Whew! Open House is over, and now Parents' Weekend is over, and that is always the moment in the year when I begin to pick up the threads of my life that have been dropped during the always-hectic first two months of school.
And one of those threads is the FGS history project. Well, mostly the thread is updating you all on that project.
When last we spoke of this project, it was way back at the beginning of September, and I was dreading the "more meetings" approach that folks seemed to be instituting in order to address our obviously dysfunctional writing group. The next meeting was coming up in late September, at which the whole dange committee was going to spend time talking about each of the two chapters and then making some plans about how to proceed from there. And wow, I was seriously dreading it.
But then, actually, it wound up being better than I had expected, mostly because it was much more honest and frank than I had expected -- or at least some of us were more honest and frank, which felt good to me but obviously didn't sit as well with Co-Author. It was a two-hour conversation that kept going around and around in circles. One thing that frustrated me was that I more than once suggested that one option was to have this be a single-authored text, and that I was willing to hand the whole thing over to Co-Author if that's what seemed best, and no one would follow up on that; seriously, it was like I hadn't even spoken. Very strange experience. Another option that someone in the room brought up was that we could split the book in half, with one person writing the first half and the other person the second half; there is actually a natural breaking point at about the two-third points of the school's history, and that's about when the primary source material would start being much more about oral history than scrapbooks, etc., so it wouldn't be so jarring to have a change in authorial voice there, especially if we labeled the two parts separately and by-lined them. I could have lived with that. One good thing that came out is that Co-Author and I finally got on the table our different definitions of research, and it was finally clear to everyone that we had completely different definitions, mind valuing exhaustive searching and hers valuing efficiency -- both reasonable values but often not compatible in a research project. Oh, and here's a funny moment: Co-Author referred to my work as "boastful scholarship" because I make such a point of citing extensive sources! This tickled my funny bone, and in the intervening month it's become something of a private joke for me.
And then finally the Head of School said, "Well, shall we talk about the elephant in the room? WN and Co-Author, are the two of you going to be able to work together? And if so, how?" Aha, finally somebody asked the crucial question! A tense silence settled over the room, and finally I thought, "well, hell, let's get this over with," and I said, "Here's what I'm willing to do: I'm willing to write the first half of the book and have Co-Author write the second; I'm willing to be the sole author; and I'm willing to step away and have Co-Author be the sole author. Those are the three options I'm open to at the moment, given everything else on my plate." Then HoS asked Co-Author what she was willing to do; Co-Author looked affronted and said, "Well, I didn't come in prepared to put all of my cards on the table as WN has done. I was still hoping that there was room for negotiation, but since WN isn't willing to do that, I'll have to think about it." I actually found this really annoying, since the whole point of this meeting was to come in with ideas about how to move forward, but whatever. So we left it that, a week later, Co-Author and I would each have individual meetings with HoS; Co-Author would meet with HoS the next Tuesday, and then I'd come in on Wednesday.
And here's the odd part: That meeting I had with HoS turned out to be one of the best conversations I've ever had with her! She started it by saying that she had decided that, for now, she was pulling the plug on the book project; it was all just too painful and frustrating, and who could afford multiple two-hour meetings in which nothing actually got accomplished? Ah -- the enormous relief I felt at having it finally over!
She also said that she had learned a valuable lesson about the inherent difficulties in co-authoring, and I said that I had learned several such lessons myself. She told me that she considered this project the greatest failure of her school presidency thus far, but that she wasn't totally giving up on it. In fact, she said that she was going to continue raising money for the project, because she still hoped it would happen at some point. Then she added, "In fact, maybe we should talk again in, say, a year's time. Let's say that the project is on hiatus rather than finished."
Doesn't that kind of sound like "Maybe I'll have you write this book after all, on your own, but let's let things die down a bit first"? I told her that I wouldn't throw away my notes and that I'd be happy to talk in a year's time.
But then, later that same afternoon, she met with the Librarian and the Archivist to tell them that she had pulled the plug, and what she told them is that maybe the three of them should meet again this coming spring and talk about options, and that perhaps they should try to think of someone who has some connection to FGS but isn't currently working for the school -- an alum or retired teacher or something like that. So that's a rather different story. Who knows what she really has in mind? (And does she really not understand that all of us except Co-Author talk with one another and share information and thus know when she's giving out different information?)
But for the first couple of weeks I didn't even care what she had in mind for the future; I was just so glad to be done with all of the drama! Of course, that was before I had to ask Co-Author something department-related and she told me that she really didn't want to have anything to do with me because I had made it completely clear that I never wanted to speak with her again. Wait, what? I declared that I had ever said such a thing, and certainly didn't feel that way at all, to which she replied with disgust, "Oh, come on, WN, I was right there in the room!" And she then unloaded such hostility on me in a few minutes' time that when I walked out of her room I literally had to lean against the wall for a couple of minutes because I was shaking so much. So I guess we're not so much done with the drama after all.
In fact, she was so rude that I have now started documenting any and all problematic interactions with her. I am not one to stand too much on my dignity, but we are not a school where one is allowed to talk that way to one's colleagues. In the meantime, we are giving each other plenty of space, not speaking to one another other than "hello" in the hallway, and that policy of avoidance is working well enough for the moment. Lunchtime is the only delicate part, but it's not too difficult to avoid sitting at the same table, and clearly some healing space and time is needed before we try talking again about anything at all, even the weather.
But back to the book project: For the first couple of weeks after my meeting with HoS, I was just so grateful to finally have a (sort of) clear answer on the fate of the project, and I was so very busy with other things, that I happily put the whole FGS history project out of my mind.
But in the last couple of weeks, as I've been finishing up other projects right and left, it has started bugging me to put Chapter 4 away in its half-done state. I had done so much research and felt like I was right on the verge of figuring out a couple of knotty problems that I was facing with it, and I was feeling fretful about never getting those problems sorted out. And the thing is that I really did love working on the project when it was just about me and the research and the history; it was only the Co-Author drama that made me unhappy. And how would I really feel if someone else took over the whole project?
So finally, about a week ago, I went for a walk with Archivist and talked it over, and now our secret plan is that I will go ahead and finish Chapter 4 this winter, and the Librarian and Archivist will give me feedback on the draft, and then they will have the revised version at hand for when they have their spring meeting with HoS. And when they are talking about possibilities for picking the project back up again, they can say, "Well, actually, WN wanted to wrap up loose ends, so she went ahead and finished Chapter 4, which means that she's now written two of the book's seven chapters. Why don't you read Chapter 4, and then if you like it, maybe we could just hand the entire project over to her?"
I don't know if that is actually how things will play out, of course, and I don't know how Former-Co-Author would react, and altogether there are many questions about what might happen. Definitely a case of seeing through a glass darkly. And maybe it will turn out that I spend lots of time on this chapter and it is all for nought. Who knows?
But here's the important thing: This afternoon, I pulled up the sets of files on my computer to reread what I had drafted already, and I started adding things to my "stuff still to research" list, and I had a very happy hour or so reacquainting myself with the work, which I hadn't looked at since early August. And it was fun, and I enjoyed myself, and I decided that as long as I felt engaged in the project, I might as well keep going with it. And if I stop being engaged, I can stop working on it. And that is not at all a bad way to be for right now. In fact, it felt like quite a treat, to get to work on research that once again feels like "mine, all mine" instead of a big committee mess.
So we'll see what happens, but for right now, I'm happy. And that's something I haven't been able to say about this project for months!