July 18th, 2008

The Day of Rejections

Checking my email this afternoon, after a long morning with my wireless virtuously off, I find three different rejection notices. A conference paper I wanted to present has been turned down; a paper I wrote didn’t make it into a journal; my application for a mentoring program was rejected.

This is the kind of thing I might ordinarily be upset about, but I notice that what I’m mostly feeling is relief. I tend to take on more commitments than I can handle, and I’m a pretty bad estimator of how long it takes me to actually do things - which means I often let the non-urgent but important things slide. The idea of having some projects fall through, for reasons that have nothing to do with my capabilities, is actually pretty liberating. There’ll be other opportunities for me to present and write and mentor. More important, though, it means that I have more time and energy to focus on the opportunities that I already have.

Although I’m inundated with academic and professional opportunities, I think I still operate from a model of scarcity: I feel that I have to make the most of every chance that comes along, because I’ll never get an opportunity again if I don’t. I often find myself overwhelmed, and it’s not fun; worse, it kills my ability to focus when I’m always running around putting out fires. I’m damn glad that all these rejections came in on the same day. It’s helping me remember that doing less sometimes means accomplishing more.

Note to self: you WILL have more opportunities, and you don’t have to take advantage of them all if you don’t want to. Now we’ll just see if I can stick to that.

Reading List 2008 (13/178)

This week’s reading:

Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers
Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers
Unnatural Death, Dorothy L. Sayers
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
Strong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers
Five Red Herrings, Dorothy L. Sayers
Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers
Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers
The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers
Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers
Busman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
Thrones, Dominations, Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
Lord Peter, Dorothy L. Sayers

Goodness, I love Dorothy L. Sayers. Or, more accurately, I love Lord Peter Wimsey. He’s witty and vulnerable, brilliant and erratic, and he makes me weak in my fucking knees if I think about him too long.

The books in this series range from good to magnificent, with the early novels and the Wimsey-Vane outings being my favorites. The Five Red Herrings is the sort of mystery I roundly dislike, full of maps and train time-tables and other ephemera, though her tongue-in-cheek attitude rescues the novel. Murder Must Advertise has a wonderful premise, but bogs down in a morass of copy-writers who all sound alike. The Wimsey-Vane mysteries, on the other hand, had me reading the same scenes over and over to savor the dialogue and the wonderful characterization, which is something I rarely do.

I think my favorite part about the series is how smart it is, and how smart it assumes you’ll be. While I myself don’t have a particularly quotational intelligence, even I recognized how every scene is peppered with allusions and quotes from Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, the Bible, Tennyson, you name it. I admit to being bitterly jealous that no matter how much I read, I’ll never have that particular facility in either my writing or my speech, but it does make a wonderful novel for a passionate reader to enjoy. If nothing else, I’ve come away from the series resolved to memorize some Donne!

If you’ve never encountered Sayers, you ought to go read these books - or, if you have limited time, at least the three books of the Wimsey-Vane courtship. Strong Poison is the best-constructed of the three, I think, and the first one where Harriet Vane is introduced. Peter has to save her from being convicted of murdering her lover in the face of some rather strong evidence that she did, and the solution to the mystery is quite neat indeed. At the same time, the romance between them is believable and sharp, and totally gripping from the first scene where they meet in the jail. Have His Carcase has the best character insights of the three, though, with Harriet struggling with the fact that Peter saved her life; I’d tend to agree with her that healthy relationships can’t begin out of a sense of obligation. Finally, Gaudy Night is often considered one of Sayers’ best works, and her portrayal of life at a women’s college at Oxford is absolutely compelling. (It made me want to throw everything over and rush off to study at Oxford myself!) I found the novel a bit frustrating, as Harriet spends most of the novel investigating, only to have Peter swoop in and solve the case. Still, the characters and the world she sets up are wonderful, and the development of the Wimsey-Vane relationship is both believable and affecting.

I only wish I had more of these books to read. Still, I have some wonderful reading coming up this weekend, so hopefully I can be consoled!