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.
October 4, 2020
Slowly 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