I’ve discovered this afternoon that frustration can become thoughts when I feel as if there’s enough time to experience it. A clock on the wall tells me how long I’ve been writing in my sketchbook. I try to forget how soon I’ll have to leave the coffee shop. Something troubling has been on my mind for days and I’m writing about it, or I’m attempting to write the words that come to me. The more sentences I write the more anxious I feel. I stop writing and reread the page of words. I seem to be saying: I’ll solve this problem by getting rid of something, as if I could throw an acre of land out the window and be done with it. My sentences show that my mind moves beyond this conclusion, which surprises me. How often have I been able to spend enough time with frustration and anxiety so that they can express themselves in other emotional languages? I’m about to finish my coffee. I must leave in a few minutes. My frustration hasn’t vanished. I still want a solution to my problem now. Yet, as I write this sentence, I feel mental space that didn’t seem to exist a few minutes ago, as if I have spoken all of these sentences and someone has listened without interrupting me. Throwing land out the window in my imagination helps. Perhaps I will sell the land. Maybe I’m discovering why I’m going to keep it. I glance at the clock one last time. The words “hopefully frustrated” come to me. No. Hope and frustration haven’t become friends in my mind yet. It might not be possible. I imagine hope as a flavor of frustration. I experience them together for long moments, as if they weren’t separate.
I’m realizing that I’m uncomfortable with my own creativity sometimes. The thought comes to me that perhaps I should focus on how I’m uncomfortable in my mind. The adverb “sometimes” at the end of the opening sentence suggests that I’m not being honest with myself. Writing in the way that I often do, without controlling the narrative, as if someone else were creating the sentences I write, becomes an anxious experience. And it’s much more than that. It’s exciting to observe how my creative mind works. Confusion and frustration don’t last forever, although it sometimes feels as if they do. A confused and frustrated me must remain at my desk (or I walk around the block or prepare myself coffee or tea) long enough until I’m not afraid to write a word, phrase, or sentence that will become known to me only after I’ve written it. Another uncomfortable thought appears: I have faith in my unconscious mind. What might that mean? I’m faced with more uncertainty. I’m uncomfortable. And uncomfortable is what I must be when I write in the way that I do.
Perhaps I still want the life I could have had. I could have written about this. Then a wall appeared in my mind between pen and paper and the next sentence I would have written. There are reading lives awaiting me that I’m afraid to live. Experience inserts itself in this sentence, both the word and the experience of experience. Change has appeared in this sentence. A thought come to mind: Experience and change are related to your reading in more ways than you have imagined, which is one reason why you should keep a journal, to record the aliveness of your reading experiences. I have been reading a book while I’ve been drinking coffee and writing these sentences. Another sentence surprises me: This book knows you better than you think. We’ve known each other since 2004. But I was afraid of intimacy, and I might still be. I was living in Madrid, reading mostly in Spanish, and when I came across a few of this British psychoanalyst’s books in Spanish translation, I bought them without thinking that I might also read them one day in the original English. For several years I struggled with these volumes, not with understanding the sentences in Spanish, but with understanding them in relation to my own emotional experiences. I had never experienced a session of psychoanalysis, and I thought I never would. Yet this psychoanalytic author and his books remained important to me. Now, years later, I am in psychoanalysis, and one of the only facts I know about my psychoanalyst is that she trained at an institute where the writings of this thinker, Wilfred Bion, are taught. I should have prepared myself stronger coffee. I’m reading him now, in English. I’m growing as a reader, which experience has taught me will make me a better human being.
How might I dream while I write in my journal? I’m afraid of making mistakes. In the last vignette I posted on this blog, “Unlocked Doors,” I wrote in a free-associative frame of mind. A few hours after posting it, I reread the three paragraphs, and I became anxious when I found two sentences that didn’t make sense. I only had to add an adverb and change a verb. Yet I have remained anxious. It’s afternoon, and I’m writing again, trying to imagine why I’m so afraid of making mistakes.
Journal writing helps me do many things. I learn how to write anew, as if I were writing words on paper for the first time. Sentences become imaginative exercises. Free-associative writing is the nearest experience I have had, with a pen in my hand, to dreaming while I’m awake. As I write about my day, or yesterday or tomorrow, I often find myself creating fiction, writing about my life in creative ways.
Moments before writing the opening sentence of my last vignette, I thought I would just write down last night’s dream. Then images appeared that seemed to suggest another kind of narrative, and as more minutes passed, I felt as if I were writing creatively for the first time.
Perhaps a mistake is a matter of perception. Maybe I’m dreaming all of this in a free-associative way. And maybe the word mistake can help me realize that I have more imagining to do, as if for the first time.
“I journaled in my mind this morning.”
An image of him in a coffee shop writing in a black hardcover journal came to me. Then I realized what he’d said: I journaled in my mind. I had avoided listening to his words. Or maybe I needed to be more patient with my own imaginative ways of listening. He might have written in his journal in a coffee shop this morning, and he might have had moments during the experience when he felt or imagined that he was writing in his mind instead of in his journal.
Neither of us spoke for what felt like several minutes. A sentence came to mind: Journaling helps me understand who I am becoming. Was I thinking about myself, the thirty-five year-old man on the couch, or both of us? This question felt less important than the next sentence that came to me: This is journaling in my mind. Perhaps the man on the couch was describing how he experienced his mind this morning. I realized that it was a few minutes before noon. Maybe he was describing his frame of mind now, while both of us were in the same physical space, and neither of us held a journal or pen in his hand.
“That last sentence has kept me quiet. It surprised me. I’m a bit disorientated.” The number thirty-five returned to my conscious thoughts in a sentence that seemed to disappear moments after appearing. Thirty-five, though, remained. “Last night I read some pages of a journal of my mom’s from thirty-five years ago. I can’t remember when she gave it to me. Or why. What I read surprised me. She did this. I knew she was in psychoanalysis. She did what I’m doing. I’m doing what she did. And she wrote about it on the pages I read last night. She was sad. I was born that year.” Silence again.
I imagined both of us journaling in our minds. The image felt alive. It helped. I was sad. We were sad. Journaling in our minds.
How do I love someone whom I’ve felt I’ve hated? Hate was both the first word that came to mind for the opening sentence and the last one I thought I should use. We’ve known each other since 1991. Until recently, she was married to someone close to me. The reader in me wants to rewrite the initial sentence. Its meaning is unclear. I realize that in some sense of the word love is probably the right word to describe how I feel about her. If not, how could I sometimes feel that I hate her when she behaves in ways that secretly remind me of myself? Her passion for her work, her dedication to what she believes is right, her determination to push herself to succeed, have affected me over the years in mysterious and significant ways. I identify with her in ways I don’t wish to admit to myself. She can also be impossible to be around. Perhaps that’s been said of me when I’ve been intensely anxious, passionate, or obsessive about something. In other words, how do I see myself in her?
Last night the someone close to me spoke with me about her. Tonight she’s on my mind. I find myself exploring my own heart. Love and hate have always danced together. And I want to dance during what I hope are decades ahead of me. She’ll be with me on the dance floor. How could she not be, if we occupy this same inner space?
I need a woman to help me write these sentences, who lives inside of me, who is me. The last three words surprise me. I picture this inner woman walking up a flight of stairs with me. There’s room for us to walk alongside each other. I feel that we’re talking in silence. We reach the second floor. I open the door. I know that in reality I’m alone. Yet as I walk the short distance to my office, to my creative space, which I feel invites me to be alive in my imagination every day, I experience her presence as a reminder that emotions, especially painful ones, are meant to be lived consciously. I am seated at my desk. Writing these sentences has felt like a dream. I haven’t written them alone. I can write in this way. It’s frightening at times. Sometimes unknowns face me in every clause. I want a plot. The reader wants one. Is this a narrative? I must know these things, no? I seem to be writing about my fear of failure. What if these sentences are a failure? I’m not alone. I stand up and walk a few feet to a wall of bookshelves. I wonder which book can help me create the remaining sentences. There’s room for both of us inside of me to imagine which book will soon be in my hands. The images that follow belong to both of us.