Obsidian as a Companion on a Poem’s Journey
Obsidian is fun. When you see the sprawling network of associations that can arise between notes, you think, “This is going to be SO FERTILE…”
Especially if you read the enthusiastic writings of Obsidian mavens like Eleanor Konik you hope it really will be second brain.
A bit later you stare at the same mycelial network and think, “You know, I can be just as lost in this forest as I am in my first brain.” You pursue the many many plugins that fans have created for Obsidian, hoping to find help. Will Obsidian turn out to be another “High-Mu” toy, where the maintenance far outweighs the utility?
In that mood, with that question, I tried to use Obsidian to help me write a poem. I have published several volumes of poetry and fiction. Usually the Muse comes with an idea. This time she came with this pathway through the forest to an idea.
Background: Obsidian is built of small notes that are linked to other notes. How you do that is up to you. I have daily notes with my current mood and practices, and resources that come via the ever-useful reflection tool Readwise and from many other places.
The network can be overwhelming. User Alexis Rondeau has made “Journey,” a plugin that will find a pathway between two notes via the connections that you have created in your database.
I tried it: two notes and a pathway that links them. In my case, the first note was a Daily note that said “There is sadness here.” No surprise there — I am Irish, after all. Rondeau’s pathway led on to a note about sadness itself. And the third step was to search for any note that had “hope” in it. It took me to Afternoon Music, my latest book of poetry.
This is one of Obsidian’s superpowers — It remembers what you have forgotten. I had forgotten that the poetry book — which I wrote over the last few years, but which I edited just this year — had the specific emotion “hope” in it.
The path has a bit of story in it. It goes from a specific instance of a mood, to the mood itself. That is certainly common for all of us. The book itself does have sadness in it, but many other moods as well. It acknowledges the tristesse in life but does not circle around it constantly. It is like the kitchen of an experienced cook — there are many spices. There is the hope.
It seems like a good story. But then — is that a surprise? My Obsidian database is full of notes I cared enough about to put into the vault. All the connections I also created. Rondeau’s Journey is walking between my own reflections along paths my own thoughts have taken. It is not too amazing that they work for me. (A similar walk through a rich broth might have created life itself, I seem to recall from Stuart Kauffman’s At Home In The Universe. I digress.)
Obsidian and Rondeau’s plugin have brought me the elements of a story: going from this one mood to a larger emotional palette. Good poems, though, need to be about concrete things that reveal abstractions. Abstractions themselves, not so much.
I wrote about a street-musician in the afternoon (a nod to the book’s title) who is asked to sing a sad song. She does. She moves deeply into the emotion. Then she moves on to other feelings (again, part of Afternoon Music’s message) and says why.
I went into the visual world at this point — away from Obsidian, which tends to be very verbal — looking for an image that conversed with the words. At visualhunt.com I searched for “busker.” I found the picture of the London street singer. The picture and the poem are the unit, neither alone. Here it is:
I asked the afternoon busker
to sing us a sad song.
She did — it was very sad,
but it was not very long.
Why? “Sadness is a mood”
said she, “as bitter is a flavor,
but not in every food.”
Ha, thank you Obsidian, you ARE helpful. Not as helpful as the Muse, but maybe that too was what the Muse wanted me to notice. But helpful indeed.
Obsidian, the software, is free. You can find it a https://obsidian.md
Alexis Rondeau has created a video about his Journey plugin — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k2Lp1pCZpY