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Friday, January 11, 2013

Failure Chronicles, Pt. 3: On the Road to Non-Failure

Today, the final installment in my three part series on my professional failures.  I'll start by noting that despite the awesome Above the Law linking to my last post on how I'd like to be the next Clerk of the Supreme Court, I have heard nothing yet from the Chief--not even a polite rejection email!  (actually, the really sad thing about this, from the perspective of my own mental well-being, is that, despite the absurdity of my "application,"  I am *in fact* disappointed not to have heard anything).

Anyway, back to my quest for a book contract.  As I noted in my last post, my previous editor (let's call her "H") was not impressed with my idea about a book on the evolving nature of the bald eagle as a national symbol.  The story is actually a little bit more complicated.  I sent her an excited email about this idea, and she wrote back saying that I'd "given her something to think about" and would I like to come by her office and have some scotch and talk it over.  I was delighted.  I love scotch!  Also, I thought that she had finally decided to indulge my bald eagle obsession.  I found my son's bald eagle finger puppet and told it the good news.  And I drew a little sketch of what the cover might look like, with the woozy, broken-wing eagle and whatnot.  Yay, I thought.

So I went over, and H poured me some scotch, and we chatted.  I kept waiting for her to say yes let's go forward with your bald eagle idea, but that was somehow not happening.  I tried to make my case, suggesting why the eagle and its feather is a great microcosm like thing for the macro issue of American identity and blah blah blah (at this point I was a little buzzed).  Her reaction was that the micro might be fine, but the macro wasn't big enough or compelling enough.  I despaired.  Why not, I wondered?  Anyway, at this point, I threw out a new idea--what if the macro wasn't American identity, but rather the relationship generally between religious practice and environmentalism?  I had long thought about writing an article on this topic, because there are a number of situations in the US where religious practices happen to have a harmful effect on the environment and on natural resources--not only the bald eagle, but also Santeria animal sacrifice, Amish refusal to use wastewater technology to treat contaminated water, expansion of churches claiming exemptions from zoning laws under RFRA, indoor mercury use in the rituals of various Caribbean religions, etc.  As soon as I mentioned this idea, H's expression completely changed.  She was intrigued.  The idea of religious practices in some cases harming the environment was compelling because it runs counter to the current dominant narrative of religious organizations working together with environmentalists to solve environmental problems (this is by no means the only narrative of course--some religious beliefs and traditions continue to contribute to environmental harms in various ways, including by promoting a skepticism of science, but I do think the big story these days is religion and environmentalists working together).  We ended the meeting with me agreeing to go do some research and see if there might be a book in this idea somewhere.

So, long story short, I did the research, got back to H a week later, and signed a contract for God is Not Always Green not long after.  The book will be largely international in scope and involve lots of Holy Hullabaloos like travel to different places in the world where we see conflicts occurring between religious practice and environmentalism.  I'll blog more about some of these conflicts in the coming weeks, but just to quickly name a few--idol immersion in India, joss stick burning in Singapore, palm forest depletion in Latin America, coastal whaling in Japan, turtle sacrifice in Bangladesh, and mercy releases in countries with large Buddhist populations, most notably Taiwan.  The book will take a long time to research and write, but it's very exciting and I'm having a great time with it so far.

So, what's the moral of this three-part tale?  I don't know.  But I suspect it might be that I should be the next Clerk of the Supreme Court.  (should we start a thread to track who has heard back from the Chief and whether they've received offers, etc.?)

Posted by Jay Wexler on January 11, 2013 at 08:55 AM in Jay Wexler | Permalink


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Will you still hire me as your clerk even if you never hear from the Chief?

Just trying to avoid my own (vaguely publishing-related) failure . . . .

Posted by: SparkleMotion | Jan 11, 2013 10:30:32 AM

And don't forget the RC habit of drinking blood and eating unprocessed flesh of uncertain provenance.

Posted by: Jimbino | Jan 12, 2013 7:10:12 AM

the book will be great! travel to israel too. let me know prior and i will connect you to the enviornmental community, and some hebrew law scholars too.

Posted by: orly lobel | Jan 14, 2013 1:16:47 AM

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