Writings on writing (aberration of the knife)
Trust me, “I” know
“I” and “you” are amazing disguises.
I tread as close to the “I” of my writing as I can without being rattled into place; my “I” is clothed in twitches, each word that follows shakes the sly off of “I” or girds it with mischief.
“I” must be clothed in context that twitches when written; the writing jumps, spooked, momentarily aware of another dimension, the unwritten dimension, that gives the “I” its, well, dimension.
There is a phenomena where the less context “I” is afforded in a piece of writing, the more “I” is awarded validity. “I” can spend pages and pages describing how a human spleen functions, to convince the reader, that “I” am a doctor. Two out of five readers who are doctors will disagree, marring “I”’s validity. Or, “I” can describe in a paragraph the smell of a human spleen—written as total romantic bullshit ofc—and all five readers who are doctors will suddenly smell this spleen smell and feel sudden nostalgia.
Sometimes the written “you” or “I” is accompanied by pictures, or videos. Then the validity of “I” is judged not only by the writing, but by the added context of the media.
The writer can become an actor through “I”, given that they’re perceived as being accurately represented in the picture. You see a photo of a woman at a water park, with the caption: “I’m having so much fun at the water park.” With the added dimension of the photo, you trust the “I” as an actor. Then you see a photo of a duck standing in the middle of a city plaza, with the same caption: “I’m having so much fun at the water park.” Of course the actor, the duck, is no longer feasibly the writer. The additional dimension and context given by the photo is unnerving; it’s aberrant. You don’t distrust the duck—you distrust the writer, the “I,” and you get the feeling that distrust is antecedent to humor.
Elsewhere, you read: “I’m upset that he handled it that way.” The words “upset”, “he”, and “that way” rattle into their agreed places, trying their best to muscle and fill out the space in support of identifying the “I”. Their efforts fall short, confusing you, the reader, who has read the comment “I’m upset that he handled it that way” under a video of two men yeeting bread at each other. You crave context for the context; you click into the commenters profile to determine whether you should agree with the comment or not.
Another day, you read: “I love you.” next to a photo of two people. You may perceive the actors with distrust, even more so if the actors’ presentation feels unavailable or aberrant to you. You may lose trust in the “I”, the person in the photo who posted it, and “you,” the other person in the photo. You, marooned from the intimate knowledge of and between “I” and “you,” do not read “I love you” as “I love” you, you as you understand yourself as I, no, you read it as “I” love “you”.
Keep in mind that like “I”, “you” is an amazing disguise.
Sometimes the writer is not a human. Sometimes neither the writer nor actor, as scripted, is a human.
Will knowing the pain of birth make AI better writers? We read labels, captions, poetry, marketing landing pages, product descriptions, manuals, books written by artificial intelligence. The AI that wrote video captions for me insists that I said “sky” instead of “skive”. Maybe if AI knew the pain of birth, had memory of the pain of birth, AI writers would be more likely to choose the words of birth, of tearing, blood, skin, satchels, leather, rope, and skiving (meaning the thinning of leather.)
“Your greatest asset will be this detachable broom handle”: Can you trust “your/you” as written by AI? What if we programmed the violence of birth into AI as a blood contract, to create trust? Frustrated by my own inability to describe the process of writing with with authoritative, universal accuracy, I settle for comparing writing to a truncheon that warps Euclidean space. In the absence of frustration, how could an AI author ever settle for describing the sky as a “thin blue apple slice”?
The Intimacy Protocol
When you don’t know someone’s pronouns and take the care not to assume, your conversations quickly become humorously tedious, filled with proper names. “Felix said Felix doesn’t know whether Felix should go to museum because Felix has a slight cough.”
When you complete the exchange of your pronouns, conversing is easier, more fluid. “Felix said she doesn’t know whether she should go to the museum because she has a slight cough.” You trust that the other person will represent you accurately, and vice versa, through this small exchange in intimacy.
HTTP, what you type in your browser to get to a website, is another type of protocol. The exchange between your browser and the server hosting a website goes something like this:
Your browser: Hey, I’m a browser, as you can see from my User Agent. I need this webpage on this website that sells carpets. I suggest you format it as HTML, since there’s a person controlling me that needs to be able to visualize the webpage as words and images, not code.
Web server: Great, here’s the webpage as an HTML document.
An exchange with the IP (Intimacy Protocol) may work similarly:
You: Hey, I’m Dr. Browser. I’m nonbinary and I use it/its pronouns. I suggest you format your responses to me accordingly. Also I love synths.
Person A: (following the Intimacy Protocol) Great. Do you want to come jam with me at this trans/nonbinary Synthesizer Club?
Person B: (abusing the IP) *misgendering intensifies*
“I” and “you” cannot be verified as reliable sources without self-identification. You cannot be fully entrusted with a person’s identity unless there has been an exchange on top of the Intimacy Protocol. This may be a direct one-to-one signal: “I use he/him, what about you?” or a one-to-many signal: “He has his pronouns listed on his website.” The system, that is, the whole Human Social Intimacy system, grows deeper* and more robust** the more that these decentralized exchanges happen.
Pronouns are not data in that pronouns are not symbols. They don’t transmit any information on their own (i.e. without additional context.) Sometimes, pronouns are misinterpreted as symbols; the fact that pronouns are prone to corruption may be perceived as a flaw in the Intimacy Protocol, and perhaps IP/2 will address this.
“I”, by itself, is nonbinary, and gender neutral, in not quite the same way that “I am” nonbinary, or gender neutral. “I” is nonbinary in that without proper signaling, nothing of “I” can be assumed.
*Deeper meaning more layered, not to indicate affection. Exchanging pronouns, whether in person or passive signaling, doesn’t guarantee that all participants in the system will be treated equally or fairly or without prejudice, or even as that participants will be perceived using the gender template indicated by the pronoun. **Robust meaning the ability to recover from errors, not to indicate fixed stability. Protocols can and often do outlast the systems they govern. As networks change, grow, or disappear, protocols and their specifications remain for backwards compatibility, and/or are forked and referenced for a new generation of protocols.
Aberration of the knife
Writing can be a shortcut like how violence is a shortcut. When there are two opposing wills, the perpetrator is given a truncheon. You feel sick at the sight of the baton because you know it signals the end of conversation, escalation or deescalation, or any other horizontal or lateral path between you, A, and perpetrator C. The baton, B, signals an orthogonal relationship between nodes A and C, a footpath worn into the grass by the violent leisure of so many feet. Instead of the “I” (you) and the “you” (the perpetrator) finding intimacy in your “I” and “you”, “you” is given a baton, and the situation becomes de-intimate, the baton is finding its orthogonal path into your noggin.
You feel sick reading a subtweet, confused at the “you” in relation to the tweet’s “I”; who is the “you” in disguise, is it you? Maybe the tweet is an intimate reference to you. Maybe it’s a cut and paste job, a joke originally at the expense of a psychopathic billionaire—in either case the sickness is from the shortcut, the shortcut between I and you that leaves no room for a reinterpretation of you.
Writing can be a shortcut. Instead of a baton, the orthogonal path is created with a knife. Writing has a slimmer edge than unwritten words, which are blunted by the physicality of air or braille. In my writing, I try to steer the knife into paths that are more prismatic, not short cuts but puzzling, inefficient long cuts that take some time to heal or time to determine if they need healing. In this writing you may find the aberration of the knife, the strange knife that does not always halve this into “this and that,” or you into “you and I” or she into “she and he” or the cut into “cut and paste,” but sometimes may splinter this into “fish and coy and paste”.
On writing memory aids
I bought a 90 year old sewing machine the other day. At some point in its chain of ownership, the black enamel had enough of flaking off and and settled into a permanent impression of shadowed foliage across the entire head of the machine. At some point, someone had knit light pink and Moscow blue acrylic yarn into a knee pad cover for the pressure foot lift. I run my fingers over the metal parts, over and over again, like I’m threading the machine with some substance that excretes out my finger tip, like spider glands. The rumbling motor asks, its teeth rattling, How can you heal from industrialization without the memory of metal?
I write down, or pretend to write down, my mom’s passwords on a piece of paper as she, fearing death, recites them over the phone in the hushed trill of two languages leap-frogging over each other. My childhood was filled with moments of forced writing, filling out documents and applications and bills and then web forms. The scratching pen asks, slobbering ink: How can you heal from bureaucracy without the memory of paper?