I show you my great masterpiece
of which I am so proud
and all it is is fantasies
of being cared about.
I have had various serious difficulties. This weekend, I was hoping to go on a creative writing retreat, live in a hotel for two relatively distraction-free days and get much of the remaining work on the fourth Sermon done. It was a gift from my lovely wife. Unfortunately it turned out to be impossible to square with my other duties. Before that, a special meeting of creative designers of meditations and rituals turned out to be impossible for me to attend as well. I will miss out on a lot of input, feedback and motivation I was hoping to get there, and I’m losing the urgency of wanting to have something new to present there. And before that, as I have previously mentioned, a significant part of what I have written for the fourth Sermon turned out to be not good enough.Continue reading
Last Saturday, a film crew filmed me reading a bit of the Seven Secular Sermons in a formal meditation setting. This is for ARD, Germany’s federal public service broadcaster. They’ll be running the movie at 17:30 on the 10th of November, apparently. Six of my friends kindly came together on short notice to play meditating extras. For the text, I chose the first half of the work-in-progress fourth Sermon.
The movie isn’t actually about the Sermons of course. They only get the publicity because I write them, and I in turn only get the publicity because my dad is famous as a hero of the overthrow of the East German dictatorship. The movie is about what it is like to have that kind of parents. I snuck in the bit about the Sermons and hope it makes the cut.Continue reading
This air we breathe was breathed before,
by parts of life now dead.
It flows from lung to lung, to more
and future lives ahead.
We breathe what must someday have been
some creature’s dying breath.
To feel this breath right now can mean
to feel the touch of death.
I have begun reading the first part of the fourth Sermon to people, and found it doesn’t quite work. I always knew this is a possibility with every Sermon – I’m so close to them I have an inside view that makes me a poor judge of what is effective for others. So I take care to seek feedback from readers and listeners, and incorporate it as diligently as I can. But that doesn’t feel right when I’m in the very beginning of a Sermon, where the pieces don’t even hold together yet. So I’ve gone without feedback for a long time, and now that I get some, I find I’ve deviated from the hypothetical optimum more than usual. So over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reworking and improving things that I thought I had pretty much finished.Continue reading
A bit more is written. There is a decent first draft of the first 40% of the fourth Sermon, and a great number of bits of and pieces that I need to string together into the remaining 60%. I will rework the beginning part first and then keep adding to it in a more or less sequential fashion. So I’m basically in the synthesis stage again. Right now my attempt to finish the fourth Sermon this summer looks a bit precarious, but it might still work out.Continue reading
Vast waves of researchers must crash
on cliffs of ignorance
to grind them down into a stash
of knowledge fine as sands.
I first saw automatically generated poems in 1998. They were randomly arranged picks from a corpus of clichéd goth lines, clearly terrible and presented as a parody on terrible goth poetry. I had run into them because I had just started to study IT and this was one of the first examples of CGI programming that I had happened to find. I played with it for longer than I might have, because I was writing terrible goth poems.
Anyway, I did know about the Turing test (where a machine passes if it cannot be reliably distinguished from a human) and I knew machines were getting better at seeming like humans, because my dad was having way too much fun coding a chatbot and pointing out how it was better than ELIZA. Those terrible poems seemed like the same kind of thing, where machines would inevitably get better at seeming human. And poems are clearly easier to fake than conversation. So, it has been twenty years. Did the machines get better at poetry? Oh yes. Oh hell yes.Continue reading
This having children thing? It’s good.
And yet I’m also sad.
I wish I’d truly understood
how much free time I had.
I have written a few more bits of the fourth Sermon, and finished the blog post on Kipling. The latter kind of morphed into a manifesto against most other poetry, and led to some interesting discussions. The rest of my work continues to be fairly minimal. I clearly underestimated how much harder having a second child makes finding time for anything that is not super urgent.
I believe modern poetry is in terrible shape, and its low popularity is the appropriate, deserved result of its decline as an art form.
I mean poetry of the type that properly educated poets write these days: as few words as possible, little meter and almost no rhyme, impressionistic, often ungrammatical, almost always aggressively pointless. I mean measly secretions like this, rated the fifth best original poem ever posted on reddit:
Had the worst dream today.
I almost didn’t get out of bed.
Why the hell is it getting worse?
Is it possible I am depressed, or am I just overthinking things?
I don’t know if I’m depressed or not.
What’s an official diagnosis?
I think of drivel like this as the polar opposite of my favorite poet, Rudyard Kipling. He likes to go on a bit longer than necessary, he uses rhyme and meter and usually repeats phrases or entire lines to create more structure, has an explicit narrative and a coherent language and always a clearly discernible point. He is also basically the reason I write poetry. I’ve been writing poems since some Kipling poems in German translations of the “The Jungle Book” and “The Second Jungle Book” were so amazing when I was about 7 years old. Continue reading
It has been half a year since my last post, and it was a very hectic half of a year. My son was born and is growing up beautifully. Life with two small kids leaves me with too little time for many things, especially poetry.
I’m weirdly ambivalent about that. It sure feels right to focus on my kids in basically all of the time that I’m not at work or sleeping. I also feel guilty about my very slow progress on what is, after all, supposed to be my Magnum Opus. But on the other hand it’s just poetry so who will ever care. But what will I amount to if I don’t do this right. I’d amount to a pretty good dad it seems. And that’s both obviously enough, and obviously not enough, at the same time.
Over the last two days, my wife and daughter went on an Easter holiday. So I was away from both of them for more than a day for the first time since the third Sermon premiered in November 2016.
This has allowed be to put a big chunk of work into the fourth Sermon. I’m getting near the end of the synthesis stage now and I’m mostly done with the complicated parts that need a couple of highly focused uninterrupted hours at a time. So I think I can finish the fourth Sermon with mostly just little bits and pieces of work that I can squeeze in between other things.
And there will be lots of other things! We’re expecting our second child in July 🙂 while our first is keeping us fairly busy already and work is quite hectic at the moment as well. I’d love to be done with the fourth Sermon before July, but that seems unlikely right now. I’ll certainly try, though.
I have also added an extra page about the poetic format of the Sermons, the common metre. I might update it occasionally, as I improve my understanding of what I seem to be doing.
I’ve been noticing for a while that I find it increasingly hard to write poetry in any format that is not the common metre. Every time I try, it feels wrong and difficult and I always tend to be attracted back to the common metre. My unconscious processes have clearly been trained to better help my conscious processes write in this format. This is great because it relieves some of the cognitive burden and reduces the time and effort needed. Last night, I produced 15 stanzas in 5 hours – that’s three times as fast as I was writing the second Sermon and about six times as fast as I started out. Clearly I have sacrificed some mental flexibility to gain this speedup. I’m fine with this. In fact, it seems quite delightful to be able to observe my own mind crystallizing in this fashion.
Among my many theories,
there’s one of which I’m proud
that sorts the mind’s pathologies
by what one fails to doubt.
If you can’t doubt the things you think,
you will at first feel great,
then grow confused until the brink
of madness is your fate.
I live a life of duty now,
but I’ve been fierce and free.
The proof is stored behind my brow
as neon memory.
It has been a while since I posted a progress report, and much has happened in the meantime.
It isn’t that I have a lot of time or focus to do writing, really. I’d like to do one or several of these high intensity writing days where I work myself into a writing frenzy and do nothing but compose stanzas for like ten hours straight. (Usually about ten to twenty stanzas come out of that and about half of those survive editing.) I haven’t been able to do one of those for over a year now. But fortunately there is another process that produces stanzas, which I call receiving uploads.
That song my dad and I wrote? I emailed it to the wonderful Bayesian Choir, a group of excellent people in the Bay Area who have performed beautifully at the Bay Area Secular Solstices and who produced the spectacular HaMephorash (which you need to read Unsong to not be confused by (and I firmly recommend that)).
What utterly amazed me was their response! One of them is James Cook, who is not just a software developer and a composer of music, but actually develops software to help compose music. How cool is that! He took a liking to this little tune and produced a hymn-style arrangement for four voices which… I’m frankly unqualified to judge, but my dad as a classically trained composer assures me it is quite good. Here’s what it looks like: Continue reading
You’ve clearly grown tonight, my child.
You watch more knowingly.
Your movements are a touch more mild
as you examine me.
Whenever I’m not working, I continue to be mostly busy being a dad. It is amazing! My writing has slowed down considerably for now and I’m fine with that.
Still, there is a little progress to report. The fourth Sermon has a rough outline, a couple of finished stanzas that mark important waypoints in the storyline, and a working title: The Heartbeat of Humanity. At the current leisurely pace, I expect to finish it next summer, two years after the last one. Continue reading
I hope to make the Secular Sermons more available, and that’s not happening on this tiny obscure blog. So there’s now a new YouTube video of the first three Sermons, and I’ve uploaded the audio recordings to the excellent guided meditations site and app insighttimer.com. Here’s the YouTube version:
I’m done with the recordings! Hooray! This took way longer than I wanted it to, but that’s the reality of having to scratch together minutes of spare time between the job, the baby and life in general.
Making these recordings was an important step, because like all meditations, the Sermons work when listened to, not when read. Check them out!
Just like my daughter finds her hand,
I find my fatherhood –
a new thing, hard to understand
and part of me for good.
My daughter is three months old now and I’m beginning to have a little time for other things again, such as this progress report. I’m still in the early stage of Sermon 4. Continue reading