On August 11 1942, actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr and her collaborator, composer George Antheil, received their patent for a Frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication system that has since provided the basis for modern technologies in wireless telephones and Wi-Fi. Hedy had fled both her country and her marriage in 1937, escaping from Vienna to Paris, and then on to America. She later said of her husband “He was the absolute monarch in his marriage. … I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded—and imprisoned—having no mind, no life of its own”. I think that moment of receiving a patent (and with it recognition of her own agency and brilliant mind) must have felt like real freedom.
So today’s prompt is to write about a moment when you escaped, felt release, or finally realised you had broken free – but framed through an object or seemingly-unrelated event. Or, write about the things you need or wish you could invent – a fantasy list of what you’d like to give the world, or yourself, or a specific someone else. This could be a list of many things, or one specific thing. Don’t let boring old reality get in the way of what your inventions could be or do..
Yesterday was Tove Jansson’s birthday, so today’s prompt celebrates her life and love. Jansson based many of her Moomin characters on real people: Too-ticky is inspired by her long-term girlfriend, Snufkin is based on an ex-boyfriend, and an early drawing of what became Moomintroll started as an insulting portrayal of Kant. I’ve also been re-reading Griffyn Gilligan’s beautiful project Imaginary Animal Adoption Planet so this is also inspired by his work.
Today’s prompt is to doodle an imaginary animal/creature/character and write an accompanying piece about how this creature inhabits the world. Start doodling without planning it – take your pen for a walk and don’t try to draw anything – just see what marks emerge. Any kind of squiggley blob at all is absolutely right – just give it some eyes and it’ll come to life. You might also be inspired like Tove to think about someone you love (or loathe) while you doodle and see if something of them appears in the creature. Then imagine it in the world and write about that. You could try writing as the creature, or observing the creature, but some idea of sensory experience and allowing some of its inner motivation to emerge will help (Griffyn is great for this).
My response – I drew a little snarky fuzz-ball and it turned out to be my overheated, too humid, middle-class irritation about loud teenage boys. I enjoyed giving it a face and then giving it permission to naff off.
One of the books I’m reading at the moment is Opacity-Minority-Improvisation, by Anna T. The book is looking at queer slangs from around the world, like Polari, and how they construct a kind of linguistic closet for the users. The author often writes in Greek without translating, and leaves gaps in the text when there is no translation, no appropriate word or the gap is simply the most eloquent way to express absence or loss or the unknown. It’s a really playful, enjoyable text to read. So today’s prompt is to start with your DMs, posts/social streams, whatsapp messages etc, and/or news articles or any other content you have a response to, or want to reply to, and construct a found piece out of that: play with blanking out words, abbreviating, translating into/out of slang, or emojis, or other languages you might speak. What can and can’t be said? What secrets can you dig out of the texts? What secrets can you hide in them?
My response: I used a D*ily M*il article about the residents of Richmond employing private security patrols to stop “yobs”. I put it through Google Translate a few times, via the languages of several of the countries covered by Anna T’s book, and a couple of UK languages. It came out much more profound than it went in, so with a bit of editing, cutting and judicious punctuation I have a mystic but rather pertinent piece about police violence. It starts “I turned to walk to the ways / of the inhabitants of Emergency”
I’ve been reading about lots of AFAB warrior queens (having long had an obsession with female pirates), so today’s prompt is inspired by Queen Amina and others. Amina was a Hausa warrior queen in the city state of Zazzau, now north-west Nigeria. You might also like to check out Gráinne Ní Mháille, Sayyida al Hurra, Boudicca, Cheng Shi/ i Sao and Rani Lakshmibai. I was particularly struck by Amina’s first announcement as ruler; a call for her people to “resharpen their weapons.” Amina is still celebrated in song.
So the prompt is: write about what you are resharpening your weapons for – what’s your protest, anger or power centred around? Or, where in your life would you like a sharper blade – a more incisive or precise understanding? Or, write a ballad for the warrior/pirate queen of your choice, or imagine/celebrate yourself as a warrior and commemorate your own feats and battles.
My response: I wrote a protest in the form of instructions for sharpening a blade – what to sharpen it on and what to do with it once resharpened.
I just read Kae Tempest’s beautiful announcement about their name change and gender identity. In the post, Kae talks about their new name being a name for Jay birds – I’m copying this directly cos it’s so nice: “It’s pronounced like the letter K. It’s an old English word that means jay bird. Jays are associated with communication, curiosity, adaptation to new situations and COURAGE which is the name of the game at the moment. It can also mean jackdaw which is the bird that symbolises death and rebirth. Ovid said the jackdaw brought the rain. Which I love. It has its roots in the Latin word for rejoice, be glad and take pleasure.” (From their Facebook page).
So today’s prompt is to write something about your true name – the secret name (or names) that maybe you don’t even know what it is yet. Or to write about a bird that represent or displays qualities that interest you (love or hate!). Or to look up the root of a name and see where that takes you (try https://www.etymonline.com/)
My response: I wrote a kind of spell for how to find your true name. I might try it out..
#DailyWritingPrompt for today:
On August 6 1926, New Yorker Gertrude ‘Trudy’ Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel, a task previously thought impossible for a woman to achieve. Whilst I’d never impose a sexuality or gender identity on someone else, I think it’s interesting that she never married and lived all her life with a group of female friends in NYC.
The prompt: Write some form of tribute to Ederle’s cross-channel swim; or write about a time you were immersed in water and something shifted for you; or write about a challenge you’ve overcome, using water as a metaphor within the piece.
My response: I wrote about the effort of the body striving to reach the shore. Pretty obvious metaphor! but I enjoyed some things around repetition and rhythm, thinking about how I feel when I swim hard, the feeling of getting through it.
I’m so excited about this new project with composer Catherine Kontz. It’s been brewing for a few years, and we are extra-pleased to be funded by the PRSF Women Make Music award, and supported by Tête à Tête – launching as part of their Opera Festival 2018.
The project is an audio dream guiding you along the lost River Fleet, from its source on Hampstead Heath to where it meets the Thames at Blackfriars. There’s text (both spoken and sung), binaural recording, found sound and music, as well as small performative actions that the listener can choose to take part in whilst they walk the route.
Print artist Rowanne Anderson (Rowan Tree Print) is making us a rather beautiful map to help people find their way and show them where the listening points are.
Lots more info lives over on Catherine’s site, which is also where you’ll find the album and map to download from July 27.
I facilitated a workshop for Doctoral students and other guests at Brighton University as part of a two-day programme exploring Undisciplined Methods. Drawing on Lynda Barry and various other automatic writing, meditation and improvisation techniques, the workshop enabled 20+ people from a variety of academic and practice backgrounds to co-operatively create a large-scale drawing. The workshop allowed everyone to make marks in an uninhibited way, responding to the materials, the space and each other.
Photograph by Branwen Lorigan
I’ve provided the monthly blog for Improbable, following our move to Somerset House. Some musings on visible and invisible success. Here it is.
I’ve been looking for ways to get away from the page or screen with my writing, where it gets a bit precious and fiddly. Whilst in the Welsh hills, I thought I’d try out some ideas about text in landscapes. The results are below – it’s an interesting start but I’d love to get back out there and with some different materials and work at different scales. I used rolls of greaseproof paper for this, which was sturdy enough when wet, and pleasingly translucent under the water. It was too windy to try anything with the 16m poem I wrote out; this one-line piece was about 6m long and already quite unwieldy and fragile in the stiff mountain breeze.
Pictures almost entirely by the ever-patient Timothy Bird.