Sunday meditation…

It is possible to live yet better, in my case largely by not staying up so late and going running more regularly. Yesterday, though, I planted trees along the Bayou Teche and went swimming. The ride along the levee was beautiful. Then I looked I at my citation statistics for annual review and realized that my very most cited articles are all outside my official subfield. Those were the ones where I dared say what I wanted to, and that I sent to the most competitive places.

With Vallejo I felt I had to be far more conventional. I also wanted to do research before forming a “thesis” which is, furthermore, the correct thing to do and I was not allowed, either at the dissertation stage or at the book stage. At the dissertation stage it had to be a thesis the committee would approve, and at the book stage it had to be a thesis the press thought would sell books. Then the research had to support the thesis. If not, one might not finish on time. Expediency was valued over research and also over good writing methods.

There are so many interpretations one could make of my not having been able to write that Vallejo book, and there was so much I was told. Most typically, it was said I had “fear of success” (a bogus malady if I have ever heard of one) or some other form of self-sabotage. These are convenient things to say because they make everything one’s internal problem. One can then wonder for years why was one so self-destructive, rather than consider any other kinds of contexts.

I said at the time that it was lack of information: I did not know how far I could push the editors, and everyone I asked said not at all, do as they say, write what they want and finish, obey. As I have kept saying, that would have meant writing, publishing, and signing a whole book I did not believe in. I found that while I was able to write articles this way, I could not sustain it for a whole book. With more information and/or a better sense of self I would not have been cowed by the answers I got, and would have pursued the matter until I got a more rational one.

A nonacademic friend said at the time that it was rebellion against academic caution and obedience; this was the book that would get me tenure and I did not want to get tenured that way. On this view, not writing that book was a positive thing. I pointed out that I had wanted to turn down the contract in the first place and had not dared, taking a passive-aggressive and self-destructive way out instead. My friend’s point, though, is more interesting: no was the right answer, and I said it in the only way I could under the circumstances, given everything I had been and was being told.

And one is constantly told to be careful but notice that every time I was not, I published something that still gets cited. The Tenured Radical and her friend are still going on on Facebook about how hard it is to publish, how incredibly competitive it is, but I have to ask: are they not (in History and English) in enormous fields, as I am, with very great numbers of journals? Is it really that hard for them?

I am interested in this because the reason I reluctantly took that book contract was that I had heard so much, from people like that Radical and her friends, how hard it would be. I thought it was my only chance. I did not know yet that it is as easy to get book contracts as it is to do any number of other things, or that it is at least for me.



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10 responses to “Sunday meditation…

  1. I’m not Facebook friends with TR and haven’t seen that conversation, but it sounds as though you are going in the right direction on all fronts–following what you want to write and going running and all the rest.

    • Z

      :-D I still say I threw my life away and want to go to law school or live in Los Angeles and do something interesting, but … yes …

      • Z

        (Although actually, I currently feel I could do anything, the way you are supposed to feel when you graduate with a liberal arts degree.)

  2. Rose

    I haven’t seen the FB conversation either. But I wonder why they think it’s hard to publish. One of the fields you mention is mine. Everyone I know with a good book ms has managed to publish it. Journals sometimes say no, but there are lots of journals out there.

    • Z

      Rose, it’s a mystification, their going on about the difficulty of it. And this is a word I should have used before — academic advice as mystification! :-)

      • The publishing part was just odd. I will confess that I find writing (not research) difficult. But once I’ve written, I have never failed to publish. And I am anything but a big star. Only once did I publish by invitation, and I was contacted because somebody liked what I wrote on a certain topic on my blog.

  3. Z

    I guess they mean it is tricky to get something into PMLA. Even so, though … I don’t know, if I had had the energy to continue that conversation one point I would have made is, they must do peer review. Most things I get to peer review are bad, like most job applications. People submit manuscripts in really bad shape!!! But if you submit an actually finished and decently informed piece, it is going to get positive reviews and be published in some reasonable venue.

  4. “it was said I had “fear of success” (a bogus malady if I have ever heard of one)”

    – I’m sure you don’t have it but there is nothing bogus about this problem. If your mother hits you and heaps the most bizarre abuse upon you whenever she sees you with a book, telling you nobody wants a girl who reads and is too smart, you might develop a terror seeing her tragic face whenever you succeed at something academically and professionally. It’s a really painful inner conflict when you want to read and write but your mother’s voice in your head tells you this makes you disgusting and pathetic.

    • Z

      Oh, I have that, it is what I have the blog to fight. If that is fear of success then all right, it is a real thing. I’ve got that mother’s voice, and then of course I nearly lost my first job, at the college my mother had wanted me to attend as an undergraduate (my only viable offer) because I was too research oriented. (I am still trying to recover from that by refraining from publishing, and you see where that has gotten me.)

      Here is how I have heard the term applied, though:

      –women who sabotaged job interviews because if they succeeded, it would mean moving and possibly getting their husbands to move…or who were depressed because passing PhD exams could mean upsetting husbands.

      –my having something different to do with that mss. than what the editors wanted, and wanting more information in general so I would know how and what to negotiate, was called fear of success: had I been more perfectly obedient I would not have been seen to have this malady.

      Those things are why I did not believe in the existence of fear of success as a malady I would find interesting, but if it is what you say it is then I believe it.

  5. Pingback: Le café | coldhearted scientist وداد

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