Trouble and I are working on the book, retreating to the southwest on an extended post-conference stop. Let me be the first to admit that it’s fun. Yes, it’s a longer trip; yes, I miss the girls; yes, I miss the warmth and the companion and the familiar curled posture we take in a familiar bed. But this retreat is useful, and fun. Part of it looks like this:
But then there are also images like this, of which we take far fewer pictures:
So it’s all work, and fun. The work is fun and the fun takes work.
Here’s the kicker for me, though. Tonight at dinner John decided to try out a hypothesis first posed to us by our bike guide, Heidi. She told us that most of the wait staff in town are guides or other transports to the area for the pure pursuit of biking, rafting, or climbing. So John took it upon himself to ask Meg, our accommodating and helpful server of beers and pizza, which of these fit her reason for emigration to the area. (To his credit, John spoke clearly through the basis for the question and the hypothesis so that it sounded like casual conversation.) She turned it back to us what we thought, and John’s guess of rock climbing and my guess of mountain biking were equally correct.
But then she turned the question back to us: why were we here in town? Awkward pause. “We’re working on a book,” followed quickly by the notable endeavors of mountain biking and hiking in between writing sessions. Then the most awkward part of the evening:
“What’s the book about?”
Awkward pause. I looked at John and he looked at me.
John went first. It’s about a conference we put together for a bunch of professors and how they’ve changed things that they’re doing based on how the meeting was set up. Meg looked at us and smiled. Awkward pause. She was encouraging. John reminded me later that she was working for a tip. It was clear that this wasn’t interesting, not even in a “nice weather we’re having” or “I like your sunglasses; I should get some like that for my dad” kind of way.
Once she’d left, John challenged me to come up with a better explanation. Problem was that I couldn’t think of a better one, and when she returned he made good on his promise to force me to do it, stopping our friend and supporter long enough to hear the hard sale again. He explained that he didn’t do a very good job the first time, and this time I would try to give a better sales pitch. Unprepared and unwittingly, I said it was a book about professors, how our practice needs help, and how to think about what we need to do to work on this. (It was a truly boring explanation, in case that doesn’t come through clearly in the fireworks portrayed by this serif font.) Meg reflected a moment, and then asked:
“You’re both professors?”
And of course, we are, at least by day. And she asked more about what we do and where we work, and then she gave up this bit of almost-encouragement:
“I’ve read some good books by professors, and some bad ones too.”
In addition to this inspiring reflection, she wished us luck, and offered that we could come by again if we had writer’s block.
The thing that’s stuck with me is that, although we’ve done a great job the last few days of expanding and understanding what’s actually inside the book,* we still have a hard time summarizing this coherently. This seemed to be important for Meg, and it will be important to explain to my mother-in-law, and it will probably be important to explain to our publisher. Maybe we’ll know better once it’s done. The good news is that I actually think that we’re getting closer to that goal.
Perhaps someday we’ll return to Moab Meg, a signed copy in hand, to show her what the book is about as described on the jacket. Until then, we’ll have to work some more both to fill the pages and to give a more exciting explanation.
*The local bookstore has repurposed old books by taking the classic covers and inserting into the binding blank pieces of paper. They sell for $20. John pointed out that these looked a lot like our own book, and perhaps we could see if our publisher would just go with this model.