The Next Three Years
Bill Long 1/1/08
Thoughts and Plans for 2008-2010
If there is one thing that is certain it is that you cannot assure your own future. But you can plan as if you will have a future. That is what I propose to do in this essay.
I gave up making New Year's resolutions about a decade ago. The reason? I couldn't really see any way "out" of the predictability and demands of my life. All I could see was repetition of necessary things. My heart and vision had become constricted; I sometimes didn't even stay up to "welcome" in the New Year. That situation, which I now see as a very sad one, continued for many years.
Yet, in the past week, I have felt amost inspired to think about my future in new ways. And, as is usual for me, I now don't want just to think about 2008 but about a longer period: 2008-2010. In some ways my experience is reminiscent of the Apostle Peter when Jesus offered to wash his feet (John 13). At first Peter refused this seemingly inappropriate offering. Then, after Jesus told Peter that he would have no part in Jesus unless he complied, Peter quickly said, 'Lord, not my feet only but my whole body.' That is the way my heart is inclined on this New Year's night. I feel grateful to have emerged from what might be characterized as a long, dark and narrow tunnel and to have entered into the broad spaces of life, the biblical "Rehoboth." I hope I never leave these spaces.
So, as I was thinking of how, then, to enter those spaces, a picture began to emerge for me of the next period in my life. It is not simply writing and more writing. In fact, as I have been feverishly and somewhat furiously producing essays in the past four years, I have prayed a small prayer: "God, when are you going to let me lighten up on the essays? When are you going to permit the flow of my life to be directed elsewhere?" For, in fact, though I could just lay aside my 'pen' any time, I haven't really felt free to do that. Something has said inside me "research, learn, write..." and I have complied. But now I am feeling that there will be a time when my focus will shift a bit, and I want to tell you about that. Let's go "year by year" as I see it now.
This year will be, if all goes well, a writing year. I would like to arrive at essay 4000 by the end of 2008, a plan that would require me to keep up the pace of the previous four years. But the focus of the writing has become even clearer in the past few weeks. I will "begin" with three or four "basic" writing areas. By "basic" areas I mean those topics for which there are established constituencies which either get paid for studying the areas on which I write, are required to study the areas or are eager for more information in that area. To make this sound less ethereal, these areas are: (1) Biblical-lectionary expositions; (2) Supreme Court Times--plain language expositions of all cases in the Supreme Court; (3) Autism history and present issues; and (4) Exposition of Shakespeare plays. I began writing on Coriolanus a few days ago; I would like to "cover" eight or ten of his plays this year. Then, if there is additional time, I would like to continue to write on words, movie reviews/political themes and some autobiographical essays.
There is nothing magical in 4000 essays, even though it is a whole lot. But there is a bit of vanity in that number, which I will now share with you. That number of essays represents the equivalent of 12,000-13000 "pages" of text, which approximates 60 200-page books of essays. If we combine this with the 10 books I have already written/edited, this would bring me to 70 books. That is a number of nearly Benthamite proportions, one that would finally begin to convince me that I have tried to make up for years when I felt I wasn't being very productive.
But for this year I have also made another resolution--that I would know "all the words" (at least in English) by the end of the year. Or, more precisely, that I would quit missing words in spelling bees. I missed one word last night which embarrasses me no end (decalcomania), and I want to make spelling errors a thing of the past. So, that is 2008.
2009--A Year of Languages
I have had the privilege of studying 11 languages during my life to date. I can't use them all with equal facility of course, but I try to make use of at least four or five each week. But 2009 will, I hope, see me engaging in two kinds of language work: (1) Learning new languages, and (2) Brushing up on old. The two that are the most urgent in my mind, which I haven't studied yet, are Arabic and Chinese. I have a passing familiarity with the structure of Semitic languages, having studied Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac, so at least I will not be starting from scratch with Arabic. As one old German professor used to say, "Once you know all the Semitic languages, learning any one of them is easy." So, we will see! I want to learn Arabic because I want to learn to read and understand the Koran closely. I would like to develop more friendships with people in the Arab world (I traveled there in the early 1990s), and I think it a matter of courtesy to try to do it in Arabic. Then, there is Chinese. Perhaps this is a pipe dream, but if Chinese children can learn it, I ought to be able to make a start.
With respect to the "brushing up," I would like to be in the position at the end of 2009 of relative fluency in the "easy" or "major" European languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian). This will mostly require "brushing up," though some of it will be completely new. I think I will do this through a series of tutors, and I will have to check out how best to do this. Languages in general have come relatively easily to me over the years; 2009 will be the time to put my money where my mouth is, really. Why so much emphasis on language? Well, of course, because of 2010.
2010 and Travel
I would like to make 2010 my "world travel" year. I don't know precisely at this point how I will do this. My friend Gil (a law professor) spent 12 months of his sabbatical travelling around the world without returning once to the States; I don't know if I can replicate that type of commitment. At this point it seems most realistic to look at a series of "month-long" trips. My hope would be that my languages would enable me to speak to most people in their first or second languages as I travel. I hope also that by that time I might have more fully developed a "worldwide" readership of these pages (for example, in the last month I have had readers from 160 countries) that might lead me to connect with readers in far parts of the world.
In any case, these are my dreams/hopes as 2008 opens. I have always felt somewhat drained and even impotent when I have tried to fulfill the wishes of other people in work or other things. I think it is because of a deeply rebellious streak in me--if someone wants me to do something, I will suddenly not be able or interested in doing it. But if I am able to define my way, I am able to devote incredible amounts of focused attention to it.
This will cost me $100,000--at least. I have never "asked" people for money to support me, either here or elsewhere. And, I don't plan to start that now, despite the encouragement of several friends to make these essays into a "buy only" site. But this amount, it seems to me, will just about support my goals. Any suggestions of where this should come from?
Oh, and one other point. I don't know if I will be alone when I do all these things. Will the "monk" or the "lover" triumph? That is also one of the questions that crosses my mind.
Thank you for listening to these ruminations. It is of these little thoughts that our great dreams are made...