Music Time

Although I love music I rarely have time to listen to it.  My work demands concentration and if I have music on I have trouble paying attention to the task before me.  I awake early to write, and if I try to listen to music while expressing my thoughts through my fingers I find myself conflicted.  I work until supper and the debriefing time that follows work is often fraught—we’re all experiencing frustrations with our new, pandemic reality.  By the time supper’s over, I’m ready for sleep and one of the things that can keep me awake is an ear-worm.  Awake predawn the next day and repeat.  On rare occasions when I have a thoughtless task to complete on my job, I’ll be able to put on some tunes.

Photo credit: Al Aumuller/New York World-Telegram and the Sun, from Wikimedia Commons

When that rare syzygy came the other day I put on MCR, or, for those who like to spell things out (such as me), My Chemical Romance.  Every time I listen to MCR I wonder why I don’t do it more.  I suppose it’s because I have only two of their albums and I don’t want to wear them out.  What struck me as I listened to The Black Parade was how religious language sometimes creeps in, even when the band is secular.  This is important because rationalists have long been trying to dismantle religious thinking, falsely associating it with only certain amorphous groups such as “Fundamentalists” or “extremists.”  Religion, however, is very much a part of being human.  If we deny it, it simply crops up in another form.  It may take some time for the new shape to be recognized, but when it is it’ll be called religious.

I often wonder why universities, which are supposed to be such curious places, tend to show so little interest in religion.  It’s like that embarrassing uncle at a family gathering—the one everyone else avoids.  Still, our political system is run by religious ideology—take a look at the Supreme Court and try to deny it.  Our daily life is suffused with it like the air in a room with a scented oil diffuser.  Religion is all around us and the academic response tends to be “meh.”  I might be less distressed by this lack if it could be demonstrated that people are becoming less religious, but they’re not.  MCR doesn’t (in the albums I have) exude religious thoughts often, but they are there.  They also appear in other secular music, almost as often as sex and drugs.  If only I had more time I might be able to listen for more examples.  Right now, however, it is time to get to work.

Unintentional Patterns

Time, they say, is what prevents everything from happening at once.  I’ve noticed something about my reading life (is there any other kind of life?).  One of my favorite topics on this blog is books.  Both reading and writing them.  When I wake up and try to clear the cobwebs of sleep from my head to think about the day’s post, I always feel relieved when I have a book I’ve just finished because that’s an eager and ready topic.  When I’m in the middle of a large book, it seems like a long time until I’ll be able to jot down some thoughts on it, and the ideas don’t always flow.  It’s here that I’ve noticed a strange kind of pattern and it has to do with the way I read.  Interestingly, it isn’t intentional.  It goes back to my post-commuting literary lifestyle.

I read nonfiction in the mornings.  I awake early and after about an hour of writing I try to get in an hour of reading before thoughts turn to work and its unraveling effect on the fabric I’ve been weaving before the sun rises.  The nonfiction I read depends, to a large extent, on my writing projects.  Not exactly the kind of research that time and libraries afford academics, but still, research in my own way.  Often these nonfiction books are large—400 pagers seem to be the trend.  I’m a slow reader, so they take some weeks to finish.  At night (or actually evening, for I retire early) I read fiction.  It isn’t unusual for my fiction choices to be briefer than the nonfiction books of the morning.  It always seems, however, that I finish two books very near the same time.  Then I have two book posts in a week and many days without any.

Since we married over thirty years ago, my wife and I read to each other.  Usually she reads while I wash dishes.  Those reading choices are by mutual consent.  They sometimes make their way into my research, but more often they show up in my fiction writing.  In any case, they also seem to fit this same pattern.  When I finish a large nonfiction book in the morning, the same day, or the next day, I generally finish my fiction book.  Shortly after that our dishes-reading book finishes.  I’ve noticed this happening over the past couple of years and I always wonder about unexpected patterns that I find.  It doesn’t always happen this way, but it does often enough to make me wonder.  If I intentionally set out to do this it would be understandable, but as it is, it simply happens.  As they say, things tend to occur in threes.

Secretly

There are not too many books that I would call epiphanies.  I always lay down Jeffrey Kripal’s books with a sense of wonder and awe.  His Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions is one book I initially skipped over due (as usual) to not being able to afford even modest academic pricing.  (Hey, my books are even worse in that regard, so that’s not a criticism!)  I’ve met Kripal a few times and have had some conversations with him that always leave me feeling strangely empowered.  That’s the place this book left me.  I’m a slow reader and it isn’t a small tome, so it took me some time.  Also, I didn’t want to rush it.  Doing so would’ve been like trying to jog across a boulder field.  I hardly know where to begin.

Kripal is an historian of religions.  His own experiences in the academy are narrated in this book, so I urge the curious to look.  Many people who know me think that I’m a biblical scholar.  My training, however, is in history of religions.  It’s a fool’s errand to try to classify a doctorate, but my focus was on how ideas appeared in several ancient cultures, with no real expectation of evolution beyond what appeared later in time than something else.  As many who study ancient texts know, this translates to “biblical studies” in the academy and so for many years I taught Hebrew Bible.  Friends in the academy suggested I should shift my research to Bible (as I did in Weathering the Psalms) in order to get a solid placement in academe.  It backfired in my case.  This isn’t a pointless digression.

Secret Body is a trippy book.  It deserves to be read widely and engaged with by academics (among which I no longer count).  It is a ground plan for the study of our field.  Kripal understands, better than just about anyone, why religious studies is foundering.  He’s also brave enough to delve into the unspoken areas that we all know are terribly, terribly significant.  And he isn’t a materialist.  There’s much in this book to give the reader pause.  Indeed, it’s more than a stop sign on the superhighway of the academic business.  It’s the kind of book you need to keep at hand in case “the real world” gets you ensnared in its ropes and chains.  It makes me believe that I need to go back to school all over again.

Large Projects

Now, where was I?  I suspect it’s the same with you.  We’ve got so many things going that it’s difficult to keep up with them all.  When one big project comes along—say reading book proofs for a deadline—everything else gets displaced.  After a week of intense concentration you emerge from a daze and try to remember where you left off with other projects.  What was so dreadfully important before the large project began?  I’m used to deadlines at work, but there aren’t too many in my personal life.  I have goals and targets, to be sure, but due dates slip and slide with the slings and arrows.  When the big project’s done there’s relief, but also a kind of reboot that has to take place.  I’m afraid to look at the news.

The corrected proofs of Nightmares with the Bible have been submitted, along with the index, and now all I can do on that front is wait.  Which of my many other projects, neglected for an entire week, should I take up now?  Part of the difficulty is knowing whether to work on fiction or non.  Given my work-life commitments, fiction is easier.  I enjoy writing it, but I have trouble getting published.  Nonfiction, on the other hand, is simpler to get published but brings in very little remuneration.  I know as an editor that we distinguish between academics (who already have a good paying job) and, say, journalists, who write nonfiction trying to earn a living.  What about an editor who isn’t paid like an academic, but has a regular job nevertheless?  (When talking to an independent, nonfiction publisher a few years back, I heard him respond to the question of if he was non-profit with, “Well, that’s not how I intended it…”)

I have two nonfiction books well along at this point.  I also have several fiction projects, including an eighth novel and a short story collection.  I also have some essays underway for sites beyond my own blog.  A week seems like a long time to put all these things aside and then to pick them up again.  That week wasn’t vacation either.  Nor did it suggest topics for me to address on my blog because if you want to know about Nightmares with the Bible you’ll read the book.  The evening I finished the proofs I had a dream that seemed to stretch through the entire night that I had come up with a complete college curriculum all by myself.  As much as my weary mind wanted to go on to other things it was fixated at that stage.  I awoke to wonder where I’d left off on real life projects, none of which are very near the finish line.  Now, where was I? 

Never Too Late

In these weary days of bleak news, I’m always glad to find a bit of cheer.  A friend recently shared the story of Giuseppe Paternò from The Guardian.  Paternò is a 96-year-old first time college graduate.  As the story explains Paternò had wanted to attend college his entire life but being raised in poverty he never had the opportunity.  We all know how life is a rushing river that snatches you in its current, and thus Paternò found himself unable to attain his dream.  Until his nineties.  Just this year he graduated from the University of Palermo.  What really spoke to me about this story is that Paternò is now considering working on his master’s degree.  While some might wonder if this is practical, to me it demonstrates that knowledge is never wasted.

We live in an era where education is seen as either a useless luxury or as just another business.  Both views are fatal to our civilization.  We have reached where we are by progressively educating our young (and old) so that our collective knowledge-base grows.  When education is seen as a business (and I saw this in my ill-fated university teaching career) it becomes something different.  This isn’t on the part of the faculty, for the most part, but on administrations.  Paying corporate-level salaries to administrators—schools top-heavy with deans—they can’t afford to hire faculty and cut departments that aren’t profitable.  Knowledge, in turn, suffers.  Paternò, I sincerely hope, avoided the politics of academia.  A man hungry for knowledge, he studied philosophy at an age when most of us think people should just sit around and stare at the walls all day.  Knowledge should never be wasted.

Those of us who’ve been excluded from the academy sometimes try to continue our contribution.  Some of us still write books and articles.  It does nothing for our promotion or tenure.  It certainly doesn’t bear much in royalties.  “Why do it?” a friend once asked me.  When we cease seeking knowledge we stagnate and die.  We see this playing out in the politics of our day.  Washington houses many who see education as a threat to the unrestrained acquisition of mere money.  This is why universities suffer—they are not businesses.  One size does not fit all.  At their best they’re places where those of us raised in poverty can go to have our eyes opened.  And they are places where even nonagenarians can go to contribute to the growth of knowledge.

Update on Nightmares

Progress continues on Nightmares with the Bible.  Despite pandemic conditions, I received a happy email last week telling me that the manuscript had been transmitted to production.  If you don’t work in publishing that probably sounds like a pretty simple step, but in reality it’s immensely complicated.  The job of many editorial assistants is often just making sure books get through the transition from author to publishing engines safely.  Since Lexington/Fortress Academic is short-staffed at the moment (publishing is a “non-essential” business), they ask authors to take on additional responsibilities.  One that they passed on to me was to find people to endorse my book.  Fortunately I’ve got star series editors who agreed to take on the task, sparing me from going to someone and saying, “Um, hi.  Would you like to say nice things about my book?”  I’m shy that way.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not excited about the book.  It came about in an odd way, but like any parent an author loves her or his books, even if they aren’t quite what you expected.  Getting a fourth book published is kind of a hallmark for me, especially since I spend a lot of time on the websites of successful academic colleagues older than me that haven’t reached that benchmark.  Publishing books, for me, is a kind of validation.  The original ideas of editors aren’t much valued, either in publishing or in society at large.  Who cares what an editor thinks?  Put that same person in a college and s/he’s a superstar, eh, Qohelet?  So I sit here like an expectant parent, wondering what the book will look like although I already know what I’ve put into it.

Nightmares was never meant to be a research book.  Indeed, Holy Horror was written with an eye toward trade publication.  I’ve been working on my next book project (which I’m keeping under wraps at the moment for fear that someone with more time might get to it first, since there’s no getting the genie back in the bottle).  Before too many weeks have passed I’ll need to brush off my indexing skills (in as far as I have any), and get proofs submitted.  I’m afraid I’ll miss the coveted Halloween launch yet again with this book.  “Scary topic” books always sell best in September/October, but if you miss it, the next year you’re old news.  Like an anxious parent I sit here and wait because at this point things are literally out of my hands.

Trading Ideas

Sometimes you read a book where the author seems to have your same experiences.  I suspect that’s why many of us keep reading, looking for connection.  I just finished Scott Shibuya Brown’s The Traders and immediately began wanting more.  Anyone who’s faced teetering stacks of rejection letters from agents will appreciate the story of Cecil Po, a bookseller in Tandomon.  Like many of us who wind up in book-related industries, Po is at heart a writer.  Like most writers, he’s down on his luck.  When he discovers a deceased, truly third or fourth-rate writer who’s acquired some level of fame, a wild plot begins to hatch.  The story is so compelling that I spent much of this past week wishing for just a few more minutes to read.

One of the things the story does exceptionally well is to point out the foibles of scholars.  Self-important and self-focused, they often fail to see the obvious right in front of them.  There are some laugh out loud moments here for anyone who’s spent time in academia.  Po’s laconic commentary is no-nonsense and witty.  It also seems to contain a rebuke for the big publishing houses that effectively limit what gets read.  Anyone who’s tried to navigate publishing knows the truth of this tale.  There are those who decide which writers will get noticed and then build them up to continuing successes.  It even happens in academic publishing.  Po, talented but uneducated, and—more importantly—unconnected, has resigned himself to a life of peddling books while knowing he has written better than some of what he has read.  Brown takes the gloves off, but gently and politely.

There are tonnes of great, but undiscovered writing out there.  Even those of us in publishing (perhaps especially so) find it difficult to spend the time we wish to on reading.  There is reading and then there is reading.  If people did more of it there might well be less pandemic to go around.  And if more people read for pleasure there would be more demand for books.  It might also lead to more people writing.  The Traders is a fascinating little parable that draws you in with possibilities.  Cecil Po is like so many of us who dream big but live small.  I won’t put any spoilers here since the novel deserves to be widely read.  And it’s just possible that the reader will discover a bit of him or herself between the covers along with Po.

Indexing Life

I’m thinking about indexing my life.  It might help to keep things organized, don’t you think?  One of those odd disconnects that a biblical studies editor faces is the discipline’s love of indexes.  I have volumes on the shelf behind me right now that have five or more indexes.  You can look up subject, author, biblical citation, non-biblical citation, and even for some, places mentioned.  The thing is such books were produced before the internet.  If you’ve read a few of my posts you know that I’m no fan of ebooks.  I like a book in my hands, and a book, in my definition, is made of paper.  Still, I do occasionally look things up in an index.  If at all possible, however, I try to find an electronic copy so I can type what I’m looking for in the search box and come up with the exact reference.  In this I’m not alone.

A great deal of my editorial time is spent trying to explain this to other biblical scholars.  In the post-Covid world academic libraries are going to be closed for quite a while.  They’ll likely increase their electronic holdings while cutting back on paper books.  When someone wants to look something up, they’re not going to scroll to the index and scroll back through countless pages to find it.  They’ll use the search function.  That’s what it’s for.  So it goes.  When I index my life, the early part will be all about looking things up manually.  The latter years will be searchable.  To be fair, I would’ve never come to know this if it hadn’t been for working in publishing.

Indexing points to milestones.  Earning a Ph.D. from Edinburgh was one, I suppose.  For a guy who grew up with ambitions to be a janitor, that’s something a little different.  Some things I’m not sure how to index.  The abrupt transition from professor to not-professor, for instance.  What are the keywords you’d put down to search for that?  Or the part about being treated like a lackey by former colleagues?  I guess that’s not really a milestone anyway.  Besides, it’s in the internet half of life, the searchable bit.  The earlier years, many biography readers note, are the most interesting.  They set us on a trajectory that we type up in our curricula vitae.  When I write my fiction the characters are often janitors.  Unless I put my pen-name in the index nobody will ever know.  Of course, I haven’t got to the last chapter yet.

Learning To Shift

Beliefs have a way of shifting with time and learning.  A regular part of my job is to spend time on college, university, and seminary websites.  Indeed, an editor in my field has to know quite a bit about institutional affiliations.  No matter how much secularists dislike it, our institutions of higher education tended, historically, to be founded by religious organizations.  That’s not unexpected since the very idea of higher education grew organically from the concept of monasteries as the places that preserved learning.  Many, if not most, universities have grown away from their founders’ faiths.  Harvard University, for example, was founded largely for the supply of Congregational and Unitarian clergy.  Not officially affiliated, it nevertheless owed its founding vision to religious needs in the colony.  The fact of moving away from religious traditions is understandable in the cases of universities because learning is essentially a secular enterprise now.

Seminaries are a little different.  When searching for my first (and, to date only) full-time teaching job, I was acquired by Nashotah House because I was Episcopalian.  All the faculty were.  I’ve been turned down for a good many jobs over the years by seminaries silently stating that I wasn’t Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist or ________ (fill in the blank).  Ironically, as I’ve come to know many seminary faculty members through work, most of them are not of the same denomination as their institution.  Quite often they are Bible faculty, which, when you think about it, is pretty surprising.  Denominations, especially Protestant ones, draw their lines in the sand over their interpretation of Scripture.  

All of this leaves me wondering what it really means to belong to a religious body.  After Nashotah House sympathetic Episcopalians were difficult to locate.  Even those in the academy seemed to accept my sudden disappearance with a studied lack of curiosity.  I’ve sat on the sidelines for a decade and a half now, watching others play the game.  Some win.  Many do not.  Some have denominations that open up for them.  Others do not.  Looking back at the origins of higher education, those of us who studied the original academic field are now considered non-essential even among the non-essentials.  And yet society feels like it’s reeling because of its lack of understanding regarding what religion is.  There are few places to go to learn what your particular brand teaches.  But then again, beliefs do have a way of shifting over time.

Wondering about Fall

I’m not a professor, but I play one on—no, wait—wrong commercial.  I’m not a professor, but I used to be.  Now as the spring semester, which ended remotely, is winding down all over schools are asking what they should do in the autumn.  Should the fall semester—the great migratory event of the human species—be virtual or actual?  We know the coronavirus will still be lurking out there, and we know that colleges mix people from all over the world, which is one of the real essentials of education.  I try to picture myself teaching to a classroom of masked faces.  I try to envision frat parties with social distancing.  I try to imagine the dining halls where students are packed in closely together, handling knives, forks, and spoons that others have touched.  I think and shudder.

I know some younger folks.  They tend to trust certain internet personalities because they seem smart.  I’ve even occasionally asked what the qualifications of such personalities were only to receive an “I don’t know” answer.  This is among educated viewers.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t have my diplomas on the wall behind me.  I never even had them framed.  They’re still in the tubes.  I had to show my Ph.D. diploma to two recent employers even though I was hired by universities without ever having to unroll it.  That was back in the day when you could have face-to-face interviews.  Back when a bona fide degree from a world-class research university meant something.  Now economics are being weighed against wisdom.  It’s not a fair fight.

There’s a reason economics is called “the dismal science.”  With Malthusian overtones, we increase to the point of stressing our resources.  A disease breaks out and quickly spreads through our dense populations, but not our denser individuals.  We don’t want to be seen as uneducated, but there’s the great god Mammon to consider.  Funny thing is, back when I was still teaching schools like Rutgers had a difficult time getting tenured professors to train for online courses.  Why put yourself through the trouble when your job is already secure?  They trained adjuncts such as myself instead.  There was, to put it in economic terms, already a demand for online education.  But there are campuses to be maintained, and there’s only so much you can do at home with your own chemistry set.  And so we face the summer wondering how it will end.  It’s time for some critical thinking, but that’s above my pay scale.

White Whales

Every once in a while I return to Moby Dick.  I’m not sure why exactly Melville’s classic has such a hold on me.  Perhaps because I first read it while living in Boston.  For a land lubber like myself being so near the ocean was a kind of epiphany.  I read the novel as part of a course on wisdom literature in the Bible.  Harrell Beck, who was an influential person in my life, insisted that if wisdom themes were truly wisdom they would be found outside the Good Book.  We were assigned a list of modern novels from which to choose and I selected Moby Dick.  The thing that immediately struck me about the novel was just how biblical it is.  Ahab and Ishmael aside, the many references to Jonah and Job and incidental asides referencing scripture made this an intense reading experience.

I started reading it for the fifth or sixth time just before the pandemic became a crisis.  It is a large book and I didn’t want to rush through it.  I tried to pause and appreciate it this time around and I noticed just how remarkable it was that a man who made much of his life as a laborer, without any higher education, was so incredibly literate.  Classical references that I had to look up, and citation of sources blend together in a story that is compelling as it is unsettling.  Long explanations and descriptions are part of the tale, and the soliloquies are so philosophical that you have to sit back in a reverie after reading them.  I’ve read many novels in my life, but no others like Moby Dick.

As metaphorical stories go, the book is remarkably natural.  The descriptions of whales are as scientific in their own way as they are literary.  For an author with no scientific training this too is remarkable.  Indeed, a good part of the draw of Moby Dick is Herman Melville himself.  Although I have gathered a few degrees over the years, in my mind I am, like Melville, unlettered.  I’m sure he would’ve understood.  The fiction I write, although in a very different style, is a tip of the hat to him.  Friends used to tell me that nobody writes like that any more and that no publishers would show an interest.  The latter has proven to be true, and so much more’s the pity.  We could use more novels like Moby Dick.  And were my days not even fuller during the pandemic, I might even have a few moment to pursue my own white whales.

Honey and Wine

Academic writing tends to be limiting.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy reading a well-crafted academic work, but when facing a new one I always experience that sinking feeling that this will be difficult work.  That doesn’t stop me from getting a little thrill when something academic I’ve written appears.  Pickwick, an imprint of Wipf & Stock, recently released the cover of Some Wine and Honey for Simon, the Festschrift for Simon Parker to which I’ve contributed.  As I’ve written elsewhere, this was an orphaned article that required some polishing up to be able to submit.  Thinking back on it, I reflect on how much has changed since then.  How I’ve left the land of Festschriften.  How my own research has changed.

Research, traditionally wrought, requires an academic library and lots of time.  You need to be able to spend your hours requesting books and articles that you can’t afford—really publishers?  $40 to purchase twenty pages that I won’t even enjoy reading?  Access to JSTOR will cost you if you don’t have a university post.  Now I trawl Academia.edu hoping to catch what I need in my net.  Sometimes it works.  Other times you bring up a coelacanth.  That’s the way of research outside the academy.  Also, I find myself reading books that appeal to me rather than strictly books on topic.  Many of them aren’t academic, but they are informative.  Part of research, it seems to me, is learning to access sources you wouldn’t normally find.  There’s the element of discovery.

Monsters appealed to me as a research area since there hadn’t been much written on them academically and I’d read most of what had.  The field is starting to take off now, which means  high-priced monographs and inaccessible research.  Working in publishing I think I understand the mindset—employees are expensive, especially in the United States.  They require salaries so they can live, and medical coverage so they can continue to live.  And most books sell so few copies that they really aren’t profitable.  But I like to think people would read about monsters, if they were priced down around the level of the demographic that appreciates them.  So one of my academic articles is about to be released to the world along with some wine and honey.  I’m still trying to sort out how to contribute from the margins.  And I hope Simon, who was always kind to me, appreciates the effort to honor a scholar and a gentleman.

Begging Your Question

I still remember when I first consciously heard it.  The phrase “begging the question,” I mean.  I was a doctoral student at the time and one thing you do in grad school is ask a lot of questions.  I asked my advisor what the phrase meant.  “Asking a question when you’ve already assumed the answer,” he replied.  I’ve been writing quite a lot about feedback loops these days, and this was yet another of them.  Begging the question, in other words, is a fallacy where the asker isn’t seeking an answer, but is attempting to persuade another of a pre-decided outlook.  The concept is subtle, but important.  That’s why it disturbs me that most academics these days use the phrase “begs the question” when they mean “asks the question.”

I’m afraid I don’t have statistics here, but I read academese all day long—it’s my job.  I can’t footnote where this occurs but I can attest that it happens all the time.  Whenever I read “begs the question” I stop and reason it out.  Does the author mean “begs” or “raises” or “poses” or “asks” the question?  Begging a question isn’t the same as raising or posing or asking it since the latter three indicate an answer is being sought.  Precision in thinking is difficult work.  It can give you a headache.  We all fail sometimes.  Perhaps that’s why we eschew it, as a society.  It’s much easier to beg the question.  Still, doesn’t that mean this valuable concept is in danger of losing its, well, value?

I realize that posing such a question makes me sound like one of those old guys who says, “back when I was a youngster…” but the fact is the educational system in the United Kingdom made you ask lots of questions.  In a way that’s unheard of over here, where money assures your credentials, I knew two students who failed out of the doctoral program at Edinburgh when I was there.  One of them an American.  It wasn’t just a matter of laying your money on the barrelhead and walking out the door with a diploma.  I’ve read certified copies of dissertations (not from institutions in the United Kingdom) where Zeus was spelled “Zues” (throughout) and the biblical seer was called “Danial.”  Now, I suppose that raises the question of the value of degrees where you don’t even need to spell your subject’s name correctly.  Begging the question is a fallacy, not a synonym for asking.  And I know that if your thesis begs a question then you’re barking up the wrong tree, but that won’t stop you from landing a job in the academy.

Reading Connections

It’s flattering to have someone notice your work.  The other day I had the very first email from someone who’d read Holy Horror and wanted to discuss it.  It was from an undergraduate, no less, who was doing a report on religion and horror.  She’d read my book (and yes, it’s undergrad friendly) and wondered if I’d be willing to talk about it.  I can’t express how surprised I was (and still am).  You see, I have emailed authors after reading their books.  Many of them show no interest in carrying on a conversation with someone they’ve “met” through email.  I’ve had so many single-sentence responses with no enthusiasm whatsoever that I’ve begun to think of those employed in academia as hopelessly stuck in tunnel vision.  If you write a book you’re wanting conversation with those who read it, I should think.  At least I am.

Those of us outside academe don’t have tenure committees to please or effectiveness committees to placate.  We write books to try to engage readers.  Unfortunately Holy Horror is priced for the library market.  During our phone interview, my interlocutor asked about the cover.  She said something publishers should hear: when walking around with Holy Horror her friends asked what the book was about because the cover is intriguing.  (It’s actually based on Chloë Grace Moretz from the reboot of Carrie, discussed in the book.)  In the midst of a pandemic, this first show of interest made my day, like seeing the first crocuses after a long, hard winter.  I do welcome conversation about my book.  I don’t have a classroom of students to force to buy and read it.  It’s out there for discussion.

Nightmares with the Bible is nearly finished.  Of course, publishers have hit a bit of a slow patch with many of their business partners shutting down.  Some publishers have gone into hibernation during the pandemic.  Books, though, will get us through.  A colleague of mine said the industry reports are showing that novels continue to sell while nonfiction is suffering.  Well, I’m no expert, but I do wonder if nonfiction might do better if authors would be willing to respond to this who express an interest in their work.  I know it’s a radical idea.  I also know that my books reach nowhere near what most publishers consider a viable readership.  What people are looking for during enforced isolation is a sense of connection.  Reaching out to find someone reaching back.  Books can do this, even if we never physically meet.

Distance Education

As an exile from academia, I do feel for my employed colleagues who are having to learn distance education techniques on the fly.  I do also feel compelled *ahem* to note that I was trained in online teaching long ago at Rutgers University.  The school declined to hire me then, and I’ve had no offers since.  Now it’s become fashionable for academics with virtually no online experience to look to the hills—whence is their help to come?  It’s not very often that I can claim to have been ahead of the curve.  In fact, I’m usually so far back that I don’t even know there is a curve.  Mismatches like this (someone who’s always been good at teaching, and trained to do so online, who’s been deemed exile-worthy while the unprepared now brush off their virtual bona fides) occur all the time in history.  It’s one of the things that makes it interesting.

Higher education isn’t a luxury.  I disagree with President Obama that all people should go to college, though.  Not everyone needs to.  Everyone should be able to attend, however, if they feel compelled to do so.  There are a number of myths about it that politicians of all stripes should seek to dispel.  One is that the more education you get the higher salary you’ll be able to demand.  As a Ph.D. holder I know that is decidedly not the case.  There are plenty of manual labor jobs that pay better than the options open for a humanities Ph.D. earner.  I also know that universities don’t tell new doctoral candidates this fact.  The old ways are changing.  I’ve often wondered if the collapse of civilization would be slow or rapid.  Living through it I now can see it looks slow from the inside.  Future historians will need to assess for future readers how it looks from the social distance of chronological clarity.

Historically crises have helped people pull together.  This one seems only to have divided us further.  If our government knew how, it could now model kind and considerate behavior.  It doesn’t know how.  The selfish often don’t comprehend how the wellbeing of others can affect their own.  Some companies are beginning to realize that customer loyalty after the crisis may depend on reasonable treatment at at time like this.  For others it’s more difficult than house-training a new puppy.  Nobody wants to go into exile.  When you do, however, you can’t help but notice how it changes your view of things.  Ironically I was hired away from academia the very year I had completed my training in distance education.  I can image how it might’ve been.  But then, I’m living in a land not my own.