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.