Steph Jagger
May 25 2023

 -----   Steph Jagger discusses the creative crisis of Artificial Intelligence, what it could mean for writers, and how to quell the anxiety of computers taking our place..............

A few months back, I read an AI-generated poem about the bare bones of winter. It was lovely. I would even say that it moved me. Sitting with the words, I noticed a soft fluttering in my ribs and chest. It was calming, not unlike seeing snow being stirred through the air by a swirl of breeze.

What a strange thing, I thought, to be moved by something that in and of itself cannot be, or feel, moved.

And then I felt a little sick, mainly because panic had started snaking through my body quickly.

Am I going to be out of a job? I thought. Is this writing thing going to be over?

And as soon as the panic and those questions arrived on the surface of me, I did what I always do— I went for a walk. I moved away from feeling (in this case, panic) and toward thinking (in this case, an attempt to pre-emptively identify as many solutions as possible for what I assumed, after reading one poem, was the impending death of my day job).

I busied my body with a fast enough pace that it had no choice but to ignore the panic, and then I released the hounds— by which I mean the pack of tireless, 2-year-old, yellow Labs who live in my head. I unclipped their leashes, set them free on the problem, and God bless those dogs; they went back and forth with a series of what-if tennis balls for a full 90 minutes.

Finally, I arrived home physically and mentally exhausted with a definitive answer (yes, AI would steal my job) and a list of new career options to save me from this impending robbery (atta girl, if you guessed that Dog Walker was high up on the list).

When I recovered, I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat at my desk. And just like every other morning for the last decade or so, I found myself in front of a blank page, one that was staring back up at me, begging me to do what it is that I always do after I march like that.

I dropped the panic, and I dropped the hounds. I dropped all the way into my body so as to fumble around in the unknown of myself, searching for tiny seeds of beauty, searching for a patch of soil fertile enough to plant seeds so I could feel an aliveness, any aliveness, growing, cracking, and rooting within me.

This is what I refer to as My Creative Process.

Step One: Avoid the feelings I don’t want to feel;

Step Two: Grasp for the tiniest shred of mental clarity (imaginary or otherwise) that can serve as the backup plan in case it all goes to hell; and

Step Three: Use my knowledge of a backup plan to create a feeling of safety (imaginary or otherwise) so I can drop into the emotions I was trying not to feel and, on a good day, go far beyond and beneath them by asking and sitting within nuanced questions, beautiful questions, hopefully, imaginative questions.

I understand this might be a roundabout route rather than a "process," but it’s mine, and the dogs and I love it.

And in this case, it brought me to this question: Why do I write? I don’t do it for the fists full of cash (I like to think that part’s obvious, especially in this crowd), so why do I move through such circuitous rigmaroles every morning only to be confronted by the same blank page?

 Willingly, so?

Confronted, I thought, with my pen in my hand.

Con-front | kənˈfrənt |

from French confronter

from medieval Latin confrontare

- to come face to face with.

AI cannot do that. It cannot sit in the depths of its humanity and, using words, wrestle something to the ground. It cannot stand at the edge of itself, its imagination, or its limits and feel a burgeoning aliveness sprouting through from its insides only to watch it tip over the edge and unfurl from its fingertips onto a page. AI cannot feel or sense. AI cannot be swept away or pulled in close. It cannot put up a fight, battle tooth and nail, rise like a phoenix and survive to tell the story.

AI cannot sit in awe at its divinity one day and disappointment at its deeply flawed humanity the next, and it cannot write about the fathoms in between. It cannot confront pain and bitterness nor lock eyes with rapture and love. It cannot grapple with itself or search for its better angels. And it cannot carve and reshape itself with words as it goes.

AI might steal my job if I am here to be a thinker who generates content. If I write to gather and sort volumes of pre-existing data to identify “most likely outcomes," I might have to polish up my resume. I might be a goner if I use pen and ink to provide overly simplified, listicle-based answers to basic questions. And if this is a task I do predominantly with my mental body, I might need to rethink things.

But if I write to confront my humanity and that of others, I have a job for life. If this is a way of devoting myself to witnessing the world as it unfolds, the tasks involved will be endless. If I write like a detective hellbent on finding aliveness: to feel, sense, and be attuned to vitality, my place on the page is secure. If I am here to come face to face with all I feel languishing, with what is dying and already dead, I am right where I need to be. If writing is a task I do with the entirety of myself—my mental, emotional, and physical bodies—AI can’t touch me.

Steph Jagger is the author of the memoir: EVERYTHING LEFT TO REMEMBER

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