Meet NCU’s New English Professor, Dr. James Watson
Author’s Note: I interviewed Dr. James Watson; he shared about his experiences as an author, how he became a professor, and expressed a great deal of love for his family.
Could you share about your journey from Waco, Texas to Eugene, Oregon? Did you teach there as well?
Yes, I taught at Baylor University for four years. I also worked for a company outside of the university while I finishing up my Ph.D. Coming to Oregon was like coming home and has been a thrilling blessing, most of my wife’s family is in the Portland area and I grew up in Beaverton. I think it’s important to love and embrace wherever you are. A small town like Waco may not seem like a place to go and make a life, but we absolutely loved our lives there because we made it about the people around us.
Dr. Lanta Davis (NCU’s former English Professor) contacted me in May and told me about this position opening up here, and I was very pleasantly surprised. My family and I love how green Oregon is and the misty hills, we love the trails. It feels good to be home.
What events inspired you to become a professor and what do you specialize in?
Well, I grew up loving to read and knew that I wanted to be a writer since second grade. From a somewhat early age, I also wanted to be a missionary. I never thought that I would become a professor. Throughout the course of my 20s, I feel like the Lord took that missionary dream away in one sense, and transformed it into teaching. I feel that there is a great need for Christians to have their minds well-formed. It’s a privilege to assist in that process to some degree. Since I grew up reading all the time, there was a certain point where I thought, “I could teach literature.” It had not crossed my mind until then; I wasn’t an English major in college.
What did you major in when you were in college?
I majored in Ancient Languages. When I graduated, it was with an Applied Linguistics major, and thinking I could become involved with unreached people groups whose language may not have been written or for those who did not yet have a Bible translation. Also, I discovered that the study of language itself is incredibly fascinating to me. Language is perhaps, most uniquely, the thing that distinguishes us humans–as far as biologically–from the rest of the animal kingdom. Language is an amazing thing and knowing what we do about the Bible, that Christ is called the Word, takes on a new meaning.
What is the title of your book and what is your story behind writing and publishing it?
The title of the book is a A Window on the Door and this story grew in telling. It’s a bildungsroman, a coming of age story, but it’s also an attempt to be a response to Dostoevsky’s character, Ivan Karamazov, and his questions to his brother, Alyosha (in the novel Brother’s Karamazov). One of his questions not being whether God exists, but whether or not we should serve Him. Of course, that’s not an answerable question, but it’s a book about the incarnation in the end.
I brought it out through a Kickstarter campaign and designed and printed the book myself, but I never planned to do that. I guess, through a sense of pride, one wants the imprimatur of a major publisher and the stamp of approval that makes you say, “Oh, I’m a real writer now!” It would be too complicated to explain how it came about in this way, but I loved that I was able to be intimately involved with the process at every point.
I think that the time might be right for a revival of–what used to be a very normal–self-publishing practice amongst the great writers of America. For example, Walt Whitman financed and brought out Leaves of Grass and Virginia Woolf ran her own printing press and printed her own works. William Blake and all sorts of people made the book that they had written and made it to be dispersed. I’m glad now, but this originally wasn’t something that I had planned.
Do you have any pieces of wisdom to offer from your writing and publishing experience?
Writing as a craft, as a work, should not merely be for self-expression. If you want to be a writer, I feel like it’s as troublesome and hard as any calling out there. If that desire is going to be transformed into its highest form, you have to be willing to allow God to humble you and to do what He wishes you to do with that gift, even if it doesn’t result in the feelings you anticipate. It’s a work; chain yourself to that typewriter, sweat, bleed… it’s a ruthless thing.
Do you have any interesting hobbies or recreational activities that you like to do?
I’ve always built things, but now all I love to do in my free time is to hang out with my family. I also love old motorcycles, so it’s nice that I can commute on one. Basically, I enjoy gardening, building things, and old motorcycles, but I really love spending time with my family and hiking with my kids.
Do you ever find it challenging to balance your work life and your family life?
Yes, although I always have made the decision to tip the balance in the direction of my family. Even if I have a ton of work to do, I make sure I get home and at a certain point, hang out with the kids until they go to sleep and don’t sacrifice that time with them as much as I can. It can be a challenge, but if you know what your priorities are, then everything falls into place around that.
How did you meet your wife and what are some ways that you both grow in the Lord together?
The first memory of my wife is in fifth grade and I met her because she and my sister got baptized on the same night at our church and that’s how I met their family. I liked her from seventh grade and onward. It took her a few more years than that to come around. We got married in what would have been our junior year of college, and there’s about twenty three years of history between us.
How do my wife and I grow together in the Lord? When we first were dating, I felt it incumbent on me to have these external practices, like going on a date and reading our Bible together. That’s all well and good, but how we grow together is that we are honest in our conversations with one another and talking about it every single day. We don’t have to force “this is our growing in the Lord aspect of our life,” but the challenges of life itself are real, pressing, and difficult enough that they force us to talk about our relationship with the Lord in relationship to questions, such as how we’re raising our kids, how do we express hospitality, what do we do about the Syrian refugee crisis?
Anything that we encounter in life is increasingly formed by that. You learn from these things overtime. Before you get married, most of the time there is this nice, glossy cover over the real difficulties that you might have by just forcing two human beings together, but any good marriage takes a phenomenal amount of work. Our marriage is going to be hitting at about thirteen years this December, but we are beginning to see the fruit of it more and more and have a closer relationship than we’ve ever had. It comes out in the daily things of life.
Some people think that you have ten sons, is there any truth to that statement?
My sons move around so much that it might seem like it’s double, but my wife and I have five sons, the youngest are twins and are 3 years old. I suppose that’s considered a big family these days, and we do get comments almost anytime we go out. I think that it’s indicative of our age, that so many young people say today that they never want kids, or only want one kid, and it shows a lack of understanding about what having a family means and a selfishness in that, as if kids are sort of an extension or style accessory to your life rather than beings created in the image of God. Kids have been an incredible joy in our life and consciously raising five young men into this world feels like it has been our highest calling and greatest joy.