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.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Just the endorphins talking. In prospectus.

My brother invited me (is that the right verb?) to do a triathlon with him in January.

On one hand, I'm considering it, because it's a WINTER triathlon: running, biking, XCskiing. I'm all over 1 and 3 anyway.

On the other hand, as even occasional visitors to this blog may know, I lack that thing called "free time." Sure, I run every day, pretty far, and I XCski as soon as the snow flies. But I haven't biked since high school middle school. And I'd have to step up my XCskiing to hit a competitive speed. And, you know, if I'm not in it to compete, why bother? I can run and ski for pleasure every day.

Am I actually considering it? Or is it just my challenge-gland firing up?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Things I love

1) Andre Braugher.

2) Running now that nights are cooler (40F is a lot more energetic than 90F at 11pm).

3) My approved leave for next academic year.

4) Everyone in the world. Yes, everyone.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hey Medievalists! And also Ren peeps!

The scholarly organization of which I am an officer is updating its conference organizers' handbook, and I want to include in the revision a list of major Medieval and Renaissance listservs, to ensure that we can get our CFPs out there to as many eyes as possible. I've got the UPenn site, obviously, and then also FICINO, Milton-L, Shaksper, COURT, ROLAND, and AAIS. Any others I don't know about?

Monday, October 5, 2009

A question of ethics. Or politics.

I'd like to apply for this fellowship, which would provide funds and a humanities center community to support the completion of my book. Not surprisingly, the application asks for letters of recommendation from scholars in the applicant's field, scholars who know something about the project and can speak to its merits.

I have a couple of scholars in mind, folks I know who would--I think--be willing to help out. (GOOD GRIEF but I do hate asking folks for letters!)

There's one particular scholar I'd love to ask. S/he's a big shot in my field, wildly influential. But we've never met, at least not formally. I happen to know that this scholar served as an outsider reviewer on my tenure file. And I happen to know that s/he wrote an enthusiastically and excitedly positive review of my file, praising sections from my book project as making significant contributions to the field. Obviously, I'd love to have this person write on behalf of me and my project in this application.

But here's the tricky part: the tenure-review process at my institution is supposed to be confidential. I'm not supposed to know that this person has responded so positively and so particularly to my project.


The ethics question: Can I ask hir?

The politics question: If yes, how?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Women.

When I was younger, and really ever since I'm conscious of having been socially participatory in any way, my friends were guys. Guy friends in elementary school, because I liked to play kickball rather than imagination games during recess. Guy friends in high school,--friends who still matter to me, in truth, and with whom I'm still in touch, but in that "we're guys; we don't need to open up on the phone every day" way. Guy friends in college: my playmates for much high-altitude hijinks. And buddies in graduate school, one of whom I recently married.

At some point along the way, someone wise (who, incidentally, reads this blog) said to me, "Wait and see. When you're in your thirties, women will be the people who matter most to you." I scoffed at her. (Internally. I'm not rude.) I couldn't imagine ever developing a deep and trusting friendship with a woman. Women know, so complex, and subtle, and uninterpretable. And catty. And petty. And all the stereotypes that society attaches to the feminine.

Well, bless her, she was right. Beyond my mom and my aunt and my sister, with whom I have been very close (some might say pathologically close) for my whole life, I now find myself happily connected to a whole, well, matrix of women who are brilliant and funny and caring and impressive all around, and who make me feel bloody lucky to have them in my life. Last night, one such impressive woman, who'd read my little self-sorrowing skirl of a last post, came over with her first home-baked loaf of home-ground wheat-flax bread to share, and we sat in my disarticulated kitchen for well over an hour and laughed ourselves silly. Another woman has transcended colleague status to become like a sister. (Me, not long ago, to her: "You're my sister from another mister!" She: "Sounds like we had a loose mother." Me: "Damn. Men get all the good lines.")

Indeed, I can't think of a single male friend who registers in any significant way for me these days. (Neruda no longer counts as a "male friend," much less as "a single male friend.") All my go-to guys are women. I had leisure to reflect on this development in my life this summer, when I and six others had a Chicks' Campout and spent a couple of nights getting muddy and hiking and sweating and singing blues songs about our vaginas. I felt this rush of gratitude for the presence in my life of those women, and for my sense of, yes, sisterhood with them. And most of the readers of this here blog are women whose lives matter to me, whether I've met you in real life or not.

So, thanks to all the women who rock my world. I'm so glad I finally grew up enough to appreciate you.