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The Day I Learned to Occupy Revision

posted: 10.31.11 by Susan Naomi Bernstein

The day I learned to occupy revision was a fine autumn Sunday in New York City. I had been working without success on a particularly difficult revision, so I decided to leave the suddenly stultifying quiet of my apartment and venture downtown to Zuccotti Park (also known as Liberty Plaza). After 09/11, the park was rebuilt as a public sanctuary, a much-welcomed tree-lined space of tranquility in an often-restive city. A circle of granite benches surrounding a London Plane tree, located at the intersection of Liberty and Trinity, serves exactly this purpose for the people of Occupy Wall Street.  I found the outside of the circle filled with crowds of demonstrators, musicians, and tourists. All of us had walked away from the spaces of our usual lives, and were attempting to negotiate the ever-changing landscape of the park.

Sacred Space with FlagAt the base of the tree, people had placed objects that for them hold special significance: plants, apples, flowers, Mardi Gras beads, an American flag, all meticulously arranged and lovingly tended. On the wooden planks that support the sanctuary was written “It’s better to do something imperfectly than nothing,” and against the planks someone had propped a poster of Mahatma Gandhi that read “Action expresses priorities.”

As I took in the scene around me, I realized that both of these principles hold true for revision. To accomplish revision seems more than a matter of memorizing steps or strategies. When we attempt revision, we understand that the results may be far from perfect, but the attempt is more significant than giving up in midstream.

Revision requires that we move inward, that we creatively and critically try to find a blank space that we can fill, a hole in the writing that we can turn inside out, that we perceive our subject with renewed senses in order to infuse language with deeper persuasive and imaginative meaning.  To occupy revision adds another layer to the process. When we occupy revision, it reminds us that we need to show up—that we need to create an embodied presence, that we pay attention to the ways in which our bodies and our minds work together as we write. Revision never works the same way twice. That is both why revision is hard and why revision is such an important part of the process of writing.

As a writer with ADHD, I often need to negotiate the intense competition between the hyper-focus that allows me to concentrate so deeply and the distractions that inspire me to write in the first place.  If these ideas seem contradictory, they also describe the needs of many learners whose challenges with attention require thinking outside that very familiar box.  In immersing ourselves in the unfamiliar, we can begin to perceive the profound work that global revision asks of us.

Beyond “seeing again,” revision suggests a reordering of priorities, a willingness to examine our perspectives, to consider whether the end product justifies the process used to complete that project. A hasty lockstep process of revision could well produce an unsatisfying outcome. My process had hardly been hasty, but I had often wished for more consistency and less unpredictability. Yet in the midst of a park bustling with activity, I found the deep concentration I needed to write. And so that afternoon I learned that revision often takes more than just showing up. Perhaps my lesson can be phrased even more succinctly: don’t just revise, but occupy revision.

Categories: Developmental
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