Friday, January 25, 2013


So I've reached a top-ish rung in the academy – I'm full professor; there's nowhere to go, as someone said, but to the grave. (Or to a named chair somewhere, as if that'll happen...) According to popular wisdom, this is the point at which I start recycling my lecture notes and pretty much switch off my scholarship. And I've seen it happen, several times. Usually it happens a bit earlier: someone scrapes together the book or the requisite articles to get tenure, and then we don't see them in print ever again.

Now I'd hasten to assure my conservative friends that this isn't by any means the norm; in fact, when I say I've seen it happen "several times," what I mean is that I see it happen perhaps 10% of the time among my colleagues across the departments; the vast majority of us keep on publishing after getting tenured, even after getting promoted to Full.

Lately, however, I've been feeling a bit adrift. I have all sorts of vague outlines of the next "big" (ie, book-length) project in mind, but nothing that I'm particularly enthusiastic about pursuing. I know I could just sit down and start writing – I've done quite a bit of that – but I feel the pull of the books: I'd rather, quite frankly, just keep reading, making notes, trying to scribble down connections.

I've been feeling guilty about that – the production schedule seems to have broken down. Why aren't I writing? why aren't I producing, like a healthy cog?

This week has been one of reassurance, tho. A few days ago I got the latest copy-edited version of my next Parnassus essay (on Black Mountain); the cuts have been brutal, and will need to be sorted thru and fought over, but this should see print by summer. Today I just got the final copy-edited version of a book chapter that might be out by the end of the year, and I realize that sometime before Christmas, I read proof for another that should be out sometime this spring. And yet another book chapter, I noted as I sifted thru e-mails today, is in the hopper.

And when I look over my commitments calendar, I realize I'm committed to two non-onerous (read: pleasurable) reviews this spring, and yet another book chapter. And editors will be reading this summer my first full-length essay on Ruskin, mirabile dictu (no, it's not written, but it's all there in my talking points for last fall's graduate seminar, waiting to be quarried out).

So maybe I'm not lying quite as fallow as I sometimes fear. Indeed, I wonder if perhaps I'm not doing too much.

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