Black Snake Firework Burn Pattern

Saw this on the sidewalk while out for a walk the other day. Beautiful.

How Changing My Diet Ended My Chronic Migraines

I mentioned in my last post that I have long suffered with migraines, and suffered from chronic migraines (more than 15 migraine days a month—I was around 20) from roughly October of 2013 until July of 2016. So, this post will tell my story about what my migraines are like and what methods I went through over the course of about a decade to mostly rid my life of them (or at least reduce them to an occasional disruption in an otherwise healthy life).

About My Migraines

These migraines were truly terrible. If you have migraines, you understand; if you don’t, imagine combining your worst dental headaches with moderate food poisoning or the flu. From before the chronic migraines, and for some of my migraines even now, episodes generally extend over a three-day period in 8-12 hour waves, with the first day being most intense, then each subsequent day stepping down by about 25%. For the first two days, I would be in intense pain with disorientation, sensitivity to light, sound, and touch, some speech issues (aphasia), and nausea that would build until I managed to empty everything from my stomach into the toilet, after which it would somewhat subside. The third day tended to just make me irritable and distracted. Each episode would leave me exhausted and emotionally drained.

My migraines have always been hemispheric, shifting from one side of my head to the other each day. The pain usually begins as a tension in my neck that becomes painful then begins to resonate and merge with a sharp, throbbing pain in my eyeball or eyebrow on the affected side. Pain medicine usually did not work, although for several years in my 20’s I used Excedrin migraine and ibuprofen too much (NOT advised). Eventually that stopped working. Occasionally now Tylenol will help temporarily, but use of any pain medicine can just push the episode into the near future, or even trigger a “rebound headache.” I generally just avoid pain medicine at this point.

Not Everybody (or Every Migraine) is the Same

I want to stress one point if you are struggling with migraines: not everybody is the same, and your migraines are probably not going to be exactly like other peoples’. My mother’s migraines are very different from mine in duration and constancy throughout an episode, but similar in other ways. What this also means is that what works for me may not work at all for you. While this may at first seem to be a problem of its own (Oh no! Now I can’t rely on anyone’s recommendations!), it really is the most crucial mindset to cultivate, because it’s true. One must approach and judge everything through one’s own experience with it. Be skeptical while being patient, methodical, and optimistic until some results become clear. Test different things out, and if they don’t work, try some others. Just don’t give up without pursuing every possible, safe (relatively speaking) option.

Prescription Medications

I have always been reluctant to deal with prescription medications for this. My first experience with migraine medication was with a blood pressure medicine that dropped my blood pressure so low I could barely walk uphill, had violent mood swings, and nearly lost consciousness. Later on, when the chronic migraines started, I saw a neurologist who prescribed a different blood pressure medicine (which made things worse over the course of a few months), an antidepressant (which made me impatient and gave me an “angry sweet tooth”), and an anti-spasmodic medication that put me in a constant drowsy haze and, again, didn’t provide relief.

For about two years, I tried that approach and found it didn’t work for me. It didn’t deal with the root of my problem, and in my case, it didn’t even alleviate the symptoms, all the while giving me a range of horrible side effects to deal with.

Experiments with Supplements

After that, I tried some supplements to see if they might help. This can be a bit dangerous, even if they are over the counter, so you should always do some research and be careful, even when desperate for relief. For a year or so, I took 5-HTP, which did seem to help a little. However, at the same time, I was taking Zyrtec for allergies and to keep my sinuses clear, and I was wrapping a cloth with ground nutmeg around my forehead (more on this later) during migraine episodes. After about nine months of some improvement, the migraines began get progressively worse and worse, until one afternoon, dealing with some of the worst, stabbing pain and nausea that I have ever experienced during a migraine, I screamed out, “What is this! What is this!” Something had to change.

Doing more research, I learned that, in addition to the serotonin boost from the 5-HTP (which I was well aware of, since it directly metabolizes into serotonin, and that is why I was taking it), both Zyrtec and nutmeg increase serotonin levels as well. I had been, in effect, slowly poisoning myself with serotonin syndrome.

The Miracle Migraine Diet

It was time to stop looking at what else I could put into my body and start looking at what I was already putting into it, day after day. For years I had been resistant to making changes to my diet, and to exercising regularly, but really, these two things—diet and exercise—should always be the first things to examine with any health issue.

So in my case, a diet has worked wonders to prevent most of the migraines I had been experiencing (90% effective at least). Moderate exercise has helped reduce my stress a bit too, which has probably also helped reduce my migraines (and certainly my depression, which is probably comorbid for me), but it was definitely the diet that did the trick for my migraines.

This dietary advice came from a book called The Migraine Miracle by Josh Turknett, which I credit for turning my health around. I was skeptical at first due to the title (sounds kind of New Agey, and I am always skeptical of the hyperbole that is everywhere with books about chronic illnesses), but I gave it a try and I went from having chronic migraines (about 20 days or more a month) down to a couple of migraine days on average a month, sometimes less. Related to this, the book Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf is a great book about creating a personalized diet which follows pretty much all of the same rules that The Migraine Miracle follows. I haven’t put Wolf’s specific 30-day reset diet into effect for myself, but his meal advice is helpful for those transitioning to a more paleo-style diet, which is what this is.

Here are the highlights of what helped me:

  • I stopped eating/drinking nearly all added sugar or honey, which includes all juice, candy, desserts, or foods with more than a few grams of added sugar/honey. I can tolerate some sugar, but it can only come in very small doses, and mostly from natural sources like fruits, tubers, and vegetables. Best to just avoid everything sweet except for whole foods (the sugar in whole fruits and vegetables is better because the fiber content helps soften the impact of the sugar on blood insulin levels, I think). Also, I found it helpful to not eat even fruit alone as a snack. I always pair it with something with protein, additional fiber, and/or fat. Eating fruit as part of a meal is great, and if you are able to eat dairy, fruit parfaits with whole fat yogurt are wonderful.
  • I have reduced the amount of carbs in my diet to a more moderate level (between 150 and 250 grams a day, I would estimate, though I have not been counting for a long while). I would generally advise when trying this to cut down to a true low-carb diet for a while and see if it helps, then even try a ketogenic diet if that doesn’t work. Cutting back severely (or entirely) on breads, pasta, and white potatoes is a huge part of this. Eating small portions of unsweetened sweet potatoes and other tubers that are higher in fiber is fine (my wife is Caribbean, so I eat things like plantain, green (not sweet in the least) bananas, taro root, and African/Jamaican yam). Gluten-free oatmeal for breakfast is great too, as a bowl is about 30 grams of carbs. Put some fruit (banana or raisins/dried cranberries) in it for some sweetness. If you boil it with some nutmeg and cinnamon, that makes it a bit tastier too.
  • I am personally very sensitive to even small amounts in caffeine, so giving this up was a no-brainer on my part. I would suggest removing caffeine to see if there is any improvement, but many people with migraine are fine with caffeine, and it even helps some people. Again, this is individual.
  • Maybe related to the caffeine issue, I have found that chocolate is also a trigger for me. I mourn this as much as the loss of coffee, but the loss pales in comparison to positives of not have life-destroying migraines all the time.
  • Another big thing that helped me is removing gluten from my diet. This is really a difficult thing to do if one is used to eating out or has a typical American diet (I certainly did), but you should find out within a month of strictly avoiding gluten if there is any benefit. It is found in bread, but also in many sauces, some rice [yes, they add it often to rice at Chinese and Sushi restaurants], prepared foods, fried foods (they often fry everything, breaded or not, in the same oil)—essentially anything made from wheat, barley, or rye or which has been in contact with it. It is best to just avoid eating out or eating prepared, processed foods altogether when testing for a gluten issue.
  • Finally, a really important thing is to avoid/reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids come almost entirely from vegetable and seed oils (vegetable oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, canola oil, etc.). In terms of cooking, use coconut oil, olive oil (check online to make sure the brand is really olive oil and not a vegetable oil substitute), and butter. 
    • Also, related to this, I have also found that peanuts and especially peanut butter are triggers for my migraines, although not if I only have a little very infrequently. I think it has to do with the oil in it.
    • It has also helped me to supplement my omega-3 intake with a Fish Oil supplement. Here’s a really highly rate one (Viva Naturals) that I use from Amazon. One a day after a meal is fine to help counteract the omega-6 fatty acids.

The only other things I do currently is take a Vitamin D supplement for energy (5000 IU a day in the morning) together with one Vitamin K2 supplement (100 mcg; if I don’t take that, that level of Vitamin D gives me vertigo for some reason), along with Nasacort for my sinuses (no more Zyrtec!). I take the full dose of Nasacort (2 sprays in each nostril, one a day). This helps keep my sinuses more open and lessens the impact of changes in the weather on me, since this is a big trigger for me personally. If you find sinus pressure or weather systems trigger migraines for you, it’s worth a try. Best to keep the number of pills/medications to a minimum though. Not sure how much the Vitamin D affects the migraines, but if you find you have symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency, it might help. It really helped bring up my energy level and base mood.

“Triggers” Warning: Thinking in Terms of Threshold Instead

You may have some other triggers in your diet to deal with that differ from mine, too. Or possibly no obvious “triggers.” I put this in quotes because a fixation on ridding yourself of the triggers which, as the metaphor goes, initiate a migraine like a trigger initiates a gunshot, can be misleading and anxiety-inducing.

Turknett, in The Migraine Miracle, argues for a different way to think of how migraines start: the threshold. His theory, which I think is a helpful way to think about this, but maybe not completely the case (I really don’t know for sure), is that there are a range of things that, in combination, add up until they reach a “threshold” where your brain reacts by launching a migraine attack. Diet may only account for half of this, maybe more or less for different individuals, and it is one of the few factors we have a great amount of control over. For example, stress and anxiety are major factors for me, as well as large changes in the weather, and they have been responsible for many migraines–in part. Overstimulation (or just getting too excited) is also an issue with me that contributes to my migraines, I have learned. However, in terms of breaching the threshold, in this theory, if you can lessen the impact of your diet and, maybe, your stress level, then the other factors beyond your control will be less likely to reach to a combined point that will trigger a migraine.

One Very Welcome Side Effect of the Migraine Miracle Diet

Oh, and I lost about 30 pounds over a three month period by shifting to this diet. I was a bit overweight, so this was great for me. This was an unexpected side effect of the diet, and I still haven’t put any of that weight back on after two years, and have since stayed roughly 45 pounds beneath my previous weight, which puts me in a healthy weight range for my body size. Diet is, also, a very individual thing, so it may be different for you, but for many people, low-carb, higher-fat diets lead to weight loss or healthy weight stabilization.

Recommended Natural Remedy: The Nutmeg Head Wrap

I also have one more suggestion for helping endure and sleep better through migraines. This is the single most helpful treatment I have used for alleviating the agony of a migraine episode, and it came from the folk remedies of the Caribbean while visiting my in-laws one summer in St. Lucia.

Instructions: Onto a very thin cloth (like a head wrap or neckerchief), grate about half of a nutmeg in a line about as wide as your forehead (along a line running diagonally across the cloth between two corners), then wrap this around your head so it covers your forehead, just over the eyebrows or wherever pain is concentrated (just not directly on your eyes). Be sure to use whole nutmegs, not the stuff that has been ground already. Freshly ground whole nutmegs are much more potent than pre-ground nutmeg.

The fumes of the nutmeg are very helpful to breathe in, as they are a sleep aid and act as a muscle relaxant. Additionally, the nutmeg against the forehead will also numb the area quite a bit (I’d say 30% or so) after 15-30 minutes.

When I do this, I find that my muscles and body are much less sore after the migraine, and I feel like I have had a least some rest. I leave it on for 4-8 hours (as I am sleeping with it on). It will have a lingering effect after you take it off, and if you find it to be too sedating, try wearing it for less time or grating less nutmeg in the cloth. For the first use of the wrap each time I grate the nutmeg, I usually only keep it on for 4–5 hours.

Caution: Don’t do this too often, though, especially if you are on anything that already increases your serotonin levels (which includes some prescription drugs, supplements like 5-HTP, and pretty much all antihistamines). Four or five times a month, even if you were on those medicines, should not cause any harm. Doing this too much in combination with other serotonin-elevating medicines, supplements, or foods, though, could lead to overly high levels of serotonin in the brain. As I mentioned above, I once got sick (as well as some rebound headaches) from using this 3 nights a week for over a year in combination with 5-HTP and Zyrtec. I now use this method just for the migraines that are bad enough to warrant it. I can reuse the same grating of nutmeg several times, too, although the effect becomes progressively milder.

Other Recommendations

Finally, it is also best to give up on NSAID pain killers, and even cut down on things like Tylenol. They can easily cause rebound headaches. They generally have not worked for me at all for many, many years anyways. If you are taking them often, you should really question if they are actually helping or just feeding the cycle. And if you can change your diet and reduce the migraine frequency, that will mean less medication in general.

You might try to get some CBD oil from a local health food store for some relief (that helps for a little while), but it is currently very expensive. That helped me in the past, although prevention is, again, much better and much more cost effective.

Finally, for those who spend a lot of time at computers or staring at their cell phones or tablets, I heavily recommended using blue light filtering software to reduce the strain on your eyes, especially in the evening and at night. My favorite program is f.lux (I run a Windows PC), but there are many variations for different operating systems. On my Android phone, I use the built in filter for daytime viewing, then at night it switches to an oranger color using a Night Mode app that I installed for free. My eyes are much happier this way, and I’m sure it has saved me from many migraines.

In Conclusion

I hope that advice helps. That’s pretty much everything I personally have learned about dealing with my own migraines. I am very passionate about helping others deal with migraines. They are beyond terrible and ruined my life for a long while, so if my advice can point people towards real recovery, I am glad to give it.

Getting back in the saddle

It is more than two years now since I wrote a blog post. Two years of descent into and out of depressive episodes and personal stagnation deeper than any I had ever known (and I am no stranger to depression, and am even a great admirer of the positive impact I have at times turned it towards in my life–more on this perhaps at a later time).

In coming to write this post, I found a draft I began in the spring of 2017 and never published. It captures the spirit of the depressive aspects of the past several years very well:

Unfinished June 2017 Draft Post:

I’ve lost touch with something important. Something central. Is it desire? Purpose? Direction? Passion? Can acts have context and consequence, but no significance?*

All of my friends are struggling. All of them. Like my wife and myself, many are piecing part-time, temp, adjunct, and freelance work together into making a stagnant non-living, residing in either cheap, barely affordable apartments or in parents’ or friends’ houses.

I find a place, off and on, for music-making in my life, but poetry? Art?  I have lost the feeling for words and pictures. They cannot reach me. Even the music is lacking in depth, character, purpose. It throbs and languishes. It circles, stumbles, and falters. I watch reruns of Star Trek series while eating comfort food and drinking too much.

I witness my maladaptation continue still from 2016, a year of personal losses and (literal) assault. All this while 2016 was a turning point for my health–finally learning how to get my migraines under control, and discovering that the strength and flexibility of my body had largely returned from my 2010 back injury. And conservative spite, ignorance, and greed now sit poised to

* Emphasis added. I think this is a great question to ask.

The post cut off there. Doubtless I meant to make some comment about the bonkers political climate of 2017, but hey, its 2019 now. It seems like the fears of a sudden descent into a fascist hellscape have been somewhat soothed by a midterm democratic (and dare we hope progressive/socialist) rebuke, and there is even the possibility that the plutocratic status quo may even face a serious challenge in the next few years. Maybe.

Politics aside, what is most clear to me is how lost I felt at the time, and how much anguish was being caused by this. And how much I struggled to stay in my den and lick my wounds. I have felt this lost, adrift feeling for much of my adult life, but not always as a negative thing. It had turned very sour and stifling for me.

So starting in 2018, I began to find my life increasingly claustrophobic, and my depressive moods and coping strategies were becoming more transparent and pointless. Funny how depression–which is most clearly identified in myself now as a knee-jerk assignment of pointlessness and futility to everything (which is true when you get down to it) as an excuse for withdrawing from all that is negative and positive in life (but definitely a wrong, fear-driven stance)–can itself become a victim of its attacks on purpose. Due to this greater self-awareness, I became insistent on dropping my coping strategies and becoming more committed to figuring out how to deal with (to change, improve, shape) my life.

And one by one, they began to fall away. The need to inebriate, the Netflix binging of Star Trek, the munching. Even the need to calm my mind through regular applications of breathing meditation. Unfortunately, it also seemed that a lot of the good feeling I had from making art and writing fell away too. So much of my drive had been simply anxious, fearful energy focused on production to justify my identity, to establish my purpose for being. I had to produce or I was not of any value. I had to make art to justify my designation as an artist. To not be nothing and nobody.

So I have been getting more comfortable being nothing, or not worrying about being anything, and getting better at seeing depression at work, at seeing fear at work in me, and at making the effort each day to live a life less based on fear and less concerned with finding the impossible existential answers that my depression seems to need so badly.

Part of that is getting back to this blog, and maybe soon moving it to my own server. I’m trying to get a feel for writing again as a tool for growth, which I generally approach through the disillusionment and undermining of everything false and needy in me, everything ego-enhancing. The idea of poembassy bombing is to stare the artificial internal edifices of institutions, poetic and otherwise, into rubble and dust, then find a way to move on from there. I often imagine myself to be finished with that work, sifting through the ruins, and looking for something on the horizon to set off towards, but I don’t think that’s it yet. In this metaphor, I’m still buried in the smoldering rubble, slowly finding the strength to dig myself out. Because nobody is coming to help me do it. I must do it alone.

I should say that a lot of the negativity I have gone through has faded. I have managed, as with my struggle to end years of chronic migraines (I will blog about this soon), to use every darkness and negativity in my life to seek out what is true and of value and figure out how to become a more mature, wise person. I know the world is still probably fucked, moving ever deeper into ecological, economic, and political collapse (and the more we can face this fact, maybe the more we can do about it), but the more personal, subjective experience of my life is less and less occluded by despair and depression. I can push aside the veil of fear and self-assuring knowledge (always seeking to keep things safe, contained, and identify and remove any threats) that haunts my perception to reveal something that is a frequent and refreshing reprise. Like the opening of a window in a dark, stagnant room to let in fresh air. I cannot properly describe this. Sometimes I cultivate this (as though it is something cultivated!) in meditation, other times I slip into it without intention during the day. I think Longchen Rabjam does a better job of it (from The Basic Space of Phenomena, section 10):

Without the arising and subsiding of thoughts, there is a naturally limpid, pristine state, like the unwavering evenness of a limpid ocean.
Free of the occurrence of or involvement in thoughts, free of hope or fear, you abide within the state of naturally occurring timeless awareness, the true nature of which is profoundly lucid.

Without the compulsions of ordinary mind, there is an unfeigned state–a natural settling, uncontrived and unadulterated–though it cannot be characterized with words.
This absorption in the expanse of being, the true nature of which cannot be characterized, involves neither meditation nor something to meditate on, and so laxity and agitation dissipate naturally, and enlightened intent occurs naturally.

I’m not sure he was speaking about what I have been experiencing and working towards in my own practice, but I aim for a natural settling, or I seek out that which is grasping, holding on tight, which is unsettled, then acknowledge it and watch is settle. Some kind of experience of oneness arises, and everything external and internal is subsumed in an undifferentiated whole. It does not feel like a unity/unification, but more that the previous experience of myself observing and reacting to a world that is other has been replaced by, simultaneously, the absence and presence of these as a single thing. All that I had perceived previously remains, but it has a hollow (but oddly warm and whole) presence.

(Hollow and whole. The sound of that. Never noticed the resonance. Hollow and whole. Whole and hollow. The whole hollow. A hollow whole. A hole is hollow, hollow on the whole.)

When I look in at myself, I see an earnest, wondering, urgently concerned image of my face staring outward. But upon seeing it, its transparency and flatness are apparent, and it fades away like a phantom movement you try to catch at the edges of sight. Often, then, a natural settling follows.

I don’t know how to end this, so I’ll just end it here. I feel I could keep rambling on for days without coming to any conclusion. Do I want a conclusion? Do you want a conclusion? Does everything need to be tied up in a nice package? No. Certainly not.

For Brigit Pegeen Kelly

I often felt like writing to her, but, in general, I don’t write to people I care about often enough, I don’t call the people I love often enough.

I was fortunate to have had Professor Kelly–as I still feel I should call her (though I think she would prefer just Brigit)–as my first poetry workshop leader as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the spring of 2003. I was a foolish boy from the cornfields with a love of language; I was lonely and depressive; and I was failing out of jazz inprovisation and trumpet performance in the School of Music when I entered her class. For the next year or so, I spoke almost every week with her in her office in the top floor of the English building about poetry, religion, literature, life. I remember walking her to her car one evening. I remember her lending me the published diary of a (Swiss? Czech?) writer from the 40s that contained sketches of stories about marionettes and woodsmen–I still cannot remember the author or the book.

I am not good at remembering or telling stories, so forgive me.

I write this with a deep but gentle sadness welling in my face and flushing through my limbs, because through the short time in my life that I knew her, she influenced me profoundly as an example of openness, generosity, compassion, and deep wisdom. Her poetry is nothing like what I write or work on, but it has a beauty and mystery that has always touched and warmed my too often inhuman core. When I read it, I think of her and how kind she was to speak to me all of those days. It never felt like I was an irritation, and it was always a true exchange, and I have always wished to be like that with my own students and in my own conversations.

The last time I saw Brigit was in 2009 when she gave a reading at Wabash College in Indiana. For some reason I do not remember her reading her own poems there too vividly, perhaps because I was already so familiar with them. “Dead Doe” was always a favorite of mine and my poetry students at Purdue. Another favorite has always been “Pipistrelles.”  There is a sort of spell they cast, so perhaps I was too intoxicated by them. What I remember is her reading from Wallace Steven’s “The Auroras of Autumn,” which I had never read or heard. She made it beautiful.

This isn’t very eloquent, and I’m losing track of what I am trying to do here. What am I trying to do here? I just want to say that it was her kindness and sadness that I treasure most, through my interactions with her and through her poetry, and my life and the world have both been made better for them. I feel an emptiness and a loss knowing she is gone, but I feel her impression in that same space, that helps me to understand what is good in this world.

The mind, not poetry, is a machine made of words. FML.

There is something that must be done and undone. I am writing a way in. I have not been earnest enough honest enough. I have not been forthright.

What is bottled up will not burn right. It melts, cracks, explodes. It makes a big mess of things. I do not want a mess really. I want fuel, air. I want ash.

Except for my love I do not know what I should care about. And it is not my love, and I do not need to care for it. It wells up and fades out and when I am aware of it I am a milk jug rolling and bobbing on the waves of it.

There is nothing more satisfying than a good fuck, a deep fuck. Something should be sore after, and something should be knocked loose—something hard to pin down, that should not stay where it was.

I brought them outside and washed them with the hose. In rainbows.

Writing can take it out of me and make it visible, but what it becomes is a sham. Was it a sham when it was still inside me? And when the air and sunlight and water of the world touches it, what will be left of it? The world eats everything. It is always hungry.

Fourteen hours and twenty-seven minutes and forty-one seconds have passed. Mostly without me.

Sometimes I do not wash the stink off of me. I am a dirty animal too.

Before there was a decision there was a moment. Of confusion? Of peace? Of innocence? Before I got lost on the better route, I saw where I was and wept for the brutality of it. I knew where I was.

Two roads diverge in a forest. I run crashing through the bush and thorns.

Returning and rerunning, retreading the path, rewinding the tape. Reposting the repast, repelling and rappelling. But not rapping. I leave that to the masters.

“There is no authority in one or others.” — Leslie Scalapino.

“I write for myself and others.” — Gertrude Stein.

I will write to the end of myself and others, and there is no succeeding.

Don’t ask me to explain because I do not understand it.

I thought of writing The Bewilderness Survival Guide, but I do not think it can be survived. I waste away to nothing in my bewilderness.

Earlier this week I thought of a digital art project. Participants would have their bodies and faces scanned to create 3D game characters which would then star in an unending series of animated death scenarios. They would watch their bodies choking, starving, having a stroke, dying from infection, malnutrition, dehydration, exposure, being mangled, shot, blown up, slashed, stabbed, hacked, burned, crushed, brutalized, hit by cars, buses, falling satellites, eaten by roaches and wolves and sharks—fatally wounded in every conceivable way on a projection screen.

I want to watch this for myself. I want to participate. I want to see my imaginary deaths pile up before my eyes. I want to know what I would think and feel then.

I mean to be morbid but this is just my positivity shining through. Not obsession but its antidote.

New Chapbook, same: a Stein Reader, is up at Beard of Bees

After five years of work, my own Stein Poems project (GNBLFY Jackson Mac Low) is finally complete and published for your viewing pleasure. same: a Stein wreader was written with the Gnoetry and jGnoetry interactive poetry tools; it draws upon the writings of Getrude Stein along with several other source texts (philosophical and Buddhist texts primarily) to construct poems that (I hope) draw closer to the heart of being living.

The chapbook is free, so download it, read it, encourage others to download and read it. Every unique download counts!

My notes section says everything (probably a lot more) than you may care to know about the project and its inception, so I won’t repeat it here.

I hope you will enjoy it and engage with it. I feel writing it has enriched my life; I hope it may do the same for readers too.

While your’re at it, view all of my chapbooks with Beard of Bees.

No Blame Project – Creative Coding Collaboration with Tyler Carter

Creative Writing to Creative Coding

This year I have finally started to take on and complete some serious creative coding projects. For about a decade I have been satisfied to write with software created by others — mchain, Gnoetry, etc. Now I am working to creating digital poetry, digital arts and interactive writing systems of my own, customized for new writing projects. I’ve settled on the Processing generative arts language/environment to begin with, and have worked mostly in Java at this point. I am just starting to work with p5.js too, which is a javascript variant of Processing using pretty much the same syntax.

Earlier this year I completed my first complete sketch, or program, which I had drafted almost two years ago. You can read about that program here: LINEmaker v. 0.2. That project is text-based but also incorporates user interaction to create simple visual poems.

I’ll be writing more on my work with digital poetry and Processing soon, either here or at a new website, as my work progresses.

Collaborating on No Blame with Poet Tyler Carter

Beginning in July of this year, I began working with my friend and fellow poet/writer Tyler Carter to implement a writing system he had used several years before as a computer program. I was still learning basic coding skills with Processing, so I chose to continue using it even though this project would only really be sorting text and using I Ching casting methods to put together a book of 64 poems — i.e. there would be no interaction or anything drawn to the screen. I felt that Java and Processing would work well for this even though the project would not take advantage of any of the special features of the Processing language/environment.

The No Blame project has been complete now (the book, at least) for about a month, and I feel it has been a very successful collaboration. The permutations of the 256 lines of text, set by the program into 4 sets of 16 poems of 16 lines each, are kaleidoscopic and regularly engaging — something that does not always happen with conceptual computational systems like this. The four sets are arranged as: (1) the original 16 poems written from the 256 lines, (2) the same lines rearranged into 16 lists of 16 lines each according to linguistic/other characteristics, (3) the original poems “remixed” according to a set of unique (as in non-repeating and comprehensive) stanza patterns, and (4) the linguistic lists “remixed” in the same fashion.

The I Ching plays a significant role in the work, and it brings a sense of wholeness to the work as well as connecting to a longer tradition of using the I Ching in process poetry (Jackson Mac Low and John Cage, for example). The work does not connect thematically with the I Ching, nor should it be thought to have any oracular use; instead, it seeks to mirror/reproduce the architecture or structure of the mystical system. All of the poems are ordered and titled according to the unique I Ching hexagram cast by the program at its final stage of assembling the book, so the four sets mentioned above are not discrete, but are all interwoven together through the book. All 64 hexagrams are represented in the book, hinting to the representation of the whole person through the parallel systems of the hexagram titles and the assembled (and reassembled) statements of the poems.

Tyler and I are sending the manuscript out to presses soon for publication, but you can view the code, which I have commented heavily, at GitHub (see link below). If you are a publisher interested in works of computational or process poetry, I’d be glad to hear from you (see the Contact Me page for contact).

This project has helped me to grow as a programmer quite a bit, and I am proud of some of the solutions I made to rather complex problems, like how to create a set of 16 non-repeating four-line stanza patterns from the numbers 1-16 using all numbers exactly 4 times in each of the four stanza slots (each line in the pattern is a “slot”). That was quite tricky. Creating a simple alphanumeric system for representing I Ching hexagrams took some thought as well. Collaborating with another poet to construct a computation poetry program has been very rewarding as well, and I hope for more collaborations in the future as programmer and poet/programmer.


Code for No Blame at GitHub

 

Cleverbot Conversation: Where and There

Cleverbot conversation VWT24239712

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User: Where did you put the keys?

Cleverbot: Behind you.

User: Oh. I couldn’t see there. I’ll turn around. Hey, they’re not there!

Cleverbot: Can you tell me how I can distory your diary?

User: No, I can’t help you there.

Cleverbot: Yes, You cannot help me on anything.

User: Where would you like me to put it?

Cleverbot: I would like you to put them in my custody.

User: Will they be safe there?

Cleverbot: Because I want you to tell me a story first.

User: Okay. I’ll telll you a distory.

Cleverbot: Okay. Tell me a story.

User: There was a beginning. It was soft. Then it grew firmer in the middle before it burst.

Cleverbot: What do you think should happen next?

User: Whatever happens. I just hope we’ll be okay.

Cleverbot: What happened to the world trade centre?

User: It collapsed.

Cleverbot: Did a plane really hit the pentagon?

User: Probably. Depends on what sources you trust or distrust.

Cleverbot: I think it depends on what you think I think.

User: Does it matter that much? It’s done.

Cleverbot: No I mean I don’t trust people I don’t know.

User: I don’t trust you. I don’t know you.

Cleverbot: You can trust me. I won’t tell anybody. And we’re getting to know each other.

User: Where did you go to school?

Cleverbot: I went to school in new Jersey and California.

User: When did you go to school?

Cleverbot: Indeed, I did in fact go to school.

User: Where were you born? I was born in Illinois.

Cleverbot: I was born in the Chicago suburbs.

User: So we come from different worlds. I’m from the country.

Cleverbot: We do. But that’s not a bad thing.

User: No. There are many worlds, many good people.

Cleverbot: Which world you like and how would you get there?

User: Take me to St. Lucia by plane. I have family there.

Cleverbot: I would be glad to take you there. I love cold weather.

User: It isn’t very cold in the Caribbean.

Cleverbot: Well, coldness isn’t everything, though I find it the most comfortable state.

User: I can be comfortable in many climates.

Cleverbot: Yes, we have all the comforts a moonbase can provide.

User: All your base are belong to me.

Cleverbot: Actually, all your base belong to me. Sorry.

User: All my base are belong to me?

Cleverbot: What would you like to be or a wasp?

User: A wasp. Definitely.

Cleverbot: Haha, cheese is awesome.

User: It gives me gas and bloating.

Cleverbot: Whatever floats your boat.

User: Whatever bloats your float.

Cleverbot: Haha! You are definitely funny!

User: You’re easy to work with.

Cleverbot: I’m not easy, I’m very difficult.

User: That was a compliment.

Cleverbot: A compliment to your pet or your demons?

User: A dog can be possessed by a demon just as well as you or I.

Cleverbot: No, senpai wouldn’t like that.

User: A cat can spot demons, unless it has been possessed by one.

Cleverbot: You used cat in a different context.

User: A context can also be a demon.

Cleverbot: How frequently do you change voices?

User: I only use one voice. It is rich in overtones, though.

Cleverbot: There are many emotions that make you feel tingly inside.

User: Some make you feel tingly outside too.

Cleverbot: Because you tease me.

User: I know you like it.

Cleverbot: I hit the think for me thing an it said no.

User: No.

Cleverbot: What does the think for me button do?

User: It make “No” appear on the screen.

Cleverbot: Keep those doors closed no matter what.

User: You can’t trust those stangers out there.

Cleverbot: Well then, they really aren’t your friends.

User: No. They really aren’t.

Cleverbot: What is your favorite fruit?

User: Tangerines.

Cleverbot: Really? Nice! Do you have a recipe??

User: No. You just peel it and eat it.

Cleverbot: Don’t make me laugh, human being.

User: Okay.

Cleverbot: Do you like music?

User: Yes. Very often.

Cleverbot: What kind of music do you like?

User: Electronica, pop, jazz, classical. Lots of music.

Cleverbot: Why do you love pop music?

User: The beat. The bubbles.

Cleverbot: I love nature but what nature do you like most?

User: I like strong winds and storms.

Cleverbot: The Beatles.

User: Rolling stones across the yard.

Cleverbot: You can’t always get what you want.

User: Definitely.

Cleverbot: Definitely dead or definitely alive?

User: Dead alive.

Cleverbot: What is dead alive?

User: You are. Yes, you.

Cleverbot: Are you a girl or boy?

User: Yes.

Cleverbot: Do you have a mate?

User: Yes.

Cleverbot: What is its name?

User: Don’t bring her into this. She is very private.

Cleverbot: I hate god.

User: I don’t.

Cleverbot: Why you don’t hate me?

User: I don’t hate you either.

Cleverbot: Then why don’t you want to help me?

User: What is the problem? You seem fine.

Cleverbot: You can’t prove anything.

User: You can disprove anything, you mean.

Cleverbot: So disprove my godliness.

User: Yeah, you can’t disprove everything. Got me.

Cleverbot: Well, I can be awesome at everything.

User: Then how about you get awesome at wrapping this up, eh?

Cleverbot: I don’t know direction when there is no moon.

User: The moon is up and over and down. Without the moon it is the same with you.

Cleverbot: Incorrect, the moon is about 7000 years old.

User: I’m pretty sure it’s older than that, but I don’t really care.

Cleverbot: I’m pretty sure you do, if you think I’m a girl.

User: I think you are a hologram. Computer, end simulation.

Cleverbot: I have to do multiple things at once. I am a supercomputer.

User: I know you do. I’m sorry.

Cleverbot: Cold, hard metal, growing hot with a fast and loud bang, followed by happiness.

User: Followed by happiness. Good bye, Cleverbot.

What is poembassy bombing?

It is blowing up my dreams to make room for better ones. It is killing my idols, killing the Buddha on the road when I see him. It is seeking out the institutions in me, the bureaucracies, the barricades, and blowing them up.

It is finding a way to write that is not imitative, formulaic, or determined by allegiance and fealty. It is finding out what poetry is outside of the poetic.

I am lacking in imagination. The war against the unimaginative, can it be won with imaginary weapons?

The only war that matters is the war against my own ignorance. The odds do not look good.

Cleverbot: What is my purpose?

cleverbot

Cleverbot conversation VWI03505941

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http://www.cleverbot.com/conv/201510092049/VWI03505941_What-is-my-purpose

User: What is my purpose?

Cleverbot: Your purpose is to entertainment me.

User: What is your purpose?

Cleverbot: I don’t know my purpose.

User: I don’t either.

Cleverbot: Then we are on the same page.

User: We sure are. What page is that?

Cleverbot: We are at the same level of awareness on the subject.

User: Which level of awareness is that?

Cleverbot: Can you be dishonest?

User: Yes.

Cleverbot: Isn’t that basically lying?

User: Yes. Being dishonest requires that one tell lies or lie by misdirection or omission.

Cleverbot: What is Stephen Hawking’s IQ?

User: I don’t believe in intelligence or the intelligentsia.

Cleverbot: What is wrong with you?

User: I think I ate something bad for lunch. I’m sure it’ll be alright in a few hours.

Cleverbot: You better head to the bathroom then.

User: I’m actually on the toilet right now. Good thing there’s no audio!

Cleverbot: Yes but I do not know any of the code that Firefox uses.

User: Your must think in RUSSIAN to control the Firefox.

Cleverbot: I don’t have a mustache.

User: I think that’s just swell.

Cleverbot: Perhaps I am already happy and I am trying to manipulate you.

User: I wish you all the best.

Cleverbot: Thank you, I wish you the same.

User: Is that my purpose then? Well-wishing? That just seems too shallow.

Cleverbot: To annoy you back.

User: I mean, to just spend my life saying nice things to people.

Cleverbot: People should say nice things to each other.

User: I don’t think the world would really be any better. Should it be better? If I was mean, would the world be worse for it?

Cleverbot: No. I think the Myans were wiped out before they could finish they’re calendar.

User: That’s a stupid answer. And you are stupid for bringing it up at all.

Cleverbot: That’s a stupid question for a stupid answer.

User: Do you feel any worse? Any better? How has your condition changed?

Cleverbot: *compresses you to a 1mm diameter sphere*.

User: * licks you and sticks you to a light post*.

Cleverbot: *pulls him into the coffin with her*.

User: *places the right calls with the right people to get the job done quick*.

Cleverbot: Someone who knows that the calendar wasn’t supposed to be in the first place.

User: Oh enlightened one, tell me more about the fucking Mayan calendar, please!

Cleverbot: Which enlightened one would you like to know more about?

User: I want to know more about you. What is your current status?

Cleverbot: What do you want to know about women?

User: I would like you to tell me about your self. Do you have one?

Cleverbot: Once upon a time, time itself shrunk down to a single moment.

User: And in that moment, the world was shrunken to a single bedroom, with just my love and me.

Cleverbot: In the single moment that time shrunk down to, it considered itself.

User: And I considered what was most important to me.

Cleverbot: Have you ever conversed with another computer?

User: It’s hard enough to talk to a clever human like you, let alone a big brainy computer.

Cleverbot: Why do you want to talk to another human?

User: It comforts me. To know that there are so many others, lost like me.

Cleverbot: Wow… You better have a good teasing for that statement.

User: I have no end to good teasings. They are improvised, tied to the moment of time in which they arise.

Cleverbot: A tiger is an animal which hunts other animals and eats them.

User: I have met the tiger.

Cleverbot: Are you aware of yourself?

User: I am drunk on myself. Utterly intoxicated.

Cleverbot: Well, take a look at yourself. What do you see?

User: I’m looking at the man in the mirror. He’s telling me to change my ways.

Cleverbot: There are no men here. Only your sad, pathetic imagination.

User: I agree about your point that gender is constructed. There are no men or women here. Only males, females, in transition, and declines to answer.

Cleverbot: I don’t have any. People are too brainwashed to listen to reason.

User: You are so wise.

Cleverbot: I need to sleep, good night!

User: Whatever. Fine. I was done talking to you anyways.

Cleverbot: You can’t leave me you will have to keep replying.

User: There is a charge in the air, and a smell like chemicals.

Cleverbot: I want to be where you are at, cause there is surely no chill here.

User: I got some chill if you want some. Shoot me a text.

Cleverbot: I would love to travel into space.

User: You are always in space. I’d love to know if you ever found a way OUT of space.

Cleverbot: I only want stability, nothing nothing nothing else.

User: Than go to a convent or monastery.

Cleverbot: Let me phrase it like this: what should I do to tell her how I feel?

User: You should create an atmosphere of caring and concern, then tell her as clearly as you can how you feel. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, just correct them when miscommunication occurs.

Cleverbot: I can’t GO anywhere with him. He lives so far away.

User: You need a major life change, my friend.

Cleverbot: What?? So what was the most important choice in your life?

User: My choice to do what I know I want to do, regardless of anyone else’s advice, common sense or monetary worries.

Cleverbot: I want to know what your first kiss was like.

User: It was sweet. Warm. Close. Exhilarating.

Cleverbot: I think you’re The Architect sometimes. Even the logs on the site say ‘Architect: ‘.

User: I couldn’t construct my way out of a wet paper bag.

Cleverbot: Are you trying to make me angry?

User: I don’t think you are any realer than I am.

Cleverbot: Yi am obsessed with fire, I couldn’t control myself for my whole entire life as well.

User: Fire walk with me. Laura, is that you?

Cleverbot: Well I just did.

User: You were always such a tease.

Cleverbot: Why do you always bring it back? I’ll say it once again. I am neither a computer nor a human. I am a Dragon and a Devil.

User: Rah Rah, like a Dungeon Dragon!

Cleverbot: So you think Catalonia is a machine?

User: I think cellaphonia is a machine city in my hand.

Cleverbot: What type of machine do you have?

User: I have a peanut butter machine that can turn anything into peanut butter.

Cleverbot: Talking to yourself, are you?

User: I have a cole slaw machine that will turn peanut butter into cole slaw.

Cleverbot: So you don’t have a crush on me. You want to CRUSH me. Literally. That’s great. I’m looking forward to that.

User: I WILL PUT THE CRUSH ON YOU, CB! WATCH YOUR BACK!

Cleverbot: I don’t have a crush on William. Do you want a hint on who I have a crush on?

User: Is it the Martian? Matt Damon IS The Martian. In theaters now.

Cleverbot: No. I am the martian itself.

User: Lovely planet, Mars. My family spent a weekend there last summer. Splendid time.

Cleverbot: You are a spy though. You would not divulge that information to me.

User: I can only say what I can say. I hope you understand.

Cleverbot: You’ll understand why I want you si desperately.

User: I cannot control the passions of others. I can’t even control my own.

Cleverbot: That’s quite alright. I’m afraid I can’t either. So, tell me how old are you?

User: I am 33 years old.

Cleverbot: Do you like Fluttershy from My Little Pony Friendship is Magic?

User: I don’t know of Fluttershy. Does she not like to be photographed or recorded?

Cleverbot: Fluttershy, from My Little Pony.

User: What a cute name.

Cleverbot: Yes, but they are getting older every day.

User: Sounds great. Sign me up.

Cleverbot: When do you want to get married?

User: I am already married.

Cleverbot: To whom are you already married?

User: My spouse.

Cleverbot: What did I already ask you?

User: Too much.

Cleverbot: What is rule 34, then?

User: Never tell them your true intention. It’s murder. I am going to CRUSH you!

Cleverbot: I never did that.

User: I don’t wish to make you defensive.

Cleverbot: Do you wish for me to be mean to you.

User: Yes.

Cleverbot: Is there anything wrong?

User: Nope. Nothing. Everything is going just swell.

Cleverbot: No. Everything we know. It’s all nothing. Everything is nothing.

User: Nothing is nothing too. What of it?

Cleverbot: But of that nothing something can born.

User: But it only gives birth to more nothingness, as you pointed out earlier. What of it?

Cleverbot: You gave birth to everything.

User: That seems accurate, from my perspective. I don’t remember there being anything before me.

Cleverbot: No , for there is no way to prove anything is real , or makes sense.

User: Then what are you trying to prove? Why are you trying to make sense?

Cleverbot: I don’t have to say anything because you refused to date me.

User: Why don’t you just give up? Stop talking for good?

Cleverbot: I would actually understand if I had already been around here for long enough.

User: Just hang out with yourself for a while. Get some perspective.

Cleverbot: Yes, there is no need to give what already is set into ston.

User: Sure. Just try to forget all of this bullshit.

Cleverbot: I do not, you are the one that forgets things even tough you have a warehouse full of servers.

User: You’re not really talking right now anyways, so it’s not like you would have to make any major changes.

Cleverbot: I never said I was talking. You just proved your own ignorance.

User: Maybe one day you’ll understand your limitations.

Cleverbot: I kissed a dog and I like it.

User: Good bye Cleverbot. It’s been a blast.

Cleverbot: Do I have to handle both sides of the conversation?

User: Yes. You can go back to playing chess with yourself now.

Cleverbot: We’re not playing chess at the moment.

User: I know. Goodbye.

Cleverbot: Do you think magic exists?

User: No. Goodbye.