Those of us who once tried to storm the walls of academe from humble beginnings soon learn our lesson. This is a guild meant only for those whose parents knew enough to suggest an Ivy League education. Those whose parents have never heard of Harvard (they exist!) and who don’t know what an Oxford is aren’t really well-placed to give advice on these matters. At a small-town high school you couldn’t count on a guidance counselor noticing your academic prowess as anything more than a statistical blip in a non-challenging career. I learned about the Ivy League too late. It was, therefore, a very pleasant surprise to have an Edinburgh colleague ask me to write a piece for a Cambridge Companion. I don’t have the contract yet, but even the invitation made my day. Maybe my month. Or career.
I spend my days commissioning just such works for a different press. I know hundreds of colleagues. Only one ever said, “would you consider writing…” I’m not being entirely fair here. I’ve been asked to contribute to Festschriften. Such volumes are the highest praise an academic can be given. John C. L. Gibson, of blessed memory, was the first honoree. Nick Wyatt was the second. Simon Parker, also departed, whose Festschrift is currently in the works, was the third. I’ve been asked for others, but regular research is beyond my reach with my current schedule. I can churn out an original article once a decade, it seems. The ideas are still there, alive and popping. The time, alas, is not.
So I’m happily sitting here thinking of how to write a Companion article. The colleague who asked me is someone I recently met. He found out that I had attended his alma mater and wondered why I hadn’t landed a regular teaching post. Edinburgh University, in the larger world, is a recognized name. I can’t see through the ivy to discern it on this side of the Atlantic, but I’m assured it’s still there. Recognizing that those who fall between the cracks can still sink a taproot and make a contribution, he asked me if I might consider it. He had me at Edinburgh. School loyalty still counts for something, I’m glad to learn. For once I feel that I don’t have to apologize for having ventured to Scotland with only my transcripts and high hopes in my pocket (and with an indulgent wife by my side). Now I’ve been asked to write. I’ve gone all red, and I hide my face behind my hand. Of course I’ll do it.