I went online instead of remaining offline. I sat on my psychoanalyst’s couch instead of lying down on it. I didn’t doubt that I knew what I was doing. I knew which online newspaper I would read. I went to Twitter, to WordPress, to this blog. I didn’t think about, let alone question, my online identity. Such a thought was miles away from consciousness. Fifteen or thirty minutes later, while I was writing and drinking coffee, I imagined meeting a few of my fellow bloggers, all of us together in a room. How would we react to each other? How many beers would I need to be myself? Today my psychoanalyst and I spoke face-to-face for a few minutes before the work of the fifty minutes began. Or maybe the work that was done in those initial minutes was the most important part of the session.
Above I asked myself how many beers I would need to drink before I could be myself with a few of my fellow bloggers if we were to meet for the first time. I wanted to delete the words “to be myself.” “To relax” sounded better, no? It helps to see my mind in action in words. To someone who has never experienced a session of psychoanalysis on the couch, it is difficult to describe the intensity of the experience. I look at my psychoanalyst only when I enter and leave her office, and usually neither of us speaks during those moments. Today we spoke before my experience on the couch. I was surprised and relieved that I was more or less relaxed. I felt as if this inner experience of mine was connected to changes that had been happening in my mind.
I have remained offline while I have written these sentences. Am I more in touch with reality right now than I would be if I had spent the last fifteen or thirty minutes reading things and communicating with others online? This question feels impossible to answer. Reality itself feels more complex than I think it is. I imagine a group of us fellow bloggers meeting each other for the first time. These images aren’t more real than anything I would experience in my mind while reading blog posts online. I seem to be experiencing online and offline as states of mind. Where is my mind? I’m here, whether or not I’m connected to the Internet.
I’m in my reading chair at around 6 am. I’ve yet to drink coffee. A full cup is within reach. As if my hands were acting without the cooperation of thought, I select the book from one of the rows of shelves, which I’ll spend the next hour with. On most mornings I have at least some drops of caffeine in my system before trusting my intuition to find me a good reading companion for sixty minutes. I did not intend in the last sentence to use the words “reading companion” to describe a book. They were the words that came to me in the moment, so I wrote them down. The hardcover feels alive in my hands.
Hours pass. I work at my desk. After lunch I walk in the neighborhood to clear my head, to prepare myself for the next several hours. It’s a sunny day, and it feels warmer than the high 40s. This isn’t January weather. I surprise myself by stopping at the nearby QFC. I am without a shopping list, not even a mental one. The store manager says hello, and he shows me photos of the remodeled bathroom that he’s been working on on his days off on his phone. Capitol Hill is within walking distance of downtown Seattle. It feels like the city. I leave the QFC. The sidewalk is crowded. I both enjoy the sudden proximity to others and I want to find a quiet street.
Two images came to me during my morning reading and remained long enough for me to write them down: an elderly man writing at his desk, and a young painter at work on her canvas.
My day’s work is finished before sunset. I glance at the time on my laptop screen. The two images from this morning, of the writer and painter at work, return, and I picture myself writing “reading companion” in large letters on what had been a blank sheet of sketch paper. My imagination has given life to an inanimate object, a book of psychological lectures and papers by my most recent favorite psychological thinker, and I’m in my working chair, waiting for an image, a thought, or a feeling, to suggest what I might do next.
I glance around my desk. The hardcover I spent an hour with this morning is still here. It’s in my hands. I read a sentence, a paragraph. That the book might be alive, capable of communicating things to me, feels like creative truth. I am a reading and writing artist at work, in my imagination.
(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.
Can this be my mind right now? Seconds stop. Time travels. I’m frustrated with person X, and with Y and Z. I’m uncertain whether or not I want to attend an upcoming lecture on myth sponsored by the local Jung society. Everything feels uncertain. The experience might be calmer if I were meditating. My decades of life on this planet feel as if time has decided that they’re unnecessary for future thought. I feel paralyzed, as if bodily and mental movements were no longer possible. I’m stuck in a dark tunnel. What if I never experience another beginning in the light of day?
The anxiety I feel in my body tells me that all of these mind movements are real. My imagination is real. I imagine myself as a fisherman of mysteries deep inside of me, most of which will probably never see the light of consciousness. I fish in my imagination because my pen keeps moving across the page, because of the images, feelings, and thoughts that never stop reminding me that I’m alive.
Fishing for the unknown within me becomes a moral activity. I feel as if I’m searching for the unborn inside of myself (or maybe it’s searching for me), whose birth must happen in consciousness.
The dark tunnel is behind me. There will always be anxiety in my future. Yet I’m experiencing another beginning, in the light of day.
(What follows is written in the form of a journal entry.)
An imaginative experience happened inside of me this afternoon while I prepared myself a cheese sandwich for lunch. I wished I’d eaten earlier. It was two o’clock, and I’d spent more minutes than I was willing to count at my desk unable to imagine or think. I was in the kitchen, preparing the sandwich, glancing at the Olympic Mountains in the distance, when the thought came to me: there’s a better way to prepare for the conversation tomorrow that you don’t want to have. Imagine her. Before my thinking could interfere with the creative process, I found myself picturing her in the coffee shop where three of us will meet at noon to talk about a problem we’re trying to solve together. She was sad in my imagination, not angry or frustrated with me. I knew that this image of her, sipping coffee, spoke the truth. She didn’t want to criticize me.
The image seemed to speak emotional truth. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, so it’s possible that my recurring thoughts warning me of an uncomfortable conversation will be right. Yet the reading I’ve done today suggests I should listen to my imagination.
I have discovered or rediscovered the psychological thinker James Hillman, whose writings remind me that my mind is an imaginative place. Hillman was born in 1926 and died in 2011. In the late 1990s I read The Soul’s Code for a course in the master’s degree in psychology I was completing. For reasons that I don’t wish to try to imagine now, I didn’t remember much of the book after reading it. I remember thinking that I enjoyed it. Two images of me twenty years ago come to mind. In the first, I’m reading Hillman’s book. In the second, I throw it into the water. The second image is full of energy.
A reading journal has finally become a reality in my life. The notes I’ve been taking on Hillman’s writings have helped me return to Carl Jung’s Collected Works, which have been with me on my shelves for more years than I wish to count. I’m sad. Perhaps I’ll imagine my sadness. First I must walk to the kitchen to prepare myself a coffee.
I must arrive at the bookstore before it closes. It feels like a matter of life and death. I don’t realize it’s raining until I’m on the sidewalk. There’s no time to take the elevator or run up four flights of stairs to grab an umbrella.
Somehow I know that the book I’m running to NonStop Books to buy has yet to be finished. I’m writing it. I imagine the bookseller with whom I spoke on the phone before I walked out the door without an umbrella. She said she was in a hurry, that she had much to read and write before I arrived in the rain. After speaking with me, she sits down and starts reading a book open on the table before her. She falls asleep. Somehow, I know that she does her most creative work while she’s asleep.
I run in the rain. I dream in it. The question of what I’m seeking seems lost in the rush. Then I realize I’m still, except in my dream.
I woke up this morning feeling closer to death than I did last night.
Out of all the sentences I have ever written, the one above seems the most alive.
A glance at my bookshelves confirms that this room hasn’t changed since I went to bed last night. All of the books, softcovers and hardcovers, will be here after my final breath.
“How many more years will we have together?” I ask the books aloud.
An inner voice responds: “I’m right here in front of you! Focus on me!” My eyes return to the desk, to my dream journal. I don’t have to open it to know that last night’s dream has been recorded inside.
When did I write it down? None of the dream’s images come to mind. Moments later, with a new sentence, they do.
A plant is on fire in front of me. Maybe it’s a single leaf. Fear makes my own motion an image for another dream. Motionless, I marvel at the growing flames.
There’s no caffeine in my system yet, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive. The following sentence comes to me as if it were a figure emerging from the darkness: My future is in the fire.