Monday, January 30, 2006

Meanwhile, Back to My Own Humble Life...

I spent a shocking amount of time this morning saying "no" to a great number of requests for my time and attention. I felt both guilty and liberated. Since then, several new requests have rolled in! It's really unbelievable. It's nice that people appreciate me, but, still, how do I manage this?

As I enter (well, try to enter) into that special contemplative space that is (theoretically) offered by sabbatical, I realize I have to come to terms with issues I have. I love writing, but the process of trying to get my writing published overwhelms and bewilders me. And besides, I feel ambivalent. "Ambivalent" is a good word. On the one hand, I feel a sense of urgency about "coming out" with some of the ideas I've been working on. But, on the other hand, I must confess to feeling a bit terrified about what this might mean.

I really really want to know, experientially and personally, how much words and ideas can change the world. In my teaching, I proclaim that they do -- they are what change the world, ultimately. Actions, of course, matter too: but very often, perhaps always, it is the words and meanings that "explain" or interpret those actions that matter even more.

Hurricane Katrina, for example, happened, and dramatically changed many people's lives. But what did it really mean? Collectively, we continue to struggle with and debate this question. Is it a sign of global warming and our doing ourselves in? Is it a sign that the U.S. government is more inept that we are comfortable believing -- or worse, uncaring? And what exactly did it mean for each person affected? How do events like this shape people's personal histories? Each person weaves this shared story into her or his life differently from how others do.

So, words, meanings, intepretations matter a lot, in a general sense.

But my personal quest is to wonder: will my words matter and make a difference, and if so, how? Once words are released unto the world, they are out of the author's control. They can take on a new life of their own (ironically because of how others will then interpret them!) Of course one possibility is that they will receive no notice at all -- which can be a disappointment, or a relief (or both -- ambivalence again!)

But I think what I fear most is getting attention. What I fear most is the question of whether I will be able to handle it if some of my writings do make a splash. If I have trouble with even the modest way I'm in "high demand" (relative, again, to my hermit-like inclinations), why on earth would I want to attract more attention? The answer is that I don't really want attention at all -- I want good ideas to change the world for the better.

Are my ideas good enough? Even if they are, are they also efficacious? What does it take for ideas to be both good and efficacious? This is why question of how to get well-published matters.

This is what I really have to figure out on my sabbatical.

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