• Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

When Opposites Collaborate

Did your mind want to swap out the word “collaborate” with “collide” in today’s post title? The divisiveness in the world has everyone on edge. Collaboration offers a path forward, no matter what the topic of that collaboration might be. It works with art, writing, healthcare, education, building communities, growing food, increasing possibilities for everyone.



As an editor at the quarterly poetry journal Gyroscope Review, I collaborate with people all the time. As a writer who sometimes works on projects with other writers, I get ample practice at collaborative techniques. I’ve learned how to disagree without intentionally wounding, accept criticism from another, and work with people whose sensibilities are not anything like my own. I can’t help wondering why, if my colleagues and I can do this, people at the top of the hierarchy that runs this country can’t do the same.


Yes, I know, it’s a very long way from co-editing a poetry journal and collaborating with other writers to wrangling members of Congress. But I can - and do - dream.


Collaboration is a beautiful way to strengthen artistic offerings, layer voices, and learn to respect other methods of working. I’m thinking about all this because I am in the midst of collaborating with another writer whose sensibilities are, at times, the polar opposite of my own. Here’s an illustration that helped me sort this out:


When we collaborate on poems, which we do frequently to keep our skills sharp as much as to create new work, these differences can be stark. The concrete/abstract piece always pops up; the other differences show up in various ways. This has helped me see my work differently and to appreciate my collaborator’s skills. It’s helped me understand what motivates me in a new way, taught me how to dig into other points of view. It’s taught me to be gracious and keep a conversation going without digging in my heels because I think my way is right.


No way is always right. No path is the only path to new ideas or methods or art. Sure, if you live in the mountains in the middle of wilderness, maybe there’s only one usable path to your place, but look at the isolation that puts you in. Collaboration is the opposite of isolation. And its strength is in bringing people together to create something that joins sensibilities into a new, shiny offering, one that has multiple possibilities and multiple legs upon which to rest.


Back to dreaming. Collaboration at other levels could make us so much stronger, so much more vibrant. Stubborn insistence on one way of doing things only fragments us. Let’s make something good - something stronger, kinder, and available to all - together.


Are you in?

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