An old way of writing something new
Friends, I have been playing with the possibilities of this medium, having a bit of fun with it. I’ve also been taking part in some webinars run by people at Substack. Ok, let me be frank: the people at Substack have a model for what they want its users to do. Ideally, as a “content creator” on here I would pick a very focused topic (say, modernist haircuts for Lhasa Apsos), define my audience (dog grooming aficionados with discerning taste), and then build a media empire on this. Not just a newsletter, but podcasts (“Tibetan Dog Breeds I Have Known and Loved”?), the whole shebang. All monetized of course.
With all due respect to the silky, luminous locks of the Lhasa Apso I have no desire to do any of this. But I do think it’s useful to think about what I’m doing on here — other than sending you moody stream-of-consciousness essays about single-lens reflex cameras and mid-century Romanian prisons. As I examine what I’ve written, I see that I do have a central question that drives my writing: how do we make things in the world — photographs, scholarly monographs, poems, sweaters, dances? And how do we do this in the face of the various challenges life throws at us, whether these are external (a pandemic, a war, caregiving exhaustion) or internal (self-doubt, distraction, procrastination)?
So with that in mind, and to foster a sense of play (rebellious by its very nature), I’ve made a section in this newsletter called “instigations.” (It wasn’t inspired by Michael Arnzen's book, but I’m totally tempted to buy it!) These will be prompts I make up, mostly for writing, sometimes not. If you don’t want to receive this, I think you can unsubscribe from the section and keep getting the main emails — though I hope you will try one or two out first. Today’s prompt is inspired by an ancient rhetorical exercise called prosopopoeia.
Get a timer and materials to write (ideally by hand).
Set the timer for 2 minutes. Write down as many of the objects you see where you are. You may include living creatures if you like — plants, bacteria, Lhasa Apsos.
Set the timer for another 2 minutes. Write down as many emotions as you can think of.
Set the timer for 7 minutes. Pick an object and an emotion (just what feels right, don’t overthink it), and write a monologue in the voice of the object, imbued with the emotion you chose. Consider being as dramatic and over the top as possible in conveying the emotion. Play with this.
If you like, let me know in the comments what your experience of the prompt was like. What did it feel like? What do you notice?