Category: rut

Automatic Writings

automaticLast week I joined Sherron out on the patio to keep her company while she made masks.  Her materials consisted of old juice jugs and papier-mache.  It was fun to watch her work and see faces and personalities emerge from simple plastic containers–the gal possesses an artfulness, visual acuity and imagination that I would swap a kidney for.

It was a lovely day, the first decent weather we’ve had in what has been a cool and unpredictable summer.  I brought along a book with me, the Atlas Press edition of The Automatic Message, a surrealist classic featuring the work of Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and Philippe Soupault (translated by David Gascoyne, Anthony Melville & Jon Graham).

BretonBreton was a big believer in automatic writing, composing prose with no forethought or planning, allowing the pen to skitter across the page, recording whatever was on the author’s mind at that moment.  Some of the “experiments” undertaken in this manner resulted in pure gibberish (as can be expected) but on other occasions something clicked and the author was able to channel words and images directly from the subconscious portion of the mind, where myths, dreams and inspiration reside in their purest form.

I started reading The Automatic Message and all at once was overcome with a desire to put something on paper.  I rushed inside for my pad, reseated myself and while Sherron applied layer after layer of sodden tissue paper to her creations, I put pen to paper…and let everything fall away.

I’m reproducing here some of the efforts I composed that day.  These are first drafts, no touch-ups or corrections (except for the odd comma added or deleted, for the purpose of clarity).

This technique, while it might seem daunting at first, seeks to put the editorial portion of your brain on hold and permits you to tap into deeper, non-critical areas of consciousness and sometimes (not always) the results can be surprising, instructive, even unnerving.

I think you’ll understand what I mean once you’ve read the samples I’ve provided:

First Light

The guiltless robin knows no travail only the ceaseless pursuit of wind and rain and morsels, wriggling grubs devoured in sharp, yellow beaks.  Teach us the ardor of kindly wings curved in flight and remind us of the eternal beckoning sky.  Somewhere in the shouting beyond mystery waits with claws and teeth and rending.  But that is tomorrow after a long sunset and an ageless night of stars that shine but do not burn.

amazonAmazonian

Jungle sounds, ancient bird cries overhead, the last dinosaurs roosting above me in bone-lined nests.  Gliding, relentless above a furled canopy that admits no light to skulking, near-sighted mammals whose lives are governed by weak, frail senses oblivious to higher calling.  God of the leaves, roots and berries:  furnish us with sustenance and kill us quickly with red claws, bearing us aloft to bursting light, colors unimaginable to dead, in-turned eyes.

The Tower

Some futile voice insisting words carry the weight and mass of Jupiter like failed suns they draw all light toward them letting no hope escape into harboring dictionaries lexicons of lost languages preserved against extinction by dusty academics housed in Babel towers ivory-colored rooms hardened against nuclear sized impacts the bones of the curators dissolving into polished floors mute mouths gaping wordless.

wagonContinental Divide

Out on the frontier in long trains of sweating creatures cursing men the loneliness of vast distances existential mesas where ancient bones are pried out and held to the first light in 65 million years upon dry lakebeds parched lips upturned prayers to a Creator grown still and thoughtful God of expanses crammed into leather bound books tattooed with births and deaths parchment thin pages like elderly skin drained of life-giving blood.

Flies

I want to reassure myself on your smooth shoulders the lithe sweep of your back reminding me of insupportable days youthful fantasies wrought in carefully weeded gardens.  My head like a pecked chick.  When the trains sang it was a reminder that hope is transported across long plains plumes of smoke with dreams attached.  In hot weather the house would leak fleeing moss and sometimes sparrows would roost in the eaves and flies buzz somnolently waiting for inevitable decay.

robinLeisure

How the doleful hours long to be filled with spritely birdsong unencumbered by syntax!  You think too much your bold thoughts commence to devour your barely formed nascent spirit before it has a chance to fill your fluttering breast.  Be still the fears that beat against your neuroses like living dead upon unresponsive doors.  Remember thou art mortal and if the color of roses offend thee, pluck out your eyes and render yourself dumb.

Homo Erectus

Rooted in heavy houses gazing fearfully out at the universe speeding away from us spreading parsecs of empty space blank canvas dark matter coloring airless density splattered black to pouring edges racing outward in a timeless rippling current expending the energy of that first cough sneeze scream shit the candle guttering we are the smoke rising to dissipate into nothingness.

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And there you have it.  Those short bits were scrawled in less than an hour, before the spirit departed and I was left scratching my head at what I had produced.  I read some of them to Sherron and we tried to decipher what they might indicate in terms of my state of mind and current preoccupations, fears and obsessions.

I offer these pieces to you not as examples of great literature but in an effort to convince you to give this method a shot, particularly if you are suffering from some form of writer’s block or are feeling like you’re in a creative rut.

Automatic writing is a good way of addressing both those problems/mindsets and I urge you to take the plunge, start scribbling.  I’m always surprised by what my brain comes up with when it doesn’t sense that harsh, editorial eye watching, judging, condemning.

Try it…and see what happens.

surrealists

Under a Spell

apejpeg.jpgTwo weeks into intensive revisions on my novella and every distraction, everything that pulls me away from the fictional world I am in the process of creating, is infuriating. The mundanities of life require attention—paying the bills, attending parent-teacher meetings—but I am resentful of such “trivialities”. When I’m focused on a project, my solipsism becomes downright scary. I forget to eat, wear the same clothes, grow a beard, drift through the house like a blind cat (present, but unseeing). Hour after hour up in my office, leaving only to use the washroom or grab something (anything!) to eat. I suffer withdrawal symptoms when away from my imaginary creations for even short periods of time. I pine for my characters. I miss their voices. Often find it difficult to follow dinner table conversations, occasionally forced to feign an interest in what my wife and sons are saying. A hard admission to make.

I am utterly immersed in this novella. For eight to ten hours a day I walk around in it and breathe the same air as its inhabitants. When I’m not working, I get the feeling that my characters remain in limbo, awaiting my return. There are divided loyalties, a sense of being stuck between two realities, the disorientation that results from that, confusion, my office door opening to a hallway I don’t recognize at first…

apollojpeg.jpgDuring these times, I have no interest in interacting with the outside world. I care little for consensual reality, ordinary rules and conventions; sometimes I go days without leaving the house. That is my entire universe and, believe me, it’s a whole lot bigger than it looks from the outside. My office is maybe 10 X 12 but its physical specifications are irrelevant. It is a cramped space capsule and time machine all rolled into one.

Viewed dispassionately, I lead a pretty dull and ritualized existence. I do nothing outside of reading and writing and hanging out with my family. I have no social life and a limited circle of friends and acquaintances, most of whom I’ve known for a long time. I challenge any future biographer to scrape up enough worthwhile material to fill a short article, let alone a fucking book. Good luck concocting something of interest with daybook entries like this:

Slept poorly (siege dreams again)

Into office immediately–Coffee

Work

Break for lunch

No decent mail

Good progress today

Boys home/ Sher home

Supper (shepherd’s pie)

Few more edits

Crash with book/ in bed 11:00 p.m.

And that goes on for pages and pages and pages

That’s my life. And that’s why I need that ability to project myself into the worlds I fashion one word at a time. Because my daily routine is so unbelievably fucking tedious and boring, it would kill a sane man. Retreating into fantasy is coping behavior, plain and simple. If I didn’t have this crazy, vivid imagination of mine I would’ve gone off my nut ages ago. I’d have never made it out of childhood.

flaubertjpeg.jpgBe regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” (Gustave Flaubert)

Thanks, G.F., and I appreciate that, but I also recall writers like Lawrence (T.E. and D.H.) and Isherwood and Graves and Grahame Greene and Anthony Burgess, world travelers and brilliant diarists, leading fascinating lives and growing vast reputations. Their long shadows still touch us today.

Is this it for me? Sitting in this room day after day, composing sentences, stringing them into stories or novels, producing vast reams of paperwork to little actual effect? A recent journal entry touches a sore point, my terror of being a man of no consequence. Making no mark, leaving nothing noteworthy or commendable behind me. As faceless and anonymous as a body tangled in a mass grave.

There’s a sense now that I’ve got to break out of this rut, seek new experiences, engage with the big, wide world and see what that inspires. Inevitably this brings up thoughts of travel. Are my fictional settings becoming too constricted and too familiar? Would some exotic backdrops lend a little something extra to my tales? Is this cloistered, claustrophobic existence I’m leading stunting my growth as an author and artist?

mertonjpeg.jpgThe clouds change. The seasons pass over our woods and fields in their slow and regular procession, and time is gone before you are aware of it. In one sense, we are always traveling and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense, we have already arrived.” (Thomas Merton)

I need change. I crave it. A door opening. Opportunity knocking. A thrown bone. A crumb of praise. Signs of hope. A phone call out of the blue. Something completely unexpected and scary and exciting. To make my heart race. To break this terrible thrall