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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...

Friday, November 30, 2012

A False Assumption

I assumed that lightning could only strike once. So my Lorca book was the result of an idea that only comes to a scholar once in a career, or usually not at all! After writing that book, I assumed that I would return to a series of solid but less interesting projects. I got lucky once, and I should be satisfied with that.

The combination of a canonical author that a lot of people cared about, and an idea to do something nobody had ever done before, brought me more attention than virtually all my previous work put together. I am not being at all immodest, but completely objective when I say that this book brought my career to a different level. I am basing this not on my own subjective feeling about this work, but on everything that has ensued since I came up with the idea: an NEH Fellowship, a book from Chicago, favorable reviews, promotion to full professor, the Higuchi award... Of course, I have my subjective feeling that I have done good work as well, but the past six years have been amazing for me by any measure.

But there was a problem. What is the motivation to do work that is not as interesting, to me, or to others, as Apocryphal Lorca?

When beginning my present project I did write to a group of scholars, friends in the field, about whether they would prefer that I write a book about Lorca or one with Lorca at the center, but including other poets. I know I wrote to Elena Delgado, Luis Martín-Estudillo, and Silvia Bermúdez, and maybe José María Rodríguez. Some thought that a book about more than one author would be better, and I was half way toward completing this book when I discovered that I needed to write a book only about Lorca. I should have been tipped off by the title, What Lorca Knew, but sometimes I can be needlessly dense.

So I had misinterpreted this light bulb going off in my head. It was not that I should write one interesting book and then go back to my dogmatic slumber, but that I should continue the project of which AL is only the first volume. Since making this discovery a few days ago, I have been on fire. Not coincidentally, I have had the highest number of hits on this blog this month since I began it. More than 6,400, when my previous high was 5,200 in March of this year.

The lesson here is "write the book you are meant to write, the book you prepared all your life to do." The one you really feel compelled to pursue. If you are doing that, then all you need is to be competent, to use what you learned in grad school, your scholarly base, and very elemental skills in time management that are not in the least complex or difficult to put into action.