Judy Malloy:
2020 Writer's Notebook

A writer's notebook is not a final paper but rather reflects the development of a work or series of works. In the informal, recursive, yet productive practice of creating notebooks online, ideas and sources are developed and slowly emerge.

This 2020 notebook began in June 2020.

July 4, 2020

In search of a title for an incipient work, I went to The Roar of Destiny. It is not the first time that I have used a phrase from The Roar of Destiny as a title.

Beginning in 1995, The Roar of Destiny was written while I was working online for Arts Wire (a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts). Arts Wire was run with a virtual office (meeting online from our homes -- which were variously in New York, in Michigan, in Massachusetts, in Seattle, among other places). I was logging on to AWSTAFF from the hills in El Sobrante, California.

Usually, we spent most of our days online -- punctuated by telephone "help" talks with users and new users. (and in my case with crutch hikes in the hills and escapes to the Gold Country foothills and the High Sierras). In The Roar of Destiny, I represented this existence with a daunting interface of links that each led to a screen where -- surrounded by phrases -- the main text was bolded.

score Because It was/is a life which many others are now living, it was an appropriate place from which to take a title.

I chose:

"merged with the screen for days"

Then I plunged into designing the primary interface for "merged with the screen for days" .

So far the results have not been precisely what I seek, but as usual the process has been enjoyable.

June 21, 2020

It is usually my practice when beginning a new work to return to earlier works. Some new media artists eschew the idea of consistent vision. This is viable considering the radical changes in software and hardware that continue to occur. But personally, although I do take into consideration such changes, I find it grounding to look at earlier interfaces and content. This is both a starting point -- a way of combating the blocks that sometimes occur when it is time to begin a new work -- and a way of reminding myself how I have approached certain issues in the past.

Last week, the work I chose to return to was name is scibe, a collaborative work I began on August 17, 1994, about 5 weeks after I was run down on July 9, 1994.

Because I do not like being reminded of my descent to a lifetime of crutches, returning to this work required a certain amount of courage. But I was interested in the 1994 Internet window to the world that is at the core of scibe.

name is scibe began on two platforms -- the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire and the Arts Conference on The Well. It ran until late 1994 when I transferred the content to an early website, where it was one of the first narratives published on the World Wide Web. Initially, the web version was hosted on Arts Wire's webspace, but when it became apparent that Arts Wire was not likely to survive much longer, I moved it to The Well in 2001.

Flashes of PTSD returned as I plunged into name as scibe. But they did not linger. Instead I came away with recollections of the responsive early social media "friends" and with wonder at the strong community that existed at that time on The Well and Arts Wire -- and of course what I sought: isolation then and now, and the differences between the Internet then and now. I was also interested in how scibe played in 1994 -- the year of the emergence of electronic literature on the fledging World Wide Web. For example, Sue-Ellen Case observes that:

"Accretion replaces plot line as the signature of fiction-writing on the Net. The traditional time and ordering of space gives way to an absorptive electronic space, eddying different places into a common pool, which, while emulating the sequential in sites, overcomes its temporal axis. Malloy's call for company also promises an accretional, collecting culture production..." -- Sue Ellen Case, Eve's Apple or Women's Narrative Bytes,", Modern Fiction Studies 43:3, 1997. pp 631-650

That said -- because contemporary social media is more diffuse, and the bonds with other people are often not as close as they were in 1994 -- I am not going to repeat the collaborative aspects of name is scibe.

score Nevertheless, as often happens when I confront the past in the environment of the present, my new work has begun to take shape. Although, the content will be imbued with the spirit of scibe, and I will be documenting Internet community interaction, the interface will owe little to scibe.

At this point, I envision three columns (windows) of generative poetry that flow down the screen in parallel streams, and are seen together -- somewhat like the design of Thirty Minutes in the Late Afternoon (1990).

The content will include COVID isolation, anti-racism, COVID insecurity, and the role of the Internet in secluded lives. I don't currently see the columns as each being clearly labeled as to content. Instead, I envision a polyphonic work in which, reaching beyond their confinement in columns, themes are intertwined. And because every play will be different, interpretation will vary with each generated screen.

Eager to begin writing. More soon...

June 15, 2020

score One notebook entry following another in seven days is not usual. So, I'll begin by thanking Will Luers, the editor of The Digital Review (tdr) for featuring Arriving Simultaneously: Selections from a Writer's Notebook in the inaugural issue of tdr, which went live on June 9. This was the impetus needed to realize that I was not going to start a new work unless I first hashed it out in a notebook. For me, this is the equivalent of batting some tennis balls against a backboard before playing a match.

Before plunging into my ideas for a new work, it would good to write a few words about my recently finished soundwork from "the fabric of everyday life" -- and also a few words about life these past notebookless months .

Situating the audience in the unpredictable environment of "the fabric of everyday life", this soundwork for ELO2020 is based on the line from the poem that reads: "the windchimes play sonorously in different keys". score The sound of the windchimes (perhaps on a deck on an early summer evening) was created by making short phrase or sentence recordings for selected variables and then attaching each recording to the variable it echoes, so that every time the soundwork is run, there is a different but brief mix of my voice reading the generated lines -- as if a burst of wind or a hand push activated the windchimes for a minute or so. I am happy that -- in the way that such episodes of windchime sound punctuate a summer day -- replaying this work is pleasurable.

Every "play" is different because only sound from the variables that the code generates is heard, and, like the windchimes it represents, this is a fleeting work that should be played and replayed. And, because some of the variables do not contain sound, once in a while the windchimes are silent or play only a few phrases.

Note that since the annual Electronic Literature Conference, ELO 2020, July 16-19 (originally to be hosted at the University of Central Florida) will this year be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous online events, my soundwork will be on an asynchronous performance/reading menu. Thanks to Anastasia Salter and her UCF colleagues for putting this now legendary elit event online!

Everyone is suffering in one way or another these days. In my life, it has been a time of the death of a beloved cat, River 1999-2020, 21 year old rescued feral. It has also been a time that began with a broken foot on my bad (shattered, misshapen since a car ran into it 27 year ago) leg. Then there was walking rehab; setbacks; walking rehab; a sprained ankle on my good leg (that has done the majority of weight bearing for many years) and now walking rehab. But it is late spring/early summer, and I am hoping for a return to my usual crutch-aided trail walking soon. Meanwhile, there is June green on the semi-paved paths.

June 8, 2020

Normally, entries in my writer's notebooks are made two or three times a month, but this year when my notebook ended in February, like many others, I retreated into the slow life of social isolation, and thus three months or so have elapsed without notebook entries. Undocumented in this time is the finishing work on my aleatoric poem, "the fabric of everyday life", and the associated windchime soundwork that I recorded and coded for the ELO2020 Performance Track.

"the fabric of everyday life" explores both the creative possibilities and the "big brother" overtones of ubicomp technologies. In this work, my authoring system brings phrases unpredictably to the forefront at the will of the computer -- allowing, if the reader generates several versions, multiple interpretations. If I had been writing a notebook in those missing months, one thing I would have focused on was the struggle to create a top page visual for "The fabric of everyday life". As I like to remind students, finding the right visuals for any part of a work sometimes occurs almost immediately and other times it can be extraordinary difficult.

A print book cover does not flow into the contents in the same way an online "cover" does. And in the case of ebooks, they also tend to follow the cover with print-book-front-material. But because my desire for consistency between pages of the same online work is often a factor in top page struggles, creating a virtual cover page for a work of online literature is predictably difficult.

It should be noted that traditionally generative poetry in online environments would not always be expected to begin with a top cover page. However, from my point of view, in the contemporary online environment it is a courtesy to provide a signifying beginning -- something that says to the reader: "you are about to enter something unexpected."

Initially, for the lead-in page to "the fabric of everyday life", I envisioned Mark Weiser at PARC CSL, jaunty in a red shirt and bluejean overalls. But (still unbelievably) Mark is dead, and I cannot ask his permission. I also considered, the top page from his 1991 Scientific American article on "The Computer for the 21st Century" - from whence came the title "the fabric of everyday life". This might have worked if I had the issue of SciAm and could photograph it open on a table, but I did not have the issue.

Next, I considered a drawing-dominated cover -- red berets flying into the air, boats sailing off shower curtains, images moving on the walls -- but it became immediately apparent that when this mocked-up cover flowed into the work, it interfered with the thoughtful immersion that is required to negotiate "the fabric of everyday life". Another poet might have made a different decision

And so the process continued, with meadows immersed in antique pitchers, beverage-filled wine glasses, a blue bowl filled with apples, bluegreen and bronze windchimes, an antique pitcher, Provincetown harbor (a photo from the Library of Congress), Arduino chips, a one-story cottage, a lantern, Papageno's chimes, (from early productions of The Magic Flute), Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz, wireless chalk, until finally (it took at least a month) I used a background image of an antique pitcher in which windchimes were partially immersed.

Occasionally, I regret my discarding of many of these images, but now when I go to "the fabric of everyday life" it always looks right. Note that because I coded text production on the cover in such a way that it is seldom or never the same, the cover page is always subtly different.

This 2020 writer's notebook follows my 2018-February 2020 notebook