Friday, May 28, 2021

Getting in the mood for writing [brings back memories]

When I was in my mid-teens I read an article about self-improvement through self-hypnosis. It was in Mechanix Illustrated (yes, that's how it was spelled), Popular Mechanics, or Popular Science, one of those. I forget just what I was trying to improve, but that doesn't matter. I forget just what I was instructed to do, but what I did was to lay down on my bed, close my eyes, relax, and try to empty my mind – I'm just making that last part up, don't really remember it, but surely that's what I was supposed to do. Once I'd put myself into a trance, or whatever, I was supposed to give myself a suggestion on what/how to improve.

I don't recall that I ever made it to the suggestion part, or at least so it worked. But I did manage to get very 'floaty' and relaxed. It felt good. Didn't try it but two or three times or so. I couldn't seem to get the hang of it.

Anyhow, Ingrid Rojas Contreras writes (in the NYTimes) about how she puts herself into a somnambulistic trance so that she can write. It gets her around the PTSD she suffers from a traumatic childhood in Colombia.

My ritual for self-mesmerism has grown more elaborate over the years. On my designated writing days, I plod to the closet and pick out something in that muted ultramarine, after which I pick a song to play on repeat. It will loop for the next hour (or sometimes the rest of the day). There is always an initial moment of claustrophobia, but the looping music encourages a trance. The operational chatter of my mind grows quiet before it grinds to a halt. I transition into the territory of concentration. I don’t have to think about what I will do next: After doing it thousands of times, I’ve turned writing into muscle memory.

The best music for self-mesmerism is the kind that embraces repeating and minimally evolving phrases — Kali Malone, Caterina Barbieri, Ben Vida and William Basinski are artists I turn to with frequency. They are demanding, beautiful, blisteringly austere. Past the initial weariness of sonic repetition, I experience self-dissolution. I stop hearing the song. It becomes a series of staticky sonic impressions.

At a glance, repetition may look like invariability. But repeated listenings of a song are never identical: Differences emerge out of the drone of a routinized task. A glass may slip, the water I splash myself with may be colder or hotter than I expect. I knit the stitches of my blanket tightly, then loose. The sameness of repetition is never the point. It is a daily door I step through, on the other side of which I am emptied and am filled with something better. I leave the familiar behind to embrace what is unfamiliar and mysterious. No matter what is happening in my life, choosing repetition lets me deliver myself to the moment at hand.

Compare this with the very different pattern of behavior that Jerry Seinfeld uses for writing. He talks about it in an interview I've blogged about, Jerry Seinfield on his career and craft [Progress in harnessing the mind].

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