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.