On Collaboration, VI: Davis Schneiderman and the Riddle of Collaboration

William Walsh
September 11, 2010
Comments 1

Question: What man writes with one hand in the morning, as many as twelve hands in the afternoon and potentially a hundred hands when evening comes?

Answer: The Schneiderman.

davisbyhiskids

(PHOTO: "The Schneiderman" by Athena and Kallista Schneiderman)

The Schneiderman is a super collaborator. Some might say that he is a promiscuous collaborator. Whatever. The dude likes to write with other people. Which is commendable. He is a devotee of writing constraints, and often his collaborations include proscribed approaches in method, content, process, and algorithm.

I contacted a number of the Schneiderman’s recent collaborators and asked them a few questions about the man. Their responses are organized below using some of the familiar rhetorical patterns for development.

DESCRIPTION

Describe some of the Schneiderman’s qualities as a collaborator. Or describe him — physically or psychically.

I thought I was the only one.

???Alexandra Chasin

Our first collaboration was in January 1996 when we co-wrote an article about the WWF for our college newspaper, Penn State’s The Daily Collegian. Our second collaboration was in January 1996 when we kissed for the first time. Our 101st collaboration was when we got married in 1999. Our 788th collaboration was when we became parents to Athena; our 789th collaboration was when we became parents to Kallista only six months later. Our 900th collaboration was when we co-wrote “Backatcha” in 2009 for Artifice Magazine. Our 1,313 collaboration was last night.

Physically, think an older Zac Efron (at least that’s what I do in the dark).

???Kelly Haramis

Small and wiry, Davis Schneiderman (imho) does not eat enough protein. To illustrate: Schneiderman told me, over drinks with Lidia Yuknavitch and Raymond Federman, that he would simply never eat any part of a baked chicken I offered to prepare for him. However, in the linguistic sense, Schneiderman is a keen appreciator of chicken. (And he) is a wonderfully energetic collaborator.

???Stacey Levine

Davis is an upbeat and hilarious collage-machine on steroids waving the flag of X(peri)-MENTAL poetics who knows how to innovate with others ALL NIGHT LONG!!!

???Mark Spitzer

Both physically and psychically, Davis is a pomo Adonis, brachiating mystically through the adverbial jungles of Imago-land and bugling forth with alien gleeee toward the new human evolution of the Millennial Multimedia Dawn.

???Mark Spitzer

One of Davis’s favorite words is “asymptotes.” Shrink infinitely toward the nothing. But that’s way too emo mascara-tears. Imagine an anatolian shepherd who’s snatched a pound of ground beef off the counter who, between bites, says, gleefully, bloodily, “Shrink infinitely toward the nothing.” Except Davis is vegan.

???Carlos Hernandez

Davis is intimidating in demeanor and formidable of voice. Smiles rarely. As collaborator and as person, he invites – no! demands – conflict; wants to see what people will do.

???Megan Milks

earnest, yet capricious, looking out
bouncy, trapizoidal, and not wearing make-up

???Rob Stephenson

Davis Schneiderman is the luckiest man in the world. Attractive and intelligent spouse, precocious children, wonderful and secure job in a neighborhood full of mansions, adored by his students and admired by colleagues, encouraged to pursue his projects by his superiors…after meeting Davis I no longer believe any domestic realist fiction about the travails of English professors. Entropy itself retreats from his sight. If Davis ever asks you to go halfsies on a lottery ticket, do it! If on a sinking cruise ship you see Davis hopping onto a particular lifeboat, follow him aboard! It’s amazing. Really.

???Nick Mamatas

NARRATION

Tell a short story about the Schneiderman, the collaborator.

I mean, I thought Teresa Carmody and I were the only ones.

???Alexandra Chasin

If you find yourself using the projector to augment your direly important job talk in University Hall, Room 2028, at the University of Illinois at Chicago and are wondering who had the audacity to write directly onto the projection screen with dry erase markers such that all of your carefully prepared slides are marred by adolescent scribbles, your suspicions that the culprit must have poor handwriting and semi-smarmy hair are confirmed. It was Davis Schneiderman.

???Megan Milks

Davis puts French fries on top of his salad.

???Mark Spitzer

Sorry, there’s nothing short about Davis. Quite the opposite.

???Kelly Haramis

We were talking and through the cell phone I heard these wonderful bell sounds – he said he was walking on gravel.

???Rob Stephenson

I may have misunderstood what he was telling me at the time, but I believe that Davis has met Mr. T, who lives in the same suburb where Davis teaches. See what I mean about luckiest man in the world?

???Nick Mamatas

I once watched Davis paint with his feet. He was easily the best foot-painter in the English Ph.D. program. There are probably many cats that paint better with their feet, but among creative writing graduate students, Davis was the best.

???Carlos Hernandez

C’est une pipe. In the 1930s, Davis and I left Russia on a train bound for Paris. Our goal was to recruit comrades in arms for a literary movement related somewhat tenuously to the Bolshevik Party, called: The Significance of Being Us Or Is It We. (It sounds better in Russian.) I have fond memories of Davis smoking a Reviagin pipe, staring out at the passing winter landscape, shivering in his threadbare coat, and every now and then whispering, “To the mount!” as if rehearsing a battle cry. We never made it to Paris. Saboteurs bombed the tracks and the train derailed. Fortunately, our words survived.

Later“much later“we began collaborating on a piece about cancer. This was not pleasant. Davis’s father was sick in St. Louis, Missouri, and my sister was sick in Columbia, Missouri. Davis and I sent letters back and forth, letters with images expressing some of what we felt, letters with words that groped and stammered, turned their heads and coughed. The title, “Constellation,” I foisted on Davis, as it is my nature to foist (to which many will attest). I felt as if Davis and I were each writing from our own galaxy, far away from each other, and others’ disease-free lives. I suppose we were marooned, for the place one must go to care for a dying relative is a landscape like no other. As my sister grew sicker, eventually sick unto death, the task of imposing language on emotions that I could not even begin to process grew too burdensome. I quit, begging for greater distance through time. Davis, in his typical fashion, was generous and kind, understanding pain from his own entrenched perspective. Here are two of our letters:

??? Debra Di Blasi

DEFINITION

Define what collaborative writing means to you, vis-a-vis the Schneiderman. Or define what you think collaborative writing means to the Schneiderman.

I mean, Davis happened to came by while Teresa and I were standing around and jawing in front of the Les Figues table, joined in, talk and talk, this and that, one thing and another, a certain rapport, an idea, several related ideas, enthusiasm, more ideas, real energy, and suddenly Davis was saying Let’s do a collaboration, as though the thought had just popped in his head, heated up in the moment by the conversation itself.

???Alexandra Chasin

Collaborative writing with Davis Schneiderman often means waking up to an absurd paragraph in the email that thrusts you into a Dada netherworld of knee-slapping hilarity before your second sip of coffee. By the time the caffeine hits your bloodstream, Andrei Breton is applauding from the Phantom Zone. Such lingo then sticks in yr head, making for a gravy day.

???Mark Spitzer

Although I’ve seen Davis at the &Now Conference arguing that true delirium is not possible as a direct lightrail to Literary Excellence, he is proof that Rimbaud’s alchemy of the word persists as a tangible spatula in the Mobius Omelette of Poetics.

???Mark Spitzer

His commitment to literature and his continual push to experiment with shape, voice, and form keeps him stalwart and grounded. Writing collaboratively with him means the work will not stagnate. It will move, shape-shift, and settle, finding some kind of life for itself.

???Stacey Levine

Working with Davis means to work very very hard to be deranged. The whole point of derangement, one might argue, is specifically not to have to work very hard. It’s the old opiate-eater’s dream: release the mind from its quotidian drudgery, allow the afflatus to enter in. So why the fuck, Davis, do we work so damn hard at our derangement? All your heroes were syringe-cushions, so why do we, without the slightest snort or puff or prick or huff, need to spend so much time thinking our derangement into being?

???Carlos Hernandez

Collaborating with Davis is like kayaking in the waters surrounding Aruba: calm, peaceful and relaxing. “ Oh, you mean, writing?… Uh, um, hmm. Writing with Davis is more like being in a barrel going over Niagara Falls.

???Kelly Haramis

COLLABORATIVE WRITING: a space or activity that requires space whether one or many spaces in which power is (re)negotiated in order to produce something that destroys or at least challenges (subverts) romantic (or Romantic) notions of authority and that may or may not be worth reading but that is hardly the point.

???Megan Milks

Finding a way to modulate twoness into oneness AND twoness.
You have to ask him. It might have to do with lower case letters.

???Rob Stephenson

Our collaboration involved me inputting found texts into Davis’s prodigious brain and him extruding actual writing. So for me, Davis is much like the Bat-Computer from the old Batman TV show from the 1960s. Vague gibbering goes in, a plot comes out.

???Nick Mamatas

C’est une pipe grande. And later still“now“Davis and my relatively new venture, Jaded Ibis Press, have collaborated on his novel, Blank, “a stunning 200-page tour de force containing only chapter titles”* because the story is, as it has always been, up to the reader. (Yes, we did finally make it to Paris and had drinks with *Jacques Derrida. Who is dead.) The book will contain white-on-white images by the pyrographic artist Susan White, The fine art edition will be shrink-wrapped and enclosed in a wooden box; the box is fully encased in plaster that can be opened with a pull-tab. Once opened, however, the box cannot be re-encased. [Instructions to reader: Insert appropriate metaphor here.] Music will be composed for the book by another of Davis’s collaborators, Don Meyer. This collaboration was like a leisurely (i.e., not Chinese All-Star) ping-pong match on a sunny day. If you like sunshine. And ping-pong.

C’est une pipe plus mas grande. (By the way, when I first pasted this sentence into Google’s “translate” ??? because my French is rusty, never having spent as much time in Paris as Davis and I had planned ??? the program responded with, “It is a great farmhouse blowjob.” I want you to remember this mischief when Google takes over the world.)

??? Debra Di Blasi

ENUMERATION

Develop a list of five or more unique/valuable/irritating qualities that the Schneiderman possesses as a collaborator.

No way to know, since I didn’t know Davis, that he brings the same proposition with him wherever he goes, whipping it out in front of all the tables, a compulsive complotter, hooking up with lots of interesting writers… not just me and Teresa. One thing after another, cd led to book project led to Facebook entry led to event invitation, parties, people talk, and it slowly became clear to me that Davis Schneiderman is a promiscuous collaborator.

???Alexandra Chasin

There are people in this world who are funny. Davis is four of them.

???Carlos Hernandez

- Davis contains multitudes–of approaches, tactics, strategies–that explode the incessant intestinal worms of nostalgia-infused bovine feces.
- Davis is an optimistic passenger in a PT Cruiser cutting through Orange California while the Politics of Pollywogs convect in a Golf Pants Parthenon.
- Davis loves his children and will not sell them, so you can forget about that.
- Davis knows his stuff and is a professional “player” in the most literal post-Beat sense there is.
- Davis drops laugh-bombs on cynical sneerers snottily snorting the Onions of Amerigo.

???Mark Spitzer

1. Davis Schneiderman is on top of this shit.
2. So much so that it is as though I am always behind, even when I’m not totally.
3. Davis Schneiderman is impervious to unexpected distractions.
4. Davis Schneiderman is at once entirely professional and utterly juvenile.
5. Davis Schneiderman’s sentences more often than not achieve an infuriating airtightness that can be difficult to mold to your will.

???Megan Milks

1. clicking turns
2. spinning
3. removal more often
4. extremity of participles
5. no more waiting

???Rob Stephenson

Ambition, humility, promptness, cleverness, and thoughtfulness.

???Nick Mamatas

C’est une pipe plus grande. (1) The seriousness by which life sometimes enters the room can (2) only be managed by some of us with a terrified sense of humor because (3) to collaborate with Davis is to be given permission to (4) walk past the velvet rope, so to speak, to dance under the mirrored ball, and yet to never stop suspecting that, by letting you in, (5) the bouncer has made a terrible mistake.

??? Debra Di Blasi

1. Good self-control when it comes to chocolate and caffeine.
2. Sleep-talking. Yes, talking. He once referred to me as a “mysterious woman” in his dream state.
3. Best. Multi-tasker. Ever.
4. Purveyor of love.
5. Liberal TV companion. Think “Doctor Who” to “Ugly Betty” to “30 Rock” to “Glee.”

???Kelly Haramis

COMPARE/CONTRAST

Compare and contrast the Schneiderman with a person, place, or thing. Or compare and contrast the Schneiderman with another writer with whom you have collaborated.

I guess I was the last one to know.

???Alexandra Chasin

Davis is a rufie for the Tea Baggers, an anal beeper for academes, and the polka-dotted chicken costume ol’ Pope Benedict dons for his favorite cardinals.

???Mark Spitzer

It is because of Davis that I know who Maimonides is. In 1999, I had never encountered Maimonides even once, never even heard the name. Davis offhandedly threw out his name and I looked him up. Now, in 2010, I had a student who was a descendant of Maimonides. I helped him write his transfer application letters, and we talked Maimonides. He had on his wall the collected works of Maimonides, volumes and volumes in Judeo-Arabic, which he never read, until one day he did. He opened a volume at random–a kind of amateur stichomancy?–to learn the wisdom of Maimonides. He opened to the Rambam’s advice on hemorrhoids.

That moment would have been wholly lost to me without Davis.

???Carlos Hernandez

Davis Schneiderman is more or less of a workhorse than [writer x]. He is also more orange than an orange, more orangutan than a gorilla, because spry and bouncy.

???Megan Milks

Davis is like a person who is really there, but too busy to be there.

???Rob Stephenson

Davis is much taller than most parasitic nematodes, to name another thing that can influence human behavior.

???Nick Mamatas

Davis is like the moon“big, bright and always there at night.

Thankfully, Davis showers daily. Other writers have been so odorous that it’s been impossible to even type a word.

???Kelly Haramis

CAUSE AND EFFECT

Detail a cause and effect scenario that explains the Schneiderman as a collaborative writing animal/machine.

But I don’t hold it against him ??? on the contrary, because in addition to being excitable, Davis is one of the most generous writers and generative poly-laborators you’ll ever find. If you ever find him. After all, he’s also one of the busiest.

???Alexandra Chasin

“still working on this one–

???Mark Spitzer

I’m skipping this one.

???Megan Milks

Whenever I send him a telepathic message, he responds within five minutes with his usual writing brilliance.

???Kelly Haramis

Cause: as the creative arts in the academy are judged by Kafkaesque bureaucrats, productivity is measured by the meter.

Effect: Davis has collaborated with many many writers for mutual gain, re: extension of the Bibliography section of their CVs. Why he picked non-academic me, why I guess it was just for fun!

???Nick Mamatas

He says, “Caught up.”

???Rob Stephenson

Davis is a little too sympathetically drawn to Colonel Klink. His mind, in quiet moments, is drawn to the bemonocled, bumbling Nazi: there is something melancholy about the solitary camp commander, his hands behind his back, fully aware of his incompetence, pickelhaube-wearing Sergeant Schulz tottering beside him. If you want to find the oft-buried sentimental Schneiderman, follow the Klink.

???Carlos Hernandez

CLASSIFICATION

How would you classify the Schneiderman, the collaborator? Use any handy system of classification.

Mineral.

???Rob Stephenson

He’s top dog and everyone else is just a bottom bitch.

???Mark Spitzer

n/a

???Megan Milks

Using stellar classification, Davis would be a Class G star, much like our own sun: warm, relatively close by, handy to have around, and he provides food.

???Nick Mamatas

Ce n’est pas une pipe. “Biological classification, or scientific classification in biology, is a method by which biologists group and categorize organisms by biological type, such as genus or species. Biological classification is a form of scientific taxonomy, but should be distinguished from folk taxonomy, which lacks scientific basis. Modern biological classification has its root in the work of Carolus Linnaeus, who grouped species according to shared physical characteristics. These groupings have since been revised to improve consistency with the Darwinian principle of common descent. Molecular phylogenetics, which uses DNA sequences as data, has driven many recent revisions and is likely to continue to do so. Biological classification belongs to the science of biological systematics.” ??? Wikipedia

??? Debra Di Blasi

While Davis is the brain behind most hair-baked schemes, he’s really the heart and soul of most operations.

???Kelly Haramis

ILLUSTRATION

Can you illustrate, in words, the Schneiderman? Or, can you provide a visual (drawing, photo, video) that illustrates the Schneiderman.

See double portrait (above) by our daughters Athena and Kallista.

???Kelly Haramis

He must be a great parent–the way he speaks of his children is beautiful. But they are not his only issue–Davis is the meaning of creative. The issues go on and on and on.

???Alexandra Chasin

No.

???Mark Spitzer

I should not say this. When we collaborated on _Abecedarium_, Davis had a polydactyl cat that attacked feet. I should not have said that because it is an ever-so-tired literary trope to use a pet to elucidate the qualities of the master. But of course Davis prefers polydactyl cats that attack feet.

???Carlos Hernandez

Schneiderman’s enthusiasm forces the work forward, even in the face of temporary lassitude in his collaborator; the ever-present requirement is this push forward. This forward-pushing-plot technique has been extolled by the prodigiously productive Argentinian novelist, Cesar Airas.

???Stacey Levine

Davis Schneiderman is a primate or toddler. For example, he crawls onto chairs and throws things while babbling nonsense.

???Megan Milks

Mais oui, c’est une pipe. After the train wreck, Davis and I walked through the woods on a snowy evening for many miles. We were lost. And we did not have a horse. He said, “I think we should go that way.” I said, “No, let’s go this way.” He quietly said, “Okay.” His shoulders rounded as if to defend himself against a blow. I guessed it was the cold. And the darkness. We never made it out of the woods.

??? Debra Di Blasi

PROCESS

Outline the writing process you employed working with the Schneiderman.

1532 was a good year.

???Mark Spitzer

We mashed up two stories that had already been published, one mine, one his. Although I think his was more novel excerpt than discrete story. We broke both pieces up into four sections each, mixed em up, revised through addition (adding words, phrases, sentences, but not deleting anything), split this assemblage into four sections again and mixed em up a second time, revised through addition, and then I think we each took a pass revising the result however we saw fit (meaning here we could delete and rearrange as well as add).

???Megan Milks

I seem to have nothing smart to say about how Davis and I made our collaboration, the nature of how or why art grows in this format, or what it added to my cognizant writing experience. Ultimately a few moments of my writing life was made to seem less lonely. We seemed like teenage girls at a cyber sleep-over building a fantasy story in round-robin, then giggling about how funny/clever we were (and how superior to those not invited). But doing a collaboration with Davis is better than any gossip party I ever knew “ it’s a gossip party with your lawyer or doctor. Davis respects the client-confidence rule; I could collaborate with him on a memoir. Maybe I’ll suggest it to him.

???Cris Mazza

The collaboration was like signing up for one of those email lists where you get an occasional joke or poem, except this time it was a paragraph every few days.

???Nick Mamatas

Davis kept scheduling several of our writing sessions at a seedy motel. It became clear early on that we had to meet in a public place such as a coffee house if we really wanted to get writing done.

???Kelly Haramis

We once wrote a story backwards. It had something to do with spelunking and Johnny “Big Sauce.” It was like online paragraph Ping Pong. Thus began our descent into the peddling of body parts and mongering of cyber-butter.

???Mark Spitzer

Schneiderman and I used a back-and-forth email technique, at his request, to create a plot and narrative. Responding to Schneiderman’s email prompts was akin to entering a studio. The process worked. We completed the piece. The years rolled on.

???Stacey Levine

Imagine an inkwell that has become self-aware. Parchment lies tantalizingly nearby. But there are no writers; there is no quill. The only hope is an earthquake.

Luckily, earthquakes are common.

???Carlos Hernandez

We flux our way.

???Rob Stephenson

Non. Ce n’est pas.

??? Debra Di Blasi

My thanks to Alexandra Chasin, Debra Di Blasi, Kelly Haramis, Carlos Hernandez, Stacey Levine, Nick Mamatas, Cris Mazza, Megan Milks, Rob Stephenson, and Mark Spitzer.
““““““““““““““““““““““““

Davis Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer whose works include the current or forthcoming novels Drain (Triquarterly / Northwestern), Blank: a novel (Jaded Ibis), Multifesto: A Henri d’Mescan Reader (Spuyten Duyvil), DIS (BlazeVox) and Abecedarium (Chiasmus, w/Carlos Hernandez); the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: Williams S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization (Pluto) and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game (Nebraska, 2009); and the audiocollage Memorials to Future Catastrophes (Jaded Ibis). His creative work has been accepted by numerous publications including Fiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, and Exquisite Corpse. He is Director of Lake Forest College Press/&NOW Books, where he co-edits the series The &NOW AWARDS: The Best Innovative Writing; he also directs the NEH-funded Virtual Burnham Initiative.

One thought on “On Collaboration, VI: Davis Schneiderman and the Riddle of Collaboration

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

 

Back to top ↑

Sign up for Our Email Newsletter