Holding a creative distance: The origin of my recent engagement with Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

This month I made my second appearance at Burning House Press. The first, a poem, was a distinctly personal effort, the most openly vulnerable piece of writing I have created this year. I’ve been debating the idea of what it means to write memoir—the only genre that really makes sense—and why I have a strange discomfort with much of what falls into that category. I’ve tossed about all sorts of approaches, from the straightforward essay to the fragmentary to the semi-poetic narrative and, in the end, I will probably just have to stop procrastinating and start putting down one word after another and see where it leads me.

In the meantime, I’ve long wanted to balance more experimental and detached projects against the personal. In particular, I wanted to find a way to engage with some of the books I brought home from my father’s library after his death. I started with randomly generated extractions from some of his collection of Russian literature, but quite honestly the material was not holding my attention. Of much greater appeal are his specialty volumes—slip-cased, illustrated collectible editions of classics like The Adventures of Marco Polo, The Rubiyat, and HG Well’s Time Machine.

One of my treasures is a small pocket-sized hardcover edition of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. And that’s where the current project began.

The theme at Burning House this month, craftily curated by my friend John Trefry, is “Non-nonfiction.” Inspired by a black and white postcard from New York City that I found tucked into my father’s copy of The Meditations, I decided to create a series of hyper-processed pseudo-wet plate images from some of my photographs. At first I imagined writing a mock report cataloguing these acquired images in some undefined post-apocalyptic future. But it felt too much like writing speculative fiction, forced and odd because fiction is not my territory. So I went back to Marcus, to exactly the location where the postcard still rests and extracted material from two verses on those pages. That material, manipulated with minimal intention, was then employed with the images to create an “excerpt” from an imagined series. Working like this allows me a creative expression from which I am distanced, at least to a degree, while at the same time honouring my father.

My piece, The Soul of a Man: A Meditation can be found here.  I hope you enjoy it.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

5 thoughts on “Holding a creative distance: The origin of my recent engagement with Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations”

  1. It’s gorgeous, Joe. I love the Meditations, I have, when life has been difficult, had the book beside my bed and read it as some people might read a bible. Your photos render the text exquisite.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Lisa. I too love the Meditations. I love that it was one man’s notes to himself about life and living well, never intended for an audience.
      By the way, you were present at the initial creation of one of the images. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You should have seen the bay yesterday, Joe. We had a freak weather day, with torrents of hail piling up in the garden like snowfalls, and it was bitterly cold. We had to venture out for a friend’s birthday which was held at the Beaumaris Motor Yacht Squadron’s club rooms on the bay, and the Arctic wind was whipping up the waves so that they were smashing over the pier and the groynes. And the colour of the sea was a photographer’s dream, slate grey with angry whitecaps, with streaks of sandy turbulence all through it. Magnificent!

        Liked by 2 people

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