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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Slump

I was in a bit of a slump between about 1998 and 2005 or so. You wouldn't really know it from looking at my cv, though. I continued to write and publish. There are no gaps, periods of more than 2 years without significant publications. From my perspective I was in a slump, because I was writing more than I was publishing and having a hard time putting together a book manuscript. I wasn't having a very good time in my job and suffered from mild to moderate depression. What I did, essentially, is write myself out of it. Now it is clear to me that the work I did during this period wasn't wasted in the least, but I went 15 years without publishing a book.

I still bear some ill effects from that period. It took me longer than it should have to become a full professor, and my salary is still far below where it should be in relation to my accomplishments and those of comparable people in my department. I was barely hanging on in terms of living a satisfactory life, but I was still able to write, somehow.

Now I'm in a phase where I'm asking myself "what next?" I need to make a change of some kind for purely financial reasons. This means either getting another job where the renumeration is decent, staying at Kansas as Distinguished Professor, or taking on some kind of administrative job. None of these is a sure thing in a stagnant economy, but I need to try to make some move at this point. If I retired tomorrow I would have had a kick-ass career in terms of pure scholarship, but there are many things I have left to do, and the most urgent of these things is to make a little more money so I can eventually retire in comfort.

2 comments:

Thomas said...

What's your view of melancholy? One of the reasons I like to work in 8 week bursts (clustered 2 and 2) is that it allows me (I imagine) to slip into and then write write my way out of (check out that coordination prepositions) creative stretches of melancholia. I didn't have this kind of discipline when I was getting my master's, nor my PhD, nor in the year immediately afterward. "Mild to moderate depression" sort of captures the mood of those years. (Though you may mean something very different by this.)

I'd describe the feeling not just as writing more (at least something) than I was publishing (nothing), but as thinking much more than I was articulating. That's why it can be the onset of creativity (a build-up of intellectual energy), but if it is not properly managed, i.e., allowed to unfold within bounds, it can run you down. One is unlikely to publish in that mood, but, as you point out, it is possible (and crucial) to keep writing.

Jonathan said...

I think this topic needs more extensive treatment. You suggest that creative melancholy is structurally part of the writing process, in that there will be periods in which the will to articulate lags behind.

I still have some very accomplished thought from that period that has not gotten into print.