Friday, December 7, 2012

30th Year Reflections/26: Desire

“Two hearts fading, like a flower. | And all this waiting, for the power. | For some answer, to this fire. | Sinking slowly. The water’s higher. | Desire.” — Ryan Adams, “Desire”

I’m pretty sure the lyrics to Ryan Adams’ song, “Desire,” have nothing to do with writing or authorship, but they came to mind all the same as I was thinking about this week’s post. I like to write, and I’m finding the practice of writing—on this blog and elsewhere—an enjoyable experience. I want to do more of it; I desire to write.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing over the last three months and have come to the conclusion—surprising in some ways to me—that I’m in the process of writing a book. I’m writing a book about the closing of the University of Minnesota library school. The project started out in late August as an article. I was reading a book by Marion Paris about the closing of four library schools. Each school was described in a case study, made anonymous to protect the identities of the schools and those interviewed. As I read one of her case studies I realized that she was describing my school—the U of M—and that it was the 30th anniversary of the decision to close the school. I never received a satisfactory answer from anyone at Minnesota as to why they closed my school and so, after reading the Paris case study and realizing the significance of the date, I decided to write about the closing and to take the case study out of its anonymous wraps and put names and faces and actions to the events I lived through thirty years ago. I thought I could do this in an article-length piece, but as the research and writing progressed I quickly burst the bounds of a standard length article. I’m now at about 120 pages of writing (160 pages total if you include my notes for unwritten sections and the 20 pages of endnotes); a total of over 70,000 words. I still have one chapter to write and so the final product will probably be at least 150 pages and perhaps somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 words. I never imaged such a thing could happen, but it has. And, as painful as it has been to write some of those words, and describe some of those scenes, I’m finding it a useful, cathartic, and enjoyable experience.

Perhaps the most surprising thing that has happened as I’ve moved through the process is how consuming the practice of researching and writing can be. There are days when I think of almost nothing else, sometimes to the detriment of my regular work. And yet, as a library professional I am expected to research and publish in service to the profession. So there is no guilt here, no desire to run away from something that has become almost an obsession. But it does mean that I need to be careful with my time and make sure that other things in the office are getting done, the necessary things to keep the unit functioning and on track. Admittedly, it has been a struggle. But the end of the book is in sight. I hope to have the last part of the draft completed by no later than January. Then it will be a matter of finding someone who might be interested in publishing it. I’m still not sure who might want to read it. The audience that has developed in my mind as I’ve worked on the piece is a combination of library educators, those involved with professional accreditation, and folks with an interest in higher education. We’ll see if it goes anywhere.

I’ve been obsessed about projects before. I combed through all the sources I could find many years ago when working on a bibliography of the published and unpublished writings of a friend of mine for a festschrift in his honor. (I think the final product of my bibliography resulted in some 78 pages of published text.) I dove into boxes and files when working on a chapter for a book on Swedes in Chicago. Other projects had the same flavor. All of it was fun. Some of it was hard work. The end result was rewarding.

The flip side, which I also discovered this fall, is that one can come to a point of seeming exhaustion. I was “all written out.” That realization came to me just a few weeks ago, which perhaps explains the somewhat sporadic appearance of the last few blog postings. What has saved me, and what prompts me to soldier on with something I desire, is the discipline I’ve also imposed on myself of writing each day, and posting each week. It has been a valuable lesson, one I’m sure has application in other parts of my work. If the discipline is there, coupled with desire and commitment, it will carry you through the rough patches, when everything seems exhausted and “written out.”

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