Yes. That’s what it says. A friend and I used to play with words like this inventing the titles of country songs never written. As I recall, this title was one I came up with when I lived in Idaho and was seriously into country music (I bought a one-ton pick-up, and it only had an AM/FM radio and only two push buttons that worked–both were fixed to country stations). Prior to that life, I’d been living in Southern California with long brown, white, and pink hair, watching punk bands at Whiskey-a-Go-Go go up or down in flames, hanging out in and around Sunset with a dog named Arthur in my purse.
The point is not that I lived through all that (though I’m grateful I did). The point is that long before I considered myself a writer, I’d been playing with words. Lots of people do–but do we think of that as literacy that matters? Does it matter when a group of people share an experience and create (spontaneously or otherwise) with a catch phrase that identifies them as part of a group? Does it matter when we pick up words created by others and riff on that? I could name a dozen funny things I’ve heard in movies (“I didn’t get a harrumph from that guy,” Blazing Saddles) and television (“You look mah-velous,” Saturday Night Live) that were also things my friends said to one another in appropriate circumstances, adapting as needed. I may still tell people they look mah-velous.
Can this sort of literacy–a shared verbal tic that brings much amusement and confers identity–be the sort of thing that could be the subject of a literacy narrative? I think so. I’ve taught literacy narratives for a long time, and perhaps it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done as a teacher, pushing students to think about their relationship with writing. I used to require students write about their writing lives… pretty narrowly focused on writing… in or out of school, but still about a writing experience (not reading, not online, not technological). I have begun to ask students to think about different literacies, group literacies, new literacies made possible by the world as it exists now.
And since I remembered this song title–and feel connected to that friend and to that time (and a circle of friends from that period in my life)–I’m wondering if this sort of literacy narrative might be fun to write about in a comp class. Surely, we all have some “playing with words” experience we can remember that helped us identify with a group, marked a rite of passage, determined a moment as special. Perhaps the words so define an event or occurrence that only those involved would understand the meaning. I was a member of the Van Buren Drive-In Gang in high school. What on earth did that mean? It must have some meaning because it’s the one thing I remember including in my silly profile in my high school yearbook (I now wish I’d had more dignity as I’m sure I had very little then).
Who else has defined who they were with words created for a moment in time? Everyone I know? I wonder if students now do this in many incredible and different ways because of the social media they connect with and through. I wonder. If I tweeted or twittered, I’d ask. I could ask on Facebook, but I think I’ll wait and ask my students first.
Perhaps as I’m considering what literacy means, or rather literacies, and what new literacies could be and are, I should expand the way I talk about word play in classes I teach, in assignments I give.
How do we value words that define us? It may be that I have never valued words we create in this way… as a teacher. It may be that I need to because I have valued these kinds of words in my life for as long as I can remember.
One of the reasons I am an advocate of open educational resources and open source is that being open is a new kind of literacy for me. Open IS a new kind of literacy for anyone that is made possible by infinite connectivity. Writing Spaces is a new kind of literacy for teachers and students in writing classes–not just for college but for pre-post-secondary education, too (K-12–why not? I used to teach Tennyson to 2nd graders and John Trimbur to 6th graders). If we continue to create writing that is shared with teachers and students via such a space, we are indeed creating new literacies… and we are playing with words… and we are writing the titles of songs yet to be written… and we are defining ourselves as part of a group (those who create and those who use WS)… and we become part of a group that is special because our reason for being isn’t about a forty-million dollar investment to corner the market on writing teachers writing for students but about making new literacies happen through content of the Writing Spaces volumes and through delivery.
Long live open. Long live new literacies.