Tuesday, April 22, 2008

solitary collaboration

We're in what is known as "Dead Week" at the university where I teach -- it's the last week of classes and its name is derived from the practice of not assigning students any more work, introduce any new material, etc. I use it as a time to conference one-on-one w/ my students as they finish up revisions on their final papers.

Of the ten + students who had made appointments w/ me for today, five called to cancel and two were no-shows. That left me w/ a bit of time to do some writing of my own once I took care of some emails, work-related items, etc. Ever since my writer's block, I've been doing most of the writing of my latest novel longhand. I keep a notebook devoted solely to it, appropriately decorated w/ cafe images (my novel is primarily set in a bookstore/cafe), and have been taking it w/ me everywhere for the last week.

As I may have told you in an earlier post, this is the first time I am co-writing a novel, but not the first time I've collaborated w/ my PIC. A couple of years ago, my PIC (partner in crime) had temporarily moved in w/ me, before I relocated to NC and her to upstate NY, to co-write the first draft of the screenplay for my first novel.

I don't think I could pull this off w/ anyone else, especially since I am so controlling w/ my writing. But somehow, we make it work.

My PIC is currently a med student. Specifially, chiropractic. And she was an art major in college, folks. Go figure that one! I don't know how she does it, man. It baffles me; the level of stress and the volumes of work and all the memorization and the pressure... there's just so much at stake. The selfish part of me (dare I say, the writer) wants to seriously persuade her to quit, to get her and her hubby to move to Raleigh (where he would easily find a job in his line of work), and get her to do something less stressful; say, become a hairdresser (they teach anatomy in hairdresser school. For example, how many bones make up the head? One: the skull). Just think of all the product she could get... I want her to do this so she could be close to me again, so we could spend hours in Caribou Coffee (since we can no longer be at UJ's or Mirasol's) with our pages making revisions and talking about the characters as if they live and breathe, just like we used to do.

How I miss the talking. Face to face.

Alas, I can't. She has her own path, and I bow down to her and the journey she makes every waking moment.

But man, I loves when her trimester ends and she gets a break. As I write this, she's visiting her mom in Vermont, and we spent the day emailing each other pages that began as freewrites and are slowly turning into a finished chapter. Although this isn't how we've been working thus far, today we each added a layer, brick by brick. We talk to each other in our drafts. Right smack in the middle of our text, we change the color of the font and start a conversation about a word or a line or a thought or an idea. One time we went on for two pages and the entire palette of Word font colors all in response to a four-word sentence.

When it comes to writing, process takes many forms. It is amorphic, really -- moldable clay one minute, jello the next. It's a solitary act so often; but sometimes Stacey's wife, or even just Stacey (and yes, Stacey's a guy, folks -- a cool guy) and I meet at Panera Bread or Caribou and just participate in the act of writing together, each working on our own projects but doing it in each other's company. And for me, that is so life-affirming, so communal. And, I might argue that as writers we need to be communal as much as we need to be solitary.

I miss my PIC dearly. Not just because it would make our collaboration easier, but because I miss her company. And yet, when I am alerted to her emails, and if I'm lucky enough, it comes w/ an attachment of a draft or a bit of feedback, then for a moment, she is here beside me, and we are in my Fairhaven apartment eating cookies and watching The West Wing all over again.

(But really, would it kill you to just *consider* being a hairdresser? Two words: scalp massages...)


Sarah said...

what do you do when you've got two warring responses, each wanting to be the last line?

#1 - awh, kai.

#2 - ya know, we give scalp massages here, too... but there's no product.

The Purple Panda said...

Always go w/ the one that makes you laugh.

(Case in point: And for the record, product wins.)