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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318


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"Writing a Life," image by Ashley Pryor



In her observations in “Curation in Chance Discovery,” Akinori Abe, a Japanese scholar working in cognitive science and artificial intelligence, argues that chance discoveries are rare situations sometimes understood as a crisis and at other times understood as an opportunity. She traces her sense of the importance of chance discovery to her own experience of the discovery of rare overlaps and affinities afforded by various museum exhibitions that through their design but also through their juxtapositions prompted new connections and odd dissonances. Chance discovery, emerging as a research methodology that provides abductions and affordances in data curation to uncover anomalies, possibilities for rare occurrences available in existing data, and valuable chances for decision-making, seeks to know if design strategies can improve the potential for such chance discovery. This is a question I pursue in this work. How can what I write not only open out my own perceptions of the world but make possible new insights and perceptions for a reader? How does what I write contribute to the creation of a shared space where we might interact? How do I as writer and you as audience constitute a space of possibilities for chance discoveries?

That last sentence, when I name myself as a writer, is a brave one for me. I have often felt like a fraud when I claim to be a writer. When I confessed this to a friend of mine who was employed fulltime as a journalist, and therefore seemed more entitled to the title, she said, “Well, what is a writer anyway? I would say if a runner is someone who runs, a writer is someone who writes.” I loved her for that. 

In a certain way, the fact that I claim to be a writer now is a result of chances that often seem more like fate than choice. By chance I was born to people who saw language from entirely different perspectives. My mother had poems, and sometimes a tap dance or song, for every occasion. Children cranky? “The Children’s Hour.” Mad at your son? The guilt-inducing “Little Boy Blue.” Finger painting on the walls? “It Takes a Heap O’ Living to Make a House a Home.” The woman who lays dying in the hospital bed across from me as I write this taught me the beauty and the playfulness of language. I keep her book of poetry as a legacy. My father, on the other hand, a nuclear scientist working for the UN during the SALT treaty negotiations, taught me the terrible power words can wield. When I asked him for career advice as I prepared to leave for college, he told me that since my only vocation was to be a saint, it probably didn’t matter much what I did for a living. Not quite the job help I was seeking. So I told him I thought I wanted to be some kind of a writer, and he said, “Well, then, you better get a good philosophical background because anyone who writes anything that leads anyone astray deserves a hotter place in hell than Hitler.” Scared me nearly speechless; talk about writer’s block. While my mother invited play and joy in words, my father instilled caution but also a sense of power. So was writing a chance or a fate? 

When I was young, I imagined writing short stories and novels, the kinds of stories I consumed like a junkie. I had not really clarified for myself how one went about that, but I figured if I could make a living reading and writing, I had it made. As a sophomore in college, I discovered by chance that the college paper provided scholarships for section editors, and I promptly applied. This was not the kind of writing I had imagined doing, but journalism worked for Ernest Hemingway and Ivan Doig; I thought it might work for me. That was a chance. What followed was what I made of it. I published my first magazine article when I was a sophomore in college, and my second as a junior. Since that time, I have written for magazines, newspapers, public relations firms, health care consulting firms, and of course, academic journals. I have written feature articles, industrial trend reports, personality profiles, a family life series, a food column, books, chapters, and journal articles. 

As I look at the pile of clippings falling out of the bins in my attic that bear witness to my life as a writer, I find that some of them carry with them the residue of what it felt like to make those texts. Many of them feel like puzzles successfully solved. I called a lot of people, gathered a lot of information, took a bunch of material and organized it in a way that came across as coherent, as substantial, as informative, or as insightful. A few of them feel a bit like failure. The finished piece did not live up to its potential. A couple feel like easy money. They took little effort to write and returned money for ballet school. Some of them make me tired just looking at them. There are a handful that surprise me. I just reread some of my academic pieces, and the experience of reading them was completely at odds with the experience of writing them. A couple of them sound compassionate, insightful, and read as if they were effortless. The experience of writing them was almost uniformly the experience of work, of intense labor, of hacked-togetherness. In every venue, writing always carries the incipient potential for interaction, but the most common kind of interaction my academic writing has evoked are citations by other scholars working in the field, or a counter argument to mine. These pieces, however, are the ones that the academy values. These are the pieces that garner tenure and promotion.

The writing I am doing here has an entirely different feel to it. I am attempting to get at the meaning of curation by trying it out on in my own history and asking if my understanding of it resonates with you. I have abandoned a number of academic conventions in order to accomplish this. Look in any standard academic writing text and it will instruct you to avoid second person voice at every turn because it is too personal. Use first person only sparingly. Most of the writing I do these days creates a distance between writer and reader. My intent here is to bring you, dear reader, closer. The meanings I am trying to convey in what I write are actually made by the reader, reader who may discover in it connections and juxtapositions to which I am blind. I am hoping it creates a chance. 

Part I

Part II

Part III