Automatic Writing and Good Company
I used to stutter pretty badly and couldn’t talk much to people outside of my immediate family. I had to go to speech therapy, practice reading out loud a lot, and do vocal exercises. I had to come up with strategies to deal with the stuttering.
I experience(d) speech as contradictory.
Around some people, I’d stutter, get hung up on a consonant and then fall silent.
Often I couldn’t say my own name.
Around others, I never shut up, and wove together cartoon voices, punch lines, non sequitors, and dramatic lines from whatever tv show my parents were into at the time. Flow was the goal. Comedians who could “machine gun” impersonations and morph their voice into several other ones, they were my heroes.
Far from hanging up on a sound, they were a site where several sounds came bursting forth and all the rules of time and space and the individual subject were shattered.
“Language speaks” is a usable idea despite the problematic nature of the source, and since it’s true, it hardly would have mattered if Heidegger had dissolved as a zygote. Language and its invisible net shapes our understanding as it surrounds, permeates and flows through us.
As a kid, as a teen, as a 20 something, as a new dad, I would watch cartoons, especially Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbera because I was obsessed with Mel Blanc. At first, I just liked his voices, and thought of them as cousins, kind of. I could tell that they were related but didn’t understand how. Later, I was amazed that he could fit all those cartoon characters inside him, and would spend time trying to figure out how they stacked up, who stood where. I’m pretty sure I was imagining some sort of nanotechnology. I’m more convinced of that now.
When I start to write, I (try to) disappear and listen with my pen, a tuning fork. I (try to) acknowledge the site where the voices cross/gather. A person reaches into their skull via their face and throws the ink onto pages, Jurassic technology. Or, my thesis statement is a quilt of pissed off ghosts, a river or two. Emily Dickinson: “One need not be a chamber to be haunted.”
Emily Dickinson: “Nature is a haunted house, but art a house that tries to be haunted.”
When Blanc was working on cartoons, he would do the voices working from a storyboard then the animators would draw to accommodate the voices. Pre-birth we float in a world of sounds, including voices. Later we learn to draw and then write which is just more abstract drawing. Writing IS drawing. Someone’s hand gripped our hand as it formed letters, and we both mouthed the sounds at the same time. I draw poems to accommodate the voices.
After Mel Blanc was in a car crash and suffered a triple skull fracture, he was in a coma for two weeks and was unresponsive. His son sat with him, talking, calling him dad, pops, etc, no response. Other family members and friends did the same. Mel’s body was there but wasn’t animated. When a resident doctor sat with him one afternoon, and asked how Bugs was, Blanc responded in character. Or Bugs responded, depending how you look at it. When the same doctor asked for Porky Pig or Tweety or Foghorn Leghorn or Sylvester, it was the same story, there they were and there Mel was saying them into the room. After a few rounds of this, Mel Blanc as Mel Blanc was back in the room, eyes open, talking as himself, whatever that means.
Frottage. A sheet thrown over a ghost for form. Tattoos pushing up through your skin to warn you about ink in the air. There are the winds and they speak, occasionaly hooking through our lungs to do so, we’re bottles, wet lips properly pointed.
An automatic writer lights up the language that was already there, waiting to be here. Like genes waiting to curl your eyelashes or web your toes or give you red hair, language is possible, virtual, before it’s actualized in meat or air or print or pixels.
One imagines the letters reaching up through the paper to guide the pen as the grooves on a record guide the stylus. This might seem crackpot, but the box I typed it into suggests words and “corrects” my spelling.
I shouted words into the leopard print blanket, shouted for an hour, then shook them loose off the front porch, seems obvious that they ended up on streetsigns, in emails, and in sexts. You’re welcome.
Writing and walking are natural acts if we understand both as mark making. Walking an established trail is both reading and writing, with landscape as palimpsest. To take a step is to leave a mark. To take a step on an established trail is to follow marks that have been left. One marks over the marks that are there already. Voices braid.
As a stutterer, I was silent most of the time, language roared through my head from every direction, I rode out a constant stream of thoughts on top of my thoughts . . . potential speech like light streaming through a day. Later then, I started recording my voice to practice ‘efficient speech.’ I also started practicing my script, the usual things I’d have to say on any given day. Redundant, empty, word as currency, hollow. Some weather. How are you?
According to neuroscientist Steven Kotler, what happens neuroanatomically in the brain of the animated automatic writer is called transient hypofrontality (not an easy phrase for a stutterer). The dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (where our sense of mortality, will, linear time, self-direction, inner criticism, and self seem to stem from) is quieted. The automatic writer shares this experience with the dreamer, the person high on drugs, anyone experiencing a deep spiritual experience of cosmic unity. I’d say that’s pretty good company.
Michael Sikkema is a poet, visual poet, collage artist, and is learning to write songs. He lives in the Great Lakes area, which is often confused with the Midwest, (which of course does not exist.)