Three numbers brought to mind three events from my past. I might have been four when I had my second and final eye operation. I was twelve when I lost a significant physical place from my childhood (I imagine that I felt as if it were taken from me). And I think I was sixteen when I achieved, for the first time, important academic success. Significant and important things seemed on my mind. The three events appeared unrelated. They also happened in my mind. They were emotional events. Weren’t they also reoccuring on this computer screen as I wrote each sentence? Maybe I was attempting to fit fragments of memory together. One Saturday night in my late twenties, when I was training to become a psychotherapist, I started writing in my journal and soon found myself lost in the process of it. Before I wrote the last word that night, I remembered what I called my earliest memory (I would have been two or three or maybe four), of being alone in a hospital room and convinced that my parents had abandoned me. Later on I discovered that after one of my two eye operations there was a reason why my parents couldn’t be with me in the hospital. Why was I writing about this here? Maybe I wanted a particular emotional experience. This writing experience was unlike my usual reading experiences. It was disorientating. As a twelve year-old, I was devastated when my grandparents sold a small cabin where we had spent weekends for as long as I could remember. Perhaps I became overwhelmed during our last visit there, the weekend my grandparents handed the keys over to the new owners, because what I remembered from all of our weekends there was loss, only loss. Loss became real to me, too real. Four years later, when I was sixteen and received an academic award, I became confused. What had really happened? Maybe I couldn’t believe that I’d succeeded at something. My grades were poorer the following year. In all three of these memories, something was missing. Missing and loss became the same. Change wasn’t my friend. This computer screen didn’t feel friendly. I needed fragments to become wholes. I was feeling fragmented. Maybe I was waiting for more numbers to come to me to create a whole.
I needed to buy a particular book. It was a real need. There was nothing imaginative about it. One moment I remembered the title, the next I didn’t. I could wait until tomorrow. No, I couldn’t. According to the website of the online bookseller where I’d found this new book, there was only one copy at this price. If I didn’t buy it tonight, tomorrow morning would be too late. This sort of anxiety and absence of thinking were familiar to me. They were part of me. Perhaps for years or decades they had been me. There always seemed to be a book I needed. The adverb “always” was telling. I would do something different this time. I imagined receiving the book in the mail. It was written by a psychoanalyst and first published in 1968. Its contents were obsolete. No, they weren’t. I misspelled obsolete, writing an “e” instead of the second “o.” Maybe I wanted to make a mistake, or do anything to help me focus on something else. I noticed that this particular copy was published in 1990. So this copy of Roy Schafer’s Aspects of Internalization wasn’t new, was it? I realized I was tired. I was ready for bed. Moments later I was in another room. I imagined saying goodnight to my laptop. The Internet could be an overwhelming place. I seemed intent on not facing what was happening inside of myself. The next morning, Sunday, after two cups of coffee, I found myself wondering what the title of the book I’d obsessed about the evening before, Aspects of Internalization, might suggest about my own mind. Perhaps I could learn from my experience yesterday of being unable to decide whether or not I wanted to buy this particular softcover. Anxiety was overwhelming me. Thought felt far away. I was anxious about where my writing might be leading me. It was as if I were learning a new language. The word language brought spontaneity to mind. I was learning to observe my mind in all of its craziness, moment to moment. I would buy another book, maybe this same one by Schafer, soon enough, but not now. Before I left home for several hours, I wrote down the following on a scrap piece of paper: I seem to be developing a new attitude toward my mind. The intensity of these inner experiences doesn’t need to overwhelm me. Then I walked downtown, and as I walked, I observed that the words “always” and “never” kept reappearing. I always wanted to buy books. I never wanted to buy books. I wanted to buy one right now. I should wait a month before buying another one. Perhaps I was searching for a mental middle ground, as if such a place existed. My mind seemed an anxious place.
(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.
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.
(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.”
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.
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.