Friday, December 19, 2014

and I am rebegot / Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not




Things that happened in the past six months:

I moved into a new house, painted four rooms and began hunting for grown-up house things like art, antiques, and tribal rugs.

My book came out.

My husband's novel, which was released in a different country and language last February, gained an important agent and his own English translation is now being considered by US publishing houses.

I went to London for research and got to hold seventeenth-century hair lace bracelets and a tiny love-token game made of folded, painted vellum. The hair bracelets were bigger than I expected, about the size of a lace cuff on the end of a sleeve. I will now pay much closer attention to brown and golden lace cuffs in Renaissance portraiture: they could be hidden hair bracelets! Like the cuff in this recently cleaned portrait above of the young, rakish Donne, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Doesn't it look like he's got a hair lace bracelet sitting on top of his plain white cuff? The love-token depicted beasts and mythological figures morphing into one another by means of opened and folded edges. I have no idea what I will do with it, but it is beautiful and seemed to ask me to write about it.

I made new friends at the summer archive, one of whom is now also a close friend and collaborator on a truly fun new project.

My friend the cinematographer convinced us to let him film a commercial for a natural housecleaning product in our bedroom and bathroom. The house was occupied by a film crew for 14 hours on a work/school night. We were very tired when they all left near midnight. But it was worth it: we were paid in free housecleaning services.

I planted 112 bulbs in various shades of purple, blue, and violet in the front yard. I am spooked by the fact that some of them are already coming up. The South is weird.

We finally threw a housewarming party on St. Lucy's Day.

I got bronchitis again, but it didn't last too long (only 3 weeks).

I got approved for tenure.

It has been a marvelous year, so full of challenges, delights, big and little risks, unexpected but welcome experiences (even those that felt Petrarchan), and warmth and I am sad to see it go.

I dare to you top this, 2015.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

For I am every dead thing / In whom love wrought new alchemy

Oh, hello blog. I kind of forgot you still existed. I'm not sure why I still write here, or whom I'm writing for, as my posts have become infrequent, semiannual. I think you are kind of dead. Or comatose.  I suppose now that I'm writing today, you are more of a revenant, you are re-begot. I will now dispense with the folly and creepiness of addressing my blog in the second person.

There's something about the space of a barely-anonymous blog, though, that allows me to express myself more freely than I would on other social media. Sometimes it takes longer for me to figure out what I'm saying, or what I really want to say, and sometimes I wouldn't want to say it anywhere else. And there is a burden to be clever and witty on Facebook. I'm almost always editing my Facebook posts to make sure they are appropriately wry, silly, smart. Here, on the other hand, I don't have to be clever. I can be remarkably shallow and just describe my sentiments without trying to impress anyone or to live up to an artificial persona. There are still things I can't (and wouldn't) say here or anywhere. But maybe I can capture a mood instead.

I'm up for tenure and my book is coming out in September. I'm also nine months married and moving into a new house in five days.  All cause for celebration, but I'm full of uncertainty. It is probably impossible for me to feel one thing without also feeling its opposite (I'm Petrarchan that way). I think my life is moving too fast. I haven't had any time to stop and think about how all these changes will affect my life until recently, and they are affecting it in all sorts of wonderful ways but also in confusing ways I hadn't anticipated. Without giving me any time to reflect, life deluded me into thinking it was easy.

I spent a month at one of my favorite archives early this summer. It carried the same accelerated, almost juvenile emotional tumult as summer camp: for the first week I was homesick and miserable, missing my husband and cat, hating the delay of moving into the new house, counting the days, having trouble getting focused in my research and finishing an overdue book review. Then friends arrived, I finished the review, found my footing, embraced the research with delight, became infatuated with the scholarly life again, and began to enjoy temporarily living on my own. I saw old friends, went out every night with new ones, gave a well attended research presentation, and wandered around the neighborhood smelling the gorgeous flowers and admiring the lush, overflowing gardens, serendipitously bumping into friends, falling into sync with one another. Then it was time to leave. I am relieved to be home with the cat waiting for the husband to return and the moving to start, but surprised to feel melancholy too, missing my scholarly paradise where time moved at a different pace and life stood still.

There is probably something Petrarchan about all this. And here I don't mean Petrarchan poetic style (the anatomizing and fragmentation of the unattainable beloved; the oxymorons) but Petrarch's constant state of dislocation. When Petrarch is climbing a mountain in the countryside, he misses the hum of the city. When he's stuck in the clamorous, noisome city, he profoundly misses the peace of country. And all the time he wishes he were living in ancient Rome, conversing with Cicero. He's like a quintessential New Yorker: miserable in his current location, but he wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I wasn't prepared to feel anything at all during my month-long fellowship this summer--other than the satisfaction of getting stuff done--and so when I did it took me by surprise.

I shouldn't have been surprised. I always get attached to this place and the books and people in it (witness this post from three years ago). Archives in summer are magical, atemporal spaces where the burdens of teaching and administrative work and constant deadlines are diminished and postponed, and the other people there get you, your love for obscure Renaissance things, and your unquenchable need to fill your head with bad poems about hair bracelets, or hilarious manuscript miscellanies, or bizarre Renaissance philosophies of matter, or Italian mythological dictionaries for six hours a day, followed, ideally, by carousing, five or six days a week. The fact that it will end and all of us go back to our ordinary lives might explain why we appreciate it so when it is happening. So that sense of timelessness is paradoxically brought on by a keen awareness that the time we have is finite. That sounds terribly trite and naive, but what I'm trying to say is that even when we spend most of our lives dedicated to our work and teaching, it can still feel seductively good to be at a place where everyone is brilliant and automatically understands that field-specific love of scholarship viscerally and scholarly sparks start to fly. It reconstituted me, jolted me awake. It makes returning to an empty small college town and everyday life a bit deflating.

 I am on leave until January, to write as much of my second book as I can. There is more archival work in my near future, but there's something about the summer archive experience that stands apart. Here's to life slowing down a little more, at least enough for me to enjoy its passage, its surprises and maybe even to learn to appreciate its unanticipated frustrations.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Grievances Forgone

Almost exactly four years ago, I thought my life had changed dramatically for the worse. Of course, I was wrong. Ultimately, I think what was and felt at the time a horrible thing was the outset of a series of exciting, good, and necessary changes. And I am grateful for the experience despite the unnecessary suffering it caused me, because I have gained dear friends, knowledge, perspective, and strength.

Nevertheless, I commemorate this experience annually by reading a poem. Today's is Shakespeare's Sonnet 30:



When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past, 

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, 

And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow, 

For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,

And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe, 

And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight: 

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone, 

And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er 

The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan, 

Which I new pay as if not paid before. 

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restored and sorrows end.
Who is my "dear friend"? Perhaps it would be better to ask who isn't? Right now I am thinking of three: one is a "precious friend hid in death's dateless night," a dear close friend I lost the same year I thought I had lost myself. This man remains one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met, a scholar whose mind and personality shone bright and strong. He died far too young. Another is my adorable beau, now my husband, who first showed me his strength when helping me through these troubles (and we had only been dating for a couple of months). And the third is my dear best colleague/friend Veralinda, who gave me a stern talking to when it seemed I would drown the world with tears and it was time to shut up and move on. These days, we're happily collaborating, kvetching, and congratulating one another on our many accomplishments in work and life.



I don't mull over that year very often, perhaps only around its anniversary. Lately, I think about this experience fondly, proud of how I overcame my fear and feelings of inadequacy, glad of my current situation. But honestly, I rarely think of it at all. Which is as it should be.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Contract!

So much for all those tears. My book has been approved by both editorial boards and the contract is in the mail.

I am over the moon.

I have a lot of revising to do over the next two months, plus subvention grants to apply for to help pay for those thirteen half-tone images. 

But now we're talking publishing-speak: half-tones, word count, permissions. Delightful! I can't wait to talk cover images.

These will be the happiest revisions I've ever done. Even the index (I say that now, but...Oh come on, can't I just be happy today?). Yes, even the index! (I will now start accepting suggestions of professional indexers).

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Ad Unguem

So I continue to hope, and with a slightly larger shred this time.

I've received my fourth and final reader's report from this press, and am delighted with the results. My initially skeptical and challenging reader was really won over by my revisions, and now enthusiastically recommends my book for publication, though not without a fair amount of fine tuning. This report is excellent: it pays close attention to the argument and is scrupulous in its attention to clarity and style, making several pointed suggestions for further stylistic improvements. The reader felt the book's argument was a bit speculative, but now believes strongly that the book should be published because it's still important to speculate about the things I've speculated about, and I seem to have speculated quite well. I kind of disagree, but I like that this reader readily admits that she (or he) can disagree with me but still appreciate my work and want to see it in print.

Thus I must write one more response--to this report, and the others, detailing what I've already done, and how I would prepare the book for publication--and even if it's really good, the editor tells me that it's not by any means a shoo-in with the press's internal board and its faculty editorial board because the readers still want a bit more polishing. But it sounds like I might be allowed to foster a bit more cautious optimism than I had before. I mean, come on: would it even be possible for this reader to recommend a book for publication without suggesting more edits and changes? This reader pays attention to everything. And that's a good thing because it means that this book will be polished ad unguem (to the fingertips. Horace, Ars Poetica 294). Everything plus an updated CV is due Monday.

Happy fourth-of-July weekend response-writing to me. This is my third to this particular press, by the way. And I still want them to take my book. (Please).

That said, I am relieved and a bit elated because my toughest and most critical reader appreciated and liked my revisions. Her (or his) comments were much friendlier, even a little bit chatty, while at the same time detailed and precise, noting everything I'd done in direct response to her (or his) notes, and even adding several positive comments about other changes I'd made. And despite the many critical suggestions for final draft polishing, it is clear that this reader is now invested in the project and convinced of its merits. More importantly, many of the comments seemed to be engaging in a kind of dialogue with me, something I really feel I have earned. I'm sure over the next two weeks I'll care whether this press takes my book, but right now, what suffices is knowing that my revisions worked, not only for me, but for my most critical reader.








Friday, June 21, 2013

Ah, Loiterer!

From George Herbert, The Temple (1633):


¶   Hope.

I Gave to Hope a watch of mine: but he
                                 An anchor gave to me.
Then an old prayer-book I did present:
                                 And he an optick sent.
With that I have a viall full of tears:
                                 But he a few green eares.
Ah Loyterer! I’le no more, no more I’le bring:
                                 I did expect a ring.

It has been exactly a year since I last wrote something in this space. Since then in my first book's trajectory, I have responded to two readers reports (one positive, one asking for revision), majorly revised my book, and waited while it was sent back to the second reader, and out to a new third reader. Here at work, I  received extremely strong and positive comments on my book manuscript from the senior colleagues in my field, passing my third-year review here with no criticisms and a unanimous vote. The entire manuscript review process, from when I first sent out the manuscript's first draft (August 2011) to receiving the final report on the revision, which ought to happen next week, but seems to be less and less likely to be positive, has taken eighteen months.

I want my watch, tears, and book back.

Partly this is because my second reader had the first draft of the manuscript for ten months, and then the revised manuscript for five. The third reader also took five months to read the revision, possibly not knowing that no more revisions were allowed. And now, because the new reader's largely positive and helpful report recommends publication but nevertheless raises doubts about the argument--many of which are nice points that can be clarified in the book, none of which actually change my argument--I am given the chance to write a totally convincing but gracious and non-defensive rebuttal of these doubts, which, if convincing, will be taken to the press's editorial board. But if the second reader decides the revision isn't good enough for publication, this exercise may be futile. I have this tiny shred of hope left that this will work. But it's really tiny, because the editor--who has been kind and supportive throughout this process--has finally conceded that it would be prudent for me to query other presses. And I need to do that now because this whole process took almost two years, and I've only got another two years at most before my tenure review. Which I am lucky to have only because this is my second tenure-track job. Still, I need a book under contract (ideally in proof stage) to get tenure here. I don't exactly have ample amounts of time.

If you are a reader of early modern English poetry like I am, then you know not to trust Hope very much at all. And part of me really wishes I could rewind the clock, travel back in time to a year ago, withdraw my book, and send it to a different press, averting the copious weeping I've done over this, especially in the last twenty-four hours.

Therefore, I want my watch, tears, and book back.









Friday, June 22, 2012

Back to the Drawing Board

Oh, hullo first book manuscript. Yes, it's been almost a year. Welcome to open heart surgery. I'll just take the anesthetic myself, though if you don't mind. I need it more than you.