Thursday, June 2, 2016

Back Up in Michigan

a beaver swims in the distance, across one of my favorite lakes on a still morning

I'm back up in Michigan, this time for a full year! Sabbatical—I never thought it would feel so good.

I've always thrived on the synergy between teaching and writing, but I now understand the great gift of sabbatical, to take a step back from teaching—hopefully to reassess, rethink, and reimagine life in the classroom. And also to truly focus on writing. During the school year I tend to write in undisciplined bursts in the middle of the night or whenever I can grab a few minutes to jot down a sentence. I'm looking forward to sitting down in the daytime and really stretching out into my writing.

I'm working on three books right now, and they stop and start in unexpected ways. I'm trying to let myself follow the whims and explosions of thought around each of these projects. I pick them up and put them down as ideas occur to me, as research forays present themselves.

The first book I am going to finish is Airportness. This book is turning out to be very fun to write—I'm taking a more structured approach to the topic than my previous airport books did, and this structure is pushing me in new directions. I'm also revisiting a lot of material that I wasn't able to include in my first two books, and in many cases the time lag is turning out to be beneficial—things just get weirder and weirder when it comes to air travel, and some things that seemed prescient or insightful a few years ago are even more so, now.

Once Airportness is done, I plan to turn to my Michigan book, a strange book about place and eco-criticism—it keeps changing form in my mind and on the page, shifting from one thing to another. I've been thoroughly enjoying Helen Macdonald's book H is for Hawk, as well as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's new book Stone. Both of these books are helping me think about how to write a different kind of 'nature' book.

Then I'm also working on a short book about liberal arts—I'm calling it "a quiet manifesto." Like David Foster Wallace sitting in an airport coffee shop writing about his cruise ship experience after seven days in the Caribbean Sea, I'm sitting up in the woods writing about my seven years teaching in a liberal arts context at a small university in New Orleans. (The analogy breaks down, at this point.)

Other than my own writing projects, we've got some thrilling new Object Lessons books in the works. More on those soon, but I just want to say here how gratifying this series has been to work on, with such great support from Haaris Naqvi and the entire Bloomsbury team, and my unswerving co-editor Ian Bogost. We have four wonderful new titles in the series coming out next month: Hair, Bread, Questionnaire, and Password. (Also, Ian's new book comes out in the fall, and it's so good!)

Finally, Mark Yakich and I are excited to see our edited collection of essays Airplane Reading hit the shelves next month. If you are looking for some good summer reading, this book is it.

I'll try to update this blog more frequently, now that I have more time for disciplined writing habits to form. But, we'll see.