During this whatever we’ve disappeared into, I’ve been struggling a lot with concentrating fully on writing, have been feeling at the mercy of my distracted mind. Sometimes I’ve felt that my mind is simply held at bay elsewhere during this time, given to our shared unconscious in this moment of such suffering, unable to surface. I think sometimes of something I’d read many years ago from the compelling turn-of-the-19th-century visionary Rabbi Nachman of Breslov who suggests that disturbing and distracting thoughts which occur during prayer are in fact of great benefit to those prayers. “Without distracting thoughts,” Rabbi Nachman says, “prayer would be impossible.” Such thoughts, Rabbi Nachman claims, “disguise our prayers” on their travels “so that they are ignored” by larger malevolent forces and can reach their higher destination (Sichos HaRan #72). All this to claim a confusion, that I don’t know how to produce a writing prompt against anxiety that might not equally be a writing prompt that conjures anxiety, and perhaps even the arrival of such an anxiety conjured might be a useful protection from greater threats.
In this spirit I offer a prompt adapted from something else I’d read in Rabbi Nachman. I’ve been using this practice with some regularity for the last 16 years or so. I think sometimes that, rather than words, it’s the substrata of ensuance active in the record of writing which structures a writing’s particular meaning, and I tend to use the practice described below to embellish my awareness of that active substrate, to release myself a little from the delusion of a diction as the content of writing—that is, it often grants me a little more time & space to my awareness of moving in the movement as it moves.
Step 1: Choose a word, it matters which word, it matters not which word.
Step 2: Repeat this word clearly and loudly in your mind for a set period of time (I do ten minutes, but that’s a very long time for me, anywhere upwards of three will probably suffice). Should it work better for you, you can also repeat this word out loud instead of in mind, some days it works better for me to do that.
Step 3: Immediately after you’ve finished the designated time of repetition, take a deep breath and take out your notebook or laptop or whatever and write. You need not move your writing towards or around or about the word you’ve been repeating, but know that if you feel a waning in your capacity to stay with the writing, you can return to this word in the writing and it will charge your sense of moving as and of the substrate anew.
More from this series
Prepared StatementPrompt #30—Mike Hauser
Repeat Repeat WritePrompt #29— Lewis Freedman
Poetic CorrespondencePrompt #28—Eric Baus
EKPHRASIS YOURSELFPrompt #27—Jennifer Nelson
POETRY IS FOR THE PEOPLEPrompt #26—Angela Trudell Vasquez
MAIL ARTPrompt #25—Siwar Masannat
VISUAL POSTCARDSPrompt #24—Portia Cobb
A [LONGER-TERM] DEEP LISTENING PROMPTPrompt #23—Jibade-Khalil Huffman
Humor as Medicine for the SoulPrompt #22—Mauricio Kilwein Guevara
Personification: A Social Justice PromptPrompt #21—Derrick Harriell
Ponge ExercisePrompt #20—Tyrone Williams
Occult DocupoesisPrompt #19—Kimberly Alidio
Junk Drawer SongPrompt #18—Hoa Nguyen
TALK TO THE POETSPrompt #17—Stacy Szymaszek
Make-Do Origin Stories & Concrete FuturesPrompt #16—Ching-In Chen
The Family PhotographPrompt #15—Rosa Alcalá
Writing Advice for Your Younger SelfPrompt #14—E.J. Koh
Note(s) to SelfPrompt #13—Stacy Blint
Embracing ConfusionPrompt #12—Bryon Cherry
Writing/Playing the ArchivePrompt #11—Jay Besemer
CAPTURED & FREEDPrompt #10—Dasha Kelly Hamilton
Poetic Exit StrategiesPrompt #9—Ana Božičević
Proyecto ConbífPrompt #8—Erick "CK" Ledesma
TRILOGYPrompt #6—CA Conrad
Utopian CompromisePrompt #7—Paul Druecke
A Series of RoomsPrompt #5—Laura Solomon
Two Variations on N+7Prompt #4—Jenny Gropp
T H E A P A R T / TOGETHERPOEMPrompt #3—Margaret Rozga
An Exercise in WindowsPrompt #2—Marla Sanvick
Erasuring AnxietyPrompt #1—Peter Burzynski
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