13 April 2009

The Death of Simile: The Future of Poetry?

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

from "The Trouble with Poetry" by Billy Collins

I am sitting at my desk, wearing a pink cardigan over my pajamas. It is still dark. It is not yet morning. I hear the pied piper ice cream truck, already sounding its chimes. I hear church bells from the nearby Basilica. I hear garbage trucks. I look at my plants and notice my rumpled bed.

There is nothing more to compare these moments to, dark and warm here in my room, and I wonder what will happen when we run out of oil, food, materials for recycled messenger bags, and similes, and when everything just stops.

Perhaps, in a way, this has already happened. Some have already taken a choose-your-own-adventure approach to the creation of images. If there was ever a harbinger of progressive poetics, it would, of course, be Soulja Boy.

'We on the phone like...'
The profundity of this and similar lyrics compels me to wonder if perhaps merely the first half of any simile is necessary, followed by beats, mumbles, a melodic representation of a ten-digit telephone number, or a string of da-da-da-das. Because for some reason, when we hear "We takin' pics like..." we know exactly what he means.

Proposed Solutions
Now, if the solution to the so-called "oil crisis" is a so-called "lifestyle change," how can we remedy this comparison dilemma?

'You could be my Bonnie, I could be your Clyde'
One idea is to start using metaphors exclusively, thus doing away with "like" and "as" altogether. Unfortunately, this concept is like switching to corn ethanol: unsustainable and pointless.

'Everything about you I like it, I love it'
Or, we could just stop describing things altogether. We could stop needing images. We could stop needing to know about the steaming coffee, how quiet the night was, how the curtains swung, the taste of cinnamon tea on her mouth, his whistling, the smell of spring, the morning light. If we could stop wondering about these things we could go on without poetry at all.

'No tellin' what I'm gon' do; baby I'm about to show you'
Maybe, in the future, our minds will be born already full of images. "My love is like," you hear, and in an instant your brain selects an image from its catalog of comparisons. Jamie Foxx, however, must have had an English teacher like mine, always harping to "show, don't tell" in our compositions, and this--this gives me hope for the future of poetry.

04 June 2008

Zombie Hugs

New blog! Just discovered! Written in the past! (summer 2008)

Last month I read 1984. At first I said, "This is a great book, and it's not freaking me as much as I expected." Then it freaked me. I've been having nightmares about the future ever since:

Dream One: Based on real science. I am wearing a striped shirt and it is my job to toss nets into the sea. There are lots of men with fish tails, these are the leaders. Everyone who is not a mermaid is wearing a silver suit and riding a bike around in a big circle, slowly, but they are not smiling on the bikes and I don't understand. Who doesn't smile on a bike? There are no fish in the oceans except ones put there by companies, pre-packaged in little mesh bags.

Dream Two: Apocalyptic. This dream comes while I am reading Tintin et L'Ile Noire, which features a scary gorilla. I am crouched under a desk in a tall skyscraper. Everyone is running around saying "the time has come." It is during the second part of the dream that I accidentally volunteer an old high school friend to fight a huge beast for the second time. His head is taken off. I am stricken with horror.

Dream Three: Orwellian. Literally. Takes place in the actual year 1984. We must speak "Classroom Speak." The city's cobblestone streets are deserted, minus a few people who undergo temporary yet permanent transformations like werewolves; they are zombies every time a city bus rolls by, and stay a zombie for three minutes. I become a zombie by receiving a hug from another zombie, but since I don't want to infect anyone else I run and run and run, feeling strong and heroic and alone until I wake up.

These nightmares all took place in the future and really freaked me, so I made a quick decision to banish all thoughts about the future and take a break from the future blog. What is the future besides the past and the present? Like Lao Tzu himself says in Chapter 38 of the Tao Te Ching (adapted by Carrie): "Knowledge of the future will make you crazy! Think instead about now." In another post I will describe my secret futuristic fantasies (including fast trains, beds that make themselves, and world peace), but for now, "We can ask for an alternative future."

Then I read Marlys and The Dharma Bums (two different titles, but now you're imagining Marlys and Fred Milton in a car to California with Sal Paradise); my last dream appeared in cleverly drawn sketches with rambling beatific text and I woke up with "This Land Is Your Land" in my head.

Thus, I took a break from the future blog. But now I'm back. The future and I are going to try to make it work.

21 April 2008

What do we want from the Future?

Scientists are notoriously good at solving problems, but ironically bad at deciding which problems to solve in the first place. In history, there was often a social or natural gradient that guided the actions of scientists: polio was crippling hundreds of thousands of people per year, train tracks needed to be laid over mountains, Japan wasn’t going to surrender unless… Without external pressure, scientists aren’t going to spontaneously come up with anything we can use – they’re perfectly happy working out the details of quaternions or something. We need to give them the right problems to solve – the onus is on everyone, not just the people wearing pocket protectors.

This is relevant today because we’ve given scientists a particularly difficult problem in addressing our energy and transportation situation. We’ve really invested a lot of ourselves in the expectation of a solution to this problem, which we've defined as a problem of a purely technological nature - one that can be solved with the right combination of engineering and happy thoughts. We’ve built our homes 40 miles away from the city center in anticipation of hyper-efficient cars, boarded up our traditional main streets in favor of multilevel entertainment mega-plexes and sixteen lane interchanges between Chili’s and Applebee’s, we’ve put satellites into outer space to broadcast our coordinates to our vehicles instead of owning maps.

The scientists might pull it off; they might meet our techno-demands for The American Way of Life of the Future. When this happens - when we get our hydrogen-burning SUV’s and solar-powered mechanized parking garages, will we be satisfied? Will the 100% green-construction Target be the retail outlet of our dreams? Will we be happy to leave the comfort of our home-theatre-systems each morning, jettison the kids from the laser-guided-car at the organic daycare, then begin the 45-minute commute to the office inside the reclaimed-railway-beltline for our 9-5 jobs at Sustainable Consumer Associates?

We can ask for an alternative future. Suburbia is not a suicide pact. The fervor over our green-techno-fantasies will reach a climax and hopefully we’ll see that we were asking the wrong questions, and demanding answers of the wrong people. We’ll have to step back from the technical issue of powering our cars and gadgets and see that the real issue is much bigger and less clearly-defined. We need to redefine our transportation problems as social-organization problems, and pose them in a way such that their solutions can be dignifying and uplifting for human beings (like walkable cities of the past), instead of alienating and isolating (like the sidewalk around shapeless berm between the parking lots outside Best Buy and Bed Bath and Beyond).

If we expect and demand that technologies fulfill our dreams, we may get what we ask for – but can this satisfy us? Are such vacuous and petty dreams even worth dreaming? Is the uber-future-car problem one that we really want to solve? Some scientists and other geeks are willing to start on another path, let us know when you’re ready.

14 February 2008

Arm and Leg

Technology pays. Technology costs. A price for Progress; do you accept? An existential barter takes place every time life gets easier.

Let's talk about hoverboards.

15 January 2008

Just like Spacers do.

So I was thinking about how hilarious all the activities that are pretty commonplace here on Earth would be if performed in OUTER SPACE. The defining features of Outer Space are, of course, varying temperatures that will either freeze or melt your face off, romantic views, and a pervasive feeling of insignificance. Sounds a bit like Kentucky right? But the most important characteristic that really sets it apart is ZERO G, which stands for zero gravity or maybe 0*g where g is the value of the Earth's gravitational pull at a point on its surface (9.81 m/s^2). I want to note real quick that this term is sort of misleading since at any point in space (including right here!), every object in the universe is exerting gravity over you although most small and more distant objects create such low forces that their effect is impossible to detect or feel and also opposite and equal gravitational forces might cancel each other's effects but still exist; so not necessarily Zero gravity but close enough.

Anyway, drinking water in zerog is awesome. You know how drinking water on Earth can be fun sometimes like after a run or when you haven't had it in a couple days? But water on earth sucks because it hurts when it goes up your nose and too much of it kills you and its mainly just really heavy. In zerog water comes in the shape of gobstoppers that you can throw at your friend or flirtee pretty easily. Water doesn't go up your nose or kill you because you could easily push it away from you. Relatedly, water isn't heavy because weight is a measure of the effect of gravity on an object and in zerog there is no gravity and thus no weight!

This brings me to my next point: gettin' it on. Getting it on in space would be awesome. Even if you've gained a few pounds your assumed lover won't notice because of the aforementioned lack of weight. Zerog can also act as an excuse for your embarrassingly poor performance ("This is my first time...in space!" "I swear this has never happened to me before...in space!" "I love you so much...in space!" etc.). A certain amount of acrobatic skill might be helpful but if you are into S&M and the like everything should be ok. I'm not sure if anyone has done the deed in zero G yet but I imagine it will end up happening a lot because of all those romantic views I was talking about and the endless possibilities for flirting with zero g water.

Driving a car in space would not be fun because you wouldn't be able to move and you would still be polluting. Taking a bike for a 'spin' would be a blast however because you could do a bunch of tricks by changing your center of gravity. Bikes: 2 Cars: 0

Also I heard that some people who do drugs feel like they are in space. I don't know if doing drugs in space would be awesome because you might not even notice the difference.

Riding in a hot air balloon in space would be awesome just for the looks on people's faces.

Yes Pinkies

I decided to create this list because I was just folding my pinkies in to see how it'd look. I realized I'm not ready to give them up.

Things Pinkies are Good for:
  • "Enter"
  • "Shift"
  • noses
  • getting in the way when holding hands
  • coming together to form "the steeple"
  • playing stringed instruments
  • promising
  • Dr. Evil impersonations

12 November 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of The Future

Everyone is wrong about the future. Man can only be certain about the present moment. But is that quite true either? Can he really know the present? Is he in a position to make any judgment about it? Certainly not. For how can a person with no knowledge of the future understand the meaning of the present? If we do not know what future the present is leading us toward, how can we say whether this present is good or bad, whether it deserves our concurrence, or our suspicion, or our hatred?
--Milan Kundera, "Ignorance"

I'm reading "Ignorance," a book about returning, by Czech/French writer Milan Kundera.