This morning, with the last days of sabbatical draining away, and with today being Monday, and my nocturnal clock still being just enough on European time to be waking up with lots of energy at 5 am, I decided it was time. I started reading for my next book.
It's so wee and nascent right now, this next book, which (perhaps paradoxically) means it is huge. And that means I have license to read capaciously this summer, as I figure out what the chapters might be like, expanding and/or ditching the ideas I have already.
It is also the case that this will be the first book that I have started as a book. My first one, of course, began as a dissertation, a wholly different beast in emotional and intellectual heft. The second one began as an article that spun out of control. This one, though, this one is starting as a book. (We'll see if it ends that way.)
Someone asked me recently how long it takes to write a book, and that is a tough question, in that it depends on the book itself, and even more importantly, on the position one is in when writing that book. So, for example, I wrote my last book partly as an assistant professor with lots of time for writing, and partly as an associate professor; the first book, partly as a graduate student with all the time in the world, and partly as an assistant professor. (Note how time always seems to expand when looking backward. I think this is a real condition of faculty life, or at least for faculty life where I work, but that might be for another post.) In effect, then, the first book, from conception to covers, took about eight years. Although if I were to count the response paper I wrote as a first-semester M.A. student that tried to articulate the ancient relation between sports and rhetoric, then it took more like twelve years, but that seems a bit long. And counting the protracted period when I worked on the second book as an article, that second one will have taken about eight years too. These two overlapped for a few years, though, in that I started the second book-as-article well before finishing the revisions on the first one. So I can count on eight years till this next one is done, right? I hope not, but if that's what it takes, then totally. And it might well take longer. I'd love to hear how long others' books have taken/are taking. I'm sure there is lots of variance, because we all work with such different rhythms and under widely divergent conditions. I've learned that my long-term projects tend to have lots of stops and starts by necessity.
This book has been percolating for almost two years now; I would say it started in the early fall of 2006, and Burke (from the book just finished) gave me the idea. I read enough then to write a sabbatical proposal, and last spring I found lots of leads for it when teaching history of rhetoric. But then I set it aside this year while finishing that second book. And now my program for the summer (and, let's face it, next year) will be to read and think broadly before settling on--and into--the texts I will focus on specifically. This morning I started with Aristotle's History of Animals, which is ten books and three loeb volumes long. Reading and thinking about animals in the history of rhetoric will most likely, like the last books, take me into biology, religion, politics, and education. And who better to start with than the dude who wrote about all of these matters, as well as rhetoric? It's still early, but I must say that I don't think I'll soon tire of reading about horses and elephants and otters and dogs, and thinking about how they have--some quietly and some noisily--shaped our views on language.
I'm home from a fantastic trip. There's so much to say about the port-tasting, about how awesome JM's sister is, about the joys of European breakfasts and urban hiking, or even about how much I love the days and weeks following a return from the east, because I wake up so early without effort. But instead I want to ruminate a little on stuff related to what I write about professionally. I guess that's what I get for setting aside work for a couple of weeks.
On one of our hilly urban treks, I believe on our way up to what we thought was a convent with beautiful tile, KM and I cut through one of Porto's many lovely parks. Here we saw a series of sculptures of three men laughing. They are perched on what looks like a steep set of bleachers, surrounded by the lush placidity of portuguese landscape. And they are laughing themselves silly--even to the point where one guy has fallen backwards. I write about this a little in Bodily Arts, but ancient greeks knew better than anyone how tough it is to make a sculpture appear to be in motion; movement, after all, is almost antithetical to the durable solidity of bronze and marble.
But they got better and better at it, and eventually they were able to lose the wings and other add-ons that were meant to symbolically indicate movement. Now, these are by no means high quality sculptures, and one might say that the guy falling backwards ought to be a little more concerned, or at least that his arms might have changed from the leg-slapping guffaw to an "oh-shit" self-catch. But there are other ways that the motion of laughter is captured quite nicely here. There are the curled feet of the guy to the left, especially visible in the picture on the right. There are the different bodily styles of laughter--one leans forward, reaching to slap the ground or swat the air, while another throws back his head, and the third his whole self. The thing I like most about this little sculpture set is how it goes against the staid solemnity of most sculptures. All over Dublin, for example, as in most cities, there were those erect statues of leaders and revolutionaries, their chests raised to the sky, looking out over the roundabout or the city, faces grim, sometimes with women and weapons swirling at their feet. But these guys in the park are nameless anybodies. They are bent and gasping for air. They are laughing their asses off.
Somewhat relatedly, because it also involves depicting movement, the thing I noticed in Dublin and Portugal (and also Lisbon) is the ever-so-slight variants in the lighted sign that indicates it's okay to walk across the street now. I don't have photos of these (though I wish I did). The U.S. has relatively bland walking men. In Dublin, though, the walking man is slightly hunched, and he appears to have his fists clenched (he is probably cold). In Portugal the chests of the walking men are puffed out. One in particular, by the river and near where all the wineries are, looks like he's been doing some serious weight training, and he holds his chin high. The faceless man in the sign walks with purpose. Both the hunched, clenched Dubliner and the proud Portuguese seem, in their own ways, to book.
And finally, the owners of a little glass restaurant where the ocean meets the river in Porto seem to know that the real thing that distinguishes men's from women's bathrooms is not so much what they wear, but how they get down to it.
JM and I arrived in Dublin with no trouble at all; I even managed to sleep on the plane. JM doesn't really fit in airplane seats, though, and as a result he got kneecapped by the duty free cart in the middle of the night--hard enough to knock him into me and wake me up--and I don't think he slept after that. Poor fella. We checked into our hotel over near UCD where JM's conference is, and fell into that lovely deep sleep brought on only by zooming across so many time zones. I woke up in fact thinking of Athens and Prague, two of the last places my body gave in to such immobility.
Of course we woke up starving, and I made the rookie mistake of ordering food at the hotel lunch bar--18.65 euros. I was staring at my cold fish when I looked up to see JM's sister KM, who had just decided to walk to our hotel after arriving from London. Our phone wasn't turned on (oops). We took a bus into Dublin and walked all round, ordered three cups of foamy chocolate, and wandered over to Trinity where we found a used book sale. Picking up the 1931 title The Art of Mime for .20 euros made me feel better about my lunch error. The three of us sat on a bench and watched some fellows play cricket and then made our way back to donnybrook where KM is staying. She and I bonded over our love of aesthetically-pleasing groceries by going to one and fawning over all the baked goods and fresh, brightly packaged yumminess. I always find it strange to notice which foods are imported from the U.S. Here it was jif peanut butter, stove top stuffing, and aunt jemima pancake mix. Maybe europeans feel the same way about nutella. I doubt it.
In any case, to our moms and dads: we're here. Everything is great. Ireland does look a lot like eastern Tennessee. And apparently JM and I missed a midwestern earthquake.
1. Oh, but I have myself a little addiction. To avocados. I ate half of one at my cousin's house in Maryland, and on the days I've been home since I have eaten about one a day, usually half sliced on a sandwich for lunch, and half sliced on a salad at dinner. Damn, they are tasty. Avocados have lots of vitamins and goodsies, but it's still a little strange. Maybe I'll kick this while in Ireland.
2. In getting ready to leave town I have been emailing with people who are writing reviews for QJS, making sure they have received the books I promised, etc. One reviewer in particular is quite well known in rhetoric/communication, and must be one of the field's busiest. And yet this person is delightful--super friendly and cheerful, and has already started reading for the review. How utterly refreshing to see that not everyone turns into a jerko when they become well known.
3. In the category of way past due: I just gave the dogs baths, cleaned off my desk, and backed up my computer files.
4. JM's sister KM and I are going to a spa in Portugal where we are to choose between wine therapy and chocolate therapy, and something called thalassotherapy. Thalassa means 'sea' in greek, so maybe it has to do with salt water. I'm thinking chocolate. Oh, and E! wants me to locate that little girl who went missing there.
5. I am determined not to do any work on this trip, and the way to ensure that is to leave my laptop at home. Bye bye, laptop! Apologies in advance to anyone who receives my automated email reply. Those things are as annoying as they are necessary, I'm afraid.
Those of you who have textbooks or academic books for which you receive royalty checks, where do you list those royalties on your tax return? I have only been receiving these since 2005, but for 2005 and 2006 I listed mine in line 17 on the 1040, which is rents and royalties. That line mostly looks like a real estate issue, though, and it mentions oil and minerals and the like. I always just figured it all fell under the loose term of property. I just now read the instructions for that line, though, and it says that authors should put royalties under business income, and that's where turbotax directed me to put them this year. If I understand that correctly, that means you have to claim something like a side business. And so now that we have filed that way in 2007, the IRS has written to inquire about my 2006 royalties. Really, it's quite sad that taxes are so complicated.
What fun I've had in Columbia, MO today. Thanks to everyone who turned up for the talk on such a blustery day, and a Friday at that. And then an evening with the rhet comp folks-- Rebecca, Donna,Jenny, and Jeff--at Rebecca and Zac's house with an awesome big sweet dog named Bodie who wandered from person to person swinging his tail. And Vered! I finally got to meet little Vered, and we passed around her monkey.
I think I've posted here before about how different parts of the Burke book "play" with different audiences, and today's talk on Burke and body biography got good vibes, I think. Before today I had not met a creative writer who has read Burke, and today I met nine or ten. Huh.