Friday, January 01, 2010

10 Years Ago...

There's a mini-meme floating around Twitter, with folks posting who they were or what they were up to 10 years ago.

As soon as I asked myself the question, I winced. You see, I celebrated Y2K at a big family gathering out in California, a long-time dream of my father. At the time, I didn't realize that he didn't expect to live much longer, but evidently he'd assumed for many years that he wouldn't much outlive his own father, who died in his sixties--and, it turned out, he was right.

Once that sadness subsided, though, I got to thinking: where was I, other than that, ten years ago? What did I do with this decade?

Well, let's see.

2000 was the year I went on a four year publishing / conferencing hiatus, more or less, in order to invest more of my energy in family matters. That hiatus didn't start until the end of spring term, though; until then, I was busy flitting from conference to conference, mostly giving papers that year on Ronald Johnson. (Mark, Joel, Peter, remember that panel in Louisville? The Buffalo conference?) Ten years later, the book that grew out of that work has finally appeared, and although sales have little slow (will we break 100 this year?), Ronald Johnson: Life and Works has already shown itself to be the foundation for future scholarship on the poet. (I can't tell you how I know this, but I do.)

What else was I up to? I had a fellowship from the DePaul Humanities Center to work on a project I called "Delight in Disorder: The Theory and Practice of Pleasure in Post-war American Poetry." I never did write that book, but the conference on poetry and pedagogy that I put together as part of the fellowship turned into five NEH grants to work with small groups of K-12 teachers. Last month, I realized that the theoretical and literary-historical research I began back then is actually the underpinning of my popular romance scholarship, so that what seemed like a sharp turn in my professional trajectory now looks like a calmer, more natural progression.

Ten years ago I was writing an essay on poets' memoirs for Parnassus: Mary Karr, William Corbett, Thylias Moss. Gosh, I haven't thought about that piece in ages, but I sure remember writing it, painfully, night after night in the upstairs study of my brick Chicago house. Oh, and I was editing, too: Jewish American Poetry: Poems, Commentary, and Reflections, a book that still brings me little royalty checks every year or two, God bless it. I'd meant to follow up on that book with a monograph on the subject, but never quite pursued that, either. Maybe this decade.

Ten years ago, I was gunning for tenure, pumping up the CV, writing and planning and plotting each move to reach that goal. I was up until 2, 3, 4 in the morning, as often as not, writing or prepping my classes. I remember waking up, head down on the kitchen table, and staring at the laptop in disgust. Glad to be past that. Ten years ago, I had a three-year-old and a one-year-old. Toilet training. Getting up, night after night, to give Thing Two her bottle, change a diaper, and the rest. Glad to be past that, too--although as my friend the koala will tell you, I still have a knack for charming & calming small creatures.

Ten years ago, I didn't play mandolin--hadn't picked up any instrument in ages. Ten years ago, I hadn't started having a cocktail (like my father before me) before dinner. At which thoughts, I think I'll end this little ramble, mix a couple Manhattans, and practice a song or two before the slow-cooked beef is done. And since that phrase is in my head ("ten years ago"), here's the first outro of the new year. Rick Danko swallows the line, but that's how it starts--enjoy. And thanks for listening to an old man reminisce.

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