Consider Everything an Experiment
On Tuesday I met with writers at The Cabin's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop, where we explored ideas, processes and words by Sister Corita Kent and Marie Howe, using them to experiment with our intention, focus and questions in creating something we need to make right now.
We started by reading Some Rules for Students and Teachers, which is often accredited to Merce Cunningham and John Cage, but was originally developed by the nun and artist Sister Corita Kent, who used art and teaching as a way to make the world better.
It's the start of the fall school semester for a lot of us.
These rules help me think about how we can be life-long teachers and students.
And how writing is a way of being a perpetual teacher student.
Is there a rule here that reverberates especially with you today?
As an artist and writer in general? What speaks to you about these rules?
Right now we'll focus on some of my favorites:
“Consider everything an experiment.”
“Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time.”
And: “Save everything.”
Corita Kent had her art students cut out "finders":
Out of pieces of cardboard.
"Kent encouraged all of her students to carry a 'finder,' or a piece of cardboard with a rectangular hole cut into it. The inexpensive tool, which can be made by anyone with cheap and accessible materials, acts like a lens to home in on specific facets of a given environment. 'You can then view life without being distracted by content,' the book explains. 'You can make visual decisions—in fact, they are made for you.'"
Take a sheet of paper (or cardboard), fold it in half, and cut a small box in it.
Smaller than your eye or than a glasses lens is good
But you can experiment with the size of your box too.
Spend 10 minutes looking through your little box at the world
Or spend 20 minutes, an hour, whatever you want/have.
Look through your box inside as well as outside. Look close up, far away.
Don’t so much look FOR something as let the world impact your seeing
And let the frame impact your way of seeing.
Write down everything you saw.
Let yourself be surprised by what you remember, what you write, how you write it. What you saw, how you saw.
Let it go from there too – how that seeing impacted your body/mind/heart,
What you felt, observed from other senses,
What it made you remember and discover and wonder about…
No censoring yourself, no editing, no analyzing...
Let the observations guide what you write.
Write for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes.
SINGULARITY by Marie Howe
(after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?
so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —
nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone
pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.
For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you. Remember?
There was no Nature. No
them. No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf or if
the coral reef feels pain. Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up to what we were
--when we were ocean and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock
was liquid and stars were space and space was not
at all — nothing
before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it?
what once was? before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming
with is is is is is
All everything home
What do you see here? What do you notice? What hits you?
Read again. Read it out loud.
Consider what you saw in the finder frame as you were looking.
Consider what you wrote and what you saw as you read.
What does this rereading cause you to think about what you saw?
Notice how questions guide this poem, how the images come from big questions.
Consider one of the rules of Sister Corita Kent.
Use that as an intention as you write your next thing.
Consider your questions for the world. Big questions.
What do you want to ask the world?
Consider the images you framed in your walk.
Bring all of these together
As you write a poem, a story, a reflection, an unnamed ungenre-ed thing.
Allow yourself to break all the rules
And write/create the thing you most need to make right now.
Use everything. Save everything.
Write for fifteen, twenty minutes, more...
And maybe at the end, find a few phrases that stand out especially,
Maybe these become the tiny framed image, the molecule, the haiku
Of everything else you wrote.
Share what you wrote with someone.
Thanks for writing and exploring with me.
Contact me if you have questions, thoughts, ideas.
Share your writing with me if you want!
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: