Poetic Entanglements

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I. Atoms and words combine themselves into complex structures: molecules and sentences, poems and beings. These pieces hold a limited amount of meaning alone, but it is only through the interconnected relationships of these base elements that they can ever become alive. To break apart these structures is to kneel before a pile of discrete pieces of information. A cell is defined by its purpose for the body as a whole, a word by the body of work. There is value in the syntax, the order, the configuration. Rearrange the elements and the whole thing may fall apart.

II. Language evolves. As time goes on, a combination of sounds mutates into something that doesn’t resemble itself anymore. Every time a sequence is copied, it brings the threat (or blessing) of alteration. Without this swerve, every product created by nature or poet would be a mere copy of the original.

III. A good poem already exists. The writer can imitate it, ensuring that she never rises above her predecessors and lives her life a parrot. She can rebel against it, at the risk of estranging her readers and defining her work by spite. Or she can take that work and distort it slightly, expand the boundaries to her advantage, test the limits without going too far off the edge. Nature works the same way; she is a fine poet.

IV. Poems adapt to the fitness of their environment. As language evolves, the values of art must shift as well, else they will become extinct due to the meager supply of fitting words. The ideal poetic line is a genome, manipulated by entropy until an infinite series of variables miraculously synchronize with the environment, and it thrives. It’s hard to watch old words die. They don’t represent the language of the listeners anymore, but they preserve the language of the writers. Leave them behind when history turns its page. They will be fine.

V. Poetry is a ring species. Each consecutive generation mimics its predecessor enough to be considered the same genus, and yet, generation twelve is a completely different creature than generation one. When do the definitions change? Where do the boundaries end?  It is tempting to categorize time into eras. A segment of time is defined by one concept, and then in one single strike of the clock it is defined by another. The division of history into Renaissance and Shakespearean and Romantic erases the links in between that hold them together. Change is a gradual process. The process isn’t over yet. Every individual moment is an era, defined by itself.

VI. Think about the music of the spheres. The universal symphony is never over; as one tune ends, an elided cadence begins a new melody, recombining the same notes into an impossible number of variations. The last line of one poem is the opening to another. As long as art continues, it can’t really fail; even a poor piece of writing or a mislaid tune may serve as inspiration for the next creator. The only mistake is to stop creating. Everything finds its natural place in the end.

side effects of excess copper include feelings of doom

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there are gaps in my memory. i can’t tell how big they are.

all these beings are moving around me, all of them have different objectives, none of them are experiencing the same reality as me, I have so many perceptual filters. they pay attention to the direction that everyone else is going, but I only pay attention to the walls, and if you focus on the walls too long they look like they are closing in because usually a wall is just one barrier but if you look at them all at once a hallway is just a narrow tube of bodies.

you can’t be too careful about conversations you overhear “by chance.” some of them are probably seeds of ideas, planted subliminally, hoping a root catches hold in your dirt mind.

i don’t know why i feel like i need to “test” my friends to see if they really love me. i leave the room and they don’t say anything, not so much as a wave goodbye. “they don’t miss me at all,” i think. “they wouldn’t miss me if I was dead, either.” i overextended the metaphor.

where is everyone? those bundles of straw, tied up at the top, look like people who were caught out in the snow, walking to the new observatory. did anyone else make it through the storm? it feels alone out here.

maybe this is all a hologram. everyone is just a simulation, putting me in exponentially more absurd situations. it’s not all holograms though. someone real must be watching through the cameras, to see if i react the right way.

i’m walking along the side of the road at dusk. why is the stop sign pulsing yellow, like it’s hit with the light of a turn signal? is there a car behind me? i don’t see any cars.

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Silent Film Actress Fay Webb Escapes the Burden of Responsibility with her Wonderful Pet Goose

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CHARACTERS:

Fay Webb, 20-ish, an actress in silent films, smarter than her ditzy exterior lets on

Robert: 20-ish, Fay’s agent, who is in love with her and not too subtle about it

Goose: 2 or 3, Fay’s advisor/mentor/friend, is literally a goose, wears glasses

TIME:

June, 1925.

PLACE:

A living room.

At rise: Fay is lounging on a chair, decked out in furs and lipstick, reading an old copy of Motion Picture Magazine. A goose sits on the chair next to her, atop a beautiful embroidered pillow.

FAY
    (showing her magazine to GOOSE)
What do you think of this one?

GOOSE
Honk

FAY
You’re right. I could never pull off a look like that.

(ROBERT enters with a telegram.)

ROBERT
     (nervously, to FAY)
Ms. Webb? You have just received another offer for a film contract.

FAY
     (not looking up from her magazine)
What’s it about?

ROBERT

It’s on the subject of…
(he reads off the telegram)
A beautiful timeless romance between star-crossed lovers, who come from very different backgrounds but fall hopelessly in love. You would be playing the role of Female Romantic Lead.

FAY
     (noncommittally)
Hmm. That’s… something.
(turns to GOOSE)
What do you think?

GOOSE
Honk

FAY
      (looking back toward magazine)
You’re right. It just sounds like a generic rip-off of Romeo and Juliet. It’s like, let William Shakespeare stay dead, you know? We don’t have to reanimate his corpse for every new motion picture that comes along.

ROBERT
     (offended)
No it’s not. I think it sounds… rather good.

FAY
     (holds out her hand, still not looking up from the magazine)
Well, then, show me the script!

ROBERT
I can’t! I don’t know how it ends yet.

FAY
You didn’t finish reading it?

ROBERT
No, it’s that… the director hasn’t… finished writing the ending yet?

GOOSE
Honk

FAY
     (to GOOSE)
My thoughts exactly! Thank you.
(to ROBERT)
How can you know a script is good if it has no ending?

ROBERT
You would help finish it!

GOOSE
Honk

FAY
What?

ROBERT
Look. I can understand if you do not want to take this contract. It’s probably no good anyway. Probably the director was hopped up on bootleg whiskey or something when he wrote the screenplay.
(ROBERT rips the telegram in half and lets it flutter to the ground)
But I implore you to reconsider. You’re smart and pretty and your haircut perfectly frames your delicate gorgeous face. I don’t see why you let that duck make all your decisions for you.

FAY
That goose taught me everything I know about show business, Robert! If you don’t respect her, then you don’t respect me.

ROBERT
That’s not true at all! I love you…
(catches himself at the last moment and changes his sentence)
…r dress. I love your dress. It looks really nice on you.

FAY
Thank you! My goose picked it out for me. She says the color brings out my eyes.

ROBERT
     (putting his face in his hands)
Ohhhhhhhh my god.

FAY
It doesn’t?

ROBERT
    (a little too eagerly)
No, it definitely does.

FAY
What’s the problem then?

ROBERT
If you constantly give your agency to something else, how am I supposed to know if you really like m…
(once again catches himself before saying “me”)
Marlboro cigarettes?

FAY
It always comes back to the goose. Without her, neither of us would have jobs! I was a nobody before she showed me the secrets to success. And look at me now! I’m a movie star, who puts on makeup even in the comfort of her own home and wears fur coats in the middle of June just because she can.

ROBERT
You owe her nothing! You would have become famous anyway. You have eyes that sparkle in the light and a smile that exudes pure beams of radiance. Objectively speaking. All I’m saying is, I don’t think you should listen to everything the little birdie told you.

FAY
Why not? What does it matter to you, whether I make a choice myself or whether I defer it to something else?

GOOSE
Honk

FAY
         (to GOOSE, shocked)
Is… that really so? You really think he does?

GOOSE
Honk

FAY
        (picks up the pieces of the ripped up telegram)
Robert… in this contract… did the director happen to say who would be playing the part of Male Romantic Lead?

ROBERT
Me.

FAY
Did you happen to be the scriptwriter as well? And the director?

ROBERT
Yes.

FAY
And if I say no to this contract, will you hold it against me?

ROBERT
As long as it’s you making the choice, and not that goddamn goose.

FAY
Why does it matter, if both those options lead to the same conclusion?

(There is a moment of silence as ROBERT realizes that this is a rejection.)

FAY
We… I think you should leave.
(FAY lifts up GOOSE on his pillow. GOOSE and FAY exit.)

ROBERT
      (sighs for a moment, then goes to sit down in Fay’s chair and dials a number on the phone on the side table)
Hey, it’s me. Yeah. Your little gambit didn’t work. I did everything you told me to, I asked her out with a fake movie contract, I was super suave about it, and she still didn’t bite. You were so sure that it would work. And I believed you! I listened to everything you said, followed your instructions down to the letter. What do you have to say for yourself?

(On the other end of the line, we hear a sinister series of quacks.)

THE END

 

 

Maybe I Shouldn’t (Wheaton Words 2017)

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Maybe, I shouldn’t have become a philosophy major. Not because I’ll never be employed or because I’ll always be the punchline when I go visit my family on Thanksgiving. I’ve made peace with that years ago.

For the past three years, I’ve been studying exactly how little my decisions matter; I am an expert in finding my own mistakes and labeling the fallacies I’ve committed. I know exactly where the flaws are in every argument, in every proposition, in every term, but there’s nothing I can do about it besides point out its invalidity. I know it’s wrong. I don’t know how to fix it.

When I’m by myself, I tend to retreat into a Cartesian state of solipsism. I get too… introspective. “Introspective” is a technical term for “self-absorbed, but in a pretentious way.” I love to be alone, but I can’t stand being lonely. When no one’s looking, I engage in the Socratic method, asking myself questions with no answers. Am I nothing more than the sum of my actions? Maybe. Is humor a defense mechanism I employ so I don’t have to deal with confronting actual problems? Perhaps. Do people hate me because when they say, “have a good day,” I say “moral judgments such as ‘good’ are intrinsically relative and therefore irrelevant”? Probably. Well, definitely. This is a circular argument. It doesn’t go anywhere.

I wish I had more to offer than my words. These arbitrary combinations of symbols we call “letters” and “sentences,” they have no value unless the listener gives it to them. I had someone once who loved me for my words. But I thought, I’m more than what I say, or what I write. Aren’t I? I cancelled all the plans he tried to make. I kept my arms crossed so he wouldn’t grab my hand. It’s not that he didn’t deserve me. No one deserves me. Me, the Übermensch, who accepts that society’s values are meaningless and creates a future of her own! But she has no idea what to do with it.

I always say I don’t believe in anything. Empirical evidence is an illusion, and intrinsic knowledge is subjective. Math is giving names to patterns that don’t exist. Molecules hold themselves together just barely long enough to become self-aware, and then entropy rips them apart again to be recombined into something else. By convention, funny; by convention, absurd; by convention, obnoxious; by convention, sad; in reality: atoms and void.

But, to see my friends smile back at me when I smile at them, complete my ideas and complement my personality, I’m so proud of the people I surround myself with, I’m so genuinely in love with them that I have no time to analyze the implications, then I think, what brought us together is nothing short of a miracle.

This seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy between the empirical and the emotional leads me to speculate upon an unavoidable question that has plagued all philosophers since the dawn of time: Should I apply for grad school?

Your Call is Very Important to Us

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url.jpgOn the other side of the telephone line, there is a woman who plays the piano. She only performs twelve seconds of Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu.” Every now and then, she pauses and leans into the single microphone: “I am afraid that all the operators are busy at the moment. Please hold.” She starts to play again. Someday, she wants to keep going after the twelve-second mark and finish the piece. Someday, she wants to perform the whole piece; actually, instead, her own original sonata, in front of a concert hall full of people, so full, the ticket-punchers have to turn people away at the door, and the people still stand outside on the street because they’d rather hope for an opening than do anything else. The audience would not be applauding or cheering; they would be sitting quietly with their eyes glued on her, too full of her sound to make any sound of their own. Lights, and stairs, and more than one microphone. But for now, she has to settle for an audience of one, who is not here for her music (the music she plays, which is not her own), one who has been grumbling in frustration for the past forty-two minutes. “Please hold,” she says. She wants to lean into the microphone to apologize, but maybe, she’s not really sorry. At least someone is finally listening to her play.

A Scholarly Approach to the Colloquialization of Academia.

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Listen. I used to be one of those people who was like “Unless I use proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and vocabulary at all times, no one will take me seriously.” Guess what! That’s not literally even true!

And before anyone tells me I have misused the word “literally”: Not anymore! I have a bit of news for everyone who relies on technicalities and dictionary definitions for their terms: language changes. Like, in Old English, “to starve” meant “to kill,” “awesome” was anything that caused awe, and any animal was just called “a deer.” These meanings don’t exist any more because language evolved to a place where the original definition has become obsolete to the way people use these words today. If I say “wasn’t that an awesome flash flood that destroyed the better part of our humble town,” chances are no one will pick up on my intended meaning, and if you point at an iguana and call it a deer, you will look like a genuine fool.

Academia in particular has this super specific vernacular and style that a) is rooted in traditions that are centuries of years old, b) excludes anyone that can’t mimic this style, c) is completely arbitrary, and d) has no need to exist anymore.

The elitism of academia has been around since the times when only the richest folks in town knew how to read. “You’re only smart if you can afford to be! Poor people can’t have ideas because they don’t know how to communicate them in written form!” said the bourgeoisie. In the 17th century, the rich and scholarly got even more pretentious by referring back to antiquity to inform their values. It should come as no surprise that their precious ancient Greek philosophers also favored the aristocracy. Both Plato and Aristotle believed in stratified societies that prefer the few elite individuals over the many plebeian masses; it’s really not hard to see how this became distorted into the rule by divine right of kings in European monarchy. Even Plato’s ideal society, The Republic, was like “The god who made you mixed some gold into those who are adequately equipped to rule, because they are the most valuable,” implying that some citizens are literally worth more than others, which seems an odd way to run a theoretical utopia.

To the 17th century scholars, Latin and Greek represented a period of philosophy and progress, and thought that by mimicking these cultures they could bring about an artificial age of enlightenment. Ancient civilizations were remembered exclusively as environments that cultivated philosophical and cultural thought, rather than as empires that enslaved nations and conquered land by force. 17th century scholars didn’t give a shit about that. So, during the neoclassical era, only the wealthy could afford to learn how to read; only the wealthy had the free time to study Latin; only the wealthy could contribute to literature. Education was valued and sought after, but only a few could hope to attain it. In addition to justifying their elitism by appealing to The Great Philosophers, they borrowed thousands of words from Latin, and retroactively made English into a Latinate language by adding in silent letters and arbitrary grammar rules.

It would be swell if these new rules were efficient to communication, but instead they were the exact opposite, which really undermines what “language” is all about. For instance: the split infinitive. Academics are always trying to cramp James T. Kirk’s style by saying it should not be “to boldly go,” but “to go boldly.” Why? Because in Latin, “to go” is one word and academics in the 17th century decided that if Latin can’t split up an infinitive, then neither can we. We need to make sacrifices if we want to sound fancy. The thing is, this is an archaic rule applied for an arbitrary reason. If people easily understand what is being said, and the goal of communication is to make ideas easily understood by people, then how can it possibly be wrong? Appeal to tradition is an informal fallacy that needs to be stopped. To say “this is right, because this is the way it was done in the past” raises the question “why was this done in the past?” The latter question is answered by the former, creating an infinite regress, referring eternally back to the precedents of precedents. And besides, maybe in the future they don’t care about splitting infinitives. Why is anyone trying to apply 17th century language rules to the 23rd century? They don’t even have currency in their society anymore!

Finally, at the beginning of the 20th century when industrialization was swinging its heavy hammer down upon the western world, when there was a working class instead of just “lords” and “glorified slaves,” folks started to question the weird and arbitrary institutions that kept education limited to the upper class. Yet, in an academic setting today “the elite” has shifted from being “the rich” to being “the most capable of adhering to the rules set by the 17th century scholars who ruined the English language,” known by a more commonplace name, “professional.”

Academics are quick to dismiss any argument that does not abide by the rules of syntax, grammar, and vocabulary as “unprofessional.” This makes it inaccessible to a majority of the population, which includes people who are learning English as a second language, people with reading disabilities, and people who are too excited about their topic to reduce their writing into a dry pablum just so it is palatable to the restless ghosts of three-hundred-year-old scholars. Failing to use the correct form of “your” in a sentence doesn’t render the sentiment meaningless. Just because I use a lot of excess punctuation marks in my writing doesn’t mean my point is invalid!!!

Anyway, maybe I’m a literary anarchist, maybe I’m a rebel without a clause, but it’s about time that the institutions surrounding academia, education, and professionalism got a little bit more inclusive and a little bit less completely ridiculous.

On The Way Out

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Once, I tripped over a forgotten memory, slipped in a puddle of regrets, and stumbled into a pit of existential despair. As I wavered on the edge about to catch my balance, I could have sworn I felt a hand on my back.

The place at the bottom was dark and small. I was too afraid to ask for help; people would ask how I got here, they would tell me it’s my fault, they would tell me about their friends who had also fallen into holes. Even if I had been pushed in, I was the only one who could get myself out.

Lying around me were twisted knots of pain, shallow pools of sadness, huge blocks of guilt and little clippings of nihilism. Hey, there’s art down here, I thought. It just hasn’t been made yet. I reached into my sweatshirt pocket. It was fortunate that I had been carrying one thing on my person that day: hope.

I transformed self-loathing into self-reflection, and saw myself as I really was for the first time in weeks. With a few sharp knocks, dissatisfaction became the desire for change. What I thought was sadness was actually grief; it went away the next mourning. There’s still a pile of anger sitting on the floor. I don’t know what to do with it yet, I’m saving it for just the right moment, the right reason.

It’s less dark and less small at the bottom of the hole now.

I think one day I’ll have created enough art to use as a ladder to get out of here, or a megaphone to yell to the voices of my friends, high above my head. But for now, I’m starting small. I’m taking the time to heal (the fall was pretty far). But I can’t stay here forever when the voices up there need hope as much as I do.