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Monday, August 15, 2011

Composing While Dozing

First I want to thank those of you who sent me personal messages, either telling me who you are as readers of this blog, or encouraging me to ready Moby Dick after all. And so, as soon as I finish the three books I am midway through, I will begin Moby Dick. No new books until I begin Moby Dick, on my honor (though I can't promise not to have several going whilst reading about the whale.) And I will respond to each of you personally, soon.

So you may remember early in the history of this blog when I discussed how I had been able in my younger years to solve mathematical proofs while sleeping, and wondered why I couldn't harness this power of my subconscious (or perhaps my unconscious--still unclear on the difference if anyone wants to write in and enlighten me) to write poems.

And you may remember when I referenced Julianna Baggott's blog post in which she suggests reading through one's current project first thing in the morning, particularly if one doesn't write first thing in the morning, so that the piece is filtering through the subconscious (or is it the unconscious?) all day, being worked on even when your conscious mind is busy doing something else.

So all this came together in an aha moment due to a collision of circumstances. I am working against a deadline. But it is summer break and my kids are home and needing to be entertained, so I am not getting much work done. Also my clients are sending me extra work as some of the freelancers they farm projects out to are away for the summer. Hence I am working late at night, which is not my custom when writing poetry. These days I fall asleep in bed with my pen and notebook in hand.

And guess what? I wake up in the morning with whole lines and images I need. I dream of people I know giving me phrases I will need. I am making those terrific leaps in my sleep I used to make in math, but now they are happening in poetry. Sometimes I wake up at 2 or 3 am with whole stanzas I need to transcribe before I can get back to sleep, and guess what, in the morning they aren't even nonsensical, or not completely.

So it turns out it wasn't the matter about which I was cogitating that got my subconscious (or is it my unconscious?) to carry part of the load. It was the timing. I routinely fell asleep doing math in the wee hours of the morning (graduate student lifestyle) to wake up with answers in my head, but I thought it was the subject of math that engendered this response. Now I see it is the timing. If I go to bed thinking poetry, I wake up scrambling for my notebook tangled somewhere in my covers, so I can write down lines of poetry, instead of lines of proof.

Thus I now conclude it's the proper use of the method, the timing, not the subject that instigates the active help of the sub- or is  it the un-conscious. I  concede that this method tends to work better when I am under deadline, notwithstanding the subject matter. It seems when I am under enough stress, my brain is there for me. How about yours?

P.S. I think I should mention that this is not a long-term problem-solving strategy, or hasn't been in my experience. It's for use in a pinch, with a deadline, and with a very specific problem in mind, such as "I need an image which is mechanical in nature and suggests XXX, and I don't know of one," or "I need to reduce this side of the equation in order to reach the conclusion my gut tells me is coming, but I can't see how to do so...." It's not a way to live a life of art; it's a tool in times of gridlock, or anyway has been for me.


Mari said...

Jessica, as you may already know, I'm a firm believer in the unconscious and its influence on our work. Writing in bed, either before drifting off or at first waking, invites the unconscious to play and can facilitate our writing in surprising ways. It's a practice I'd like to further develop, as I've always been an at-the-desk composer... Thanks for the reminder.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hi Mari,
I would never have guessed you compose at the desk.

As for mornings, I cannot figure out how people manage poetry first thing if they have families. We get up at 5:30 at our house, so if I want some quiet, I have to get up earlier (NOT appealing), but when I do, the kids and husband all jump out of bed, exclaiming, Oh are you up? Then we'll join you. What's for breakfast?

Writing in the middle of the night works for me, a suggestion made to me by poet Erin Malone who, like me, wakes up in the middle of the night with some frequency. (Hope I'm not telling her secrets here.)

This late-night writing is working out well too. I thought I was too tired, but when push comes to shove....

But you, Mari, seem to tap into your unconscious alreay in your ethereal work.

Thanks as always for your thoughtful comments.

Mari said...

Jessica, it's a pleasure to read your blog -- I always find something good here.

I laughed when I read your comment about your husband and kids jumping out of bed with you. It says so much about your role as mother, provider, keeper of the hearth. You speak to primal, deeply encoded attachments in our significant relationships! I struggle with the same -- how to create balance between art and life... because our relationships with our poems are also significant and we must continue to invite them in, however that looks for each of us. I prefer late-night writing, too...

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Mari, thank you for your comment. It has completely changed how I feel about my family continually interrupting me at work (poetic work, I mean). I had not previously been able to see it as an expression of my role in a positive way in their lives, but rather had felt rather like some kind of servant being hailed back to domesticity when trying momentarily to escape. Your interpretation is hopeful as well as helpful to me. Thank you.

Mari said...

I hope you know I meant we must continue to invite our *poems* in... family members seem to invite themselves in. : )

Jessica Goodfellow said...

That's funny...yes, I knew you meant poems. :)