Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Punctuation of Mindfulness

We need a punctuation type that represents mindful writing, a device that can serve two purposes: indicate that mindfulness occurred as we wrote and like a bell remind us to be mindful.

I often ask my students to build their own (regular, not mindful) punctuation, to design a new symbol that meets a creative or rhetorical need as of yet unfulfilled by conventional punctuation. Students come up with a punctuation symbol, a name of the device, and a usage rule.

What might mindful punctuation be?

Several existing punctuation types already support mindfulness.

Question mark: Asking questions while writing is helpful because it suggests a form of intrapersonal or internal listening. A call & response. Use the question mark and really hear it in an early draft, and you're likely to let yourself listen, receptively and nonjudgmentally, to the nonverbal for the next moment. You're able to release your grip on the verbal, your clinging to language, and return to a moment where there is no language, to formlessness. (Because formlessness and form are in constant interplay, this stance paradoxically puts writers in touch with more writing often pretty quickly.)

Dash: The dash suggests the fragmentary, the incomplete, the partial. It also shows respect for your intrapersonal dialog because you're willing to record a fragment without feeling compelled to elaborate and without discarding it because it is incomplete. You’re not imposing the false expectation that every present moment of writing yield a complete sentence. You’re less tied up in preconceptions, rigid thinking, and product outcome.

Ellipsis: An ellipsis suggests that your intrapersonal or internal dialog, as with the question mark, has moved on to a razed, nonverbal space. It has "trailed off" into formlessness and doesn't cling to form (written material), and as a result, working with ellipses can reduce the writing-related suffering that comes from mindless behavior. What differentiates an ellipsis from a question mark is that it's more accepting of emptiness. Ask a question, expect some sort of response (eventually). An ellipsis is like a wanderer headed solo and straight into a landscape of silence (even more acceptance of formlessness).

What's missing?—... If I were to design a mindful punctuation device, it would indicate something about writers' bodies as they write. It would be a symbol of the body's presence and a reminder to include physical sensations in observed present awareness. Appearance-wise, the symbol would probably represent the breath, maybe a diamond-shaped portal or perhaps a curlicue.

Implementation rules for this device would allow it to be used anywhere in a sentence (start, end, middle) or paragraph, without limits on the frequency of usage.

Just as a comma ordinarily tells us how to act around information and imagery (pause, stop for a moment, breath), this device would focus on the mindful breath. Unlike the comma, this new device would direct the writer and reader to the host of physical sensations attendant to the act of breathing.

The device could achieve something that’s frequently absent from conventional writing experience—embodiment.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Do Not Clutch At Outcome

Do not clutch at writing outcome for to do so is to embrace an explosive, rabid, backstabbing, and ravenous pet, combination of pit bull and piranha. This creature will shred the shirt you are wearing. It will leave you in pain. It will show others the foolishness of your choices and the vanity of your ego. It is said that this creature once existed peaceably in mythic lands, running after written products, final drafts, and publications, causing no harm until one of us embraced it. And then this creature of outcome caused havoc with livestock and the ability of nearly adolescent children to focus in school.
                                                                                               Far wiser is it to watch the minnows of the moment pass and pass in the river of process.