Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Writing the Blog

People have occasionally asked us how this blog is written—“who” actually “writes” it, when, and how?  We know that authorship has been a central topic in past years in literary criticism, but in literary criticism the analysis of authorship typically involved sleuthing out how an author who is no longer available wrote what he or she did.  Foucault’s Death of an Author, Barthes’ What is an Author, and other similar works were part of this inquiry, sometimes skeptical about whether one can speak of “the author” at all.  But there is an Author here, two of us.  We want to make it easier—we’ll just tell you how we’re doing this.


            Early in the blog it was our daughter Sara who did most of the writing; she was trying to keep the large array of family, friends, and others up to date on Brooke’s medical situation right after the accident.  It was a convenience in communication, so to speak, a way of providing news without having to repeat it too often.  But when she went back to her home in Seattle after a couple of weeks, she was not able to be on the front lines anymore and writing turned to others, occasionally other family or friends, but mostly us, Brooke and Peggy.


            Of course there are segments of the blog that were written by just one or the other of us.  The initial narrative by Brooke was written after he learned Dragon Naturally Speaking, the voice-recognition software for computers, at the university rehab.  Other parts are taken in dictation from him, in his own voice.  There are sequences written by Peggy in her own voice, usually shown to Brooke before they’re posted but occasionally written in the middle of the night, sometimes in anguish, and posted right away.   But for the most part, especially in the recent months, we’ve been writing this blog together.


            But what does that mean?  What does together mean?  Though we’ve each written plenty of academic stuff and have also each written nonacademic stuff-- Brooke has written and published autobiography, Peggy fiction—with the exception of one small academic article on psychiatry and religion we’d never written anything together.  But we still remember how difficult that was and how we discovered major differences in the way we work:  Brooke would start by reading all the literature, then writing; Peggy would start by thinking through the conceptual issues first and writing right away. We wrote draft after draft, tussling back and forth.  In the end it made nice work together, but it was rough now and then.


            That was then; this is now, and the circumstances are vastly changed.  What about writing together now?  This isn’t an academic article anymore, this is about real life. 


             Take a particularly blog entry, like the one you’re reading now.  Sometimes it begins with an idea of Brooke’s, sometimes with one of Peggy’s, but it is usually Brooke who composes the first few lines in his head.  Then Peggy, as she’s taking down on the laptop what Brooke is saying, edits, modifies, fills in.  Indeed, this becomes a more and more elaborate process, as what Brooke dictates suggests other things, and then she wings off on tangents of her own—sometimes as Brooke is still dictating, talking into what has become a temporary void. Sometimes it’s Peggy’s ideas that launch a topic.  In any case, there’s a later stage where we read what we’ve written together over together, back and forth, over and over, until it feels right between us.


            Right now, for instance, we’d just been talking about how we didn’t have very much to say to the blog.  We’re in Brooke’s room, in the evening, and the plastic containers that held the food Peggy brought for dinner are sitting around empty.  Brooke’s in the bed; Peggy’s sitting on a high chair next to the bed, with her feet up on it. There’s a plate of fruit—canned fruit, from the hospital—on the bed between us.  The nurse, Craig, is changing Brooke’s PICC line—an IV line that goes from the insertion site just above the elbow up through the vena cava that is the main vein to the heart, used for the big antibiotics Brooke had been taking and even though the surgical wound is healing very nicely and the antibiotics are discontinued, is kept in readiness in case something more should be needed.  Craig is working on the line, and now we’re taking a bit of dictation from him about where it goes, what it does.  “Sounds scary,” says Brooke of the PICC line, but we both recognize that it has played a major role in controlling the recent infection.

            Usually, we write at night, almost never in the daytime.  This is our creative period, after dinner, before the lengthy preparations for bed.  We don’t always have time, and we don’t always have something to say, but sometimes things just emerge, that we’ve been thinking about or worrying about or even enjoying.

            Part of the interest, we assume, is that readers might be curious about who wrote this.  Could literary analysts can piece out who wrote which words?   Peggy has worked with various other people on jointly authored works—for instance, one on drug issues and one on infectious disease--but this is different.  There, often, one person in a working group would take responsibility for drafting a section or a chapter, usually the person with the most expertise in a certain area, and then all the authors would review it, revise it, work through it multiple times.  Those works were certainly joint.  But this is more joint, what we are writing together. 


            The ballet of doing this is a matter of balance, not always achieved. Often, Brooke starts an idea or a sentence, provides a kind of skeleton, and Peggy elaborates with lots of minute detail.   This means rather long pauses sometimes, as Peggy takes off with an idea that Brooke initiated. Of course, collaboration isn’t entirely new to us. When Brooke wrote an article, he’d give draft after draft after draft to Peggy, who’d urge various revisions, sometimes minor, sometimes immense.  Even from the very beginning of our relationship, when Peggy was working on controversial topics in bioethics, especially end-of-life ones, Brooke would put up a spirited argument against her view—and, in the process, oblige her to rethink, rethink, rethink what she’d thought she knew.    But this writing is somehow different.



We’re in Brooke’s room, with its marvelous brownish paint, with a dresser and console that hides the flat-screen TV, with two paintings of a river somewhere in an autumn field—it’s one of those hospital rooms that is meant to look like a room in a swish hotel.  Usually Peggy sits in the bed next to Brooke, sometimes leaning back against the footboard, facing Brooke; sometimes next to him both facing in the same direction.  Often we’re working against the clock, with a deadline like a newspaper, but the deadline is usually the arrival of the shower aides, or the respiratory therapist for CoughAssist, or the nurse with the night medications and the aide to place the boots and splints and brush the teeth.   It’s important to us to get it done.   Writing together has become the thing that we do together, since we’re not hiking or skiing or traveling or dancing or doing any of the other things that couples do.


But the pleasure of composing together and the intimacy of it is real—partly because we have to recognize not only our differences in style and technique but in focus.   It’s like having an intimate conversation with one another, as opposed to the often mundane details of our practical lives, like conversations about schedules, visitors, medical procedures and so on.   It’s male and female combined, perhaps a substitute for more usual physical intimacy, but there is an intermingling here.  There’s something androgynous about it but also something somehow erotic, in this interweaving.


            We’ve sometimes worried about what will happen when we’re in creative doldrums, searching around for themes to write about but without any depth—what might happen in the future, if this becomes our main form of interaction?  What if one of us takes over the text?  Could it be Peggy, since she’s the one who has the capacity to type on the computer; or will it be Brooke, when Dragon Naturally Speaking is up again and he can dictate whatever he wants without Peggy’s editorializing.   (We’re getting very meta here, remarks Brooke.)  Will we be able to continue this remarkable dance, even if we’re each occasionally a trifle impatient with the other—Brooke, if Peggy stops listening to his dictation because she’s off ginning up details on her own, or Peggy if Brooke isn’t hearing her ideas.   But in general it’s a deeply intimate dance, and almost no single sentence is by just one of us, almost always a mix from the two of us.  Like any dance, it’s a prelude to a future, sometimes of even greater intimacy.


            And while we've been talking about the Author we haven’t even mentioned the Reader—that is, you.  That’s the other important part of this blog.  Stay tuned.






norm said...

Ok - as a response from one reader, speaking for myself but maybe for others.

First I wish we could get rid of the word "blog" An inelegant nasty little
term which is being used to describe an elegant process and product.

That's probably not going to happen, but I will use the term narrative, or story.

I'm one of those readers who has read every chapter of the narrative
yet doesn't respond that frequently.

Be assured though that we are there with you. This last chapter on how the narrative is written is fascinating. We look to hear more.


ed ranney said...

Hi Booke and Peggy,

That's great news about the preparations for the pacer, and it sounds like you are well prepared for the procedure, given all your hard work, so I hope the plans proceed as expected for sometime in Jan.
The explanation of the collaborative writing is wonderful, though not surprising, as one can hear the different voices, thoughts coming through, but they are so well expressed, each one has a fluid, incisive tone, so just keep it up. I mentioned this latest posting to Clint Ely in an email - I'm so glad you all have had a chance to chat on the phone. What a wonderful fellow, and so devoted to you, Brooke, and it's a real pleasure to have been able to contact him myself finally, to let him know what fond memories we have of him, and the power of his teaching so many years ago, an effect similar to what you have done for so many years.
It continues very cold here in NM, so must be even colder up there, with I suspect a good coating of snow and ice. However I'm comfortably ensconced in the darkroom (aside from interruption for a root canal, etc, ugh), finishing the prints for the Galisteo Basin book, which we're hoping will be on press this winter, and released in May.
Do keep us posted on events, thoughts, even over the holidays, whenever you can. We'll be thinking of you both,

cheers and love from Santa Fe,