In and around the many other things that have been occupying my time recently have been several papers I am more or less under contract to write. They are my contributions to The Work, both those that I will be presenting in such venues as CCCC and the International Congress on Medieval Studies and those that are coming into or are moving into print (I have a piece forthcoming in CCC and a book chapter in draft). Circumstances have conspired to prevent me working on them as much as I should like (and as much as they really need, truth be told), but when I do work on them, I am pleased by it.
Why I would bother with such things is something many do not understand. (Saving the bit about prior obligation, of course; most people in my experience understand that because I have said I will do a thing, I must do that thing or injure myself so grievously in the attempt that the failure may be excused.) They find it difficult to envision why I would shut myself away with books for hours, poring over them and slowly (oh, so slowly!) writing words about what I find in them when I could be writing about other and better things (like sports or sex) or doing better things (like sports or sex). "Why don't you go out and have fun?" they ask, with "fun" meaning something like going to a loud and crowded club with bad music and overpriced, ill-selected beer and gyrating sweatily amid a throng of people who will go home with people they know not and wake up with pounding headaches and regret. "You're boring" I have been told, and more than once--and probably accurately.
I do not do such things because I do not think them fun. (I have tried them. I woke up hung over and alone. The only change was the hangover.) I do what I do because I do find it fun--or, rather, fulfilling. (I have to take such fulfillment as I can from my professional life; the pay scale is hardly enough to please me--and by that I mean "allow me to support my family without worry." My ambitions are large, I know.) As those who find themselves at the gym day after day delight in being able to move much weight and to have their bodies respond as they desire and to having such mass as they have (and are not much chastised therefore), I find myself amid my books day after day and delight in being able to move many ideas and have my mind respond as I desire and to having such intellectual heft as I have (but am much chastised therefore). The Work allows me to engage with the sum total of human knowledge and to make it my servant, to compel it to show me things heretofore unknown. (I suppose there is a parallel to the traditional concept of magic as the [evil] binding of spirits. No wonder, then, that I and those like me are viewed askance; we do a thing not unlike what many rail against as abomination.*)
At root, my work on The Work is an exercise of power, an exercise that takes only from that which has been freely offered and which oppresses few if any. It offers the benefits of the exercise without imposing the negative consequences that other such exercises (abuse, neglect, bullying, war) necessarily carry. Why, then, would I not revel in it?
*Many such railings are wrong.