For this week’s readings, I began by playing around with Blackout Poetry Tool by Jazer Chand. Unlike the other pieces we’ve looked at thus far, Blackout Poetry Tool is not a narrative but, as it says in the title, a tool. With it, you can create blackout poetry from given excerpts, collaborate with a bot to make said poetry, let the bot generate poetry all on its own, or have the bot draw a “wave” through the text. My favorite mode is “synthesis,” in which the user selects a word, the bot selects the next, and so forth. This is a piece I made from an excerpt of The Great Gatsby using synthesis (so, actually, it’s a piece we made, the bot and I.)
I know, it sounds a little…incoherent, but I think that if the reader chooses to put some punctuation in some places, imagines filling in some “missing” words in others, one could find meaning in it. As it is, I still think it’s quite pretty and thought provoking.
Here’s a poem made in “antithesis” mode (picked only by the bot.)
This one feels like a reflection on government (Civil hardware?) and freedom.
Finally, here’s a poem made in the “symbiosis” mode, where you select words and the bot makes suggestions for what to pick next.
I really enjoy this e-lit tool. I already liked blackout poetry prior to this discovery, but working with the bot (or just seeing what the bot creates on its own) adds a new layer to this poetic technique. It’s also an exercise in making meaning out of words and poetry, out of trying to figure out some message and some coherence behind something that on its surface may not make a whole lot of sense. It’s also an understandable, easy-to-use entry point into the idea of human/technology collaboration for making art.
Our second piece for this week was Everything is Going to Be Ok by Nathalie Lawhead. This work was very complex, with a lot of things to explore, interact with, and absorb. I played around with it for over an hour and still hadn’t completed everything, but by then I was beginning to develop a bit of a headache from all the noise and flashing visuals and so I had to stop. This is a piece that you would probably need more than one sitting to really complete and fully digest.
I first noticed that it was very computer-centric in its appearance. By this I mean that the font, the visuals, the program boxes, the way it was set up a like a desktop, the sounds, all made it very clear it was a computer program and that it was really leaning into that. It had a strong sense of its aesthetic and how to really utilize it.
The piece does a great job of exploring depression, the recovery from trauma, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health topics. One bit that really resonated with me was the discussion about fearing how little control we have over everything. I have a lot of personal experience with this fear. Back in March, I had a major panic attack (or rather, a series of them) after a lot of build up of stressors. I was worried about catching covid and giving it to others, having a heart attack, having something medically wrong with me that I didn’t know about, having people hate my writing…ultimately, I was afraid of dying and I was afraid of people hating me. I tried to take control in whatever ways I could: I limited my eating, trying only to consume “healthy” foods to keep my cholesterol low; I frequently checked my heart rate and blood pressure; I took at-home covid tests constantly, usually at least once a week, sometimes more frequently; if I had even a tiny sniffle or the hint of a sore throat, I would panic and test; I often missed class and work because I feared I had covid; I stopped wanting to go out and do things for the same reason; I told myself I would alter my writing to make it more acceptable, more appealing, less objectionable; after my most major panic attack, I told myself maybe I’d just stop writing at all.
None of this was my first bout with anxiety. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. It was, however, my most severe struggle with it in a few years. I went on medication again and started with more frequent therapy and self care, and I started to improve, but it was a fight. This franticness of this piece, the way there is so much happening at once, so much noise, reminds me of how my thoughts get when I’m anxious. The spiraling, often nonsensical worries that flood my brain and stop me from focusing on anything else. The struggle, the tedium, the way it tires you out.
A few months after all of that came to a head and I started to recover, my dog Cody got seriously hurt and required a pretty major surgery. Since then, he’s continued to have health problems, some related to that injury and some not. He’s twelve years old. There’s barely a day that passes where I don’t worry about him dying. Every time something happens that requires another vet visit, I break down. It all comes back to that terrible lack of control. There is nothing I can do. Anything can happen. It’s out of my control. All I can do is be there for him and do my best to help him through what I can’t prevent. All I can do is love him. Like Everything is Going to Be Ok says, all I can do is live one day at a time.
Did I enjoy Everything is Going to Be Ok? I don’t think enjoy is the right word to use. I don’t think it’s something you’re supposed to enjoy. But it made me think, and feel things, and relate. It resonated, struck a cord. Some of it was almost fun. Other parts were draining. A lot of the time, I just wanted to be finished with it. So…it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be easy, just like life.