Three days ago I thought I lost my mind. Four days ago I thought I’d found it. Both of these mental events happened here, at my desk, which makes me wonder what might happen next. I thought that my mind, or body, or both, had become more predictable. Change doesn’t happen only outside of me. It also happens on the inside, where mystery prevents me from knowing with certainty what happens moment to moment. Am I curious to know what might happen next, or am I afraid to face the uncertainty of what kinds of inner experiences I’ll have today? Rigidity and frigidity come to mind. I don’t want to change how I experience my mind or my body. An unwelcome sentence arrives: this attitude sometimes leaves me cold or unimaginative, as if my mind and body were agreeing on something. What might that be? Perhaps that repetition likes things to remain the same. I almost wrote religion instead of repetition. In high school, I forgot what happened the day before religiously. Who wants to remember losing one’s own mind? Another word demands to appear on the page: congeal. As a high school student, fear seemed to block me from imagining and thinking. In this paragraph, I’ve struggled to form thoughts from images and words. Yet I don’t feel as if I’ve either lost or found my mind. It’s been here all along.
The images behind the sentences I wrote overwhelmed me. So I wrote fewer words, fewer images arrived, or the ones that did troubled me less, and they didn’t seem to interfere with the words that appeared on the screen. These words I’m writing now constitute a fresh start. It might be time for the overwhelming images to return. I’m lying on a couch, the same one I do in reality, in the same therapeutic space where I entered and left several hours ago, and I start to scream. The last four words appeared without my permission, and I wonder whether I give too much or too little importance to the “I” who gave permission. In reality, I’ve never screamed in a psychotherapist’s office. I’ve been speaking on a psychoanalytic couch for nearly a year, and I believe my voice has never made me as uncomfortable as it would if I were to scream. I’m not a screamer, or am I? As I reread the last two sentences, I found myself rewriting the clause, I’ve been speaking on a psychoanalytic couch, in my mind: I’ve been screaming on a couch. The overwhelming images I mentioned in the opening sentence have become all too real in my imagination. I’ve been a stutterer since birth (I’m trying to allow free association more say in what appears), and what I know of the human mind from personal experience seems inseparable from the difficulties I have in listening to my own voice. Stuttering can be a sort of scream for help. One’s voice, or one’s voices, need experience to be heard as they really are. The images of a screaming me are about pain, pain I experience as a human being, and I imagine these images saying to me: scream, scream, scream, scream, and learn from your screaming voice.
I was waiting to pour myself a cup of afternoon coffee when an unexpected sentence formed itself in my mind: I can’t stop writing. I was standing motionless, my hands unoccupied, when these words came to me. It was an unusual day for me in that I’d yet to write a single sentence. Yet it seemed as if sentences had been writing themselves in my mind all day, beyond conscious awareness. They’re sentences for the future. I wanted to write this last sentence down before I forgot it. Sentences for the future intrigued me. I left the kitchen with my cup of coffee and was about to start focusing on the editing work I had to finish before the end of the day when another thought arrived unannounced (I almost wrote uninvited): the sentences themselves aren’t important. The books that they’re leading you toward are what matter. I was more frustrated than I realized. My eyes told me I had a lifetime of books on my shelves. I stood in my office, glanced at hardcovers and paperbacks before I sat down and returned to work, and I thought: my reading future is before me. Then I was seated at my desk, editing words someone else had written, when a related thought came to me: the books themselves are less important than the new attitude I might develop from reading them. I didn’t have time to wonder what this new attitude might be. The words time and attitude seemed connected. Sometimes time brings us new attitudes. This was another sentence that seemed to say: I couldn’t concentrate on my work. Something else seemed more important, and that something else was part of my future. There was something in me, an attitude, that was unborn. Now I was ready to focus on the editing I had to do on the screen. Sentences might continue writing themselves in my mind. As a writer, I couldn’t complain about that.
When I read that the psychoanalyst of Budapest celebrated his fortieth birthday on the day he wrote the letter I was reading, I wished I could forget how old I was when Spanish became my second, or maybe first, language. Sándor Ferenczi sounded sad in his letter to Freud. I was sad before I’d finished reading the opening paragraph. Translation has seemed to become part of this writing experience of mine. What kind of translation is at work here? Emotional translation comes to mind first. Ferenczi’s letter, written in July 1913, has affected me in a way that remains unclear. I was sad. I am sad. I was thirty-five when I moved to Madrid and immersed myself in learning a second language, which I’d failed at in high school. This last clause appeared on its own. I seem to be doubting myself. Ferenczi wrote of inner struggles in his letter to Freud. When he mentioned his psychoanalytic work with patients, I was uncertain how he felt about the work. Uncertainty can lead to creativity. This last sentence helps me remember that my heart beat faster when I read that Ferenczi had turned forty on the day he wrote the letter to Freud. Freud has become part of the uncertainty I’m experiencing as I write this sentence. For years I struggled to read Freud. I still do. His correspondences discovered me one day in a Madrid bookstore a decade ago, and I’ve been reading them ever since, both in Spanish and in English translations. I also have several volumes of Ferenczi’s correspondences. It’s as if these books on my shelves have something to teach me that I’ve done my best to avoid. I’ve been avoiding Freud’s major works, such as The Interpretation of Dreams, less this year than in the past. Another of his works, Psychopathology of Everyday Life, has been my evening reading for a few days. Changes seem to be happening inside of me. I hope the translator in me can keep up with them.
I don’t know what to do with this desire. If I were speaking, I could stutter, and frustration would make me forget everything else. Would frustration make me do something? I’m becoming frustrated as I write this sentence. Desire seems to have this effect on me. I started to write derisive instead of desire. Perhaps part of me is contemptuous of these kinds of sentences. I imagine someone whispering in my ear that what I’m writing is worthless. Twenty minutes ago I was taking notes on a letter Freud received from a friend and colleague in July 1913. A minute ago, I decided not to mention who wrote the letter to Freud. For some reason this is difficult to admit: Ernest Jones might not interest enough readers. He and Freud wrote letters to each other from 1908 to 1939. Is thirty-one somehow an important number to whatever it is I’m writing? Maybe I desire to be thirty-one again. What is the desire that I alluded to in the opening sentence? I’m immersing myself in something here. A memory comes to me – I pause while I remember how old I was in September 1997 – from when I was thirty-one: I spent three days alone at what was then our family cabin in the San Juan Islands and struggled to write about what it was like to be alone in the woods. My desire to discover my own writing style might have been born on those rainy days thirty-one years ago. To remind myself: I mentioned desire in the present tense in the opening sentence. Words come to mind, as if they had been waiting for me since the opening sentence: I desire to discover new ways to immerse myself in the reading of Freud’s and Jung’s correspondences on my shelves. Maybe I should reread these sentences to see what I’ve been discovering.
Eleven minutes passed without my eyes leaving the words. The number eleven came to me first. I could’ve imagined any number of minutes that the letter and I communicated with each other. I have no idea for how many minutes or seconds I was able to read this letter written one hundred and seven years ago without averting my eyes from the text. Perhaps the colleague of Sigmund Freud who wrote it would’ve been pleased to know that more than a century later someone would refer to these paragraphs of his personal correspondence as a text. I imagine that I’ve been studying it as a source of a writer’s subjective reality on the page. I probably could’ve chosen any one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in this room and found the same kind of material. So why have I spent x number of minutes with sentences that I imagine Ernest Jones wrote late one night before going to bed? He was around thirty years old and would live for another forty-eight years or so. A thought comes to me: when he died, in 1958, psychoanalysis was alive and well. When he wrote this letter to Freud, in 1910, he was just starting to work as a psychoanalyst, or so I imagine. He hadn’t yet experienced psychoanalysis on the couch himself, which he would a few years later. This has been a new kind of reading and writing experience for me. Hopefully the letter will let me know when it’s done with me.
This is unusual for me to observe my own mind. I’ve been reading some of my recent sentences. And I’ve reread them. This opening sentence, the one I wrote above, surprises me. I didn’t think it was unusual for me to observe my own mind. Yet what I’m doing here feels new. Before the word surprise found its way into a sentence, I had a somewhat clear idea of what I would write next. As I reread my own sentences, I identified a few themes that I imagined I’d written about unconsciously. Did I identify them, or did I do something else? Maybe what I did was before thought. Thought remained in the future. I noticed that the first and final sentences of the paragraph I was rereading were connected in a chronological way. In the opening sentence, I was anxious about what might happen during a particular experience, which started to take place in the last sentence of the paragraph. I remembered how I felt before my initial face-to-face meeting with a psychoanalyst last summer, and I imagined an anxious me that couldn’t think about the upcoming conversation. This was the opening sentence of the paragraph that I’ve been rereading during the last hour. Then, twenty-three sentences later, I was inside her office, anxious and confused. I’ve just reread these sentences, the ones I’ve written in the last hour, and I’m no longer surprised that I wrote it is unusual for me to observe my own mind. The sentences I wrote were about someone, a fictional me, who struggled both to imagine and think. A few of the sentences were in present tense, in which the writer wrote about the experience of writing the words, and the rest were in past tense, and dealt with what the writer or narrator remembered. It was as if writing in the present tense overwhelmed me. I almost wrote, overwhelms me, in the present tense.