- Uncategorized

#AuthorFail 3: Gretchen E. Henderson

Are you a failure?

Do your loved ones turn their heads away in shame when you walk in the room or go off to “work” on your “writing”? Is the blank page better for you when it’s blank?

Ok, ok, I kid. I exaggerate.

So welcome, anyway, to this week’s installment of #AuthorFail.  Check here for guidelines to submit your own story of complete and utter failure.

Our brave cosmonaut of this week’s rocket ride is the inimitable Gretchen E. Henderson, winner of the 2nd annual Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize at Lake Forest College. I’ve been working non-stop on her forthcoming, Galerie de Difformité, a startling success-of-a-hybrid-novel, but here, in the depths of abandoned-projects-past, you are treated to her secret work of vowels.

See you next week.

For over a year, I dedicated time (including a month-long artists’ residency) to research, write, and almost complete a first draft of Ultra Sounds, an extended illustrated essay.  Using a linguistic spectrogram as its central metaphor, the abandoned book in nine chapters meditated on language, music, (dis)ability, personal and cultural identity. It began as follows:

I said HAND out loud.

I said HAZE out loud.

I said HOUSE out loud.

I said out loud, out loud, out loud.  Through 67 repetitions, I spoke sentences that varied by a single word: HAND, HAZE, HOUSE.  Almost caesuric in their mid-sentence placement, the words fed into a tiny microphone clipped to my lapel.  Over the course of 15 minutes sitting in the book-filled office of Matthew Gordon, a linguist at the University of Missouri (where I am a doctoral student in English), I articulated each sentence, followed by a short story whose phonetic similarities rolled around in my mouth each time I pronounced Dawn, Uncle Don, Dawson Street.

From the Department’s graduate student auction, I had won a Personalized Portrait of your Vowel Space, described on the inventory list:

Using a recording of your voice, I will perform a spectrographic analysis of how you pronounce your vowels and produce a graphic representation of your articulation. If you’re interested, I will provide a picture of an “average American” vowel space for comparison. Oh, and I’ll tell you your future based on your vowels.

Whether or not my vowels could predict my future, the item intrigued me—as it interested a number of bidders, upping my student splurge to $35 to clinch the win—but for different reasons.

From my narrow knowledge of spectrograms and linguistics, I envisioned the process might provide a tangible image of something intangible.  Having written for the past six years in a kind of silence, I wondered if that silence might be made manifest.  As crystallographers decipher proteins from what would otherwise be unnoticeable to the naked eye, and doctors decode X-rays and MRIs, this linguist could tell me something about myself by reading my voice.  A spectrogram wasn’t necessarily part of the human genome project or even part of a familial scrapbook, but it could reveal a personal record by probing my aural origins through bits of spoken sound.  Even if the spectrogram could not predict my future, I hoped it might make some sense of my past and thus help me articulate my present.

So it goes… or went.

After abandoning Ultra Sounds I returned to another project, Galerie de Difformité, which had flopped in workshop but which continued to compel me by its seemingly-organic growth, unapologetically transgressing genre and disciplinary bounds. Other book ideas came and went, some pursued farther than others. In the background lay my original book project, The House Enters the Street, which I returned to here and there, hoping that it wouldn’t end up another #AuthorFail.


Gretchen E. Henderson recently received a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at MIT. She was awarded the 2010 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize for Galerie de Difformité (&NOW Books) and invites participation in the collaborative deformation of this forthcoming book here. Her other forthcoming books include The House Enters the Street (Starcherone Books) and On Marvellous Things Heard (Green Lantern Press).

Last week: #AuthorFail 2: Sean Beaudoin

Next week: #AuthorFail 4: Jeffrey DeShell.

2 thoughts on “#AuthorFail 3: Gretchen E. Henderson

Leave a Reply