Meet Voices' co-founder, Riley Grace Borden.
My name is Riley Grace Borden. Some call me Riley, and others, Riley Grace (I’m not going to tell you which one is the real first name!). I once signed my name, “Riley Grace or just plain Riley” on a card I wrote to one of my ballet teachers. I remember feeling tickled by myself for such a signing. She was not amused. Pulling me aside after receiving it and wrapping her long, bony fingers tightly around my stubbier ones, she said firmly, “Riley Grace, you are never just plain Riley. You never will be. Don’t call yourself that ever again.” These days, I stick with Riley, no qualifiers, and, with some who knew me a couple years back, or with those I want to force into saying a little extra, Riley Grace.
At fourteen, I made the decision that the only way to achieve my career goal of being a professional ballet dancer was to move 3000 miles away from home, live in a boarding house, and train forty-five hours and seven days a week while attending a public high school larger than all of my local high schools put together. My family, made up of two brothers, and a scientist mother and father, a most eclectic, supportive, and push-free group, understood. From age five until the age of sixteen, my entire identity and every single life decision I made, from what to eat to what special occasion to miss, depended upon ballet. I was obsessed, and everyone, including me, was used to it. Then, the morning of my sixteenth birthday, I quit. I came home with eating problems, depression, and a whole host of issues a person develops when they start denying and denying and denying (until they eventually forget) who they are, what they are capable of, what they are willing to do to get somewhere, and what they want in the world.
I’m from a small town, Coupeville, in Washington, and here, most everyone knows everyone. I was the “ballerina,” and then, suddenly, I wasn’t anything. I had to work out who I was and what I did without having pointe shoes and plies anymore. Though I always zeroed in on ballet, writing lingered in the background. I’m a storyteller, usually to a fault, if I’m not getting the un-truth-truths out through poetry and fiction. I grew up devouring fairy tales, making up reasons why my math tests disappeared, and forcing my best friend to act out as the Diana to my Anne over and over in the playground. Even away from ballet, I occasionally wrote sappy articles edged with bites of my real feelings for the ballet academy’s blog. When I got home, I went into rabid-Google and research mode, and wrote poetry with ferocity. Google research mode and massive writing mode have not turned off since I came home, with the exception of a few detours, and it was during this period, at the beginning of junior year, that I discovered Polyphony. When I read that I could receive online training to become an editor, I could not believe my luck. Never mind that they called editors “readers.” I was fine; getting to edit all kinds of creative writing was a dream of mine.
I remember printing out the packet of instructions as soon as I received it, and self-importantly highlighting everything that stood out to me so that my first piece would be indisputably perfectly edited (It was not. I sent it to the wrong place). What stood out to me was all of the thinking behind and beyond editing that Billy Lombardo taught, mostly thinking of editing as an empathetic process, both in coming to understand and relate to other writers, creators, and editors, but also in coming to understand yourself and the people around you. But also, the homey, slow elements of editing he emphasized, the baking cookies, and drinking tea, and sitting in math with a piece of poetry or short story. I have now baked and eaten many, many goods, and drank a myriad of overly sugared and creamed teas for the sake of editing.
Thinking about reading, writing, and other people’s motivations were the main and only elements of editing that came naturally to me, but I think most writers do all of those a lot. The rest of it has been challenging, frustrating, and positively spark-in-belly inducing. The best feeling to me is copying all of my edits, comments, and the previous readers’ edits into the comments area, pressing submit, and then gazing down at the piece I have been carrying around and spending so much time with. Usually it’s absolutely disgusting, covered from top to bottom in crumbs, smears, mean-nice-mean-enthralled-stunned-confused comments, flower doodles, spills, and did I mention crumbs and smears? Also, there have been tears on my pieces, and nervous sweat on my pieces, and they each get a turn to be crumpled up in my palm. I’ve sat on the phone in the middle of a break up with a piece on my lap, or while getting tragic news in my family.
The pieces, and the people who write them really aren’t too different from you and me, just high school students who are out doing the things high school students do: having insecurities, fears, heartbreak, first losses, first loves, first jobs, and maybe, even, if you say “recommend accept” first publications (or even if you don’t, they still will—we can’t get too carried away with power, now can we?). The point is, even if Polyphony’s based off in Chicago, I never noticed. The community it creates feels boundless. Even when everything was not right, I could still look down at a piece in my lap and not feel like the only high schooler who was keeping company, and downright enjoyable company, with blank paper, words, and an imagination.
I am an imperfect, but impassioned editor. I’ve guiltily turned in many late pieces during rough times this year (my apologies if you submitted and received a piece back very slowly), as eighteen, like sixteen, turned into another time of transition. I’ve struggled to empathize with certain pieces, and sat stymied over many more, and I’ve spent entire Saturdays reading and rereading a single piece. I cannot imagine my last two years of high school without Polyphony, my writing-central and my rock. As an unhealthily insecure editor (I immediately assumed every email I received from Mr. Lombardo my first year was him telling me that I needed to be removed due to my inadequate editing—Polyphony doesn’t do that, Riley), I wish there had been an active blog during my early time at Polyphony to make the other editors less intimidating, and to normalize the very editor-typical experiences I turned into unique, nightmare, panic-worthy scenarios in my head every time they came up.
My hope is that Voices, this blog that Kelly and I are creating with the rest of the dedicated Polyphony staff, will take some (definitely not all—we have to keep it spicy) of the fear out of editing and submitting, and will push more word-inclined people out on Google rampages, trying to figure out who they are and whether or not they are capable of doing anything worthwhile to dive in and start figuring all of those things out, or at least learn to forgive themselves if they can’t, over a good blog post, a cookie, and messy piece of paper.
Riley Grace Bordon is the co-founder of Voices and an Executive Editor at Polyphony Lit literary magazine.