Well the answer is, I am finishing my book. And it sucks. Utterly. It is like the last three weeks of pregnancy in August when, it has been my observation, it is relentlessly hot, peeing has become an hourly event, and my pregnant friends are weeping hysterically and saying, "Just cut it out, OK?" So in the interests of getting to work today (and not extending the childbirth metaphor), I would like to purge my mind of everything self-destructive, poisonous and distracting with the....(drum roll) "Four Reasons Why It Sucks To Work On My Book" post. I am giving you only the four top reasons (rather than the dozens that there really are) so that this does not take up the entire morning and so that you retain some respect for me.
Reason Number One:
It is July, and the summer is approximately half over. More than half over if you figure that on August 13 I am going to a lake in Minnesota for ten days, and when I get back, I will have to leap into school business immediately. Hence, there is enough time left to know that I can get most of the manuscript revised if I really apply myself in a reasonable way, and not enough time to actually know, for sure, that I will finish. Having done book-finishing once before, I know that I cannot package this up and send it away on Labor Day (ha -ha) without going through the kind of pain and anti-social isolation that a person of fifty simply can't muster the strength or will for anymore. Hence the agony may continue into September, when I had hoped to be book-free. I must come to terms with this possibility and keep writing at the same time, as if I were finishing. This sucks.
Reason Number Two:
This book is all about men in the nineteenth century, and my new project, where all my reading is focused, is about women -- feminists -- in the mid- to late twentieth century. This means that my secondary reading (focused on project 2) and my writing are fighting each other for supremacy in my brain. It's kind of like Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots, which is a violent game children of my generation played instead of Grand Theft Auto, and were equally vilified for by whatever parents caught us doing it. Here's an idea: what if I stopped writing my book and marketed a knock-off toy called "Rock 'em, Sock 'em Historians" and marketed it to graduate students at the AHA in January, with exchangeable bobble-heads of famous historians, past and present (which could be ordered - and paid for -- separately)? It's a concept, isn't it? And I bet I would make more money than I would make on this book. The amount of money I will make on the book will suck.
Reason Number 3:
It's getting hot, and that only aggravates my love-hate relationship to revising a manuscript that I would have been happy to publish two years ago to massively contradictory critical acclaim. But I have acquired too much creative and intellectual distance on it and its flaws have made themselves apparent in hideous and gruesome detail. So now I have to totally revise and restructure it so that I can at least have a chance of publishing something unique and different in the field that will cause people to talk about me in a wondrous way. So heat, or no heat, I am tromping through it line by hideous line, 'graph by hideous 'graph, and by the end of the day I am in an utterly foul mood and no fun to be around. And the ceiling fan is thumping overhead, causing me to imagine that I am Martin Sheen in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now: "This is the end/Beau-ti-ful Friend/This is the End...." The Horror. The Horror. Which is another way of saying: this sucks!
At least Martin Sheen eventually got to be President.
Reason Number 4:
If I abandon this book, I can never apply for a job or a fellowship again. If I finish this book now, I can apply for jobs, fellowships, a crown in heaven, a mortgage in another city, and a new passport for a trip to Paris next summer, for which we just purchased tickets with some of our three trillion airmiles. The balance of interests is clear: I must finish the book, whether I am having fun or not, whether it is summer or not, whether the war in Vietnam is a good idea or not. And I detest being in a position where anyone is telling me what to do, even if it is Fate telling me what to do. It totally sucks.
This should be a lesson to all of you: Never Get Out of the Boat.