Basketball courts and grammar books came alive for me this morning, as if they had been waiting for imaginative moments such as these. I imagined watching a video on YouTube, which as far as I knew, didn’t exist. I’d read that a tape of the seminar existed. My imagination must have insisted on a video. The imaginative experience was so real that there were moments when I forgot what year or decade I was born. I was in Los Angeles. It was April 1967. In reality, I was less than a year old that month. Reality seemed to give me some time to myself this morning between nine and ten. Facts were involved. Some months ago I listened to a podcast in which a psychoanalytic author spoke about how she had experienced the seminars that a British psychoanalyst gave in Los Angeles in April 1967. I pictured myself seated alongside her. Language came to mind several times as I listened. I heard grumbles from others in the audience. Wilfred Bion was speaking clearly, and yet there seemed nothing simple about what he was saying. I imagined shooting baskets alone, which I had often done growing up in Seattle. Perhaps that was when I realized I wasn’t alone in my mind.
A young me, maybe eight years old, shouted in my ear that I should run away immediately, and find an empty room where I wouldn’t feel reminded of my inability to think. I was almost certain that as an eight year-old I had been unaware that all language felt foreign to me. Stuttering had made speech a traumatic experience.
Then I heard Wilfred Bion, who turned 70 in 1967, mention the reality of anxiety and the thing itself, the fundamental reality that psychoanalysts faced in their work with patients. He didn’t sound like how I thought a psychoanalyst should sound. As a stutterer growing up, I’d attempted to forget how I sounded to others. When Bion mentioned his concept of O, ultimate reality, absolute truth, I imagined my grammar book in perhaps eighth grade. I was afraid of it, or so I imagined in my fantasy of attending one of Bion’s Los Angeles seminars in the spring of 1967. He and I could shoot baskets together in my imagination. We could study grammar together.
Don’t forget about reality, the psychoanalytic author seated alongside of me said. Reality was real too. I was no longer afraid of grammar books. I hadn’t held a basketball in years. I’d read Bion’s 1967 seminars. Reading was no longer such a confusing or overwhelming experience. Maybe the terrified child in me just needed some imaginative help.
A couple of days in the life of a writer was a long time. Much could happen in the imagination and in life outside of it during x number of hours. If the writer in me had his way, words would appear on paper or on my laptop or in both writing places. It might not matter which day of the week it was. I was supposed to narrate my mental life during days y and z, a Sunday and a Monday in January. I knew in which city and neighborhood I lived in, and I had a general idea of how old I was. I told myself that these things didn’t matter since this was fiction. I felt as if I were in an experiment. Maybe I was an experiment. It was up to me how things turned out. Yet I wasn’t in control of every mental moment. I was the narrator. Logic dictated that an author had created me. I imagined that he existed in my unconscious, that part of the mind of which I knew nothing at this moment. I wanted to know what time it was on this wintry Sunday. I also wanted to know where I was at this moment. Something mystical might happen to you. I had thought I was alone, even in my mind. These last two sentences came to me in a specific physical location. I was standing before a blank sheet of sketch paper. The feeling of this image – since I was a writer, everything happened first in my imagination – was as if I were in church, which would also happen on a Sunday. I was my mind. Perhaps that was too much coffee speaking. More images came to me. It was morning, before my shift at the bookstore. This was my quiet time before I would have to be around others for several uninterrupted hours. I stood on the hardwood floor of my loft, a blue ballpoint pen in one hand. I had walked here from my apartment nearby. NonStop Books was three floors below. A blank vertical sheet of sketch paper, attached to the wall, awaited words and sentences that had yet to come to mind. Maybe none would appear on its surface today. I wouldn’t have much time alone. All of these sentences in my head didn’t seem to be about today. Everything in my mind seemed to be speaking to me about right now. This moment might last a long time.
A door to my mind appears locked. Why don’t I try to open it in my imagination? Where else would the door be? Perhaps the key to open it is here, in these words. Isn’t this part of why I write, to open locked doors in my mind? Maybe I write every day to find anew the keys to those locked doors.
What is it about writing words on paper or on the screen that feels so liberating? Part of it is discovering, often at the start as I compose the opening sentences, what I’m going to write about. Another part is allowing myself time to exist in my imagination.
Maybe my sentences are the one place in my mental life where uncertainty can become a friend, or where enough inner space emerges so that I can pause and realize it’s not a foe.
I’m imagining that what I’m doing right now, writing sentence number X on the screen, happens in a mental laboratory that appears and disappears on its own. The “I” in this imaginative play becomes an observer in the universe that is one’s mind. What am I trying to discover in this laboratory of the mind? Maybe that: my own mind.
These sentences have given me time to be part of their creation. The observer in me has become tired. I’m anxious. A locked door appears again. Perhaps more sentences would help me find the key to open it. Something inside of me says I should stop for now. If I’m lucky, another key will come to me in my imagination tomorrow. A glass of red wine awaits me, both in my imagination and in reality, which at this moment I imagine become one.
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.
Fiction has allowed me to be in two places at once. That’s a good enough opening sentence, and it explains how I’m at two desks simultaneously, one in my imagination and the other in reality. Yet the sentence seems to say nothing about how I’m experiencing this in-between place, where what’s imaginary and what’s real have found themselves together. Maybe I’m attempting to determine where I am, in my mind and in physical space. That shouldn’t be hard, should it? I’m seated at a desk with one drawer on the fourth floor of a condo building on the same ground where thirty-two years ago I graduated from high school. My past sometimes feels lost to me, but in this case I’ve remained in physical contact with it. Yet right now, in my imagination, I’m also in a writing and living space where part of me feels more at home than here in the city. Our cabin is several hours from Seattle by car and by boat, on a small island without ferry access, where silence itself seems to help me be creative. It’s hard for me to feel lost in silence when I’m alone with pen and paper. I remind myself that the desk at the cabin is without a drawer. It’s a side table that I took from downstairs near the wood stove up to the loft where I write. Our cabin is both imaginary and real, with its own history, where I hope to go this weekend. It occurs to me here at my desk in our condo in Seattle that I don’t have to worry about feeling lost anymore, either in reality or in my imagination. Being lost is part of becoming found, which I often experience at either of my two desks, while I’m alone with pen and paper.
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.
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.