I have just completed a first draft of Essays After a Sonata: Charles Ives’s Concord. It is currently something over 136,000 words, which is just about the length of my American Music book; plus, there are hundreds of musical examples. There are fourteen chapters, as follows:
The Story of the Concord Sonata, 1911-1947
The Programmatic Argument (and Henry Sturt)
The Human Faith Theme and the Whole-Tone Hypothesis
Emerson: The Essay
Emerson: The Music
The Emerson Concerto and its Offshoots
Hawthorne and The Celestial Railroad
Hawthorne: The Music
Thoreau: The Essay
Thoreau: The Music
The Epilogue: Substance and Manner
The First Piano Sonata
Editions (1920 versus 1947) and Performance Questions
The book is due to Yale University Press in September. I wrote it in three years, and was turned down for
four five major grants, any of which would have allowed me to take a semester off teaching to work on it. Now, after a little rest, I need to reread twenty or thirty books to make sure I didn’t miss anything; locate sources for and complete all the footnotes that I didn’t take time away to pin down while I was writing; and read the entire thing out loud to myself six times, removing infelicities as I go until every sentence rings like a crystal goblet, so that the reader’s inner ear is drawn irresistibly through the prose. This last step is deemed optional in the scholarly world, but the fact that I do it makes publishers love me. And yes, the book is backed up on multiple external hard drives.
Then I send in the book to Yale, and savor a tremendous but specious feeling of closure. Four months go by, and I get back the edited manuscript, on which I spend three weeks (while teaching) trying to fix a million little things. I send it in again. Two months go by, and I get the galleys, with a couple hundred little mistakes to rectify. Then they say it will be out in April, which will mean October for some reason. It’s my sixth time through this routine.
I am very, very good with deadlines. That’s why I’m so lax with my students’ papers. When I was in college I hardly ever turned in a paper on time. In nineteen years at the Village Voice, I only missed a deadline once, and that by a couple of hours. Real deadlines, on which one’s life and income and career depend, are very different from the paper deadlines of academia. I don’t buy (and maybe I shouldn’t base it on my own deplorable psychology) the argument that students need to be trained to be on time or they’ll never be punctual once they graduate. I once cheerfully graded a paper, the week before the student graduated, for a Beethoven course he had taken as a freshman. I’m just as good with musical deadlines, too. The very offer of a paid commission makes music sing in my ear. Once when the conductor of the Indianapolis Symphonic Chorus offered me a $10,000 commission, I heard the opening of the piece (Transcendental Sonnets) in my head before he could finish the sentence. Though I must admit, my promptness derives less from courtesy or professionalism than from an abject fear of screwing up.
UPDATE: There’s an astrological principle underlying the psychology of this post. I have Sagittarius rising, and Sagittarius is perceived as flaky and unstable. But most of those with Sagittarius rising have the extremely stable sign Taurus on the sixth house of work, and in work situations we are much more reliable than people imagine we will be. It’s also, I’m sure, why people think that because my Sagittarius writing style is “breezy, casual, and journalistic,” my Scorpionic scholarship and analysis can’t be solid and thorough, which in fact they are. After 58 years of it, I get awfully tired of being perceived as less heavyweight than I am. Perhaps some of my Sagittarius-rising readers will sympathize.