Emotional Reading

Perhaps I still want the life I could have had. I could have written about this. Then a wall appeared in my mind between pen and paper and the next sentence I would have written. There are reading lives awaiting me that I’m afraid to live. Experience inserts itself in this sentence, both the word and the experience of experience. Change has appeared in this sentence. A thought come to mind: Experience and change are related to your reading in more ways than you have imagined, which is one reason why you should keep a journal, to record the aliveness of your reading experiences. I have been reading a book while I’ve been drinking coffee and writing these sentences. Another sentence surprises me: This book knows you better than you think. We’ve known each other since 2004. But I was afraid of intimacy, and I might still be. I was living in Madrid, reading mostly in Spanish, and when I came across a few of this British psychoanalyst’s books in Spanish translation, I bought them without thinking that I might also read them one day in the original English. For several years I struggled with these volumes, not with understanding the sentences in Spanish, but with understanding them in relation to my own emotional experiences. I had never experienced a session of psychoanalysis, and I thought I never would. Yet this psychoanalytic author and his books remained important to me. Now, years later, I am in psychoanalysis, and one of the only facts I know about my psychoanalyst is that she trained at an institute where the writings of this thinker, Wilfred Bion, are taught. I should have prepared myself stronger coffee. I’m reading him now, in English. I’m growing as a reader, which experience has taught me will make me a better human being.

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Companions Before Sunset

I’m in my reading chair at around 6 am. I’ve yet to drink coffee. A full cup is within reach. As if my hands were acting without the cooperation of thought, I select the book from one of the rows of shelves, which I’ll spend the next hour with. On most mornings I have at least some drops of caffeine in my system before trusting my intuition to find me a good reading companion for sixty minutes. I did not intend in the last sentence to use the words “reading companion” to describe a book. They were the words that came to me in the moment, so I wrote them down. The hardcover feels alive in my hands.

Hours pass. I work at my desk. After lunch I walk in the neighborhood to clear my head, to prepare myself for the next several hours. It’s a sunny day, and it feels warmer than the high 40s. This isn’t January weather.  I surprise myself by stopping at the nearby QFC. I am without a shopping list, not even a mental one. The store manager says hello, and he shows me photos of the remodeled bathroom that he’s been working on on his days off on his phone. Capitol Hill is within walking distance of downtown Seattle. It feels like the city. I leave the QFC. The sidewalk is crowded. I both enjoy the sudden proximity to others and I want to find a quiet street.

Two images came to me during my morning reading and remained long enough for me to write them down: an elderly man writing at his desk, and a young painter at work on her canvas.

My day’s work is finished before sunset. I glance at the time on my laptop screen. The two images from this morning, of the writer and painter at work, return, and I picture myself writing “reading companion” in large letters on what had been a blank sheet of sketch paper. My imagination has given life to an inanimate object, a book of psychological lectures and papers by my most recent favorite psychological thinker, and I’m in my working chair, waiting for an image, a thought, or a feeling, to suggest what I might do next.

I glance around my desk. The hardcover I spent an hour with this morning is still here. It’s in my hands. I read a sentence, a paragraph. That the book might be alive, capable of communicating things to me, feels like creative truth. I am a reading and writing artist at work, in my imagination.

 

Animal Intensity in a Reader

All afternoon while I worked on various things at my desk, I imagined deleting a sentence from my last post, “Holy Books in the Psychology Section,” in which I compared one of Carl Jung’s thick volumes to a dog needing a walk. I don’t have a dog. I haven’t walked one since I was in high school. I’m a cat person. Yet I felt that this particular sentence needed to be written.

I prepared myself an afternoon coffee. I returned to my desk. And I couldn’t focus on the editing work I must finish today. Instead, I imagined a black dog with a black hardcover of Jung’s writings on psychology and religion clenched between his teeth. I wash my hands before I touch one of my books, so it’s hard for me to focus on this image.

Evening has arrived and I’ve yet to delete the sentence mentioned above. I also haven’t finished my editing work. After I finished my afternoon coffee, I was able to focus on the editing again, and I thought I was almost done when I imagined the dog as a religious symbol. Along with a snake, it was guarding a sacred treasure (this image came to mind from what I read in a paragraph of Jung’s Symbols of Transformation). I thought: I don’t have time to connect with an inner dog. I must finish my day’s work.

My work is done. I’m going to have a glass of wine before I go to bed. The image of the black dog with Jung’s book clenched between his teeth feels important to my reading future. I picture myself clutching a volume of Jung and reading with what I imagine as animal intensity, as if my body were more involved in the reading than my mind.

Sadness in Truth

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

An imaginative experience happened inside of me this afternoon while I prepared myself a cheese sandwich for lunch. I wished I’d eaten earlier. It was two o’clock, and I’d spent more minutes than I was willing to count at my desk unable to imagine or think. I was in the kitchen, preparing the sandwich, glancing at the Olympic Mountains in the distance, when the thought came to me: there’s a better way to prepare for the conversation tomorrow that you don’t want to have. Imagine her. Before my thinking could interfere with the creative process, I found myself picturing her in the coffee shop where three of us will meet at noon to talk about a problem we’re trying to solve together. She was sad in my imagination, not angry or frustrated with me. I knew that this image of her, sipping coffee, spoke the truth. She didn’t want to criticize me.

The image seemed to speak emotional truth. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, so it’s possible that my recurring thoughts warning me of an uncomfortable conversation will be right. Yet the reading I’ve done today suggests I should listen to my imagination.

I have discovered or rediscovered the psychological thinker James Hillman, whose writings remind me that my mind is an imaginative place. Hillman was born in 1926 and died in 2011. In the late 1990s I read The Soul’s Code for a course in the master’s degree in psychology I was completing. For reasons that I don’t wish to try to imagine now, I didn’t remember much of the book after reading it. I remember thinking that I enjoyed it. Two images of me twenty years ago come to mind. In the first, I’m reading Hillman’s book. In the second, I throw it into the water. The second image is full of energy.

A reading journal has finally become a reality in my life. The notes I’ve been taking on Hillman’s writings have helped me return to Carl Jung’s Collected Works, which have been with me on my shelves for more years than I wish to count. I’m sad. Perhaps I’ll imagine my sadness. First I must walk to the kitchen to prepare myself a coffee.

God on the Bus

I’m on a bus in downtown Seattle. It’s mid afternoon on a chilly, sunny day in the city where I grew up, and which, thirteen or fourteen years ago, I thought I would never call home again. I picture myself writing the following words in my journal: Perhaps I’ve been searching for my childhood in the wrong place.

The bus has left downtown and is moving uphill into my neighborhood. Maybe the right place to discover or rediscover my childhood is here in my imagination.

I imagine the bus making an unscheduled stop. A tall elderly man dressed in a dark suit stands on the sidewalk waving a book at those of us on board. My intuition suggests that he’s waving it at me. These images feel so real that I remind myself that this psychological thinker and author died in 2011. Seconds or minutes pass in my imagination. He’s seated alongside me. The images that follow don’t show how his book ends up in my hands.

His spoken words feel as if I’m reading them in his book. “How do you know you’re not dreaming and seated alongside a god?”  I don’t utter the words that come to mind: You don’t look like a god to me.

I see the words myth and image in the title of the book, but I can’t see the whole title. The word childhood comes to me, alone, as if it were too important to be confined to a sentence or clause. “Don’t search for childhood,” the author says in a soft voice, as if he can read my thoughts. “Read and imagine and you’ll find what’s looking for you.”

 

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.