I heard the rapper Tobe Nwigwe say, during an interview, that it doesn’t matter how good you are, what matters is that you’re consistent. I’ve heard a similar idea expressed about basketball players, that the difference between an average NBA player and an All-Star is a matter of consistency. On any night, almost any NBA player can erupt for 24 points, but only great players average 20+ points per game. The difference is consistency.
How exactly does one become consistent? It’s one of those painfully dull things to say, but it’s getting up and working at whatever it is you do, every day (or as close to every day as possible). Or, in other words, making it a habit.
With Type Something, I wanted to challenge myself to do just that. I wasn’t so much concerned with how good the writing was in as much as the fact that I had done it. I didn’t give myself a time or word limit. Instead, I focused on getting out an idea.
William Saylor, my foundation year drawing professor, said something that still rings true, two decades later. Life Drawing was a 6-hour studio class. You’ve likely seen it portrayed in movies. A bunch of art school students sitting at easel benches encircling a platform on which a naked person holds a pose, then another and another. The short, 2-minute poses, were always the hardest because you never had time to really finish the drawing. In one class, someone must have complained about this and Professor Saylor said something along the lines of, “A drawing doesn’t need to be finished to feel complete. Look at the sketches of the great masters…They always feel complete.” The idea is that even if the work isn’t necessarily done, the experience of it should feel complete, or to put it another way, satisfying.
Often, when I sit down to write a poem, I have Prof. Saylor’s words in mind and it helps me to stick with whatever it is I’m writing. I know that I don’t have to finish the poem, I just need to get it to the point of completion, which for me means that it has an idea, sometimes a turn, and always some kind of landing. The finishing will come during the revision process.
Anyway, so, back to the idea of consistency. The word ritual (see CA Conrad’s (Soma)tic rituals, though my ritual wasn’t nearly as involved or physical as theirs) comes to mind. Waking up each morning and opening Instagram is so ingrained in my behavior patterns that at this point it’s reflexive. I tried to hi-jack the habit by not immediately scrolling. Instead, I forced myself to open a blank story. The placeholder text was an immediate challenge, “Type something…”
I began, usually, with a line that’d been percolating in my head. Sometimes that line would be my prompt for a few days, seeing where it would take me each morning.
I’m fascinated by the way language evolves on the internet, how certain phrases bubble up within a specific community and then somehow, by sheer force, work their way into popular culture. So many words and phrases— pwn, noob, tendies, etc.— start in subcultures. We latch on to them for their freshness and specificity. They communicate not only what we mean but also tone, point of view, and even a kind of relationship to the subject matter.
I’d noticed people using the catchphrase, “to wake up and choose violence,” often in the comments section of a particularly emphatic basketball dunk. Other times, I’d seen it in the comments on those public freak-out viral videos that I with only mild shame will admit that I sometimes end up watching. Apparently, the phrase’s origin dates back to a 2019 tweet, which phrasing likely had its origins in a line from Game of Thrones. Anyway, I’d been saying it over and over in my head, but substituting the word violence for the word silence. On the surface, I was just playing with the sound of the words, but I was also thinking about my own social media use, how I vacillate between wanting to share/comment or do the opposite, and keep to myself. What does choosing silence open up? Does it give me space to notice something I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed? Does it give back some of the time that would have otherwise gone to the machine?
Another thread in the book is gratitude. Some of my favorite poems use the word celebrate as their driving force. Many poets write poems in celebration of a particular thing or experience, but I’d been re-visiting Lucille Clifton’s absolutely perfect poem “won’t you celebrate with me“, and reading the poet Ross Gay, generally.
In the poem “won’t you celebrate with me” Clifton’s opening line “won’t you celebrate with me today” is powerful in its directness. One of the strengths of the poem is her straight-up telling the reader why they should celebrate with her. The underlying sentiment is the word despite. Despite all that was against her, she shaped a life for herself. That sentiment is a profound expression of gratitude for one’s own agency. I love that.
Early in the morning, when I sit down to write, I’m often thinking of how I got to that particular moment, the hardships I and my family had to overcome. I also think about the small moments that shape us, a particular memory from childhood, the random acts of kindness among strangers and friends. Ross Gay’s work celebrates and celebrates and celebrates all the things. His writing is so often about noticing, which to me is also a way of fashioning a life for oneself.
This feels longwinded and I still haven’t gotten to the nitty-gritty of how I put the damn book together. Next post, I promise.
My point is this: I am thankful. I feel good when I express that gratitude and by sharing my gratitude with you, I hope it encourages you to consider the things you’re thankful for, and that doing so makes you feel good too.
Posted on February 21, 2022