I am looking for and at my old abstracts and unfinished and abandoned articles and chapters. I do not like to do this because of the circumstances under which I abandoned each one; I do not want to be reminded. Now, however, under a mandate not to succumb to recriminations, “why did you not,” and so on, I am looking at them.
The good abstracts and conference papers address issues which were new at the time. They contained ideas that were cutting edge and that shortly before would have been too controversial to pronounce, but that are now uncontested fact. These are the papers I gave and abandoned because I was trying to work on my ill fated Vallejo project.
My feeling was that I should write an easier and more fashionable book, that I had a lot of material for and that would have been very splashy then, for tenure. Next with tenure and time, I could come back to Vallejo. I had a Fullbright to the University of Copenhagen I could have used to try out chapters of that other book. But I declined all of this because I also had this contract on the Vallejo book (that took it in a direction I did not like, but still, it was a contract from Minnesota on a single-author study of a then unknown Latin American poet and it was hard to refuse).
Forsooth, standard advice is not to turn down such an offer so I turned down the Fullbright and put off my own book project (look what I called that — “my own book project”), but this felt like a mutilation. I did not want to funnel Vallejo through Gramsci as the press wanted me to do, and I was not in the mood to deal with all that dusty old Vallejo scholarship without a break. My department kept saying I would be incapable of producing a second manuscript in time and so must continue with the first. They did not understand that what the press wanted me to do with the first was the equivalent of two manuscripts, and that it was precisely this project that could not be produced in time. “You do not realize,” they kept saying, and I tried to take this advice but I kept failing on the Vallejo-Gramsci connection, did not believe in it or have enough time to really convert to it and was on deadline to produce, and whatever one did one was not to upset the apple-cart of a university press. Do as they say, as they say, as they say; your life and also your death are in their hands.
This was how I stopped doing research and writing in an organized or coherent way. Everything seemed to be prohibited now, and everyone kept giving highly unrealistic estimates on how much time anything would take — estimates I had enough experience to know were inaccurate, but that were coming from people I also had enough experience to know one must honor and obey if one did not wish to pack one’s bags.
Next, I moved to a job that had so much out of field teaching and so much administration and service in it, and so many activities and attitudes unfamiliar to me, that it took a long time to learn it. Here I kept working on the topics I am looking at now but, unlike the unfinished papers and abstracts I wrote when I was really supposed to be working on Vallejo, these unfinished papers and abstracts are bad. I know one is not supposed to say one’s work is bad but these are really not very good, because none are based on research done in a systematic enough way. That is the reason I abandoned writing them — “just write” was not cutting it because I was not giving myself enough research time, which I was not doing for reasons having to do with my job description and working conditions, and also because we all know we are supposed to stop “procrastinating” and write.
Academic advisors: I am not being self-defeating or cruel in saying this work is less than good enough. Self-defeating and cruel would be to say it was out of laziness or weakness or not knowing how to work that I did not finish these things. It is that there was something wrong with them and they needed to be reformed from the roots, not simply adjusted.
I am tired of academic advisors who will not allow anyone to say anything about quality. It is as though they were telling us we would never be quality folk anyway, so we might as well just finish some simulacrum of a work so we could have something to put on our annual reports and then get back to doing more immediately useful things, the things we have actually been hired for.
In the case of the less than excellent papers, I had done the research for them but I had not done it in a systematic way, done it intermittently, so that I was always either not immersed or on the other hand, overwhelmed with new information and materials. Then the abstracts, and the papers were thrown together hurriedly, sounding wonderful because I can compose well but not in fact as well constructed as they appeared to be. That is how I came up with papers that simply would not work: I did not allow myself the time each day to think about them in a relaxed way, and when I did allow myself time I tried to hurry them along.
The moral of this story is that you have to have rhythm to your work; I always did until I hit that double road-block of Reeducation and that book contract, that came at the same time.
I know how to work but I am a rusty worker. But I was very organized and productive earlier on. It all has to do with being organized, feeling well physically, and not transferring horror onto your work, as so many of us have learned to do. In my first job I had figured out that I could read for an hour M-W, and look at book and conference announcements and the like for another half-hour or so. I could make notes for writing for about half an hour, and this was two hours of research.
Thursday was a research-writing day, all day, with the evening off; Friday noon to Saturday noon were vacation although I was allowed to used this time for writing if I really wanted to; Saturday afternoon was archives time; Sunday had research and writing time too sometime in the middle of the day. This made for six hours of research M-W, about six realistically on Thursday, and about six on the weekend, and look how that added up.
In this job, originally, one typically had scheduled activities about 8-6, five days a week; there were 11-15 hours in class and then the things that must be done for class and then a lot of service activities, and the library was closed for renovations. I was not coherent evenings to do work, and weekends one had to work on the house. I found it strange that it took the whole weekend to recover from the week but now I realize this was normal.
Now this job has changed. There are only 9 hours in class, 2-3 days a week, and there is a lot less service. It really is possible to work it as I did my first job, so long as I remember one can; I formed other habits in Maringouin and I am also all too used to obstacles and impairment and recrimination. It is possible, however, to work in a more powerful way.