Call it sour grapes. When I was a young scholar, I used to wonder how to develop book ideas. You see, at a young age—twenties or thirties—even a doctorate means your understanding of the world is limited. I’d written a substantial dissertation on Asherah, and I was faced with developing several new courses from scratch at Nashotah House. My mind was focused on the immediate concerns. I did continue my research, however, into ancient Near Eastern deities, with an eye toward writing an account of celestial gods and goddesses. A substantial piece on Shapshu ended up being snatched up by a Festschrift, and colleagues began to tell me that to get hired away from Nashotah I had to write something biblical. Thus Weathering the Psalms was born. The research and writing took a few years because I never had a sabbatical, or reduced teaching load. In fact, administrative duties as registrar and academic dean were added to my remit. Still I scribbled away in the early hours and finished a draft. Then I was cast into the outer darkness.
Publishing was never my first choice of career. I’m more a writer than an editor. In publishing, however, you are not encouraged to write your own content. I can’t help myself. As I rounded the corner from my forties, I had finally read enough material—both relevant and extraneous—to have book ideas. In fact, too many. Held back by the lack of publication, I didn’t know how to channel this energy. One of the benefits of working for publishers is you learn how to come up with a viable book idea. I’ve got a backlog now. I’m currently working on a few books, but one is in the forefront of my mind and eclipses all other projects at the moment. Having watched what sells, I think this one has a real chance. Time to write, alas, barely exists. The writer, you must understand, has to build a platform. Get a fan base. Welcome to my platform.
Daily I receive the first books of young scholars. In this publish or perish—strike that—publish and perish atmosphere, even the mediocre is encouraged by dissertation advisors. Young scholars, maybe thirty, think they have something profound to say. Call it sour grapes, but I’m not getting any younger and I don’t have an institution to support me while I write what should be written. The face looking back at me in the morning has more gray hairs than I remember growing, and has wrinkles that my mind doesn’t recognize. It’s too full of books to write to pause long. The bus is coming soon and I have younger scholars’ careers to build with premiere branding. My own ideas ferment unseen in the basement. What some call sour grapes others call fine wine.
Photo credit: Dragonflyir, Wikimedia Commons
Posted in Asherah, Books, Deities, Goddesses, Higher Education, Memoirs, Posts, Psalms
Tagged Ancient Near East, Asherah, Books, Nashotah House, Shapshu, Weathering the Psalms, writing
Creativity receives an immense amount of lip service. Too bad that doesn’t correlate to actual appreciation. I’ve been working since I was 14. In all the jobs I’ve had, the first was the one that used my creativity most fully. I was a teenage assistant-janitor, doing manual labor. Laborers have great incentive to be creative since it can reduce the amount of work you have to do. Of course, at other times it can create more work. While I was teaching (the second-most creative job I’ve held), I picked up Edward de Bono’s classic, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. Shortly after purchasing it I lost my teaching job with a change of administration and I’ve been involved in the least creative phase of my career ever since—publishing. I hope that I’m still a lateral thinker, and I read de Bono wishing to verify that I might be.
Lateral thinking, simply put, is the ability to see things differently. Logical thinking, with which we’re all familiar, is linear, or what de Bono calls “vertical.” Each step is based on the previous step and each step has to be right all the time. My mind, however, finds avenues out to wander among the daisies during the whole process. My interior dialogue is often a long stream of “what ifs” and questioning why things are done the way they are. I guess it’s no wonder that the church was leery of me. Lateral thinking, de Bono notes, does not sit well with dogmatism, nor with the arrogance of presuming you’re already right. If you’ve already got the answers, you need not ask any more questions. You go to seminary to learn to shore up the party line. Individual thinking is unwanted, and what’s more, it’s even dangerous.
So I have moved into the realm of business which, it would seem, stands to gain the most from creativity. Instead, standard business practices hamper, if not actively discourage, creativity. Having people sit in cubicles and maintaining rigid, often long, hours, and performing tasks that a lemur could be trained to handle. This is hardly the breeding ground of new ideas. I’ve attended “brainstorming” sessions in the industry where the leader shoots down immediately any idea that doesn’t lock-step with where s/he believes the company should be going. That’s not brainstorming, it’s brainwashing. Creativity may indeed lead to a temporary loss of profits. The truly creative business mogul will know, however, that it will lead to great leaps ahead further down the road. If you want to find the truly creative among the company, I suggest one place to go. Ask the janitors. Their ideas are likely the most creative of all.
Posted in Books, Higher Education, Memoirs, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged brainstorming, Dogma, Edward de Bono, lateral thinking, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, Publishing, teaching
Science requires translation. Even very intelligent people in other fields of study have trouble understanding what scientists have been saying. That’s why science writers are so important. They can distill the heady knowledge that empirical method produces into a palatable tipple for the laity. Jay Ingram’s The Barmaid’s Brain is one such digestible report. As the subtitle (And Other Strange Tales from Science) indicates, this book is about the weird world of science’s often hidden charms. We all pretty much know that quantum mechanics has turned conventional wisdom on its head. We also know (courtesy of the media) that science and religion fight like cats and dogs. What we don’t see is that scientists often disagree on how to interpret data, particularly on the weird end of things. Ingram tells many such interesting tales from nature, psychology, and technology.
The essays in the book are loosely grouped into areas with some common theme. The psychology story that struck me as being particularly appropriate for this blog was the one about Joan of Arc. Joan, as most of us learned from history, was a prodigy. Illiterate, female, and poor, she nevertheless displayed a military genius that led her to the head of a French army trying to hold off the advances of the English. When turned over to the enemy she was treated as a witch, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake. Later she became a saint. The reason that she’s in a book of science essays is that Ingram wonders what exactly was going on when she heard voices and saw visions. Neuroscientists have devised ways of peering into the brain during religious experiences, and psychologists have constructed theories of why otherwise sane people hear voices. Joan doesn’t fit into the category that used to be called schizophrenia, nor does she appear to have been in any way insane. She was religious and her religion spoke to her.
When I was growing up, it wasn’t unusual for scientists to be believers. Nothing was wrong with believing in a god and studying the physical world. Indeed, the idea went back to Isaac Newton and other scientists of the first generation of the Enlightenment. Implications eventually led to the utter absence of deity from the world. People such as Joan were understood as sadly misled by a religion that could not be distinguished from magic. Yet Joan, as Ingram well knows, would hardly be a household name without her visions and her faith. At the end of the analysis, Joan rises from the couch still a mystery. An enigma to science, and suspect to many religious. She was, it seems to me, quintessentially human. We are all, it seems, whether saints or scientists, subject to what empirical evidence will allow us to believe. Most of the time, anyway.
Posted in Books, Consciousness, Feminism, Mysticism, Posts, Religious Violence, Science
Tagged And Other Strange Tales from Science, Isaac Newton, Jay Ingram. The Barmaid’s Brain, Joan of Arc, neuroscience, schizophrenia, science and religion