Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thank You, Universe

I’ve been racking my brain for a fitting wrap-up post to my year of pondering about and planning for my farewell to my day job, with little success.

Sometimes the universe steps in. And it did on Monday.

That morning I stopped by the university to pick up my rented cap and gown. Aha! I thought. Preparing for my last Commencement would be a good subject for the last post of this stage of the blog. Not too exciting, though.

In my mailbox I found mail: a photocopy of the cover of the new edition of a highly-regarded textbook, Literature for Today’s Young Adults, and copies of pages where two books of mine were mentioned (Anna of Byzantium was one of nine books on the editors’ Honor List for 1999; King of Ithaka was called “a perfect introduction to the tale of Odysseus"). This could be the subject, it occurred to me: receiving, in my academic mailbox, a validation of my non-academic writing. What a neat circle!

But the universe had something even better in store.

Sweaty and jet-lagged!
The logo on the envelope's return address caught my eye. It turns out that the mailing had come from Don and Alleen Nilsen. They co-founded the International Society for Humor Studies, whose journal, Humor, published one of my early (and, I confess, one of my few) scholarly articles. I later joined a class action suit brought by the Authors Guild against someone who sold downloads of copyrighted material without permission. That article published in Humor turned out to have been illegally downloaded three times (I'm still astonished that three different people wanted to read an article entitled "Cecco Angiolieri: A Medieval Italian Humorist?"). The AG won the suit and the settlement check for $1,500 arrived just as my twelve-year-old son and I were leaving for a trip to Rome—perfect timing!

Also perfect was the timing of the arrival of this kind mailing from the Nilsens (they didn’t have to send it—most editors don’t). Its arrival as I was toting my cap and gown would be hard to improve upon, and so this is the subject of the last post of stage one.

The incident makes so many full circles: the letter in my academic mailbox concerns my non-academic writing; I went into teaching Italian as a profession because of my love for Rome, and the illegal downloads of the article led to an enhanced experience of that city; I stayed non-tenure-track so I could write and so I could spend more time with my family, like taking Patrick to Rome; I published scholarly articles only if I enjoyed the topic and felt I had something new to say (a luxury of not going for tenure) and that article was truly a pleasure to write.

Thank you, universe.


  1. Wow! This is wonderful. What a wonderful adventure this has been for you!