I arrived at my writing table with a mug of strong coffee. My laptop was alone on the surface, and I imagined books, my black hardcover journal, and pens surrounding it and creating a sense of intimacy that without my imagination didn’t seem to exist at that moment.
Coffee wasn’t enough. There was something invigorating about a cluttered writing space. Perhaps the sight of untidiness motivated me to create order in my mind. Books and writing paper scattered around my writing table were always welcome. Maybe the laptop was an unwelcome and impersonal object during these initial creative moments before I started to create sentences outside of my mind.
Papers, pens, and books that appealed to me made the writing experience real. I often read from one or more books before and while I wrote. The books seemed to choose me, and when the writing went well I felt that the images, words, and ideas that became part of my text originated in the paperbacks or hardbacks, in English or in Spanish, that I imagined had spoken to me from the bookshelves.
Reading at my desk seemed to help me move into a writing state of mind. Coffee also helped, but I needed the inner presence of an author or authors to reach a mental place where I felt at one with my own imagination. I set my coffee mug down on the table. It was time to spend the decisive moments before my bookshelves.
I am running toward the end of a corridor without a single door on either side. My body refuses to stop moving. All of this motion happens in my mind. I can imagine myself motionless in an instant, or can I? Maybe my imagination will cooperate with the rest of me if I write, in a declarative sentence, that my mind shall be motionless. I’m still running, but I’m no closer to the end of the corridor than I imagined myself to be when I wrote the opening sentence. Then, in the next image, a door appears on the left side of the corridor. All of me stops. A question mark has been painted on the door in blue. I open the door without hesitation and feel as if I’m moving both backward and forward in time. Several men and women are seated at a long table, everyone is reading or writing or both, and as I stand motionless, wondering where I should sit, I realize that I recognize all of these authors, they’re my favorites, and the words come to me: some of them are dead. I glance around the room. I want to find a seat between two authors that remain among the living. But is this imaginative experience concerned about what I want? Words paint themselves in my mind, once more in blue: don’t stop imagining. I wish I could run far away, back into reality. I move one foot forward and then the other, a chair appears, I sit down, I’m behind an author seated at the table, I imagine looking over her shoulder to see what she’s working on, and I realize I’m here to observe – for now.
I have just finished writing the paragraph above. I’m disorientated. My first impression, without having reread the sentences that didn’t exist in my head half an hour ago, is that my words speak of my unknown future as a writer.
An inner voice speaks to me: you’re experimenting, playing with images and words, or perhaps they are playing with you. I don’t feel in control of this narrative. I want more narrative structure. The same or another inner voice whispers to me: wait. The images haven’t finished with you yet. Return to them in your imagination.
I have returned to the room with the long table in my imagination. I get up from the chair where I’d been seated, move to the long table and find space to sit down between two living authors. Now I can read and write alongside writers and thinkers who are important to me.
Perhaps my imagination has finished playing with me, for the moment. I’m at my desk. What kind of inner confession in images have I written? I glance at my laptop and realize that I must leave this room and start the rest of my day in less than a minute. My imagination has spoken to me in these sentences: slow down and involve yourself more in the process of creating something in words. I hope to imagine more doors with question marks in blue painted on them.
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.
I’ve decided to write one word at a time. Familiar comes first. On bad days, or perhaps they are the good ones, I criticize myself for being too comfortable with the words I know, which appear in many of my sentences. The word creative comes to mind, followed by a seemingly unrelated sentence: I know it when I see it. Is this how I feel when I’m writing words at my desk and I’ve found my rhythm, when I trust that what comes to me belongs in a sentence? I would like to think that I’m comfortable in these moments, but the writer in me says no. Discomfort leads to creative work. It’s as if first I must feel uncertain about everything, or at least something, to write well, and then feel enough inner certainty to write one sentence and then another. Sometimes unfamiliar words or images come to the rescue. I know it when I see it. For instance, the word vernacular comes to mind. I know what it means, don’t I? I respond to my own inner question: it depends both on which sense of the word I’m focused on and whether I want to use it as an adjective or as a noun. Uncertainty fills me. I don’t know which sense or form of vernacular I’m interested in. The word came to me on its own. I’m about to look it up in my online dictionary when all of me says no, that I should wait and see what comes to me next. As I listen to this inner voice, I feel room to breathe inside of me that I imagine didn’t exist moments earlier. Vernacular remains somewhere in my mind, in an uncertain form, which writing experience has taught me is a good thing. Maybe vernacular isn’t done with me yet.
I’d never thought of myself as a translator. Isn’t that what I do as a writer, I thought: translate my own inner experiences into words, sentences, and paragraphs. Another sentence awaited me: inner experience is more complicated than that. Seated at my desk, I was about to stand up. Focus seemed impossible. There was no text yet. I typed the word confusion. Now I had something.
Minutes later, familiar images appeared on the screen. I’d decided to take a short break from words and instead watch something on the Internet that would both relax me and inspire me to become a better writer. I didn’t have to think about what I would watch. He was a rookie in the NBA. I wasn’t a sports fan anymore, was I? My sudden interest in Lonzo Ball wasn’t about sports, or maybe it was in part, since I’d been a lifelong basketball fan. As I watched the three minutes of footage of the NBA game from last week in which Ball became the youngest player in the league’s history to record a triple-double, I sensed that I was also making contact with the writer inside of me. I imagined myself as a rookie writer with a promising future ahead of me, and I thought: maybe one day I’ll write like Lonzo Ball will mature as a professional player.
Before I watched the three minutes and forty seconds of footage of the game that was played in Milwaukee a second time (Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers were the visiting team), I focused on the screen, which was blank except for the word confusion. The room was silent. Suddenly, I became silent inside. Something was there, here, inside, waiting for me to write it down. I could always be a rookie writer in my imagination. And a rookie reader. Images of the rookie Lonzo Ball, swishing a 3-pointer, rebounding and passing the ball down court, somehow felt connected to what I was trying to do here at the keyboard. Creative action came to mind. Writing a sentence was my favorite creative act. Writing voice was what I hoped to never stop discovering, one sentence at a time.
I imagined that I was observing my own mind as I pressed play and watched images of a Spanish novelist seated at a table just wide enough for an open book and a black hardcover journal, in which he was writing. It was as if I thought it possible to capture my own present mental moments on YouTube. Everything was happening in my head.
Javier Marías existed outside of my head. I knew more or less where he lived in Madrid. For years I lived within twenty minutes walking distance from the plaza that I imagined he could see from his writing table. I could watch interviews with him, either in Spanish or in English, on YouTube. The images that originated in my own head of Marías seated at a table copying words from a book into his journal seemed to speak about what was happening in my mind. Perhaps this image of the Spaniard represented a writer part of me that was eager to learn from my favorite authors. Maybe the book open on the table and the black hardcover journal also represented the current state of my own process of writing.
The images of my watching this author writing on YouTube (I assumed in Castellano), seated at a table just wide enough for an open book and his journal, returned, as if this were the first time I was experiencing it in my imagination. Maybe it was. Each observation was different. Then I appeared and sat down alongside this famous Spanish author and watched him continue with his work. Maybe I would discover what he was doing. I also hoped to discover where these images were leading my own sentences.
After a long day, I thought it was time for my mind to rest. Yet three different decades, three different years, and three different men demanded my attention simultaneously. I sat back in my chair. Also, the blog post on the screen before me wouldn’t vanish. I’d read it three times. I felt connected to it, as if I wanted a copy of the three paragraphs to have near me while I wrote every day. Her sentences felt oddly familiar. I felt an affinity to her as a writer. Twenty minutes earlier I hadn’t known she existed. She wrote like me, but much, much better. Maybe with a lot of work I could write like her one day. Her three paragraphs reminded me of something that I would like to have imagined myself. Yet three different mental events and subjects had repeatedly interrupted my reading enjoyment. That morning I’d read eleven pages of a book on psychoanalytic attitude by an author whom I realized, after a brief Google search, would soon turn ninety-six years old. I wondered whether he still practiced psychoanalysis. I remembered buying the hardback at a secondhand bookstore, which I reminded myself no longer existed, on a sunny Sunday afternoon six years ago. Much had changed in my life since then. The eleven pages took me less time to read than I’d expected, and I had both enough time and coffee in my mug to read something else, which I hoped would somehow help me to focus on that day’s writing. Without thinking about what my hands were reaching for, I grabbed a volume of Freud’s correspondence from the shelf and opened it to a page and started reading, and moments later I somehow knew that the letter would help me. Freud was frustrated with his friend and colleague Sándor Ferenczi. I reread the date at the top of the letter: November 17, 1911. The psychoanalyst published his book on psychoanalytic attitude in 1983. I glanced at the clock and realized that I had to start my day, but before I reached the shower the seven minutes and forty-nine seconds of an NBA game from 1998 in which Michael Jordan scored forty points against the Houston Rockets that I’d watched the night before on YouTube returned as if it had something important to tell me. I thought I recalled watching the game on television nineteen years ago when, although I was already thirty-two, my life still seemed in one of its opening chapters. I was still sitting back in my chair. I wanted to read the blog post a fourth time, maybe even a seventh time. It would depend on how many other things came to mind at the same time.