Nothing and Everything

(This is a free-associative fragment.)

These sentences could have been about something else. All I know about so far are these two that I’ve written. The uncertainty in them makes me uncomfortable. More words demand to be written: I’m writing about nothing. No one will be interested in this. I’m interested in the words I’ve yet to write, which might be part of what motivates me to spend so much time at my desk, pen in hand or fingers on the keyboard: to discover or glimpse unknowns inside of myself. There was method to this. There is method to this. I wonder why I switched from the present to the past tense. Why not? It’s difficult to admit that rules control much of what happens in my mind. Control and uncertainty are in conflict with each other. Uncertainty seems to help me think about the rules I have for everything. I’ve returned to the present tense. Does a rule tell me that I can’t return to the past tense? I could have written all of these sentences as if they belonged to the past. In a way they do, since I’ve already written them. I’ve just returned from a walk. More uncertainty: should I buy yet another book online? This one was written by a psychoanalyst born in 1922, and was published in 2009. Perhaps he hasn’t published anything since. It consists of published and unpublished papers on various aspects of psychoanalysis. I want to leave this room, holding another book by the same psychoanalytic author, walk to the living room where a glass of beer awaits me, and read in silence. It’s silent in this room too, except for the noise of an airplane in the sky. Reading creates its own kind of inner silence, or the book and I create it together. It’s the kind of silence that makes everything I write possible, whatever I might write about, in this case perhaps nothing. Or maybe I’ve written about everything.


Beginnings in the Dark

(This fragment probably represents the beginning of a new part of my book of fragments. My narrator has become someone new, sort of.)

I was a different mind. I was a different voice. This wasn’t the same body. I was a narrator and a fictional human being who was discovering his life, as if it hadn’t existed yesterday. In an imaginative way, it hadn’t. The old me, the fifty year-old narrator who worked a Sunday shift at NonStop Books and rented a loft in the same building where he wrote on a wall, needed to become someone else. I also lived in Seattle, in the same neighborhood, Capitol Hill. I was also a writer, when I wasn’t listening to others in my consulting room. I would forever be a student. I was training to become a psychoanalyst. This afternoon a new patient sat down across from me for the first time. Sometimes I used the word client. I could call him a potential analysand. If our initial meetings went well for both of us, he would become my third and final control case, which meant that my work with him would be part of my training to become a psychoanalyst. He would experience the couch soon enough. He might experience my couch soon. Writing in this journal relaxed me. A cancellation made these sentences possible. I’d already written notes on my fifty minutes with him this afternoon. I was tired. For some reason it was hard to admit that I wasn’t ready to begin another psychoanalysis. My work with my second patient had finished recently. Analysis was quite a commitment, for both patient and analyst. Exploring a mind was a long and complicated process. It was hard work, for both of us. The case was required to last two years. It might last much longer. How long would it take me to discover my own voice as a psychoanalyst? This question surprised me. I thought I’d already discovered it, which was a crazy thought since I was still in training. I was on my own, which was a surprising thought. I was involved in my institute where I was training. Clinical work wasn’t new to me, and I’d had my own practice for years. Psychoanalysis had been part of my life for a long time, as a patient myself on the couch, as a reader of Freud, Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Lacan, and many others, and perhaps most importantly, as a way of listening to the other human being in my office. I reread all of these sentences. There was a mind and a voice in them. Psychoanalysis as a practice (patients coming three or four times a week and lying on the couch) didn’t appear to have much of a future in this country. Yet it was now part of my future. I could be this kind of narrator.

Inside Work

(Thanks for reading this fictional fragment.)

I needed to find a way to connect to my subjectivity. I had been away from paper, words, and pens for a few days. Tomorrow I would return to the daily routine I’d chosen for myself. There was nothing sacred about it. These words surprised me. Maybe this contact with pen and paper was creating inner space that would make me feel alive in my mind again. Coffee also helped. I was in a coffee shop on an island waiting for a ferry. Maybe it wouldn’t come. Ferries broke down. I had spent more than half a day at this ferry dock waiting for a boat that never came. Another ferry did come and we all headed home. Perhaps I was trying to find my way to my inner home. Certainty wouldn’t lead me to my own subjectivity. It’s right here, I wrote on the page. The coffee shop was crowded. I reminded myself that it was Sunday afternoon. Would the woman seated on one side of me or the man seated on the other try to read these words? I didn’t enjoy seeing this paranoid part of myself. I almost wrote that I was observing myself. Maybe I was. Another part of me (perhaps the paranoid part was also involved) seemed intent on breaking up certainties in my mind. I was returning to life as I knew it. In a way, all of these sentences were one big surprise. I’d thought I’d had a receptive attitude toward my own inner life during the two and a half days I’d spent on a small island around fifteen minutes in boat from here. Now I was struggling to connect with myself. Or was I? Tomorrow I would be back at NonStop Books. Why I worked there remained a mystery to me. I had worked with my hands outside on the island. At night I listened to music in front of the fire instead of reading. This was inside work, in my journal in the crowded coffee shop. In an hour hopefully all of us would be on the ferry. Where was I headed in my mind? Wherever it was, I would find out soon enough.

Recording of Contact with the Unknown

This was the first fragment I wrote without my hands. I hadn’t recorded my own voice in years. For some reason the words started coming out of my mouth instead of onto the page. Perhaps I wasn’t in a writing mood. Yet I was writing sentences in my head. A sentence came to me from a book on Lacan that I had been reading: I am a subject of meaning. I had been in a bad mood. Then forty or fifty minutes ago I stopped moving around outside (I was at my cabin, which had been my family’s cabin, and I’d been coming here since I was six; the acre or so of land was sacred to me), removed my boots, showered, put clean clothes on, and started moving around inside the cabin. I prepared myself an afternoon cup of coffee. The word sacred surprised me. The interior of the cabin was hearing my voice for the first time since breakfast, when I’d spoken on the phone. Was meaning sacred to me? Perhaps not. Meaning often changed in my mind. The word subject brought to mind an unconscious center of being, and I wasn’t in a mood to try to understand what that might mean. I paced the room between the wood stove and the table where I ate and where, when in another mental mood, I might be seated and writing strange sentences such as this one. Being alone often brought me more into contact with myself. Maybe as an unconscious subject (for reasons I didn’t yet understand, unconscious ego didn’t seem like a good term to use here) I was always in the process of becoming. Becoming what, I wondered aloud. Now I was walking around the main floor of the cabin holding a coffee cup. I checked to make sure that the audio recorder was on. For a moment I wished I hadn’t said anything about a subject of meaning. I didn’t know what I was talking about. Language seemed to be doing something to me. These sentences I was uttering were affecting me. I finished the coffee. “These sentences are a form of contact with the unknown,” I said in a loud voice. I heard someone else’s voice. Someone was outside, knocking on the cabin door. It turned the audio recorder off. Perhaps this fragment had reached its end.

One or the Other

(This is another fictional fragment. Thanks for reading.)

I thought he said fictional worlds. A few minutes later I heard him say fictional words. A memory came to me of a friend who told me once that sometimes she found herself creating her own language. I was tired. The beer seemed to slow things down in my mind. “Sometimes everything I write seems one big illusion,” the novelist said, seated across from me on the cabin deck. We had become friends during the summer. The word veil came to mind, as a noun, and I wondered what inner knowledge I might be trying to hide from. I glanced at my watch. It was six. We had been talking for an hour. This was his cabin for the summer. He couldn’t start preparing his dinner until I left. These sentences were unwelcome in my mind as I finished my beer, and I imagined writing them down on paper. James asked me if something was bothering me, or I thought he asked me that. It didn’t sound like something he would ask. What was wrong with me? I hadn’t overstayed my welcome before. “You’ve suddenly become quiet,” he said. I realized that his use of the word illusion was affecting me. Then I wondered: which word just came to me, illusion or allusion? What might I have been afraid that he was alluding to? Maybe I was afraid that he had accused me, in an indirect way, of using words that didn’t exist. I needed another beer. Something was wrong with me. I didn’t want to leave. This sentence surprised me, and for a moment I was afraid I would say it aloud. I had been outside all day. I went rowing. “I’m really tired. The beer has put me to sleep.” As I uttered this last sentence, I became certain that I was using the phrase “put me to sleep” incorrectly, as if some unwritten law prohibited me from using phrases creatively. James finished his beer, crushed the can under his foot, and stood up. “I’ve been frustrated today,” he said. “I spent most of the morning attempting to write a scene, which, after I wrote it, didn’t make sense.” I also stood up and found myself wishing that I’d asked that friend of mine, who had sometimes found herself creating her own language, to tell me some of the words she’d created. I could call her, if I could find her number. I could prepare my own dinner. I could also first have another beer on my own deck. Maybe the silence would calm me down. We said goodbye. I still didn’t want to leave. Or maybe I was unable to admit to myself how much I needed to be alone.

Something Visible in Red

(This is another fragment of my book of fictional fragments, Writers in a Mind. Thanks for reading.)

Contact with the wall was real. I could feel its solidness when I touched the sketch paper attached to it. This was my writing surface. I could also walk several feet to my desk. For the moment there was something appealing about facing a blank page as if it were a person standing in front of me. The dark January evening outside reminded me that I would leave in a few minutes. A sentence came to me: An inner wall separates me from what I might write on the page. For some mysterious reason I connected wall with language. What was my intention, standing before a blank sheet of sketch paper, gripping a red pen as if it were my only contact with reality? Language as a potential barrier between me and my own creative possibilities hadn’t occurred to me before, which was another mystery since as a stutterer I had too often experienced words as obstacles to speech. I would have to speak in front of others tonight. I imagined writing a question on the paper: How can I speak to the group without being afraid of stuttering? The group would be the other students in the creative writing class and the instructor. I wrote more sentences in my head: None of them have heard me stutter. They don’t need to know. I had gone months without stumbling in my speech. Stumble in the sense of coming unexpectedly or by chance upon something seemed connected to what might be happening in my mind as I stood before the wall gripping a red pen. Something told me there was a logic in these moments which extended beyond my mind. There was something solid about reality outside of me. I would tell the others seated around the long table where we gathered once a week what I’d been working on since our last class. The speaking experience would last a few minutes. It would be real contact both with myself and with others. I was still holding the red pen, staring at the blank page on the wall. There was nothing preventing me from moving a few feet forward and writing whatever came to mind, or so I thought. Maybe I didn’t want to believe in invisible obstacles. There was nothing invisible about stuttering. I moved closer to the wall and recorded this sentence in red ink. I reread it a couple of times. There was something special about the sentence, as if I’d written it on the wall itself. I no longer felt in a hurry. Time was on my side. I would speak to the group without stuttering. I believed it, although I feared that the inner wall might reappear, separating me from myself.

Order in Disorder

I wished to be left alone. No one was speaking to me. I was talking in my writing. If only speaking and writing were magical and I knew beforehand that nothing could go wrong. Everything was wrong. My mind was in disorder. Maybe I was one big disorder. Perhaps I wished to believe I was. Anything could go wrong while I spoke. As if disorder were a bad word. I was afraid to utter a bad word. I imagined my psychoanalyst listening to me. She knew the difference between a good and a bad word. What nonsense! I wished I could think. I knew I could. Maybe there was a she in my mind. I was listening to myself and recording what I heard on paper.

I was writing in my journal, where language often became both real and imaginary to me, where my mind slowed down on its own. These sentences were helping me to create order in what was otherwise a chaos of images and disconnected thoughts. Connections were my goal. I needed to believe I was in control. This was my journal. Who else could be in control? Somehow I felt separate from what I was writing. I had grown up with a speech disorder. My use of language had never been in order. Each sentence I had attempted to utter was a potential disaster.

Perhaps I was afraid of thinking. Too much noise in my head or in sentences I wrote could affect me in that way. I became afraid of what might be missing in my sentences. I wanted everything, both to be left alone and have someone listen to me. As I wrote what might have been the final sentence in my journal for the day, I told myself to spend more time with the word disorder. Words could teach me a lot about being human.