“Great fears of the Sicknesse here in the city, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. . . . God preserve us all,” wrote Samuel Pepys in 1665. The thirty-two-year-old British politician began keeping a daily record of the bubonic plague’s ravaging of London that spring. His words feel a little all-too-familiar.
Two steps forward, one step back. Or, at least, that’s how the past year has felt. I know I’m not alone when I say that 2020 was a doozy for all the things that I had planned, especially in my research and writing life. At the same time, the year that shall not be named also brought a lot of unexpected good things. For that, I am thankful.
It’s been about two and a half years since I officially finished my Ph.D. and I’ve been living back in Wilmington for nearly three. A lot has consumed my time since then — illness, starting a full-time teaching job, becoming a dog owner, consulting on genealogy projects, and researching on a residential fellowship. I really felt that 2020 would be the year that my research would land a publisher and finally take shape into something that resembled a book.
My research languished in what had once been neatly organized folders. Good intentions to return to “the book” never really materialized. I would guilt-trip myself into a writing session or two, with flurries of notepaper indicating how the latest structure I had devised would be the key to unlocking the creative and analytical doors that my brain held tightly shut. No budging.
While I never really felt like my larger projects got the attention they needed over the past twelve months, I did actually get some things done. Invitations to write reviews of other scholars’ publications came in and were completed, as did requests for virtual talks and other public history ventures. Not to mention the very time-consuming transition to teaching remotely and learning new ways to recreate the classroom virtually for a full load of college classes.
After I finished the Ph.D., I read the popular guide by William Germano, From Dissertation to Book and participated in a tweet-along with some fellow Ph.D. students about the topic. Generally, those of us who decide remain within academia will take the dissertation, give a it some additional work and revision, and publish it as a first book (especially if one is seeking tenure). While I wasn’t exactly on the same path professionally, I had long been committed to seeing my dissertation through to publication. Germano offered some other options for those not interested in taking the dissertation to the next level, but I largely brushed these off.
Last week I changed my mind. In my current teaching role, I’m not required to produce research publications — and that’s very freeing — but I’m also not really given “support” (financial or otherwise) for doing any research or publishing that I do choose to pursue. It’s kind of a Catch-22 at times. After months of agonizing (and literally making myself ill) over not making progress on anything related to my doctoral project, I started tidying up my files and putting them away. Some of that work will hopefully end submitted to scholarly journals in the coming year, but I just can’t seem to get a book out of it. Maybe working on the same project for seven years has me exhausted. I get really caught up in what other people expect of it and me, and I don’t actually listen to what I want — and what I want is a break.
Today I reorganized some notes on a small project that began in 2019, one that eerily has some connections to the events of the past year. You know I’m not giving up on research and writing, but it just might be time to pivot.
By this point, many of you may know that one of the big things that consumed my extra attention last year was when my sister Pam and I decided to go all in on making our bookshop dream happen. I’m incredibly lucky to have such an awesome business partner who knows a lot about the ins and outs of publishing. Ghost Hill Press materialized in the autumn as a new independent bookstore, with online ordering systems a-go and pop-up shopping experiences happening most weekends. I’m so excited about being a part of building a reading community here in Wilmington.
I also took a stab a creating and hosting my very own history-based podcast last year. Historia Mortis launched in October with a few episodes, and although I have had to briefly furlough myself from that endeavor, I hope to have new content rolling out once again in the spring.