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John Slatin

Yes and Yes-and: Time in the Compshop

For creating
For connecting
For conquering
With love
For John

The organic mechanic
Thinks the space shuttle's
A chiasmic message
Rising from the earth
Like a stalk of corn

1. There's a scratchpad exercise that goes with this essay. I'd like you to have handy some paper and, if you've got it, a pencil. If you're working with a screen or you have a purple pen or you just want to follow along in your head, that's okay. I'm writing with a sketchbook at hand. I open the book and feel the smooth texture of the pages. It's a brand new sketchbook, hardback, the leaves fresh and hard to fold. I thumb some and pull them outward, loosening the fibers. Breaking it in. I tear out a few sheets to serve as a scratchpad. You can follow. Don't erase. Make words flow as scenery stretched over white space. Or make marks, small doodles, lines and shapes. Create a mix that works between you and the pad.

2. My first mark is a doodle as I contemplate a word: hypertalk. The word links with a memory, a time in the compshop. Hypertalk is the scripting language for hypercard software. It was also a key to making texts and tools in the Computer Writing and Reseach Lab (CWRL) in the early '90s. In my memory, I'm learning to write with hypertalk. The texts included verb-like events—on mouseup. And they worked with noun-like things—go to next card. And they were performative, evoking actions and responses on screen and beyond—on mouseup, ask, "How do you account for this kind of language?" The concerns pile up, then into the room walks an expert, a hypertalk composer par excellence. I wish I could say my tone was more welcoming, but in honesty it expressed (in a good way) a sentiment more like what have you gotten me into? as I utter a single word. John.

3. Here was a guide for a strange new place. And for the questions and connections flowing through that space. There was the relationship between the hypertalk and the hypercard software. The software was a kind of instrument, a tool.1 And the composer activated and extended the tool. Woven into scripts, the texts became tools with rhetorical resonances—the paragraph-like chunking of ideas into functions, the conditional wonders of if, then statements. The materiality of a new language. My doodle is a text-like rectangle with some squiggles. On the pad I find spots to sketch around the image three words: texts, tools, and materials.

4. I remember another movement from that time. At conferences and in conversations people would observe a pattern, a mode of approaching the work done in the CWRL. I'd describe the mode as the yes-but. Someone would bring up an idea, some technology, or maybe an assignment. Almost always someone would respond, yes-but. . . . It was a critical move in the best questioning sense, a pause to consider. A yes-but so ingrained in the lab culture that the person putting forth the yes often would follow with her own but. This hypertext is really like my brain . . . well, maybe it's more like a new story form—choose your own ending.

5. Of course, the yes-but is an old standard. It belongs with the critical moves that have turned up in intellectual work for decades, that have been figured as scripts for thinking, tools for building ideas.2 But these questionings were more organic. Not machine-like at all, though linked with materials and machines. How does this script work? What's happening to depth? To surface? Is the audience reading or writing? Does this text change how we may think? Really what was taking place was the shaping and stretching of ideas.

6. So back to the scratchpad. Among tools, texts, and materials I write ideas. I'm going to pencil in some linkages, too. Draw lines between the hypertalk doodle and materials and texts, between ideas and the doodle. Add more linkages. Add your own nodes and thought tracings. We're marking a mix of relationships between texts, materials, tools, and ideas.

7. And working with stand-alone hypertexts in the CWRL circulated around such concerns. Albert Rouzie recognized in this current the dynamic flow of play, a flow moving from exuberance to insight and co-influential with "a living, growing culture . . . [where] play, interaction, and learning sprout from the same soil" (130). And we can add that play, like the slipping among parts during a mechanical turning, takes on a back and forth dynamic. An idea might call for a tool. And just as easily time with tools and materials, with gadgets, might pour forth insights. We have the recognizable dialectics of thing and idea, practice and theory, the organic mechanic playing out, zaum-like, through time.

8. Let's zoom in on this mechanical turning. Jenny Edbauer Rice demonstrates the "strand of anti-mechanic sentiment" (370) in composition studies, showing how things mechanical have been seen as "too instrumental, too un-intellectual, too simplistic" (372). Edbauer Rice instead offers the figure of the mechanic. And not just any mechanic. A good mechanic, with the "ability to imagine and improvise solutions and help others imagine what they will need in order to create, repair, or refit almost anything that has parts" (372). Edbauer Rice fixes our view more directly on production, training our focus on technologies, on "engines" of meaning-creation, on instruments and tools. And on materials. Fixing and training, she asks us to see "rhetorical producers as logomechanics, or creators who can imagine, improvise, and enact the material deployments of meaning and its operation" (372).

9. Edbauer Rice points to anti-mechanical biases to account for composition's disconnect with tools and materials. And this can be seen in composition's eagerness to pitch words as a medium through which ideas can flow. A medium attends to conceptual concerns. Material words call for mechanics, especially good mechanics. And here we're fixing our idea of language as material worked with tools. We take words apart, assemble them, turn them over, and tune them to sound out our thoughts. And we enact this word work with other tools and materials—text boxes, pens, paper, pixels. The materials of language and the tools of production swirl and eddy together as they play out in concert with the extension of ideas.

10. Returning to my opening, to a time spent with John learning hypertalk, I recognize the same process. I fix the missing bracket—the materials and machine adjust. John pushes back with ideas. What if you script more like you write? Why not name your card something meaningful? Instead of calling your variable myVariable can you call it scratchPad? Can fieldOne be yourPocket? Can you put scratchPad into yourPocket? Soon thoughts extend to the images, sounds, and words on the screen and the hypertalk controlling them, to other languages running the software, composing the interface, charging through the machine.

11. I started thinking about materials and tools but drifted toward ideas. That's good. It's the movement that allows me to extend my thoughts on the yes-but. It also asks me to return to the pad and sketch beneath the tools, materials, texts, and ideas another element linked with my time in the compshop: people. Me. Friends. Students. Mentors. John. Ideas are mixed together by people through tools and materials in the moment. I'm going to draw on the scratchpad a shape, a figure, maybe a face. Doodle a bit for people.

12. And we should pause here with our collection—tools, ideas, texts, materials, and people—to consider the pieces together. I'm thinking of the network metaphors circulating in discussions of knowledge. These models imagine nodes—ideas, or tools, or people, say—and picture an interconnected system in which any element can influence another and in which the connections between elements are of as much interest as the elements themselves.3 And when we talk about time below, we'll have to remember that this system is emergent. Never fixed but stabilizing through ongoing processes of connecting, adjusting, co-influencing.4 For me it's the flowing in the system that calls out, the circuits between, their swirling charge.

13. Permit me to acknowledge my own yes-but. I said working in the CWRL was critical, a classic yes-but. But the second term in the yes-but compound was only a brief pause, a momentary crystallization of elements and processes, always giving way to further movements. The emphasis was on the yes, and the construction that mattered was more of a yes-and. Like Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's "fabric of the rhizome," the focus "is the conjunction, 'and . . . and . . . and'" (25). Yes says acknowledge. And says extend. Yes-and says get started. And try out this tool. And take this apart. It says someone will help. Ideas will come. Keep things moving.

14. The concept of yes-and is best known from improv theater; it's a mode of performance in which one actor makes a statement or gesture and a subsequent actor acknowledges and extends the moment. Jenn Fishman, Andrea Lundsford, Beth McGregor, and Mark Otuteye describe yes-and as "the overarching rule to 'accept all offers'—to allow yourself to trust your intelligence and imagination. . . ." (237). The circuits of yes-and differ from yes-but patterns. As Glenna Gerard puts it, "in a land that delineates, separates, and chooses between alternatives, yes-and offers creative possibilities that depend on inclusion and collaboration" (339). Similarly, Edbauer Rice's conception of mechanical production is built upon "imagination, improvisation, and enactment" (378). Yes-and creates performance patterns through accepting, imagining, and extending connections between people and ideas.

15. And performance resonates with networked conceptions of things, ideas, and people. Fishman and her co-authors tell us that, "if we picture the rhetorical triangle among sender, receiver, and message, our eyes should no longer rest on any one role, but should instead focus on the lines that connect them, lines that seem to shimmer and hum with the dynamism of those interrelationships" (247). Performance connects, puts into motion, and shimmers and hums. And performance enacts extensions in circuits between people, ideas, and projects. "Yes-and," Gerard tells us, "is always an invitation. In receiving and passing it on you create connections that expand and deepen understanding and hold the potential for innovative ways of seeing and working with a person, an idea, a whole project" (340). I'm making another mark on my pad, thinking about where to put the word projects.

16. How do projects flow within the compshop? Recall that we're working with an emergent, networked conception, its elements linked, in process, and co-influencing one another. We could take up something like the Web development flowing through the CWRL in 1994 to think about what we've sketched so far. Zoom in a click on a NeXT computer, an Internet-connected UNIX sandbox, 1994's networked mixing machine. And move through the circuits. Start with people. Mike Morrison, a network creator with the confusing title of systems administrator, taught us how to compose HTML texts. Bret Benjamin made pages for research. Tonya Browning and I built on the Web with our classes. Now trace some ideas. The Web surface should be writable. Trace more people, texts, and tools. Here's someone to help. Here's some scripting language. Here's a nice text editor. Let's make a feedback form. And let's make a link exchange. And let's make a discussion forum. And let's make an e-journal. Such projects emerge from shaping play. Idea becomes project, and text becomes tool, and tool becomes text or idea, and so forth.

17. Back to where to put projects on the scratchpad. Just place them among the people, tools, materials, and ideas, in circuit with one another, flowing with invitation and extension. And here we need to put down some action words. Move. Surge. Connect. Engage. Flow. Which brings us to performance and time in the compshop.

18. Andrew Pickering offers several assertions about performance in terms of ideas, things, and people. "My basic image of science is a performative one," says Pickering, "in which the performances—the doings—of human and material agency come to the fore" (21). The "performative idiom" seeks a "real-time understanding of practice" flowing with extension "as it happens in time" (4). Pickering's idea of performance resonates with yes-and and reveals a mixing of influences among elements, a mixing figured through processes of accommodation and resistance. There is "a temporal pattern to practice that we can grasp, that we can find instantiated everywhere, and that constitutes an understanding of what is going on. It is the pattern . . . of open ended extension through modeling, dialectics of resistance and accommodation, and so on" (147).

19. Pickering takes the networked view, but asks that we attend to processes. And he extends this point, calling forth a process of tuning through which the elements in dialectic interactively stabilize one another. Pickering explains that

the exact configuration of a machine or an instrument is the upshot of a tuning process that delicately positions it within the flow of material agency . . . the image that lurks in my mind seems to be that of a finely engineered valve that both regulates and directs the flow of water from a pipe. (144-45)

Pickering suggests that tuning plays out in exchanges between machines and people.5 Liquid imagery describes the process, identifying it with flow valves that might regulate the movement of water. Ingunn Moser and John Law use the concept of fluid to add that elements and connections shift and evolve through performance, explaining that "fluidity is about flow plus change" and that "fluidity is about practice, about tinkering" (68). Performance makes flow and flow makes things fluid. Here we have accounts for the interplay of time, either (for Pickering) through processes that stabilize through their flowing or (for Moser and Law) through figurings of the shaping influences of fluid.

20. And this continues our look at Web tools in the CWRL. The networked UNIX machine gets extended. Tunings flow between the server and the Web. Consider the Common Gateway Interface (CGI), a set of standards developed to help move information through the Web. Requests are sent from a client (a Web browser, generally) through the CGI to the server, which then processes the input and sends back a response. The CGI serves as a kind of gateway for co-influence and mixing. Servers add directories and change permissions. Checkboxes and textfields appear on Web pages. Submit buttons pull people into the flow.

21. The CGI was developed by The National Center for Supercomputing Applications, which also developed the Mosaic browser. That makes sense. The people working with tools and materials would extend them. The CGI itself is a text, a collection of specifications. Other texts tune the mix. A help file begins, "let's say that you wanted to 'hook up' your Unix database to the World Wide Web, to allow people from all over the world to query it." We can hear the human voice, "let's say," and picture people connecting. The standards themselves are described as "an agreement."6 The CGI is a gateway for people, ideas, texts, and materials moving in multiple flows and directions.

22. And from such gateways new approaches to reading and writing spring up. I built an article called "Not Maimed but Malted." That text performed its own blending by discussing stand-alone hypertexts through the emerging surface of the Web. A classic remediation.7 We made movements from hypertalk to HTML. Then we extended the mix by writing CGI scripts evoked from the page and performed on the server, pages and scripts shaping one another, tangibly passing through the CGI. Now that was some flowzone composing. Serious play with time, the brief suspension, the rolling forward of performance, the mixing. All this movement filtered through the crux of the moment, a flowing gateway.

23. It is the crux where we must turn now. The crux is both a moment and a position, time and space, a gateway flowing with co-influence. The metaphor is mixing—red and blue blending into purple. As Annemarie Mol and John Law put it, "in a fluid elements inform one another" (663). This blending commingles people, ideas, and things, increasing the floating nature of elements in the mix because "in a fluid space it's not possible to determine identities nice and neatly . . . They come, as it were, in varying shades of colours. They go together" (660). Coming and going. Yes-and.

24. And the crux accepts and extends conceptions of knowledge. It's a crux but also a gateway, where models link, layer, connect, shape, and stabilize one another. Clay Spinuzzi nicely figures two of these possibilities as "splicing" and "weaving." As I hear Spinuzzi, networks connect and intersect while activity weaves through dialectic. Among these metaphors, we'll also find flow. Spinuzzi questions the stabilizing ability of flow, offering genres as an alternative. Yes. All those texts. Yes. And all those texts on the move. Mol and Law suggest that "fluid spaces are no better than regions or networks," and that models "co-exist" (663). We find splicing, weaving, linking, layering, and flowing together—witness the way flow performs through the language of circulation in so many accounts of knowledge.8

25. I like the way flow performs, offering fluid tunings to account for co-influence and stabilizing in knowledge systems. And I like another thing about flow. I like the mixing with creativity and collaboration. R. Keith Sawyer puts collaboration and creativity in circuit with flow, reporting that "performers get into a flow state because group creativity is challenging" (233) and that "creativity is fundamentally social and collaborative, that it involves preparation, training, and hard work, and that the process is more important than the product or the personality" (257). Sawyer adds, "no creative process is ever completely predictable; there is always room for improvisation" (255). In improv, Sawyer explains, "no one actor can make [group flow] happen single-handedly; it requires a very special collaboration. The ensemble has to let it emerge from a group creative process" (254).

26. Which brings us to improv and time. Yes-and rolls forward through time, affirming and extending, certainly more than most word mixings. Yes the verb and adverb blending into hyphenated noun, then extending into conjunction. Fishman and her co-authors offer "the 'now-ness' of performance" (247) to push the idea that time drifts amid the shimmer and hum of yes-and. Flow activity extends co-influence to time, suggesting time-shaping performance through creative and collaborative movements. Gerard explains that "in improv, presence is an absolute requirement for creativity. Each move, each statement, is generated out of what is occurring in the exact moment and space of those involved" (340). Sawyer adds that, at this moment, people "often find themselves losing track of time" (53).9 Pickering adds that tuning plays out because "the present is always incipiently and emergently breaking up, branching endlessly into the future" (212).10

27. Performance in the compshop says tune this moment. Accept these materials. Extend this tool. Ideas are coming and going like time in circuit with flowing composing.

Can myVariable be scratchPad? Can field one be yourPocket? And can my next card be yourCompshop?
Yes and Yes-and. . . .

28. I've been saying that processes move through circuits among elements. I've been using flow imagery to sound out the movements. And I've been saying that working in the CWRL offers a yes-and experience, linked with collaboration and creativity and enacting the performance of time. And this performance can have in-the-moment charges, swaying the idea of time into something that can be suspended, or at least channeled at/through a mobius now where elements and processes swirl together, where the present flows into the future.

29. I'm accepting the idea that we look to the interstices as well as the elements, accepting that processes of connecting, layering, and mixing move together through gateways. And I'm accepting that we should consider these models as emergent spaces where people, ideas, and things swirl together, fluidly shaping one another. And I'm labeling the gateways flowzones. And I'm adding a pause-button effect for time in the flowzone.11 Flow signals motion. Zones slow the flow. Zones bring tools, materials, people, texts, ideas, and projects into relationships. In flowzones, zones figure the suspension of time through space, the fixed and spatial bounding the pouring forth of processes.12

30. I'm offering the flowzone as a model for creative production and collaboration. And I'm suggesting that a space as charged with collaboration and innovation as the CWRL is a flowzone. It says yes to tools. Yes to play. Yes to ideas. It mixes materials. It fixes connections. Trust flows through its circuits. It's a performance space. A creative space. And the zone doesn't happen necessarily. It is tuned into being by the blending of its materials, things, projects, and people. And it continues, its currents ongoing, its people swaying and coursing through its collaborations and ideas, even as they flow now. I'm thinking of John.

31. And I need to ask for one more acknowledgement and extension. We need to make one more pass at the scratchpad. Sketch out what can be added to these thoughts. Play out potentials from teaching. Consider your own creative spaces, your projects, texts, materials, and tools. Think of connecting and collaborating. Use your pad. Your pencil. Let your ideas stream, and then

ask "Can these flowzones be extended?"
if the answer is "yes-and"
put it into scratchPad
put scratchPad into yourPocket
go to yourCompshop.


1 For a rich treatment of the concerns related to the use of digital tools and tool metaphors, see Stuart Selber's Multiliteracies for a Digital Age.

2 David Bartholomae offers the yes-but and other commonplaces as "machine[s] for producing a paper" (19).

3 For more on actor-network models, see Bruno Latour's Reassembling the Social. See also Clay Spinuzzi's Network for a discussion of actor-network and activity models. See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus for a discussion of rhizomatic models. For a closer look at ecological models, see Kristie S. Fleckenstein, Clay Spinnuzi, Rebecca Rickly, and Carole Clark Papper's "The Importance of Harmony: An Ecological Metaphor for Writing Research."

4 Spinuzzi discusses the figuring of stability in detail, contrasting less stable actor-network models with more stable activity models. My point in gerunding things is to emphasize stabilizing as a process rather than to assert that these models achieve stability.

5 See also the discussion of harmony in Fleckenstein, et al.

6 The NCSA offers this comparison of the CGI and static Web pages: "A plain HTML document that the Web daemon retrieves is static, which means it exists in a constant state: a text file that doesn't change. A CGI program, on the other hand, is executed in real-time, so that it can output dynamic information" (NCSA; emphasis in original). The CGI flows as a performance engine, evoking dynamic processes on either side of the exchange. As a collaboration machine, it brings people to agreements about texts and ideas. More related to the CGI can be found at For more on texts in knowledge work, see Spinuzzi.

7 For more on emergent modes and co-influence among media, see Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin's Remediation: Understanding New Media.

8 See especially Zygmunt Bauman's Liquid Modernity for more on knowledge models featuring flow. See also Deleuze and Guattari.

9 For more on flow and creativity, see Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

10 Deleuze and Guitarri cast the crux of the performing moment as "perpetually prolonging itself, breaking up and starting off again" (20). Latour suggests that "physiologists have shown that for a perception to take place, continuous movements and adjustments are necessary: no movement, no feeling" (159).

11 The pause-button effect clearly deserves more attention. Given that performance and process sway the focus of this essay, it's ironic to call for any stop mechanism. Stopping any moving scheme to examine its parts or connections distorts by removing the moving processes that flow through them. I accept these concerns. You can't stop time. And I propose the pause-button as an imperfect acknowledgement that we need to view deliberately processes in circuit with elements, flow within zones. You can't stop time, but you can imagine a brief pause in which (even with the tracings of processes playing out like ghostings across our screens) we focus on the structure, borrowing a moment's stability before moving on. We might recognize the effect in Latour's extension of the word network as an accounting of "the trace left behind by some moving agent" (132). We can also recognize in the flowzone as a pause mechanism some of the combinations of space and time alluded to by Bauman, who tells us "solids have clear spatial dimensions but neutralize the impact, and thus downgrade the significance, of time . . . [F]or [fluids] it is the flow of time that counts. . . ." (2).

12 Fleckenstein and her co-authors ask us to "draw a circle around the pertinent feedback pathways" (396). The circle is called forth by processes, by "feedback, the flow of information between organisms and their environments" (396). Moss and Law, speaking of information fluidity, tell us "information . . . is all about boundary-making" (67). Projects, and indeed any component or connection, can bound, channel, and shape the elements and currents in a flowing scheme. For a rich discussion of bounding, see Spinuzzi.

Works Cited

Anderson, Daniel. "Not Maimed but Malted: Nodes, Texts and Graphics in Freshmen Compositions." CWRL, The Electronic Journal for Computer Writing, Rhetoric and Literature 1.1 (1994). 7 Feb. 2009. <>.

Bartholomae, David. "Inventing the University." Teaching Composition: Background Readings. Ed. T.R. Johnson. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2008, 2-30.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Rciteediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.

Csikszentmihaly, Mihaly. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Tr. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Edbauer Rice, Jenny. "Rhetoric's Mechanics: Retooling the Equipment of Writing Production." College Composition and Communication 60.2 (Decciteber 2008): 366-387.

Fishman, Jenn and Andrea Lunsford, Beth McGregor, and Mark Otuteye. "Performing Writing, Performing Literacy." College Composition and Communication 57.2 (Decciteber 2005): 224-252.

Fleckenstein, Kristie S. and Clay Spinuzzi, Rebecca Rickly, and Carole Clark Papper. "The Importance of Harmony: An Ecological Metaphor for Writing Research." College Composition and Communication 60.2 (Decciteber 2008): 388-418.

Gerard, Glenna. "Creating New Connections: Dialogue and Improv." Dialogue as a Means for Collective Communication. Ed. Bela Banathy and Patrick M. Jenlink. New York: Klewer, 2005, 335-356.

Latour, Bruno. Reasscitebling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.

Mol, Anncitearie and John Law. "Regions, Networks, and Fluids: Anaciteia and Social Topology." Social Studies of Science 24 (1994): 641-71.

Moser, Ingunn and John Law. "Fluid or Flows? Information and Qualculation in Medical Practice." Information Technology and People 19.1 (2006): 55-73.

National Center for Supercomputing Applictions. CGI. 7 Feb 2009. <>.

Pickering, Andrew. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Rouzie, Albert. At Play in the Fields of Writing: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2005.

Sawyer, R. Keith. Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.

Selber, Stuart. Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2004.

Spinuzzi, Clay. Network. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008.

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