Dear James Joyce,
This morning I had my cup of coffee, with two creams and six of those little packets of sugar, and typed out the last few sentences of your book, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man.
I’ve been kind of down thinking of today because I started this on March 11, 2013 (depression has its own agenda). On paper March doesn’t seem like such a long time ago. In reality, if you count down the amount of times I’ve sat at this desk to do this, that’s two hundred and seventy one days I’ve dedicated to retyping your book. I can’t say it was all wine and roses, because it wasn’t.
There were days were I was fascinated by what you were doing at the beginning. You tried to recreate an infantile brain and how it processes language (the infection of language is insidious, but it has to happen). However, my writing suffered indirectly at the time. I handed in stories to my writing groups and they all but spat them back at me wondering where the punctuation was and my odd ways of forming a story. I was experimenting without realizing it. I think I entirely missed the point then, but I look back at those works and have come the conclusion that they will stay without revision. Not everything I do has to be a possible published piece.
That brings me to why I did this. Well, to rehash what I’ve had to repeat to others:
I read Kenneth Goldsmith‘s Uncreative Writing. Everything he mentions there rings true. I think as a creative medium, as writers, we’re stuck when we write. We’re writing the same way, and while the art world has had its breakthrough with the avant-garde, poets stayed behind swimming in a lyrical oasis. At least, that’s my interpretation of it anyway. I’ve suffered fifteen years writer’s block. It comes and goes, but it’s a terrifying thing. Even worse than the block, was the feeling that I was trying way too hard at my poetry. Poetry is hard, but I wasn’t bringing anything new to the table. I wrote pantoums, villanelles, sonnets, and free verse. I am very proud of those works, but I felt like I was running around in a circle, discerning the world in 2D glasses.
Anyway, Goldsmith mentioned a project by Simon Morris who had retyped Jack Kerouac’s On The Road (http://gettinginsidejackkerouacshead.blogspot.ca/). I thought it was an interesting thing that I could do with one of your books. You see, Ulysses is my favourite novel of all time. Sir, you broke my brain when I read it, however, I didn’t want to retype something I had already read more than a dozen times. It’s my literary bible. So, I picked up A Portrait, made a blogger for it, and started.
Retyping A Portrait spun off other projects including:
- recording myself typing your poems on my Model Imperial 6 typewriter
- reading the entirety of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis backwards and recording it
- reworking scripts by replacing character’s gender
- rewriting A Portrait by replacing gender and setting (still ongoing)
- retyping George Orwell’s 1984 three paragraphs a day and adding three paragraphs to the headline article on The Wall Street Journal every day (still ongoing)
- I’m also looking at working with Nabokov’s works, but that’ll have more mulling over first.
The uncreative projects keep coming to me. I’m still sorting out a visual poetry project I had going on the side, but there’s only so many hours during the day. I am a mom of two children who are almost teenagers (they say “GAH!” to me!), and balancing a career and home has its own schedule. As for my creative projects since I’ve started retyping A Portrait:
- My film criticism work has taken off and I’m writing for a few publications, most notably for Next Projection and a side project I started called These Girls On Film. The submission process has been ongoing.
- I’m a reporter/interviewer as well. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Pirjo Honkasalo, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Douglas Coupland, Mark Peranson, just to name a few. It’s been very challenging to my social anxiety, but as fearful as a challenge can be, tackling it has great rewards.
- I’ve written so much, Mr. Joyce, that I can’t even begin to tell you how much its meant to me. The poetry flows and if its good, it great. If it’s bad, I don’t despair. It’s something at least. I’ve done many readings, most recently at the Grey Borders Series. I put out a poetry book called The Octopus Complex where I took all my lyrical stuff on the sea and played with it uncreatively. I utilize technology, am learning Python, made the typewriter my instrument, my pen and paper still soldier on with that bellicose moleskine notebook.
- I’m writing a manuscript. A full book! I’m almost finished another poetry book as well.
And I’ve met so many like minded folk and inspiring writers/artists that it’s been overwhelming. I’m conversing, exchanging ideas, arguing, defending, reconciling, but never compromising. I mean, if you didn’t, why should I?
So here I am after having typed your words and I feel like I can’t let go of them. I don’t think I got inside your head, per se. Sometimes, and it’s weird for me to say it, but I’ll say it anyway: I’d be typing your words, and your head would appear in front of me obscuring my screen. You’d ask, “What the hell are you doing, woman?”
“I like loosing myself in it. It’s like meditating. Like my morning coffee. May be it’s even better, for I am often unhappy too.”
And then you’d kind of go away. Each of our exchanges were different, but the gist of them is there.
I’ve decided that I haven’t had enough of you thus I’m taking on a new project. On Monday December 9th, I’m going to write every word of Ulysses, a page a day in a journal. I’ll take photos of the pages I write every day and post them on http://gettinginsidejamesjoyceshead.blogspot.ca/
Many thanks to the writers, the innovators, the cyborgs, the thinkers, and to all those who continue to challenge me and have given me a chance to do something with my words. I started all this way before I retyped A Portrait, but something about the retype stirred me on and asked something more of me. A great writer I admire quite a big deal, said once, “You can’t start from everywhere.”
I can’t start from everywhere, but I had to start somewhere. Does it matter than I reach out with tentacles at the possibilities? I focus. It’s how I function. I work. I create. I uncreate. I multi-do and I multi-undo. I am being. I am not a convention. I am a mathematical theorem. Dispute my method, but I still stand.
Retyping words that weren’t my own. It’s not a creative thing, but if I retyped the words and did the work; if I retyped the words (finding myself in a drunken stupor late at night remembering and then doing my daily retype regardless of my lack of sobriety) at all hours of the night; if I retyped the words and found myself pondering What Would James Joyce Do?, were these not my words? This work came out of me and went out into the ether. I thought upon them and breathed them back into my consciousness. I didn’t mind meld with you, Mr. Joyce, but as I finish this little ramble off, I have to wonder, where do the thoughts that inspired the words that went into the work, where did the thoughts go?
We have a quarrelsome comradeship, Mr. Joyce. I can not exile myself from the stagnant world. It will always spin in circles, because it’s what we do. But I can shake my wings still and look for the escape.