style: on words with friends

I should probably teach my computer ’roundtable’. I can’t quite bring myself to do it. The ‘d’ and ‘t’ are too close together in that closed compound word. I don’t say ‘rounD Table’, either; I say ‘rountable’.

But then there’s the idea packed into the word, however it’s compounded, one I like very much. Mine is a dream of classrooms filled with round tables and chairs around the round tables so that we can spread out and see each other and collaborate with ease1. I would seat four students at each round table and leave a fifth chair open so that I always have a place to join in and work with every group. Circulating in or cleaning up a classroom with seven or eight such set ups would be a breeze… Dream on.

For what I do, I am tired of hierarchical models of communicating, and the way classrooms, lecture halls, and even most art spaces are organized, it’s damned near impossible to workshop ideas. Even in seminar-style spaces, I find that things are still more… individual or antagonistic than community- and group-oriented. I once presented my work at a small liberal arts college. I showed some (extremely) new and experimental stuff. I wanted feedback from the people in that small auditorium, but I was on the stage, and they were there to take in rather than to contribute. While I enjoy a good lecture and I know that I ought to have around me a community of interested, invested people in both my art and teaching to move those practices along, I honestly think that most ideas should be workshopped in public spaces and that ‘interested, invested’ communities should be all communities and not just, in my case, fellow artists and educators, or students and field-specific theorists (although I’m happy to have friends and colleagues that fit those descriptions).

Well. Anyway. This post veered away from my original purpose, but tellingly, has now veered back. To wit: I’ve just taught my computer ‘workshopped’. And, I just wrote ‘to wit’. When I started this post, I intended disturb the ‘methodical’ way I move words with friends along. It might seem like I’m writing, the computer flags a word, I check it out, add it to my personal computer dictionary, and then add it to the project, but that’s not the case. I rarely add people’s names, but I will add place names. Because I grew up reading and loving older texts, I’m not only a fan of well-described ideas and long sentences and the multiple commas, other punctuation, and footnotes that hold them together, I also love old or odd phrases like ‘to wit’ and unusual, original, or retired spellings of words. So, as they do in the New Yorker2, I often keep accent marks in my writing (even when the French Academy deems them unnecessary), and here and there (but not in other places3), I teach my computer the accented versions of some words.

So, while there is something of a system, mood (not quite) as much as politics affects words with friends. Which is, I think, how it should be. And. It wasn’t as split-second for me to decide teach my computer ’roundtable’ and add it to my project as it was for me to teach it ‘workshopped’, but it’s done now.

  1. Rows of individual chair desks make me grouchy. Chair desks are: uninviting – those baskets are for books and do not accommodate book bags; uncomfortable – bodies are forced into what might be for some an unnaturally erect sitting position; and flimsy – I’ve seen at least two chair desks collapse (quite memorably) right under students. ↩︎
  2. See Mary Norris’ Comma Queen articles, but this in particular. ↩︎
  3. I use of ‘début’ and I have taught it to my computer but have not added to words with friends. ↩︎