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What’s a Cap & Gown Got to do with it?

I’ve done the literal graduations… college, grad school, and what not. But the question with which I am presented is “what area in life have [I] not graduated from yet?”

I thought about this carefully, pondering my accomplishments. My answer… well, it depends on perception. If I were to ask my mother what else I should “graduate from,” she would advise me to pursue a traditional family life, which includes grandkids for her. This lifestyle is not undesirable for most, but I believe people should also just value being happy in life, no matter what that looks like. The best symbolic graduation includes achieving happiness and being a whole person.

Happiness is a great achievement! And if that’s true, I’m graduating now… I’m content at the moment and there’s nothing major I am pursuing or seeking to graduate from in the near future. At the same time, I’m always at the beginning of a new curriculum. My inner teacher tells me that learning never ends and, therefore, one should never stop trying to graduate from something.

If I ever reach a day when I can say that I have nothing left to do and nothing left to learn, then I have failed. So, for me, graduations mark accomplishments, but they need not be traditional or even measurable, per se. It’s great to have specific goals such as college, career, mortgage, and family; however, regardless of one’s path, people should never stop seeking graduations!

Life has taught me that we’re never “all set.” Life is beautifully unpredictable and, like one of my favorite quotes states, “not all who wander are lost” (Tolkien). So, please, go out and wander and follow your unique paths to the many types of symbolic graduations you can find!

Creative Voicing

At a very young age, I acquired a passion for creating music. Around three, I started singing in the church choir, and I eventually picked up the violin in elementary school and then the flute in middle school. I was quite good at the flute and even became section leader and second chair in band. I also dabbled briefly with the guitar and piano. However, the one instrument that has stood the test of time is, well… me—my voice! So, if I could be a musical instrument, I would be vocals/the human voice. I find this pairs well with my passion for writing. After all, what is writing without a voice?

The reason for my choice is simple and relies on deductive reasoning: The singing voice was the first instrument I ever “played” (when I was three), and it is the only musical instrument I still use on a regular basis. It’s been years since my competitive high-school choir days; however, I frequent the karaoke scene consistently. Arguably, there is no comparison between singing (usually impromptu) karaoke in a bar and a well-rehearsed jubilee of the classics. Nevertheless, both provide an opportunity for beautiful music to be created (and sometimes not-so-beautiful music to be created… ever hear the joke that karaoke means “tone deaf” in Japanese?… at least I think it’s a joke).

Even if the music being created during karaoke is sometimes considered sub par by music elites, it still offers a creative outlet for the singer and entertainment for the audience. This art is not so different from writing something… let’s say, a blog! The blog I am currently writing is a creative expression of my thoughts right now at this moment. I’m intentionally ignoring certain grammar rules; for instance, I’m writing in fragments and not punctuating entirely correctly. I’m not necessarily following the rules of standard-academic English. I’m doing this because sometimes the best writing is freeform, fragmented and requires a certain cadence to convey tone (that, and us English majors think we can get away with anything). Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir on that one (pun intended).

So, if I could be a musical instrument, it would be the human voice, because it’s just like creative writing… free, beautiful, and open to both imagination and criticism. It improves with wisdom yet can be a delightful symphony even when coming from a child or a novice. There’s no right way to sing just as there’s no right way to write, and that makes the voice my instrument of choice!

Digital, Digital Get Down. Just What We Need.

I am a product of the digital age. By the age of five, I was versed in Microsoft Paint, the mouse my brush as I crafted landscapes of bright, yellow suns and pixelated green grass. By the age of ten, I was the moderator of numerous Yahoo! Groups that spotlighted my favorite TV shows, musicians, and books. By the age of fifteen, I was penning LiveJournal entries as “marvelouslywise,” a play on the line “You shall do marvelous wisely, good Reynaldo” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. By the age of twenty, I was the curator of my Tumblr filled with “Pretty Pictures and Tall Brunettes.” And by the age of twenty-five, I was capturing my thoughts in 140 characters and two-second gifs.

As you can see, the digital age has spanned my lifetime; it is has become a second language and a way of life. Some dismiss it is as lazy, distracting, or, my favorite, a detriment to society. And it is all of those things and worse. Yet it is also fun, creative, and unifying. Through Twitter, I have interacted with people from all over the globe. Together we have bonded over our favorite actors, cheered and jeered throughout the World Cup, and lamented over tragedies that have shaken us to the core. Through websites like WattPad and FanFiction.net, I have been introduced to the tremendous writing talents of pre-Med students, stay-at-home moms, and retired teachers, who construct worlds and characters that draw me in and take me away from my own stresses for an hour or two each night. And through Vine, I have come to find in six seconds that I have much more in common with the rest of the world than I originally thought.

The digital age has produced its fair share of problems; however, it has also provided a space in which people feel connected to someone or something. “Plugged in” has become a pejorative phrase but I believe that it means more than just a dependency on smartphones and other electronics; it means that we are a part of something larger than ourselves, which is a luxury we have not always been afforded.

Things that happen when you’re done writing a thesis.

I finished my thesis mid-April. It was 91 pages. I’m feeling pretty damn accomplished but like, I also don’t want to talk about it anymore.

So what happens after each semester (and this one is no different) is that I have a creativity explosion. All of the academic writing leads me to a place where my creative self is piiiiissed and breaking down the door. This time, after writing the 91 page thesis-that-I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-for-awhile-please, it manifested in a bunch of charcoal drawings, the usual loud music and dancing, some really good meals I cooked while drinking a fair amount of Riesling, buying some books I’ve wanted to buy for a long time that I’ll eventually read, a pile o’ poems, and some short stories, which was cool because I haven’t written a short story in probably fifteen years because I thought that it was difficult and because I thought that the ones I wrote were kinda sorta sucky. It’s funny how such creativity explosions eradicate those fears and allow you to just not give a damn. My muses are back and I’m all like, haaaayyyy.

The topic for March (I know, I’m so behind, I know, but I was thesising, mkay?), was information in the digital age, and I might have something to say about that later, but for now, here is a short story, courtesy of my (until recently) latent creative self. This is based on a dream I had. I have weird but awesome dreams. Bear with creative Meg, she’s a weirdo, but I love her, and I’m glad she’s back.

___

“Are you bringing the ocean?” she asked, “can I borrow it?”

“I can’t lend it simply because you love it so; I won’t bring it because it pleases you to swim.”

She built a boat of balsa wood, held together with the spittle of Blue Herons and the wax of white prayer candles. She built another made of pieces of discarded plastic bottles and useless devices, held together with old typed pages, obsidian ink and fiber, proof of wisdom. The last was made of flesh, held together with bone and muscle and sewn with the thread of an overactive imagination. It was anyone’s guess which would be rejected by the sea. Perhaps all of them.

After many months of toil, the boats rested on the sand, tilted to the left right and left, unbalanced and unsure. In the rain, she covered them with a large piece of washed up canvas, large enough to drape each vessel completely. A solitary gift from the sea.

She built a fire every night and looked over the ocean. She watched the precious moon go from new to full and back again. She heeded its call when she felt its pull, but her boats never left shore.

Her skin turned a deep golden color. Her hair and eyes lightened. The soles of her feet were burned and calloused from walking the beach in search of hermit crabs and sea glass, things living and dead and transformed by years of brutal punishment into something lovely but opaque. It should be said that during this time, he, the sea, alternated between quiet and fierce, dangerous and placid. She could not predict it, only fear it in some instinctual way, like the dark, fierce animals whose eyes she thought she spied in the night. She knew she was stronger, and probably had nothing to be afraid of, but…still. She could not be still.

One such night, she dreamt of three objects, given to her in the dream as a test of her wisdom. If she could determine the true value of each object, she could possess them. There was one object meant to accompany each boat she had built: a key of sorts to each boat’s journey and purpose.

The dream was long and lucid. It was arduous but also effortless. The first object was really three… Three tarot cards: the Empress, the Lovers, and the Four of Staves. The cards were small and worn, and fit in the palm of her hand. There was a small yellowed instruction card explaining their meanings that she crumpled and threw away. She did not need it, for she already knew the meanings. Could it be this easy? She thought, but looked at the cards once again and felt a deeper recollection–more than superficial–as she remembered their full meaning. Three choices and more confusion. It always comes in threes. Her knees weakened and shook, but she passed the first test. It was all that mattered for now.

A deep breath, a real pause in a deep, distant dream.

The next object materialized on her path.  It was sitting among the kind of junk you might find in a shoddy thrift shop, but she knew better than to view it that way. She picked it up. It was lighter than she expected. It looked like a large, child’s toy top. It was made of various kinds of wood from oak to mahogany inlaid in tiny geometric shapes. The top half slid open sideways with a gentle pull and revealed intricate machinery that unfolded like a pop-up book, but working and moving: wooden gears the size of a ladybug to the size of her palm turned and ticked in chaotic order. The entire device looked like one of DaVinci’s drawings come to life. It was a time-keeping device. Before she picked it up, many had grabbed it and put it down, thinking it a worthless object. But it was ancient and powerful, and despite its lightness it held the heaviness of ages and mistakes. She intuited this, the combined fragility and strength, but not its purpose. But again, the simple knowledge she possessed helped her pass this test, and in some way, she felt, also helped to save her.

The final object was the most perplexing. She was drawn to a foot high, hand carved, brightly painted figure of a giraffe. She turned it round and round in her hands seeking some sort of hidden message she could not immediately infer. But she found nothing. She only felt: earth, rain, scorched clay, the beginning of man and creature and an evolution rooted in rock and riverbeds. She took comfort in the fact that she had determined the true value, if not the purpose, of the final object. She had passed each trial and would possess each item. But is possession the same as power?

She woke up from the dream slowly, shortly after dawn, feeling a force both terrible and magnificent, but she wiped the sleep and salt from her eyes and stretched wide, her hips and wrists cracking loudly.

It was high tide and the sea was kissing her toes. It had extinguished her fire and was threatening to steal the boats she had crafted, behaving more greedily and urgently now, with the threat of being caught.

How, she wondered, could something so majestic and soothing also be so callous, only concerned with its own intentions and able to so easily destroy what was so carefully built?

Nature behaves that way if not nurtured, she decided, then laughed to herself –

As if nature gave a shit about her nurturing, and as if her nurturing could ever hope to do a damn thing to tame it. The audacity. The naiveté.

She pulled her knees to her chest, cool in the morning air. But she had to move quickly if she didn’t want her boats to float away. She stood up slowly, her legs aching from the cold, and walked to the nearest tree, where her frayed sweater was hanging and waving like a surrender flag. She put it over her head, put her arms through the sleeves, and loosely tied her damp, tangled hair at the nape of her neck.

She ran toward the boats, each tied to a tree trunk nearby with a thick piece of rope. She tested the knot in each rope first, then took a closer look at each vessel, the water lapping at her goosebumped calves. The balsa, plastic, and flesh were floating gently, not matching the expression on her troubled, anxious face. The flesh boat was waterlogged and was beginning to wrinkle and quiver and slump.

She saw something poking up from inside the piecemeal plastic ship. She jumped, startled in her still sleepy state by what she found. The carved, painted giraffe faced her, its painted eyes staring beyond her shoulder. Breathing heavier, she moved to the balsa boat. Tucked in the back corner, she saw the timekeeping top. She found three small cards, damp and curling, scratching the flesh. She walked behind the boats and watched them sway. She got a chill and, after a time, realized her face was wet from tears, though the ocean air made it difficult to distinguish, hiding this display of emotion with its own brackish display, as if it were comforting, or perhaps competing, or preparing to strike. She could not tell which.

She still did not know if it was time. She continued to contemplate as she walked over to the three trees where the ropes were tied. Three choices within three choices. The cards, the objects, the boats, herself: she looked at all four–she miscounted, once again forgot to count herself, damn it–and felt the wet sand sinking beneath her as the sun rose in the sky, oblivious and beautiful.

My (Im)Pending Life

There’s nothing quite like Limbo…

No, the other Limbo…

…Getting warmer…

…ahem. Close enough.

What I wanted to say is that there’s nothing quite like that perfect chemical mixture of excitement and anxiety when life events leave you hanging. We’ll call it “anxitement,” or maybe “exciety.” Either way, the slight euphoria behind the eyes and pangs of spiritual indigestion radiating from the sternum are unique to the experience of having high hopes but not quite knowing.

Or maybe I’m just over caffeinated and ACTUALLY have indigestion. But let’s stay the philosophical course and leave the body behind for now…

Ok. This is awkward. I can’t believe you actually did it. Put your body back on. Now. Hurryhurryhurry.

 

OK!

 

Like I said. We have bodies and they’re in Limbo and it feels kinda weird. Exciety.

And it is in this state that concepts like “the present” and our own fixedness on the train tracks of time become a little more tangible.

Yeah. Time! I can totally feel it! (Good thing we brought our bodies.)

But like so many sci-fi movies tell us,

time travel is possible.

Ok maybe not in the sense of leaping to a specific moment, but in the sense that the possibilities (or probabilities)  are infinite(Shout out to Douglas Adams!). Outcomes are not fixed until the very moment they happen. They are likely more changeable than we can sometimes anticipate

Like that time at the restaurant you forgot to ask them to hold the mayo but you ask the server to see if they can do it anyway but everybody knows it’s too late but then it turns out your ticket order caught on fire and this was only possible because of the proximity of the ticket orders to the grill and the fact that this restaurant doesn’t use those digital ordering kiosks and so you CAN still hold the mayo and you suddenly feel like you have total control of your life…

No you can’t change the past or the inevitable forward movement of time. But you can certainly shift the destination all over the damn place. So maybe time is more like a Bumper Car than a train. A Bumper Car that can’t go in reverse. You get it, right?!?! There are moments in which you take aim and step on the gas. There are moments that take you by surprise. There are even moments that you can see coming but you swerve too late or you simply await the collision.

Vague car metaphors. Dig it.

The point is (and this is my best guess) that we are constantly in a state of (im)pending life, of hoping but not knowing. But we tune that out with the noise of our routines as a way of moderating the exciety (it’s basically a Wiktionary entry at this point); or we diffuse (im)pending life as a vicarious and shared (visharious) experience (probably through Netflix binge watching). Either way, we sometimes soothe ourselves into forgetting the triumph and freedom of shifting possibilities, or we celebrate it only when it’s someone else. The risk is that the list of things that are inevitable seems to rapidly expand, and the amount of control we appear to have over our lives seems to rapidly shrink…like that kinetic sculpture in the lobby of the Liberty Science Center. Youtube it.

This post is both an intentionally tenuous and meandering explanation of dealing with life changes and an unintentionally accurate rendition of my head space as I deal with life changes. Please excuse the mess. I’m in the process of moving all over the damn place, and it feels…well…like life.

Sounds of (Im)Pending Life, A Companion Playlist

 

Commencement Address

Esteemed President. Distinguished Board of Trustees. Revered faculty members. Graduating students. Good morning, everyone.

I am honored to be your commencement speaker today. As to my topic, several temptations assail me. One is to repeat some of the advice that I have heard on these occasions; for example, “Don’t be afraid to take a chance!” “Cherish these surroundings—you will never live anywhere so beautiful again!” “Choose your rut carefully—you will be in it for the next twenty years!”

To avoid these traps, I turn for guidance to a favorite writer, Rose Macaulay; the quotation appears at the end of her novel, The Towers of Trebizond:

“After all, life, for all its agonies of despair and loss and guilt, is exciting and beautiful, amusing and artful and endearing, full of liking and of love, at times a poem and a high adventure, at times noble and at times very gay, and whatever (if anything) is to come after it, we shall not have this life again.”

These lines make me weep every time I read them. I love them because they tell you, better than I can, to treasure every minute of your life, even the bad times, which, I assure you, will be yours, as well as the good ones.

Treasure your life. Don’t waste time on frivolous matters. Work hard. Think deeply. Respect your teachers and your parents. Take time to do generous deeds. Remember that others may be struggling. Be polite. Smile. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Do another good deed. Study harder. Fall in love. Tell the truth, especially to yourself.

Once upon a time, I would have said to you, as Tennyson wrote about Ulysses, that your goal should be “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Now I say to you, be compassionate and empathetic. Put down your cell phone and engage the other person:  We are in this life together.

Goodbye, good luck, and, no matter what happens, appreciate your life. Smile.

Sometimes, it’s good to be the Jack

It was pretty common for teenage boys to want to play guitar when I was in high school. From the looks of things, that still holds true. The phenomenon has even breached the gender barriers. For me, however, music was not a super relevant part of my life until a few years after high school, so my teenage interest in the guitar was more motivated by family ties. My father was a pretty accomplished guitarist, albeit as the result of a lifelong hobby and not through a drive to “make it big.” So my interest started as a way to connect with him as I grew into manhood (however I was defining it at the time). But he was kind of an aloof and distant individual, and he seemed to guard his hobbies (carpentry, surfing, guitar playing) pretty fiercely.

Jesus + Patrick Swayze in Point Break + James Taylor = my dad.

 

So, because of his guardedness, my teenage dreams of father-son musical bonding tapered off. But a few years later, the itch to learn came back. At that age, I had been more severely exposed to an array of rock music through various friends, and record stores were still a thing, and making entire albums was still a thing. People cared, man! But my point is mostly that I had started to feel that music was now an integral part of my personal development. So much so that I (apparently) needed to make some of my own. So come my twentieth birthday, I embarked on what would be an epic, twenty minute journey to the local music shop. I walked in, saw a “starter kit” that I could afford, and bought it. Like I said. Epic.

 

serving suggestion

My hands shook with giddiness as I unpackaged my first guitar: picks, tuner, gig bag (for all of my upcoming gigs), beginner lesson book, beginner lesson CD (too fancy), and the first and only acoustic guitar I have ever owned. I bought myself a low-end Fender and never looked back. And while I did not play it ‘til my fingers bled nor was it the Summer of ’69, I did get blisters after about thirty minutes of playing “Frere Jacques.”

 

The guitar is something I won’t master in my lifetime, but I have since played with my father a handful of times. It didn’t forge an inseparable bond between us, but it did give me a rewarding hobby that I am more than happy to share with anyone. It also gave me a different way of interpreting the world. And because this is a writing blog after all, I begin my seamless, almost imperceptible shift toward the writing process.

 

I think too often, we are good at convincing ourselves not to pursue things that will not fulfill a specific goal or immediate need. We are also possibly deterred by virtuosity; meaning someone else’s mastery of a skill can often be intimidating. I don’t LOVE essay writing, but I absolutely appreciate the writing skillset it packages in neat little bundles. The argumentation, the organization, the analysis. Those are all elements that can translate, at least cognitively, across media. Analysis helps me understand which chords/notes/melodies convey a certain kind of “tone” or “voice.” Organization helps give my song form and movement. A few good verses of lyrics can create an argument (a main point, or even just a gripe).

 

I don’t get into every hobby or any new skill thinking I will master it or even that it will precipitate some necessary life change. I do go in looking for connections and looking to adapt my old skills and lessons to the new. The full label for us is “Jack of All Trades, Master of None,” and I don’t find it to be insulting. For me, there is something liberating about being versatile or nimble with my skills. Some areas are more developed than others, but they tend to inform each other rather well. And that tends to diminish my fears of virtuosity, which helps me feel good about new endeavors. Writing, music, life, etc.

Jamming

Jamming

In the 1940s, when I was a young teenager, music was a central part of my life. Our mother, a graduate of the Yale School of Music, supervised the musical productions at the local elementary school and gave her three daughters piano lessons. Our father’s mother was an opera singer (at home, not professionally), and he knew every score by heart. My parents’ 1924 honeymoon was spent in a hotel that featured every afternoon tea dances with a live band. We had a Victrola in our living room, and we danced together after supper.

Our passion was Big Band music. Leaders of this phenomenon, clarinet players like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, were superb musicians, classical as well as jazz, whose bands played swing music, sometimes called “swing jazz.” The notes of a clarinet can soar, floating above or playing off the other instruments. To describe the effect of the clarinet on me is to define happiness: I was transfixed by the sound. The notes are pure, rhythmic, and exciting; most of all, they made me want to dance. Impossible for us to sit still when we listened to swing, we jitterbugged around our old-fashioned living room; in the slang of the period, we cut a rug.

When we went to dances, we were too young to drive and traveled in a pack, rather than pairing off—a parent transported us. Not all of the boys felt the spirit of the music, but some were excellent dancers, and we sought them as partners. A boy once asked me what instrument I wanted to learn to play. I replied, “The clarinet.” I was a skinny girl with long straight blond hair. “Annie,” said the boy. “Have you ever thought what you would look like playing the clarinet?” I was crushed; I remember the exchange exactly, as if it were yesterday.

To use Alan’s word, let me “riff” on clarinet playing as a metaphor for writing an essay of literary criticism. I introduce my topic, the way the clarinet, and others in the group—the bass, the piano, the brass—lay out the melody. I react to the topic with a series of new ideas or motifs, just as the musicians respond to each other by improvising with variations on each theme. We both strive for drama and cohesion. I use commas to indicate pauses; the musicians take a breath. We both use the term “phrase” for verbal or musical units. I use parallel construction; the musicians vamp. I make allusions to my literary heroes; the musicians pay homage to other players with quotes from their work. In the conclusion, I tie my themes together in a cadence, the way the band returns to the melody for the last time.

The Tension Between the Hard and the Soft

Fourteen-year-old me would have told you that I would become a music journalist, writing for either Alternative Press or Rolling Stone. I would go on tour with the hottest bands, review the latest albums, and interview music legends. I would be a household name, respected and sought after. That was my dream, one that I held onto for many years. One that took me to Boston University to pursue a degree in journalism. One that fizzled out shortly thereafter.

There are some careers for which you do not need a degree. Music journalism is one of them. In my four years at Boston University, neither a class nor portion of a class was devoted to music journalism and its principal characteristics. Arts criticism, in general, was rarely spotlighted. Instead, BU was all about the hard news, which is important, informative, and, nine times out of ten, boring – really boring. The likelihood of me writing huge, investigative, Pulitzer Prize-winning stories was small, if not non-existent. Rather I would be writing what I wrote for my classes, stories on zoning elections, budget meetings, and medicaid. Boring, boring, and boring. I like writing more creative pieces on topics that are of interest to me. I like to inject my voice, my style. Hard news does not allow for that; in fact, it strictly forbids it. Two and a half years at BU were spent writing hard news, and by my junior year, my love affair with journalism was over. Or so I thought.

Feature Writing. Magazine Writing. Arts Criticism. These were the courses that reawakened my passion for journalism. I may not have been writing about music, but I was able to pursue topics that were rarely found in the columns of a newspaper. I wrote about the L Street Tavern, a bar in South Boston that was used as a set in the film Good Will Hunting. I wrote about how Facebook walls served as virtual grave sites where the friends and loved ones of those who passed away could visit and pay their respects. I wrote about the rise of film adaptations of literature and questioned whether the film industry was losing its originality. I wrote about the subjects that I cared about and had a blast doing it. It’s difficult for me to write when I’m not invested in what I am writing about. If I don’t care, why should you?

Writes Well with Others, or, Coming to Terms with Words

“Heteroglossia” was a term I had never heard until I reached grad school. I had never heard of Mikhail Bakhtin either. But I wasn’t a stranger to some of the concepts the term engenders. Multiple discourses creating a “complex unity” (see Fig. 1). Things of that nature…

Figure 1. Heteroglossia in motion.

 

I tell you this because, sometimes, I don’t work well with others when it comes to words. I remember one incident in particular when my friend and I were playing guitar together a lot (NOTE: if you’re legit, you call it “jamming”). We had started to discuss the possibility of collaborating on a few songs, but it was clear we were very different lyricists. I strove for concrete imagery, storytelling and wordplay, and he strove for obscurity, free association and stream of consciousness. Needless to say, the “band” broke up before it even began. But that’s neither here nor there. During that brief period of collaboration, my friend and I spent a few weeks in Costa Rica together. We had brought our guitars, and I had brought a small notebook full of various snippets of songs and poems. At one point, I had left the hotel room to explore on my own for a bit. When I came back, I found my friend paging through the notebook, pen in hand. He decided it would be perfectly acceptable to read/edit/revise my writing without asking. He was under the impression that I would be cool with it….

 

It was not perfectly acceptable.

He had the wrong impression.

I was not cool with it.

Basically, this was not my idea of collaboration.

 

In a more recent incident, a friend forwarded me a few pictures of some writing we had done in junior high and shortly after high school (NOTE: This was totally unrelated to any #TBT reference). The first picture was of a set of symbols I had developed for writing notes in code. (Yes, it was awesome. No, you can’t see it. It’s a secret code!)

How to break codes that can’t be broken.

But the second set of pictures was of lyrics that we apparently co-wrote. I found myself struggling to remember ever writing the words or if there was any music attached to them. As I read more carefully, I struggled to imagine myself being okay with the collaboration. I noticed that I had written the original lyrics, and my friend (different from the friend previously mentioned) had basically crossed out some words or phrases to insert her own. In my humble opinion, neither of us were very good, but I also just felt there was a disjointedness to the whole thing. As if (surprise, surprise) two people with diverging aesthetics tried to write a song together. These two incidents were not my only conscious encounters with heteroglossia.

As a Creative Writing major in undergrad, I was privy to all sorts of strange writing prompts that my instructors used to begin workshops. The one that comes to mind now is an exercise where you essentially write the first line of a poem and then pass it to your left. Each writer adds a line to the poem in front of them, then passes it again. This continues until the poem you started returns to you. It’s essentially an amped up version of telephone. But I admit it was pretty exciting to see the results of other writers riffing on your lines.

“My love is like a red, red rose.” Pass it on. “My glove is like a Dead Head rose.” Pass it on. “My dove is like a well fed toad.” Pass it on.

 

When I look back on these various experiences of collaborating on texts, I start to come to terms with heteroglossia as a fundamental part of language use. Really, as a fundamental part of human life. Even if some of my collaborations were utter failures in my own opinion, changing the format and setting had vastly different results for me. Somewhere along the way, I recognized that I could generate my own more private writing as well as contribute to a collaborative linguistic experience. This is what we do when we have conversations, discussions, arguments, dialogues. When we read or write texts, when we engage ourselves with the work or words of another. We use language to co-construct meaning. The words we use are so rarely of our own invention. We are using an inherited script of words and meanings upon which we cross out certain lines and insert our own verses. And the overwriting comes from a multitude of voices, speaking all the time. We are always already collaborating. And that collaboration allows us, and requires us, to represent a community of voices even if we only hear our own when we write something down or speak up.