AWOL from the Army of the Upright


I want to boast
around you, like a horse rearing straight up
in the stars.

But I have nothing to say.
Like the night
when the moon is out.

(Amarusataka 1.12, Sanskrit)

This poem, borrowed from Conjunctions‘s current online previews is an imagined translation of an imagined poem that could fill a (potentially imagined) lacunae in classical Indian poetry. Cool concept. I had to share. Plus it is about communication and the sky, and so is this post.

You should head over to Conjunctions and check out the rest of the selection from The Lacunae by Daniel Nadler. They are all spectacular. Enjoy. Then, read the poet’s bio. Nadler who is apparently also a tech whiz and finance guy, seems to have an abundance of creative/mental energy. This fact is salient to me today because yesterday (while I was feeling ill, and had been for several days) I read On Being Ill, by Virginia Woolf. In it Woolf talks about how, though it is rarely observed in literature, the mind is beholden to the body:

All day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane–smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending process of changes, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes. 

As I noted in my previous post, I recently read a book about the habits of various famous creatives. I was surprised to see how many writers and artists used stimulants daily: nicotine, coffee, and alarmingly, prescription Benzadrine, which is kinda like meth. Ayn Rand, for example, kinda became so addicted to kinda-meth she couldn’t write without it. A fact that makes me feel slightly better about my new minor dependence on coffee to get my brain running in the morning. I’m not trying to say anything about Daniel Nadler’s habits, just noting that his energy level must be pretty high, and high energy is good for creativity. It happens to me sometimes, and it feels GREAT. There are days when I write 3,000 words without much effort, or write long letters to all of my pen pal friends, or conceptualize an entire screenplay in my mind during a drive to State College (true story, and I actually wrote the script the next week). Then there are days when my dog wakes me up at 6 and I think, perfect, I’ll get to work, and I sit in my writing womb (my office now has Pepto-pink walls) and stare at my computer trying to ignore that fuzzy tickle at the back of my brain until the urge to slump over and pass out on top of my laptop is so strong that I go back to bed. Those days suck. They make me feel bad about myself and my resolve. They get lumped in with the days that I fill up with non-writing obligations as Guilt Days. Good writing days though, those can be Guilt Days too. Because I have to lock myself up. I have to not shower, not eat (unless my girlfriend cooks and delivers the food), not participate in chores, neglect my dog, and the accept the continued flattening of my ass.

But that is what it takes. Writing, for me to be involved in it, for it to be a fever, for it to be any good at all, has to be the ONLY THING. I spent five months this winter in a cabin 20 miles from the closest town and 100 miles from anyone I knew. I had no internet and shitty cell reception. It was often too cold for my dog to walk barefoot outside, and I was living out of my suitcase, so my obligations other than writing were zero. I was more creative than ever. I wrote an entire novel. A 250 page novel. I wrote a screenplay. And about a dozen short stories. I wrote letters and a book review. I kept a journal. I even wrote a couple of poems. 

What I’m saying is: I am officially absolving myself of the the good-writing-days guilt. Creativity is a hungry thing. It eats energy of all kinds: physical, mental, social. Maybe someday I will be able to be consistently creative and also something that looks like a socially acceptable human who is not wearing a flour covered belly shirt, no bra, and sleep shorts when you come over, but for now, I can’t. 

I want to leave you with one more quote, because she already said it better, though for different purpose. In On Being Ill, when comparing the well to the ill, Woolf notes that the well, “march to battle,” meaning work, socializing, community making, sport, while:

We [the ill] float with the sticks on the stream; helter-skelter with the dead leaves on the lawn, irresponsible and disinterested and able, perhaps for the first time in years, to look round, to look up–to look, for example, at the sky.”

So it seems I’m saying to be creative, one must be full of energy, yet function in society as if she were ill. I am not asking to be excused, I’ve already excused myself for as long as my meager savings account will allow. I guess what I’m doing is celebrating a revelation. Or recalibrating my productivity gage away from task completion and toward creative focus. That sounds too much like jargon. What I mean is: I’ll be lying about, looking at the sky, staring at my pink walls and wearing pajamas for the foreseeable future. I am working, it just doesn’t look the same as you working.   

nb: The phrase, “army of the upright” in the title of this post is from VW’s On Being Ill.

Imaginary Friends

There is a lot to like in Amy Hempel’s Art of Fiction interview. For example:

‘Wear your heart on the page, and people will read to find out how you solved being alive.’ That was Gordon [Lish] twenty years ago, and that’s what I’m still trying to do.

I read author interviews like other people read Us Weekly. So, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work was a treat. I love to know about writers’ daily lives. The rhythm of my daily life doesn’t have much in common with the life of any of my real-life friends or family, so knowing that lots of artists lived this way is a relief. I’m not doing it wrong. I mean, I knew I wasn’t doing it wrong, because the way I’ve structured my life is so GOOD. I’m satisfied. I’m writing, more now than ever before. I feel like I might be getting somewhere. So reading that this pattern I’ve tuned into is actually quite like the pattern many artists have followed makes me feel like I’m part of a club. It is an imaginary club populated by lots of dead people, but still.

Also, hi, I’m back. I travelled for most of 2013, then I was hiding out from the internet for the winter months, which in Northern Pennsylvania last until early May. No wifi, spotty cell reception, it was grand! Now though, I’m hooked back up, so I’m going to try to keep collecting beautiful things on this blog, mostly for myself, because my memory is bad so I need holding place. If you like it too, then let’s be friends. 

become suddenly rent asunder (with sound)

The existence of thought without words but not without form is nevertheless necesary, for example, to all translation work. Every good translator does his utmost, without actually realizing it, to translate his text first into sphota, in order to translate into the second language…
Rene Daumal

When we read this in class I conceptualized sphota as a particular thought that is bounded into a semi-tangible object, something you could maybe name if an appropriate word exists in the language you are using. I imagined sphota to have a shape in the mind. When I think of it, it is something you could hold in your hand.

Later on in the article we read (Why I Am Not a Translator–Take 2), translator Norma Cole refers to sphota as “word-seeds.” I don’t like that term, but it is similar to how I was thinking about the concept. Today though, I spent some time looking it up online, and it seems that in Indian linguistic philosphy, sphota is defined a bit differently. It is closer to the word-end or the sound-end of the spectrum. It is not, as I envisioned, an inarticulated, yet articulate-able thought. It makes a noise. It is what you call a thought as it is articulated (“burst forth” as the Indian philosophers so eloquently express it) in sound, as far as I can tell.

This stuff fascinates me so I’m going to quote a bunch of it:

The term sphoTa is etymologically derived from the root sphuT, which means ‘to burst’, or become suddenly rent asunder (with a sound).

Naagesha BhaTTa defines sphoTa as that, from which the meaning bursts forth, that is, shines forth. In other words, the word that expresses a meaning, or the process of expressing a meaning through a word is called sphoTa.

According to PataNjali, sphoTa is a conceptual entity or generic feature of articulated sounds, either in the form of isolated phonemes or a series of phonemes. It is a permanent element of physical sounds which are transitory in nature, and which vary in length, tempo and pitch of the speaker. It is an actualized replica of euphemeral sounds.

The sphoTa remains in the intellect of both the speaker and the listener with no motion before its manifestation. There is an inter-link between sound and sphoTa, as soon as the speaker produces the sound through the articulatory organs, the sphoTa is revealed. But the listener cannot understand sphoTa immediately.

Each sound unit contributes some thing to the total perception of sphoTa. The listener receives the phonemes in a sequence and grasps the form of a word in his mind, when the last phoneme is heard. The last sound helps the listener to recognize the sphoTa absolutely. This entire process of manifesting sphoTa is compared with the act of painting. Just as an artist reproduces his mental [xxvii] idea of the form of an object on a cloth, similarly the speaker reproduces the mental verbal image of a word through articulated phonemes.