Doggerland design notes

So about a month ago I entered a new Twine piece of mine, called Doggerland, into the Spring Thing competition, run by Aaron Reed. (And there are other great works of IF there that you should totally play!)

This is easily the most autobiographical work I’ve ever written, in any form. With this blog, when I’ve delved into personal matters, it’s usually been in the realm of writing–fears about writing, desires about writing.

But I’ve never really been one to delve into family too much.

The original poem, though, called “Why We’re Not in the Streets”, is one that I wrote with family obliquely in mind (about a year before the twins were born), after a few days I had spent at my wife’s family cabin on the edge of winter. I had posted it on my blog, actually, a few years ago, so you can read it there if you’re interested.

Even though the narrative flow of Doggerland eventually veers far away, content-wise, from the original poem–which keeps it pretty close to the scene of the cabin–I still think that, however imperceptibly, the piece hews close to the original intent of the poem.

Lorine Niedecker’s own Wisconsin wilderness–living almost her entire life in remote rural areas– also looms as an influence in this poem. Besides being one of my favorite poets, Niedecker described her own poetry as a “condensery”:

Poet’s work

    advised me:
       Learn a trade

I learned
    to sit at desk
       and condense

No layoff
    from this


–and I think of her work as a kind of lighthouse for not only what poetry can do, but also other forms of writing can do, particularly ones that can ebb and flow, like Twine is capable of.

Doggerland was in its first draft much more of a (perhaps early 90s style?) hypertext “maze”. That wasn’t working at all, upon much later reflection; I winnowed it down to two branches. It’s still hard for me to “know” how much choice to give to a reader, especially in a piece like this which is so personal. What are they navigating? What would be the purpose of a maze?

Instead of a maze the idea of “dredging” became the primary way to investigate the text, and so the hover replace macro in Twine became my dear dear friend.

I had no idea that Doggerland–the land bridge between continental Europe and Britain–even existed until I started working on this piece. And the historiography of Doggerland, as we understand it now, is definitely informed by climate change. (For example.) Incremental sea rise over thousands of years–with perhaps one giant tsunami giving a nudge–isn’t quite the same what we’re facing now, which is much, much faster and, of course, precipitated by our own actions.

Time is strange. On a geologic scale, even a couple of thousand years is nothing. The climate change we’ve experienced in, say, the last 30 years or so is less than an eyeblink. Yet when in the day-to-day, on a personal, human scale…sure, it can be hard to experience. That is to say, we do experience it, but the mind tangles up “weather” and “climate” all the time.

For my kids, though, it might be a different story altogether.

Finding PDFs of Barron County, Wisconsin topography maps: finding just how close the cabin was to the edge of the glaciers. Really close.

geological map of Barron County, WI

Choices winnow down when you’re in solitude for a few days. When you have children, they pretty much explode. And bringing this explosion of choice into our lives was…also a choice. At the same time, you make that choice having no real idea of what you’re getting into, and, frankly having every possibility of failure (the figures for IVF are readily available for any clinic. You are playing the odds.)

I think about my childhood all the time–how much is life as a child replicated in life as a parent?

There are no easy answers to this.

There’s more than one Sand Lake in Wisconsin, but I like to think that Niedecker had made this note-poem when coming across the Barron County lake she may, or may not, have visited in her travels and included in her Superior Notebook:

I’m sorry to have missed
   Sand Lake
My dear one tells me
   we did not
We watched a gopher there

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