Not-work is a subtle exercise. Sometimes work can creep up on you. This morning I accidentally woke up early and read George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss to put me back to sleep. But I love George Eliot now like I loved Tolkien when I was twelve, and pretty soon I was so happy with words I decided I could do some work. That meant re-reading, for the fourth time, James Baldwin's "Down at the Cross." Which provoked a perusal of Cornel West's 1982 first book, Prophesy Deliverance! The combination resulted in the mini-essay I needed to write on Baldwin for an anthology of literary journalism, the essay that had been defeating me for weeks. I should have kept going--next up was a mini-essay on Mailer's Armies of the Night--but I decided to take a break with Lucas Mann's excellent forthcoming book of literary journalism, Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. I could justify this as part-work, since I'd promised to write a blurb for the book, but the truth is it was a pleasure I didn't want to interrupt with a re-reading of Mailer.
I decided to relocate to my office. I don't have internet at home--to save me from even further distraction--so the first thing I did was look at the New York Times. "Just the headlines," I told myself. But how could I resist "Former CIA Officer is the First to Face Prison for a Classified Leak," especially since it led with a happy photo of said spook putting a sneaker on his laughing 8-year-old daughter, a sure sign that his imprisonment is an injustice. Or that the NYT thinks so.
A passing reference to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in the article caught my interest -- the spy had been invited to teach there, and had even taught Liberty U students surveillance techniques in Washington. It wasn't hard to find a picture of the class, which suggests that these students may not have such stellar careers in front of them. From there I wandered around the spy studies programs of Liberty and even further right Patrick Henry College, both dedicated to applying a "Christian worldview" to intelligence work. Their faculties are full of retired heavies with still-active consulting gigs, and their alumni seem to get placed. I justified my digression by tweeting it. Maybe somebody will do some actual journalism.
Back to Mailer, only to be interrupted by an essay by my pal Nathan Schneider, author of a great forthcoming book called God in Proof.
Back to Mailer. Phone call. Need to get my head back into the work. How? By poking around the internet, of course, and landing on this: "Be Wrong as Fast as You Can," by Hugo Lindgren, on work that never gets written.