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.

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Spontaneity in Twelve Words

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

The sentence seemed to write itself on what had been a blank sheet of paper: The help you could give me is not the help I need. I was on a ferry, on my way to the San Juan Islands. The journal had made its way from my backpack into my hands as if on its own. It was late morning. Writing often helped me wake up, and since these were my first words of the day, I told myself that I didn’t have to understand the sentence that had seemed to write itself. Another unexpected sentence appeared on the page, in the form of a question: it’s not easy to think, is it? I seemed to be having a conversation with myself. I found it interesting that I’d written a mysterious sentence. Maybe I was bored without knowing it. These sentences were waking me up. I did need help, didn’t I? This brief trip to the cabin which I had never expected to inherit wasn’t real to me yet. I would have to return home to Seattle tomorrow. I was here for my writing, or so I told myself. Craziness in fiction wouldn’t leave me alone. I loved it as the title of the creative writing course I was taking, but the word craziness seemed to warn me of possible bad news in my mind. Our instructor had asked us to write about an important inner experience. Before I could think about the decision I was making, I decided to leave town for a couple of days. I didn’t have to work at NonStop Books again until Friday. I trusted that something worth writing about would happen to me before I returned to Seattle on Thursday evening. So far the mysterious sentence was the only significant inner experience I’d had. Maybe, if nothing else came to me, it would be enough. It was raining outside. I’d written a spontaneous sentence. Wasn’t that an important inner experience?

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.

Nothing without Everything

(I am afraid I am not writing these fragments of my book of vignettes with the same narrator in chronological order. Thanks for reading.)

Everything came to me at once. If only I could have found words for it all. There was no time. I had all the time in the world. A flood of words arrived in my head uninvited after I left her office. The words were of no use to me now. They had been intended for her. I stood on a crowded sidewalk. Four images, four faces, four names, four separate people, seemed inseparable in my mind. Separation was the problem. Separation was the solution. Enough! No more fragmentation! I was speaking in my imagination. No one on this crowded sidewalk could hear me. I could hear myself. These four names and faces were intended for me. Everything had a name, didn’t it? Everything meant that I was afraid of being left with nothing. Yesterday, at NonStop Books where I worked, all four of them stood together, in line to pay for their books, and none of them acknowledged my presence a few feet away. I wanted, no, I demanded consistency, calmness, and normality from the images that in a way constituted my memories, as if what I experienced in my moment to moment life, both in inner and outer reality, had to conform to my own expectations. I walked toward the light rail station. No one was waiting for me at home. There was nothing consistent with past experiences, neither calming nor normal, about my psychoanalyst, my creative writing instructor (also a psychoanalyst), my former neighbor for a summer (also a novelist), and an author (also a Jungian psychotherapist training to become a psychoanalyst) who had just finished speaking to an audience in the bookstore about her recently published novel ignoring me, although it was only for a few moments. I didn’t remain motionless for long. I worked at NonStop Books, after all. It was Sunday, and all of us had listened to the author talk about her novel on, what she said, was everything. Of course what happened as I stood there feeling ignored was consistent with past experiences, or else I might have been able to think instead of simply react to the immediate situation. Maybe this flood of words was everything. I left Sarah’s office a few minutes ago without having said that I was angry with her. She could have said hello yesterday as she stood in line to pay for her book. Was I angry? I was still searching for words. Why didn’t I say hello to all four of them before they left the store together with their books?