poem #6: time travel
historical figures, the unconscious & Lynda Barry
This is the image from the window beside my desk. Last spring, early in the pandemic, I went on walks and walks and walks with my kids, and I paid more attention to the changing season than I ever have before. My younger son’s pre-k teacher assigned us a “window watch” so each day we’d look for dogs or people with umbrellas or the rainbows that kids drew in chalk or taped in their windows. I learned the name of this tree, a dogwood.
Watching spring come back this year has been dizzying. It feels a bit like time travel - the same desk, the same trees blooming, the same few blocks where we walk and practice giving neighbors space. We’re not in the same phase of the pandemic, but we’re not done with it, either.
Today’s prompt plays with this idea of time travel, and steals a freewriting technique from my wise friend Erinn Batykefer. In the past, Erinn and I have done a poem-a-days trading prompts back and forth, and Erinn introduced me to Lynda Barry’s work on creativity. Here’s how Erinn explained Lynda Barry to me:
Humans are built to survive. Evolution retains what keeps us alive and weeds out what's extraneous.
So why do humans in every single culture and every era create art? What about images and stories keep us alive on a cellular level? This is one of the questions at the root of Lynda Barry's research into creative practice.
I'll give you the initial image (or a way to dredge one up). Follow the prompts in the video, and when you get to the 9 minutes of writing, be sure to keep your hand continuously moving the whole time, even if you have to write out the alphabet or some other nonsense, till the flow of ideas returns to you. This is critical-- the warm-up exercises, the recitation, and the continuous motion of writing work together to circumvent a part of the brain called Broca's area, which is essentially your inner editor. The practice may seem awkward at first but if you keep trying you will be surprised at the stuff you produce when you're free to make weird associations.
Poem #6: Time Travel
Make a list of 5 to 7 historical figures who’ve meant something to you. Next to each name, write a brief note about what you remember, or why that figure matters to you.
Choose one character from the list, perhaps one where your one-liner revealed something unexpected or interesting. Bring that character forward in time, or send yourself back to theirs. Meet them in passing. When you’ve got an image of your character, click play on the Lynda Barry video below, and begin your spiral in that image.
Sharing your work helps sustain momentum. I’ll leave the comments open, so you can share a poem title, a snippet of a line, or something else about your writing life.