I haven’t posted recently about my work on the biography of Isaac Bonewits. In fact, you may have noticed that I’ve involved myself with projects that are clearly work-avoidance: the private server and the jewelry shop. I have the mild excuse that the shop might offset the research costs for the biography, but there’s a more direct reason why my work has been minimal.
The reason is the recent publication of two superb works of Neopagan history: Bull of Heaven and The Wizard and the Witch. They considerably raise the bar on what I think of as a minimal acceptable standard for the biography. I can’t get away with saying “Isaac did X, then he did Y, then he did Z.” I’d have to go over the environments in which he lived and the influences that led to his major life decisions.
Among other things, this means researching what life was like in:
– Michigan in the 1950s;
– the city of Berkeley in the 1960s;
– the University of California at Berkeley campus in the late 60s to 70s;
– the magical community surrounded Grayhaven in the 70s and 80s;
– the RDNA in the 70s and 80s;
– the growth and development of ADF in the 80s and 90s;
and so. This information is not in the papers and documents that Isaac left behind. My guess is that, with additional interviews, trips to libraries, archival searches, hunting for resources (I’d need access to the complete runs of Green Egg and Gnostica), and much begging, it at least triples the research effort I’d originally planned.
When I proposed the idea of the biography to Phaedra Bonewits and Deborah Lipp in 2010, I thought it might take 4-5 years of effort. I recently learned it took Michael Lloyd 9 years to write Bull of Heaven; I can guess how long it took John Sulak to put together The Wizard and the Witch based on the transcripts of interviews whose subjects had passed on years before it was published.
I’m feeling overwhelmed. The mojo has gone again. It would help to have a research assistant or co-author, but who wants to sign on for years of unpaid labor on a work that might never be published?
The next major research task is go to Pantheacon in February 2015 to interview folks who knew Isaac, or could tell me about life in Berkeley in the 70s and 80s. For me, this is a major expenditure in social and financial capital. If I’m going to visit Pantheacon, I should do so now, while (to put it bluntly) the people I’d like to interview are still alive.
It’s also become a watershed moment in the research effort. If I go, I commit myself to seeing this project through to completion; no more posts that whine about mojo. [*]
This weekend, I had a chance to speak with my writing coach and discuss some of these issues. Here’s what I came up with: I have to make the “go/no-go” decision by September of this year. Therefore, by the end of August, I will try to complete four new productive interveiws for the biography.
If I haven’t managed to do that in the next six weeks, then it’s a “no-go” on Pantheacon… and it’s a “no-go” on this project. I’ll apologize to Phaedra and Deborah, and offer my digital documents and partially-coded files to anyone else who’s better qualified to take up this project.
If I do it, then I’m committed. Feel free to insert your own pun here.
[*] Disclaimer: If I go to Pantheacon, and it turns out that it was not worth the effort, then I’ll also set this project aside. I don’t have enough resources to gamble on failed research.