and with a blue pen wrote down this imaginative content. Another sentence from this inner figure came to mind: “I study inner chaos in motion.” Chaotic motion described how I experienced writing on good days. I wrote that on the wall too. My mind and body needed a break. I imagined walking down three flights of stairs and buying Willem de Kooning Nonstop: Cherchez La Femme by Rosalind E. Krauss, which I’d imagined buying last night. Meditating on the floor was another option. Cigarettes belonged to my past. I would lie on my psychoanalyst’s couch tomorrow. My feet seemed to lead me toward the door. I had done enough writing on the wall for now. Walking would help. Other kinds of chaos would find me on the sidewalks.

Surrealist Red Wine

I drank black coffee while I wrote some paragraphs on watercolor paper, which I had never written on before. Then I rewrote the paragraphs, and I changed the physical location of the narrator from a stool in an architect’s drawing room to the back seat of a taxi moving along a river. Had I also changed narrators? Maybe the two were one. In a way, both were based on me, on memories that I had also imagined on paper. All of me said that the black coffee wouldn’t be enough. The image of my narrator glancing out the window of the taxi at the river brought to mind the phrase No Exit. Did he feel trapped in the back seat? I felt trapped in these two different drafts. Three o’clock was too early for red wine. Suddenly, my narrator asked the taxi driver to stop. He recognized a familiar four-story red brick building that they had passed seconds earlier. Somehow, he knew that a lecture on surrealism in the 21st century, on the first floor of that same building, would start in half an hour. The other version of my narrator, observing an architect alone at a drafting table, glanced at his watch and realized that he had lost track of time. He also wanted to attend the lecture on surrealism in the 21st century. In an instant, I realized that my two drafts had become one in my mind. I imagined enjoying a glass of red wine and allowing time for my imagination to prepare me for writing the third draft.

Waterproof Drawing Pads

I glanced across the street at what appeared to be an art supply store. Then I noticed the name above the door: Meditation Room. I was about to cross the street when a middle-aged man wearing black leather walking boots passed by on the sidewalk, and I imagined following him. His boots must be waterproof, I thought, and I realized I’d forgotten my blue umbrella at home (I’d never had such a colorful umbrella before, and when I saw it the day before I bought it in an instant). The sky was dark. It might rain on the windows. As this last sentence wrote itself in my mind, I glanced across the street again, at the windows of what I now knew to be the Meditation Room, and I wanted to doubt my own eyes, but I couldn’t: how could I see raindrops on windows across the street when I struggled to make out details of things a few feet in front of me. There wasn’t time to think. The middle-aged man wearing black leather walking boots had crossed the street and was opening the door to the Meditation Room. I imagined myself jumping across the street in one leap and entering the store with him. It was also an art supply store, wasn’t it? I glanced at the old running shoes I was wearing. Why don’t I draw myself a new pair of waterproof leather shoes? A woman who appeared middle-aged left the store carrying what looked to be an artist grid canvas (these descriptive words came to me on their own; why didn’t she have them in a bag with the dark sky above?; and I wondered if people were appearing middle-aged to me because that was my own age), and as I crossed the street I pictured myself leaving the art supply store/Meditation Room with a drawing pad and colored pencils. Something told me that an experience awaited me on the other side of the door.

Once inside, I was surprised that the space was so brightly lit. It appeared to be one big room. A poster of stairs leading down to a New York subway station covered part of one wall. Several paintings hung on the walls, one of a tree trunk, another of a hammer with a black handle, and a third of four light bulbs alongside each other on a flat surface. And in the center of this dream-like space stood the man with the black leather walking boots, before an easel, painting something, which I imagined to be a waterproof drawing pad. Did such a thing exist? As if that mattered. Raindrops didn’t need rain to appear on a canvas. This was a meditation room, wasn’t it? Everything, internal and external, appeared and disappeared on its own. An employee, whom I imagined to be an artist himself, approached me with a stack of drawing pads. No words were spoken. Both of us seemed to know that this was supposed to happen. I left the store with the drawing pads, and when I felt the rain on my head I knew I would soon find out if they were waterproof.

Pink Walls

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.

Fearless Paint

There was much light in the silent room. Three of us were at work. A wall of windows, facing a dark building across the street, reminded me that afternoon would soon become evening and this experiment would finish before dinner. Or would it? They were experimenting, weren’t they? These sentences of mine weren’t anything new. I was supposed to be here with them to discover things on these toned tan pages. Five or six photographs alongside me on the table awaited my use of them. One was of a bridge, another of a house, a third of a light bulb, a fourth of a painting, and a fifth of a busy downtown street during rush hour. What was I going to do with them? I wasn’t a descriptive writer. I could write about a house without light bulbs. Another image appeared, of a man (was it a substitute for myself?) on a bridge, alone at night, wondering if he should jump. I didn’t want to imagine myself as that man on the bridge. I wasn’t suicidal. My imagination wasn’t interested in my words. The image of myself, and maybe it was also a memory, of crossing a freeway overpass at night and picturing myself jumping, was a frightening and real mental event. The image disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. Perhaps part of me needed to die, maybe a writer part of me, in order for something new to be born. Should I be writing all of this down? The fear I felt made it clear that the sentences must not stop. One of the two other men in the room, his black tee shirt and jeans splattered with paint, walked toward the coffee pot in a corner of the room. The painting he’d been working on was no longer on the easel. It was on the floor. How had I missed this series of movements? Maybe my mind had been like a downtown city street during rush hour, filled with its own noise. Or perhaps I hadn’t been ready to watch him experiment in front of me. The word fear returned. I glanced at cans of paint of various colors, yellow, white, red, and black, alongside the wall near the canvas on the floor, and I was about to walk over and see what was happening on the canvas when the third man in the room, an accomplished psychotherapist and author, asked me to come to his table. “What do you think of this sentence?” I hurried over in time to hear him read it aloud: “I am not a fast writer.” I could have written that in my sleep. Why would he want my opinion of it? My own reply would have frightened me in any other situation: because the dream demanded it.