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 2020-2021 notebook began in June 2020.
July 26, 2021
As July 2021 and Chapter Five of an enigmatic work of art in book form conclude, a few observations:
1. To explore how Enigmatic would work in print, this month I created a pdf file for the first 4 chapters. It did not take long to do and worked surprisingly well.
2. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the writing and release of Uncle Roger (1986). That is why I choose 1986 as the year in which Enigmatic takes place. In 1986, Caydance has an Apple II, a modem and communications software in her studio. Soon, Art Com Director, Carl Loeffler, will appear in the narrative.
Along the way of negotiating an era where there was no World Wide Web, and there were no ubiquitous mobile phones, there was television. For instance, in chapter five, a brawl between the Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs occurs on Sunday October 5, on the TV in Griff's beach house. You can watch it here!. Since this is summer writing, I took a break and watched 38-year old Jim Plunkett throw some awesome passes in the second half of this game. You can watch this here!
3. This month, it was a pleasure to bring Rich Gold into the narrative to talk about Little Computer People (LCP) (Activision, 1985, 1986) The idea and design of the Commodore 64 version of LCP were by Rich Gold and David Crane. Crane was the programmer.
In 1993, My office in PARC was across from Rich's office but on the same side of the corridor, with open side doors, so it was easy to talk, which was the intention because Rich was the Director of the PARC Artists in Residence Program. Much of the detail in Brown House Kitchen came from discussion with Rich. His death in 2003 was an enormous loss.
4. an enigmatic work of art in book form continues to be a summer reading/summer writing narrative, which immerses the reader in a puzzle-solving situation, where new data continually emerges -- while at the same time there is an unexpected romance in which discussions such as the contingencies between multimedia sports bars and artists' video installations are of shared interest.
This being summer reading not too much goes wrong, although readers should be aware that the finding of the key to the book- object-without a-key may result in a terrifying confrontation, and if Caydance decides to sit on the Cal side during the 1986 Big Game -- and Mackie Alarie is in the stands in disguise -- some difficulties will arise.
June 29, 2021
Beautiful days, many Cicadas -- for whom I have acquired respect -- and now a heat wave. The summer progresses. The documentation for my Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 School of the Art Institute of Chicago ATS Women Artists in Cyberspace class is completed, and it has been a pleasure to review the work of the students in this class, Merged with the Screen for Days was exhibited in May in Digital Art from the Pandemic, an Electronic Literature Organization 2021 Conference exhibition. I worked on a soundwork reading for this work, but what I did so far is not exactly what I want, so I'm beginning again.
Importantly for this notebook, Chapter Four of an enigmatic work of art in book form has been completed. As this work evolves, here are my June 2021 notes:
1. I can envision an enigmatic work of art in book form published in print without icon images and with two lexias per page. Indeed, the fact that it could be published in that way is a part of my thinking for this work. In general, electronic literature is born digital in that it is not workable in print. Although that is still important, at a time when contemporary authoring systems are in crisis, an enigmatic work of art in book form is exploring seamless bridges between print and electronic literature. There have been writers, who have created print editions of their algorthmic work. In the contemporary era, Emmett Williams, Alison Knowles, and Dick Higgins key this lineage. As has been the case in the past, in my work, the role of authoring systems and elegant narrative structures is primary. However, much of what I have made harks back to my early pop conceptual vision, and an enigmatic work of art in book form reflects that heritage.
3. How poorly contemporary art is conveyed in much contemporary writing is continually disturbing To my way of thinking, because this is not questioned by editors, the public has lost much.
For instance, although George Maciunas has been dead since 1978, only recently has the influential work of the Fluxus school seeped into arts coverage that might reach the general public. Contingently, Caydance is concerned that although she is familiar with Ken Stabler's work, in 1986, Griff is not likely to have heard of Chris Burden. (Note that because Chris Burden did take off his shirt and show me his scars sometime in the early 1980's, that could have happened to Caydance. But at this point in the story, this is not something that she is likely to tell Griff).
4. But what of the beauty of the football narratives with which Griff so effectively parallels Caydance's art talk? As observed in Chapter Four:
"It was not Caydance's habit to comment during football game recitals. That would be like interrupting Gary Snyder reading 'Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout.'"
Because there were many athletes in my family, it has been a pleasure to write sports talk. For this brief notebook entry, I note only that before World War II, my Dad, who had been Captain of the Dartmouth Hockey team, played hockey for the semi-pro Boston Olympics.
The scar on my Dad's leg from an opponent's purposeful slash of his leg with a skate blade (worse than the scar he took home from the Battle of the Bulge) was at one point considered illegal, but last night -- in the first game of the Stanley Cup finals -- after Mikhail Sergachev threw helmetless Montreal Canadiens' wing Brendan Gallagher headfirst onto the ice, I saw the blood gushing from Gallagher's face.
Personally, a while ago, I was surprised to be sent a notice of a massive class action lawsuit about the college athletics concussion issue. It was for only one year that I skied on the Middlebury ski team, but at that time we didn't use helmets, and there was no netting to stop out of control crashes into the trees that surrounded downhill courses. That said, I never had a concussion from any of the teams I was on in college. The point is not the concussion issue or "blading" issues but rather that I'm not unfamiliar with sports talk.
Coming soon in Chapter five: Stanford defeats San Diego State; Griff and Caydance spend a weekend at his beach house; Griff's mathematician father identifies the author of "Little Computer People" and some surprising facts emerge about the potentially villainous Mackie Alarie.
May 26-29, 2021
A series of beautiful days; Spring turned to summer. As school ended, I walked on trails that I was not able to manage last year, and then there was the usual setback. In the 30 years or so since a car ran directly into my leg, this has been the story. It is wonderful to enjoy the woods, while I can get there, but teaching, making, and documenting are also enjoyable.
Chapter Three of an enigmatic work of art in book form is almost finished. As I continue to enjoy writing this work of summer reading, these thoughts occur.
1. 1986. the year when this story takes place, is only 35 years ago. But at that time, most people did not have a mobile phone; networked email was not widely available; and the World Wide Web, with its wealth of information did not exist. The difference this makes in a narrative environment is continually surprising.
2. At this point, it should be apparent that an enigmatic work of art in book form has the lexia at its core, resulting in what Richard Kostelanetz referred to in A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes as my "intense, compact writing". Writers develop individual styles. If another writer were to use the structure I designed for this work, the flow of the narrative and the writing itself would probably be entirely different.
Beginning with the card catalogs (which invited viewer rearrangement) and metamorphizing into Uncle Roger, its name was Penelope and onwards, the lexia (migrated to this more poetic name, but my original terminology was "record" from early database speak) was in my work designed so that each lexia would not only stand by itself but also would work in combinations with other lexias and thus the whole would "work" no matter how the lexias were generated. This resulted in writing which in Uncle Roger captured individual moments in a defuse party -- in whatever order they were generated. Then, in its name was Penelope, arrays of lexias, were the equivalent of a photographer's memories that would cohere however they were generated.
3. In sequential writing, a lexia-based writer's style is unexpected. The first time I used lexias in a sequential narrative was in The Yellow Bowl, where I contrasted the narrator's life (told with aleatoric lexias) with a fictional narrative told to her daughter with sequential lexias. In this case the complexity of the three-column narrative diffused the issue of sequential vs aleatoric.
The second time I generated lexias sequentially was in Dorothy Abrona McCrae. At that time, I was already walking on crutches from being hit by a car in 1994, when in 2001, I fell on a steep hill and my knee buckled under me causing my femur to break (where it was pinned from the previous accident) and fall into my kneecap. During recovery depression, I plunged into a period of print reading that caused me to ask a similar question that I asked myself during the COVID pandemic: Is there something in the human psyche that in times of crises desires sequential narrative?
Perhaps. But it should also be noted that in the 20th century, because artists tweaked audience expectation by continuing to experiment with what was/is possible and importantly galleries and museums were open to showing experimental art, art audiences become accustomed to work that is neither narrative nor descriptive. In contrast, in the early 20th century writers such as James Joyce and Virginia Wolfe, experimented with unexpected textual and narrative structures. But perhaps because they were not widely followed by more recent writers and their audiences, the literature environment was not radically changed.
4. Nevertheless, I have always believed that the time will come when print literature and electronic literature are equally written, read, and supported.
an enigmatic work of art in book form is sequential within each track, but because each track can be advanced at the whim of the reader, the whole is not entirely sequential. Indeed, my intention is not to abandon aleatoric, interactive, or complex polysequentisl writing. Rather, it is to explore clear bridges between electronic literature and print writing that -- taking advantage of the affordances that could be possible in ebooks -- has migrated to ebooks.
April 28, 2021
Chapter Two of an enigmatic work of art in book form is almost finished. The writing continues to be a pleasure; thoughts in the progress of this work occur:
1. The interface that utilizes two segments to tell two different aspects of the story gives the reader a playable ability to switch back and forth between these two parts. In electronic literature composition, sometimes complexity is desirable as regards the narrative structure. This time, pandemic isolation in ebook versions of print works has driven a desire to create electronic literature "summer reading".
2. Filmic transistions have seeped into in print literature, and contingently, creating an application -- that would enable writers to seamlessly write ebooks with electronic literature affordances -- has been on my mind.
3. Much of my narrative work is in part a way of giving readers a more accurate picture of artists and the art world than is usually seen in literature. Personal experience has, as is not uncommon with writers, to some extent informed many of my works, and an enigmatic work of art in book form harkens back to its name was Penelope in that real artists, curators, and collectors mingle with/in fictional characters and environments.
For instance, Jean Brown bought one of my early works (Out Back, 1980). Judith Hoffberg included my work in many of the artist book-centered exhibitions that she curated, including at ARTWORKS in Venice Beach, the artist books store that occurs in enigmatic and Artwords & Bookworks at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art in 1979, co-curated with Joan Hugo, with whom I shared a cabin at Deep Creek in 1994. ARTWORKS, the artists books store, was short lived, but my work was one of the first exhibitions there.
Caydance's own artists book are based on the ricepaper-based "newspapers" I made for the Technical Information installation that I did at SITE in 1981, where they hung from newspaper racks. However, rather than the beach picnics that occur in enigmatic , these "newspapers" used icons from the information that stretched around the outside of Technical Information.
4. The character of Edelira was inspired by my Middlebury college friend Edwina, who -- because my mountain store clothes concerned her -- once sent me not only a black lace dress but also a feather boa. Edwina, whose mother was Cuban, worked in ESL for a Miami University, and every time she went to a conference in San Francisco, my life was a whirlwind of unaccustomed social events. At Middlebury, she was legendary for regularly taking public transportation all the way from rural Vermont to New York City, because going to the opera was central to her life.
It is Spring and with Spring comes extraordinary final projects from my School of the Art Institute of Chicago students in Women Artists in Cyberspace.
Spring is also a time for hikes in the woods and meadows -- and for writing a "summer reading" work of electronic literature.
April 4, 2021
Chapter One of an enigmatic work of art in book form has been written and posted. Beginning in early March, approximately one lexia a day was completed until Chapter one ended on April 2, 2021.
Below is an image of the current contents page for an enigmatic work of art in book form.
I kept to the structure of two lexias per page with one narrative in the top section and another narrative in the bottom section. In the process, many small changes were made in the look and feel. But finally, it is working! Below are examples of "pages" in an enigmatic work of art in book form.
Note that because readers will advance lexias differently, the pages will be different for different readers.
A few brief notes about the process:
1. This is the most fun I have had writing in a long time. Emerging out of the COVID-era centric merged with the screen for days, writing an enigmatic work of art in book form is pleasurable and has greatly improved my outlook on life. Once in a while, the kind of energy that this work has engendered is important, particularly in the lives of writers for whom struggles with code usually go hand in hand with writing.
2. Although the code that activates this work was not challenging, creating a viable look and feel was not easy. The addition of icons and fade-ins, that key changes in content, and the addition of subtle dividers and arrows have made the reading process clearer.
3. I'd like to reiterate the role of search engines in contemporary writing. As I headed into Chapter Two, I wanted to know what game Caydance's Dad was returning from when he saw the woman who became his wife. Not only was the entire 1952 Princeton Football season -- including wins and losses -- easily available, but also, I knew that it would be.
4. But when writing about another era, I am aware that the reader also is likely to use search engines to expand the narrative. Sometimes there is a concern about what the reader will see. For instance, Jay DeFeo's painting The Rose is now at the Whitney. But it was still at SFAI in 1986 when enigmatic takes place. Thus, when searching for more information about this work, the reader might only find that The Rose is in the Whitney Museum of American Art. To add to this issue, my recollection is that I first saw this work at SFMOMA (at the old location), where it was on loan for exhibition, but I don't recall precisely when this was. (Hopefully, it was not in 1986, but it would be good to verify this)
March 15, 2021
T wo weeks into the writing of an enigmatic work of art in book form, these things have occurred:
1. I have concerns about the Interface and am wondering if it might work better with more content for each section on each page --in conjunction with an icon-based interface for shifting between narratives
2. Have decided not to change the interface yet. Partially this is because the current interface works well for the amount of writing I'm doing almost daily, and partially because it seems as if the current interface is working better as more content is entered.
3. Meanwhile I'm creating different icons for the to-be- continued sections. Since these sections are now changed regularly, the reader won't see all the icons at this point, but when it comes time to experiment with an icon-based interface, potential icons will have already been created. I also plan to try using the icons as faint background images in each lexia.
4. Even in a very short piece of writing, many questions arise: What music was played on Monday Night Football in 1986? Who was playing on Monday Night Football on September 8, 1986? When did Howard Cosell depart Monday Night Football? In the late summer of 1986, what was exhibited at what was then called the University Art Museum?
The latter is of particular interest because in my narrative, Caydance had already met Griff. When I searched for what was exhibited at UAM at about that time, I was surprised at how appropriate Kruger's exhibition was. (Barbara Kruger, MATRIX 100, August 15–October 21, 1986). Like everyone else in Berkeley at that time, I had seen her huge poster on the Museum's outside walls.
Remembering the many years when we did not have search engines, once again I am reminded how search engines, which (for better or worse) we now take for granted, have altered the lives of all for whom information is important.
March 4, 2021
A working interface for an enigmatic work of art in book form has been designed. As was my intention, this relatively book-like screen contains two narratives -- one in a top segment of the screen and one in the bottom segment of the screen. Each segment advances whenever it is clicked on. At some point, with increasing complexity, there may be more than two tracks.
In works in which I have used parallel columns, such as From Ireland with Letters, side-by-side tracks were written in such a way that the content is densely interwoven. But in an enigmatic work of art in book form, the purpose of this stacked two-track interface is to give the reader more control of the flow of a narrative that reveals different aspects of the protagonist’s environment. I would like to involve the reader in the continuing narrative while at the same time introducing a structure that is more interactive than print.
The writing has begun, and an enigmatic work of art in book form, now a work in progress, is available here.
This seems like a good time to remember that Uncle Roger was not written sequentially. Using card catalog structures, I had been exploring since 1976 , I wrote as a guest would proceed at a party, observing one thing or another and composing this hypertextual work in no particular order . The party environment and timeframe were chosen to provide a congenial nonsequential writing environment. However, Uncle Roger was told sequentially in the order of writing, i.e., I assigned keywords to each lexia and posted each lexia to ACEN along with its keywords, as I wrote it.
In contrast, -- although the access is more interactive than print -- into the structure of an enigmatic work of art in book form . I am purposely writing sequential narratives. As noted previously in this notebook. 35 years since I wrote Uncle Roger online on Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) , this work is a gesture to the reading public, an invitation to begin to explore more complex structures.
And for me the writing of this art world-centered mystery is pleasurable.
February 21, 2021
R ecently, I had a request for a playthru of Brown House Kitchen, the work I created on LambdaMoo while working with Pavel Curtis at Xerox PARC. I found a talk I gave at PARC in May 1995 that includes a text playthru of BHK. What went through my mind as regards BHK was that it was Pavel who asked me to write something that the audience could relate to -- such as science fiction or a mystery story. So here we go again. And -- as I did at PARC writing BHK -- I am having fun writing an enigmatic work of art in book form. .
The basic structure for an enigmatic work of art in book form will be a dominant story accompanied by parallel stories. Although, contemporary fiction writers and readers are very comfortable moving rapidly back and forth between different but related parts of the narrative, the basic interface of ebooks is print book sequential page turning. My vision is to work with this narrative device (which may or may not have been somewhat influenced by both film and by electronic literature), but in the process to give the reader more control of what part of the narrative to follow.
After abandoning more complex designs, I am currently considering screens that look like pages but -- by offering the reader a choice of which thread to offer -- behave with low interactivity. Obviously, this is basically an historic "choose your own adventure" structure. However, the goal is make this structure look like an eBook that readers are now accustomed to - as opposed to something different. And as Pavel pointed out long ago, the narrative itself is important in this respect. The mockups look like this:
Note that the text in these mockups is rough draft, and that more arrows are likely to occur when -- as more plotlines are added to the narrative -- the complexity slowly becomes greater. The narrative the reader is following is currently shown in larger text than the alternative. Different colors may be more effective, although that would distract from the ebook look and feel.
January 31, 2021
Out the central window of the oriel window, sailboats on San Francisco Bay are visible. On a studio table that is situated beneath the oriel window, are cold press Arches Paper in various weights and sizes, paint brushes and archival artists pens, assorted toy people and toy store objects, tubes of acrylic and watercolor paints, a pile of stencils, Yes paste, archival artists’ tape, and triangular pieces of transparent plastic.
I t is a pleasure to plunge into the writing of a work that expands the boundaries of electronic literature practice. Not since Dorothy Abrona McCrae -- a work that consistently receives more "hits" than much of my other work -- have I succumbed to a narrative that could be envisioned in the category of a paperback with appeal to a wide audience.
The working title for this new work is "An enigmatic work of art in book form", but this title will probably be changed. As I wrote in the last notebook entry:
My vision for this work is to create a work of generative fiction that people now steeped in ebook platforms will be comfortable reading.
Much character and plot development and some writing have been done on "enigmatic" in the past few weeks -- enough to design a structure and to plan to reveal the first chapter sometime in February. But in the case of a work that centers on the solving of a mystery, it does not seem appropriate to detail plot development in a publicly available notebook. It might, however, be of interest to further describe the book that Caydance Skye O'Brien (yes, her name has been changed) receives in the mail.
An enigmatic work of art in book form lay on the table beside the oriel window. A tiny gold keyhole was deeply embedded in the front side of this hand painted wooden box-like object, but no key had arrived, and there was no obvious way to open it without destroying the resonance that it had as a handmade object by an unknown artist.
From a slot in the top of the book, a paper accordion-fold scroll partially emerges. Images on this scroll are children's toys, and text and landscapes from a childhood (presumably of the creator of this artists book). On the sides of the book are words and meticulously painted images that when carefully studied and researched might result in revealing the location of the key to the book. Some of these images are reproduced in the visual that begins this post.
January 17-19, 2021
Since I began writing online notebooks 12 or 13 years ago, it has been traditional to begin a new work or a new part of a lengthy work in late January. Last year it was the sound for "the fabric of everyday life". This year, it is an as yet untitled new work of aleatoric fiction which I anticipate will take at least a year to code and write.
Moving the generative structure of Arriving Simultaneously into a page-simulating aleatoric system and inspired by female protagonists in contemporary mystery stories (which in this pandemic era, I have been reading nonstop after running out of free movies), my new work introduces Allanah, a San Francisco-based adjunct professor, who teaches the lineage and creation of artists books. Jetting (on the long weekends between her midweek classes) to distant resorts and publishing her findings in obscure journals, Allanah explores art mysteries from the real past and the fictional present. In underlying narratives, which will appear when paragraphs are regenerated, personal details will be revealed -- such as the regular bank deposits from her art-supporting billionaire parents; and what happens when she meets a law student, whose past as an Oakland Raiders wide receiver is not immediately apparent.
My vision for this work is to create a work of generative fiction that people now steeped in ebook platforms will be comfortable reading.
But before I go too far in the background reading and in designing the structure (and before I actually begin writing this wishful thinking for adjuncts story, which I am anxious to do), it should be noted that in a new "about" file currently attached to merged with the screen for days , the dichotomy of structure and content in merged is expressed as follows:
Simulating computer-mediated environments that dominated our lives in 2020, in merged with the screen for days, stanzas that move across a four-array structure play unpredictably together -- allowing, if the reader generates several versions, multiple views of the impact of screen-dominated isolation on everyday life. But even with many plays, the viewer is unlikely to see all the variables that are stored in the four arrays that emanate from this narrative engine.
In the past year, computer-mediated systems have furthered education, hosted the arts, and allowed a networked reach to a wider world. As a teacher of art students. I am constantly amazed by what my students create with computer-mediated systems. And the flexibility of the computer screen and the power of algorithmic control allowed me to make this work.
But in contrast, the sadness that pervades this work is engendered by enforced withdrawal from shared real lives, and merged with the screen for days reflects a need to balance real life with screen life that should be acknowledged.
The dichotomy that this work expresses is keyed when the history of generative literature is referenced in the background by Jonathan Swift's Lagado Engine from Gulliver's Travels. Although Swift imagined this engine as a satire that predicted where literature, art, and science would go astray centuries later, for years, I have been haunted by the beauty of his illustration.
In screen one, backgrounded by the Lagado Engine, some of the texts are taken from The Roar of Destiny, the work I began in 1995, while I was working full time online for Arts Wire (a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts). In The Roar of Destiny, I wanted to simulate the merging of real life and online life that occurred when at least half of one's life was spent online -- both the benefits of working together in an online office and the need to proactively balance screen-based working environments with real life activity.
At the time, I thought that many other people would soon be working online. But that did not happen until 2020, when it was mandated by an epidemic.
The title, merged with the screen for days, is taken from a line in The Roar of Destiny.
Originally, merged with the screen for days was planned with a spoken word sound component, but when I tried this, it disrupted the silence of isolation which pervades this work.
And so, a sound component for merged was abandoned, and this year, I will be working on a new work in which the aleatoric generation of text will reveal elements of the protagonist's life that are not readily apparent in a surface reading.
Also, this Spring I'm happy to be again teaching "Women Artists in Cyberspace" in the Art and Technology Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!
January 4-6, 2021
I n the past month, merged with the screen for days has emerged as the equivalent of a near final draft. In the process, many changes have been made. Because it is a poetic narrative about a difficult year, ultimately sound and dominant visual image were eliminated. Yes, the computer screen allows an approach to writing that includes sound and visual image, but that does not mean that the power of words alone should always be abandoned.
Here are the changes that I made in the past month or so:
___After last month extolling the virtues of a cover for works of generative literature in the online environment, and after spending many hours working on the generative output for the cover, I eliminated the cover for merged with the screen for days. The amount of time I spent on the discarded cover was actually the problem because although I liked the cover, it detracted from the impact of the work itself. A new cover could be made, but it should probably only contain an image and basic information..
____In much of my work with generative poetry and fiction, I have not eliminated the repetition that is inherent in random/pseudo-random systems. Although this can be done algorithmically (test to see if a variable has already been selected and if so, select another variable is a usual way), I have chosen to keep the repetition because memories occur and reoccur, because there is a musical quality to my work, and because I have wanted to retain what is inherent in the system. As exception is the Eastgate version of its name was Penelope, where Mark Bernstein strongly advised limiting the number of repetitions.
In merged with the screen for days, although I liked the chorus-like repetition across columns, I did not like the same variable occurring more than once in the same column. Thus, I eliminated the repetition within columns 2,3, and 4
___The fade-in system that I used across the columns was utilized because I wanted to simulate both the slow encroachment of insolation on our lives and the effect of people arriving on zoom systems. Initially the fade effect was tied to the sound (which last month I eliminated) but I retained a rhythmic flow of moving and fading in the final version.
___It is my practice to play a work over and over again making small changes until however unpredictably the variables are generated it flows smoothly together. But as I began to make changes to achieve this effect with merged, it was apparent that I was eliminating some of the discordant quality of the year 2020. Therefore, in the editing process for this work, it was important to retain some discordance.
A good example is the paper towel supply. A paper towel supply is not expected in a poetic narrative (or so we thought a year ago).
Writing is a creative practice that differs widely between individuals. Writing electronic literature takes into account the affordances that computer screens offer. Although, there is no one way to do this, control of the screen is important in the process -- as is an awareness of the (in some instances infinite) combinations that might occur for users. These things are core in the unusual editing process for a work of electronic literature.
December 6, 2020
N ovember was a difficult month. The woods were beautiful. But, for my far-away family, for my students and my school, for my friends and neighbors, Thanksgiving holidays were all too often days of isolated celebration.
December arrived with the beginning of what some would call bleak winter, but -- having spent so much of my life in California away from wildly varying seasons -- the bare trees and slowly increasing cold bring memories of winter childhoods.in New England. Snow will come, and in my dreams, I will be able to travel snow-covered trails on cross country skis.
I have written elsewhere in this notebook about the need for cover pages for works of generative poetry that exist in the rich multi-varied environment of the contemporary World Wide Web. Thus, I am creating a cover for merged with the screen for days. Initially I favored a snare drum, but after trying many drum variations -- that worked well by themselves but did not flow well into the work itself -- I mirrored the first column of the work, where Swift's Engine appears in the background, and over the top of this I ran 8-12 lines from the work. These lines change every time the cover is accessed.
It looks like this (below) and can be be accessed at https://www.narrabase.net/merged/merged_cover_index.html, where it leads into the work itself. For now, because the focus should be on words, I have removed the sound on the main page. Thinking about this....
November 9, 2020
"The figure (which first appeared in the 1727 third edition), seems to have two errors. Although the text twice indicates that there are 40 handles, the figure shows only 31. Furthermore, the fifth horizontal row of dies has no handle. Possibly the author hoped to protect his invention by providing a confusing illustration; equally possibly, all subsequent attempts to duplicate the performance of this remarkable device have failed because of this-the first computer hard- ware glitch." Eric A. Weiss, Anecdotes [Jonathan Swift's Computing Invention] Annals of the History of Computing 7:2, April-June 1985.
D uring the past few weeks, time spent on merged with the screen for days has been primarily with the opening sound. But today was the day that a blue version of Swift's Lagado engine replaced the image of a drum kit. The reason for this was that this work doesn't originate from a drum kit, it originates from the history of generative poetry. In Gulliver's Travels, Swift invented this engine as a satire that purportedly predicted where literature, art, and science would go astray centuries later. But for years I have been haunted by the beauty of his illustration (when it is looked at in detail), and I wonder what he actually envisioned when he made it.
As regards the sound, it was my intention to mix my voice with an opening snare drum backbeat -- followed by elegiac sound. Working with copyright free sound (I will give the source when I know for sure that that is what I am going to use) and with many tries that did not work, I used a classic snare drum backbeat that opens into a brief section of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The issue with this -- I saw/heard immediately when I added my voice -- was that at the moment, this sound seems exactly what I want, but my voice does not work well with this sound.
It is my intention to write the words well enough so that they clearly accompany the sound -- in whatever order they are generated by the code. This is often an issue with my work, but a plus is that it forces me to spend the time to write and rewrite until the work is perfect in my mind. Meanwhile, the work-in-progress continues to be available at merged with the screen for days
This past month, much has been tried and discarded that is not recorded in this notebook. I have many students this year and had many midterm works to explore; many crits to write. Some students are on the campus at SAIC and some students are logging in from around the world. Thus, from seemingly everywhere, there are many voices with many new ideas. Is this important? Yes! Particularly in digital studies, where suddenly we are all online, and there are so many ways of writing in this environment that have not yet been explored.
October 4, 2020
S lowly posting my work online/adding to it regularly has been a part of my practice since I began telling Uncle Roger on Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) in 1986. Because the card catalogs that informed Uncle Roger were shown in exhibitions, where viewers were able to remove cards and replace them any place in the structure, I was already involving viewers in experimental narrative structures, and thus I was comfortable in an open studio environment on the Internet.
To create the first version of Uncle Roger, I set up a topic and posted an introduction which explained the concept. In the first response to the topic, I posted record no. 1 of the first file of Uncle Roger - the file called "A Party in Woodside". Every time I logged on to ACEN, I uploaded one record (lexia in hypertext terminology) of the story. Each record was posted with a key field, where the keywords were listed so that readers could download the story if they choose and put it into any commercial database. Note that the records were numbered in the order they were written, which was not sequential from a narrative point of view.
Thirty-four years later, as has been the case with much of my work since Uncle Roger, merged with the screen for days is now available in progress. And it is now possible to visit it (every now and then) to see if new stanzas surface.
Generative poetry creates a poetic environment using databases, in merged with the screen for days, four databases -- from which, following algorithmic instructions, the computer selects lexias and in the process displays something different every time the work is played.
Even with many plays, the viewer is unlikely to see all the lexias that are stored in the four arrays. Additionally, as the work grows there will be less repetition, and stanzas that move across the four-stream structure will work together more clearly.
In the past few weeks, the animated text-divulging process has been honed. Nevertheless, this aspect of merged with the screen for days is not finished. It will need to work more closely with the sound. And I haven't yet started recording the sound.
The next month or so will be spent on writing new lexias. This is a good place to be!
September 12, 2020
T he intense, productive, beginning weeks of the semester are underway. I'm in the mood for working with images and sound, and as I write, the sound of drums is on my mind. Thus, for the background of "Merged with the Screen for Days" -- imagining how the sound of drums would began this work (and that in the generative readings I would try to do this with voice the way I did the windchimes in the fabric of everyday life" -- I began with the image of a snare drum.
The snare drum image works very well with the generated words, but I wasn't sure that the lone snare drum conveyed the sound that I desired -- which maybe is the sound of community-made music (as happened in Italy in the early days of the Pandemic), and/or maybe is the sound of drums. Beginning with the later, I changed the working background image to the drum kit of rock music, while at the same time. I wondered if the single snare drum might work on a cover page.
In August, only classical musicians had appeared in the text. In September, other musicians have entered, including two fiddles, a bassist. and a lead singer. Considering how much more text needs to be written, generating the text for "Merged with the Screen for Days" has begun to a satisfactory experience. Usually, I don't record sound until the work as a whole is written, but today, the idea of reading drum rhythms into the spoken word soundtrack is on my mind. Sound, I should note, was a part of my early work with installation and performance art, so the sound readings in my generative poetry are not surprising.
August 24, 2020
Last week, when I watched Jill Biden speak from an empty classroom and heard her words about the missing students -- and her words in support of teaching -- I was particularly happy that the semester is about to begin and that students would soon be arriving, whether on campus or online.
In addition to Social Media Narrative (the link is to work from last year's class), the classes that I'm teaching online this fall for Art & Technology Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago include a new course: Women Artists in Cyberspace. To begin this class, I constructed a playable manuscript that explores 36 projects created by women, including Katherine Johnson, Helen Ling, Lynn Conway, Brenda Laurel, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Pamela Z, Madeline Gonzalez Allen, Shu Lea Cheang, Judith Donath, JR Carpenter, Tamiko Theil, Maria Mencía, Lee Blalock, Carla Gannis, and Snow Yunxue Fu, among many others.
The playable creation of teams of these 36 women, each with one of their projects, serves the purpose of introducing the extraordinary work that women have contributed on the Internet and in virtual reality environments -- as well as suggesting that we look to thier work for inspiration in our own creative projects.
At this time of year, when class prep is a primary activity, work on "Merged with the Screen for Days" is proceeding slowly. Like many artists, I do not feel complete if I'm not spending some time on my own work. But this was anticipated when I set up this work as a generative data structure -- to which I could add content at my own pace.
As evidenced in the August 24 output (above}, in the past three weeks, more lexias have been written; the work has expanded to four columns; and I am beginning to increase the color fields. There is still nowhere near enough text written, but I have until December to finish this work.
Happy that I'm beginning to enjoy working on "Merged with the Screen for Days", and slowly it is becoming what I seek -- an ever-changing word picture of the year 2020. It is anticipated that as the work nears closure, sound will also be generated, text will fade in and out, and the work may also include images.
August 4, 2020
I nside, as a tropical storm passes through New Jersey, listening to the rain and wind howling outside. In California, where I lived most of my adult life, the storms did not usually remind me of childhood in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but here, I am reminded of the sound of the rain in New England, and my mother setting out paper and watercolors on a long table. I remember painting a hazy view to the sound of the storm. I remember retiring to my solitary bunk with my notebook.
The largest problem with the initial work on "merged with the screen for days" remains that it is not engaged enough with the experience -- that it does not adequately reflect the experience. After rewriting a good portion of the initial variables, it is working a little better. Although it is my practice to record early struggles, today -- because there is still a problem with the voice of the narrative -- I am reluctant to post clear output. Images of in process work are an exposure of unfinished work and are not meant to be easily read by an audience.
As regards the UI, what did not work last week was putting each lexia into a box, with the intention of creating a whole that looked like windows. The problem was that the whole looked like windows in a jail. To a certain extent, we are all in a COVID-seclusion prison, but because I see this work more as emulating the experience of online lives, at this point in time, no trace of last week's cells remains in the interface.
July 19, 2020
Although returning to walking in the woods on crutches is still in the rehab stage, and it was difficult to hold the camera steady while keeping my balance on the banks of Stony Brook, in the past two weeks, I have been able to go to treasured places that I have not seen since last November.
W orking on the interface, beginning the writing for "merged with the screen for days".
The initial interface -- which I will use for the writing process -- has been simplified. Essentially the same stream of randomly produced text is running in all three columns. But because each stream will be randomly generated, how the variables will appear across the 3-column environment will eventually vary considerably. My sense (at this time) is that reflecting the environment in which we now live, this diffuse word-window will work better than three streams of different content, which I had initially planned.
However, as the generated first pass below illustrates, this work is difficult.. In order to create a seamless environment, I will need to write at least 200 variables, and they will all have to work together -- no matter how they are generated.
Writing to "merged with the screen for days" will, I anticipate, offer regular episodes of writing and coding in what I hope will be a busy fall of teaching and modeling social media semester. Because time may be short, and the subject is difficult, I have allotted four months to tweak the code and interface and to write and edit the variables. Maybe the interface will be redesigned with graphic elements. Maybe, this work will stand with only words.
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.
Because It was/is a life which many others are now living, it was an appropriate place from which to take a title.
"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 is 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.
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
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". 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