I wanted to explain a little bit of context behind last night’s microphone picture, because I think any kind of discussion about the creative process is good.
The backstory behind the photo last night is that I’m recording the first track of my album, and I started to get frustrated. I’d get four stanzas in, fuck up, and delete the recording. Then I’d get three stanzas in and botch it again. Two. One.
Until finally my last recording of the night (also deleted) was, “I sing for the dogs that won’t be fed to—FUCK.”
So I posted a picture of my mic with a blank Garageband screenshot to show exactly what I accomplished over the course of an hour. When I did that, a friend commented, “Maybe some of that exacting-ness in this session will spill over into future work.”
And I just absolutely feel I need to respond to that idea!
When I was in college, I got into a creative drought. Throughout high school I had always just relied on inspiration which was somehow strangely abundant, and when college happened that stopped.
I’d start to write a few measly lines and then get fed up or delete a whole two stanzas or maybe just rewrite the same line again again again.
I came out of that slump somehow, but it wasn’t until years later when I started writing two poems a day hell or high water that I figured out how to fight the perfectionist in me.
The answer was just to write shit and then write more. And that more was often more shit, but sometimes the more turned out pretty good.
So perfectionism as the act of deleting something, of trying something until it’s perfect, is wrongheaded. There’s so much to be learned from letting yourself finish something shitty.
(The unit of shittiness is yours to decide. I recommend finishing shitty chapters, poems, and small projects. But finishing a shitty novel can be important too! Let’s be frank: for a long time a lot of the things you do will be, in retrospect, shitty. You just get less shitty over time. That’s why it’s important that your chosen creative pursuit is fun. Otherwise you’re just a masochist.)
So to respond to my friend’s comment, I don’t think the act of hypercritical deletion really helped with much. The next time I go to record, even if I fuck up, I’ll finish the recording. And I’ll keep it.
There’s a lot to be learned from our mistakes and having a record of our mistakes. And maybe fucking up early in a recording is a blessing, because then you’ve given yourself permission to experiment, because you know this isn’t the final take anyway.
And besides, my fortune cookie told me I’d achieve perfection soon anyway, so why try harder?
Suppose I should update y’all on where I’ve been.
After two months unemployed and spending my every other week in somewhere not Seattle, I decided to make a spoken word album. The album will be ten tracks and available on Bandcamp.
What’s funny about this whole process is how completely and wholly I was swallowed up by the planning fallacy. One of the places I went in June was a retreat to a cabin with a friend for the purpose of writing, and I said to myself, “I’ll bring my fancy mic and record an album while I’m there!”
Reading one of my poems off the computer while recording didn’t work, because I didn’t have the spaces and measures of the poem memorized. I tried a few recordings, none of which sounded right, and then decided to memorize the poem.
A funny thing happens when you memorize a poem.
Reading a poem off the page is like dating someone. Memorizing a poem is like living (or traveling) with someone. Anyone who has done both will tell you those two are VERY different and a person you thought you loved might become unbearable because jesus christ why are you awake at six in the fucking morning or more importantly why do you feel I need to be awake too?!
Off the page, I might in a flash of insight on stage note a weakness in the poem and then come back and fix it later if I remember once I’ve left the stage. But that’s rare. Memorizing a poem on the other hand, I learn all of the poem’s details, including what time of day it takes a poo.
(Here I suppose it’s important to note that the important difference between a poem and a lover is that you can absolutely change a poem. Not so much a lover.)
Memorizing a poem, you start to learn all its flaws and idiosyncrasies.
–That line where it sounds like you’re talking about two different people when you’re talking about one?
–That stanza where you have to take a whole rest in the middle of the line to make it flow and you know what that might be fine in the fourth or fifth stanza but not in the second goddamn stanza of the poem so now those two lines are orphans looking for a home and holy fuck when I did start using a metronome to count beats in a goddamn poem?!
–That anemic last stanza? Nope. Gotta go.
–Holy crap if I love the word “of” so much why don’t I marry it.
And that’s where we stand. I have one poem completely edited (or as Auden would say, abandoned) and I am working on another poem which the more I work on the more it becomes higher maintenance. Estimated date of dropping the album? I’m shooting for September. But have you seen my planning ability? D:
Literary fiction used to be central to the culture. No more: in the digital age, not only is the physical book in decline, but the very idea of ‘difficult’ reading is being challenged. The future of the serious novel, argues Will Self, is as a specialised interest
Some thoughts I had on reading this piece. Before I get into it, a disclaimer: trying to predict the future is like trying to lick your elbow. There’s no way not to look stupid doing it. So I’ll lick anyway.
The tone of this article makes me feel schizophrenic, as one half of me (the college-educated philosophy/classics major) appreciates the diction, vocabulary, and periphrastic manner of writing. The other half rolls its eyes.
As for the argument, it’s a very interesting one. I always take such articles with at least three grains of salt, as reports of the novel’s death have been greatly exaggerated, but this one has some merit. It’s intellectually in the vein of postmodernism (the medium is more important than the message, and the medium sculpts the message), but it has the good observation that the internet reifies neoliberal values in the disparity between bestsellers and the pullulation (a word I learned from this article) of nearly free texts.
I’m torn on his lionizing of the novel as the central cultural feature of his extended “modernism,” because on one hand it is really true (for the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries for sure) but I have a knee jerk reaction when someone declares their art form as the bees’ knees. I don’t really the think the novel has been so important as technological changes accelerates—a point I think he totally missed when he inaugurated this idea of an extended modernism. If the medium alters the content and the way that content is expressed (shoutout to Deleuze), then rapidly altering media will create rapidly altering artistic/aesthetic/cultural movements. Look at visual art in the 20th century and you’ll definitely see that.
I think unless as a culture we become somewhat more conservative towards our liberal arts, including literary novel readership and appreciation, (as in wanting to preserve the liberal arts), his prediction for novel readership becoming niche like classical music will probably be true. There is a thriving readership for novels I think right now, but I think it’s mostly because of liberal arts education—which is becoming phased out of culture due to the changing media landscape, mass apathy, the economic barriers to liberal arts education at universities, and an anti-intellectual populism which is creating the same barriers to science literacy. It’s ironic that things associated with liberalism (as conceived in the US)—that is, education—now have to be acted upon in a conservative manner—that is, we have to save them. I think useful (i.e. justifiable) conservatism is not wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater and wanting to retain cultural continuity, useful cultural institutions, and to in general not fix things that aren’t broken (or at least not throw them out when they are in fact repairable).
Technology is a harbinger of neoliberalism within a capitalist context, where human beings lose value: workers replaced by machines, the outbreak of low cost temp workers with little purchasing power, the availability of anyone to provide a service (thus flooding the market and making that labor cheaper, unless you have viral success), and whatnot. To a degree, I think these things are part of the landscape of the future and trying to turn back the clock with classical liberal solutions is just tilting at windmills. Economic forces tend to be like the weather: unchangeable, just get an umbrella. Conversely, I do think we have a say in what cultural values we advocate and tend to. I don’t think universities will survive in a meaningful way unless reform that accommodates their values can be accomplished. (Universities as vessels of certification I would argue is not line with such liberal arts values.) However, we can try to create new material expressions of those values, and I think it’s necessary.
Blue Sky Dark Apartment Blues
The clouds are darker than the skylight twilit backdrop behind them,
I see the moisture wander and roil, kick wind currents like ladybugs and roly polies,
I keep shuffling soil back and forth from my left hand to my right,
while a chorus of holderless lanterns align on the hill across from me,
streets are illuminated by unseen sources and it makes me hope summer might come sooner,
like photographs of family who tug unthinkingly on the sums of inches leashed between us,
I’m a tailored suit without scissors, rorschach interference patterns play indifferently
from the passing cars on the street,
it’s so seamless the way that one car’s bleating turns into another’s
and when I close my eyes and let the acoustic sadness wrap a capo around my throat,
I can imagine it’s the ocean I hear as I lose consciousness.
I like the way the weight of beaches makes us feel heavier than we are,
I like watching your legs struggle like a drunk elephant,
I try to ignore the smell of the food worry left out for rot in my apartment,
try to placate the part of me that makes dishes knowing there’s no company.
Just because a house is lit doesn’t guarantee occupancy.
There will be people who reach for you through the internet, though you have no idea why they do it. They reach slowly, in the way aspen roots sing to each other, the way the seasons rouse each other day by day. You will tell yourself there is no way they know you from the slow coffee drip accretion of reposts and articles and thinly veiled plaintive pleadings to the universe in those moments when you simply want to give up but instead find yourself in the amniotic light of a macbook monitor trying to be heard.
You are certain you must sound like a coyote with mangled limbs flailing on a keyboard. Certain no portion of your personality leaks through keystroke after keystroke, that there is no way the same names listed again and again in likes or retweets actually belong to real humans in some small way recognizing you. You are certain you are intelligent life mistaken for a distant pulsar, bird droppings mistaken for the universe’s post-coital hum.
But on a certain night, at around 11pm, you will be thankful for some kind of connection without words, weary from speaking and being misheard again and again. You won’t care if they understand the nuances of your views on gun control or precisely why you posted a long string of poems in a status in a (what you assume is pathetic) attempt at emotional semaphore. You’ll appreciate immensely those silhouettes at their monitors nodding to themselves as they click a button; you’ll wish you knew them better.
An acquaintance posts a question on facebook you have practical input on. This isn’t you posting your reasoning why abortions will reduce gun deaths; they’re looking to buy a product and you’ve been there.
Enter the acquaintance gap. The acquaintance gap is explained by a formula: Quality of previous interactions x (Level of (former) intimacy / Time elapsed since last interaction).
Like Einstein’s lambda, you attempt to introduce an extra variable to make the numbers more attractive; you think to yourself, “Surely I can multiply this by the usefulness of my information! I’m the master of shopping for apartments!”
No. You cannot. Einstein might have gotten the last laugh when the lambda value actually turned out to be a non-zero value, but you’re not Einstein. There is no social dark energy. Your expertise is wasted.
He’s all jack,
twerking reciting a poem about twerking. I hope you enjoy it. It’s called “Twerk-Place Discrimination.”