People often talk of rebirth, or finding themselves born again. But how deep does the phoenix go? Where is the cutoff point when it is no longer an option, and who’s to say?
As the title suggests, a huge theme within Amion, my creative project, is rebirth.
A little background first. Originally, Amnion started out as an untitled assignment in an Introduction to Creative Writing class. We had about 4 or 5 different options we could choose from, but the one that jumped out the most to me was the task of writing from the perspective or a murderer but without ever once mentioning the murder itself. In a sense, you end up with this sinister literary detachment.
The initial run of the story about approximately 730 words. i attempted to channel a sort of Faulknerian vibe into the text by writing long winded sentences injecting several adjectives in quick succession–that mega-stream-of-consciousness style, making up my own word by combining others (“notyetspehere”), and using 5 dollar words such as “liminal.”
The end product was pretty neat to me and one was one of the only pieces of mine whose end product i felt truly great about. One fellow girl in my peer review group had some really cool mixed feelings: her conflict was the haunting relatabilility of the unnamed male protagonist coupled with the knowledge of his past crime.
In short: i managed to accomplish my goal of accessible uneasiness, relatively speaking.
But only the teacher caught the rebirth concept floating in there at the end. So i had to find some way to make the protagonist’s coming-out-of-the-river more noticeable, and thus i chose the name “Amnion.” Why that word specifically? The word has an eerie yet comfortable liquid sound to it with the 2 vowels flowing with the soft consonants. i may have been also playing Silent Hill: Homecoming at the time whose final boss has the title.
This short story of a previous assignment was chosen for the creative project initially because i wanted to revisit the work to make the text a bit longer and to edit and revise. Paul Valéry once said that “[a] poem is never finished, only abandoned.” i took this statement to apply to most literary works of text and i think the words have quite a bit of merit. One can always come back to their brainchildren and find things to shift about and improve. (Except for you, George Lucas.)
So then comes to my decision to use Twine as my modus operandi to transpose this mother into a digital counterpart. Initially i started out making this a work of interactive fiction much in the vein of Galatea. i started to map out the the area the protagonist was in and try to find ways to make a cohesive world in which to interact. The idea was to have players control this murderer after the murder took place and he (or she if i made the work gender neutral and universally accessible) just finished burying their victim. That relatability would be intrinsic of the players whether they wanted it or not and were forced to relate. Maybe have a different ending or 2 so the illusion of choice was present.
i soon found that, given the nature of the short story, this medium didn’t really fit the desired direction. i felt a person wandering around a bunch would be frustrating (and was frustrating for me at first to make and to play) because the gameplay would detract from how i wanted the story to be perceived. Additionally, the ending had to happen the way it did. People had to be uncomfortable that an unpunished crime happened and that, not only did it go unpunished, but a sick sort of redemption concept was an inherent part of the story’s narrative.
So Twine happened.
Twine is great for some who’s into visually mapping something and doing so quickly. As an interactive fiction i drew and mapped out the forest area and river and the burial site with a pencil and paper. But Twine catered more to my needs and i found the software to be much more accessible. Jonah was ultimately the format used. This work started out as paragraphs of continual text; the Sugarcane format made previous text disappear. While Sugarcane fit the need of not allowing a player to go back after making a decision, the previous text was gone. Jonah allows a trail of previous text to see where you’ve com from. Although with Jonah i had to explicitly state in the directions that after a choice had been made it is verboten to click back.
The neat way i used Twine and am a little proud of is how i utilized Twine’s ability to create infrastructure that mirrored Faulkner’s writing style. A teacher who once taught us Absalom, Absalom! provided a great way to comprehend (sort of) how Faulkner got at things: his writing style and narratives were done in such a way that readers were given just enough of the fringe of the goings-on to get an idea what was actually happening in story but without looking at the happenings directly until culminating to some ending. You are always looking on these fringes and have to painfully piece stuff together to understand the whole and its shaky epicenter.
There are not too many path choices in Amnion, but different paths lend themselves to getting a better idea of what’s going on. A few playthroughs give the player the full picture. The story is linear with a single ending because the nature of the story itself is to have a specific ending proper. The risk was writing about something nastily taboo and to freak people out once they get what was actually going in. Readers are put in this twilight time and path of things in motion and are forced to feel uncomfortable but to find something disturbingly human in this redeeming yet inhuman descent.
The true way to consume the story digitally was to allow multiple tries to totally grasp what is going on. Specific word links to each new lexia allows one to think about why one path signifies going to one direction while another goes elsewhere. For example, one choice has the protagonist finishing his burying and clicking the actual word “finishing” skips over two lexia. If one has the trigger finger itch to click to “finish” quickly, some stuff gets missed. Other choices are more complexly related and up for subjective interpretation but there is a method to the madness’ path.
The biggest narrative change i did make, though, was the introductory quote by rapper Ian “Aesop Rock” Bavitz.
Aes’ vocabulary and use of diction to me are really onto some sort of new age Hip-Hop Faulkner lyricism (all right, all right, hold up, yo, hold it. This seems kind of overblown and overshooting and somewhat pretentious but i think there is a little something to this.). His style has a rather stream-of-consciousness vibe and oftentimes is metaphorical to an extreme. He thrives on abstraction a lot. As Aes has put it:
“It’s probably because it’s not the most accessible music in the world. It may pose a slight challenge to the listener beyond your average pop song. I’m no genius by a long shot, but these songs are not nonsensical, that’s pretty preposterous. I’d have to be a genius to pull this many nonsensical records over people’s eyes. It’s not exactly fast food but when people pretend I’m just spewing non-sequiturs and gibberish I can’t help but think they simply haven’t listened and are regurgitating some rumor they’ve heard about me. Even if it’s not laid out in perfect sentences—is any rap?—you’d have to be an idiot to not at least grasp a few things from these songs. Or have had no interest in pulling anything from them in the first place.”
The production he makes himself and most prominently with longtime collaborator and producer Blockhead is wild, especially when coupled with his unique flow. But his lyrics are where he maniacally jumps out. One has to really sit down and read his lyrics if they want to get all the messages floating around. His use of words are offbeat, imaginative, multi-syllabic, complex, and just downright playful. One can certainly garner a few one-liners here and there just listening but sitting down and reading this stuff is getting onto a whole different plane.
At first, the inclusion of the quote seemed ridiculous and completely subversive of the short story. But something about the quote really hooked me. The origin is from a song composed by Aesop Rock for a friend, Jeremy Fish, who performed a San Francisco art gallery showing who also works directly and frequently with Aes for album work and other various music related oddities. The song played at the gallery showing and was distributed in a limited edition run of USB flash drives with some collectible swag. The title of the whole show: Ghosts of the Barbary Coast.
The song: Tomorrow Morning
The quote used to kick off Amnion is the first half of the chorus while the latter half features fellow Weathermen colleague, rap family, and Definitive Jux associate/former CEO El-P. i’m a huge Hip-Hop fan in the sense of any of the music and artists that advance the genre as an art form, so i wanted to do something hip with the short story. The line seemed really to have nothing to do at all with the text initially, but then i thought the water connection and coming out of that surreal and dissociated state the next morning only to have the cycle start again. Somehow something clicked with the story. Cycling, recycling, and rebirth; keep it going intriguingly.
So all in all out came Amnion. It was an interesting exercise in digitally creating and consuming literature in our infornographic age and was fun to do, albeit frustrating every now and then. The result is not the flashiest, most creative, clever, or incredibly imaginative thing done but for the most part i like what came out given the nature of the text i was working with and my personal vision of how to manifest it digitally.
So if you haven’t played it, check it out maybe. Given it a run and see what’s up. Provide some feedback. But most importantly, thank yah!