Friday, October 30, 2009

Next Things.

As opposed to Last Things, which is what one's attention SHOULD be focused on, at least according to St. Alphonsus. But, true heretic that I am, I seem only to be able to keep my sights fixed on the Next Thing.

It's a quality that was pointed out to me by a therapist who, though he eventually reinforced my distrust of all things psychoanalytical, helpfully remarked one day that he had talked to many professionals in a variety of fields, and had found that while they register accomplishments for about 30 seconds, their sense of their own shortcomings surges back and will not be assuaged until they accomplish something else. I probably didn't need a therapist to tell me that I fall into that psychological profile, but it was nice to hear that there are others out there who have the same skewed sense of accomplishment.

But this Book, the book project that will not end, seems to be the trump-card in my self-worth, the sine qua non.

I don't stress about writing poetry. It will happen, and then I will have a next book, and so on. I don't stress about translation, either: I've got this little project lined up for the next time I have free time (!) and I've already done a few lines, and it's no big deal whether I finish or not so it's all fun. I don't even stress about the NEXT scholarly book: I know more or less what I'm interested in investigating, and I find the topic intriguing and underresearched, and exciting in a far-off kind of way, like having plans to visit a friend in another state a year or so down the road.

But this stupid Book That Haunts Me is standing between me and that pleasant visit. It's not that the topic is proving to be such an obstacle. The argument is actually becoming more and more crystallized as I work, and I'm more interested in it now than I was when I started years ago.

It's that when I started my PhD program, my randomly-assigned first-year advisor advised me never to put my creative stuff on my c.v., because I'd be seen as a "dilettante scholar and facile thinker."

It's that I can't call myself a "poet" because that feels presumptuous, because literary history may disagree. But I don't yet have the street cred to call myself a "Renaissance scholar."

It's that I MUST be able to call myself a scholar, because I'm not Neruda, I'm not winning every big poetry award out there, so I have to have another sphere of validation, obviously.

It's that I have all these lovely formal and informal mentors whose efforts and good faith need to be JUSTIFIED by me.

It's that you can't write a second book until you write a first book.

So. It feels like the stakes are very high for this book. I may be (!) loading the project up with more significance than it can bear, or that I can bear in writing it. I'm just scared that I can't finish it, and that fear has been getting in the way. (The fear, and also the grading and the kids and the housework and the commuter marriage and the grading again.)

But. I've got at least 9 months without teaching in my future, and if I get this fellowship I'm applying for, I'll have 15 months in a row with nothing else required of me. That would be a good thing.

And perhaps, if I can finish this Book, instead of feeling like I have to do the Next Thing to prove myself, I can just rest for a while.


Flavia said...

I'm not going to tell you that you don't need this book to prove your scholarly (or personal) worth, because it doesn't matter what I think in that regard--since it matters to you.

But good God, woman! If you can't call yourself a poet, who can? You're not only successful in publishing terms, but a ridiculously good artist.

And *I*, at any rate, shall continue to refer to you as both a poet and a scholar--and you can't stop me!

the rebel lettriste said...

Um, I concur with Flavia.

Inge said...

It's strange to hear that being a published poet might be considered a problem in North America. In the UK, I keep seeing adverts that require scholars who also have a creative writing profile of some kind. And wondering whether I should have finished the dodgy novel I started back in the day...