I’m winding down on the experimental birdsong project, which has got me thinking less about how a brain works, and more about how language does. As we’ve hit the midpoint of our collaboration, I’m thinking of what I’d like to do carrying forward. One of these things stems from the idea of language and meaning-making. In our conversations of the past couple of months, Ben and I have discussed definitions of things like “thought,” “dream,” and “consciousness.” Ben has mentioned that we’re still at a stage where we don’t have definitions that we all agree on to grasp the nature of consciousness, which makes me wonder about how merely writing/reading sentences can mimic, structurally, the way information travels down a neuron.
I’m thinking about concrete poetry, where the shape of words on the page graphically convey meaning, beyond what the words themselves say. This is still a very loose idea in my head, but there’s something about synapses between neurons that’s kind of marvelous—that information must travel within a cell and then diffuse across a gap before it reaches the next cell. It’s a miniscule gap and molecular diffusion happens at a blinding fast pace, but it feels very existential if I ever sit long enough to think about how nerves work.
How do I replicate that in text? Below is a very shoddy first draft sketching out the idea of how I imagine thought/action/memory/learning works. It is possible the “and” in the sixth line is a representation of a neurotransmitter molecule. It is also possible the “and” is a logical accompaniment to an “or” somewhere else in a second draft of this poem, because how do you write about learning and circuits and connections without talking about computation?
I started this draft title-first, and each line is supposed to complete the circuit posed by the incomplete question in the title. It’s a free-write, and one interesting thing that I might point out is that some of the associative thoughts that came up while trying to complete the poem stem directly from the birdsong project. For example, the word “pendulum” was one of the random words I had to wrestle into meaning in that previous project, and I’m certain that’s why it recurs below.
All that to say, this is my headspace this week:
It’s a bit silly - as first drafts are—but the bit about the swing hitting me on the head and the other girl holding my hand is completely true.
I mean, I don’t remember us holding hands and sobbing together—that’s her memory of what happened, and so it’s how I remember that day now as well.