What Now?

There’s been a mighty lot of silence on my end here, and though I wish I could ascribe it to being terribly, terribly busy, that is simply not the case. Continuing issues with the manuscript have left me feeling utterly stagnant, inspiration-free, and — while I hesitate to use the D-word, there’s undoubtedly a big chunk of that at work here, too. In the face of mounting evidence that the project I spent the better part of the last eight years on may never see the light of day — or, may see it, but not in the form that I’m still pretty unreasonably cathected onto — I’ve been left completely stalled-out, unable to see why I should bother writing if I’m working in a field about which no one cares, least of all me.

Of course, as soon as I write all of that out, it begins to seem ridiculous, histrionic, self-dramatizing. Honestly, if I were never to write (or publish) another piece of academic criticism again, it would hardly be a disaster. The main issue is to figure out what I want to do, and then to decide how to go about it.

That I cannot figure out what I want to do — that nothing seems quite right, or quite possible — is the thing that keeps leading me to contemplate depression. I want very much to resist the suggestion that something like that could be at the root of what’s bugging me right now, in part out of a sense of been-there-done-that (fairly big depression many years ago; several years of therapy; problem solved!), and in part because I want to believe that, since work got me into this mess, work can get me out of it.

I’m taking a little time off from attempting to write, as an experiment, and immersing myself in some reading, hoping that I’ll remember why I picked this field and why I thought I had something useful to say about it. I may record some of the process here, if there’s something that I either feel is worth sharing or is something I’d like to remember.

3 responses to “What Now?”

  1. Cathected. Such a nice word. Points me to this question: what about contemplating what you feel is not worth sharing and then figuring out a story as to why you think it is not worth sharing — just might be a reverse engineering way to help clarify the values you do live by and a route to finding what is you want or wanted to share. Enter the Beatles … a long and winding road.

  2. sometimes I find I elevate the know-what-i-want-to-do into a way too important goal in and of itself. And then I just concentrate on the small things–read this, scratch that, nibble here and rest there–and let the scraps of real desire and pleasure accumulate, take me someplace, anyplace, instead of demanding that my wants want something big, ambitious, and worthwhile. So what if I waste some time and energy in stupid things (don’t even ask about the last shit fantasy novel–in bad french translation to boot–I curled up with…) it’s one method I’ve found to help get me out of times of gloomy paralysis.

  3. Ah, Marcus, my sage friend… you’re exactly right. Letting go of the idea that I’ve got to be working toward *something* needs to precede the rest and rejuvenation for the rest and rejuvenation actually to work. That letting-go is hard, though, and I find (based on conversations with various colleagues and other pals) that it can be particularly hard for youngish-but-no-longer-junior academics, especially in the moments following tenure: we’ve just gotten past a series of intense hurdles (coursework, exams, dissertation, job market, contract renewal review, tenure review), each of which required particular kinds of focused work and an overall sense of forward movement; having gotten past the last of the hurdles, it’s hard to realize that such focus and forward movement are no longer, strictly speaking, necessary. There are no more necessary hurdles — so the momentum can let up.

    So yes: accumulation of scraps of real desire. I like that.

    That connects, I think, to Francois’s notion of thinking through the not-worth-sharing…

    So I’m off to curl up with my novel again. And feeling better about it already.

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