WritingI’ve been avoiding doing this for a while. Almost ten years in fact. It has been a decade since I first discovered poetry—probably a little later than most in truth. No longer an angst ridden teenager but still angst ridden, I was in my early twenties and the right side of a university arts degree—not the usual or most direct route to a love of verse and crafted, written word, but then any route will do.

As William S. Burroughs once said, and very much after the fact: every writer fears the amount of bad writing he will have to do before he does any good. And I really did some bad writing.

Long hidden at the bottom of a box and I long hiding from it—notebook after notebook of poetry and wild-eyed, stream of consciousness writing. Best forgotten but compelling like a car-wreck, they are the rubber-neck memoirs of a tortured youth—page after anguished page of over-wrought, over-thought poems, almost poems in truth.

With the benefit much bad writing written I can discern a semblance of a poetry in the output of this younger self—a single sentence or stanza attempting to take flight, but that is all. The seed or germinating idea for a poem is present, discernible just, and the formative experiences certainly are or were—the messy, moving stuff of life clamouring for poetic expression, but the ideas and emotions are never fully grown, written down in full.

Aim, concentration and focus are all wanting badly in these poems, scattered in the winds of distraction, perhaps personal dis-function as well; lost before the wisps of substance and meaning could bind together and form.

If my poems had been written consciously they would be great art—if the compelling, true to life back story, clearly discernible now with the benefit of time was actually present on page—but alas such is not the case. Instead they are the reflection of the artist as a young, very young man, but not a true or worthy portrait—words writ blurred and myopic, pen tripping over clumsy mind, spilled out without thought as page over page of stumbles, heart scribbled in the margins, wanting to be found.

I really can’t believe how bad they are—how bad I was. Melodramatic emotionalism without restraint, turgid, vapid—subtly but a dream, the shores of sensibility—and just plain sense—a long way off. Exhibits of an obsession with fruitless self-analysis, and a futile search for meaning in the mud of mental and emotional obscurity.

Thank God I got over myself. Thank God I stopped writing poems about myself.

If I was perhaps different
Then what would I be?
Would the life I have lived
Then mean nothing to me?
What road would I travel
And where abouts would I go
My journey now falls behind me
Ahead nothing I know

And another…

Whatever you know
I know something better
bigger, vaster,
Eternal.

Whatever you are,
I am something more—
something Infinite.

You torment me, torture me
rage on within me
But your torrent of noise
is your weakness
not mine

O cornered ego
O delusion and distraction
Your angry shouts and wounded howls
invoke a death from which you can not hide.

You, not I.

Update: From one brain to another, although hopefully not so tortured, check out the Monday Poetry Train at From My Brain to Yours.

ImageChef.com - Create custom images I guess it must be some kind of pre-historic remnant from an earlier, sexist age—implying that a male does something“like a girl” be necessarily an insult. But merited or not, I’m taking the fact that I officially write like a girl in my stride.

Which doesn’t mean, to excuse a cliché or three, that I am about to start talking about my feelings, throw a ball sideways, or slip off to the bathroom for a cry…

A team of researchers have achieved an 80% accuracy rate with a computer algorithm (The Gender Genie) designed to predict the gender of an author from just a sample of their writing. And after several samples submitted the news for myself was wearing a skirt.

The algorithm works best on texts more than 500 words in size, and tallies a score based on a list of gender assigned key words determined by extensive research. Key words? With an exhaustive search of poems and do-it-yourself handyman guides behind them, the researchers led by scientist Moshe Koppel found that women are far more likely than men to use personal pronouns (“I”, “you”, “she”, etc), whereas men prefer words that identify or determine nouns (“a”, “the”, “that”) or that quantify them (“one”, “two”, “more”).

The conclusion reached is that women are more comfortable thinking, and therefore writing about people and relationships, whereas men prefer thinking about impersonal things.

Whatever. Give me a millenia-old text on Taoism or Hinduism any day of the week for a satisfying explanation of the mysteries of gender; in my opinion the above truisms come no closer to defining the essence of male or female than the shapeless lab-coat they were written in.

So I use “myself,” “not,” “when,” “should,” “we,” “me,” “be” and “where” more than is gender predicated. C’est la vie. I have already admitted that my most favourite topic of all is myself…

The switched on narrator of this electrifying look into the life of a high voltage cable inspector is almost as entertaining as the footage shot from helicopter, laconically relating the ins and outs of a“not for hot dogs” every day job:

“There’s only three things I’ve ever been afraid of: electricity, heights, and women. And I’m married too.”

It’s official—I am losing my mind.

Full-blown amnesia and premature dementia have been threatening to break out for a while now, and in their milder, meditation-relaxation induced forms, welcome even—refreshing change from fastidious, check the door is locked twice anxiety of long gone but not long forgotten younger, highly strung days.

Sure I may never be able to remember people’s names this lifetime, an at times endearing like a mad professor—at least I like to imagine so—but probably professionally damaging habit-come-mental-block—not a selling point probably when one is trying to run a business; and I may never know why I can not for the life of me easily learn the words to songs—not completely true, for I find I can do most things when mind is applied and heart engaged, and perhaps music, for which my faculty is more implicit yet less pursued than other pursuits, deserves to be given a fairer hearing.

But where was I? It seems to have happened again…

With relative time but not pressure on my side when packing for a now embarked overseas trip, an exception to the norm of upending drawers into bags as the taxi draws up along side, I really had no excuse to leave my costs-$200-to-replace-and-I-have-urgent-work-to-do laptop power cord behind me, or to compound matters further, board the plane with recently purchased protective inner sleeve for very same computer in the airport lounge.

On the plus side, I did remember to pack a notebook and pen—that’s notebook as in fits in my back pocket—and somewhat chastened, calluses not seen since university days forming on fingers so long has it been since a paragraph wrote by hand, calluses red and stinging like rebuke and reminder for carelessness blatant, I composed these words in-flight, unable to be re-charged laptop failing me finally.

So my mind has failed me as well. Not for the first time to be sure…

Kurt Vonnegut died several days ago.

I was planning to write something in commemoration, and have been staring at a New York Times Books section obituary-commemoration piece for several days now to this effect, but the shameful truth is I have never actually read one of his books, and thus am poorly qualified.

There is a list, a long list of things I must do before I too pass on, and reading Kurt Vonnegut has been added to it, but until that time there are many people far more qualified to comment and commemorate—people who have not only read this great modern American author but have actually met him, including writer Dennis Perrin of Red State Son (“Beneath These Hideous Screams Lies A Love Supreme”)—his subtitle alone makes him deserving of further investigation.

Along with the trackback, sense of being informed by association and a new appreciation for a writer I haven’t read, I will also steal a YouTube video link from Dennis’s site, and the assertion that Kurt Vonnegut was an atheist who believed that instead of the Ten Commandments, public buildings and courtrooms should display the Sermon on the Mount, surely reason enough to display same here:

The Beatitudes from The Sermon on the Mount

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”


Related links

You can also read an account of Kurt Vonnegut’s last public speech here.

Lynch Weekend

Bente Loevhaug, Project Manager for the upcoming David Lynch Weekend got in touch to let me know that, and the title is kind of a give-away here, David Lynch—as in the famous film-maker and perhaps not so famous meditator—is hosting a special weekend next month, subtitled“Exploring the frontiers of consciousness, creativity and the brain.”

Personally I’m not terribly interested in the frontier of the brain, but very much so uncharted vistas of consciousness and creativity—probably why I went to the trouble of writing a review of Lynch’s excellent Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity in the first place.

Iowa is a little off the beaten trail for me personally to attend, so in leiu of listening to David Lynch talk in person I’m going to settle for repeating a few choice words of his on meditation and creativity, topics dear to my own heart.

“I meditate in the morning and in the evening, for half an hour each time. I don’t know what my life would be without meditation and I never have missed one session anywhere. I’ve meditated every day for the past 23 years. It cleans the nervous system, which is the instrument of consciousness. Little by little, a person becomes a hair more aware of what’s going on. The bad things that happen don’t hit you so hard, and you’re not overpowered by success. Success can be even more dangerous than failure.”

“Well, you know, I’m a meditator, and the idea of that is to expand consciousness by clearing the machines of consciousness, which is the nervous system, and the greater the consciousness, you know… I think in the analogy of fishing, the deeper your hook can go to catch the bigger ideas. And its very important to get down in there. Sitting comfortably, in a chair, drifting off, not trying to manipulate what’s in front of you, sometimes you can drop into a beautiful area or bounce up to higher whichever way you want to see it into a beautiful area and catch ideas.”

plane_seat.jpgIt must have been a joke, because the airline meal I am served between Sydney and San Francisco could not have been made seriously. Worse than a joke, actually, considering I paid almost two and a half thousand dollars for a meal that cost mere cents to make. I will think long and hard about sharing my hard earned dollars with United Airlines again.

So poor was the meal, that, and apologies to those less fortunate than I—those for whom food in any form is a privilege, the 854 million people in the world officially defined as hungry, for whom a plate of food a day is the exception rather than rule—this airline meal deserves an award, not of the notable kind, and definitely a mention, of the dishonourable kind.

Frozen peas and corn—admitably defrosted via microwave—but it would be less than correct to say that taste was lost in the cooking, for taste never even made it onto the plate. A sweet and sour sauce—enough to be noticed but not actually tasted—and steamed white rice with neither the flavour nor texture of rice, and the seemingly impossible is achieved: an almost flavourless foodstuff made completely so.

I could move on to the salad, but I didn’t—the cellophane wrapped tray of lettuce, lettuce and lettuce really didn’t qualify—eleven slivers of grated carrot and some leaves of lettuce is a garnish, not a salad.

It is true that the athletic figure of my youth remains in my youth still, thus this golden opportunity to return past to the present—a sudden starvation diet—should not cause so much distaste. I savour a solitary buttered bread roll and the idea of having a ‘figure’ once more.

The in-flight snack served later wasn’t so bad—in comparison to the meal it was so good—an apple, tomato and cucumber roll and plain salted crisps—although lacto ovo in this case is literal, not translated; yet in summary, a poetic moment to finish a flight that in so many ways never really took off, and in another way is bringing me back to earth—somewhere over the mid-Pacific, my overhead seat light goes out.

Halfway between Sydney and San Francisco on United Flight 870, I am sitting in the dark…