Room is Needed

“Do you need room?”

This is a question the barista asks me most days. Do you want your coffee up short, so that you can whiten it with a bit of cream, or milk, or a mixture thereof? I say no, but I mean yes, not that I want my coffee whiter but I want a bit more room in my life.

Life gets busy. Days are too short. The things I crave are sacrificed to the things that shout loudest. I am not complaining but stating facts on the ground. I make poor choices and in the making of them I breed yet more. It is hard to stake out a healthy vantage point when you are hard pressed.

Making room is not so very hard, though. It means saying “no” more often. Some of us are better at it than others. I’m not great at it because I don’t want to pass up opportunities. I don’t want to let down friends, acquaintances and those I admire. I don’t want to think through the options. But sometimes I need to say “no” because I need room.

Without room, I cannot turn. Without room, I cannot stretch. Without room, I cannot step backwards. These verbs all matter. These are verbs of faith, they describe wagering another way of being in the world – one bound by neither pettiness of spirit nor brag of pride.

But having room means having less. A roomy life is less cluttered. The roomiest of all lives are lived en route with nothing save what is near at hand. A roomy life is not only a life with less but a life that gives with less, which is not the same as giving less. The one with room gives with less because they give out of emptiness and may paradoxically give what is needed most: a little room.

We neither bear nor hear paradoxes without room. There is no place for paradox in an inn full to the brim, nor in a boat battened down with fear. But love casts out our fear. Love is paradox made flesh, as are faith and hope: love in the April sun as sharp as a razor, hope in fresh buds pushing up against cynicism, and faith in friends taking time simply to be together. These three together give us voice to play the barista, offering room to thirsty pilgrims.

Bottoms up.

Sharp and Wide

These days I am working on a book proposal.  The book is based on my sabbatical project from a few years ago and is academic in nature – although not overly technical.  The proposal is really a series of questions, posed by the publisher.  Writing a book proposal is a bit like writing a book, but rather different in certain ways.  The like bit includes an overlap of subject matter.  The proposal, insofar as it succeeds, reflects to the reader of the proposal what they will read should the book see the light of day.  There are usually questions about table of contents, competing works in the market, etc that allow the author of the proposal to draw on his or her work in writing the book itself.

But then there are the other questions; the different questions, well really, the different question.  “What are your plans for promoting the book?”  This question is then split into a series of sub-questions asking about social media, conferences and conventions, as well as professional connections that can be leveraged in order to sell your book should the publisher choose to take on your project. This bit is hard for me.  My guess is that it is hard for many if not most academics.  After all, our training generally is subject specific, and while we may know a lot about theology, or geology, or philosophy, not many of us have taken courses in marketing.  Consequently this question can be a bit vexing, but as with most things vexing, it reveals something about the self and invites authors to do at least two things.

First, it invites us to ask the question: Why does this book matter?  For those who aren’t steeped in the sometimes arcane disciplines of academic writing, this question seems like a no-brainer.  But academics, by nature of their craft, often have to put on blinders so they can focus on the topic at hand.  But the marketing question also forces us to step back and ask the “So what?” question.  Sometimes this question results in re-writing, or fine tuning, or re-casting our projects.

Second, the marketing question pushes us to think about the market itself.  Once upon a time academics lived at a kind of arms-length distance from the market.  Entrance to the academic guild meant that you worked with editors who were sympathetic to your discipline, and the paper market allowed them some sense of where your work would fit in the academic world.  But the market is now virtual as much as paper, and authors who care to think about their place in the virtual world are forced to think through the market.  What does it mean that my work has to vie for a place in an internet search?  What does it mean that there are readers visiting forums looking to find a free electronic version of my book?  How do I relate to the market, and how will I engage it?

It is easy for authors to lament these new challenges, but it need not be paralysing.  For those who rise to the occasion, their writing can be both sharpened and widened despite fear of losing sight of the subject matter in concentrating on the audience.  Moreover, those who bridge subject matter and audience receive a rich reward: that peculiar joy that attends being a way rather than a destination.