Words As Mysterious Gifts

(I am afraid I am not writing these fragments of my book, Writers in a Mind, in chronological order. Thanks for reading).

I imagined I was at my desk translating a text, a significant and difficult one, from Spanish into English. In reality, I was standing in a bookstore, between Fiction and Psychology. An uninvited thought came to me: they’re lucky I’m here. Who was lucky and why? Lucky brought last night’s reading to mind. I had struggled to understand a single sentence of Lacan. I was unable to translate what he’d written in this particular essay (was that the right word?) about speech and language into concepts I could grasp. Another uninvited thought took the form of a response: That’s your problem. Don’t try so hard to understand things. Experience them instead. Understanding comes afterwards. Both people and words surrounded me, people on the outside, words on the inside. Lacan had arrived in my life by chance. I counted how many years ago: eighteen. Until now, we had had a superficial relationship. I started moving toward Psychology, as if I were to look for the French psychoanalyst on a shelf. Someone called my name. Many years ago the writer within called out to me, and I responded. The voice and her words came from behind me. I knew her voice. I heard another name, House of Words, which moments later she told me was the title of a book she’d never written. Words seemed to be doing strange things in my mind. Maybe she said that we were standing in the House of Words, which was true. NonStop Books was more than a bookstore. “You work here, don’t you?” The speaker of these words, who now faced me, was important. She must be tired. Laura had spoken to everyone seated and standing about Everything, the title of her novel. Without thinking, I translated this word into Spanish. Wasn’t all of this translation of subjective experience, images and bodily sensations, into words and thoughts? Would Lacan be interested in this question? Laura and I spoke, and as we did, the thought came to me: value all of the words that come to mind. Each one is a mysterious gift.


Nothing at this Moment

A couple of days in the life of a writer was a long time. Much could happen in the imagination and in life outside of it during x number of hours. If the writer in me had his way, words would appear on paper or on my laptop or in both writing places. It might not matter which day of the week it was. I was supposed to narrate my mental life during days y and z, a Sunday and a Monday in January. I knew in which city and neighborhood I lived in, and I had a general idea of how old I was. I told myself that these things didn’t matter since this was fiction. I felt as if I were in an experiment. Maybe I was an experiment. It was up to me how things turned out. Yet I wasn’t in control of every mental moment. I was the narrator. Logic dictated that an author had created me. I imagined that he existed in my unconscious, that part of the mind of which I knew nothing at this moment. I wanted to know what time it was on this wintry Sunday. I also wanted to know where I was at this moment. Something mystical might happen to you. I had thought I was alone, even in my mind. These last two sentences came to me in a specific physical location. I was standing before a blank sheet of sketch paper. The feeling of this image – since I was a writer, everything happened first in my imagination – was as if I were in church, which would also happen on a Sunday. I was my mind. Perhaps that was too much coffee speaking. More images came to me. It was morning, before my shift at the bookstore. This was my quiet time before I would have to be around others for several uninterrupted hours. I stood on the hardwood floor of my loft, a blue ballpoint pen in one hand. I had walked here from my apartment nearby. NonStop Books was three floors below. A blank vertical sheet of sketch paper, attached to the wall, awaited words and sentences that had yet to come to mind. Maybe none would appear on its surface today. I wouldn’t have much time alone. All of these sentences in my head didn’t seem to be about today. Everything in my mind seemed to be speaking to me about right now. This moment might last a long time.

Identities (Part II)

(Thanks for reading. These recent posts, beginning with Introductions, are part of what is becoming a first draft of my book, Writers in a Mind.)

The author who minutes earlier had finished her talk about how she experienced images in her head while she wrote wanted to speak with me. This can’t be real, I thought. I must be dreaming her. The word hallucination felt dangerous. A moment ago, in reality, she had been surrounded by interested readers. This wasn’t the first time that this phrase, “interested readers,” had come to me. I was interested in the author’s mind. She seemed to have faith that she could survive whatever might happen in her head. I needed that kind of faith myself. Jung might say that a complex was in control of my conscious mind, a complex that existed on its own in my unconscious. Sarah my psychoanalyst might wonder aloud what was on my mind in those moments. I imagined she would be interested in possible unconscious conflicts. It seemed that in moments such as these I attempted to separate Jung and Freud in my thoughts, while in my imagination I often pictured them together. One of my main problems, both as a writer and as a thinker, was that I often insisted that my thoughts follow definite directions. Maybe I was afraid of a central disturbance in my mind.

“You work here, don’t you?”

I was afraid that she would accuse me of something. Maybe someone had taken her two books which had been left on a chair, and she wanted to know if I had seen anything. This was too good to be true. I had thought that the two of us speaking together would remain a fantasy. I held the notes I had written during her talk in one hand. She had published the novel that I dreamed of writing. She was what I fantasized becoming: a psychological novelist. “Hoped” would have been more encouraging than “fantasized.” Somehow, these two words reminded me of reality, and I realized that I hadn’t responded to Laura’s question.

“Can you help me find something good on translation?”

Good writing depends on good translation, I thought. Whatever I was consciously perceiving of the middle-aged woman before me seemed to await translation into metaphorical language. I imagined asking her if this was her first time in NonStop Books. Then I reminded myself that she lived in Seattle. She practiced Jungian psychotherapy on Mercer Island. I knew where her office was. I had pictured myself as one of her clients. She was also training to become a Jungian psychoanalyst. For a moment I wondered whether she had asked me to help her translate something. I struggled with translation as a bookseller, not with translation from one language to another, but from one mind or body to another, being able to focus on a customer’s words without interrupting them with my own in my own mind. These last few moments were a good example of this struggle.

“Let’s go have a look,” I said, as I glanced around the large space for the nearest computer screen. Was she accepting new clients or patients? As if I had asked myself that question aloud, I looked around the room to see if Sarah was nearby. Too often I was unable to tolerate tension or conflict in my mind. I had been on Sarah’s couch four times a week for eighteen months. My creative writing instructor was a psychoanalyst. I spoke again once we were moving. “I enjoyed your talk. One question came to me, which doesn’t have much to do with your fiction, or maybe it does.” I sensed I was about to stutter. I was about to ruin this chance to speak with an author who was important to me in mysterious ways, or maybe the opposite was true. “I am a writer, and I am in psychoanalysis. I’m also passionate about Jung. Is there a middle ground between Jung and Freud? It seems that there is, since for instance you said that you’re training to become a Jungian psychoanalyst.” She looked at me in a way that I didn’t know how to translate into the language of my own subjective impressions.

“It seems that we’re going to talk about much more than translation.”

Separation without a Name

My own words insisted that I listen to them. There wasn’t much else for me to do. The silence in the room reminded me of what I’d just said: I really felt bad that I had to reschedule our next session. I knew that wasn’t true. I didn’t feel bad at all. There was something else I had to do that day. The word “really” demanded my attention. Listening to these sentences in my head, I felt that I was overconfident about what was happening in my mind. How could I know if the words in my head were insisting on something? My spoken words ended the silence, and I heard myself say that I wanted to postpone our next session. I corrected myself. I wanted to reschedule it, which I’d said a minute or two earlier. But it was too late. My words had spoken. Were my words separate from me? They were expressing things against my will. Suddenly, my will, whatever it was, didn’t seem important. Our next session would be important, and I realized that I didn’t want to reschedule it. I wanted to be here on that day. She would be away for a week after that. The word “separate” returned to me. I felt more than thought that I didn’t want to be separate from her. It would only be a week. She wasn’t my mother. The words in my head were overwhelming me. I needed inner silence. I also needed a name for what I was experiencing.

Equation without Numbers

There was no time for me to do what I wanted. I wished I knew what that was. Time was running out. I glanced at the clock across the small room, and I realized I was anxious. The couch was between me and the clock on the window sill. My sense of time in this room would soon change. The couch’s lone occupant would arrive, I hoped, in fourteen minutes. Time was on my mind. Or maybe my mind was lost in a mysterious sort of time in which seconds and minutes weren’t part of the equation. Or maybe they were, but I would never know for sure. Was something trying to figure itself out in my head? A long moment seemed to refuse to end. Then I turned my chair back toward the desk and checked my email on my laptop. There was a new mail that must have arrived in the last few minutes. A colleague commented on the book our study group was reading. It was difficult reading for me. The book was antiquated somehow, as if I weren’t satisfied with it. Maybe it wasn’t satisfied with me or my work with patients. Or maybe I was antiquated. Perhaps I needed to change how I worked. This was too much irrationality and uncertainty twelve minutes before a session. What work was I referring to? My own inner work was the most important, and doing it was the only way I could help anyone else. Time always seemed to be running out. Maybe I had to forget about time and numbers, for a minute.

One Focus

I thought I heard him say he was sick in mind. It didn’t sound like something he would say. How could I know what he would say next? He was supposed to attempt to say whatever came to mind. Sick in bed came to my mind. Why was I questioning his associations on the couch? My job was to listen. Perhaps he was judging himself for something he’d done either in reality or in his imagination or in both. Fantasy was important in this room. He’d stopped speaking. For how long had he been silent? His words, sick in mind, returned to me. I heard myself say aloud: “You sound sad, as if you believe that you are sick in mind and that you can’t recover from it.” “I feel as if I were in bed and I don’t want to get up.” Maybe he felt trapped, in his mind, in his body, and he experienced himself as helpless. Perhaps I felt trapped. Trapped and helpless reminded me of his words, sick in mind. Now I remembered more of what he’d said along with those words. The words had come to him in a dream, in which a man, who stood nearby in the darkness, said that he was sick in mind. Awake, on the couch, my patient seemed to believe the dream figure’s words. Was I somehow this figure in the darkness? I imagined myself lying down. Maybe the middle-aged man before me on the couch was ready to get to his feet and walk out the door. I would become the one sick in mind and unable to recover. Time was running out. In a few minutes we would separate until next time. Until then our focus would be his mind.

Confusion in Now

There’s no tomorrow. It’s Monday. I’ve had two coffees this morning. I’m awake. What’s so important about today? Maybe two or three of these sentences came to me as I crossed the threshold of Mary’s office. The fifty minutes wouldn’t last long. The session had already started, when I’d left the waiting room and walked up the stairs to the second floor. She glanced at me as I passed her on my way to the couch. What might have been on her mind? I hadn’t filled it with anything yet. Maybe she saw something on my face as my eyes moved from her to the couch. The couch was why we were here. I could never seem to focus on it before I lay down. I was afraid to look around. The silence in the room intimidated me. Why might there be no tomorrow in my mind? It seems a good question. Both of us were in our respective positions when I mentioned the no tomorrow. She said something. I think she said Monday. The back and forth between present and past tense in my mind is confusing me. Maybe it also was confusing me. How can there be a tomorrow if I haven’t arrived in today yet? I wanted to speak about my thought regarding the couch: it was why we were here. The silence in the room seemed to say that I wasn’t ready. Ready for what? I wonder. Today, tomorrow, or yesterday?