I’ve been struggling for years to get back into writing creative stuff — by that I mean poetry, fiction, so on. A friend once said I was one of the most prolific writers he knew, even though he is the most prolific writer I know. I tell you that to tell you this: since I finished my MFA I have completed maybe three short stories, and no poems. Or rather, every so often I will write a poem in the margin of a book or in a journal, but I never consider making it public in some way. This blog post serves as a companion, a non-fiction piece accompanying this poem. You should read it, but you can read this post first if you’d prefer. Or the poem. There’s no set order or anything, is what I’m saying.
The poem is a result of a few different exercises. One is magical in nature. Phil Hine recommends an exercise, based loosely off some stuff Crowley suggested in Magick in Theory and Practice (that’s where I think it comes from, anyway), that focuses on memory. The idea is to spend some time, as little as an hour or all day, writing out every time your memory slips back into something that isn’t now. The point isn’t to stop yourself from thinking about the past, though when you set out to do that, during a ritual or meditation, this exercise is good to have done. The stated intention (you could learn a lot of other things over the course of the exercise) is to illustrate to oneself how much of our life is in a soup of signification, of memory — we are constantly thinking of other things, a book reminds us of a trip, a word reminds us of a place, on and on. Seeing how often that happens is the first step in learning how to manipulate that phenomenon. Perhaps you want to disassociate a feeling and a memory. Do this exercise to see how the memory appears in your life; do a different set of exercises having to do with visualization; then, finally, visualize the event and alter the emotional content slowly, by focusing on different moments.
So that’s a thing on its own. Try this exercise if you haven’t. It’s simple, but I’ll lay out the recipe:
- Grab a notebook and something to write with, something you can keep on you all day — or at least an hour or two.
- Set a deadline. Don’t stop until the deadline has passed.
- Every time your mind glances off something to something else, make a note. It doesn’t have to be long or descriptive. As we’ll see in a minute, my notes ran the gamut.
- Once you’re done, look over the notes. Were there commonalities, either in input or memory? That is, did similar sights set of similar memories? Or did you keep heading back to certain memories?
It’s a small form of illumination, understanding how your own head works. Try it!
As I went yesterday I noticed a few patterns emerging. So my descriptions began to change, as I started to predict myself or think of certain ideas simply because I had already done so. I’m going to paste the full text below. First let me tell you what I did with it. I ran it through a Markov bot, a program designed to parse text and randomly piece sentences back together from it. All those _ebooks bots on Twitter use it, or an algorithm like it. My own @darwinian_ebook uses the same bot. Here’s a link if you’d like to make a bot of your own, or your own cut-up poetry.
Because that’s what I did. I put the journal text into the Markov section of the bot and then, instead of tweeting it out, used the Preview Output section to make the whole thing anew. This is basically a technology-assisted version of the cut-up technique recommended by people like David Bowie and William Burroughs. I then edited and wrote over the text, making a poem — which is, if you chose to read this post first, over here.
As promised, the original journal text (with names changed to generic words):
Time interlaces. Memory adheres.
Wife buying me colorful socks for my birthday. Accurate dating, August 2014 – just before I started my first semester at school.
Girlfriend, friend, and I playing Harvest Moon in the office.
In space and hypotheticals = imagining Wife still in bed as this morning – a memory transposed into the fictional now that is not. Directly back to writing here, this journal this pen, but in a different place and time. Similar topic of mourning.
Reading, words slip loose and become a blind catechism, unheard unfelt.
Imagining futures, in which I write this, or write it again, imagining re-imaging these words with a new pen, a computer.
Writing later. A video game played in the past as in the imagination.
“My mind is like a plastic bag.”
Art, Gabriel Pomerand -> equations in the partition, room in high school -> hearing the answers to our test through the two inch hole between rooms -> fighting Friend H. with foam-covered sticks.
Otis Redding. The feeling of knowing something about my father because I knew how he felt about that song.
Glancing blows off a chrome ball: attempts to call up memories apurpose.
Driving up the hill in hometown, the steep rise making more town appear from nowhere. The fear of rolling backwards when I was learning to drive.
Being convinced I ended up behind Hamburg when I came back from physical therapy -> that was in Florence, not Lexington. The absolute certainty these roads are these roads.
Walking around UK’s campus as my dad lay in hospital learning he had a brain tumor. Walking with that in my own mind. Desperate brightness to the summer air.
The old 50s “atomic” sign / pillar in Memphis.
Arguments – Dad proud of his friend for shooting the atheist doctor in Vietnam.