The Side Effect: reflections

The composition process was more or less as follows: I spent the four weeks or so prior to the reading composing sentences in my head whenever I would be walking alone (which usually meant when walking the dogs after work or around the neighborhood late at night). I would not write these down, nor try to memorize them, as much as ‘practice them,’ or their ‘type.’ Rather than narrate autobiographical ‘stories’ to myself, or plot out the story I might like to tell, or allow plot to guide the sentence-to-sentence logic, I tried to see each sentence in my head as being-written, as a written sentence, a sentence that might narrate something or simply be a proposition.

I then began to compose different types of sentences, all loosely organized around the content-node of a relationship I had when I first moved to SF, before I was a writer, a (somewhat) complicated sexual relationship. I had a short list of sentence-types that I composed: ones narrating autobiographical content, sentences describing (autobiographical) sex acts (if often coded &/or absurdist), things I’d learned about aesthetics from that relationship, sentences that began “all else was XXX”, sentences that began “Autobiography is XX”, variations of “But I was not interested in narrative theory, I was interested in narrative practice”, sentences about Lee Breuer’s “Red Horse Animation” (or my memory of it and my ex’s participation in its revival), sentences describing movements of three bodies in restricted space, sentences about composing music or writing or thinking or fighting while walking, etc. I also had begun to obsessively repeating (my likely incorrect memory of) the ‘score‘ Phillip Glass wrote for the “Red Horse Animation”, which was marked in the comic book script as –/–//–///-/-//–/// etc., & which was meant to be sounded in the mouth as something like: chicka chicka cchh chicka chicka cchh cchh chicka chicka cchh cchh chhh etc. None of the sentences directly expressed emotions or commented on emotional memory, etc., & though this would be for a reading of autobiographies, the content – though ‘mine’ – quickly became a set of figures and positions and possible equations with which to make sentences and organize content architectonically.

So I walked and made sentences; I walked and saw the sentences being-written in my head; I walked and my mouth went chicka chicka cchh chicka chicka cchh cchh while I practiced making-seeing-writing sentences.

At the same time I began to imagine that I would somehow transcribe these sentences (again, without first writing them down, if that makes any sense), and put them into paragraphs, each containing most of the sentence-types. The paragraph or prose bloc would then become a container for sentences, or propositions, the bloc in turn become a modular unit to test both exposition and Stein’s great line ‘a sentence is not emotional, a paragraph is’ – i.e., would individual ‘autobiographical’ sentences signify some kind of emotional content or reading-feeling simply by being organized into any kind of combination.

In any case, two nights before the reading I sat down and transcribed as many of the sentences as I could recall, or approximations thereof. As this was not a one-to-one transcription (i.e. there was no audio or source text, just the ‘practice’ of a month’s worth of imagining such sentences), there would naturally be invention, variation, & editing in the writing process, as well as the perhaps more important task of then organizing and ordering the sentences into prose blocs, especially since it is by ordering & organizing that narrative becomes story (or at least that was one question in play).

The typing/editing process took from approximately 1-6 am, plus an hour or so of editing the next night. I then printed the eight prose blocs out on eight separate pages and gave them to my reader a few hours before the reading. (He had received the first draft the day before by email). I told him I wanted him to shuffle the eight pages into any random order before reading them.

[I had also transcribed introductory remarks for him a week or so before the reading, typing up in one sitting what I imagined might come out of my mouth during my usual pre-reading mumbling, stuff about doing my first ever reading years ago at CP with Dodie, etc., then adding the ‘parsing’ or whatever you call the above process, & then sending a couple of edited versions to Spencer (the reader), asking him not so much to ‘memorize’ the text as much as to learn the method by which one might ‘in the moment’ compose such remarks as if they’d ‘happened to him’ *and* – as if seeing the sentences unfold in one’s head – then also articulate all the punctuation marks, etc. as above…]

At the reading, after I was introduced, he went on stage to ‘perform’ the introduction before reading the text, while I stood in the back of the gallery. I wore a Brazilian football jersey that is referenced in the text, and when the jersey was mentioned in the reading, Spencer paused to point to me and say “it looks kinda like what that guy is wearing”. The character in the text based on my ‘rival’ was re-named Spencer, so that real-Spencer would read lines such as “I could smell Spencer’s cum on her breath.” I stood in the back and cringed.

[Dana & Kevin killed, by the way. I can not emphasize enough my interest in and excitement about Dana’s *Disclosure* project (excerpts here), a kind of found confessional poetry without ‘self-expression’ but instead shaped through the various ideological state apparatuses and bureaucratic forms that our autobiographies are increasingly hijacked by. Kevin read from his new book Impossible Princess, a brilliant collection of new-narrative memoir and autobiofiction, delivered in KK’s usual mesmerizing style. Another highlight was when Kevin’s intro remarks – “My piece isn’t really conceptual like Dana’s or David’s” (or something like that) – met with some cheers from the audience…]


It was very hard to stand in back and watch/listen to someone else read that piece. To some degree because of content – it’s about my personal life, with some ’embarrassing’ bits that I think I would not be as aware of as being publicly shared if I was reading it myself (ie experiencing it as the performing of language). But also I’m apparently even more of a control queen that I previously imagined. And my sense of duration changed – I mean, when you read at a poetry reading, often you can totally lose any sense of ‘regular’ time, but listening to my work being read (esp. work I’d only typed up two nights before) while I stood ‘helpless’ seemed to take forever. But all that was kind of the point – to see what would happen, how I would feel, to be ‘exposed’ to an audience in a different way, to give up the control of holding the text in my hands, at the front of the room, in charge of its dissemination, etc.

Spencer was amazing, particularly in the delivery of the introduction (which I got the most compliments on, even though uh he did it).

Some questions: what if I had ‘just read it myself’? how would it be different – for me, for audience? what if I wasn’t in the room at all, never showed up or left? what if it happened elsewhere, i.e. someone in another town read it on my behalf to an audience that didn’t ‘know me’? Does it matter if the audience knows (or thinks they know) me? (whatever that means) How much (&or why) do we assume that autobiographical-sounding content ‘actually happened’ to the writer/reader, even in ‘avant-garde’ circles? Does/should it matter? How does the text function when someone who didn’t write it is reading it? especially if it’s a relatively unconventional text, i.e. paratactical, clunky & chewy in the mouth at times, etc. Would having practiced it more ‘matter’?

As for ‘the text itself’ – I dunno, not for me to say. Curious how it would read on the page, separate from a public reading, separate from ‘me’. Curious how it might read in all the various possible orderings – don’t really have an intuitive sense of how it should be ordered as it’s not a chronologically-narrated piece. Curious how the more ‘personal’ the subject matter the more I am likely to organize the architectonics of narrative into an almost clinical report, driven more by geometry of description, as if the ‘people’ in the ‘actual story’ become figures in a three-dimensional chess match or whatever…

self-criticism: I’m not sure the writing itself is really all that good, or if it could ‘stand up’ without all the hijinx. Not sure that the hijinx weren’t more of a gimmick than all that interesting. Juliana’s pointed out a couple things in the text that continue to trouble me, that I need to continue to think/work through. I didn’t follow my idea to its end: I should never have written anything down. I should have taken Spencer or whomever on some of these walks to develop the method together, to pass on the sentence-types until s/he could stand on stage and improvise a text in the mode/style that I would, with my autobiographical content getting mediated thru his/her memory/experience/sentences/paragraphs/etc. So I’m interested in exploring the compositional method further, esp. as it bumps up a bit alongside questions of performance-writing – ie both the durational-embodied practice of composition (only when walking, ‘real-time’ composition) and the pseudo-transcribing of pseudo-improvised text, as well as collaboration – not so much putting words in another’s mouth as much or becoming adept at ‘finishing each other’s sentences’ but sharing/learning methodologies for composition and performance that are not dependent on an ‘author’ or master text but just being-doing-it. Or whatever.

Though at the end of the day not sure how any of this is really all that different than something like: I thought some shit up and then I wrote it down. Perhaps the constraints & conceptual blah-blah & the not-writing are artificial conditions necessary to get past the thinking to ‘just shut up and write’ – the trick that trips the wiring…

Jesus that’s a lot of blah blah about one little reading.

(text transcribed from notes recorded into mp3 thingy while pacing, Dec 09)

One response to “The Side Effect: reflections

  1. Properly speaking…no, we cannot say…this is the seeking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s