(Last Thursday I left Seattle for a few days alone in the San Juan Islands. I wrote most of what follows on Wednesday, the day before my departure.)
In a moment of visual clarity, I picture where I’m headed tomorrow on light rail and bus and in a truck and outboard as if the experience of traveling to the small island were a map of images, images as memories.
I see Lou, our old neighbor, who lived alone in his A-frame cabin for thirty years, as I remember him the last time I saw him alive, a few weeks before his death in May 2014. He sat on a log alongside the dirt road that encircles the island. He held his walking stick close to his chest. His dog Rolly was a few feet away. I said, “Hi Lou,” and he said, “Good morning, Paul.” I started walking again. Lou remained seated, and I heard him say something to Rolly as I turned a corner in the road. A few weeks later, Lou died of a heart attack in his kitchen. One of the few other full-time residents on the island found him, and she told me that Rolly was nearby.
The images have disappeared, for now. I’m tired. I forgot that remembering can be so much emotional work. I feel like the introvert I am after talking with friends over drinks. My need to be alone is so great that I became aware of it only moments ago.
Everything I have written here originated in images. Probably much of what I remember did not happen that way in reality. For instance, I imagine that Lou said, “Good morning, Paul,” and that he spoke to Rolly as I continued my walk. My imaginative version of what happened feels right in a creative way. Memories can be creative. A good narrative is, which is what I imagine these sentences to be.
I’m on a bus in downtown Seattle. It’s mid afternoon on a chilly, sunny day in the city where I grew up, and which, thirteen or fourteen years ago, I thought I would never call home again. I picture myself writing the following words in my journal: Perhaps I’ve been searching for my childhood in the wrong place.
The bus has left downtown and is moving uphill into my neighborhood. Maybe the right place to discover or rediscover my childhood is here in my imagination.
I imagine the bus making an unscheduled stop. A tall elderly man dressed in a dark suit stands on the sidewalk waving a book at those of us on board. My intuition suggests that he’s waving it at me. These images feel so real that I remind myself that this psychological thinker and author died in 2011. Seconds or minutes pass in my imagination. He’s seated alongside me. The images that follow don’t show how his book ends up in my hands.
His spoken words feel as if I’m reading them in his book. “How do you know you’re not dreaming and seated alongside a god?” I don’t utter the words that come to mind: You don’t look like a god to me.
I see the words myth and image in the title of the book, but I can’t see the whole title. The word childhood comes to me, alone, as if it were too important to be confined to a sentence or clause. “Don’t search for childhood,” the author says in a soft voice, as if he can read my thoughts. “Read and imagine and you’ll find what’s looking for you.”
I am in three or four places at once in my imagination. A Jungian pastor (pastor comes to mind seconds before psychotherapist) speaks about synchronicity to passengers at Sea-Tac Airport waiting to board a plane. I’m one of the passengers. I’m also a few miles from the heart of downtown Seattle at my favorite imaginary bookstore, NonStop Books, drawing squares, circles, and rectangles on a notepad as I count the minutes until the speaker should begin a talk on his encounter with a famous psychologist in an airport bar. As he remembers their conversation, they spoke about discovering images of God in the unconscious. A few blocks from this imaginary bookstore, a psychotherapist prepares to leave her fourth floor office and start a much needed vacation. She’s in a hurry. Her flight is scheduled to depart in three hours. Maybe vacation isn’t the right word to describe the experience of participating in a spiritual writing workshop. I am her final client of the day, and I pause before closing her office door behind me. Words don’t seem enough to express what has been happening in my imagination while I’ve been writing this paragraph. Perhaps I must spend more time with my feet on the ground before flying away.
As I walked from the bathroom to my writing room, I wondered how an elephant, a meditating Buddhist monk, two wrestlers facing each other in a wrestling ring, and a writer drinking a beer at his desk, might fit into a single sentence. The sentence would have to appear in a dream. I pictured a list with all of these images on it. When I reached my desk, an image of a Buddhist monk appearing in a wrestling ring between two wrestlers came to me. Then, in the next image, all three were meditating in the middle of the ring. On the blank screen before me, I wrote that I hoped I wouldn’t imagine an elephant in a meditative position, and then I realized that I just had. The next sentence in my mind that insisted on appearing on the screen involved an image of a writer drinking a sixteen-ounce can of Rainier at his desk, which a moment later became this desk. I was drinking coffee, not beer, as I wrote these sentences. The opening sentence did contain all of the images. They were alive inside of me. I stood up. I knew where I would walk and what I would buy. The art supply store was nearby. It was time to draw. The images weren’t done with me yet.
Seven minutes remain before the images disappear forever. I glance at my watch and start writing. Don’t listen to yourself. My left hand, with which I’m holding the pen, slows its movement across the page. I picture the word no, which becomes on, and the thought comes to me: I would prefer to be on rather than off. I write faster. How long will it take me to translate all seven images into words? I hadn’t realized before writing the previous sentence that there were seven images. I must move them from my mind onto the page. No, I write. The images will appear on the page on their own. My job is to write words that come to me. But the words don’t seem to be waiting for me. They’re waiting for the images.
As I enter an elevator, a stack of books appear in my hands, which are both familiar and unfamiliar to me. “ What are all of these books doing in my hands?” I ask the empty space around me. From inside of myself I hear: “They are part of your reading future.” The elevator starts moving upwards. For a moment my attention returns to everyday thoughts. The stack of books in my hands weighs more than I wish to admit to myself. “Hurry up!” I say aloud, as if the elevator were a person and could hear my words. The elevator stops moving. The door opens. I feel as if I have arrived at my home for the first time. The following words appear in my mind as I step out of the elevator: “Welcome to the Home of Images.”
The Spaniard said to me in English that my Spanish was satisfactory. I couldn’t have misunderstood him since he was speaking in my native language. I thought we’d both been speaking in English. As a lifelong stutterer, confusion was part of speaking for me. These sentences were in English. Something felt unsatisfactory. I would fly to Madrid in two months. A story would find me there. Story didn’t feel like the right word. I wasn’t satisfied with it. Words and sentences, maybe both in Spanish and in English, would find me in Madrid. Images would come first, before words. An image often felt safer and more real to me than a word. Images lived in my mind, while words were often spoken or written. An image in my mind was never satisfactory or unsatisfactory. It simply existed as it was. I had imagined a Spaniard who spoke to me in English. How I reacted to his imaginary words seemed to resist becoming part of what came to me a moment ago: imaginal play. I imagined that I was playing in my mind. I didn’t have to be afraid of confusion or misunderstanding. They would happen, both now in my mind and in reality in Madrid in two months. I was writing in English. In my mind, images were playing with each other, and words appeared on the screen.