Last 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).
Breton 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.