Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Missing: One Ivory Tower

Last night, Gentle Reader, Pup Reads and I lay in bed, reading a Book For Pleasure. Well, I was reading it; Pup Reads, rather, was licking the spine, as Library Books apparently are, for the canine-inclined, The Tastiest Of All Books Ever.

I admit this book was For Pleasure rather sheepishly, because The Director occasionally graces this blog with Her Presence, as well as a few of my blog-friendly Colleagues, and if there is anything a graduate student is sheepish to admit, it is her occasional foray into pleasure fiction.

Not that anyone is ever in any doubt that an English graduate student would *gasp!* read a non-canonical book For Pleasure, because if there is anything on which we can certainly Bet Money, it is the propensity English graduate students have for Reading Books. But rather, when one is Dissertating, and Teaching, and Taking A Class, she imagines, quite foolishly, that everyone expects her to work All The Time, and she spends a lot of time worrying over just that very thing.

I offer you this scenario, Dear Friends, because while I, quite scandalously, read this forbidden Book For Pleasure—which now sounds like something Quite Naughty Indeed, but instead is just The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time--Mr. Reads, as he is wont to do, watched The Colbert Report in the living room. And as only one thin door separates our Private Boudoir from the Living Room, I heard him holler out, quite distinctly, "Brad Meltzer just got a shout-out on The Colbert Report!"

Now, Mr. Reads is a Degree-Carting Poet, so I'm sure he said something much more eloquent than that, but you get The General Idea.

Pup Reads and I immediately ran out into the living room, and as we are all proud owners of a brand-spanking-new DVR, I said to My Darling Husband, "would you rewind it, please?" to which he, quite proudly (it *is* brand-spanking-new, Dear Reader!), said, "yes, yes, I will," and rewound to said shout-out.

Now Mr. Meltzer is an absolute favorite in the Reads Household; even Pup Reads finds his books the Tastiest. In fact, the Reads Household marvels at the Marvel that is Brad Meltzer. He writes books, he writes comics, he keeps a blog, he has a family, he walks, he talks, he chews gum, and still, he finds time to be, apparently, The Nicest Person In The Universe. We've experienced this a bit firsthand, but we've also heard, from several sources, that it is just the Plain Truth. Mr. Meltzer is an amazing writer, and he finds time to be a Nice Guy to boot.

This morning, however, much to my surprise, I discovered another wonder about the Wonderful Mr. Meltzer: he watches The Colbert Report! In fact, he heard said shout-out himself! And despite knowing The Wonder of The Wonderful, the Marvel of the Marvelous, still, I found myself thinking, "Brad Meltzer has time to watch television???"

Yes, Gentle Reader, you may stop skimming now. I've come to The Point.

I should know, better than anyone, that it is possible both to produce and to play, yet even I had to feel a bit grumpy about the fact that Mr. Meltzer watches television. In fact, he watches television *and he blogs about it*. Isn't he supposed to be Too Busy to watch television? Are there not deadlines staring him down? I myself have three, yes, three large, looming deadlines in the immediate future, and I still find time to work, to play, to blog, to watch television, and yes, Gentle Reader, To Read Books For Pleasure, so I should have known better. But one cannot argue with years of mythology ingrained in one's head, no?

Today, I had a very interesting discussion with several colleagues regarding the lingering image we all have of the Lone Scholar, locked in her Ivory Tower, scribbling away at her originality and presenting to the admiring throng in a year, two years, three at the most, a work of Unequivocal Genius. Of course, the Ivory Tower Myth allows for none of the following: cooking, cleaning, romantic partnership, parenting, watching television, going to catch a film, vacation, committees, blogging, and certainly *never* reading for pleasure. But despite the fact that I'm sure Mr. Meltzer most likely enjoys and/or participates in all of those things and more, I was still astonished to realize his awareness of television, even though that television was, for the moment, *about him*.

But even further, The Ivory Tower Myth does not account for visions and revisions, all before the taking of toast and tea (gratitude, Mr. Eliot). Nor does it account for said toast and tea. The Ivory Tower is this bizarre and fantastical place in which hard work never happens and only genius (spontaneous genius, perhaps) takes place. Genius doesn't require work, right? And it certainly never requires revision. In fact, I think it is safe to say that we assume Genius Gets It Right the Very First Time. And therefore when we mere mortals don't? We get grumpy, and take it out on Brad Meltzer.

Or perhaps not Mr. Meltzer himself, but rather, what he represents. Because Mr. Meltzer and his like are superstars to me. He seemingly has it all: the career, the ideas, the genius, the life, the fans, the shout-out on the Colbert Report, the time to blog about it, and, most importantly, the novel and comic book contracts (unlike This Humble Author, who would love A Book Contract for Christmas, and A Job Offer for her next birthday!). The one thing Mr. Meltzer doesn't have is The Ivory Tower, and he apparently doesn't need it.

Connie Willis's brilliant novel Bellwether offers the theory that genius and inspiration happen not in a vacuum, or in isolation, but in the midst of chaos. Willis's novel proposes that The Ivory Tower, in fact, is counterproductive to production, to genius, to real work. This Humble Author believes that this theory is 100% Correct, yet still, I long for this idealistic, quite allegoric place. I long for the truth of the reoccurring thought: If I only had more time, I could produce.

The point in fact is that we will produce if we decide to produce. My dissertation will not write itself (more's the pity), nor will my novel publish itself (or even, seemingly, with my help, but that's another post entirely). Blogging, or watching television, or reading a Book For Pleasure will not distract from my purpose if I do not allow them to distract. And I don't. In fact, I believe that I am able to produce *because* I allow myself time to catch a movie, or publish a blog, or watch television, or read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Because with the Ivory Tower Myth comes the Myth Of Constant Production: we work, we only work, and that is all.

Let us instead embrace chaos, and the dirty dishes that must be washed, and the puppies that must be walked. Let us applaud Mr. Meltzer for being so very lucky to be #1 on the Bestsellers List and to have the time to watch Stephen Colbert call attention to it. Let us shun those Ivory Towers until they fall in disarray, and in time, become overgrown with weeds. Because really, no one was ever a genius in isolation, despite what the prevailing Ivory Tower Myth will lead you to believe.

3 Comments:

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

I think I read one novel while in graduate school so I can certainly relate to that.

 
At 7:59 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
At least tell us the novel was good :)

I have to read recreationally; otherwise, I think I'd go mad. But I study Incredibly Big Novels, so there is the overload possibility.
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

Yes it was. It was Carl Hiassen's Tourist Season. I love all of his work. Very fun with zippy dialogue.

 

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