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New look, new ideas

This site has languished for quite some time as I’ve been busy with coursework, buying a house, etc. Now, I think I’ve finally gotten it where I want it.

When I started this site I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be, exactly. I played around with some ideas and never quite felt satisfied. But now, and with remarkably little conscious thought, I think I’ve figured it out.

Some time ago, when I was still teaching high school English, I found myself “afflicted” with hypergraphia. I would write, and write, and write, like I had to drain the words out of myself or risk rupturing something. At the time I also experienced periods of hypomania. Just the depressive parts, without any of flights of intense experience characterized by full-blown bipolar disorder. Writing, I found, helped me keep those hypomanic episodes comparatively mild. I keep all my notebooks, so I could probably excavate these old torrents of words and examine them, but that doesn’t seem wise. I still feel the compulsion to write, and still experience hypomania on occasion, but now I’m beginning to understand what to do with my writing and how to channel it. To look back at my earlier discharges now seems like a kind of sacrilege or an exhumation. Better to let the dead horse lie.

I’ve been in graduate school for a long time, with (theoretically, haha) several more years still to go. I enjoy grad school and find it stimulating, but I’ve also come to realize that a big part of why I wanted to pursue it in the first place was to find a way out of a bad situation. With a boring career of teaching English staring at me behind the barrel of a gun, anything more intellectually stimulating seemed appealing, and I jumped in with enthusiasm.

I’m less enthusiastic these days (or maybe the enthusiasm has mellowed with age), and now realize that my writing and other projects no longer need to be a “way out.” Hence the renewal and revitalization of this site. Here, I can pursue thoughts and inclinations in a more relaxed manner than I can in my coursework. While I’m busy specializing in my academic life, I can indulge my generalist habits with this site as a working space, portfolio, and archive. My academic work will no doubt occasionally bleed into these pages, but it won’t be my main concern here.

And now, after the preamble, the new program.

  • I’m in the midst of reading Hubert Dreyfus’s and Sean Dorrance Kelly All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age and will post an essay on it – or maybe several essays – here soon(ish).
  • I will also be holding myself to a regular posting schedule of Reports from the Workshop: what I’m reading, writing, thinking about, etc.
  • I’ve also hashed out the skeleton of a new long-term project on botanical gardens. You can check out the page for that project in the menu above. It’s fairly ambitious, so I’m not holding myself to any deadlines. After all, there’s no professor here to assign me a due date.
  • Finally, I have some other ideas in the works as well, one involving photography, landmarks, and geo-tagging. More on that to come later, since I have to learn how to take better pictures first.

That’s all for now.


Project: To Fill a Man’s Heart

Précis: A short introduction to a novel provisionally called To Fill a Man’s Heart, a writing project I hope to work on this summer. I’m planning the novel to take the form of a dialogue between a “successful” artist and her younger, so-far unsuccessful friend as a way to explore questions of aesthetic authenticity and the importance of creating something new in the world.

I’ve been kicking around ideas for a novel that I think may occupy my time this summer. The working title of the novel is To Fill a Man’s Heart, a line from Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. I’m imagining the novel as something like a long Socratic dialogue between a young, unsuccessful and frustrated artist and an older, more succesful friend of his. The young artist has been injured and laid up after a traffic accident (or maybe just a nervous breakdown) and the goal is to draw a parallel between the young man’s convalescence and a change of his aesthetic sensibilities into a new form of aesthetic agency.

Some of my inspiration going into this project comes from John Fowles’s The Magus and Hermann Hesse’s Beneath the Wheel and Demian. These novels might be described as Bildungsromans, novels about a young person’s (in these cases, a young man’s) education. The German word for “education,” Bildung, carries connotations to me of building, or construction in the sense of care-full development toward a goal. The English word “education” has a similar sense to me, reminding me of “edification” or “edifice,” all words associated with building, and building toward a purpose, with goals and intention.

I’m imagining a pretty unapologetically didactic novel, a roman à thèse, that uses the novel form to make a point and, hopefully, break open a space for its readers to think. I know that modern creative writing classes – at least the ones I’ve taken – advise against such tactics in favor of pure aestheticism, but that’s not what I want to do. While I don’t fault writers concerned solely with writing “good” novels in a “purely” aesthetic sense, I don’t count myself among them. I think the interdiction against political or social concerns in favor of “pure” (that is, apolitical) aesthetic concerns in novels is just a way to inhibit thinking and reproduce frustrating and harmful ideological positions. “Good” novels with no political or social concerns may be pleasing to read, but I’m not interested in producing palliatives for badly interpellated subjects.

This is one of the big differences between the project I’m envisioning and the models I have above. The examples I gave see the protagonist develop, but in a more or less purely individual way. My goal with this novel – and it’s a daunting one – is to break the reader’s normal sense of the world and encourage them to think. A y’all order, but I’ll have lots of free time this summer.

I have a skeleton of the story outlined and have given some thought to the characters and the point I’m trying to make. I probably won’t have time to get started on a draft in earnest for another couple weeks. I have term papers to write and final grades to assign. Thinking is hard these days, especially under the conditions the coronavirus pandemic has forced upon us (and the woefully incompetent response from our leaders). But moments of crisis are the perfect time to stop and think, and that’s what I’m hoping this novel project will help to do.