The Manuscript Beard


The Manuscript Beard: The Soul's Merkin


Yesterday, a chance encounter in the washroom with a Georgetown colleague and a fellow secular Member of the Tribe got me thinking about the beards we male academics grow when manuscripting.

“Son, Mennonite-Americans don’t got nothin’ on you!” I enthused while thrusting my hands in mock desperation at the automatic towel dispenser which always seems slow to respond to my solicitations.

“I firmly believe,” he replied while turning to the urinal and unzipping his fly, “that I would have never written as good a book about Proust had I shaved the beard. The whole pivotal section on Bloch for example—”

But the forceful flow of urine, quickened by the joyful recollection of his truly seminal Proust monograph, drowned out the rest of his remarks.

No matter. The whole episode was like a madeleine, reminding me of the complex psychic emotions which accompany growing out a beard when writing a book.

A Manuscript Beard: It signals a thoughtful restlessness, a literary virility. It’s like wearing your inner turmoil on your face. It is your soul’s merkin.

Sure, my sons would rather plunge two stories out their bedroom windows than have me kiss them good night. But that’s why we check the safety locks in the morning.

And if you’re Jewish, a Manuscript Beard has the added advantage of leading co-religionists to believe you are in a state of mourning.

Which, of course, you are. All Manuscript Beards pose a question, actually a series of questions: “What the f*#%$ has happened to my life? What did I do to deserve this miserable solitude? Was it oafish of me to tase that grad student who recalled three of my books from the library? At least hockey players when they grow their playoff beards get to concuss people who aggravate them. If I donned skates, would I be permitted to do that in the faculty lounge?”

It is said that politicians experiencing extreme duress will twitter images of their private parts to their compatriots. The near exact academic equivalent of such extreme and unusual behavior is the Manuscript Beard.

I am not sure if Manuscript Beards have any parallel among my female colleagues. Though as I think through the question, I realize that perhaps I would rather not know the answer.

As my tribesman came to the mirror to admire his whiskers and mine, he exulted with a smile: “We look like Huns.”

“I think you mean Ostrogoths,” I corrected.

“Indeed, Jewish Ostrogoths,” he affirmed.

I leave with a plea: Be kind to those men, be they adjuncts or emeriti, adorned with newly found facial hair. They are lost. The little muffin crumb hovering 3 millimeters above their lip? They don’t know it’s there (Though scholars writing multi-volume works may be aware of the crumb’s presence).

The Middle States Review stuff they were supposed to hand in last week? They haven’t even started it. They haven’t really spoken to their spouses and partners for months.

All they have is a little black moss, a lot of confused footnotes, and the remembrance of happier times past.


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