It has been half a year since my last post, and it was a very hectic half of a year. My son was born and is growing up beautifully. Life with two small kids leaves me with too little time for many things, especially poetry.
I’m weirdly ambivalent about that. It sure feels right to focus on my kids in basically all of the time that I’m not at work or sleeping. I also feel guilty about my very slow progress on what is, after all, supposed to be my Magnum Opus. But on the other hand it’s just poetry so who will ever care. But what will I amount to if I don’t do this right. I’d amount to a pretty good dad it seems. And that’s both obviously enough, and obviously not enough, at the same time.
Over the last two days, my wife and daughter went on an Easter holiday. So I was away from both of them for more than a day for the first time since the third Sermon premiered in November 2016.
This has allowed be to put a big chunk of work into the fourth Sermon. I’m getting near the end of the synthesis stage now and I’m mostly done with the complicated parts that need a couple of highly focused uninterrupted hours at a time. So I think I can finish the fourth Sermon with mostly just little bits and pieces of work that I can squeeze in between other things.
And there will be lots of other things! We’re expecting our second child in July 🙂 while our first is keeping us fairly busy already and work is quite hectic at the moment as well. I’d love to be done with the fourth Sermon before July, but that seems unlikely right now. I’ll certainly try, though.
I have also added an extra page about the poetic format of the Sermons, the common metre. I might update it occasionally, as I improve my understanding of what I seem to be doing.
I’ve been noticing for a while that I find it increasingly hard to write poetry in any format that is not the common metre. Every time I try, it feels wrong and difficult and I always tend to be attracted back to the common metre. My unconscious processes have clearly been trained to better help my conscious processes write in this format. This is great because it relieves some of the cognitive burden and reduces the time and effort needed. Last night, I produced 15 stanzas in 5 hours – that’s three times as fast as I was writing the second Sermon and about six times as fast as I started out. Clearly I have sacrificed some mental flexibility to gain this speedup. I’m fine with this. In fact, it seems quite delightful to be able to observe my own mind crystallizing in this fashion.
I live a life of duty now,
but I’ve been fierce and free.
The proof is stored behind my brow
as neon memory.
It has been a while since I posted a progress report, and much has happened in the meantime.
It isn’t that I have a lot of time or focus to do writing, really. I’d like to do one or several of these high intensity writing days where I work myself into a writing frenzy and do nothing but compose stanzas for like ten hours straight. (Usually about ten to twenty stanzas come out of that and about half of those survive editing.) I haven’t been able to do one of those for over a year now. But fortunately there is another process that produces stanzas, which I call receiving uploads.
What utterly amazed me was their response! One of them is James Cook, who is not just a software developer and a composer of music, but actually develops software to help compose music. How cool is that! He took a liking to this little tune and produced a hymn-style arrangement for four voices which… I’m frankly unqualified to judge, but my dad as a classically trained composer assures me it is quite good. Here’s what it looks like: Continue reading →
You’ve clearly grown tonight, my child.
You watch more knowingly.
Your movements are a touch more mild
as you examine me.
Whenever I’m not working, I continue to be mostly busy being a dad. It is amazing! My writing has slowed down considerably for now and I’m fine with that.
Still, there is a little progress to report. The fourth Sermon has a rough outline, a couple of finished stanzas that mark important waypoints in the storyline, and a working title: The Heartbeat of Humanity. At the current leisurely pace, I expect to finish it next summer, two years after the last one. Continue reading →
The song I previously mentioned is complete. The music was graciously contributed by my dad, who is awesome and composes classical music. “Children of the Milky Way” is now proper sheet music, with a sheet and everything. Check it out:
I’m done with the recordings! Hooray! This took way longer than I wanted it to, but that’s the reality of having to scratch together minutes of spare time between the job, the baby and life in general.
Making these recordings was an important step, because like all meditations, the Sermons work when listened to, not when read. Check them out!
The first two Sermons in this tale
have just been to prepare
this third one here, where we unveil
the gift of life we share…
The third Sermon is finished, giving me a complex mix of feelings of elation, relief and yearning for more. I am indebted to the friends who gave me critical feedback for it, especially Laila, Kami, Nikki, Viva and Raymond. Thank you a lot! Overall, this Sermon was much easier to write than the second one, as expected, because it tells a more relatable part of the story… but the extra challenge of finishing it in a single year compensated nicely for the reduced difficulty.
Now everything is changing: In a few weeks, my daughter will be born! How amazing is that! Looking forward to it, in this calm before the storm, my anticipation and excitement naturally inspire the process of starting on the fourth Sermon. Of course during the next few months, I will find very little (if any) time to write poetry. But the topic of the fourth Sermon lends itself quite nicely to description by someone very busy with loving care. Continue reading →
Work on the third Sermon is progressing well. A week ago I first presented a preliminary (“beta”) version to a select group of friends and they confirmed, as I hoped they would, that the series of the first three Sermons is considerably more intense than the series of just the first two. But there is still work to be done, and I have just one month until the premiere of the final text at the Less Wrong Community Weekend 2016.
I’m in the polishing stage now, where the narrative doesn’t change much anymore and I can focus on nice turns of phrase, fluency, aesthetics and figurativeness. I solicit feedback from friends and siblings to help me write the best text I can.
In the USA alone, every day, a lucky 10,000 people hear of Richard Dawkins for the first time.
Statistically, you know about Richard Dawkins already, so I won’t go into the vast list of accomplishments he has contributed to the world. I’d rather focus on how his great poetic skill and his scientific work have contributed much to the Seven Secular Sermons. Continue reading →
Work on the third Sermon – now almost certainly titled One of Us – is progressing, approximately on schedule for completion this summer. I have a lot of stanzas, some of them strung together into sequences, a pretty good idea of what goes where, and am now working on synthesizing them into a prototype Secular Sermon that I can read to volunteers and ask for their impressions. This is a familiar part of the process. It involves puzzling pieces together, streamlining them into a narrative, and getting frequently distracted with the finer details of particular lines.
In the German Democratic Republic, where I was born, one of the most popular Christmas songs was Tausend Sterne sind ein Dom. It was written in the aftermath of World War 2, by the music student Siegfried Köhler. I heard and sang it from when I was about seven, and I vividly remember being impressed with the match between its remarkably poetic lyrics and its tender and serene music. Here’s a recording you might enjoy:
I sang it again, for the first time in many years, with a large group of friends at the Secular Solstice 2013. But Secular Solstices, even in Germany, are generally held in English. So for the 2014 Solstice, I wrote a translation of the lyrics into English, and it goes like this. Continue reading →
Around 2070 years ago, probably in or near Rome, a poet and philosopher named Titus Lucretius Carus spent years writing a truly spectacular poem:De rerum natura. The title is commonly translated as On the Nature of Things. This epic poem describes a naturalistic worldview and explains how all sorts of physical, biological, social and mental phenomena are made of atoms – 18 centuries before this was widely accepted. It makes a vague but correct guess at natural selection 19 centuries before Darwin. Before Christianity was even invented, this poem said that if gods exist, they’re made out of atoms and don’t care about us. It is classic epic poetry in dactylic hexameter and about half as long as the Iliad. Its rediscovery is credited with ending the Middle Ages.
The Games of Entropy is now on Youtube! While at it, I also re-recorded Adrift in Space and Time. I recommend this recording over the former because it has much better quality, with improved sound, bluescreen magic and in HD.