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  #1  
Unread 08-29-2019, 08:07 AM
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is online now
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wheat text

Nothing Doing

A bare white wall descends, becomes a couch
(not mine, but temporarily residing
here) accumulating half-worn clothes,
an unused comforter, a shower curtain—
all things that might, together, tell a story,
only this is not a story, this
is someone's body sitting, doing nothing.

A dull bored thought ascends, becomes a self
(not mine, but temporarily residing
here) accumulating half-worn envy,
half-endorsed ideas, a narrative
that threatens to engulf it, make me real
for all my sitting, any glimpses it
has caught of Nothing, doing what it will.


S1L1: The --> A
S2L1: This --> A
S2L6: its --> my; all the --> any; I --> it
S2L7: have --> has; nothing --> Nothing

Last edited by Aaron Novick; 09-05-2019 at 02:28 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 08-30-2019, 12:22 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Hi Aaron, I think this is well done. It delivers on its raison d'etre, which is (I think) to depict a state or day of ennui. The couch-self parallel works well for that. But the poem is not only about ennui, it is also a meditation on the stream of events or the narrative of our lives that we tell ourselves, and how the things that happen are not the self as such.

There’s a languid passivity to the language and imagery that verges on feeling solipsistic, but the insight that runs through the poem braces it and keeps it from collapsing in on itself.

I like it.

Not sure about nits at this point, but I’ll be back if any come to mind.

Best,

Andrew
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  #3  
Unread 08-30-2019, 12:39 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Aaron,

I read this as someone in the process of actually trying to meditate and finding it difficult, as it notoriously is, as they keep experiencing the paradox of the intruding self (self) consciously trying to shed it'self'. The ultimate goal of meditation, as I understand it, is to realise that the 'self' doesn't exist, that the 'half-worn envy, / half-endorsed ideas, ...narrative / that threatens to engulf' are illusions passing through pure consciousness. Something like that. I keep trying, though it's hard. I believe in it.

I like the poem. I tried something similar a while back and I remember Annie Drysdale telling a funny story about a New Age teacher.

Edit: do you mean 'an unused comforter'? And in what sense are the clothes 'half-worn'? I take it you mean they've been worn, slung on the couch, and will be worn again the next day. And it links to 'half-worn envy'. But it sounds odd, as if one could say 'I'm half wearing these trousers'.
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  #4  
Unread 08-30-2019, 06:15 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Hi Aaron,

Thread titles can sometimes give the reader a big steer about what to expect from that the poem or its real title doesn't. So, I started reading this thinking it was a poem about (Buddhist) meditation, or at least, that this was a strong possibility. In that context, the actual title put me in mind of Rinzai's, "become a man with nothing to do" and all the variations on the theme of effortless effort and so on. There's also a play on "nothing doing" which can mean "nothing's happening", and also (in it's sarcastic sense) "very difficult", and here also the body-mind as unfolding process: thoughts without a thinker, deeds with out a doer -- no one doing any of it.

The bare white wall had me thinking of the Zen practice of sitting facing a wall with one's eyes open. I think what's literally happening is that we get a description of the N's view (actual or imagined) as it sweeps down from the ceiling. I guess it's a broad sweep taking in the entire breadth of the wall (or the shower curtain is on the floor, lower than than the couch, which is how it first seemed).

I assume that in the poem he's sitting in formal meditation (albeit drifting and look around). However, this assumption largely proceeds from the thread title. Maybe he's just lying in bed? This might explain why his view sweeps down from the top of the wall. He can see the couch so he's not sitting on that. (Maybe the story that the objects he sees might construct is that he should get up, shower and get dressed.) I'm also trying to imagine a room with a couch against a wall and a shower curtain hanging (from a doorway?) in that same wall: a shower curtain normally being inside the room that has the shower in it. I guess it's a bedsit?

With meditation in mind, I wondered if the bare white wall (also) metaphorically descends (in the same way that a red mist, or a sense of calm, say can descend) as the N settles into meditation, and that this represents something like a blank mental screen, on which various things appear in his mind: a couch, a comforter (a thin duvet?), about which he can construct a story, perhaps of what he needs to do after meditation, and ultimately of who he is. There's maybe also some metaphorical work going on with these objects. Certainly, the self can be a form of clothing (and half-worn clothes might the describe the N in meditation: the clothing of the self half-on half-off). The couch suggests "sloth and torpor", one of the five traditional meditation hindrances. The comforter -- well, the pull of comfort, I guess ("sense desire", another hindrance). Still, not sure if I can tie in the shower curtain (delusion? a way of hiding the naked truth, a barrier between us and the world, but maybe now I'm pushing it).

The end of S1 alludes to emptiness in the Buddhist sense, I think. Looking around, he could construct a story of himself, but 'this' is not a story, it's not the solid thing we create from our sense impressions, desires, aversions and thoughts, our sense of self.

In S2 we learn he's bored. A thought arises, gathers to it feelings and beliefs, and threatens to build a narrative around it, make it solid, creating a self (a sense of me and mine) and a loss of mindfulness. This happens even though the N is an experienced mediator who has had 'glimpses'; brief insights into emptiness and not-self.

It's "this dull, bored thought" so 'this' seems to refer back to all or part of S1, and the likely candidate is: the thought that this (he) is just a body sitting, at risk of getting caught in a self-creating story but not actually that story. So perhaps it brings about envy, specifically, because he wants to have that insight on a deeper level? (but envy of whom? More advanced meditators? those with deeper insight?). And so perhaps, ironically, wanting insight into not-self -- or fooling himself / taking pride in already having it -- threatens to pull him into 'selfing'? So, I guess I can see him sitting in meditation, bored, thinking conceptually about the process of mediation rather than doing/being it, already caught up in conceptual thought about how stories construct selves, and how things could/should be -- already at a remove from what actually is arising.

Now the close: You'd have to be a pretty experienced and accomplished meditator not to get pulled in to distraction and following your thoughts and 'selfing' at least occasionally, so at first it seems odd that N finds this noteworthy that this merely 'threatens' to happen, and may even be bemoaning this. So maybe the N is just noting the process of getting distracted and coming back, the ebb and flow of the (illusion of) self, and how this continues to happen despite practice and 'glimpses'.

However, I can read the close is as more irony and self-delusion here, and that he is actually bemoaning this state of affairs. In S1, he sits there having conceptual thoughts about the non-conceptual, and what could/should/might be rather than what is: he starts telling himself a story about the possibility that he might tell a story (!) and his conceptual thoughts about not-self lead him to start reinforcing his sense of self, and at the close, he bemoans that still happens, despite 'his' experience, 'his' glimpses (this being the only use of 'I' in the poem). The irony being that his claims to experience and past achievements ('glimpses') a) already proceed from an egoic, owning sense of self (I, me, mine: my experience, my past achievements) and b) and are thoughts/memories, absent in the present moment, part of a story. This also leads me to wonder if the N is an unreliable narrator, for what he says has 'threatened' earlier in S2 seems perhaps already to have happened.

I guess for me, having read too many books on meditation, Buddhism and non-duality, the (word) play around doing nothing, no-thing, the absence of a doer, nothing doing the doing, and things being temporary and so on -- what's being said in S2 and the end of S1 -- is very familiar and doesn't seem all that fresh. It isn't that far off being something I might read in one those books. Read straight, which is how I read it at first, the poem didn't do all that much for me, especially with the high abstraction count and absence of imagery in S2. I do like the way repeated lines work. Reading the poem as ironic, I can hear an arch, self-mocking, self-deflating tone, and I like the poem, and I can relate to it. The myriad ways in which we can fool ourselves, the ever-subtler degrees of self-illusion.

But I guess I'm left unsure as to whether the poem is intended to be serious or self-mocking. Any attempt to write about meditation in the present tense, as a commentary by the narrator, risks undermining itself, as it's going to suggest an inner commentary: a distracted, conceptualising and story-telling mind. So I don't know. If the irony is intended, maybe the poem should to tip us slightly more of a wink? Or maybe it shouldn't.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 08-30-2019 at 06:18 AM.
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  #5  
Unread 08-30-2019, 07:23 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Aaron,

Well, I enjoyed reading your poem, and i enjoyed reading the commentary that followed. All in all, time well spent. I too suspect you want an, not and, in S 1. As to the content, no nits really, though i do like Matt's argument that you might consider winking at the reader if irony is among your goals. I think I'll just add that as Matt notes, your mental furniture here, such as a sofa, carries quite a bit of accrued symbolic weight. Or put another way, you are making use of some well-worn coins to make your trade.

Cheers,
John
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  #6  
Unread 08-31-2019, 10:36 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Coming back to this, I have the nittiest of nits: Remove the comma from "dull, bored" in S2L1, to parallel (since you're paralleling the stanzas already) "bare white" in line 1 of the poem. Or you could add a comma to the latter, but I think no comma fits the poem's mood and theme better.

I still think that being about meditation and zen-like ideas doesn't rule out ennui. One of the most famous outcomes of meditation after all is falling asleep.
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  #7  
Unread 08-31-2019, 11:13 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I have certainly fallen asleep trying to meditate.
Since I'm not flexible, I also find most Zen sitting options increasingly painful, and thus distracting, over time.

Cheers,
John
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  #8  
Unread 08-31-2019, 12:41 PM
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is online now
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Andrew, thanks. I'm glad the poem is working for you, and I've taken your suggestion to cut the comma. I want the poem to be indecisive: there is ennui here, and it threatens to engulf the N, but I want to leave it indeterminate whether or not it does so.

Mark, thanks. I'm glad the poem succeeds for you as well. You've gotten the sense of "half-worn clothes", and I do want the parallel, so I'm going to leave that as is. One of the tricks of meditation, at least as it has been taught to me, is to be able to let, say, "half-worn envy" come and go, take one over briefly, without either fixing it in place or hurrying it on. This connects up with the indeterminacy I was mentioning above in reply to Andrew. The triple pun on "nothing doing" definitely allows for the read of the experience as a failure, but don't require it (I think). And thanks for catching the typo in S1.

Matt, thank you as ever for your probing comments, and for your careful attention to what might not be working here. I almost titled the thread "fourteen lines of blank verse" and perhaps I should have. Regardless, I did have zen meditation in mind, but you're right that it could allow for other readings. The shower curtain is among the items the couch has accumulated. All things unused or partly used and cast aside, and now piling up. It's the pile more than anything that's doing the poetic work here (though I do like how you constructed a story out of them, not in the way I had in mind, but in the spirit of the poem regardless).

Your point about "this" is a good one, but I do want the thought to separate from S1. So I've made a change to both stanzas that should accomplish this separation, while maintaining some parallels.

As noted in my replies to Andrew and Mark, I want indeterminacy here, and so the fact that you find the poem allowing for both the "simply noting" and the "bemoaning" suggests to me that it's working, at least on that level.

I do take your point about why it might not be working—it captures something in a way that, at least for those "in the know", might be too familiar. I'm unsure whether or not I'm sold on this poem, which is part of why I posted it here. So I really appreciate your pressing on my main source of worry—it's very helpful.

John, thanks for your comments. I take it you're worried that the imagery in S1 is cliché? Going back to the experience that originated this poem, it is entirely literal. But of course if the world is a cliché, sometimes the poet needs to falsify it in order to capture it truly...
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  #9  
Unread 09-01-2019, 08:02 AM
R. Nemo Hill's Avatar
R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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I like this one a lot, Aaron.
It builds in each stanza and then falls away, descending and re-ascending, rhythmically, like breath.
It is specific enough to anchor its story, but vague enough to let concrete narrative dissipate.
And it is both earnest and ironic: the balance is just right.

Nemo
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  #10  
Unread 09-01-2019, 11:19 AM
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is online now
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Nemo, thanks. I'm really pleased not just that you like, but that what you like about it is aligned with my intentions in writing it.

– – – – – –

Without explaining why I'm considering the change at all, I'm interested in what folks think of changing S2L6 as follows (changes in red):
that threatens to engulf it, make me real
for all my sitting, all the glimpses it
has caught of Nothing, doing what it will.

Last edited by Aaron Novick; 09-01-2019 at 12:35 PM.
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