I’m taking a test in a large classroom full of tables large enough to accommodate two chairs side by side for a co-writing assignment. I’ve been assigned a desk with an attractive blond who writes in pen on only the left hand pages of our shared notebook, dating each one sequentially. I know the cover of the comp book has been pre-printed “The Life of Skye,” and that the blond is Life and that I am Skye.
Life has a pen with a pencil eraser, and she’s rapidly filling up left-hand pages, leaving the right side of the book blank. She writes only facts.
I have a pencil with no eraser. I can’t change anything Life writes, although I can annotate even very early pages on the right-hand side, and in fact have done so extensively during the time I was in therapy.
But I can’t flip forward in my comp book- even to see how many pages are left.
I can, however, write notes on how I’d like our co-writing assignment to develop, because I’m not sure my partner has a plan at all. I can write an outline and prop it up in plain view, so that Life, if she’s not feeling particularly creative on her own, can just go ahead and write from my plan.
Of course, sometimes she won’t. Sometimes she’ll write things I really, really don’t want in my book. And I don’t have an eraser. I can write mitigating or marginalizing commentary on my side of the page, but she’s free to reach over and erase wide swaths leaving ugly, smeary, empty pages.
I can read back and scan for patterns and confer with other writers in the room. I can ask about patterns in their own writing and even ask those closest to me to check their notes for those places where they’ve written about me. I can establish new patterns in our story by simply writing the same thing each day going forward.
I can take good notes about the patterns that I see, (or that my fellow students point out in my narrative) and make sticky notes for myself on how to respond differently. Because while Life may write the same patterns over and over, I can change what I write in response, on my half of the notebook, and that can disrupt her enough that she has to focus a little on what’s she writing. I suspect she’s a bit of ditz sometimes.
I can chose to write something different and while she can erase what I write, she can’t write anything else for me. Only I can fill in the right-hand page.
One day, I’m going to run out of pages. I don’t expect that day to come soon, because I know that most comp books come with a little fewer than twice the number of pages I’ve already written, but I know it’s possible that I could turn the page on today and find no tomorrow.
Then it will be time to turn in my work. I will carry my book to the front of the class and the master will glance up from the desk and say;
“Is it finished then?”
“Well, yes, actually. Lots. But I guess they all really boil down to: what did it all mean?”
“It was a test. It’s meant to be taken.”
“Well. There you are then.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s very simple, really. The meaning of the test was for you to take it. Why were you here- in this class room?”
“To take the test?”
“Right! And why did you take the test?”
“Different reasons at different times. At first, I was writing just because the book was open in front of me, and it seemed like the only thing to do. Later, it was to try and figure out what had already been written and learn the rules of it. Finally, it was to write a good test. To turn in something that you’d enjoy reading, that moved our class forward, that hangs together coherently, that was fun to write.”
“So, how’d you do?”
“I wasted some time arguing with my desk mate, trying futilly to make Life change her story, but that for the most part, I think I did pretty well. I’m mentioned in several other people’s workbooks and quite a few extraordinary characters appear in mine. I tried to boost the overall tenor of the class and to help my classmates out when I could.” And the master will hand me both the red pencil and the grade record sheet. And I’ll record my grade, turn in my booklet and that will be the end.