09 August 2009

The Art of Losing

I don't think I've mastered it, but I've practiced a lot in the past twelve months.

I started with trivial things, like a toenail, and days badly spent.

Losing farther, losing faster—this included my ability to run, and to do other forms of weight-bearing exercise without pain; also chunks of my memory and will.

Though I haven't lost any places, I lost a person.

There were losses I haven’t blogged about, as well, some relatively trivial, like losing money because, with all the distractions, I didn’t file a travel voucher on time.

Another was more serious: a research project went down the drain because of a paleographical controversy. That one was too depressing to write about, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if there was a way to revive the project. A key part of the argument rested on a date that can be questioned. While the more interpretive parts of the study would still work, I don't want them to be discounted because another part is incorrect. So the project has had to be very thoroughly re-thought. Sort of like a science-fiction transplant of soul into new body: some of the ideas are there, but it looks and sounds very different from the old thing.

Some friends have said, "Don't worry about it! Run the original idea up the flagpole and see who salutes." But this is not something I can do, not for a large project. I don't have time to work on things I don't completely believe in, just to see if other people will take the bait. In thinking about this project, some of Profacero's posts have been helpful—like this one, and some others I can't find right now. Re-thinking a project is not necessarily procrastination; if it is perfectionism, it may be a legitimate drive to do good, correct, reliable work, rather than churn out arguments that may advance a career but will not stand the test of time. Ultimately, it's the researcher's job to figure out what the work requires, and if necessary to resist bad advice about forcing things. As I get older, I am more resistant to wasting time in certain ways, and, paradoxically, that means accepting a slower work pace. For me, it's faster to get something right the first time than to have to re-do a lot of work.

I like and believe in the project as re-formulated. Still I regret the loss of the original version.

So, thinking about the year ahead, it would be nice to have a great year. But I would readily settle for one that just isn't a disaster.


medieval woman said...

Ugh - I'm sorry about the loss of the project in its original incarnation - and about your losses in general!


Ink said...


Anonymous said...

You do that beautiful poem honor with this posting, tho yes, losses suck.