(re)Discovering a Penchant for Poetry

I don’t think of myself as a creative writer. Every so often, I take out my leather bound journal (a gift from my mentor) and scrawl out whatever seems to fit the occasion. My poetry is rarely shared, predominantly because I don’t feel that it’s very good. And I’m right because most of it is garbage.

In 2014, my friend Grace and I were discussing poetry (and specifically my poetic voice):

C: I’m jumbled words and half-formed thoughts that resist form and convention.
G: You have a voice and it’s yours and no one else can tell you what it is or whose rules to follow in speaking it (or writing it).

Still, two years later, I don’t often share much of what I’ve written. While I know that Grace is right to say no one but me gets to decide my own voice, I feel compelled to fit my works into the grander tradition of “good poetry.” In comparison, my words are juvenile, poorly written, and, above all else, extremely personal. I’m not comfortable unveiling the vulnerable words inspired by my emotions.

But I started writing poetry again. What I didn’t realize is how my newer poetry is far more representative of what I told Grace two years ago than my older works. This poetry absolutely resists form and convention. Experimental. Frenetic. Volatile. When I’ve shared these works, people are interested even when they don’t understand.

For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m competing with other poets, both living and dead. I don’t feel like I’m trying to make my words fit into some idea of what poetry ought to be. I’m just writing what I want to write and I like it.

Even though it’s still my words and my feelings, the experimental style feels more detached. I’m not afraid of sounding foolish or childish anymore, just in sharing something interesting. Of course, trying to explain exactly what makes these poems more interesting to me is incredibly difficult to do without actually sharing said poems, but they’re still in the editing process.

For now, I’ll share with you a favorite line from a poem I’m working on, so you can get a sense of why feels so weird to me:

˜̴̴s̸ta˛̸ti̅Ci̸ty˘

My Anger Runneth Over

I’m slowly making my way through an excerpt from Aristotle’s Rhetoric for my class on Rhetorical and Composition Studies. Rhetoric looks at rhetoric and the art of persuasion but tonight the most comforting component had to do with anger.

Anger? Comforting? What the heck are you talking about, Caitlin??

I don’t know about the rest of you but I experience anger a lot. It’s a daily thing and I’m going to let you in on a secret: it happens more than once a day. My latent malice is basically a moment away at any given point in time. In the words of Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk: “That’s my secret, Cap, I’m always angry.”

In Book II of Rhetoric, Aristotle defines anger as “an impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight directed without justification towards what concerns oneself or toward what concerns one’s friends” (214).

Aristotle hit the nail on its head. Of course my anger comes as an impulse. Of course it’s a result of inner upset. Of course it demands retribution, often in spite of what is the best thing to do. And, of course, I’m meant to be aware of that nature. This reactionary attitude can be about a slight of any size. I’m often surprised by my own impetuosity when I, for example, don’t get a text back from someone in the time frame I expect. That’s a ridiculous thing to feel slighted by and yet, every time it happens, I feel the urge to come up with an incredibly nasty or aggressive response just to pick a fight. And for no apparent reason other than feeling slighted. . . and it’s hard to not give in to that urge.

So yes, it’s comforting to think about anger tonight. It’s comforting to think about just why I’m upset and how that spiteful side of me wants to start fights. But it’s also comforting to think about what Aristotle has to say next: “growing calm is the opposite of growing angry, and calmness the opposite of anger” (216).  Aristotle goes on to look at how anger ceases and how even time can put an end to anger. He doesn’t explicitly talk about mindfulness activities, though I think a modern-day Aristotle would.

Most comforting, however, is the thought that, if I can acknowledge the anger that lurks within me, perhaps I can transform it into calmness.

The Spy in a Box: Spyfall & Wittgenstein’s Beetle Thought Experiment

Spyfall the game

Let’s talk about Spyfall, otherwise known as my current favorite social game. It’s more interactive than Mafia, more entertaining than Cards Against Humanity, and easier to introduce to new people than any kind of RPG (I’m looking at you, DnD).

Spyfall is an interactive question-and-answer game where players get a location card (nightclub, university, ocean liner, etc.) and one player gets the Spy card instead of a location. Over the course of the next eight minutes or so, all players participate in a round robin of questions where players “in the know” try to give clues that they know the location while the Spy tries to use those clues to determine the location. I once played a round as the Spy where our location was an embassy but I was utterly convinced we were on an ocean liner.

As much as I adore playing this game, I’m even more impressed by how it presents Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Beetle in a Box thought experiment through a social game. I have a fairly basic understanding of the Beetle experiment, as explained by Dr. Steven Wexler. Wittgenstein’s experiment explores the importance of language to perception by imagining that each person had a box and each box holds a beetle. No one can look in someone else’s box, yet through the social conversation around what exists in each person’s box comes the understanding of “beetle.” It’s a fascinating exploration of how people determine reality through social experiences.

This amorphous idea of perceived reality is exactly what Spyfall is all about. Each players has their own card (or “beetle in a box”) and it’s only through conversation that the other players can determine the location (or the meaning of what constitutes a beetle). However, Spyfall adds a variable to Wittgenstein’s experiment: the Spy. The Spy in Spyfall has an empty box – no beetle necessary. How do we determine what constitutes reality when one (or more) members of reality don’t have their own beetle to perceive and can only internalize the social conversation of what a beetle is?

Spyfall currently fields 3-8 players with one Spy in each location deck. I’m really interested to see how Spyfall 2 (eta 2017) will expand the gameplay with new locations, increased player count to 12, and a second Spy! What are the implications for the Beetle in a Box if two participants have an empty box? When perceived reality relies so heavily on social interaction, the Spy’s lack of knowledge turns Wittgenstein’s experiment on its head.