restricted access 6: BREATHING LESSONS: or Collaboration is . . .1
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6 BREATHING LESSONS or Collaboration is . . . 1 MICHELE EODICE My purpose here is to invite an apperception, what William James says in Talks to Teachers “means nothing more than the act of taking a thing into the mind” (1958 [1899]). It sounds simple, but with all the different minds reading this, I understand the challenge I have in making my think piece yours. Despite the fact that we share some prior knowledge of writing center work, what each of us brings to this reading “no sooner enters our consciousness than it is drafted off in some determinate direction or other, making connections with the other materials already there.” In the 1890s, James wrote: A little while ago, at Buffalo, I was the guest of a lady who had recently taken her seven-year old son for the first time to Niagara Falls. The child silently glared at the phenomenon until his mother, supposing him struck speechless by its sublimity, said, “Well, my boy, what do you think of it?” to which, “Is that the kind of spray I spray my nose with?” was the boy’s only reply. That was his mode of apperceiving the spectacle. (1958 [1899], 112) You will, of course, build a first perception (of the following proposition , say) based on your previous conceptions and experiences (with collaboration, for example), although it is my hope that you will recognize a “natural wonder” when you see one. Collaboration is a word I wish was not a word at all. I wish then that collaboration was understood as ineffable in all we do, not because I don’t wish it ever to be challenged or acknowledged, but because I believe, as Michael Blitz does, that collaboration is like the “air we breathe.”2 Like many travelers who sometimes wish for fresher, healthier air in a cabin full of strangers, or like a poor swimmer gulping and gasping, I often have my moments of distress: wishing for breathable air, for a writing partner, for voices of collusion; longing for the better angel of my nature. Center will hold final 8/26/03 9:23 AM Page 114 Yet whether the air is fresh and sweet or rank and polluted, I find I do most of my writing work with others. And yes, whether the air is fresh and sweet or rank and polluted, I find I do most of my work work with others. In analyzing these trace elements in the air—the alchemy of collaboration —I find its daily work of “transforming something common into something special”3 so rooted into my habits and deeds that I no longer question its life in mine. But air is not nothing, not neutral, and we know that academics are often dismissed if critique is missing. So I take up a tactic that other academics have used: I avoid my interior work and focus instead on what is wrong with everyone else. For example, I find fascinating those who insist that this alchemy of collaboration is an “inexplicable or mysterious transmuting”4 which is too scary to engage in, or, when it is in fact a practice for some, there is no effort to make it visible and valued. One result: institutional resistance to collaboration gives students permission to ignore, dismiss, or cheapen learning and writing with others. Thus, I foolishly set out in my pedantic, missionary way to convert other academics to my practice of uber collaboration and to help them experience the joys I find inherent in writing with others.5 Along the way I have learned something about conversion experiences : first, I am driven to get you to write with others and to get students to embrace a collaborative view of writing themselves, yet I watch all kinds of text-production marching on, oblivious to my mission. Where I believed I must bring collaboration, I find it working fine; I realize that writing centers themselves practice one of the most powerful forms of collaborative learning (and yes, collaborative writing) embodied in the peer-consulting model. However, when asked, many writing center directors will say that their peer relations, their relationships with their institutions, their identity politics, are anything but collaborative , and they may even say that what happens in consulting sessions is not really collaborative writing. Paradoxically, then, a set of tropes continually employed to describe our relationships and positions in our institutions foreclose on possibilities of uncovering (and thus teaching) what undergirds both our tangible daily practice and...