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Sheer force of will

Dear Alex,
The winter break is about halfway through and I’ve accomplished a few things. I updated one of my websites, written a few essays and poems, and had a vacation with the family. Other than that, however, I want to tell you that being a father full time isn’t always the most comfortable thing for me. The kid’s home for at least another ten days. I want to work but I don’t want the kid to fend for himself all the time. I find it incredibly difficult, despite what I just said, to get anything work related accomplished. What I’ve done, I’ve done out of sheer force of will.
But it’s good practice, if uncomfortable and nerve racking. Once I’m able to get into a regular routine again, I have some things in front of me for the next six months. I have two public presentations due in February. These demand attention and time, although I have the basic material for these lectures in hand. I want them to be good presentations, interesting and informative. I want them to showcase what I can do as a scholar. I think I am particularly adept at taking complex issues and making them understandable without, at the same time, making them simplistic. If I have any talent at all—besides the talent I have for hard work and determination—it is the ability to focus when I need to. These presentations just need my attention. I will have to find the time to contemplate the presentations as a whole and develop them into pieces that the public will take to.
I also have two papers to present at history conferences in March. I have one of the papers written. It needs contemplation and focus, as well. That I have the paper written doesn’t mean it’s read for a conference. The presentation will only be about a third as long as the actual paper I have in hand. Again, I need to pare it down to essentials without over-simplifying the issues or the evidence.
The other paper is just at the proposal stage. I have given myself up the to idea that, perhaps, this will not result in publishable work, as I know the first paper is already. Instead, I will use the paper to explore the issue of prostitution in Kansas City during the Pendergast years. Historians have written and rewritten the history of the Pendergast machine. But they have only ever mentioned prostitution as an aside. As a matter of fact, the one book with the most comprehensive overview of prostitution devotes only about a page and a half to the sex industry and sex workers of the time.
I think I can do better. The problem is, of course, is that the information about prostitution comes only from moralist organizations and the occasional news article. I want to know what it was like for hookers on the street. What made the Pendergast years so ripe for prostitution, and what would Johns find when they went to the de facto red light district that grew up in Kansas City at this time?
These limited sources make the subject difficult to write about. Even so, little has been written about Kansas City prostitution in relation to prostitution as a phenomenon of major cities during the interwar years. I can find only one source that even approaches a larger, global view of the trade at the time. I think I can place moralist organizations, police records, newspaper articles, and accounts of the Pendergast machine’s attitudes toward prostitution in a larger perspective of the trade as a occurrence relative to the machine, the city as a whole, and to other cities during that time.
I am merely at the beginning of the research and writing of a paper, ten pages or so, that I will give at the conference. I should need about a week of solid work to get it done. I can do this.
I also want to draft a new book I have in mind. I have the notes I need. I know the voice and understand, I think, the audience I want to approach.
Ray Bradbury

You might say that’s one tall order for a writer. It is, but it is something I can accomplish once I put my head down and get to it six or eight hours a day, five days a week. This is my usual discipline, and I take it on whenever I need to. I need to, so I will do it.
A couple of things come to mind as I write this. I cannot write and research at home. There is just too much going on. Kid needs attention. Wife has questions, concerns, and chores. The dogs want walking and will get out of hand if they are not. Everything has its place, and once I start to sit down every day at a particular moment and get up at a preset time, these other things fill in the gaps. They are things that happen when I’m at home, not working. Trying to work at home, I’ve found, while tempting almost always results in disaster, frayed nerves, and unfulfilling outcomes. It also produces sub-par work, as I don’t really get the chance to concentrate on anything like I need to or to find that contemplation necessary for all creative and academic work.
W. Somerset Maugham
I will need a place that’s quiet but not necessarily silent. Small things become large distractions in silent places. But where there’s a little noise, nothing loud or sudden, then the distractions melt away. I have my office at the college, and I will use it if I need to. It’s almost perfect. An open space. A few people coming and going. Small conversations but nothing spectacular. But the college is a long way off and the drive everyday is not something I invite. Better to find something close to home. I think I can scout out a place at the public library and make adjustments as time and necessity dictate.
Thanks for letting me go on about what I want to do and how I will do it. It lets me think and write through the aspects of my goals and whether they are realistic. I will accomplish just one thing at a time. I have learned that goals are not things I have to do perfectly. Instead, they give me direction, and this is a hell of a lot better than wondering every day what the hell I’m supposed to do.


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