Words on the Street, Revisited #17: Cover Me/I’ll Cover You

Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.


I’d rather be hot than cold.  Literally, I like warm and fuzzy. (Figuratively, it depends on my mood.) I get teary-eyed when I see people share blankets and swaddle sleeping babies. Sometimes I full-on weep when those are people I love. Or have loved and lost.

Cover me. I’ll cover you.

I know, I know.  They are song titles. (See: “Cover Me” and “I’ll Cover You”) And both are very high on my list of favorites, by the way.

Cover me and I’ll Cover you are also expressions that are used at work and at play, as in:

“I’ll cover you if you need off on Saturday,” Dotty said when Michelle told her Francis had asked her out on an actual date. “Sushi and a walk on the pier,” Michelle squealed into the phone that morning. “Sushi! Sushi! Sushi!” How could Dotty say no?

“Cover me?” Ben asked Charlie as they approached the ticket booth at the theatre. Charlie shook his head and let out a big, long sigh. This was certainly not the first time Ben made this very request in his higher-than-usual tone of voice, coupled with his lame attempt at a little boy smile. It’s been going on for years now.  At drug store cashier counters, taco trucks and beer halls. But Charlie did, once again, cover Ben.

Cover me. I’ll cover you.


What about in our writing lives? What about on our blank and not-so-blank pages?

Enter The Boss again. Jonathan Bernstein writes in Rolling Stone: “Only the Strong Survive, his new album of reverent soul and R&B covers, arrives in this same spirit of nostalgic recollection for the 73-year-old. The album’s first words: ‘I remember.’ Most tunes are from the mid-to-late-Sixties, the formative few years after the 15-year-old Springsteen received his first electric guitar and started carving out his musical identity.”

Since it came out last week I’ve listened to these songs-both the originals and Springsteen’s version of them-several times. I got to thinking about what it means to cover someone’s work and how the concept can be stretched to fortify our writing practice.

One way is to read and revel in the work of others. In traditional workshops we often share our own work, reading aloud the pieces we create. This can be a critical step in picking up everything from flat lines and cliché phrases to words that sing and grind. (I mean the good kind of grind here.) It can be essential to the process, yes! But what about reading work aloud that is not your own?  How often do you really listen to yourself cover a favorite poem or chapter, or excerpt, and what does that experience offer you as a writer?

In my creative writing classes a few weeks ago, we read the poem, “You Can’t Have It All” by Barbara Ras. Full disclosure: I love the poem. I read it aloud, and so did some students. We talked about that, about what it was like to read with intention, to lend our voice to the work of another artist. Words like honor, joy and surrender were tossed around. Again, I thought about Bernstein’s review of the Springsteen album and his noting that “I remember” are the “album’s first words.” (I could go on a total Joe Brainard tangent and celebration here but I will restrain myself.) It also made me think about the practice of reading aloud to children and how, for many of us, that fizzles out as the children in our lives grow up. Or as we do.

Might this literary-centric interpretation of Cover me and/or I’ll cover you, kooky as it is, be a fresh take on the benefits of reading the work of others? (A sort of writer’s version of Dotty covering for Michelle? In the best of circumstances, both parties win, right?) Can remembering, surrendering, honoring and locating joy in literature fuel not only appreciation for literature but also inspiration?  Might the simple reading, the covering of you and for me, serve as seasoning for our own material?

Choose a favorite selection, take a sip of water, clear your throat and give it a try.


But what about those blankets, both the literal ones (Wool? Cotton blend? Chenille?) or the ones that come in the form of a beer or a pack of gum or a movie ticket? Or working an extra shift at the diner?

What about when we need to be covered as writers?

Here’s a suggestion based on my learning the hard way:

Ask for a blanket when you’re cold! (Or stuck with no words in sight.) Use the writer friends and writing communities in your life for support. Most scribes I know consider it wise to recall the cold, dry spells because it can be incredibly grounding. It keeps the ego and perspective in place. Helping someone who has hit a wall or one too many blank pages by lending a blanket of unsentimental and hopefully perfectly calibrated hilarious pep talks or blocks of time (coffee, tea, wine, chocolate or pizza as an accompaniment is highly recommended) to just listen is an act of service. To others but also to self. The blankets are there and come in a variety of colors, textures and sizes.

Ask when you need and give when you can.

Cover me. I’ll cover you.

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