On the edge of dozing off the other day I randomly remembered a woman in my program talking about being at a conference. Another academic, passing by her in the book exhibit, animatedly was telling her friends, “I think I’m pregnant with my next text!”
So why don’t we have parties celebrating the inception of books the way we seem to do for people?
I guess we have some ceremonies for academic completion — like the doctoral defense or graduation — but we don’t seem to look very highly, or at least not to commemorate in some formal and happy way, on the beginnings of academic enterprises, those shaky and excited steps into the adventure of a new argument, unthought histories, unenvisioned archives. Those beginnings, because they are so full of hope and potential, all openness and possibility, shouldn’t those be made much of and celebrated even more than accomplishments? How might that change our view of the profession, our attitudes toward research?
What would a party for the embarking on a new project, the initiation of an academic book, look like?
I’m hoping there’d be lots of red everywhere like the lucky color of a new year. And good food heaped all over to symbolize the abundance of new ideas for the book — the food must be spicy and zesty, burning your mouth and making tears of joy come out your eyes. And of course there must be plenty of booze — for doesn’t a wake send dead spirits off into their final unknown journey with a night of drinking and remembrances? Everyone you know and admire must be there.
And then, of course, people would bring gifts.
Some people would go the obvious route: fancy pens, lucky pens, sharp new pencils, stacks of crisp creamy paper for the writing, a journal, a big eraser to draw the obligatory laugh. But I’m hoping people would bring other stuff as well: a favorite quote, a necessary book, a nicely-written paragraph for inclusion (“now you’re one page closer already!”), an unfamiliar source, stacks of interesting verbs, a shiny picture, tea for working, a kitten for one’s lap, a blanket, a color, an idea.
(that reminds me of a joke I’ve often heard told: on the Dalai Llama’s birthday all the monks gather together and bring him a brightly-colored box. The Dalai Llama opens it to discover that it is empty. “Just what I always wanted!” he cries joyfully. “Nothing!”)
And if you didn’t want to be inspiring and original some of the old favorites would be quite nice as well — I think that a nice box full of gold, frankincense and myrrh, for example, would have a wonderfully appealing set of textures and colors and smells — something to open and admire, something to sustain you through the long journey through the writing wilderness.
Some magic beans would also be good, to remind you to climb to new heights. And a crystal vial of water would help you, hobbit-like, to make your way through dark times.
So why haven’t we created these rituals already? And what’s to stop us from changing the way we do things now? We could make the profession be anything we want. After all, as teachers of literature, aren’t we experts in the marvelous, the wonderful, the imagination of the possible?