Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What Will Happen on June 21, 2018

What's in a day?

I want to alert you, our readers and our writers, our lurkers and our contributors, to a project we've been mulling here at Essay Daily for some time. We're going to make happen this summer, and we'd like to invite you to join us:

What Happened on June 21, 2018

As in, let's find out.

The idea originated in an essay by Nicholson Baker, "What Happened on April 29, 1994," that I've taught in my classes since I discovered it maybe 8 or so years ago. Dorian Rolston wrote about it as part of our Advent Calendar last year, so if you're a regular reader of the Daily, you've heard plenty about it. If not, however, I'll reproduce it—briefly—below (click for a readable size):

It's brief. It's conversational. It lacks the intense interest in esoterica that we find in a lot of his work. It's unclear how much it's been deliberately shaped.

It comes from a special issue of the French magazine Nouvel Observateur published to celebrate its 40th anniversary, in which they asked 240 writers (evidently including Baker) to simply write down what happened on that one day in 1994, and then published the results. I'm tracking down the original, but because all/most of it is in French, and my French is less than optimal, I'm unsure how useful that will be, though I may be writing about it more in this space later.

I love Baker's essay in part of how well it translates into a writing assignment appropriate for pretty much any CW course I teach. It adapts most easily to nonfiction courses, of course, in which documentary and its limitations are always on the table, and what we find when we all write about the same day is how our experiences of it differ (mostly) though they have some common elements. It's easy to get into conversations about how what we pay attention to in a day changes the experience of a day, or into Rashomon territory where events are witnessed in part by multiple people. In poetry I wander into projects like David Lehman's One Poem a Day project, or Juliana Spahr's day poems (which are less about the personal and more about the political). In fiction we might read, say, Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendys for its daily practice and how the very act of writing a thing a day (in his case, a note on a Wendy's comment card) can structure a book.

While listening to Lisa Robertson talk last year, she hipped me to a book (two, actually) by German novelist Christa Wolf called One Day a Year, in which she decided to track the significance of a single day over many years, Wolf began keeping a detailed diary of September 27th, a practice which she carried on for more than fifty years until her death in 2011. As you'd expect, you put a tool like this in the hands of a genius, and you get genius out.

What will we get out? I'm not sure. We've never tried this on the scale we're hoping to make happen here. What can all of us writing about a day tell us about ourselves or our days? Let's find out.

We invite you to join us to chronicle this day this June.

Simply: write down what happens on June 21, 2018. (Whatever that means to you.) Have a method or don't. Take notes or work from memory. Plan something crazy or don't. Whatever!

We will publish the results (or as much of them as we can) on Essay Daily in the summer. It's a kind of mass data trawl of subjectivity we're looking for: as many takes as we can get on one summer (for most of us) day.

If you'd like to play, it'd be helpful (though not necessary) if you'd check in with us on this Google form so that we know how many to expect (and this way we can send you a reminder the day before, etc). Send it around to anyone who might like to play.

You might ask: Why June 21? Well, it's the summer solstice, so of all the days in the year, it has the most day to it (in the Northern Hemisphere anyhow). So that's the one we've chosen. It's otherwise arbitrary. Is it a good day? Ask Ice Cube or Christa Wolf or Lisa Robertson or Nicholson Baker. We are asking you.

Rock on, collaborators.

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