The pleasures of being read.
Today my heart is shining this singing shade of gold, this stand of sunlit yellow reaching. By the time yesterday closed down, I was exhausted yet again--hence my refusal to trust myself to write even a few words to caption yesterday's picture--and that very pleasant exhaustion stemmed directly from a second day of expected and unexpected and expected-but-then-unexpected-but-then-arrived people appearing at my kitchen door. (I don't think I've ever told you that my house's two doorbells have completely different rings, which means that I would always know where people arrive at my house, if I could only remember which ring is which. Neither is, as I just mistyped, rich.) A multitude of funny things cheer me this afternoon: the particular slant of sunlight through a back window onto my dining room table, which is itself pleasing me just by being in a different place than usual because of the party I threw a week ago; the lyrics of Erin McKeown's song "Air"; my tortellini dinner; my laundry's half-doneness; Hem's arrival in Cleveland in two weeks; the leaves' continuing to start to fall, little by little; the errands I'll have to run before I even have time to finish this writing. And the pictures (some of very strange plant forms indeed) that I took yesterday while I walked at Kenyon's environmental center with my Columbus friend yesterday after her Gambier meetings wrapped up earlier than she'd thought they would.
But what really has me radiating is a pair of experiences I've had with being read in the past two days.
One is a figurative reading and is the continuation of a small, steady glow that I'm cherishing: a new friend has expressed concern twice, in a relatively short time, that I might be working too hard and not taking care of my surroundings. Somehow, these two instances have made me able to reevaluate a somewhat tortured moment from this summer when I was unable to accept a similar expression of concern from my mother, channeled (as was one of this weekend's statements of concern) as a worry about the way I take care of my house (or, more properly, don't take care of my house). I fell pretty hard onto a big, thorny pile of denial when she shared this worry with me back in July. But I think there's something to it. (So, sorry for the denial, Mama.) I think I've been slipping into a state where I've been unable to imagine that it could matter to anyone, least of all myself, that I live in a comfortably clean dwelling. To be reminded that it might indeed matter, in a non-judgmental way, even to people who haven't known me long and don't know me well, is helping me realize that it actually does matter to me that I might be spending so much time and attention on everything but myself and my dwelling that I've stopped even imagining a better way I might live--not to make anyone else happy but to please my adventuring self.
Hence the laundry-doing. And the dish-doing. And, to some extent, the errand-going I'll soon undertake, which will involve acquiring ingredients with which to prepare some meals that will actually carry me through the week with some degree of energy (and, I can only hope, grace).
The second reading is a literal one. I have recently begun writing for another blog, without the cover of a pseudonym and in full embrace of my identity and authority as a Kenyon professor. I've been startled to find just how much I care that that blog's readership cares about what we (collectively) write. And I've been very startled by my ecstatic response to finding out today that my latest post, a mini-essay about one of my favorite texts in the world, has been linked by a couple of other blogs' daily link round-ups. Suddenly, I have yet another new vision of myself as the bona fide writer I've always wanted to be, even when I haven't wanted to be one at all. (I do realize that you've been watching these visions wash over me all through this calendar year.)
As I see it, it's all too easy for the self-aware academic writer to fear that her work, no matter how lucid and lovely it might strive to be, is not likely ever to reach an audience that could fill even a small lecture hall. Recognizing this aspect of the academic writing career, I have done my best to make my articles and essays provocative and edifying to specialists but still approachable by non-specialists. Often, I write with my parents in mind: both are fabulously smart, but neither is possessed of literary critical or theoretical terminology (the stuff that so often gets derided as jargon but is, if used appropriately, simply my field's advanced technical language, no different from the advanced technical language of scientists). And so if I'm making an argument and telling a story, I try to make sure that it's teaching my readers at least some degree of the knowledge they'll need in order to understand what I'm doing. But it's tough, because articles can only be so long, and peer reviewed journals are, in fact, aimed at a particular readership, which tends to be made up of people who are well versed in literary criticism and theory and history.
And so what I'm loving about writing at this other blog is the same thing that I've loved about writing the literary posts I've done for this one: the chance to back up and write things that (I hope) are friendly to people who love words but don't study them for a living--people who might have studied literature in college, or might not even have known that they wanted to study literature in college, and who may not get as much literature into their lives now as they wish they could. It's amateur criticism, in some ways, and I mean that in the oldest sense of "amateur": it's criticism that I get to produce sheerly for the love of what I'm discussing, and sheerly for the love of the discussion itself, and sheerly for the hope that it will reach others who might discover that they too love this stuff. My writing there all gets informed by the same kind of patient, careful attention to detail that I do my best to bring into all of my work, but somehow this off-hours writing has been giving me a slightly different angle from which to look at the reasons I do what I do, and the reasons why a larger-than-just-academic audience might be interested in learning some of the things I know. And thus it's helping me think about ways that I might be making my slow and steady way toward a particular kind of professional writing that might accomplish something different than what I've previously imagined for myself.
I am always telling my advisees about the importance of learning to follow their instincts. Sometimes it amazes me to find out how much I'm still learning to follow my own, which seem to keep cropping up, unexpectedly, just when I think that I've seen the last of them.
A postscript of notes from back in May, at the turn into this season we're about to leave:
The evening goes white before it blues. The irises, beginning to unfurl, take on a deeper shade of lavender. The season is still on its way up, not yet in the hot beginning of decline. The moon is waxing. It will keep growing bigger in our sky, until it starts to wane again. And then it will start all over.
I am a thing of ceaseless hoping.