Animal Intensity in a Reader

All afternoon while I worked on various things at my desk, I imagined deleting a sentence from my last post, “Holy Books in the Psychology Section,” in which I compared one of Carl Jung’s thick volumes to a dog needing a walk. I don’t have a dog. I haven’t walked one since I was in high school. I’m a cat person. Yet I felt that this particular sentence needed to be written.

I prepared myself an afternoon coffee. I returned to my desk. And I couldn’t focus on the editing work I must finish today. Instead, I imagined a black dog with a black hardcover of Jung’s writings on psychology and religion clenched between his teeth. I wash my hands before I touch one of my books, so it’s hard for me to focus on this image.

Evening has arrived and I’ve yet to delete the sentence mentioned above. I also haven’t finished my editing work. After I finished my afternoon coffee, I was able to focus on the editing again, and I thought I was almost done when I imagined the dog as a religious symbol. Along with a snake, it was guarding a sacred treasure (this image came to mind from what I read in a paragraph of Jung’s Symbols of Transformation). I thought: I don’t have time to connect with an inner dog. I must finish my day’s work.

My work is done. I’m going to have a glass of wine before I go to bed. The image of the black dog with Jung’s book clenched between his teeth feels important to my reading future. I picture myself clutching a volume of Jung and reading with what I imagine as animal intensity, as if my body were more involved in the reading than my mind.


Holy Books in the Psychology Section

(What follows is written in the form of a journal entry.)

There has been room for two psychological thinkers on my reading table during the past few days. I’m imagining one of them, who in reality died seven years ago, sending me an email, asking me to leave my desk on this sunny January afternoon and meet him at the nearby Elliott Bay Book Company in the Mythology section (I admit that I don’t know whether the store has such a section). “I have much to show you,” he writes. I wish I could take a break from work and walk to the bookstore. I’m curious to know where the books on mythology are kept.

Perhaps I will leave home soon and walk in nearby Volunteer Park. I imagine carrying a book with me, one of Carl Jung’s thick volumes, as if it were a dog needing a walk. These sentences feel creative. Jung is the other psychological thinker on my reading table. James Hillman is the first. The thought comes to me: the three of us will take a lot of walks together in my mind.

A decade ago, in November, I was in our flat in Madrid, where we were living, when suddenly I pictured myself writing at the dining room table instead of at my desk. I walked into my writing room, and with my journal and a pen, returned to the dining room. I sat down at the table and waited for an imaginative moment, which came soon enough. As if my journal were speaking to me, I knew that this form of writing, the work I did in my journal, would become my future narrative structure.

A memory in images from 2013 or 2014 comes to me. I think it was springtime. I had started to write and post fictional pieces of between two hundred and five hundred words on an online literary community, and I was frustrated. The piece I’d posted the day before was not being read. I started writing in my journal. The sentences were in charge, not me. I pictured myself standing alongside an indoor basketball court, watching the retired NBA player Chris Mullin shoot baskets. Everyone else had left. He wouldn’t stop practicing. The images seemed to say: Your writing hasn’t given up on you. Keep writing!

I’m attempting to imagine the me who, as a university freshman, dreamed of becoming a minister. Perhaps I didn’t become one because for me holy books are in the psychology section.

As I read Jung’s paper, “Psychotherapists or the Clergy” (in Volume 11 of his Collected Works), I picture myself no longer in psychoanalysis. I’m on my own, so to speak. Is that what I want? No, not yet. I still have much to learn about myself on the couch. 

I am imagining creating an experience, in the second half of my life, that feels meaningful to me. Is keeping my twelve-foot lapstrake rowboat in the water for six months a year creating an experience? For a decade, since students at a wooden boat school built it, I’ve kept the boat out of the water except during the weekends and vacations when I’ve used it. It’s time to make the boat more real to me. In other words, the image of it must be real inside of me.

I’ve returned to my desk after checking to see if we have mail today. I was hoping a book would be waiting for me. I know that the rest of this one is, the one I’m writing, inside of me.


Sadness in Truth

(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.

Voices in the Forest

The image speaks to me as if it were part of my waking life. I’m trying to translate it into words in my journal. A woman who knows me quite well awaits me in a forest. I’m within a few feet of her when I wake up.

I’m preparing my morning coffee when I see the woman’s face again. A bridge appears, and I imagine it connecting my current state of mind with the world of fantasy, where dreams live.

My coffee cup is empty within ten minutes. I haven’t left the kitchen. I can’t remember the last time I drank my morning coffee without a book in my hands. The caffeine should start waking me up soon. I feel as if I’m in a dark tunnel, and I’m uneasy because I can’t see the end of it.

I’ve returned to my desk. I’m writing more words in my journal. The image of my psychoanalyst in the forest returns. She appears different in the woods than she does in her consulting room, although what she’s wearing I’ve seen many times. She looks as if she belongs there. What are we going to do together in the middle of nowhere?

Why couldn’t the dream have continued? I woke up too soon. These words in my mind are interrupted by another voice, as if someone else were also in my head. “The dream hasn’t ended yet. You two encounter each other in the forest. Let the dream continue. Imagine what might happen next.”

Invisible Presences

Such things don’t happen in reality as I experience it in my daily life in the presence of others. No one knows we are coming. Maybe a person isn’t what I‘m imagining. We are ninety miles from the city. The only noise I hear is the river in the distance. If I start running now, I’ll see it within a couple of minutes. The image of my body in motion returns me to reality, to the painfulness and sadness of the present. I am imagining standing before the entrance gate to an acre or so of property that felt as if it would always be mine when I was a child. That was decades ago. Today my mother has Parkinson’s Disease and will never move on her feet again without the help of a walker. My father would not know where we were if the three of us were suddenly to find ourselves standing before the gate leading to memories that I realize now, as I near the end of this sentence, I’m fortunate enough to still have. I’m here at my desk, writing in my journal, and I ask the invisible presences that inhabit what I call reality: what is the meaning of all of this?  

Heart in My Hands

My own book is in my hands. I feel it. It exists. Then I let go of it. It falls to the ground. There’s broken glass on the sidewalk. What’s worse is that I don’t remember the contents between the covers. It’s as if I wrote a book while I was asleep. I picture myself screaming in a forest. I’m so certain that I’m alone that it doesn’t occur to me that someone might hear me. The hardcover remains on the dirty sidewalk. Dirty doesn’t seem to belong in the previous sentence. Would I feel comfortable on a city sidewalk that was spotless? I’m afraid of what’s inside of me. I know that my head and my heart aren’t spotless. My own book is a journal in which I write about both my inner and outer lives. I lean down to pick up the journal. I prefer hardcover journals. The journal doesn’t have to return to my hands. Maybe it’s time to start writing in another. Perhaps I’m afraid to finish filling this one with what might be fictional journal entries. Am I allowing my own creative work to fall to the ground? The reality that I’m writing with both my heart and my head might be overwhelming me. I’m screaming in a forest. My readers can hear me. My unfinished book of journal writing is back in my hands. That’s the last time it will fall to the ground. I feel anxiety in the last sentence. My sentences are alive, which my imagination tells me is a good thing. Hopefully, I am also alive while I write what I realize is the final sentence.

Red Journal and a Sleeping Bag

The room, with a wall of bookcases and windows facing the park, was my imagining and writing home when I lived there. Now it’s a room without an occupant, which I’ve been told should change soon. I left Madrid and Southern Europe, after a week’s visit, two or three days ago. These sentences are being written in what became my new writing room when I returned to Seattle seven and a half years ago. Most of the books in Spanish that were on the shelves in the fourth floor flat with a view of the park in Madrid are with me here in Seattle.

Last week I was alone in my old writing and reading room in Madrid for what felt much longer than a few moments. It was a visual experience of memories that seemed to choose and control me during that fragment of time. Where is the desk where I wrote every morning and afternoon? I knew that this question didn’t leave my mind, that it wasn’t spoken aloud, and yet I glanced around the room to reassure myself that I was alone. Sadness and anxiety were too alive within me to be named. I was sad that my days of writing in journals in that fourth floor flat were over. They ended seven and a half years ago, or so I wished to believe. As I stood motionless in the empty room, I pictured myself seated at the desk that had been there to welcome me when I moved in, writing about my day in a red journal. What I wrote often became something other than factual. I wrote about my daily life as if it were fiction, which perhaps it always has been. Before my moments alone last week came to an end, I pictured myself sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag. I would remain in that room in my imagination. And now I can stop writing. I have arrived in two cities and in two countries at once, in my imagination, where a few moments can last a lifetime. I was anxious last week about facing my past. This week I realize that I can imagine it instead.