Monday, September 8, 2014

64 x 34 (Steppingstones)

Bird. Brain. Thought. Dream. Image. Color. Light. Saber.
Sword. Edge. Blood. Relative. Friend. Lover. Loss. Sober.

Practice. Perfect. Ideal. Idea. Design. Empathy. Pathos. Pathetic.
Pity. Pride. Envy. Place. Perspective. Please. Question. Askance.

Angle. Angel. Animal. Nature. Normal. Nest. Sundown. Frost.
Figure. Flight. Failure. Lash. Lagoon. Delimit. Define. Delay.

Detritus. Regather. Rescue. Reincarnate. Soul. Spirit. Speak. Spoke.
Wheel. Water. Weather. Wind. Whisper. Word. Listen. World.

Process Reflection: In keeping with the spirit of the 64 posts of 64 words, I decided tonight to try something different: start with a word and let each word lead to another. "Decided" may not be the right word. I just sat down to write and started doing it. The decision may already have been made elsewhere in my brain before I was aware of it. But I knew going in what the shape would be: eight lines, eight words per line. A poem of sorts.

The actual writing of it was interesting in the same way that doing collage is sometimes interesting: each moment after you have written one word and your mind is present to a swirl of possibilities for the next word has its own kind of unique richness. Sometimes it feels like a choice, more often it's like you're reaching out and grabbing one word out of the flurry before it gets away. The space between "brain" and "thought," for example, was a room full of noise: drain, fart, storm, smart, worm (why not?), right, art, and so on. Each decision is in some sense a continuation of and in some sense a departure from what has gone before, and each decision snuffs out a world of possibilities: many are called, but only one is chosen. 

This poem is pretty spontaneous and pretty raw. I might be tempted, at some later point, to go back and start second-guessing some of the choices, smoothing some edges, substituting words for better linkages, and so on. That's what I would normally do with a poem, but in this case the spontaneity of it is  really sort of the point.

In any case, the completed list does not feel to me to be as random as it may appear. It is, like collages often are, a kind of autoportrait: me at this moment, on this evening, at this desk, in this life. A lot of what I have been reading and experiencing and thinking about this last week shows up in this poem, if not transparently in the words themselves, then in the field of energies between and among them, including the all the ghosts of the Words Not Chosen. No one else, given the same task, would have come up with remotely the same words. 

There are reasons why I write, why I subject myself to what some might see as an arbitrary discipline. Writing is one of the means by which I am able to convey to myself who I am, what I am, what I am trying to be. Writing for me, when I am able to submit to its discipline, is clarifying, enriching, self-defining, self-extending, value-creating. And because it is all of those things, it is also a source of satisfaction and pleasure, even when it is not going well, and even when the product itself is slight, like tonight's post. My father (I've been thinking a lot about my father again this week) used to say that a thing worth doing is worth doing well. He was right about that. But that does not mean that the opposite is not also true: a thing worth doing is worth doing badly, too. Better to do it badly than not to do it at all. We learn from our mistakes, and we learn from our failures, if we give ourselves permission to fail in the first place. 

My concern with the way writing is taught in schools is that there is precious little room for writing which is worth doing either well or badly. Writing is understood, by both teachers and students, to be a means to a very utilitarian end. You write in order to demonstrate what you know to those in a position to evaluate you. The determination as to whether you have failed or succeeded is in their hands, not yours.  It's no wonder to me that so many students learn to hate writing, and avoid writing at all costs once they are no longer compelled to do it.  Many of them have never had the chance to experience the real value and pleasure of writing about what they choose using forms of their own invention. It's all work and no play. It's been this way since I was in school a hundred years ago. Now, with the double whammy of common core standards and high-stakes testing, it's worse than it ever has been. Whatever time might have been given over to giving the kids the chance to actually learn what writing really is and how it might serve them well has been displaced by forced instruction in such idiocy as how to complete in 25 minutes an essay that demonstrates proficiency under the constraints of the six-point rubric. Bah, humbug. Rats. Phooey. Enough.

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