Still January

It feels like January has lasted for several months. In fact, I think I had spring, skipped summer, and have come back around to winter and ought to be thinking about Christmas shopping. It has not been a bad month, in fact the reverse, but it has most definitely gone on for a very long time (like last July).

I finished the MMP and went back to translating. I planned spring classes and wrote a syllabus for each class. I cooked a lot. I had appointments with a doctor and a dentist. I spent a week visiting family, which meant a lot of application of my hard-earned people skills, mostly acquired in the classroom. I refrained from teaching a pig to sing; instead, I explained some things to people who are either more likely to take them on board or better at dissembling their refusal to listen (time will tell which). I listened to my father and said “We’ll put it on the list” a lot.

I tried to imagine a life in which Sir John and I live near my family, in a very beautiful area where a lot of people take vacations. Sir John can work anywhere he has an internet connection. I have an extensive library. I could retire from teaching, and write my books while looking out at lovely views, and we could go for walks, and visit my father . . . and socialize with my brothers and their families . . . and drive ten miles to get to a grocery store that sells a lot of the specialized items I need, and significantly farther to get to an actual bricks-and-mortar bookstore, and what about the ballet and early music concerts that we love to attend where we live now? Nope nope nope. However lovely the surroundings, I do not want to live in a rural place (even one with only a ten-mile drive to a grocery store, and I know there are far more remote places). The family connection is not exactly an incentive. The cordial detente I have achieved with them is all I hope for; I do not want to have to spend my birthday and other special occasions with my family.

Visiting them is strange, because it makes me realize how odd I am, in the scheme of things. They’re not untraveled or narrow. But they travel for business, and love their homes, and are deeply woven into their communities. I live among academics who take it for granted that you will have to leave your family and move elsewhere, probably several times; thanks to my commute, I’m not well-rooted either where I live or where I work; I travel because I like to be in other places. Probably what I most have in common with my brothers is that we are live-to-work people, whose idea of retirement involves more of the parts of the job we like best and less of those parts we dislike. We also all like to finish things, in reaction to our father, who (like me) is great at generating ideas and has always been terrible at finishing things. I’m slow and a perfectionist, but I do finish, eventually, and I have learned a bit about what things can be done at 70% rather than at 95% or 110%.

I have plenty of work to do today (and another dentist appointment), but what I really want to do is just sit among my books. Not even to read. Just to sit with them, alone except for Glendower and Reina, and be quiet in the middle of a city.

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Light is the left hand of darkness

and darkness the right hand of light.

Two are one,

lying together like lovers in kemmer,

like hands joined together,

like the end and the way.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, 21 October 1929–22 January 2018

 

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Finally.

The creek did not rise, the Lord lent me a long-handled spoon, the Palpable Worm of Guilt died (or at least hibernated), and this morning I submitted the revised version of the last hunk of the Macedonian Marginalia Project, MMP for short. In one form or another, I’ve been working on this thing for close to ten years. I hereby thank various online writing group members who offered encouragement on various iterations of it (in various iterations of writing groups). You can search the blog for “MMP,” and here’s a selection of quotations from past posts about it:

The bad news is that I have piles of books on the floor, because before returning them I want to be certain that books I think I will need again when I return to the Old Current Project (jeebus: I hereby re-christen that thing the Macedonian Marginalia Project, MMP for short) or to the previous Putative Book project (MaryAnn Ginger! the Big Volume on a Manuscript, or BVM, how’s that?), anyway, I say, I want to be sure those books are noted in the appropriate notes, bibliography, or “dump file,” especially those that are somehow obscure, or came to me via ILL, so I can get them back easily. And no, I will not re-write that sentence.

I hate cold, winter, and the December holidays, and since I can’t spend the entire month in Morocco or Malaysia, I’m going to distract myself this year with the Macedonian Marginalia Project, an article I had hoped to finish over a year ago. Younger self: just go to Mexico.

I don’t want to be a conversation-starting scholar. . . I don’t imagine there will be a huge conversation about the MMP. I don’t have the writing-personality to start one, and the skills required to do this kind of work are too rare to get a lot of followers. What I can do is take the time necessary to make my article solid, accurate, and reliable. So it’s already taken more than two years. If I do it right, it will still be useful in 50.

As I work toward finishing the MMP, which I have been working on for 3 years now, I can’t really see why it took so long. Should I not be farther along than creating topic sentences for all my paragraphs? And yet, I do see what took so long: synthesizing the details, figuring out what they offer a larger conversation, working out how to get from larger to smaller and back again, figuring out connections, thinking about what work each paragraph needs to do. Three years! What a good thing I had no idea it would be 2018 before the thing saw print.

The MMP began life as an exploration of Thing One and Thing Two because they had something in common with Thing Three . .  last summer I was pretty sure I had got Things One and Two (my lively eels) wrapped tidily round each other in an attractive twist. There were just a few little bits to work on . . . and then Thing One grew a tentacle. . . picture, here, a small two- or three-masted sailing ship, on a calm sea, under a sunny sky, sails happily belled out by a brisk but pleasant breeze, and Dame Eleanor, in period costume, rearranging piles of parchment on the poop deck, holding them down with deck quoits, while behind her rises the Giant Octopus of Doom, stretching its suckers toward the little ship. Comrade Physioprof liked “octopusing” as a verb. So do I.

I would really like to hurry up and finish the MMP (or, rather, the MMP-1 and MMP-2) and publish them and get on to the next thing and get to be a full professor before I retire.  How many of my colleagues have to get to transcribe or at least read 78 x 3 lines of early modern law-Latin in an Anglicana hand before they can get on with writing their articles?

I have no idea what my first sentence is going to be, or the last. The MMP-1 is taking shape from the middle section outward. Its shape is an hourglass. (Well, that’s what I thought in 2013.)

I sorted and labeled all the photocopies with different-colored sticky notes for Literature, Manuscripts, Reading Practices, Book History, Biography, and Theory. I also labeled the piles of printouts: MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-3, and listed what was in them (notes, tables of data, early drafts, feedback from RL writing group, usw). I’m not sure where all those stacks are anymore. Buried in my office? Can I recycle it all now?

I [hacked] and [slashed] the second rejected version to meet a draconian word limit for a prestigious journal. (Reviewers thought it seemed disjointed. No shit, really?)

For (mumble) years now, I have been living with its protagonist. When I’m working on this project, I stare at Google Images of his tomb and his lands (as they are now: so far, I have not convinced Google to cough up overhead shots from earlier centuries, though there are some nineteenth-century images of his parish church and nearby bridge). Last summer I visited his tomb and said some prayer more or less for his soul. And took my own photographs of said tomb.

Sometimes I feel delighted to send an essay out into the world. This time, I’m hopeful but wary. If projects are children, the MMP-1 has had a hard time in adult life, and has sucked up a lot of my resources; some of the younger kids have suffered because of the attention this one needed.

This means I am finally done (bar revisions) with the Project That Ate My Life for the last seven years, a project that initially seemed simple and then turned into three separate articles plus a companion-piece spin-off, a project that was supposed to be ancillary to a book project that has been sidelined while I work on the other book that cropped up in the meantime. (Generating ideas is not a problem I have. Finishing things, yes, guilty as charged.) Oh, yeah, revisions. They couldn’t possibly take six months.

A few details on the MMP-1, since my brother didn’t ask: it contains over 14,000 words (a number that will grow when I revise further before publication) and 102 footnotes, it deals with multiple manuscript sources (one literary, at least five documentary), it involved extensive transcription from wills and other documents written in Latin and in secretary hand, it surveys critical literature in an area that is Not My Home Field, it included references to criticism read in a modern language not English, and the last round of readers’ reports included phrases such as “clear argument,” “very welcome,” “compelling” and “impressive.” Shoot, even its first rejection included the phrase “impressively well documented.” Adding two more literary manuscripts, 25 footnotes, and 3000 words might account for the six months. I guess.

The list of secondary sources includes work in at least three separate scholarly fields. I think altogether I cite works in five different languages. But who’s counting?

It’s the end of an era. Happy New Year!