Posts Tagged 'adventures in writing'

A new Thing

Hi.

I’ve kinda sucked as a blogger the last year.

Life has been complicated. I will explain in detail later, but for now what I’ll say is that the Barretts have stayed in Boston, the Barretts have broadened our brood with a baby girl, and the rest… well, it’s still up for negotiation. I’ve been writing, and I’ve continued to contribute pieces elsewhere, but a lot of other things I’ve wanted to work on, like this blog, have rather sat collecting dust since May of last year.

I’m trying to pull my mojo back together. I’m still planning on finishing my dissertation. I’m also still planning on doing the Boston series (I’ve even written a large chunk of a draft of the first segment, it’s just that — to repeat myself — life has been complicated).

I will be honest and say that I’m very intentionally looking for ways to make some amount of money from the blogging effort; I’ve historically found this very challenging (I’ve always teetered between laughing hysterically and sobbing at the moment in Julie and Julia where Julie’s friends tell her, “Oh, you know, you can just put a PayPal button on your site and everybody will start sending you money”), but I’d like to crack it if I can.

(As an aside, I’ll mention a very weird conversation I had a couple of months ago with somebody who does make a living as a blogger. We were put in touch by a mutual friend who thought that he might be able to be of some help to me; we kind of sat there in awkward silence for a few minutes until he said, essentially, I really hope you aren’t waiting for me to talk, because I’m not interested in telling you anything helpful. We don’t stay in business by telling everybody else how it’s done, sorry.)

Anyway, as part of this undertaking of mojo reconstitution, I have started a Patreon, and I think I may have also coined I appear to have appropriated the term “jotcasting”.

Ideally, this will feed into the ongoing effort here. Please, if you can, support the Patreon; I’ve structured it as a monthly subscription starting at $1, and for that $1, you get daily posts of jokes, weekly rough drafts of essays, and monthly random other things. Some of that stuff may get polished and repurposed here and elsewhere; some of it may become still other stuff entirely. In any event, I’m shooting for it to be interesting if nothing else, and hopefully interesting enough for you to be willing to ante up a dollar a month for it.

Okay. More soon, promise.

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An itinerary and a couple of labors of love

I’ve got three things to pass along, and I suppose I should relate them in order of interest from least to greatest. Otherwise, you’ll just read the first item and skip the rest.

First — I’m going to be mildly peripatetic in the coming months. 9-12 February I will be in New Jersey to participate in the Georges Florovsky Patristic Symposium, and then 12-15 February I will be in Boston to spend a few days at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. 2-4 March I will be in Emmaus, PA to give a presentation on church music as part of a Lenten retreat at St. Paul Orthodox Church. Then, looking ahead a bit farther, 24-26 May I will be participating in the North American Patristics Society (NAPS) annual meeting in Chicago. I realize that maybe I’m up to three regular readers (counting my parakeet), but if you happen to be anywhere near any of those places when I’m there, by all means let me know. I had the odd experience at the Antiochian Sacred Music Institute last summer of meeting a couple of people who said upon meeting me, “Oh! I read your blog,” and then I also met this gentleman at the Byzantine Studies conference this last October (although neither of us realized whom the other was until after we were both back home). Anyway, I won’t look at you funny or hiss at you if you introduce yourself, promise.

Second — my first peer-reviewed article, “Sensory Experience and the Women Martyrs of Najran”, has been accepted by The Journal of Early Christian Studies. It’s been an interesting road with this project; five years ago, during my initial year of being a non-matriculated continuing student, I took my first graduate seminar, a course on the Middle East in late antiquity, taught by the professor who would later become my advisor. It was my first exposure to scholars like Peter Brown and Susan Ashbrook Harvey and so on, and was a significant broadening of my horizons. The student makeup of the class was very telling; it was a History course that had no History students in it but rather three Religious Studies kids and me.

Anyway, among other things, we read Sebastian Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey’s translation of the section of the Second Letter of Simeon of Beth-Arsham that deals with the martyrdoms of the women during the Himyarites’ sack of Najran, and the in-class discussion sparked something for me. Other students were focused on the gory nature of the martyrdom details for their own sake — I specifically remember one person commenting, “I never understood the connection people draw between martyrdom and sadomasochism before now” — but it was clear to me that there was something else governing how those details were conveyed, namely shared liturgical experience. I raised this point, and I still remember the look that I got as clear as day. Needless to say, it didn’t get a lot of traction in class, but when paper topics had to be proposed, I mentioned it to the professor as a possibility. “I can almost guarantee you I won’t buy your argument,” he said. “You’ll have to go a long way for me to see it as at all legitimate.” Well, that’s a challenge, now isn’t it? I wrote the paper, making what I saw as explicit as I could and relating it to known liturgical practices as clearly as I was able. I presented an overview in class, and the professor was quiet for a moment. “You know,” he said, “not only am I convinced, but now I can’t see it any other way. Good for you.”

Later, as I was applying for IU’s Religious Studies graduate program, the paper was used as my writing sample. At the same time, I was alerted to one of the big religious studies journals doing a themed issue on religious violence; I figured, hey, what the heck, if it gets in it can only help the application, and I sent them the paper. I also submitted it to Dorushe, a graduate conference on Syriac studies that was being held at Notre Dame. Well, the outcome of the Religious Studies application was detailed, if somewhat obscurely, here; as far as the paper went, it got into Dorushe, but the response from the journal was a little more ambivalent. The answer was ultimately no, but they included the reviewers’ comments, and said that if I were to revise it they would be willing to look at it again (while making it clear that this was not a “revise and resubmit”). Since at that point I didn’t think I was going to have the chance to go to grad school, publication didn’t really matter anymore, and I shoved the paper and the comments sheet in a drawer. The Dorushe experience was a little weird in some ways (maybe due more to some heightened self-consciousness on my part than anything), but I met some interesting people, and Sidney Griffith, at least, liked the paper, saying, “The way you lay it out, it’s obvious.”

After actually getting in to grad school, I thought to myself a number of times, I should go back and look at those reviewers’ comments, and finally last June I spent a few days thoroughly reworking the paper. I transferred it from Word to Scrivener, I restructured it following the reviewers’ suggestions, and did what was nearly a page one-rewrite so that it reflected better what my scholarly voice (to the extent that I might pretentiously assert the existence of such a thing) actually sounds like these days. Part of this involved reducing block quotes of secondary literature (a bad habit of which I was cured by the wonderful Prof. Sarah Bassett over in Art History, who in the three years that she’s been here has really proven herself to be one of the great, if somewhat unsung, reasons to study Late Antiquity at Indiana University) down to footnotes and paraphrases, and it also involved an overall refinement of the writing style. Don’t worry, I’m still wordy as hell, but I’ve tried to make the wordiness a little more elegant. Also, there’s some additional literature on the Najran incident that’s come out in the intervening five years, and I had to make sure that all got referenced properly. Anyway, once it was done, I opted to not go back to the original publication, instead sending it off to The Journal of Early Christian Studies. In September, I got a note back from the editor telling me that the reviewers’ recommendation was “revise and resubmit”, saying that this was good news and if I took the feedback seriously, there was no reason I couldn’t have a publishable article. By November the revision was re-submitted, and I got word back this last Tuesday that it was in. Now, I have some style adjustments to make before it’s totally done, but at this stage of the game it looks like it will be appearing in the Spring 2013 issue.

So, that first seminar five years ago got me my advisor, my overall area of interest (the interaction of liturgy and history), and my first published article. (Although, while the Najran paper is related conceptually and methodologically to where I think my dissertation is going, it looks like a paper I wrote for a class I took the previous semester, fall of 2006, served as a first stab at the actual dissertation topic. I’ll have more to say after NAPS, I think.) It’s been the gift that’s kept on giving, to say the least.

Okay, on to the final, and most interesting, bit of news.

Third — on or around 26 June 2012, assuming all goes well and without incident, there will be another Barrett on the earth. Yes, be afraid, my genes are propagating, insanity, puns, tendencies towards a prolix approach of oversharing, and all. Thankfully, this child will also be carrying the genes of Flesh of My Flesh, and those characteristics involve practicality, common sense, order, and normality. (To say nothing of great beauty and brilliance.)

We had intended for the last couple of years that we would start trying once Megan got back from Germany, and we were told to prepare for it taking awhile. Well, apparently not. By the beginning of November we at least knew informally, and then our first OB appointment was Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, which confirmed matters and indicated we were nine weeks along. We spent most of the drive to our Thanksgiving destination on the phone with my mother and then Megan’s mother and stepmother; my mom got the first call, since she’s the one parent who doesn’t have any grandchildren already, and she burst into tears immediately.

We’ve been telling friends and family ever since, but a couple of things made it desirable that we wait a bit before making it “Facebook public”, as it were. Anyway, here we are, and I suppose it will be a source of reflection in the coming months/years/etc. If you’re on Facebook and want to be kept more or less up-to-date, you can join the group “Fans of Baby Barrett“; there’s not a lot to tell at this point except that we’re choosing to not find out whether it’s a boy or a girl. We’ve got some name ideas, yes, but it’s hardly practical to openly discuss those when you don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, so I’m not going to go there except to say that there are some “legacy names”, as it were, that might make sense, and you know that we’re going to be getting one of these. We’ll see.

By the way, if you happen to be having a baby in or around Bloomington, Indiana, I really can’t recommend Bloomington Area Birth Services (AKA “BABS”) enough. We’re doing their eight-week birthing class (cue Bill Cosby: “Natural childbirth… intellectuals go to class to study how to do this”), and while, I must admit, it’s a little more of the NPR-listening “educated class” culture than I really expected, it’s a lot of excellent information that’s provided very sensitively and accessibly. I kind of surprise myself with my own reactions to some things; it should really be no surprise that “birth culture” a) exists b) is hyper-feminized, but I find a certain kind of stereotypical “maleness” emerging in how I’m processing some of the information, and it is very much out of character for me. It’s probably mostly a reflexive reaction to the explicit hyper-feminization of what’s being presented, which probably has everything to do with me and nothing to do with them, because they really are terrific at what they do. I’m just really not used to what they do. Anyway, I’ll have more to say about this as time goes on, I think.

So, there’s the news. Two different kinds of babies, I guess. There’s a third kind of baby on the way that I hope to be able to talk about more in depth soon, but it’s an outgrowth of some of the musical efforts I’ve had going here the last couple of years. For now, follow this, and I’ll be able to tell all in the next month or so, I think.

Prayers for all of these babies, please, and prayers most of all for Flesh of My Flesh. She’s got to carry our child in her womb and write a dissertation.

All Saints in the Herald-Times

Bloomington’s local paper, The Herald-Times, ran a piece on All Saints for their religion page in today’s edition. If you’re a subscriber, you can find it here; otherwise, it’s posted over at Orthodox Hoosiers.

The story here is this — last weekend was our annual pastoral visit from His Grace Bp. MARK (about which more a bit later), and we realized somewhat at the last minute that it might be a good event to try to publicize to the greater community, particularly since he was giving a post-Vespers talk about ministry in a college town. Parish council chair Jeff Weber had called the paper, and they told him they’d be happy to run whatever we sent them as long as it was 400 words or less and we got it to them by noon Wednesday. Somebody had taken a shot at writing a really short press release, and while it wasn’t bad as an event announcement, I knew from my own experience getting press releases to the Herald-Times that what had been written wasn’t going to fly. So, Tuesday night, in consultation with Fr. Peter and parish council chair Jeff Weber, I wrote a press release for Bp. MARK’s visit as well as a short, rather general feature article about All Saints and Orthodoxy in Bloomington. With Fr. Peter’s and Jeff’s suggestions and tweaks, we got them over to the paper at 11:59am Wednesday.

And on Saturday, we opened the paper and saw nary a word of what we had sent them.

This last Thursday, Fr. Peter left me a voicemail, saying that he had talked to the appropriate editor at the Herald-Times, and they had been very apologetic, saying that somebody had been out of town, wires got crossed, etc., they would run what we sent them this weekend modifying for past tense, and that they looked forward to covering All Saints more in the future.

So, today, the feature article was there, and true to their word, they printed the whole thing, changing only the applicable verb tenses relating to the episcopal visit.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well; we’re hoping that cultivating a bit more of a relationship with the Herald-Times will help raise awareness of All Saints in the community, so there will hopefully be more of these in the near future.

Spring break at last: in which the author returns from blogslackdom

The end of January and beginning of February were crazy because I was catching up on work after the extracurricular activities I had going on in the second half of January, and then the first week of February I also had to prepare for a workshop I was helping with at St. Nicholas Church in the Urbana-Champaign area. Megan was flattened with the flu that week as well, but I seemed to be okay.

As I was driving to Champaign Friday night, I started to feel a little tickle in my throat. When I woke up Saturday morning, I could only pray that I would make it through the day. I did, sure enough, but as soon as Vespers was over and it was time for me to head home, it was as though a metric ton of unfinished brick was dropped on my head.

I got home, went to sleep, and woke up long enough Sunday morning to croak voicelessly at Megan, “I don’t think I’m going anywhere today, let along singing anything.” (Actually, it came out more like “CHHHHccckkkkAAAAAAAaaaaHHHHHhaaaaaeeeeeeeeecccccchhhhhiiiiiick”, but she got the point.) I then proceeded to not leave my house until the following Friday.

Let me tell you, losing an entire week when you’re in grad school suh-HUCKS. I was out of commission enough that I really couldn’t do anything productive, so come Saturday, when I actually felt like I had some life in me, I really did have the entirety of the previous week as well as the coming week to prepare in order to catch up.

And, as can happen, I missed something.

As I sat down in my seminar on democracy in Ancient Greece on my first Tuesday back after being sick, the professor said, “…and today we’re going to hear from Richard on whether or not the generalship in Athens was a democratic institution…” and my heart jumped out through my throat. I had managed to miss an entire presentation. Had I written it down? Yes. I just didn’t catch it when I was reviewing what I needed to do post-illness. In four years of taking graduate courses, I had never just not done something; of course, this particular professor didn’t know that. That said, he wasn’t a jerk about it, and it will be made up somehow, but this is somebody who will probably be on my committee and this isn’t exactly the kind of impression I like to make on people. Since it was a faculty member in my home department, I thought it probably would be a good idea to drop my advisor a line, saying, “Just because I’d rather you hear this from me…” This appears to have been a good call; he wrote back saying, glad you told me, don’t let it happen again, produce at your usual level from here, and this should fall under the category of “no harm, no foul.”

Thus, I had to make sure I was on my best behavior, and how, for my next presentation, which was this last Tuesday. That involved reading German, French, and Greek; this was my first shot at actually reading academic German, which is tougher than it looks. However, I managed to misread the syllabus for this particular assignment in a way that worked in my favor; I understood the reading to be a 15 page German article or a 15 page French article, and then one way or the other a 50 page French chapter of a book. Still, as I was wrapping up the German piece, I realized that the “or” was rather ambiguously placed, and I asked the professor for clarification. “Oh, good Lord, I didn’t imagine that somebody would be able to read both German and French,” he told me. “Tell you what — read the shorter French piece along with the German and I’ll be happy.” So that’s what I did.

In addition to that, I’ve also had two book reviews to write for another class, and we also took a long-delayed trip to Arizona last month to see my dad and stepmom for a few days.

Oh yeah, and it’s Lent.

I haven’t had time to exercise in the last six weeks, let alone blog. Yesterday was my last day of classes before Spring Break; I promptly came home and hopped on the treadmill. (And yes, today, I’m sore as hell. Heading back to the treadmill as soon as I wrap up this post.)

I’ll say it again: losing an entire week in grad school sucks. It really has taken me this whole month to catch up, and Spring Break really could not have come soon enough in terms of giving me a much-needed breather.

I need to wrap this up for now so that I can go exercise before Akathist, but one update I’ll give for now: Pascha at the Singing School has hit an interesting phase of development. I had been waiting until John finished all of the illustrations before sending it anywhere, but I looked at the submission guidelines for one of the publishers I’ve always envisioned as being ideal, and found that it wasn’t necessary to have them all done before sending them a proposal. So, I went ahead and fired off a book proposal, and two hours later got an invitation to send them the manuscript and sample illustrations.

Two and a half weeks after sending it to them, I got an answer.

It wasn’t “no,” but neither was it an unqualified “yes.”

Essentially, what they said was positive but that they would want to see certain revisions before they considered it any further. Once I’ve made those revisions, we’ll go from there. And, in all truthfulness, the feedback they had was all legitimate and useful. So, one of my goals over the break is to rework the manuscript based on their suggestions. My assumption is that they wouldn’t have bothered with this level of feedback if they didn’t think it would be worth their time; rejection slips are usually what one sees, not thoughtful suggestions. So, I’m taking this as a positive, and we’ll see what happens there.

More later.

Richard Barrett, poet

About this time last year there were a couple of moments that struck some kind of a chord with me and got scribbled down in something vaguely resembling verse form. I figured that I might as well see if anybody else thought they were any good, and submitted them to a particular publication with which I was familiar. They said no thanks, but I thought it was worth a second try. The second publication liked one of them enough (with one minor revision) to run it, and it looks like it will be coming out within the next month or two.

My poem “Moments in a Suddenly Fasting Kitchen” will be published in the Winter 2010 (36:3) issue of A Time of Singing: A Magazine of Christian Poetry. I get a contributor’s copy, but if anybody else would like one, please let me know before 19 December so I can get additional copies at contributor prices ($3.33 apiece if I buy them in multiples of three, as opposed to regular cover price of $6).

Strange how things work out sometimes — I never thought that “published poet” would be words that one could apply to me. There still is the one that Lora (Zill, the editor) did not use, plus a couple of others I’ve jotted down here and there, so maybe this could be more than just a one-time fluke, who knows.

Choir schools: the OCN interview

My interview with Fr. Christopher Metropulos about choir schools is now available at the OCN website, with the segment very appropriately having been titled “Music and Coffee.” I haven’t listened to it yet, so I don’t know if I sound like an blathering idiot or not, but here you go. Click at your own risk.

The upsides of collaborating

I really haven’t looked much, if at all, at Pascha at the Singing School since finishing the first draft back around New Years. There were some typos Megan pointed out that I fixed. There was the moment back in February where I thought to myself, “Hey, you know what the Chapel needs? A chandelier!” only to go back and realize that I had already, in fact, put a chandelier right there for all to see. There was the person who read it who very politely said nothing; somehow I managed to get out of them that a particular term was too close to a term used in a similar context in another book for their comfort. When I showed them my real-world source for the term I had used, indicating that I had not, in fact, plagiarized anybody and that the similarity was entirely coincidental, they loosened up and said some more useful things. (I am now getting around the uncomfortable similarity problem by using a different word that incorporates sound changes my wife worked out — and actually, I think I’m better off this way for a few reasons, some obvious, some not so much.)

Save these couple of minor details, I’ve really just let the manuscript sit in a drawer (well, okay, I’ve let it sit on my hard drive) for the last six months — but the time has perhaps come to see what the next step is.

See, I was finally able to sit down with the guy I’ve been trying to convince to draw some pencil sketches for it. I kinda had to wait for him to finish pesky things like his Masters degree. He’s done now, though, and he’s read the first draft. Happily, he also gets the first draft, and had some perceptive comments that indicated he understands what I’ve tried to do, and is interested in seeing how things might play out (both with the bigger story of which it is theoretically a part, and with the more immediate matter of trying to find an audience for this little window I’ve opened).

The thing is, for me, I’d hate to work with anybody on something like this and just say, “Here, draw this part, and this part, and this part.” I know I wouldn’t find that too terribly much fun to work on, and since John is actually a Real Artist and stuff (to say nothing of an iconographer who is maturing disturbingly quickly), I can’t imagine he would, either. I actually want him to be a co-creator, I suppose — somebody who engages the words on the page and maybe brings something to light in his illustrations that makes me think, “Oh, of course, John’s absolutely right, and that’s something that should be in the text, too”, even if maybe it’s a detail I don’t wind up using until down the road a piece. You know, the kind of thing that can only make the final product better in the long run. To that end, I’ve given him a number of details about the backstory of Pascha at the Singing School so that he can understand just what is actually happening in certain spots. J. Michael Straczynski is fond of drawing a distinction, with respect to certain moments in Babylon 5 that don’t get explained until much later, between knowing what happens and knowing what it means that something happens. I need John to be in on both.

Yes, I suppose it probably creates more work for me — but I think probably the submission draft will be far more cohesive in the long run for having a collaborator to force me to do it, so I can’t really say I see a downside.

With any luck, I may be able to send this out before the end of the year. Maybe I shouldn’t be in a rush to get my first rejection slip on this project, but there we go.


Richard’s Twitter

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