Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reflections on the F-Word

You are once again returned to that state known as pre-publication.  A different, more steroidal sense of being goes with the state.  Anticipation comes rushing forth when you least suspect it.  The book is done.  ARCs, advanced reading copies, have been sent to review sources and to potential writers of blurbs.  You've already answered the questions of two Internet review blurbs.  

At any moment, when you least expect, a review can come forth, praising your work, as some of the blurb writers have done, or expressing negative views of the work .

You've put in enough years working as a salaried employee for a variety of publishers to understand and appreciate this time.  Negative or tepid reviews of books you sponsored and edited have as much impact on you as negative visions of your own work.

The healthiest thing you can do right now is what you are doing, putting your time into fleshing out your new project, going through the rituals of recognizing the extent to which your new project has begun to move in, leaving suitcases, boxes of books, pet dishes, clothing, the equivalent of a lover moving in.  Indeed, this past week, you've experienced what you call dream sessions, in which you are neither fully asleep or awake, asking yourself questions about things missing from the proposal, wondering if any of the chapters on your tentative table of contents are superfluous or derivative or both.

You are working your way to that "don't think" state you brandish before your students and clients.  Get it down on paper or on the hard drive.  Soon, all too soon, it will be June.  Your class load will be down to two, both on a Wednesday.  By the middle of June, you will have worked most of yourself into the bubble of absorption wherein something you recognize as being quite difficult and challenging bumps fists and heads with something you consider among the most satisfying and energizing activities possible.

The Why-me moment has already come and gone, reminding you of your pal, Brian Fagan, being commissioned to write the book Before California, which is pretty much a historical account of California from the arrival of its first settlers to the sighting not terribly far from where you live of the Portugese and Spanish explorers, the so-called Entrada or entry of white men into the area.  Why ever would the publisher commission him, professionally an Africanist (who'd cut his archaeological teeth working for the elder Leaky)?  Why not a Californian or, at least, someone more familiar with the lore and findings?  Why, indeed?  Answer:  Because those who could did not, fearful of the repercussions, should the community disagree with their methodology and findings.

In a major sense, Fagan was willing to fail.  He was also willing to commit to the project, to enter its bubble, become a part of it.  Because you were its editor, you are also on the lookout for reviews.  Most of these fault only the relative brevity, not the methodology, not the speculation, not the informed building of potential scenarios of why and how various events happened.

You have done enough of the three things you do, write, edit, and teach, to have left you with a vision of what it is like to feel the enthusiasm and intrigue of a new project, the sense of being launched into it, the arrival of the first Why-me moment, and that intense mixed message of enthusiasm for the project and your own involvement in it along with the certain awareness that you will fail.  You will fail because your enthusiasm and discovery will have nudged you to take greater chances than ever before.

You will fail because you are compulsive, but you are also impatient enough to want to get the project done.  You are impatient at the thought that you must at some rapidly approaching time, let go, sign off.  You are impatient because you cannot have the opportunity for one more draft.  You are frustrated because your earlier moments of enthusiasm for the project caused you to project it as having the potential for being your best work yet.  You are impatient for the knowledge that you will not cringe when looking at the work ten years hence.

There are high probabilities you will also conflate this new project with other of your failures while at the same time comparing it with some contemporary work done by a person much younger than you, without your experience and information.

This relationship you have with failure is in no way a co-dependency, rather it is a comfortable vehicle.  You are going to have fun in your relationship with failure.  You will not make it any promises nor will you expect Failure to enter any lover's pact with you.  Each of you will respect the other.  Each will be entitled to have its night out.  Neither of us will tell the other, "See, I told you."

You will take chances, nudging yourself to do so until you reach the point of recognizing you have blundered onto a risk more daring than the main risk in your previous project.  

Sometimes you enjoy imagining what would you do should you even in a daydream or a sleep dream have an encounter with the Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett.  You are nearly a fan of his, which means you respect his work and what such of it as you understand with certainty has done for you.  You respect but do not make that epic jump of loving as, for example, you love a Franz Kafka or a Philip K. Dick or a Louise Erdrich.  You respect him for his attitude toward failure.  "Fail again, only next time, fail better."

In your imaginary meeting, you'd thank him for this splendid meme and tell him he has had a lasting influence on you, and he'd nod, trying to identify you.  "Lowenkopf, isn't it?"  he'd say.

And you'd say yes.

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