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.


Lisa B. said...

There you go. That last bit--a better book for the life that has intervened, the life, the thinking, the engagement with the ideas of others, including those of the nemesis--that's good stuff.

If only I could bring myself to believe it. About myself.

Flavia said...

As you know, I used to have a nemesis. I kinda miss her--even though our relationship is now (obviously!) better than it was.

Which is to say, I think the nemesis fills a deep, necessary role.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you have articulated all of this so well. The phrase "academic insomnia" = sheer perfection.

Re: nemesisian thoughts, when I feel like that, I have to lean on Don Quixote's "Comparisons are odious." And for some reason, that makes me feel better.