Since selling my home nearly two years ago, I have been wandering. Of course I have had places to stay during these years, but I have been without my own den, which we burrowing animals very much need.

I felt, though, that I had to draw out this period of uprootedness until I found my bearings because, wherever it turned out that I was headed, I knew I would be staying there for a good while. Now, having at last found a new home for myself, I am just days away from escaping my current, and most difficult, living situation. Still, despite my eagerness to make tracks, I have some anxiety about what lies ahead.

When I am anxious in this way, sleep seems the best palliative, so yesterday afternoon I went to bed at around 4:30 and immediately fell into a deep, blank slumber — “blank” because I simply disappeared. Next I knew it was 8:30, and there was a faint morning light coming in through the blinds. I sat up with a start and realized I had only a half hour to get to my 9:00 am meeting.

In the windowless shower, I reflected on how strange it was that I had slept for 16 hours without once waking up. In fact, I could not remember ever having slept so deeply for so long. “I must be really anxious,” I thought. Minutes later, as I was getting dressed in my room, I noticed that it had gotten darker outside.


360⁰ poetry

Virtual Storytelling

Even if they’re hawking something worthy, ads generally annoy me, but all last week I couldn’t get enough of the promo for the most recent episode of “The Big Listen,” a “broadcast about podcasts” that can be heard on WAMU, the DC metro area’s public radio station.

In it, we hear host Lauren Ober ask Starlee Kine of the popular podcast “Mystery Show about her favorite TV programs, and she mentions several — though only one, Law and Order, fetches an irrepressible “I love it” from Ober’s guest.

Unfortunately, the “I love it” part was cut from Kine’s segment (35:39), which is sad because just reading those three words here will not give you any understanding about why it was such a wonderful, and wonderfully nuanced, moment for listeners. Or at least for this listener.

Somehow, you see, that three-word sound bite managed to convey Kine’s passion for great storytelling, and it captivated me because I share that passion to my very bones. I also share her love of Law and Order, but you are the first to know this.

I wasn’t sure how I would write about my almost childlike reaction to this sound morsel until I heard “Virtual Reality: The Wearable Movie?” on The New Yorker Radio Hour. In this most recent episode, staff writer Andrew Marantz focuses on how artists and technologists are working together to create an interactive, “immersive” narrative.

One innovative narrative project Marantz features is Blackout, which uses a “computer-rendered environment” and also uses real actors to tell a story about a New York subway that breaks down and leaves its passengers in darkness. Especially compelling is the fact that DepthKit, a new software and film-making technique used in this project, enables participants to walk around inside the story, to see actors from different angles, and to hear the thoughts of people on the train simply by turning their heads and looking at them.

In an interview with Marantz, Justin Cone, creator of Motionographer, says, “People are searching for some kind of Holy Grail that unites the best of passive storytelling with the best of interactivity,” and it appears the team involved in developing Blackout may well be on the right path.

Still, I find myself wondering whether passive storytelling would always pair well with immersive, interactive technology. It is clear that sound, for example, can add a layer of richness to a story, as was the case with my being able to hear Kine say “I love it” in her very particular way. In fact, I might not have remembered anything about her interview, a portion of which is now indelibly etched into my memory, had I only read a transcript of it.

Yet, while it is true that great storytelling engages all of the senses, it is also true that great storytelling must maintain a certain air of mystery if it is to be successful. I remember, for instance, how downhearted I felt when, after having become completely mesmerized by the performance of a lead actor in a production of South Pacific, I saw him change his costume in the wings. I saw, too, that he was out of breath. And therefore human.

Granted, I was only ten. But the memory of that shock has stayed with me all these years, and I can’t help but think that dropping someone inside, say, a narrative poem could be equally shocking and could destroy the fragile world a poet seeks to create. While the very best of this kind of poetry invites us to participate in the storytelling by, for example, parsing an image, contemplating the meaning of a line, or studying the form itself, it loses something ineffably essential when we are told (or shown) how, exactly, we are meant to understand it. Even here, when I post a poem I have written, I pause over whether or not to include a visual image with it for fear I will be giving you too much direction about how to interpret its meaning.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned about wanting to maintain the ethereal in my own work and about fearing that immersive technologies could threaten the delicate mystery poets work to weave. Or perhaps the fear is simply a failure of my limited imagination. Or perhaps it is both.



Hornet Stinger

If we live long enough, we come to realize we are at the mercy of an indifferent universe and can be dispatched to the netherworld at any time. Although I am afraid of what lies ahead in the land of the unliving and so am reluctant to take risks when braving the elements, I also feel a deep reverence for the natural world, of which I am aware I am less than a speck of a part.

I am somewhat ashamed that the love I feel for Mother Nature does not extend to the world of insects, though even when I am alarmed or threatened by a flying or a crawling creature who has found its way into my house, I will go out of my way to capture it in a jar and to put it outside in the hope that this act of mercy will somehow nullify my cowardice — at least in the eyes of God.

I had been especially afraid of getting stung by a bee or by a yellow jacket, wasp, and other brethren, but somehow I had managed to avoid it. Still, if you go your whole life with nary a sting, chances are your number will one day be called. Yesterday my number was indeed called by a certain hornet that had found its way into (or that was trying to climb its way out of) my ankle boot. And let me just say that the only things more painful than getting stung by a hornet are having your baby delivered with a forceps and having your doctor give you an episiotomy without first administering a local anesthetic.

I was sitting in a chair, and I had one leg crossed over the other. Suddenly I felt a searing pain and at first thought it was a result of the way I was sitting. I then changed my position, but the pain only spread and intensified. My next thought was that my ankle bone was somehow shattering or that a tendon was somehow tearing because I had no other frame of reference for what could be causing such pain.

Suddenly I saw the thing crawling out over the top of my boot, and I screamed. Fortunately, I was with friends who seemed to know a good deal about these little assholes, and in no time the hornet had been identified as such and had been whacked to death with someone’s shoe. Soon, homeopathic spray appeared, followed by cooling gel and a paste of water and baking soda. Really I was in shock, though, and was outraged that I had been violated in this way. All day and into the night the pain did not diminish for one moment, and I wanted to stop everyone I saw so I could tell them I had been stung by a hornet. You would have thought nothing worse had ever happened to me — or to anyone else for that matter.