Thursday, December 30, 2010

Throwing darts

Flavia has been generous in documenting her progress through the process of submitting her book to academic presses. Reading her characteristically insightful accounts of this process has caused me to reflect on something I've started to figure out, maybe, on good days. I have spoken before (though I can't remember when) about the difference for me between publishing academic work and publishing poetry, and about how publishing poetry is just so much less stressful for me--in part, because rejections are (at the level of the professional) so obviously about a lack of aesthetic sympathy between writer and rejecting editor. Some folks are just never going to dig my work, period. Just as there are any number of poets who just don't do it for me. I can't get too worked up about someone not loving one of my poems. It's like throwing darts: sometimes you hit the target of the reader's taste, and sometimes you don't, and if I miss this time I'll just submit to someone else until I hit. Whatever.

But academic publishing has always felt much more objective, more about the inherent quality of the work, to me. The article, or in my case, the book, either succeeds or fails to make its argument, and if it's not accepted, it's because it has failed. However, some experiences over the last years have perhaps softened that perspective: having edited a collection of essays and having rejected a well-known scholar's work because it just didn't fit, having received a blistering reader's report from one journal on an article that was soon after accepted at a top journal in my field, having incurred the utter invective-laced wrath rejection of an editor (who later apologized and accepted) because my article caught him on a bad day.... These experiences have suggested to me that there may be more of the subjective on the academic side of things than I'd been willing to believe before.

I have sent out four book proposals in the last 6 weeks. Three to top-tier presses, one to a second-tier press with a top-tier list in my field. I'd be happy to be at any of them. Here's the run-down so far:

Top-tier Press 1: Three years ago, when I produced an infant proposal, an embarrassing and almost mock proposal based on the dissertation-based book I thought I was writing but have now abandoned, I sent to this press, and quickly received a rejection stating, in effect, "No way. I'm sure this would make a very nice article, but we're not interested in such thin soup. Good luck, amateur." In pretty much that tone and language. This time around, I got another rejection from them, but this time the tone was entirely different. An almost-quote: "This is a worthwhile and fascinating project, and we're sure it will land at a very good press, but our humanities resources, recently cut, are overcommitted. We look forward to reading this project when you place it elsewhere." So, still a rejection, but I've decided to take it as a major confidence booster. They didn't scruple to scorn me last time around, so I'll take their compliments as sincere.

Top-tier Press 2: Thanks to a scholar (whom I met via this blog!) who was willing to recommend me to hir editor, I am meeting with said editor at MLA. I'd LOVE to be at this press, and I'm sure I'll spend the whole flight to CA in a panic attack, obsessing over whether I've worn the right color shirt or should have put my hair in a ponytail.

Top-tier Press 3: Form letter rejection from an assistant by email. Though a scholar-mentor of mine who publishes with this press is convinced that hir editor never saw it and has vowed to speak to that editor on my behalf and insists that the tale is not ended, I'm considering it ended.

Good in my field Press: These guys were keen on the fetal proposal I sent years ago and expressed excitement about seeing the final MSS (they don't contract on spec), but then the editor in my field died. I've resubmitted to them, recounting the history of my conversation with them and reminding them of their prior interest, but I'm really just starting from scratch there. No idea how it'll play with a new editor--don't even know who the new editor is yet (not listed in the press's info). But they're not talking at MLA and I was told I'd be hearing from them in the new year. Sigh.

So. That's how it is right now. And the thing is, I'm no longer frantic about it. I think it's a decent project, and I think someone's going to take it. And if the dart doesn't hit one of these targets, I'll throw again. I only have to hit one.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Oh. My. Hell. Shut. Up. All. Of. You. (I know this post has a very narrow target demographic, but can I get an Amen?)


So a friend of mine is having a bday party this weekend. She has requested that we bring no gifts, but she is welcoming bottles of cheer.

Someone recently gave me a bottle of sherry. As a non-drinker, I'll use this for cooking, but it'll take me a while to get to it because I've got a couple of bottles before this one.

My question: can I take this bottle of sherry to the party? Even when I used to drink, I only drank gin. Is sherry uncool? I don't want to be uncool.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I finished the Donne chapter at the end of November, and immediately took off for 2 weeks with Neruda, doing a brief research stint at the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana (hee! so much fun!) and then getting the hell out of the city of my Hephaistian incarceration to Florence (sigh of relief),

and then to the utter silence and desertion of this other place, a medieval hilltop walled town.

I've been home for a few days, and I have to say, I am just not feeling the urgency of my leave's ending like I should be. My brain is worn out. I should be ligamenting a couple of chapters together, but I'm just fried, just done. And I'm not even sure I can work up anxiety about my done-ness.

Instead, I've been trying to find shoes that will go with the irrationally excellent outfit that Neruda decided he wanted to buy me for Christmas. As you know, I don't shop. But we had an usually fabulous time clothes-shopping for me in Florence, and I came home with this extravagantly beautiful skirt and coat, requiring extravagantly elegant shoes. I think I found them today.

I've made fagiolini soup and golden beet salad, I've made glitter ornaments for the tree with the Things, I've Skyped Neruda, I've read a little bit in an Icelandic mystery. I've had some printed pages from the chapter I should be working on within arm's reach all day. Haven't touched it. Probably I should be getting worried, time's winged chariot at my heels and all that. But I'm sick of the inside of my damned head.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hwaet Medievalists!

So in my Early British Survey, which you may recall I'm teaching for the first time next term, I have ONE DAY into which I can fit Gawain. Should I excerpt? Narrow focus on some particular point or passage? Or a few? Or is there another text you'd privilege over an excerpted Gawain? Advice, please.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear


FLY, envious Time, till thou run out thy race;
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy plummet's pace;
And glut thyself with what thy womb devours,
Which is no more then what is false and vain,
And merely mortal dross;
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.
For when, as each thing bad thou hast entomb'd
And last of all thy greedy self consumed,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss,
With an individual kiss;
And Joy shall overtake us, as a flood,
When every thing that is sincerely good,
And perfectly divine,
With truth, and peace, and love, shall ever shine,
About the supreme throne
Of Him, to whose happy-making sight, alone,
When once our heavenly-guided soul shall climb,
Then all this earthly grossness quit,
Attired with stars, we shall for ever sit,
Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee, O Time!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I made a cake!

As some know, I don't really do desserts. I don't have a huge sweet-tooth, and I don't like to measure when I cook. But I came into some beautiful local quince, and wanted to honor them with something worthy of their high-maintenance prep.

My SFAM sent me her recipe for an excellent upside-down cake, which adds cardamon and other spices. I stuck to that basic cake recipe, but baked it over a bottom layer of poached quince and dried bing cherries rehydrated in a mix of sherry and grape juice.

Just got it out of the oven. It's beautiful--the peach-pink of the quince, the dark cherries, the ooze of caramelizing all over the whole thing. I can hardly wait for it to cool. But I will, because the caramelizing will be even better.

I say if you're only going to make one cake every year or so, it should be a good one.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

3 signs I am a Real Poet

1) Almost got in a wreck on the freeway today, because I was getting a line down on a passenger-seat scrap of paper.

2) Wanted to spend the evening catching up on some administrative stuff, but went to a poetry reading, just because the reader is the editor of a significant journal, and I thought it might be good strategy to be attentively present.

3) There's a song on the new Hornby/Folds album, which I got today, about a contemporary American poet, a couple of years older than I am, whom I know slightly. Not about her work, of which the song disclaims any knowledge, but about the euphony of her name. Four minutes of PR thanks to her natal assonance. My response?: (envious mutters and grumbles.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Conference debrief

Just got back from a conference. I've never attended one with this particular group before, though I've been told for about a decade that I'd find the organization congenial and exciting. And it was--I hope to be involved with them more in the future. Though I was also aware of the ways in which a sense of embattlement that shows up here and there across the organization might keep it more fringey than it could be,--should be, with the starpower it draws. Not all battles (aesthetic, cultural) continue to be worth fighting.

Some thoughts, with no aspiration to coherence, about it:

* We stayed in an Historic Hotel. It was cold, and the shower slowed to a trickle with every vicissitude of use in my wing. This is why I'm not a historian.

* There was very little Great Food to be had in that bastion-town of Ivyness. What do those people eat?

* An acquaintance poet of some stature was there. Got to know him better: he turns out to be among the coolest people I've ever met, and I can't wait to talk with him again. His coolness arises in part from his having nothing to prove. I admire that.

* Another acquaintance poet-scholar of some stature was there, and I have to say: though we should by all rights be best buddies (so much overlap in our interests), I don't think that's ever going to happen. I think it may have something to do with the fact that we DO overlap so much, and also share this particular way of being very present in a room, very authoritative, and--though I'm reluctant to admit it--it may have something to do with our both being females. I'm getting the vibe that there's no room for 2 alpha females in her space.

* I ran a number of 6-minute miles. In a row.

* Niceness is a pretty rare commodity in the poetry biz. I mean, folks who are unfailingly generous, genuinely good, and have total integrity. I'm lucky to know many such folks.

* I have achieved a certain air-miles level, what with my commuter marriage and my conferencing, at which one gets bumped up to first class. My dad was a pilot, and my treatment on this trip reminded me of the old posh days when we'd fly with him. I'm pretty low-maintenance, but I tell you: I could get used to that kind of thing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


That's the last day I got any work done on the book, and I'm starting to feel a panic attack approaching, as my leave ticks away into its last weeks. Will someone please tell me that it's okay to just chill when you're sick? Not that I'll internalize it....

Monday, October 25, 2010

Books and articles

In the poetry world, the ideal is to publish as many poems as one can from one's manuscript in progress before it even goes as a whole collection to a press: lots of poems published in good journals serves as a kind of imprimatur for publishers. There's no downside to publishing, theoretically, the whole damned book in pieces.

But I've heard that this is not the case with academic publishing. I've heard that part of the draw for publishers of monographs is that they're putting out into the world a significant chunk of new thinking, which hasn't been pre-empted by that material's prior appearance in academic journals. I guess it's the publishing version of "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"

What's your sense, y'all? I ask because one of my unpublished chapters has been solicited, and I'm not sure whether I should decline or pursue potential publication with it.

The tally so far from the book:

Of 6 chapters, 1 is introductory and 1 is concluding. Nothing of those chapters has seen or will see the light of day outside this book.

Of the four left: I've published pretty closely correlating article versions of 2 of them. Is it pushing it to go for three?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pass the Green Death, Denis Leary.

I'm sick. I feel like hell, more hell than usual sick hell. I didn't go running last night, and I went to bed before 10. Neither of those things ever, ever happens, even when I'm sick, but they'll be happening again tonight. I wrote nothing, I read nothing, I thought nothing. I did manage to muster up Pictionary with the Things, and made supergarlicky rescue-tomato soup (get 'em before they freeze!) with sunchoke chips for dinner. But if I hadn't had the Things to feed, I would have had cereal.

For the record, and despite my title here, I won't be taking Nyquil tonight, because it puts me in a coma. My kids couldn't rouse me if the house were on fire. Geez, I love that.

Tomorrow it will snow. After the morning school-drop, I will put on my footie-pajamas and read in bed until pickup time.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Six months in the making,

and getting aired out here for a limited time.

(Time's up.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Survey teaching bleg

Beginning in January, I will be teaching my institution's Early British survey, which begins, you know, somewhere around Caedmon or Beowulf or Genesis B or whatever, and goes up to (but not including) the Romantics. It is the first time I will have taught this class: usually, I teach more advanced undergrad courses and grad classes, but my chair has smartly realized that, with a move toward full professor out there on the horizon, it would behoove me to look like I'm a pitcher-inner as a teacher, engaging in the less sexy service-type courses as well as the ethereal ones.

I taught a survey at my PhD institution, but it was conceived peculiarly: Chaucer, Spenser, Milton. Period. Ambitious folks occasionally threw in a day of Donne, but it was not recommended.

And I was a biology undergrad, so never took such a class.

The point is, I'm now trying to put together a syllabus for this far-reaching, turbo-trawl through the auldies. It the very least unsatisfying and at the most blast through 1000 years of literature, allocating at most two days for any number of major authors. But what's more, I'm having a hard time locating the pedagogical value in it: they don't have time absorb anything beyond the basics, the indefatigable progress of history seems to be the only organizing principle, the only engine to push us forward to a final that could conceivably just skirt regurgitation.


Has anyone out there organized a syllabus according to themes rather than just moving doggedly forward from page 1 to page 2072 of the Norton British Vol. 1? Have you had success finding an alternative structure for a class like this, a reading schedule that allows for one or more strands of thematic development? Have you found a way to let this class tell a STORY? Play out a THESIS?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bookwork: The Musical!

Have been having a hard time working through the dense "here is my argument" section of my Donne chapter. It's very slow going, with lots of deleting of my prior day's progress. Lots of two steps forward, one step back. But I have had unexpected assists from a couple of sources.

1) My dissertation. Had forgotten that, in the course of publishing an article version of my original diss chapter, one of the main arguments of the diss chapter had been jettisoned. And it turns out that it's precisely the argument to which I've returned in the book version--having now sloughed off the primary argument of the article as tangential. Thanks, prior me!

2) The emergence of a new Nemesis, especially necessary because my longterm Nemesis has turned out to be so helpful and collegial. It's very generative to have someone to define one's argument against. I think that Doctor Doofenshmirtz may say it best:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

MLA and bookshopping

After (not so) long silence...Ah, well. Never one to shut up for long.

I have a question for my academic peeps out there. Almost halfway through the newly rebuilt Donne chapter now, and if I keep to my goals that means I'll have finished and done one top-to-bottom revision of the book by the time my leave ends after Christmas. I'm planning to craft a book proposal during December. And MLA is in early January this year, and I'm going. (The Sunday of MLA is my bday, by the way, and I hope to have left LA in my jetwash by then. Who wants to spend their bday in a stressbox?)

Anyhow, there we'll all be: all the academic publishers and I cozied up together in the cavernous MLA bookfair. How does one approach this situation? Do I try to set up meetings in advance with the publishers/editors I most hope to woo without inundating them with proposals? Send proposals in advance of MLA, with or without mentioning that I'll be at MLA? (Do I need to move the proposal-crafting up in the schedule?) Stalk and ambush publishers/editors without preamble, armed with 9x12 envelopes?

What are the protocols here? HELP!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Here's the thing: my greatest challenge is that the book I'm writing, on leave, is sometimes hard to write. I compare my challenges with those of others near and far, known and blog-acquainted, and I realize I have not very much to say at all about my life. Things are good. I am happy. Today my burnt-down-rebuilt chapter is making me nauseated but that will go away.

I may be blogging less for a little while. Maybe when I work out whether I have anything real to say.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A shot in the arm. Or, two. Shots. In one arm. Or two arms.

Shot one: As you may recall, I sent my intro chapter to my Nemesis. I got his response back. He asked a couple of questions that went to the heart of what I think is the intro's main weakness. His questions helped me reconsider how I set a particular argument up, and have helped me to see a better way in. He also pointed me toward a critical text I'd forgotten about, one that's more than relevant to what I'm trying to say.

Shot two: Had lunch today with a colleague whose theoretical sophistication far outstrips mine. He'd also graciously taken a look at my intro chapter, and as a nonspecialist he identified some points where I, you know, forget that perhaps not everyone in the world thinks about my little hobbyhorses all the time. He also helped me to see how to frame this project theoretically, and asked a couple of questions that MUST be answered in order to be responsible.

I don't think I need to revise that intro chapter drastically--it looks like it'll come down to some toggling, tightening, clarifying, adding a couple of paragraphs.

Most useful to my depleted and second-guessing self: they both think it's good work, smart work, persuasive. I've got something that has legs here.

Tonight, I'm mostly feeling blessed to have been befriended by such generous and capacious minds. I associate, for a living, with really interesting people whose brains excite me. How cool is that?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

One month to wait.

While you're all pondering about your leisure reading recommendations (keep those coming, y'all), WOULD YOU GET A LOAD OF THIS?!!!

First of all, check this out:

Sorta a supergroup going on here: Daryl Johnson moving all over on that bass, genius Brian Blade on drums, Trixie Whitley showing herself to have inherited her late father Chris's mindblowing pipes and phrasing, and Daniel Lanois at the helm of it all (here he plays minimalist piano). They're releasing an album at the beginning of November under the collective name Black Dub, and I have palpitations in my excitement.

And if there were any doubt left in anyone's mind, after all these years of my rhapsodizing about/ stalking him, that I would have Daniel Lanois's baby, I submit Exhibit A:

You know, couple years back, I bought Dan the Man a drink or two, and got a kiss in the bargain. If Neruda weren't so much the man of my dreams and love of my life, I'd be regretting not having worked that moment a little harder...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bathroom/bedtime reading bleg

I got home last night at 9pm to find that someone had left the last novel of the Stieg Larsson trilogy at my door. I said, "Well, I'll just read one chapter and then go running and head to bed." I finished the book a few hours later.

So now I need recommendations, people. What I'm looking for: decently written contemporary prose, absorptive plot. I tend to like spies and capers and thrillers and mysteries, and not so much relationshippy books. Stuff that will provide a diversion from the intensity of working on the book, but still with enough substance and style that I can look myself in the eye the next day. I've recently liked Mankell. Chabon. Eco. I laughed out loud many times reading _The Financial Lives of the Poets_. I love much Richard Russo, and read _Straight Man_ every year, as a ritual. I liked _The Rule of Four_ in a geeky way, and also _Dr. Strange and Jonathan Morrell_ (I think I'm getting that title wrong/backward, though.)

I've never read J.S. Foer, or D.F. Wallace, or J. Franzen, because they all seem to have a faint aura of pretentiousness around them, which I may be wrongheaded in perceiving. I'm willing to be talked into them if anyone wants to make a case.

Really, I just need to have something besides criticism to ease me into sleep. What have you got, people of the interworld?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In praise of difficulty.

The other night I was talking to Thing 1 about homework. He was lamenting the fact that he has a school project requiring research and synthesis, and was frustrated that doing that kind of work is hard, and wouldn't school be a lot better if it wasn't so hard? I talked to him about how I could relate to what he was feeling because of my book project. He's well aware that it has been a difficult process for me to work on this book, sometimes resulting in sleeplessness, depression, crying fits, manic exultation, distractedness, and all sorts of other responses in me. (Sweetly, he often asks in his prayers that he be able to finish his homework and that I'll be able to get work done on my book.)

Then he asked me, "So, why do you do it if it's so hard?" And my answer surprised him, though it will probably surprise no one who does this gig: "Because I love it."

"You mean, you love that you'll have a book?"

"No, I love the writing, the researching, the stuff I'm reading, the thoughts I'm thinking. I love the whole process. And I love what I'm learning, which is only happening because I have to figure out harder stuff than I knew I could."

And I do. I LOVE this work.

It's not just the subject matter and the life of the mind and all that stuff, I realized. It's also that it's hard. Some know that I have a sciencey background, and I used to teach human anatomy. I really, really love dissecting bodies. It's fascinating, and it's revelatory, and when I used to teach folks about that glorious machine, I loved turning them on to the elegance of it all. But it wasn't HARD, by which I mean, I didn't struggle through it--not the understanding of the body as a set of concepts or as a model of applied physics, not the names of things or their interconnectedness, not the piecework of dissection, not any of it. Which is why I ultimately decided that I couldn't do it for a living, couldn't teach that way for the rest of my life.

Those bouts I have with self-doubt, those days when I spend 8 hours and can't finish a paragraph, those gut-punch, nauseated moments when I realize that I have to scrap a month's work on a chapter and start over (that's a month's work on its CURRENT DRAFT, to say nothing of the months and months on the prior draft that had to be discarded)...they're why I love this shit. Because they mean that I'm not stopping at the answer that first occurs to me, the easiest and most familiar solution to a problem, the most well-trod, the most evident to dissection. They mean that I'm working through to ideas complex enough that they REQUIRE thinking, and rethinking, and rejecting, and rethinking again. There's something sublime about that possibility, and something profoundly humane.

Moria has written a couple of times about difficulty and how important it is to accept it, embrace it, and as usual, she arrives precociously at something I should have articulated for myself--out loud, that is, rather than intuitively--long ago:

"Difficulty is where work comes from; where thought is at its most active, where newness forms itself....I’d like to stake a claim for the difficult. Our culture —academe; beyond— so often rejects being-in-difficulty as bad, just as it rejects sadness or fear or anger as bad. What I want to hear more of: good, be defeated, be in difficulty, good, let this rough you up a bit and then fight back. Good."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

RBO Blah.

* This Donne chapter is not cooperating with me. I'm thinking of abandoning the pretense of "revision" and just saying "I'm writing a bonus chapter." Sheesh.

* I learned tonight that a random colleague whom I hardly know has been, authoritatively, filling folks in about my private life, about which he knows nothing. Not surprisingly, the info he's been broadcasting is wrong. I'm unaccountably enraged about this.

* When I go running later tonight, there will be no one waiting for a phone call to say I'm home safe, because Neruda's 8 time zones away. For that matter, I'd like to call him right now, but it's deep REM stage time where he is.

* After all that work, my house has gotten cluttered again. Should have just spent that cleaning time on the sisyphean task of writing.

I'm speechless.

Have you heard?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Can.

My mood is sinking again as I rev up the full-scale revision on the Donne chapter. Again, riddled with self-doubt, with skepticism about my argument, with exhaustion. Thus I introduce what I'm going to call the I Can Meme, self-congratulation in five eyebrow-raising parts. Though I am not one to participate habitually in memes, this one may serve to remind me, in these dark hours, that I do have SOME skillz....

1) I CAN read things at very great distance with my 20/10 vision. Which makes me unbeatable at the A-B-C car game.

2) I CAN, if pressed, gut a deer.

3) I CAN navigate anywhere, anytime, due to the weird GPS/compass in my brain; I can always point north, and I'm never lost.

4) I CAN read Irish. Used to speak it, but that skill is two decades rusty.

5) I CAN identify the make and model of most airplanes as they fly overhead.

Not sure whether these skillz can counterweight the burden of revision, but there you are. If you have found yourself surprised by any of these five, consider yourself tagged, in my comments section or elsewhere, and give us your own unusual can-do list....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Writing music

I have found that I work better when I'm listening to music. And though different kinds of music produce different tones when I'm writing poetry, the optimal accompaniment for the writing of this book has been classical music. And even there I must sub-qualify. I get most done, and in least time, when I'm listening to Baroque stuff. The Baroquer the better. Bach is very productive for me. Handel is good. Locatelli good. St. Colombe and Marais. Something about the involutedness of the form, the mathiness of it. It appeals to the close focus and the intricacy of writing scholarly stuff. If I listen to Vaughan-Williams or Rachmaninoff, I get too seduced. Beethoven's too wide-focus. I need the attentive studies, the tight work, and the play of the Baroque.

What about y'all? What music jump-starts your juices?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The rise and fall of "Spa September"

So I had this notion that I would spend September, having concluded my bookdraft, taking care of me a little bit, in that half-luxurious half-abstemious spa-resort type of way. A third of the way through September, let's review my progress, shall we?

PLAN: Sleep 8 hours every night.
REALITY: Ha! Kids started school and have to be out the door cruelly early. Also, my refrigerator is going on the fritz and I've been spending many middle-of-night hours researching possible replacements. Also, I got in bed the other evening saying to myself, "Ah, I'll just read a chapter of this second Larsson novel." I finished it several hours later.

PLAN: Eat only wholesome foods from my garden.
REALITY: Leftover supplies from camping include Skittles, which I can't resist, and I had to make cookies for a writing group meeting at my house, of which there were many leftovers.

PLAN: Yoga or meditation every day for 20 minutes.
REALITY: You'd think that 20 minutes wouldn't be too much to ask, wouldn't you? Wouldn't you?

PLAN: Clean every surface of house, and take unused stuff out to donate.
REALITY: This one I did, actually, over the last several days. Though my garden is a weedy mess.

PLAN: Bubble baths.
REALITY: Nope. Not least because I've been having drain issues--my ancient house has a drum trap that has permanently decided to go on strike, and if I bathe, it'll take two days for all that water to drain. I did, however, replumb my bathroom sink a couple of days ago, so it's draining nicely, at least.

PLAN: Splurge on full bottle of that fancy foaming face wash with lemongrass, a sampler size of which I lifted during one of my fancy hotel visits last year.
REALITY: $50 for 16oz? Are you kidding me?

PLAN: Get my sister to go buy me some new clothes.
REALITY: I'm on leave. What the hell do I care what I'm wearing?

PLAN: Wake refreshed each morning and leisurely begin revising on Donne chapter, to be finished by end of September.
REALITY: Confronted reality that Donne chapter needs major revising--burn down and start over type of revising. So I'll be banging my head against that. After the weekend. My new self-deadline of Oct 31 for that chapter will allow me a couple more days of not-quite-spa living, before Monday brings the structured schedule of fall in full force.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Let the revising begin.

(Bookdraft done.) But first, I'm taking the trailer, the Things, and the fishing poles and heading for higher altitudes. Labor Day, indeed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


A poisoned rat from some gross neighbor's backyard cleaning project showed up on my driveway tonight spasming and staggering, and running aggressively at the Things. I freaked. I tried to run it over with the car, but lacked fortitude. Tried again, and just couldn't do it. I called animal control, who responded that they really deal more with "domesticated animals." (Shoulda told them it was my pet rat.) Got transferred to Division of Wildlife, who said that rats were a little small for their notice. Hysterical. Screamed at the rat to get the hell out from behind my growboxes. Kicked the growboxes, kicked the house, screamed unintelligibly at the rat. Screamed at the kids to stay inside, away from the crazy rabid rat. Stalked it with a flashlight, throwing down trashtalk I couldn't possibly have made good. Called my dad, who drove 20 minutes to chop it up with a shovel. I'm a weak, weak, nonselfsufficient homeowner and a shame to the title of mountain girl.

My self-imposed deadline for finishing the bookdraft was August 31. I went on a long camping trip, I got the Things back to school, I had other professional responsibilities, I lost my freaking camera, I got sick and can't shake it. I didn't make the deadline. I don't even care. I'm going to bed.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Is that the goal? I mean, of academic book titles? I'm within a couple of days of finishing the intro, and I'm starting to look down the line, past the fall of revisions, to the sending out of the proposals. And I'm wondering: do I choose a title that accurately reflects the main argument of the book? Or do I go for a title that reflects the larger implications of the book, which get covered mostly in the concluding chapter, and though they are set up and gestured toward in the body chapters are not, really, the main argument of the book? Specific and potentially too-narrow-sounding? Or broad-flailingly aspirational?

I guess I'm wondering how much of a gap there is, in the proposal stage, between selling THE PROJECT and SELLING the project.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I just wrote to my Nemesis to see whether he'd be willing to read the intro when it's done (10 pages left!). I suddenly feel strangely like an adult.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What I'm doing for the last week or so, and time to come:

Hanging in the American Tropics with Neruda and the Things. Poolside, or on the beach. Reading, slowly, a Swedish mystery. When I'm not swimming. Brought 4 books and my chapter to work. Haven't even opened that bag.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Six of one, half-dozen of the....WAIT!

The other night, a friend who is not an academic asked me what I was so busy with this summer. Instead of my usual response, which is some colloquial version of I'm struggling to write this book, and I'm only about half-finished with a difficult chapter, without even thinking I said, "Well, I'm about twenty pages from finishing a book."

I was thunderstruck to hear it that way, to hear someone--myself!--say those words. Before that moment, I really hadn't considered this project in total at all. But understanding it in those terms has lifted any lingering sense of terror from me.

I still have lots of work before me, and am going to be buried in revision all fall. But I don't have to be terrified about writing a book. Know why?

Because I already have.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Keebler up, buttercup.

Yesterday, and for some days running beforehand, the book had me bothered, bewildered, discouraged, demoralized, exhausted, ulcerating, nauseated, insomniac, depressed, not-suicidal-but-I-can-see-it-from-here, resigned, up-giving.

I went for a long, long run last night and resolved to cut it the hell out.

This morning, I found the next movement. Only wrote about half a paragraph, but I found it. Time to stop wallowing in self-doubt and finish the damned thing. Bring it. I'm ready to get fancy on this shit. I've got my crackers on.

Friday, July 23, 2010

It totally counts.

Yesterday: all day until dusk in a windowless room poring over very old texts in very old languages.

Today: typing in the quotes I found, to the displeasure of Word. (Microsoft, that is. The quotes themselves would be, I imagine, quite pleasurable to The Word.)

Not writing, technically. But it does increase the word-count.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The bends

The hard thing about the summer schedule, as I've suggested before, is the on-again-off-again division of writing time. Three or four days in a row when the Things are with their dad, and I start to get a bit of momentum going. And then I have them for three or four days, during which I write nothing, and forget my mental place. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather be with them than productive. But the transition back to writing shows how much those muscles atrophy in just a few days.

I think I finished the first argumentative "movement" of the intro chapter today, though. The long historical sweep. I've left a lot of quotes approximated for now (because I have to go hang out with the Patrologiae Graecae and Latinae series before I can stand firm on their language), but that's all part of my new drafty mentality. I'm chill like that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"I suggest a new strategy, Artoo: let the Wookie win."

(Yes, I know my title reveals the scope and breadth of my geekiness.)

Okay. I'm trying something new. I have, in my life, never written a draft. That is, I've never sat down and said, "I'm just going to write and get stuff down, and then I'll revise it into shape later." And though things I have written have undergone revision, I haven't tended to write for the intermediate stage. I write for the end-stage. That's why it takes me eight or twelve or 24 or 120 months to write a poem. I like to think of it as the coal-nugget method of composition: focus, pressure, patience, and eventually something shiny comes out.

But that's not working for this intro, because I'm too skittery in my head. I am just not very good at big-picture thinking and broad theoretical synthesis. (I sympathize with Flavia here.) I have my strengths as a writer--I'm a crack philologist, frinstance--but this is not one of them. And I'm freaking myself the hell out.

So I'm going to surrender to the thing and allow myself not to conquer it on the first outing. I'm just going to get my ideas down, and try to get them in comprehensible form. And then, I may email my Nemesis to see if he'd be willing to respond to the intro.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beat up

Some days I feel like I've gone 10 rounds with the book. And lost.

By the way, I recognize that this blog has become my own personal debrief/ decompress after writing. A valve. Not good company, but necessary for me to step back into the world.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"I'm my own grandpa" or something

I made an unsuccessful stab last summer at the intro chapter, one that didn't go anywhere because it didn't have any framing material to direct its argument. Really, it's just a historical summary of the development of the theological point at the center of my book. But aimless.

Today, I approached the historical portion of my intro chapter overwhelmed at the scope of what I had to cover. Until I came upon that old abandoned document. And copied most of it in to the present intro.

Upside: major progress, thanks to a former version of myself.

Downside: the dizzy realization that I probably couldn't have produced that same document *this* summer. I've been concentrating on other aspects of the project for so long that the narrative I wrote last year is no longer readily accessible in my brain.

Upside: thank goodness I did write it when I had that information more immediately at hand.

Downside: total exhaustion. I can't think straight about the intricacies of this issue anymore, and need to think especially now that I've got a real argument for that aborted thing to support.

Upside: in the absence of a functional mind, I cooked lots of stuff to eat over the next days: ginger-cabbage slaw; purple bean and caper salad; beet and orange salad with mint; granola; smoked tomato marinara for the arugula pasta I will make tomorrow (yay for green noodles!). Hey, this kind of non-work don't run on fumes, buddy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My big scholarly handicap

Why can I not believe, when I begin an essay (or a chapter) that I will be able to finish it, and finish it having made a real argument, despite evidence that I have, somehow, managed to do just that in the past?

The summer writing schedule, with a few unproductive boy-days alternating with a few productive work-days, keeps me seesawing back and forth across the threshold of getting going every few days. It's getting old.

Friday, July 9, 2010

All the young dudes.

Last night I went to the opening show of my city's free summer concert series: pretty great show every Thursday night. The series started about twenty years ago, with about 500 folks on blankets with picnics in a lovely little downtown amphitheater. It was sponsored in part by the radio station where I worked at the time, and a large contingent of concert-goers were radio folks. And by the end of the summer, you knew all the other folks too. We all felt superiorly cool, and in on it, sitting there in the evening with our vegetarian sandwiches and fresh fruit and listening to Nanci Griffith.

They've moved venues, twice, to accommodate the increasing crowd. And last night I and 30000 of my closest friends crammed into a park to watch a band that, 20 years ago, would have drawn a much more, shall we say, modest crowd.* As I looked around in compressed wonder, I reflected that I don't mind at all the crush of people, nor the contact high, nor the communal sweat. And I downright enjoy living in a city that makes such an event happen every week all summer long--and I was especially charmed to see our mayor unlock and mount his bike after the concert to cycle home. But I do wonder how it is that EVERYONE UNDER THIRTY IN THIS CITY now seems to be cool? Do they circulate memos on Facebook? Because, you know, it deflates the value of cool. (She says petulantly.) And makes me feel completely culturally obsolete, a hanger-on, a has-been.** (She says more honestly.)


* I like this band, actually--they are not afraid of hitting the bass drum hard and often, and balance it with bright guitar shards. But I confess I went to see whether a certain guitarist might be onstage with these guys, having recorded an album with them a couple of years back. This sterling guitarist, from a seminal genius band dissolved now for over two decades, is a hero of mine, but he was not, alas, to be seen.

** To clarify: obsolete because I am so clearly no longer a part of the world that they inhabit, the kids, with their clove cigarettes and macrame shirts.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Someone take that guy's red pencil away!

I have a used copy of a scholarly book, one to which I turn frequently. The prior owner of my copy was an assiduous underliner. Every paragraph on every page has some underlining in it. And while I usually have no objection to other people's marginalia, this guy seems to have had a kind of underlining Tourette's. There is no reason to it. I will reproduce a bit of his handiwork, and ask you to imagine reading a whole book underlined in this way.

As early as the epic Beowulf one detects, however faintly and uncertainly, the specifically Christian function of historical symbol. The hero Beowulf becomes the incarnation of the tribe in its conflict with nature. The final victory of Beowulf over the monster symbolizes the absorption of the cosmic level of myth by the historical.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Kinetic memory

This week I excavated my old Atari (circa 1980 or 1981, at latest) from a box in the basement, and hooked it up to the television to amuse the Things. And amused they are, digging completely on Frogger, Space Invaders, Outlaw, Combat, River Raid. Not so much with the Q-bert for them, which mystifies me since I find it a fine game, as is Joust. And Galaga! WOOT!

I'm quite surprised at how effortless it is for me to play these games after something close to three decades. My body remembers every move, every strategy, knows the posture and the moments of joystick toggling as if it were all genetically determined. I hardly think about it, but even thoughtlessly I'm performing like a true 70s child on the new technology! (It should also be said that I haven't played a single video game SINCE the Atari--no XBox or Nintendo or whatever else is out there now for me. So the Atari is still, sorta, the new technology from where I stand.)

So why is it that after only a two-week hiatus (Neruda and I taught at a writers' conference, went on a vacation with the Things, and then the last weekend's festivities) I seem to have lost all my momentum on this book? All I've got left is the last chapter. The chapter in which I say what I'm going to say, and set it up. And I've BEEN WRITING as a habit and daily practice for two months. But after two weeks I don't seem to be able to remember what it feels like, even physically, to write a paragraph. Discouraging. I wonder if a publisher would be interested in an intro based on PacMan....

Friday, July 2, 2010

Leisure reading.

I'm doing it, a bit. Though I'm not sure I can tell any longer the difference between leisure reading and work reading, since my interpretive strategies remain constant.

Two thoughts:

1) I'm reading Henning Mankel, all his Wallender mysteries. I'm not a habitual mystery buff, but I can get into a good tale, especially of the broody Swedish variety. But I wonder whether the high incidence of mystery-fandom I've encountered in academia has to do with some kind of vicarious living: the detective is trying to figure something out, works doggedly, sometimes fails and doesn't understand what's at hand and must start again (that's more the broody Swedish variety), and then finally arrives at the long-sought-after solution/ resolution. Isn't that pretty much what I'm doing this summer? It's nice to see models of success, is all I'm saying.

2) I just finished Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, and I find myself utterly seduced by the surface of its language. I'm not actually sure whether I even perceived the plot, to be honest, because I was stuck on the dazzling language. I thought about stealing some of it, until I had to concede that he's really just operating in an entirely different language-family than my work will ever use. But golly, it's pretty to look at.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

George Herbert is my bitch.

Bring on the final chapter, baby.

Friday, June 18, 2010

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

I may not blog about it, but I do play. Is it so wrong that I have taken a backpack full of books and a laptop on 2 camping trips with the Things, a hiking and hot-tub-o-rific visit to my sister's, and a weeklong stay in the American Tropics with Neruda? Other people do go to sleep, you know, and that time counts. You may mock, but I've got three pages left on this chapter and I have played my tushie off, jack. And I've got the photos to prove it. Boo-yah.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sleight of brain

When I was working on my dissertation, I found that I could not easily turn off the dissertating mode when I left the computer, and it was draining my energy and fuzzying my focus. So I started a kind of strange therapy in the evenings, after the diss work was done: translation. For me, translation distracts the brain, provides it with the illusion that it's not WORKING--because, you know, what to say is already all figured out for you, and you're left just playing--with language, with the pleasurable surfaces and sounds and echoes of words themselves. It's almost like a magic trick for me: make the brain look OVER THERE, and it won't realize what's going on here, and it doesn't get so fatigued. Translation provides, perhaps surprisingly, a kind of respite. A kind of quiet.

So I've re-started a translation project that got back-burnered for a while, during the crush of teaching and finishing some other tasks that needed attention. And I have to say, it's so much fun. It's like doing a crossword puzzle, a little. Except that it has the added benefit of getting me (re-)excited about the delightful, unexpected, vertiginous, corporeal textures of words, both as a writer and as a reader.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If I slept with a laptop on my belly, the damned thing'd be done by now.

Every night these days: writing dreams, most of them dramatizing a crucial point of discovery which I am furiously typing to record when I wake....

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In which I am indignant that no one has thought of this before, and speak a bit too overtly about my subject

Because here's the thing about EQUESTRIAN TRAINING: it seems ever so to depart from the kinds of things that Herbert scholars tend to obsess about. Indeed, it seems in its very existence a big stuck-out tongue to the kinds of issues that tend to get attached to the pious minister of Bemerton. But the reason I like Herbert, and the period generally, is that they're all freaked the hell out in exactly the same ways we are, though the archaic accent may throw us PoMos off. I read Donne, and Crashaw, and all the young dudes of the 17C precisely because they resonate with me in ways that the mannered 18C doesn't, in the way the we-feel-existentially-coherent-enough-for-narrative 18-19Cs don't. So why shouldn't EQUESTRIAN TRAINING, which articulates so well the way poetry responds to these kinds of freakouts, illuminate Herbert? To suggest radical difference between Herbert and, say, me (as a 21C writer), is to be reductive and insulting to both Herbert and me, right? Right?

Friday, May 21, 2010


Which is what my sibs and I call a tired rear-end. I think I need to buy a new office chair. My current one is an old (= my parents', when they married) dining chair. Its padding has worn a little thin. At the end of the day I think "new chair," but then forget until the end of the next day. And then I think "not enough money-flow," and "I'll reward myself with a new chair when I finish the book." And yes, I can see the flaw in that plan.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I am quirky, hear me roar!

My first mentor was a formidable figure in the world of American poetry. He was supportive and invested in me at a time when I had no conception that one could even pursue a career in writing (remember that I converted from the sciences, largely due to my first mentor's encouragement). I was awed and honored to have his support, and, not surprisingly, I produced lots of poems that bore more than passing resemblance to the work he did, meditating on the issues that haunted him. Hero-worship, yes, but also the oldest-child Pleaser in me.

When I was finishing my first graduate degree, I was fortunate to be taken under the wing of a very, very smart older scholar and poet, a person who has, literally, written the book on lyric poetry, and many fine works of poetry and criticism alike, for which he was justly decorated. I took classes with him and learned much, but he also allowed me to do a kind of private poetry tutorial with him once a week--like a workshop, but smarter and more brutal in tone. After I'd been meeting with him like this for about 8 months, he said to me, gruffly but not unkindly, "Ms. RG, you are lively, and loud, and sort of a geek. You are interested in strange scientific phenomena. You are playful. Why do you write the meditative poems of a 65-year-old man obsessed with death? Where is your voice?"

The question took me aback. And, though it took a year for me to process it and comprehend what he was saying, his insight changed my style as a writer, wholly. And, I think, for the better--if only because the stuff I produce is recognizably me.

That's sort of what happened to me when our department arranged that works-in-progress workshop with the visiting hotshot not of my field last year. And it's taken me, again, over a year to process it fully. (I'm a muller.) But in the last week, as I've really found my rhythm in this Herbert chapter, I've understood it anew. It's not just a matter of finding what I'm interested in. It is, in fact, finding the contribution that ONLY I can make to this long conversation--not because I'm this dazzlingly original thinker, but because I have tools in my little pouch that folks like, say, SF and RS and MS and even JS and HA and all those other supersmart scholars, don't have. I'm not talking about intellectual skills, but my own little hobbyhorses. RW is a good reader, but he just hasn't done enough (to rescue some measure of discretion and exploit the last sentence's metaphoric potential) EQUESTRIAN TRAINING to find this cool thing I'm arging in Herbert.

I think we sometimes forget, as scholars in the humanities, that it's our humanity that makes our contribution to the conversation interesting.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Once the spigot opens....

I am on record in various places (including here) noting that, for me, writing poetry and writing critical prose are not distinct activities, but rather the same activity expressed in two formally different modes. So it shouldn't be a surprise that, in the last couple of weeks, as I've been able to focus on the scholarly stuff full-bore, the poetry-production side of things so long dormant (put to sleep, no doubt, by class prep and all those bad student poems I have to respond to) is roused as by a jacked-up rooster. I've finished 3 very, very slowly percolating poems in the last two weeks, which for me is an astonishing rate of composition. I'm spending all of every day my kids aren't with me thinking about how language works. It's only natural that I should, you know, think about how language works, even when the computer is turned off for the day.

Friday, May 14, 2010

(Just Like) Starting Over

Ah, Herbert chapter. Our life together, albeit of relatively short duration, has taken a turn. We have grown. We have grown.

I know about myself that my tendency is to start with an idea and then write my way into an argument. Which in practical terms means that I have to adjust my focus based on what new, clearer, argument emerges in the process of writing an essay. But I have to say that I always hate that part, because it usually means that I have to scrap what I've been writing and begin again, this time with an eye toward the argument that actually developed (as opposed to the vague idea I may have thought I was pursuing). It's part of the process, I know. But it's always disheartening to have to scrap 10 pages or so and begin again. It makes the time one's put in so far feel futile, pointless. (Though I know that's not the case--the clearer argument COMES from its long, and now invisible, preamble.)

A-ha! I FOUND you, you wily little bastard. I mean, my argument.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Economy of Mind

Well, two paragraphs today, despite the fact that last night's sleep was marred by academic insomnia: you know, when you can't sleep for worrying about 1) the project at hand, 2) the immediate point you're trying to make, and 3) your ability to do it. You lie there trying to convince yourself that sleep is the best ingredient for productivity, but you are harrowed by self-doubt, exacerbated by the news that your esteemed nemesis's book is under contract.

And by "you," I mean "me," obviously.

I woke this morning thinking how ridiculous it is that I should have felt so harrowed. It's not as if the currency of ideas in society moved the way the film Wall Street imagines money: that I only win if someone else loses, and vice versa. Ideas are infinitely generated, and generative. (Though that may now also be the case with money, according to some derivatives traders.) It's really NOT the case that my nemesis's book means I don't get one. It's ACTUALLY TRUE that the presence of my nemesis's book helps me, by continuing to stir up the conversation I so wish to enter into, by keeping it relevant.

I deal with this notion of a finite Economy of Mind a lot in the Po-Biz. There are, let's just say, five book prizes. If Magical Poetry Queen wins one (or, more accurately, if Neruda wins one), then, the logic goes, that's one less that I can win. I'm not sure whether I buy into that sophistry in the Po-Biz--I do know it breeds snark--but I know I don't buy into it in the field of scholarly writing. And I also know that the nemesis's book contract is NOT my loss, either in terms of the Economy of Mind or in real terms, not least because his press was not one I was interested in working with. I truly do wish him well, and want his good work to get read, and hope that his book demonstrates to all publishers everywhere the urgency of the questions at the heart of his/ my respective investigations.

I think my insomnia can be chalked up to my own sense of my timetable. I wanted to be done with this book well before now. And then I had a few years when life intervened, in various forms. And now, I simply can't mother and teach and produce at high rates all at the same time (which is why this leave is so vital for me--carving out as it does time DURING MY KIDS' SCHOOL YEAR, when many hours of every day are mine alone). But suddenly I am aware that the person with whom I had been moving more or less in tandem has gone on without me, and it makes me feel like I've lost a race--not with my nemesis, but with my own check-list, with my own potential.

Bleargh. Whatever. I've done two paragraphs today, and they're chunky enough. Tonight I get to make dinner for a friend (couscous with caramelized onions, braised Moroccan carrots, and fava bean sauce; wilted dandelion greens with roasted garlic vinaigrette). Tomorrow begins the Mother's Day Weekend Spectacular, with all its attendant cuteness. I'll get the book done this year, and it will certainly be better, smarter, more capacious and less naive--richer, in terms of the mind's economy--than it would have been if I'd finished it a couple of years ago.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My nemesis.

I don't think I've mentioned my nemesis before. It seems impolitic and catty to admit to having a nemesis, and only announces my own insecurity, but there I am. My nemesis is racing to write a book on a topic very similar to, but not identical to, the book I am racing to write. He has published on many of the same figures I have published on. He and I are interested in a lot of the same historical/ religious/ representational issues. The distinctions between his arguments and mine are sometimes very subtle, and I fear that he may get his into print before I do. This terrifies and angers small and precarious me, because I don't want my project to get pre-empted by his, or to be seen in comparison as theoretically clumsy, or less elegant in its readings.

But I have to say that as a nemesis, my nemesis sucks. He seems to have no earthly idea of what it means to be a nemesis. Has he never read a comic book? Never seen Othello? Avoided the Star Trek franchise and films by M. Night Shyamalan? Doesn't he follow the NBA playoffs?

First off, he does not behave, at least in public, much like a nemesis. I've crossed paths with him at a couple of conferences, and he is lively and engaged. I've even presented on a panel with him once. Could he not feel the antagonist-protagonist electricity between us? He was--or, cagily, seemed to be peaceably unaware of it. In fact, he performed the role of Eager Colleague with admirable aplomb, and has since made friendly contact by email in which he's happily acknowledged our mutual interests. The bastard.

Secondly, I admire his work. He's very, very smart, which is what one would expect of a nemesis, obviously. He is simply far more theoretically sophisticated than I am (though I have him beat on philological stuff). And he acts for all the world as if he is using his powers for good--that is, making really cool and insightful arguments, some of which I wish I had made. He is, I suspect, doing scholarship to which I am sympathetic in order to get me to relax my guard against him, so that I will be lulled into interest and persuasion and a lack of desire to nitpick, and then, cruel and sudden, WHAMO!

Finally, and clearly as a result of his nefarious maneuvers, I find myself really wishing he and I were better friends, because I could use his perspective as I struggle through this Herbert chapter. He and I both disagree with two influential studies on this one issue in Herbert, but for different reasons. And I'd like to be able to talk the matter through with someone who is as steeped in this problem, day and night, for better or for worse, as I am. The worst thing about my nemesis, it's starting to appear, is how much I feel I need him, and how little I feel I can communicate that to him.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Grindstone, end week 1.

My goal is modest: write a paragraph a day. That's the goal I set while dissing with an infant, and it worked for me. A paragraph, after all, is usually close to a page, and it requires a good few hours of work to produce. This model allows me to make measurable progress every day without lapsing into self-hatred for not workaholically accomplishing everything in two weeks. And it keeps me from brain-exhaustion, from working beyond sharpness. And if some days I get on a roll and do more than one paragraph, then I'm ahead.

But as I begin this last body-chapter (that is, I have still to write the intro chapter, but that must come last), I am confronted by how little I know about Herbert and the field of Herbert studies. I mean, I have spent so many years working on my other guys that I know the field of their criticism pretty well. But I've only recently realized that Herbert does, after all, play into the topic of this book, and merits a chapter. And I'm clearly a decade behind on him compared with those other guys. So I am writing that paragraph a day--which means that I'm nearing 4 pages now--but these paragraphs are very hard-won. They do all the contextualizing for the chapter, and that's requiring me to read a pile of material very quickly. I'm feeling unprepared and daunted, and not at all authoritative enough to write this chapter.

But then, I don't have to write a chapter. Just one paragraph. And then, the next day, another.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Random bullets of WOOT!

* Rome: not terrible after all. (Though, honestly. That bus/metro/train system: ridiculous.) Things looked way up after Thing 1 and I were taken in by the elderly Italian aunt of a friend of a friend. Still my least favorite part of our Italian itinerary, but all in all, an excellent adventure.

* Thing 1 has retained every detail about art, history, architecture, literature, or religion that he learned along the way.

* Machine laundered underwear! And no international roaming on my cell phone!

* And my parents came by my house during my long absence and mopped my floors and mowed my lawn.

* And I heard from my translation's publisher, which is based in London, saying they will release the American edition next year, with its recognizable signature jacket design. That will be surreal.

* The wind tonight! My golly! And snow for the next two nights!

* My sister and her husband and baby boy have moved back into my state, as of yesterday. Into one of the very cool and rock-filled parts, what's more. She will be a park ranger. He will run a theatrical organization. I will have a cool place to weekend. With a hot tub.

* Last class's grades in the can as of tonight: this academic year officially history.

* Accordingly,from tomorrow morning until beyond the horizon: VIVA LEAVE! Which is to say: all book-writing, all the time.

* Except, of course, for the new little beets, and peas, and artichokes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Rome report

Okay. I loved Venice. Loved Ravenna. Loved Florence. And all for different reasons: Venice's stateliness. Ravenna's small-town charm and mind-blowing mosaics. Florence's beauty and Art-History-Textbook nonchalance.

Rome? I freaking hate it.

Hate Rome.

Hate it.

Why? Is it the completely incomprehensible, where's-your-secret-decoder-ring public transportation system? Is it the city's hostility to pedestrians? Its general rudeness to those of us whose knowledge of the local dialect is a couple of millennia old? Its overrun antiquities? Its fake gladiators hoping for a pose so that they can charge you for the picture? General lack of internet accessibility? The general atmosphere of overkill and plunder at St. Peter's?

Yes, and yes, and yes. I hate it.

And I'm trapped here for five extra days because of a volcano.

And Neruda will live here for all of next year. And frankly, I'd rather visit him in the fifth circle of the Inferno than come back here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The kid's got funny bones.

Today, Thing 1 endured an extended disquisition on Lateran eucharistic theology (not his native interpretation of that ritual), prompted by a display of ornate ciboria at the Bargello Museum. Tonight as we waited to place our dinner order, the table next to us was given a basket of crusty bread and a small jug of house red. He grinned at me and said: "Dinner is served. It's a miracle!"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On academic celebrity

Leaving Venice this morning, I happened to be on the vaporetto with a certain scholar of early modern English literature who has achieved, if anyone in this field has, a kind of superstar, even celebrity, status. In 20 minutes on the vaporetto, he was approached by three fans/well-wishers, who wanted to compliment him and engage him in some point of discussion. He was attended by his wife, who went to my alma mater just ahead of me, and whose status as an academic object of fascination/ fetishization owes much, I think, to refracted celebrity. In any case, I was amused to watch this power couple work the boat, and to think what a small sphere it is, really, in which we signify, insofar as we signify. And to remember how much it seems to matter, at times, to me--to all of us.

Having said that, it is always a small thrill to me to go to a panel and be flanked in the audience chairs by folks who are, to me, household names. Grande dames and great men of three or four decades ago, still jumping into the fray. That moves me.

Finally, Venice was a great idea for a conference site. If you didn't care if anyone attended any panels. I don't think I was in a room with more than 8 people the whole time. And I myself only attended 3 panels. One of which I chaired.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

RSA blogging

To summarize the significant points of the last three days:

1) Sat next to a prominent senior scholar in my field at the RSA business lunch. I had met hir before, and thought s/he was a total condescending and snooty asshat. But at lunch, s/he was lovely, charming, and thrilled to make the acquaintance of Thing 1, or managed a good facsimile of thrill. So s/he gets off my list of problematic scholars.

2) Later that day, s/he gave a paper that made much the same argument as an article I've published, and announced that the paper from this conference is from hir next book, to be released in the next year. I may drop hir a note saying, "Enjoyed your talk. You might find this interesting too...." Or something.

3) Thing 1 is punchy at 11pm, which he's seen every night so far in Italy. And unexpectedly fixated on the bidet. And the penises in Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese. (Really, Thing 1? Didn't I raise you better than to giggle at art-penises?)

4) The Basilica de San Marco: HOLY CRAP. I'm dumbstruck.

5) Yes, the food really is that good.

6) I've run into my colleague more times on back streets of Venice than I ever have in our school hallways.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Frontloading National Poetry Month

In years past, this blog has devoted April to providing a sort of anthology of poems I like. since I'm going to be away for most of April, that's not going to happen this year. Instead, I'm going to make two very loud recommendations here at the start of the month, with the hope that anyone who crosses paths with this blog during April will be inspired to submerse hirself in good reading.

So I say to thee: If you have not read Paradise Lost, or haven't read it since you were an undergrad 25 years ago, this is the time to lose yourself in what is perhaps the most staggering piece of poetry in English.

And if you're one of those people who reads around in old stuff for a living and/or is continually reading Milton, then you should read Louise Gluck's The Wild Iris, ideally cover-to-cover in one sitting.

They're more or less the same text, anyway--just written 300 years apart.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Grilled polenta cakes, cardoon puree, caramelized onions and carrots. In cute little stacks like napoleons.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Blanched asparagus with meyer lemon juice and parmesan.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Curried butternut squash bisque.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Panang curry noodles with tofu and bok choy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Five onion soup, roasted baby artichokes with meyer lemon butter.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


At the end of this, the first day since my last post on which I have not been grading, I am reminded of this essay by David Sedaris in The New Yorker last year. He meets a woman who suggests to him that each person's life is a stove:

This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

So, I think tonight, before my next batch of papers comes in tomorrow, which burners do I crank down?

Duh. Obviously, not the work or the family burners.

I don't think I entirely shut off the other two, but they're certainly at a lower flame. I talk with friends on the phone (and a husband, too!), and hang out with them once every couple of weeks (or, with said husband, every couple of months). So that burner's not entirely cut off. And the health...well, I don't sleep much, but I do run every night, and I do not compromise on the food. There is simply no reason to eat crap food. So I guess that burner's still on, too, if at diminished capacity.

But that counts, right? A small fire can still boil a pot of beans, as they say. And so, in lieu of real blogging, I'll celebrate my reduced but valiant little imaginary health burner by nodding for a few days to what's happening on my real burner. Because I'm feeling the need to celebrate those bits of my life that aren't on full rolling boil every day.


Last night: celery root and spring onion vindaloo
Tonight: Braised escarole with roasted red peppers, capers, and almonds


And for those who like to play along: which imaginary burners have you turned down or off?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I'm a little tired of it, frankly. Our department has a very strong culture of mutual support and friendliness and, yes, collegiality, whatever that means. Lots of polite. But it becomes more clear to me all the time that the politeness is a veneer over the top of real backstabbing, sly perpetuations of professionally and personally unproductive [intellectual, pedagogical, generational, ethical] divides, and the most backhanded compliments. I don't think I knew, when I hired on six years ago, that I would need to be very, very circumspect in what I said and to whom. In many ways, I wish I were back in the department where I did my PhD, which was openly rancorous and territorial, but where you felt you actually knew where you stood with everyone. The rancor was, oddly, a kind of respect. I don't pussyfoot very well, and I find myself getting weary of the cheerful treachery of my cheshire coworkers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Back into therapy.

I've just restarted a program of therapy that has worked wonders during my two significant past episodes of deep doldrums (I may be speaking euphemistically here). It's simple, and inexpensive, and takes a long time, and invariably gets me back on top of things.

What is this miracle cure, you ask?

It is to listen to the entire back-catalogue of songs by this one particular band. (It's a LOT of songs.) Even better if this medicine is administered while running.

It's really remarkable how my mood improves on this program. And remarkable how I respond so fully--corporeally, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally--to musical stimulus.

I know I'm not the only one whose psychic stability is keyed to current listening. Anyone out there have prescriptions for musical mood-enhancers? My question is not merely academic: I'm always in the market for new material.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Good news, bad news.

Neruda won another big prize. He'll be spending an entire year, starting in September, in a foreign land. As if the cross-country thing weren't far enough.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

There must be a way

to deliver all the skills students need without saddling myself with all this stinking grading. I've got it: Scantron. What cannot be assessed by Scantron is not worth knowing, right?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Writing group guilt.

I belong to this writing group that meets one Sunday a month, with the host-house rotating among the group. It used to be mostly informal poetry workshop with a little snack on the side, but it's morphed (happily!) into a festival of food with some poetry tacked on at the end. It's a great time, with a small bunch of fantastic, funny, insightful, grounded women.

Here's the thing: because I have the Things on Sundays, I can't really go very often. Maybe twice a year. And I can't really host it at my house, because the Things aren't quite old enough to entertain themselves for the 3+ hours that it ends up running, what with food and gossip and laughter and poems and all.

I was very excited to get to go hang out with the group today, but I could only stay for the first 1.5 hours because I had to pick up the Things. Which meant that I got to eat wonderful food. And, because I had to leave early, they had me workshop my poem first. So I ate, I got my poem responded to, I stayed 10 minutes after that, and then ran off. Essentially, I enjoyed all the perks of being there, and then turned around and gave no feedback to the poems of 3 different women. And I am not on the docket to take on the hosting duties myself.

I fear that I have become, because of my schedule and responsibilities, a drain, a mooch, and an unprofitable member of the group. I don't want to go again feeling like I'm all take and no give. So I have two options, as I see it: until my situation changes, I stop going altogether, or when I do manage to go I should take no poem of my own so that at the very least I'm on the giving end, for what little it's worth (nothing compared to a great meal!), of the feedback.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


What was today's activity, RG?

Thank you for asking. I freestyled 30K up at the nordic course, in a little over 2 hours. Not Olympic time, I know, but not half bad.

Did that constitute a satisfying and successful day?

It was good, in fact. But I may have to complain about having paid $11 for a half-day pass on a trail that hadn't been groomed since this week's snow fell.

What fuel propelled you today?

INXS's Kick, and REM's Life's Rich Pageant. Perhaps I was trying to convince my body that it was in high school; but more likely I tend to crave INXS on that course, owing to one of its loops being called "New Sensation."

Did the part that always kicks your ass kick your ass today?

Yes--it's 3ishK of pretty solid uphill grade with no relief at all. I start out with focus and determination and in short order I'm making deals with myself: "You can have a drink of water if you ski up to that tree up there." "You can eat a Clif Bar if you make it halfway up."

And when you get to the top of that long uphill stretch, how do you feel? Exhilarated? Triumphant? Tired?

It barely registers, because after a very welcome undulation through the forest, there's still another 5K to go to the top.

And when you finish that climb?

I'm ready to go again, baby.

Did you see the moose?

Alas, no. I only see moose when the Things are with me. Moose must love the smell of kids. I know I do.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dear 2010,

No offense, but you sorta suck so far. I guess it should have been an omen to me when you started with a mystifying and unprecedented blowout with the Things' dad. But you just seem to get worse and worse. Thing 2 in surgery. Thing 2 developing weird postsurgical vomiting. (That seems to be past us now, though I'm reluctant to thank YOU for that, 2010.) Meager, pathetic, halfhearted snow, which means lackluster or nonexistent skiing. Three classes to teach. And that research funding I got from my institution to support post-RSA travel in Italy I had to give back because the Vatican Library is closed to visitors this spring, so I have to come up with that extendo-trip out of my own wallet, already kitchen-remodeled into scrawn. And speaking of funding: not one but TWO fellowships now officially not received, which means that I tapped into that always-paltry-seeming store of recommendation-letter-writing goodwill for NOTHING, in two different fields. And these failures become even more defining when we acknowledge that, as my Sister From Another Mister pointed out to me recently, I have no life except for kids and work. And on top of all this I swear I'm fifteen pounds up since last year, can't write a damn thing to save my life, and Thing 1 might need therapy for his high-stressed tendencies (don't know where he gets those from, honestly). 2010, weren't you supposed to be about world peace? I saw your movie. "Use them in peace," Rod Scheider's voiceover declared at the film's end. How 'bout you practice what you preach.

Ever your


Friday, January 29, 2010

Well, that settles that, then.

Found out yesterday that I did not receive that fellowship I applied for some months ago, which would have extended my one-term leave this fall to a full academic year. I will here forgo the threnodizing my career, and the desolate lamenting about how it's really the only fellowship that I would ever able to apply for because of my family circumstances (I'm not leaving my kids for 9 months to be in residence somewhere else researching and writing), and the bitching about how much I hate the way this profession breeds in us self-contempt and insecurity and encourages us to train up new generations of scholars in self-contempt and insecurity. Instead, I will simply celebrate that not getting that fellowship made turning down my esteemed colleague's invitation much, much easier. How liberating to say No, and to know with absolute clarity that it was the responsible answer and not a cop-out. Back to the mantra: NOTHING BUT THE BOOK.

(After the term ends, that is.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hell's bells.

As I may have mentioned, I have finished clearing my calendar, sweeping the desk clear, wiping the slate clean, swabbing the decks, and I am preparing myself to focus on NOTHING BUT THE BOOK from the moment this term ends until I go back to teaching after my leave.

But. I got this email tonight from an acquaintance of mine, a truly lovely person and also an eminent scholar in my field, who has been asked by a prestigious UP to put together a collection of essays on Shakespeare. He's asked me if I'd like to write on either "The Rape of Lucrece" or "Venus and Adonis" for the volume.

On one hand: Obviously, VERY FLATTERED.

On the other hand: NOTHING BUT THE BOOK--that's the mantra! And I really don't need anything to further stretch my already threadbare schedule as I commit myself to finishing, finally, this project.

But on the first hand: Don't want to turn down such a gesture from someone so respected by me and others, or, more crassly, to turn down an opportunity to have a good publication.

But on the other hand: I'm not actually a Shakespearean. Have never so much as presented a conference paper on him (though I wrote a short paper on Henry 4 in grad school--but that hardly counts, as it had, I believe, not a single reference to a critic).

But on the first hand again: I AM pretty solid about poetry and how it works, and perhaps I could get away with not being a Shakespeare pro by being a poetics pro.

But on the other hand, really loudly: Of all the works of Shakespeare, I outright DETEST three pieces. One of them is R&J. The other two are Lucrece and V&A.

Shit. I do not enjoy saying no, I do not enjoy not being a reliable go-to girl, I do not enjoy turning down a chance for well-placed publication with what will surely be illustrious company in a high-profile volume. But I wonder if it will take everything I've got to produce this paper to my satisfaction, and suck up my leave.

Anyone out with some distance from my drama have dispassionate thoughts on the matter?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

They still speak Latin there, right?

So I'm doing the RSA thing in Venice. And after RSA, I and Thing 1 are going to make our way casually down to Rome, exploring as we go. Couple nights in Ravenna at the start of the journey, couple nights in Rome at the end. But I've never been to Italy before, and I don't know a) if it's going to be easy to public-transportation my way through the joint with a 9-year-old in tow, esp with no functional knowledge of Italian, or b) what we ought to see between Ravenna and Rome. Do we linger in the hills around Perugia? Do we spend long days museuming in Florence? Do we trek south of Rome to see Pompei? Thing 1 is interested in each of these things, and can't make up his mind. I don't know what's vital and what's lame touristy. You jet-setting sophisticates out there, how do we best fill up a week between Ravenna and a flight out of Rome?

(And any inexpensive lodging tips will also be appreciated.)

(Also, obviously, food tips.)

HELP! April approaches, cruelly as ever.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Act V

Hey, all you Ren folks: Have you heard this?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

39 and feeling fine.

No baby pictures digitized, to my knowledge, but let it never be said that I don't know from socks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Let us now praise winter veggies.

Two nights ago: Creamy celeriac soup, and romanesco sauteed with browned butter and parmesan.
Last night: Pasta with rapini, garlic, pine nuts, olives, and raisins.
Today: Chioggia beet and mandarin salad, and chickory soup.
Tomorrow: Rutabaga gnocchi in wild mushroom broth.

I love my CSA.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New semester begins today?!

If I could find a decent stock photo of a deer in the headlights out there, I'd paste it here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

RG's third annual year-end yard sale: An essay in numbers

2: number of happy Things in my life, to my endless astonishment, relief, and gratitude

1: number of doting, understanding, forgiving, challenging, funny, knee-knockingly sexy husbands I have

3: number of dogs I've married into

1991: miles away from me said husband/ dogs live

2: number of wheels on which both Things can now bike

2: number of adenoids currently possessed by Thing 2

0: number of adenoids Thing 2 will have 3 weeks from now

5: scholarly papers delivered in 2009

7: poetry readings in other states

2, 3, and 4: ranks of three of the hotels in which I've been put up this year during those travels, in order of poshest of my life

1: books published in 2009

1: articles published in 2009

350: lines of translation from Homer published in 2009

16: poems published in 2009

4: poems reprinted in 2009

10: technically, number of pages I've written on my scholarly monograph this year, but

35: number, actually, of pages toward the monograph, since talks I've delivered feed directly into the project, and

2: number of times I've written up good solid abstract/ annotated table of contents of the thing, which has been an incredibly useful exercise and has helped me to conceive of the project in global terms, to identify the most persuasive throughlines, and to discover the necessary work for the introductory chapter

2: chapters left to write

1: semester of confirmed leave in my future, with fingers crossed for fellowship support for two

99.8: percent completed in my endless Upload All the CDs to iTunes project

6: camping trips this year

2: deaths of people close to me

1: times I became an aunt in 2009

98: percent of days I feel generally sunny about the universe, despite the catharto-therapeutic gloom of this blog, in which I too often exorcise (and exercise) my frustrations

39: my age next week, which appeals to the math geek in me. 39 years I've been alive, though I feel the same as I did when I was 18. This year seems to be starting off with renewed self-confidence and equanimity. I feel square, in the good, stable way, in addition to numerically. Happy, happy, all!

MLA wrap

Honestly, didn't do much or see many folks. I had intended to finish my paper on the plane, and when I realized, after an unusually breezy progress through security, that I'd left my laptop at home, I lost the 4-5 hours of worktime I'd budgeted to collect my thoughts and my shit. Happily, a colleague in Philadelphia lent me his laptop, and after interviewing candidates Tuesday morning and meeting with a publisher Tuesday early afternoon, I really just worked on the paper in my hotel room until just before my panel, breaking only to go running and to eat dinner (see last post). Saw a few lovely peeps in quick passing, and got a chance to chug-a-lug some tea with one friend, and ran for the airport right after my panel. All in all, a whirlwind MLA. Three great side-benefits: 1) wrote (frantically) a paper with which I'm pretty happy, and which makes me much more confident and energized about the book project; 2) have a possible new project in development with a colleague based on some post-panel conversation (on hold, obviously, until the Book That Ate RG is done); 3) in the brain ecstasy that is last-minute paper-writing, finished a poem I've been working on for three years.