Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Why is it so much harder this year, this writing?
  1. the obvious - which is no big deal, right?  which is what all who write must juggle, i.e. life, life in a family, life in a world that expects bills on time . . . 
  2. the extra - which includes daily care (meals, driving, shopping, appointments) for elderly parent and the construction zone that stretches from  swamp-yard (dug up yet again - this time to locate a broken water pipe) and centers now on the innermost heart of my kitchen (of which I am not complaining, just taking into account.)  And all this two days away from the arrival of my parents, six days away from arrival of my Eldest, eight days away from the arrival of slavering hordes who are expecting something that looks like Thanksgiving dinner.
  3. the technical abyss - primarily, no pep-talks this year from NaNoWriMo.  I'm not sure why I'm not getting these daily cheers, but had initially shrugged Fine, this is a more serious project anyway. I'm not sure I need all that rah-rah atmosphere anyway . . . 
  4. the deathly seriousness - and so all the harder to commit clumsy words to the screen, harder because of the fear of trespass, fear of failure, fear that I'm not doing justice to the subject . . .
  5. the fear - (see Burning Houses) my constant writing companion anyway, both why I write and why I stop, this scab I pick at until I can't stand it and then cover it back up
  6. the loneliness - of writing without a real audience, without a jury of my peers (which is what I miss most from the writing group days), without any outside expectation (though this is also a great freedom - but freedom is so lonely and frightening), without chocolate and/or other stimulant
  7. the lack of outside stimulant - this I could change, I could, but I don't want the consequences of a month of at-desk nibbling, noshing - not just how it works upon my body but how it works on the writing, the shapeless, pointless manuscript that reeks of cocoa and desperation and is so largely worthless afterwards that revising is itself imponderable.  The whole point (I decided at the outset) is that this piece needs to be written out of sparseness, out of want, not swathed against the prickles with that cockaigne blanket of lard.
Oh it is hard, so hard.  But what is this . . .

In the midst of this my complaint to you, I open up the drawer of my ancient old metal desk looking for a pen to write down numbers from a phone message and what do I find?  (Ah, so that's where my bike chick button got to!  And lipstick? And - - - )

It is, I conclude, a message from my Muse who says:

Darlin', get over yourself, will you? 

This singing you call writing, it's just what humans do.  It's your own distinctive call.  How the rest of us know where you're perching.

Me and the rest of the universe, we love you, but stop fooling yourself, will you?  Stop worrying about doing the thing justice.  That's my job.  Your job is just to jab holes in the curtain to let my light through.

Each word is a pinprick.

Eat the chocolate, love.

And then write the words.

Stop slowing down the process with all the anti-.

And then, for emphasis, the Internet goes down for the rest of the day.  All I can do is write.  Not done yet for the day, but the chocolate kiss only lasts so long and I already need another small celebration -

forward motion!  onward!

9,257 words down  | 40,743 words to go

Friday, November 12, 2010

arctic kite


Upstairs the young people are baking chocolate cake and reading picture books out loud. A mixed group from Middlest's French class. On a kind of field trip to their disappearing childhood, I gather, revisiting a protected pocket of that endangered habitat.

Honestly. I'm surprised they would entertain themselves this way. Aren't you?  Did young people when I was young ever gather like this, so innocently? It was all videos and practicing dance moves when I was young. One house had a foosball table. Sometimes we would go skating - roller (Xanadu anyone?) and ice.  Sometimes we would get a pizza. In other circles, according to reports that were common property at school, there were the keggers and drug partying and the cops showing up. That kind of fun. But boys and girls baking together belonged to the realm of grandmas and Christmas storybooks and the childhoods we all were fleeing.

I wouldn't have imagined this cozy homeyness when I imagined the social goings and comings that went on beyond me. When I opened a page later, in the library stacks at the university, Frank O'Hara's "Autobiographia Literaria" spoke to me like a post card from my past, a promise from a future self:

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out "I am
an orphan."

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

Though I have not ended up in that future.  Instead here I am, not the center, but the encircling perimeter. 

From the other room, their voices, the intermittent sound of piano, laughing, the smell of baking - all this warmth that happens with no doing on my part.  A sense of wholeness, of things coming right for this moment. 

I have only ever been the empty stage my daughters' plays have been produced upon.  I am the closet of properties, the light crew.  They are the maestros, director and cast, musicians and dancers - the costumes of hospitality inhabited.  And I love it.  Being part of the performance from the privacy of the sidelines.  I talk to their friends.  I come down to my work.  But am still here at the edges of happiness and conviviality.  And it is this, hugely, that I fear I will miss with my daughters' departures, coming and come.

I should be writing.  Is this writing?  Not really.  I'm slipping out to talk to you, my Imaginary friends.  But I am up against a sudden realization: it is this, my shyness as a young person, a loneliness that is still the truest truth about my inward me (If anyone was looking / for me I hid behind a / tree and cried out "I am / an orphan.") It is this, I think, that draws me to Lanier's story.  His ache for connection, the lonely child.  But it is this that makes it hard to write.  I have hiked so far, climbed so many hills, forced myself again and again to talk, to listen, to make connection, to get over timidity, to work my way out to civilization and the light of other people's houses that it is diificult to go back there.  To re-imagine a childhood even lonelier than mine. 

But this is getting me nowhere.  Not filling my sails. Let me bring myself back to an image I've had playing in my mind while working on Chapter 2 "Wind and Strings - the Most Eloquent Machines" - a brief encapsulation of what is the human endeavor:

And I will go and write.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

not BAAAd

But not so GOAT either.

And where is the fun fun fun?

I'm not going to make it by the end of the month - not with all the family coming and sweet-sour et cetera - unless I can double my total tomorrow.  This is just barely in the Realms of the Imaginable.

But at least there was writing today. 

8085 words down  |  41915 words to go

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


See Emma J.  She is sad.

She is not writing.  She is not happy.

Emma J, write, write.  You will like it.  You will have fun.

Write, Emma J, write. 

Fun, fun, fun.

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Angklung" (Drive-by Anonymity)

chapter 4

Is this project itself a violation of privacy?  Is it the frisson of trespass that is helping to fuel my fascination?  The lure of winkling out someone else's preciously kept secrets? 

Am I the ({so far} benign) troll?

At this point of prewriting (though hopefully not by today's chapter writing?) I am not even sure whether Lanier will be a character in the novel or simply background music, the gorilla in the room, the white elephant, the ghost in the machine, or what have you?

And what are angklung?

. . . tuned rattles that are played in groups in Java and Thailand very much in the way that bells are played in bell choirs in the west.

To me this piece sounds threatening: the clank of prisoners' chains wound into a weird music of menace.  Lanier explains that he composed the piano sections to echo the weirdness he heard in the anklung: . . . the fingering technique creates a phantom third hand, which I think of as an invoked demon."  Though Lanier also claims Ravel as a "guiding spirit here,"  and explains that he "sought a bridge between impressionism and the jeweled sweetness of the gamelans of Sunda."

Of trolls and other viciousness that human mobs swirl into, in You Are Not a Gadget, Lanier details the vicious pack behavior of on-line trolls : hounding victims to suicide, harassing a randomly chosen victim with doctored images of her as a mutilated corpse intending to frighten her children, tormenting the parents of a suicide, sending pulsing messages to epileptics hoping to trigger seizures:

The culture of sadism online has its own vocabulary and has gone mainstream.  The common term **** [cut to keep this post unsearchable under that term], for instance, refers to the gratification of watching others suffer over the [computing] cloud.
Lanier admits others blame him for being out-of-sync, clueless, growing old when he voices these criticisms:
What I'm saying, though, is that the user interface designs that arise from the ideology of the computing cloud make people - all of us - less kind.  Trolling is not a string of isolated incidents, but the status quo in the online world.
Lanier argues "troll-evoking design"  is largely to blame, i.e. design that allows-
effortless, consequence-free, transient anonymity in the service of a goal, such as promoting a point of view, that stands entirely apart form one's identity or personality . . . Computers have an unfortunate tendency to present us with binary choices at every level, not just at the lowest one, where the bits are switching.  It is easy to be anonymous or fully revealed, but hard to be revealed just enough.
Lanier  (in an interview with The Guardian) feels that the internet encourages mob mentality.  In its openness "people lose their identities:  they become pseudonyms and they have no investment, no consequence for what they do."   He claims that "matching" the "biological flaws in our human  spirit"  with the "open mush environment" on the internet  amplifies the basic meanness of  human nature. 

On the other hand, democracy and markets that "function well" precisely counter our biology - their "structures" compensate "for us as we really are,  to allow us to act better than we otherwise would." 

Is democracy a designed structure that corrects our pack-mentality human nature? 

Do I agree?  Are we biologically, naturally vicious with only artificial structures to lift us out of our nature raw in tooth and claw?

Do you agree?

Why would he believe that the openness of on-line culture magnifies our cruelty and tramples our kindness?  Is he just wrong?  Or is there something worth weighing in his rejection of this open-culture project he helped to midwife?

6,451 words down |  43,549 words to go

Sunday, November 7, 2010

and now it's time for a little pop quiz

~ Concerning Cake ~
True or False.


from Father Fox's Penny Rhymes

Answer: True and/or False. 

Of course, this depends entirely on you as far as the cake goes.  The snow snow and the rain rain rain are going to ply their trade regardless - unless you're sharing cake with rather more influential dinner guests than the rest of us.


Answer: (really?) 

This should be a no-brainer. Oh, wait . . . it was.  Ouch. Really though, I myself find  if-then statements often a pain in the neck.  


Answer: False? Probably?   

Because does cake solve anything really?  Ever?  When possibly some of our troubles are actually brought on by cake?   

~ * ~
On the other hand, I could be wrong. 

It's possible.
Even the royal She up above has very probably reconsidered her position on cake vis-à-vis domestic policy.
Can we do any less?

And so, if your answer to #1 above was False in the sense (or absence) of cake upon your table you might consider the following:

And I think I can venture to suggest that if you share your cake with plenty of friends and family, portioning out these rich moist wedges in moderation, you can still have yet more of your cake the following day and perhaps suffer not too much any lasting ill-effect.


"Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than anybody. I would not recommend an egg boiled by anyone else - but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see - one of our small eggs will not hurt you. Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart - a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard. Mrs. Goddard, what say you to half a glass of wine? A small half-glass, put into a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree with you."

 Or something like that.

(Because even the memory of a good cake is a small celebration.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

not so hazy

Making progress through the fog finally. Chapter 1 (Come Along - An Approximate Fit) and chapter 2 (Wind & String - The Most Eloquent Machines) are functioning at last and producing some of their own light. 

Today I'll re-tackle chapter 3 (The Story of Water Dancing in the Night Sky).

5,217 words down  |   44,783 words to go

Friday, November 5, 2010

why I love my sisters

"Three Sisters," Wayne Roberts
So (after the hours spilled volunteering at the book fair this morning - i.e. paying my Mommy dues - and the hours lost in phone calls to/from sundry folk and yet again consultations with builders and all the sweet-and-sour et cetera that is the rest of my life) I come at last to sit down again to this hard play, this silly work that is writing. (It has not been going well.  There are reasons and no reasons for this.)  But first I have to check email, make sure no one has died.  They haven't. But there are Facebook notifications to which I think I must at last respond and lo! both my sisters are online.  I do not, as a rule, chat on Facebook.  Because I am superstitious who may be listening in.  And because I'd rather . . . you know, chat -- really chat with voice and gesture and all that.  But nevertheless:

"Three Sisters," Judith Anderson
 a short chat history with sister M (for Mighty Marvelous):

I'm going crazy and need to be rescued!
I'll rescue you!
Okay. What do you propose?

a plane ticket and a promise to keep your whereabouts a secret?

oooh, don't play with me. That sounds all all ALL too tempting!

escaping is always tempting, isn't it? And who says I'm playing?
What is the nature of your craziness?

house torn apart. still torn apart. mud everywhere. walkways torn apart. workmen who say "I think I'd just plant grass" where I want my rock walkway back and an herb garden. Husbands who are darling but work from home and impinge upon my SPACE. That I yelled at my dau on the way to seminary this morning. That I find myself repugnant - ugly in and out . . . . there's more - need I go on?
And how are you?
Oh EmmaJ! I'm so sorry. Stupid workmen. Stupid house. (I'll stop the stupids there.) If it makes you feel any better, I yelled at H before she went to school the other day, and J said I was a mean mommy. And then I felt truly remorseful all day long and sobbed in the dressing room at the gym. And you are absolutely NOT repugnant in anyway. Not even a particle of you could be described with that term (well, maybe parts of your small intestine could, but let's not get technical here.) I, who have superior judgment, find you perfectly lovely and good, and I adore you absolutely. I hate days like this, though. I wish on these days that I could escape my skin and burrow underground until everything has blossomed and been completed.
*   *   *   *   *

"Three Sisters," Charles Tarbell
An even shorter chat history with sister A (for Adorably Amazing):

I'm going ga-ga and need to be rescued!
Me too!

I'll strap on my super sonic jetpack and will be in your place in one hour. Be ready!

 *    *    *    *    *

"The Three Sisters," Henri Matisse

And that is why I love my sisters. Who are both offline when I return an hour later (more phone calls to/from sundry folk, more consultations and the various et cetera)  so I never get to say in return . . .

To sister A: 
You are offline already so I am assuming . . . jet-packing my way? I'll be the one waiting at the corner, umbrella and suitcase in hand (lacking jetpack), searching the skies for incoming identifiable objects of my affection . . . 

To sister M:
I feel rescued already. You are blossom enough to keep me aboveground today.
and p.s.~ Fritz says thank you for stopping the stupids where you did.  He was afraid he was next in line.

"Saxon Princesses," Lucas Cranach the Elder.
They of course are the ones with feathers.  I am simply grateful to be included in the same frame.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

looking at things

I have nothing else to say about today:

not very many words down  |  lots more words to go

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"The Story of Water Dancing in the Night Sky"

chapter 3
In a collection of autobiographical sketches, Curious Minds: how a child becomes a scientist, Lanier writes:

I was also fascinated by the diaphanous luminous images called Lissajous patterns, which can be made by fiddling with musical signals and an oscilloscope, and I made a crude Lissajous viewer out of an old television set.  At age eleven, as Halloween approached, a plan formed in my mind: I would build a fantastic haunted house out of my electronic contraptions and attract people worthy of being friends!  I hung sheets around our tiny front porch and set up an old enlarger lens to project the Lissajous patterns from the TV onto them. Once the sun went down and the images appeared bright, I felt deliciously surrounded by fantastic dancing forms.  The motions of visitors would alter the patterns, as if with the invisible strings of a puppeteer, courtesy of the magical theremin antennae.  I wondered whether any girls, those beings of utter mystery, might be delighted by it.  Who wouldn't be?
But it was not to be:
My haunted house pleased me immensely but attracted no visitors. Trick-or-treaters steered clear of it.  I watched from inside my palace of imagination and freedom as one child after another rejected it, and me.  It never occurred to me that they were probably frightened; at the time, they seemed sadistic.
But then, Lanier writes, a few months later:
One evening there was a remarkable breakdown of the local telephone system. Anyone who picked up the phone could hear everyone else at once. Hundreds of voices - some sounding distant, some close by - hovered in the first social virtual space I had ever experienced. An instant society of children formed, brilliantly superior to that of the schoolyard (which was straight out of Lord of the Flies). The floating children were curious about one another; they were friendly. . . . The next morning at school, though, no one spoke of what had happened. I looked around and wondered whom I might have talked to the previous night. Was it possible that these rude kids could suddenly become . . . knowable . . . if the medium that connected us was different?

"The Story of Water Dancing in the Night Sky" is played on the gu zchung (a Chinese classical harp):
. . . the Chinese classical tradition of harp playing brings us a deeper awareness of string articulations (types of plucks, vibratos, etc.)
And I've got a useful thread going now, a voice I can follow.  Not what I had thought I would be doing, but interesting in a labyrinthine sort of way. 

If you didn't get a chance, take a look at the YouTube link in Art Sparker's comment from yesterday - isn't that great?

2,811 words down |  47,189 words to go

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Khaen/ Violin Duo #6" - The Most Eloquent Machines

chapter 2
Chapter titles (working chapter titles ~ who knows at this point what is skeleton, what is scaffolding?) are taken from this CD.

I'm having trouble finding the voice to carry me through.  At this point I couldn't / don't want to write a straight biography of Jaron Lanier.  Whom I don't know, am not researching in depth, and over whom I'm not personally obsessed.

I'm just playing.

I'm not sure I could make a useful character of him.  But his territory of thought certainly gives plenty of space to play.

Says Lanier in last week's Wall Street Journal "On the Threshold of the Avatar Era":

People can inhabit awfully odd avatars. One of the early avatars was a lobster—a creature with more limbs than a human. By mapping values from body poses, it turns out people can learn to inhabit other bodies not just with oddly shaped limbs, or limbs attached in unfamiliar places, but even bodies with different numbers of limbs.

This phenomenon is called "homuncular flexibility." The homunculus is the mapping of the body into the motor cortex, which is a portion of the brain located approximately under the portion of the scalp that would be occupied by a Mohawk hairdo.

That the mapping of the homunculus could be so flexible as to adapt to non-human bodies was initially a shock, but a delightful one. The sensation of inhabiting a nonhuman avatar is a new kind of pleasure. Think about what it would be like to wear wonderful clothing, combined with driving a superb vehicle, combined with mastering an extraordinary physical skill. It is like all those things together, but more expressive.

When we can successfully inhabit a nonhuman avatar, we are exploring not only the brain's deep history, but also the potential far future of all the creatures for which it is preadapted—what might happen in hundreds of millions of years. Becoming an avatar is a form of extreme time travel for the brain.
Meanwhile, I'm playing his music over and over whenever I write on this project - outline, notes, chapters themselves - to disengage the ordering mind, to re-engage the ordering soul.

Says Lanier in his liner notes for this piece:

As the most eloquent machines, instruments predict the future of culture, when we will communicate increasingly through machines.
This piece is a structured improv between violinist Barbara Higbie and Lanier on a mouth organ from Laos/ Northeast Thailand, of which he writes:

The instrument looks a little like a hand held bamboo forest and sounds like a whole wind section. It has a keyboard-like agility and the expressive power of the voice.

1464 words down  |  48,536 words to go

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Come Along" (An Approximate Fit)

chapter 1
First chapters.  For there is space there.  Void but not empty.  Like a yard of unmarked snow.  Like the sound of the orchestra tuning itself, that hem and haw.  Like the rising hum of the swarm about to take to the air.

This project seized hold of me suddenly in the midst of reading a short article (The Economist, September 4th, 2010, pgs. 25-26)

Who argues with the Muse?

Not me.  Even if I do sometimes try to ignore her nudgings.

But not today.

Today I aim to write 2500 words set to the tune of "Come Along" by Jaron Lanier.

Of which tune he writes:

This piece was intended to have a salutary alchemical effect on a difficult love relationship.  There are two lead instruments that play in completely different scales that would normally not be able to play simultaneously and sonorously.

One of the lead instruments is an
Esraj, a bowed sitar-like instrument from the Bengal region of India and the other is a Suling flute from Bali. They alternate at first, in order to avoid conflict, but at the end there is a chord smeared on the background that has been extended to the point that it contains both instruments' scales, and in this context they can play at once. The abstraction of western harmony resolves conflicts, through an approximate fit, just like western laws.
00 words down |  50,000 words to go
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