This image, something I made years ago as an attempt to recuperate my personal practice of writing words, that then got a bit more (shall we say) complicated, is going to figure into what I say to all of you today, Monday, July 19, 2021. Except it is technically Wednesday, July 14, 2021, and I am sending this note across the wire to others, many of whom you have never met, folks who have opted into receiving quasi-weekly verbal tumbles from me. To those folks: this note you are reading now is going to be read aloud in a world I get to help create every summer. That space and process mean a lot to me, and so I thought it would be good to share exactly why, in the hopes that both of you, the Wednesday group and the next Monday group, we’ll call you for fun, might benefit.
In my teaching, of both myself and others, I have described the things we make—our “products,” we might be tempted to say—as evidence of practice. We do things every day, or on most or some days, and what falls out is a story or a song or a picture like the one associated with this note. It’s not exactly that we have a song sound or picture in mind and then do precisely what we need to do in order to get there, conveyor belt/assembly line. Rather, we make music by spending our days doing musical things, things that engage or even move us, and from that a vocabulary might form and with that vocabulary we might say a thing.
This picture is a very literal example of that idea: prose creating actual forms on a canvas, as you can make out behind the foreground painting, has to be evidence of practice. You can’t make shapes out of freewriting without freewriting. The product is baked into the process, vice versa also. I have long wanted to make music like this, music that comes so freely I could use it to literally decorate a physical space—music that feels like unburdening versus like the acquisition of new burdens.
That unburdening is what this place has always been for me, every summer, an injection of the idea that we already know some things, and in saying them we might be able to know new things, and then say those new things, and on and on. The prerequisites, this place and community want to say to all of you, have already been met. Now we practice, and what we make together by the end, but also all along the way, is symptom versus goal. It not the same as saying you have already arrived; rather that you are already enough, that you have what you need in order to find what else you need. Where you see forks in roads, that suggest there’s a path that will lead you to that thing and a path that won’t, you might instead imagine versions of you that are all equally viable, factorial multiplications of your future self, fractal mathematics. It’s not that there aren’t forks, it’s that there are so many of them—billions, but think on it and check my math—it is a more reasonable response to marvel at what is possible than to worry about what isn’t.
I was writing in a small notebook as I started laying ideas out for this talk: Art is evidence of practice was the first thing I committed to ink and paper. But it didn’t sit right as an absolute; that is not what we are trafficking in here. So I changed it. Art can be evidence of practice. Remember all the forking paths? And if yours align with mine, then maybe: practice can be evidence of curiosity, and curiosity can be evidence of attention. So, it stands to reason, if any of this might be true, that we can start at the other end and formulate it like an aphorism, or a piece of advice you didn’t ask for: Attention leads to curiosity leads to practice, and practice leaves something behind to light the way for others. Like this little note, this preamble, which ends here, but only for now.