Holy Books in the Psychology Section

(What follows is written in the form of a journal entry.)

There has been room for two psychological thinkers on my reading table during the past few days. I’m imagining one of them, who in reality died seven years ago, sending me an email, asking me to leave my desk on this sunny January afternoon and meet him at the nearby Elliott Bay Book Company in the Mythology section (I admit that I don’t know whether the store has such a section). “I have much to show you,” he writes. I wish I could take a break from work and walk to the bookstore. I’m curious to know where the books on mythology are kept.

Perhaps I will leave home soon and walk in nearby Volunteer Park. I imagine carrying a book with me, one of Carl Jung’s thick volumes, as if it were a dog needing a walk. These sentences feel creative. Jung is the other psychological thinker on my reading table. James Hillman is the first. The thought comes to me: the three of us will take a lot of walks together in my mind.

A decade ago, in November, I was in our flat in Madrid, where we were living, when suddenly I pictured myself writing at the dining room table instead of at my desk. I walked into my writing room, and with my journal and a pen, returned to the dining room. I sat down at the table and waited for an imaginative moment, which came soon enough. As if my journal were speaking to me, I knew that this form of writing, the work I did in my journal, would become my future narrative structure.

A memory in images from 2013 or 2014 comes to me. I think it was springtime. I had started to write and post fictional pieces of between two hundred and five hundred words on an online literary community, and I was frustrated. The piece I’d posted the day before was not being read. I started writing in my journal. The sentences were in charge, not me. I pictured myself standing alongside an indoor basketball court, watching the retired NBA player Chris Mullin shoot baskets. Everyone else had left. He wouldn’t stop practicing. The images seemed to say: Your writing hasn’t given up on you. Keep writing!

I’m attempting to imagine the me who, as a university freshman, dreamed of becoming a minister. Perhaps I didn’t become one because for me holy books are in the psychology section.

As I read Jung’s paper, “Psychotherapists or the Clergy” (in Volume 11 of his Collected Works), I picture myself no longer in psychoanalysis. I’m on my own, so to speak. Is that what I want? No, not yet. I still have much to learn about myself on the couch. 

I am imagining creating an experience, in the second half of my life, that feels meaningful to me. Is keeping my twelve-foot lapstrake rowboat in the water for six months a year creating an experience? For a decade, since students at a wooden boat school built it, I’ve kept the boat out of the water except during the weekends and vacations when I’ve used it. It’s time to make the boat more real to me. In other words, the image of it must be real inside of me.

I’ve returned to my desk after checking to see if we have mail today. I was hoping a book would be waiting for me. I know that the rest of this one is, the one I’m writing, inside of me.



Paper and Pencil in a Monastery

I imagine myself seated at a table in a small room with no other furniture. The word monastery comes to mind to describe where I am in my imagination. Paper and pencil appear on the table. I pick up the pencil and write: I can’t change anything from inside these stone walls. I stand up, as if I know of no other way to protest my own written words. I have chosen solitude, haven’t I? There is no car for me to drive. The sea is far away, and I am without a boat. I glance around the bare room. Where is a bicycle when I need one? These sentences aren’t enough. I picture a stack of books by my new favorite psychological thinker, James Hillman. Reality doesn’t allow me to create books with my imagination. I picture a door appearing in one of the stone walls, and I know where it leads: to a bookstore where I can find all of Hillman’s books in one row. Without warning, my hand holding the pencil stops moving across the page, and I realize that I have created something: all of these words on the piece of paper that I have been reading and rereading in the form of sentences. Silence has helped create this paragraph. I am in a monastery in my mind.

Familiar Friends

(These paragraphs are a sort of travel journal, which I wrote during a recent trip to Madrid).

Recently I have felt as if I were writing in a tunnel far underground. Images have been more important than words. I picture myself climbing stairs. Soon I’ll be on the sidewalk. Soon is not the same as now. Time seems to have become an obstacle in my mind. I do not want things to slow down, which my writing state of mind needs.

I wrote the sentences above in another language, my second one, which for several years, while I lived in Madrid, I dreamt was the one I learned first. Time moves differently in me now. I am in a different time zone, the one I lived in in Spain, where I arrived yesterday and will remain a week. The paragraph above was written in the airport in Frankfurt. Perhaps I felt far underground after nearly ten hours on a plane. The flight from Frankfurt to Madrid was delayed. A couple of hours separated me from my destination. Maybe the experience felt similar to climbing stairs. I’ve written these sentences in English in the lobby of the hotel where I’m staying in Madrid.

Walking takes time. This sentence has come to me after my return to the hotel from another long walk in the center of Madrid. Spanish sidewalks have become my friends again. Even in December, people are seated at tables outside bars, on the sidewalks, creating the sense of crowded spaces. I walked to my favorite bookstore this morning, Casa del Libro, on Gran Vía, which has been renovated since my last visit, and I was surprised when I reached the top floor to find the Psychology section on a different wall. My familiar friends, the shelves of books on psychoanalysis and on Jungian thought, greeted me in their new location. I walked back to the hotel along narrow, crowded streets with a book related to Jungian psychology. Time has felt slower since I left Casa del Libro. Later on in the day I’ll spend time with printed words, my familiar friends, on the page.

My days in Madrid pass as if time doesn’t know what to do with me. I visited the building where I lived, spoke with the building manager, and when he offered to show me my old flat, which is vacant, I said yes without a pause. During my minutes in my old home, memories of reading and writing both in Spanish and in English came to me, and I felt as if the past were becoming the future.

I walked around in my old neighborhood. I walked without purpose, or perhaps I was waiting for a purpose to find me.

The two paragraphs above have taken me longer to write than I expected. I’m tired. I’ve slept poorly since my arrival. Now I must leave the hotel for a dinner.

At night, while I’ve been unable to sleep, I’ve read some pages of the book on archetypal psychology that I bought on my first day here. And I find myself rereading the same sentences without comprehending anything, as if the underground tunnel has become reality in my mind. I’m trapped. I seem unable to imagine stairs that I can climb back to the street level, so to speak, to the surface of things in consciousness. Finally, last night, moments before I fell asleep, I felt calm, and I imagined myself walking slowly on a crowded Madrid sidewalk, as if I had the space all to myself.

I’ve struggled to reflect on my time in Spain several years ago in the form of images. I lived here for a period of time that didn’t feel too long until the end. And then I couldn’t leave soon enough. I’m writing these sentences in a bar while I drink a café con leche. I’m also listening to the conversations in Spanish around me. An image appears that seems to describe my years here in Madrid: I’m walking in an underground tunnel, headed toward a destination that remains unknown to me. I finish the coffee with milk and leave the bar. The hotel is nearby. I imagine myself running on the sidewalk and then walking slowly. Perhaps climbing inner stairs won’t be part of my immediate mental or imaginative future. Time doesn’t feel like an obstacle or as a friend. It simply is. Or maybe it has been a friend. I’m thinking now. I don’t feel trapped. And soon I’ll fly home.

Who inside of Us

The letter B appears on what was a blank sheet of sketch paper. Then I write the number 8. I imagine the letter and the number becoming one in the center of the page. Something tells me that this sheet of sketch paper will need me for too many minutes and I will become disorientated. The following three sentences write themselves, as if I were observing the pen doing the work of writing. The sheet of paper imagines me using a different colored pen. I reach for a green one. The page in my hands feels as alive as me, and I imagine the green pen moving my mind across it.

“Stop!” This is the first time paper has spoken to me, even in my imagination. I read what I’ve written. B and 8 appear in different words. The green pen is no longer in my hands. Words now appear in blue.

I write B8, which I picture on the wall alongside the doors to an auditorium where one of my favorite authors will soon speak. Who speaks to us in our words is the title I imagine for the talk. These last few minutes have helped me realize that who resides inside of me. Now I want to imagine its names.

Unknown Rooms

“Why am I here?” The seventy-one year-old psychoanalyst asks as he finds himself in an office he’s never set foot in before. “And where am I? My next patient arrives in eight minutes.” The suddenness of his appearance here might be responsible for his not realizing that no one else is in the room to hear him. Seconds later the Jungian psychoanalyst who listens to clients for hours a day in this space walks through the door. “You’re a year older than me,” the Jungian says as he walks toward his chair. “I feel as if I’m in a dream,” says the psychoanalyst who has published ten books on his work with patients on the couch. “I do too,” the seventy year-old Jungian responds as he sits down. The psychoanalyst who has his patients lie on the couch remains on his feet and appears uncertain what to do. The Jungian stands up. “Can you help me with something?” He walks a few feet to the bookcases that line one wall. “Why don’t we move the books around, put them on other shelves, find new homes for them?” The psychoanalyst glances around the room. Perhaps he hopes to see a couch where he can lie down and be able to think about the question that has been posed to him. He imagines the mind as a home full of rooms, many of which remain unknown to the owner. The owner needs to know his or her home better. I need to know my mind better. Seconds become minutes and soon the two psychotherapists are focused on finding books new homes on different shelves. The experience seems to cause the psychoanalyst to forget that he has no idea where he is. As if he were thinking this, he says to the Jungian: “I know where I am. I am in my own mind.”

Subjective Fact

I am surprised to see that my mind worked well eighteen years ago. My own words in green ink are before me, in the margins, on page four of Carl Jung’s The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. It’s the second page of the text. I wrote: note the tension of opposites in each of the first three paragraphs. In reality, these were not the words I wrote in green ink in the margins. They are the words that come to me now as I reread and rewrite what I wrote then. I imagine that the year was 2000. I was about to write that I spent the first six months of that year in Ithaca, New York, but that was in 1999. I was back in Seattle in 2000, and I had no idea that I would move to Madrid two years later and become immersed in learning Spanish and relearning English. The only fact regarding when I might have written in the margins on page four of Jung’s opening paper of the book, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” is the year I wrote on the flyleaf: 1999.

Maybe fact isn’t the best word in the previous sentence. I could have written clue instead. Images and facts seem to have become one in my mind, for the moment. My exact words in green ink on page four of Jung’s opening paper of the book were: in paragraphs 1-3, note the tension of opposites within each paragraph. The opening three paragraphs seemed important to me back then, eighteen or nineteen years ago, when I imagine that I read this text for the first time. In reality, how could I have read it any earlier than that, since I never saw this volume of Jung before 1999? The words “tension of opposites” seemed to suggest much more than I was aware of, or that I’m aware of now.

A sentence comes to me: I know what’s missing in either version of what I wrote in the margins on page four. There’s no subject who experiences the tension of opposites. I picture a creative sentence appearing on paper as a result of the writer being able to imagine what he or she would prefer not to experience. Am I not the writer, the one imagining things filled with the tension of opposites? Writing is an emotional experience, and sometimes finishing a sentence requires patience so that an image or thought has enough time to appear in consciousness before the sentence comes to an end.

My mind works now too, and hopefully better than it did eighteen years ago. I feel I should have written “differently” instead of “better.” Then I realize a subjective fact: I am more of a conscious subject than I was eighteen or nineteen years ago.


Readings for the Future

What follows is fictitious. Or perhaps I’m afraid it won’t be. I’ve been rereading the opening sentence of a 459-page book, first published in 1912. The bookstore in downtown Seattle where I bought my first copy of it, in softcover, no longer exists. For several minutes I’ve been struggling to remember the name of the store, without success, until now: Borders. It was on 4th Avenue, in the heart of downtown. Several memories of buying books there come to mind at once. This particular book, Carl Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, has been important to my emotional development, a thought which has come to me now for the first time. On the flyleaf I read that I bought it in 1999, nineteen years ago. I was 32 or 33. Two years later, I bought the volume again, in hardcover. It was expensive. Yet I knew I would need it in the future. Since then I’ve read much of the book, some of it in my softcover copy, some of it in my hardcover copy, some of it in both copies.

The opening sentence of the paragraph above surprises me. I thought I wrote: what follows is NOT fictitious. A few minutes ago I reread it. The unconscious doesn’t lie. What I’ve written so far doesn’t read like fiction. In the second sentence of the paragraph above, I wrote that perhaps I’m afraid that these sentences won’t be fictitious. Maybe I don’t want to write about reality. Reality has never been my best friend.

I’m becoming impatient. The opening paragraph of this book is two pages long. I’ve reread the opening sentence again, in which Jung gives his impressions of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. It consists of 86 words. I didn’t want to use the phrase “consist of,” but I did and have kept it because they were the words that came to me in the moment of writing. Symbols of Transformation is about what can happen or not happen in the unconscious and conscious mind as one experiences psychologically what it means to be an adult human being. Where did that sentence come from? Experience has taught me that surprises are a good thing in writing, which I hope remains true. My intuition suggests that my rereading of this book will influence my future states of mind. The future will let me know whether or not this becomes true.