Saturday, May 26, 2007

"If there's only two songs in ya, boy …

Whaddya want from me?" That's a question that the President (Old What's His Name) asks the narrator in the song, "Number three". (It's by They Might Be Giants, TMBG.) The narrator's gone to ask the Prez about writer's block.

If you don't know the song, here are two excerpts, first the chorus (and opening lyrics):
There's just two songs in me and I just wrote the third
Don't know where I got the inspiration or how I wrote the words
Spent my whole life just digging up my music's shallow grave
For the two songs in me and the third one I just made
And, the last verse:
So I bought myself some denim pants
And a silver guitar
But I politely told the ladies
"You'll still have to call me Sir
Because I have to keep my self-respect
I'll never be a star
Since there's just two songs in me
And this is Number Three"
If you do any kind of writing, this probably strikes a chord with you, maybe a horror-movie-minor-key-on-the-pipe-organ chord. If you review papers for academic journals, how often do you want to start a review like this:
Dear Editor,
It's well known across our tiny field that the author of the manuscript you sent me for review only had two articles in them. Why am I now sitting at my desk reviewing their third for possible publication in your journal?
Just as an example, you know, hypothetically speaking. With academic writing, you need more than two articles, but you can recycle, add filler, reinterpret in a new framework, etc., and lots of people do get tenure off of two ideas, often even one, and we're not talking about theory-of-relativity ideas here.

I had my two little ideas and got the tenure (controllable with medication); with retirement, I can finally rest on those wilted laurels. But when I started writing here, that TMBG song would not leave my head, no matter how much I stared at the laptop screen, watched Gilligan's Island reruns, swilled rye whiskey straight from the bottle, or took the pills the nice doctor gave me. That was September.

Now, I have a list of ideas I don't have time to get to, half of which I'll forget any minute. It turns out, if you start writing, people send feedback that leads you off course and off the map.
The mate was a mighty sailing man,
The skipper brave and sure.
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three hour tour, a three hour tour.
The example du jour is Romance loanwords in Irish and problems of Celtic etymology, inspired by Danca's comment a couple of posts back; let's see if it pans out. And yeah, that's me in the photo, on the right.

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