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.
I observe myself watching him read a page of text. I wish I knew what he was reading. It doesn’t matter since I can read his mind. Then I realize where he is, which helps to explain the mental turbulence that seems to take over his thoughts as he reads particular sentences. The word fragmentation comes to mind. Whatever the book is, it’s difficult reading, and I know from personal experience that reading on the bus can cause confusion and anxiety. What city, which country, is he in? Wherever he is, I imagine that he’s seeking answers to unanswerable questions in a text that welcomes limitless interpretations. The bus keeps moving. Mental moments pass, in both of our minds, as the bus nears its next stop. His workday has just ended. This must be his time to unwind. Another possibility emerges: maybe he’s not interested in relaxing; maybe this is his time to immerse himself in words, images, and ideas that the text presents him, sentence by sentence. He might be afraid of where his mind will be when he reaches home. Or maybe his mind isn’t creating confusion. Maybe the confusion involves more than the mind. Maybe I’m observing him read a sacred text. If only the words on the page would reveal themselves to me, maybe my own mind would no longer feel fragmented. Fortunately, since I can read his mind, I know that the bus will soon reach his stop. Then we can both go home.