December 19, 2008

Best Advice of 2008

The best tip I got this year was from my old Lit and Classics Professor at LSU, Dr. Bob McMahon, along with his dear wife. (Thanks again, you two!) Having graciously shared more than an hour with me in their Baton Rouge living room, the McMahon's collaborated beautifully in suggesting to my grateful, agreeable mind the following helpful but critical thoughts:

1) I don't want or need to become a professional scholar to do what I'm doing. 2) I can still aim to write with an accuracy that should impress scholars and satisfy my own ambitions. 3) I can still strive to be conversant with scholarly issues and debates while mainly doing my own thing academically. 4) People in my position can sometimes make important, helpful contributions that professional academics can't make directly - but the contribution can enter and influence scholars' ongoing research and discussions.
On that same June day, Dr. McMahon also quoted by heart to me some famous lines by Samuel Johnson, which I quoted here in July, so I'll paraphrase this time:

Enough 'bait' for now. Get to 'fishing'. Do what you can do. Dragging this thing out might not make it better. People spend lifetimes looking for evidence they just can't find, even if it exists. One question always leads to another. Every new book cites another new book. A lot of endless trails aren't much better than dead ends. In short, research isn't always helpful, searching isn't the same as finding, and finding doesn't always mean I've got it. Therefore, trying to complete a perfect work is like trying to catch the sun. You just can't.
Doctor Johnson's 'advice' seems impossible, but I'm determined to follow it because, after all, eventually I must! And naturally Dr. McMahon's good advice is a lot easier to embrace than to execute well, but I'm working on it. So far, Bibliobloggers have been both kind and patient. Far beyond that, my Lord has been much more so. Who knows? At length, I may be finding my place...

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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton