Machine Poetry

My polit­i­cal the­o­ry of poet­ry is fair­ly straight­for­ward: poet­ry is the most prim­i­tive form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Poet­ry is the cre­ative use of a lim­it­ed resource. So the non­sense that comes out of mouths of any­one learn­ing the vocab­u­lary & syn­tax of a new lan­guage is also, clear­ly, poet­ry. As the lim­i­ta­tions of lan­guage lessen, the need for cre­ativ­i­ty lessens, peo­ple opt (typ­i­cal­ly) for the most com­pre­hen­sive method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

What a mar­vel the first bird must have been!

I’m going to test this the­o­ry by teach­ing a machine to write poet­ry. I hypoth­e­size this will be much eas­i­er than teach­ing it the intri­ca­cies of typ­i­cal speech. This is a fair­ly easy sup­po­si­tion for me to make, as most machine-gen­er­at­ed texts already read like they are a new lan­guage. I have no idea how long this is going to take, but I’m start­ing here: Machine Learn­ing Mas­tery. Once I can swing the ham­mer cor­rect­ly, I’m going to start my dig­i­tal child pound­ing on the 1000 most com­mon words in Eng­lish.

If I raise it up as it should go, maybe it’ll even take over Poet­ry 4 Free duties.

Read this, and chances are you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about

The signal:noise on this #instapo­et ker­fuf­fle has sum­moned the chron­i­cal­ly lame “poet­ry is/was dying” revenant art takes.

Poets: your cho­sen art has nev­er been & will nev­er be pop­u­lar. This is fine!

You can­not argue whether some­thing is or is not art. There is no pla­ton­ic form for this abstrac­tion. You may choose to dis­cuss the phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy of a work of art, but once wrought, it is immutable, warts & all. I might even argue that life begins at con­cep­tion for art & sim­i­lar abstrac­tions.

I once had a spir­it­ed dis­cus­sion about Crime & Pun­ish­ment with a pro­fes­sor. We were dis­cussing Raskolnikov’s guilty con­science & the pro­fes­sor asked me to iden­ti­fy the moment that this guilt man­i­fest­ed. After a bit of study I deter­mined that it occurred before he even com­mit­ted his crime.

He gave a sud­den start; anoth­er thought, that he had had yes­ter­day, slipped back into his mind. But he did not start at the thought recur­ring to him, for he knew, he had felt before­hand, that it must come back, he was expect­ing it; besides it was not only yesterday’s thought. The dif­fer­ence was that a month ago, yes­ter­day even, the thought was a mere dream: but now… now it appeared not a dream at all, it had tak­en a new men­ac­ing and quite unfa­mil­iar shape, and he sud­den­ly became aware of this him­self.… He felt a ham­mer­ing in his head, and there was a dark­ness before his eyes.Crime & Pun­ish­ment, Fyo­dor Doesto­evsky

Art has nev­er had any­thing to do with taste. Art is descrip­tive. Taste is pre­scrip­tive. If you are argu­ing whether some­thing should be “con­sid­ered art” you are gate­keep­ing via taste, and you are not talk­ing about art, or poet­ry, or punk music. You’re talk­ing about how cer­tain peo­ple are worth less to you. That’s cap­i­tal­ism, not artistry.

Will his­to­ry care what hill you chose to die on when it #instapo­et­ry came knock­ing at the gates? Should you?

The time of get­ting fame for your name on its own is over. Art­work that is only about want­i­ng to be famous will nev­er make you famous. Any fame is a by-prod­uct of mak­ing some­thing that means some­thing. You don’t go to a restau­rant and order a meal because you want to have a shit.”
Banksy

(Here’s the video)

Meditation & Prayer

I’ve gone to a few guid­ed med­i­ta­tion ses­sions at The Black Mar­ket down the street from me. Typ­i­cal­ly they play doom & drone dur­ing, but tonight the med­i­ta­tion was replete with crys­tals, sage burn­ing, herbal teas & the atten­dant, unavoid­able neo-hip­pie clap­trap. The first time I went, I was able to com­fort­ably get into a med­i­ta­tive state thanks to the Elec­tric Wiz­ard that was play­ing, although the guid­ed med­i­ta­tive imagery of a lush gar­den was a bit incon­gru­ous. That same sort of imagery was present this time too, but the incon­gruity wasn’t there due to the change in atmos­phere.

I don’t med­i­tate to align my chakras, fill myself with light, or root my spir­it into the earth. I won­der if that wellness/imagery focus is the med­i­ta­tion for the super­sti­tious crowd. Noth­ing I’ve read or heard of in East­ern med­i­ta­tive prac­tice seems so noisy. I med­i­tate to emp­ty myself of myself & just stay emp­ty for a bit. The goal is to escape all inten­tions, not replace the ones I have or look for oth­ers. Tonight, I real­ized that the men­tal state I get into now is essen­tial­ly the same one I used to end up in back when I was Catholic & engaged in deep prayer. The vig­il on Maun­dy Thurs­day was always a good day to get to that empty/beginner’s mind.

Fun­da­men­tal­ly, I don’t sup­pose there’s much dif­fer­ence between med­i­ta­tion and prayer.

Blue­print for a Black­winged Red­bird Death Mask #1

Why Do Anything?

My increas­ing mate­r­i­al nihilism has result­ed in pre­dictable exis­ten­tial nihilis­tic philoso­phies. The fun part is that there super­fi­cial­ly clear con­tra­dic­tions between what I enjoy mate­ri­al­ly & what I think exis­ten­tial­ly. There’s a part of Cities in Flight by James Blish, where he describes humans as “local anom­alies in the sec­ond law of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics” which, for years, I thought was a pret­ty excep­tion­al way to describe the unique­ness & impor­tance of human­i­ty. How­ev­er, the more I observe human­i­ty, the more mis­an­throp­ic I become. I guess we are unique & impor­tant, but in vice, not virtue. We’re less anom­alous, but rather more effi­cient at con­tribut­ing to the entropy of a sys­tem. Earth was doing fine until colo­nial­ism & the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion basi­cal­ly trashed the place in a cou­ple hun­dred years.

How do humans make the uni­verse a bet­ter place? This is a fun­da­men­tal­ly flawed qual­i­ta­tive ques­tion, philo­soph­i­cal­ly (what is ‘bet­ter’?), but nev­er­the­less quick­ly gets to the point of con­tention. The typ­i­cal mit­i­ga­tion offered to bal­ance the entropy we con­stant­ly impose upon the mate­r­i­al world is our achieve­ments of con­science. Our work in phi­los­o­phy, art, lit­er­a­ture, music, sci­ence. The results of our sen­tience, sapi­ence, and sagac­i­ty are all of these great things!

This is an almost tau­to­log­i­cal self­ish fal­la­cy. We aren’t bad because we do good things. But the good things we do can only be appre­ci­at­ed by oth­er humans (who might not!), while the bad things we do affect our entire world. The pas­sen­ger pigeon will not feel tran­scen­dent when it hears music because 1) as far as we know, crit­ters can’t expe­ri­ence that emo­tion and 2) we killed them all. Polar bears will be extinct in my life­time because of human-dri­ven cli­mate change. Do the sum of the achieve­ments of human­i­ty bal­ance the harm we do? I’d rather have polar bears than poet­ry. Even our achieve­ments are an increase in entropy.

Why do any­thing, then? It doesn’t mat­ter either way, real­ly. What­ev­er you do is going to end up dust. An eth­i­cal nihilist, I guess, would be some­one who attempts to lim­it the entropy they add to a sys­tem, even though they know it’s a futile task.

Checkpoint

This past year was a tough one. The first half was spent on high alert with a project that went wid­der­shins & the sec­ond half was spent fail­ing to recov­er from being dumped by the woman I want­ed to mar­ry. Rela­tion­ships with my mom & a once good friend are now soured because they con­sis­tent­ly pro­vid­ed the oppo­site of emo­tion­al sup­port after this occurred. My kid has some behav­ioral issues at school & com­mu­ni­ca­tion with his mom remains close to non-exis­tent.

I know that many oth­er parts of my life are just fine & that I’m priv­i­leged and ahead of the game com­pared to many oth­er peo­ple. I have excep­tion­al cowork­ers & an intel­li­gent & sweet child. I can pay all of my bills, donate to char­i­ty, and vol­un­teer with a non-prof­it. That doesn’t change the fact that I can’t sum­mon the ener­gy to seek hap­pi­ness any­more. Get­ting dumped broke my heart & it still hurts too much to poke around inside to fig­ure out how to fix it.

I’m try­ing to find some goals to grasp on to for 2018 where suc­cess and fail­ure are in my con­trol. I’m hop­ing that will help me feel bet­ter.

  • Lose 20 pounds, get into shape, & com­plete a sprint triathlon
    • I plan to track diet & exer­cise to reach this goal.
  • Learn the basics of machine learning/neural net­works to build a poet­ry gen­er­a­tor
    • There are online tuto­ri­als to get me through the first part, the sec­ond piece will be a bit more seat-of-the-pants, but I look for­ward to some cre­ative prob­lem-solv­ing.

That’s all I have had the ener­gy to come up with. Sor­ry for all of the com­plain­ing.

Throne of Blood (1957)

Justice, Trauma, & Healing

Man. I don’t know how to clear­ly write about this; it will be long & messy. I’ve spent a few weeks think­ing about the gestalt of the sex­u­al assault & harass­ment sto­ries that have per­me­at­ed the news. At first I was hap­py to see that ser­i­al offend­ers, who had used their pow­er cor­rupt­ly, were receiv­ing actu­al con­se­quences for their actions. At the same time, I felt like the con­se­quences were being enact­ed by unin­volved, non-author­i­ta­tive par­ties. I think now that my per­cep­tions there we formed by the way the sto­ries were framed in the media. To be hon­est, I think the deci­sions were made because it’s just good busi­ness to virtue sig­nal in this way. They are shocked, shocked to find gam­bling going on here!

Justice

I’m still unsure how I feel about this kind of moral jus­tice. I go back, again and again, to my Catholic upbring­ing:

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And ear­ly in the morn­ing he came again into the tem­ple, and all the peo­ple came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Phar­isees brought unto him a woman tak­en in adul­tery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Mas­ter, this woman was tak­en in adul­tery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law com­mand­ed us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempt­ing him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his fin­ger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they con­tin­ued ask­ing him, he lift­ed up him­self, and said unto them, He that is with­out sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being con­vict­ed by their own con­science, went out one by one, begin­ning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman stand­ing in the midst. When Jesus had lift­ed up him­self, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man con­demned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Nei­ther do I con­demn thee: go, and sin no more.

John 8:1–11, KJV

And now see that I’ve prob­a­bly missed a few points in this les­son. I’ve always tak­en it to mean sim­ply: You, a sin­ner, should not con­demn oth­ers who sin. Yet this is only a wise moral func­tion when you have the pow­er, and the accused does not. With­hold­ing con­dem­na­tion of those who abuse their pow­er per­pet­u­ates that abuse.

I do not begrudge the anger and sense of vic­ar­i­ous vengeance that women are feel­ing as these pow­er­ful men are held to account. Injus­tice should always be appro­pri­ate­ly addressed. Yet at the same time, I am look­ing for, but not see­ing a path of mer­cy or restora­tive jus­tice avail­able here. Maybe it’s there and I’m miss­ing it? More like­ly, I think, is that this is just white guys final­ly get­ting a taste of what women & minori­ties have lived with for thou­sands of years. If I under­stand this par­a­digm cor­rect­ly, I am wor­ried about it. I want to assume that our goal as eth­i­cal, empa­thet­ic beings is to cre­ate a soci­ety where insti­tu­tion­al­ized forms of oppres­sion cease to exist because all peo­ple are look­ing out for all peo­ple. That’s tough though, because we’re trib­al & clique-ish by nature. Vengeance and vig­i­lan­tism are trib­al behav­iors. So while I do not begrudge the feel­ings, I also do not know what goal they progress us toward.

For chil­dren are inno­cent and love jus­tice; while most of us are wicked and nat­u­ral­ly pre­fer mer­cy.

G.K. Chester­ton, On House­hold Gods and Gob­lins, 1922

Trauma

Of all the pow­er­ful or car­niv­o­rous ani­mals… the wolf seems to have been the most impor­tant for the Indo-Euro­pean war­riors. Reflex­es of the old word wlk­wo, “wolf,” are found in lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of prop­er names, and [in the names of] numer­ous peo­ples, such as the Luvians, Lycians, [et cetera]…Stories of lycan­thropy are well known among the Greeks, Romans, Ger­mans, Celts, Ana­to­lians, and Ira­ni­ans, and these would seem to be trace­able to these ancient war­rior prac­tices.

In Ger­man­ic myth and leg­end, say Brown and Antho­ny, these fer­al war-bands “are called Män­ner­bünde… a label often applied [by schol­ars] to all sim­i­lar Indo-Euro­pean insti­tu­tions.” Män­ner­bünde means “men-league,” league of men.

Toward their con­clu­sion, Brown and Antho­ny spec­u­late on the psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of a sym­bol­ic trans­for­ma­tion into a beast of prey. The wolf war­riors, they sur­mise, “would feel no guilt for break­ing the taboos of human soci­ety because they had not been humans [at the time].”

Find­ing some way to deal with guilt must have been cru­cial, not only for indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the leagues but for their soci­eties as a whole. This is because mem­ber­ship in the Män­ner­bünde last­ed only for a set peri­od. If you were still alive at the end of that time, you had to inte­grate your­self back into your old com­mu­ni­ty. In order to per­form the roles soci­ety now need­ed you to per­form — fam­i­ly man, work­ing stiff — you had to shed your taint­ed and bloody sav­age iden­ti­ty.

For some, this would have been impos­si­ble, no mat­ter what psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms were deployed to help. But many oth­ers must have man­aged the rein­te­gra­tion well enough. The rota­tion back into nor­mal­cy is doc­u­ment­ed in the Vedic texts: “At the end of four years, there was a final sac­ri­fice to trans­form the dog-war­riors into respon­si­ble adult men who were ready to return to civ­il life. They dis­card­ed and destroyed their old clothes and dog skins. They became human once again.”

Eliz­a­beth Scham­be­lan, League of Men, N+1 Mag­a­zine, Spring 2017

A few days ago, on my 37th birth­day, I woke from a night­mare into a pan­ic attack about my father’s emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal abuse. Stuff that hap­pened 24 years ago! I chose to not inter­act with him after I was 13. He’s dead now. I haven’t con­scious­ly felt any need to deal with it for years. But that trau­ma is still inside & hops out always unex­pect­ed. So while I might not be able to empathize with the par­tic­u­lars of a trau­ma, I know what it is like to be sub­ject­ed to it in gen­er­al.

There’s no time lim­it on trau­ma, and peo­ple don’t seem to be very good at acknowl­edg­ing that or help­ing oth­ers deal with their own. The entire­ty of the arti­cle I quot­ed above is worth read­ing. It offers a well con­struct­ed anthro­po­log­i­cal argu­ment that humans have essen­tial­ly been punt­ing on how to deal with the trau­ma caused by “men as wolves” for longer than record­ed his­to­ry. Soci­eties give men tac­it per­mis­sion to inflict any man­ner of destruc­tion, but no tools for pro­cess­ing what they inflict or receive. I have shared deeply held, vul­ner­a­ble feel­ings with close friends and fam­i­ly this year, and have been told by on mul­ti­ple occa­sions, by women, to suck it up and be a man.

I also see the ampli­fi­ca­tion some­thing like this receives:

and the pop­u­lar­i­ty of #menare­trash and I get real­ly frus­trat­ed. This kind of behav­ior is func­tion­al­ly no dif­fer­ent than per­se­cu­tion that’s been direct­ed at women for­ev­er. It comes from trau­ma, but just cre­ates more. Everyone’s life is a teach­able moment. If men are trash, and not sup­posed to learn from the expe­ri­ences that women have, then how are we sup­posed to get bet­ter? Many men are not equipped to fig­ure this out on our own. Many of us lack any sort of emo­tion­al sup­port net­work for our own trou­bles, and typ­i­cal­ly peo­ple don’t look to men to pro­vide emo­tion­al sup­port. I don’t know how else peo­ple are sup­posed to grow and under­stand each oth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty, if not by learn­ing about each other’s lives, being open to that shar­ing, under­stand­ing that harm will hap­pen, and being will­ing to accept and work through when it does.

Healing

I don’t know that any­one is good at inter­per­son­al heal­ing right now. The trend con­tin­ues toward polar­iza­tion in all things. I am nat­u­ral­ly inclined toward coop­er­a­tion & peace­mak­ing. I want to wel­come the repen­tant & prodi­gal back into the fam­i­ly. But heal­ing & for­give­ness can only occur when all sides want it. While I’m quite moti­vat­ed to cre­ate accord in most things, I have almost zero inter­est in heal­ing & for­give­ness when peo­ple hurt me deeply. At the same time, I have no desire to call them out on it. After I jumped out of my dad’s car, he was dead to me. It’s been the same way with any­one who has betrayed my trust on a fun­da­men­tal lev­el: friends, fam­i­ly, & part­ners. That’s prob­a­bly not healthy, it’s def­i­nite­ly not heal­ing, & I think it relates direct­ly to what peo­ple refer to when they speak of tox­ic and/or frag­ile mas­culin­i­ty. But I’ve got no oth­er tools to deal with it.

I like to think I’m pret­ty good at solv­ing prob­lems, but not in this case. I’m unsure what tools I need, and have not had good expe­ri­ences when I have asked for help in learn­ing to be more deft with the ones I have. I’m not even sure most folks are inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing restorative/redemptive meth­ods to heal divi­sions of any stripe. It’s way eas­i­er to just say ‘fuck ‘em’.

I have no con­clu­sions. I don’t even know where to go from here.

Practice

I did not let my son hug me
because he did not ask

I watch him with the other
children practicing Gong Bu

spindling limbs learning
those constant corrections

then Ma Bu aches their legs
these bodies young horses

grown eager
he quick bows and

runs to hug me, again
I refuse him

because he did not ask
first first

of all the things
I don’t want to do is

not hug my son
he has always been

both archer
and arrow like me

he is a wreck of tears and
fire Kung Fu he says

calms his mind he
needs a hug and

when I ask
he refuses

we are never at war
we are more at work

in wilds full of errant wind
chamfering together

our best honest voices
learning to ask the ground

with each fresh step
how best to walk upon it