ugh, AI

I’ve mostly ignored the news about AI, even though I shouldn’t, but I just wanted to continue living in my little world of thinking that writing is produced by actual humans who experience something, or research something, or read other writers and then formulate thoughts and ideas and put those thoughts and ideas to paper or their tech of choice for someone else to read and have their own thoughts and ideas on.

I know it’s silly. There have been ways to get writing done without actually doing the writing well before AI came about.

But I make a living with words. My livelihood depends on brilliant but imperfect (human) writers, because everybody needs an editor, no matter how brilliant a writer they are. Even brilliant writers make mistakes, which editors are in the business of catching before a reader is any the wiser. (I’ve already written, rewritten, and edited this post multiple times, and I bet it’ll still end up with a typo or a word missing somewhere—there’s another truth about editing: it’s hard to edit your own writing.)

We are talking about AI at work. Writing things for our clients about AI and use of it in the workplace. I finally pushed past my (annoyance? disdain? unease?) about AI and got curious enough to create a ChatGPT account yesterday. Nervously, I typed in a prompt for a class assignment—one I’d already submitted, written with my own words and ideas—and watched as a short essay with five bullet points and an opening and closing paragraph appeared in less than 15 seconds. There were no typos or nonsensical text. It wasn’t horrible. The ideas and writing flowed okay. But it was dry, boring, and didn’t sound a bit like me.

I went about my work day and bugged a coworker, a writer who is more open to AI than me has already delved into it, to complain about my findings. I texted a friend and we wondered how teachers would have the bandwidth to weed out the AI from original work. I envisioned professors and teachers everywhere shaking fists skyward while reading boring AI-produced student submissions.

After work, I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post about middle aged women and feeling invisible. It gave me some decent points, something I might use as a start for an article about, you know, the reality of being a middle aged woman in America. But again, a regular snooze fest, dull and dry, formulaic, not blog-like at all. (Still no typos, much to my chagrin.)

fog on Lake Michigan (my photo, not AI-generated)

And then I asked for a poem about Lake Michigan. I’m pretty sure no poets are going out of work due to stanzas like this:

The beauty of your shoreline,
Is like a work of art,
A canvas painted by nature,
That touches every heart.

(AI-generated stanza of a poem about Lake Michigan)

Boring essays, blog posts, and poems aside, what are the ramifications here? Not everyone is a writer, and an AI generated response to a prompt might help someone with ideas or flow for their own work or assignment. In that respect, it’s just another tool in a writer’s toolbox, right? Conversely, if a writer doesn’t add something to their AI-generated work and passes it off as their own, what then? Potential for plagiarism? Dishonesty, at the very least.

There’s already a surfeit (oh I love that word) of content on the internet. Are we going to drown in even more of it, but with less soul and feeling and earnestness? Are we going to stop learning how to write essays, or poems, or articles, or verse, or plays, because all we have to do is type a prompt like “write a one-act play about menopause” and boom, we have a one-act play called “Hot Flashes and Cold Comfort” featuring Linda, a middle-aged woman going through menopause, and Dave, her husband, where one of Dave’s lines is “I know it’s tough, but you’re not alone. Lots of women go through menopause.” Dave, you asshole.

Like I said, I have somewhat buried my head in the sand about this issue, because my hope is that everyone enjoys writing the way I do. I’m certain I’ll only use AI for my own amusement, if I even use it at all. I don’t think AI will be replacing any of the writers I work with, either. And if I ever do end up editing AI-generated copy, I imagine my editing work will shift to adding life and feeling, a human and perhaps flawed tone. I’ll sure miss the typos, though.

here I am again

beach find

I have struggled, like many, for many different reasons, over the last several years. It’s been hard to be creative, hard to assert my voice, hard to do the things beyond what I’m responsible for. This is a weird age, folks. This mid-50s.

I’m still a worker, and will be for a long time. I’ve gone back to school. I’m not a grandparent. My kids don’t need me in the way that young kids do (they’re in their late 20s). I’m trying to reconnect with people I’ve quietly but not purposely disconnected from. I think I closed in on myself for a bit, and I hope they’ll have me again. I hope the world will have me again, or at least let me tiptoe around it a bit, gain my footing.

My late 40s were a burst of freedom and creativity. And by burst I mean small burst, as I’m not a go-big-or-go-home kind of person anyway. I traveled a little, I read more, I wrote some, I made some art just for me, I fell in love with film photography.

But the political climate, the state of world affairs, the heaviness of human life, all of these things have converged and I’ve muted myself. What does my voice matter? What could I possibly create that has worth in times of what feels like such human suffering?

I am extraordinarily sensitive. I was ridiculed for my sensitivity when I was young. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to “overcome” being sensitive—I now know the folly in that. But what I do know how to do in times of difficulty is work, and that’s what I’ve done. Is it partly avoidance? Sure. Self preservation? That, too. Me busy is me not overwhelming myself with the sadness of the world. But, that ignores the parts that are still beautiful; the tiny fact that there is a woodpecker who is insistent upon interrupting my afternoons by knocking at my roof, gutters, and windows. That in my backyard the lilac bush is greening and will soon flower. That I can now walk the Lake Michigan shoreline for miles after the high water devastation of just a few years ago. That there is still meaning, that people are still doing meaningful things. Life in the crazy and unknowable world keeps going on. Us sensitive folks have to find new ways to live within the change and weirdness and uncertainty.

I have to find ways to reconcile my need to know what’s around the corner. I have to approach new things with curiosity, rather than control. I remember when I was open to new experiences, and I have to do that again. I really will try.

While I’m trying, I am giving myself little projects. Art postcards are so doable, fun. I persuaded a friend to join me in a call and response art project, which was exciting and delightful and just enough of a push to get my creative juices flowing again.

Summer feels like the time to be more creative, to me, anyway, and it’s just around the corner. Maybe it’s the longer days and the color and the warmth of the sun on my skin, just the lifting of darkness. I don’t know. But I’ve got to shake off the malaise and find joy and beauty where it exists, create for the joy of creating, and not get mired in worry that my voice is not worthy, or useful. Maybe it’s someone else’s spark to creativity or call to action?

I still have this blog, and while I don’t really know where it’s heading, I’m going to try to pay it some attention. Just for me, maybe. Or you, if you’re still reading.