Sunday, February 24, 2008

Other gifts, other registries

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?


D said...

I can't help but think -- and I don't want to be thinking it, but I can't help it -- that it seems what you're proposing is like baby showers if they got thrown for masturbators, too. And the guest of honor stands there basking in incipient triumph, trumpeting, "This really could be the start of something!" (term papers soon)

Sisyphus said...

D: Ha!

Thank you for bringing me back to my usual register of cynicism and snarkiness.

Your present, of course, would be one of those buttonhole-flowers that squirts water.

T.E. said...

_I_ think this is a wonderful idea. And since book showers are unlikely to catch on in real life, we could throw them virtually. Anybody could announce on their blog "I'm throwing a book shower" (for myself or for someone else) and people could send links to books, procrastinatory software, gorgeous stationery, suitable Cute Overload kittens or puppies - and hey, how 'bout a mockup of the cover of the finished book? With cover blurbs?

Maude said...

can't i just have the magic beans for no reason at all? i think i really need them at this point.

Dr. Brainiac said...

The reason people celebrate the completion of things like dissertations, graduations, et cetera, is because many more people begin such projects than actually finish them - kind of like first marriages, even though brides typically make a haul on their first try ;o)

At any rate, were you to throw such a fete, I'd bring you some of these, and a nice bottle of syrah or four.

kermitthefrog said...

I also think this idea is grand. I would be the one bearing stickers in the shape of animals.

medieval woman said...

I love this idea - just as I love the idea of "being pregnant with my next book" - because that would mean that I've finished the first one and have tenure!! Woo-hoo!

I would bring frankincense and guacomole...

moria said...

I'll take some piles of interesting verbs, please! I need them so, so badly.

This is a beautiful post -- what makes me sad about it is that I think this is how it's supposed to be, all the time. People supporting and fostering each other's work, celebrating each other's ideas, helping each other out. I think that's the academe that exists inside all of our heads and yet virtually nowhere on the ground.

That said, I may be throwing a dissertation shower in not too long, as t.e. suggests. Frankincense would not be wholly irrelevant.

Psycgirl said...

What a wonderful idea! It makes me think I should be more positive on my blog and post about exciting things when I start them.

I'm with neophyte - what I really long for is an environment that is like that all the time. Academia is nothing but smart people and ideas really, so why don't we get excited about this stuff already?