Tossing a Bad Idea

Shortly upon returning to Hungary, I started looking at possible grants for the future. Surely there was a grant, in Hungary or the U.S., that would fund one of my projects or reimburse me for a trip. I found something with an imminent deadline—a book grant—and began feverishly assembling materials. (I won’t go into details, since I hope to apply for this grant in the future and don’t like to talk about projects before they take shape.) After spending some twenty hours on it, I realized that my proposal had some problems that could not be worked out in a week or two. The grant is awarded annually, so why not take a year to put together an outstanding proposal? Reviewers have specific goals for the grant money and take care to award it appropriately. Beyond that, I myself wasn’t convinced by the premise of my project.

There’s some relief in abandoning a flawed idea: not just deciding that it is flawed (which can happen within minutes of coming up with it) but seeing exactly where it goes wrong. For one thing, no one is obligated to take on an independent project that one does not believe in. Let it go, and there’s time for other things. For another, the insight helps in all sorts of ways. Third, the motives for cobbling together something may be questionable in the first place. In this case, I wanted to apply for the grant. That is still possible—but only over time, and with an idea and proposal that I can stand behind.

Also, this impulse came out of leftover momentum. I still need time to absorb the conference and trip; there hasn’t been time to rest, since things are so busy at school and elsewhere and I am a bit under the weather (not with Covid, just with a mild bug of some sort). Many people coming back from a trip or project find a kind of estrangement: what for months was one of the most important things in their lives is now a memory, and what’s more, most people don’t care about it. Some students and colleagues (as well as a few friends and fans of the Hungarian group) have asked about the trip, but overall people have their own preoccupations, which is understandable. No one can be expected to understand what this was for me and others. Nor can I be expected to explain, beyond giving basic summaries. Instead, those days will find their way into the folds of everyday life. Things are different because of them.

But even that takes time to get to know. It requires rest and reflection, listening and reading, leisurely attention to daily things. No one has to jump from one project to the next or immediately take a given accomplishment “to the next level” (a particularly American concept that I have discussed with my students in Civilization class). At times (and when possible) it is good to hold back from the next thing. That will be the subject of a future blog piece.

(Speaking of the conference, some of the papers and other materials from the “Setting Poetry to Music” seminar can be found here. More may be added later.)

Art credit: Timothy Jones, The Quiet Muse (oil on panel).

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different



    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.


    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.


    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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