Keep a notebook documenting any and every copyediting error you encounter while reading. Do this for years, accumulating an extensive list. Hire a screenwriter to produce a television pilot for a new series based solely on the notebook of errors you’ve provided.
Change the gender of the protagonist in Nabokov’s Lolita. Do this without language.
“You begin with the brightness of a circle’s radiant symmetry.”
That’s a nice sentence, right? I found it flipping through one of my old notebooks, followed by this one:
“Not the paper bag but the heft of it in passing.”
I was going to tell you how I’m not so into this second one, but looking back, maybe even that first sentence is a little too precious and verbose. Circles are interesting because of their simplicity, purity, because they’re unadorned. I’d like to make art in the same manner. Art that does nothing but fill in the circles others would draw around it. There, that’s your task, the one to work on here; fill in as many circles as you can find—thinking of it metaphorically, then not thinking at all. I’m a tiny dot, a tiny, tiny dot, and I love the ink that’s all around me.
Write a prose poem of five sentences. The first sentence should include a pronoun ( not “I”) doing something that itself includes an image/object. The 2nd sentence should have a different pronoun doing something else with the same image/object. The 3rd sentence should be a statement about this image/object. For the 4th sentence, write a simile that is unrelated. In the 5th, use “I” and relate part of the simile to the original statement. I know this all sounds rather clinical, but here by way of example is one:
A woman accidentally walks into the men’s room. A man deliberately walks into the women’s room. I don’t believe in dialectics but abide by them nonetheless. It is like a painting of someone sheathing a sword. The problem is it is also like a painting of someone unsheathing a sword.
I was driving by a bus stop in pretty inclement weather and after noticing a woman clutching tight her toddler thought for a second about stopping and offering her a ride. I already had the appropriately-sized car seat, currently unoccupied. But then I thought she’d be safer to let a stranger just pass along. Who knows the nefarious intent that drives others these days? This might be an interesting project—something akin to HBO’s Taxicab Confessionals. But really, it’d make a better book, a book about an actual sicko, about someone who really did use a car seat to lure in parents in distress, someone who then drives off with the babies. But how did I get from altruism to psychosis in such a short amount of time? The answer to that question would make a wonderful work of art.
Buy a collection of aphorisms. Alter each so that they now have as their subject matter sea shells. Pitch the book to an agent. Not a literary agent. I mean spy-type shit. After all, you can hear a heck of a lot with a seashell to your ear.
Remove all punctuation from a long Russian novel. Add it to a blank book of equal length, all of it in the exact spot on the page from which it was removed. Nothing else is required, nothing save a moral conundrum and the close proximity of your new project.
Are you familiar with Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage Around My Room? I’ll allow you some time to familiarize yourself. The remainder of this project should now be undeniably clear.
Assemble a list of the dead. Consider it your life’s work. This list should include all of them.
This time, take the proposition seriously. Who says you can’t reinvent the wheel? I say do it. Do it while standing in the same river, twice.
Go to a graveyard. Take a photograph of every headstone on which there is inscribed any text beyond that of the name of the deceased. Using only these images, crop each to a single word, phrase, or portion of a sentence, then assemble these cropped images into a coherent poem whose theme focuses on the fleeting nature of existence. Type up the poem. Delete the images. Delete them from your phone, from your computer, from the cloud. Somehow, the act feels like a metaphor doesn’t it? Title the poem after the name of the graveyard. Recite it at a loved one’s funeral. But do so with sincerity and conviction. In fact, forget about the poem. Just do the sincerity and conviction thing.
Go downtown. Stand at a busy intersection until someone in a red shirt passes you. Nonchalantly follow this person, noting each street you pass, every turn you make. Continue following the person until someone else in a red shirt passes you, then switch to your new target, again noting each turn you make. This process should be followed every time you are passed by a stranger clad in red. Assemble page upon page of coordinates. Using a map of the downtown area, mark each turn you’d made onto the map as a point. Lay a piece of transparent paper over the map. Copy every point on the paper. Bring this newly constructed constellation into a local tailor’s shop. Have the tailor design for you a dress made only from these points. A red dress. A perfectly shaped one.
Write a jingle. Jingle a chain. Chain a dog. Dog a cop. Cop a feel. Feel a pet. Pet a…wait, it’s jiggle a chain, not jingle a chain, right? Ok, forget this one. Consider it a pass. If anyone stops or questions you here, just flash the pass. Pass the person. Person the something or other.
Have a child. Create an online crowd funding campaign in which you offer as perks for those willing to donate large sums of money the opportunity to influence your child’s religious leanings. Do this via a series of perks in which you will attend with your child various religious services, classes, and ceremonies. Use the money to put your child through college.
Doodle. Concentrate. Sometimes this can lead to art. Doodle more. Doodle better. Project these doodles onto a blank canvas, paint them, have a few independent galleries show these painting, accrue art-world fame, accrue real-world fame, frame these accruals. I’m not being cryptic here. The first time I ever saw a nude person outside of my own family was while walking past a figure drawing class one summer as a small boy. I was taking chess lessons. I had to use the bathroom. This is absolutely true. I remember how tight my pants felt as my prepubescent penis stiffened, pressing against my jeans. I remember learning to conquer an opponent in four moves. This is how I fell in love with art.
Write a series of children’s books titled, variously: One More Book; Not This Book; A Different Book.
Ask a stranger to share with you something intimate. Do this without speaking.
It’s likely you’ve gotten here in just an hour or two, maybe you flipped right here, opened to this very page and are now reading for the first time one of the numbered entries in the book to get a sense of its tone, pitch—its voice, developed on my end: here, where I’m now typing over the course of nearly three years already. Funny how time colonizes a work of art, isn’t it? You’re just standing there, in a bookstore (do these still exist in your time?), at a reading (please do come say hello), in class, at a friend’s house—wherever—just flipping pages, meanwhile (or simultaneously?) I’ve got a two year old now, quit smoking after 23 years, even quit booze–four months since my last drink. Things are going well. In fits and starts, I’ve been working on this book, which I hope to finish in the next few years. I suppose this particular numbered entry should veer at some point into an instructional mode, that is, if it hasn’t already.
An audio montage consisting entirely of yeahs to be broadcast at various political events, sporting events, etc.
Write a poem called “Selected Aphorisms” that uses only aphorisms from your already published poems.
Write a book that feels like a police car with its sirens on appearing suddenly in your rearview mirror, a book that’s a list of everything you ate for a month, a book that’s a list of every sexual act you were involved in for a month, a book that burns your hand when you open it, a book shaped like a mouth, a book that breathes, a book with the viscosity of a cloud, a book authored by you in a language that you don’t know, a book that catapults whomever carries it into an oddly off-balance posture, a book whose ideas unfold like tiny colorful streamers, a book filled with inedible recipes, a book whose liquid equivalent would be that of backwash, a book written on the underside of tortoise shells, a book without images, a book that requires a kickstand, a book written entirely in neon signage on both sides of a highway, a book that actually bleeds when it’s cut, a book that can only be read on a balcony, a book written entirely in musical notation, a book that requires a lifetime to read, a book that contains only punctuation and no words.
Stop a stranger in the street. Ask if you can interview her. She doesn’t have to be a woman; I was simply going for brevity with our grammar. Funny how gender is linguistic. Ask her the following:
What are five foods you’ve never eaten?
Tell me about a time in your life you felt very lost.
Tell me about a piece of clothing that you’ve had for a long time.
Tell me about an embarrassing thing that happened to you in public.
Tell me about music as if I were deaf, describe what it is.
What are five of your weaknesses?
Do not take any notes, just listen. Listening is an art.
Go somewhere you have never gone before. Bring a notebook and take notes on everything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or feel. Assemble these notes into an essay of no more than five paragraphs. End each paragraph with a periodic sentence. If one were to look closely enough at the world passing in front of one’s face, careful to always pay particular attention to minor details, details which turn out to in fact be of stunning importance, one would find that examples of the periodic sentence are everywhere.
Pick something that’s continually on the periphery, something that’s so familiar that to stop and look at it would be to make it somehow newly foreign. This “something” could be an object, a service, an occupation, a saying, a part of speech, an instrument, an advertisement, a piece of furniture, a game, a name, a famous song, anything, really, whose origins are remote but whose presence is pervasive. Why is it here? Where did it come from? Answer these questions using only acrylic paint.
Draw a cat with your eyes closed. Here’s mine:
Ask 100 different poets to send you a specially tailored set of instructions for writing a poem. Write the poems. Write about the writing of the poems. Assemble the work into three sections: poems, assignments, and narrative gloss of the process behind creating each. Call it Your Assignment.
This was a project I began in 2007, but never got past the first set of instructions:
ASSIGNMENT FOR NOAH ELI GORDON BY GRAHAM FOUST (3/27/07)
Go to each of the following places. Do not leave each place until you’ve written a sentence that pleases you (or, at the very least, a sentence that you find interesting). Later, make a poem out of these sentences, revising them as much as you like. You need not visit the places in order.
- A country club
- An emergency room (Waiting room is okay—no need to injure yourself.)
- A strip club (Of any sort—that is, you could visit a club in which men disrobe or one in which women disrobe. If such a thing doesn’t exist in your state, find a comparable situation in which to put yourself.)
- A Christian Science Reading Room
- A Mercedes, Porsche or Jaguar dealership
- A lumber yard
- A bowling alley
- A store that sells fur coats
- A shop that repairs clocks and watches
- An expensive hotel bar
- A church
- A dairy or brewery (It would be best if you could take a tour of such a place.)
- A plumbing supply store
- A seafood store
- A laundromat
- An Orange Julius (Or comparable retailer.)
- A funeral home
- A medical supply store
- A paint store
- A Baby Gap
Begin by making a list of specific instances when you were first made aware of the concept of class. Compile as many of these as you can. Once you’ve exhausted your memory here, continue to list moments in your life in which class played a role, no matter how minor or seemingly unimportant. Think of as many as you can. For now, though, this should simply be a list, shorthand for a specific moment, an anecdote. This list should be long. In fact, it could be endless. You’re probably still writing it.
Collect famous quotations. Italicize them in strange ways, ways that foreground the uncertainty and puzzling nature of their newly-fashioned emphasis. Rent several billboards on major thoroughfares. Better yet, have a gallery rent them for you. Display these wholly repurposed quotations. Write an essay. Burn an essay. Smash the state.
Pay for the food of the person behind you at the drive thru. Actually, grow your own food. Start a band. Do some figure drawing. Go for a walk. Better yet, a jog. I mean what the hell were you buying at the drive thru anyway?
Use as texts for a course only books that you’ve provided jacket-copy for.
Open a drive-in that only shows movies during the day. Call the place The Ideal Lack of Roses.