Looking backwards has its issues. I still think about the Ancient Near East. My reputation on Academia.edu is based entirely on it. (From the user stats, nobody’s really interested in my horror writing there.) Let’s face the facts, though. If you an expert in a field (mine is Ugaritic mythology, a form of history of religions), you can’t just write things off the cuff for publication. I need to be very precise and accurate. I like to think that’s why my articles on Academia get attention. To do that kind of writing you need time—when I was a professor most of my “free time” was spent reading in that field—and either research funding or an incredible library. Professional researchers (i.e., professors) get paid to do that kind of thing. I don’t do it anymore but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it.
The other day I saw an article about Mehrdad Sadigh. Although this antiquities dealer operated mere blocks away from where I worked when I commuted to Manhattan, I’d never heard of him. It turns out that he had (has) a full-scale forging operation right in the city that never sleeps. He has made a living, allegedly, for years by selling fake antiquities as genuine. The story is tragic, but it underscores the point with which I began—people are interested in antiquity. We want to be in touch with the past. I can attest that there’s nothing quite like the thrill of being the person who unearths something on an archaeological dig. Touching an artifact than no human hand has touched for two or three thousand years. Looking back.
Looking back makes it easy to get distracted. As much as I enjoy and appreciate my friends who still get to do Ancient Near Eastern studies for a living, I sometimes think how it’s good to move on. Who knows, maybe I have another Ph.D. left in me yet. Moving on increases the breadth of your knowledge. Since university jobs are as mythical as the texts I used to study, doing a doctorate for a job is a fool’s errand. Doing it to learn, however, is something I still heartily recommend. There’s nothing like immersing yourself into a single topic for three-to-five years so that you come out with more knowledge than is practical about it. I still think about the Ancient Near East. I’m still tempted to buy new books that come out on the topic. Instead, I watch horror and think it might be fun to earn a doctorate in monsters.