Interview with Dan Waber: creator of X365 project
I came across Dan Waber through a friend of mine, harping on about some X365 project that he’d discovered and loved but never got started. I took one look and the attraction was instantaneous; write 40 words about 365 people who’ve touched your life in some way (I’m up to 19 at the time of writing this). What an idea! I was hooked… but not only by the idea.
Being a lover of humanity I was intrigued by the man behind the project and having done a little research found there was much more to Dan than just his great ideas and kind correspondence. Thankfully, Dan was willing to answer my questions and reveal a little bit more about himself…believe me. It´s better than you could have imagined.
Explain the initial thinking behind the genius that is the X365 project. What was it that inspired you?
I turned 40 on January 12th, 2006, and I wanted to mark the occasion in some positive fashion. So I got this crazy idea: I’ll write 40 words (no more, no less) every day for a year, and each day I’ll write about a different person (in no particular order–in fact, in a shuffled order) who touched my life in some way. But not just anyone, it’s got to be someone I’ve actually met in person, someone whose name I still remember, and someone who was interesting.
For me, the first 50 or so came lickety-split, easy-peasy. The second 50 were not too tough. After that, it got really tough, really fast. When I got to 200 I honestly thought this was going to be impossible. When I got to 300 I was pretty much certain it was impossible and I thought I was going to need to relent on the restriction that I had to remember their name. I have lost a lot of names from my memory. I still have faces, and the floorplans of houses and the shapes of mouths, and the words they used, but I have lost the names.
40 words is a tiny lens to look through. How do you put a mother, an ex-wife, a best friend, or the love of your life into 40 words when that’s not even enough for the junior high math teacher, or the son of the guy who sold meats and cheeses to the place you worked?
What about the man behind the project? What other writing/projects are you involved in?
Lots of things. I just had a book come out from FootHills Publishing, and I’m a partner in Paper Kite Press / Gallery / Studio. A good overview of recent and past web-viewable things can also be seen here.
On my plate in the near future are a book review of a brilliant piece of fiction by Michael Aro, an essay for an upcoming issue of P-Que which proposes a method of using the existing syntax of regular expressions as a method of poetic notation, and a trip to Toronto to individually potato print the complete run of an issue of a Canadian journal of experimental writing called Open Letter.
I´ve also got a collaboration with artists David Hage and Pat Stump on a series of 26 canvases shaped like the letters of the alphabet, a collaboration with Jennifer Hill-Kaucher that will result in a web-based poetry “matching game”, and yet another with poet Sheila E. Murphy on a poem that has no end in sight.
Add to this a book version of the sestinas I’ve written, a very cool book that’s a collaboration with book maker Ivana Pavelka that contains a sequence of twenty double acrostics, and I’ve just started experimenting with doing live-looping to build up multi-layered sound poems on the fly in live performance. And there’s more…
How many people do you have now completing the project? What do you think made it an international phenomenon?
Last time I checked there was something like 190 blogs on the blogroll. I go through it periodically and update the list to reflect who finished, who is still actively in progress, and who appears to have stalled. When I do that I usually end up deleting off a few that have completely pulled their blogs down, or, the URL is 404 for some reason, so the total number of people who’ve told me they’ve started an x365 is probably more like 250 or 275.
The internet made it an international phenomenon. It spreads like a chain letter, really. Each person writing has readers and some of those readers decide to try it for themselves, and then each of those second-layer writers have a set of readers, some of whom decide to do it themselves, and so on. Small world when you map it by relationships. A very small number of people have actually completed the project, though; ten or so.
X365 can’t stop there, surely? What else do you have planned?
It stopped there, for me. I set a goal for myself, challenged others to attempt to meet the same goal, and then I met the goal. It was just one of many of my projects. I’ll keep updating the blogroll as long as people keep letting me know they’ve started, but I never had any plans for it to extend beyond its originally stated parameters. I have lots of things planned, none of them connected to x365.
Ever thought of turning it into a book? If so, what happened?
Several participants talked about various plans to collect entries into a book. I’m not opposed to it, if someone else wants to take it on, but, it was never something I wanted to do myself. The form is really custom-built for web readership–short, daily pieces. That doesn’t rule out books, by any means, but, I don’t see any compelling reason why a book would be better than a web presentation for the material.
What is your opinion of writing on the web in general; a playground for fantastic work or a poor excuse to get published?
There’s a lot of good work on the web. There’s a lot of lousy work, as well. Same with print. To me the most interesting questions writing on the web brings up have to do with the nature of “published” itself, and, the ability to immediately distribute infinite perfect copies of types of work that just fifteen years ago would have been economically impossible for individual artists.
2 thoughts on “Dan Waber”
This is an absolutely fascinating project.. Very inspiring.. I would NEVER be able to remember names though, what people said and how they made me feel – definitely…
The idea is to do one a day but I never stick to it – I end up catching up in intervals (mind you, I started years ago and never got round to finishing it). Ding-ding – round 2! Do you think you’ll give it a try?