life / school / Writing

(Just Like) Starting Over

In 2009, I almost broke up with someone over Game 3 of the Yankees/Phillies World Series.  Without too many specifics, here’s the relevant information:

  • I like sports.  He did not.
  • I like the Yankees.  He didn’t like me.
  • I made sure during the day that he didn’t mind watching the game that evening.  He lied.
  • The rain-delayed, long-awaited, stay-home-on-Halloween-for-it game was ruined before the kids from Glee could get to “O’er the ramparts we watch’d” in “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
  • I almost told him we were through mid-storm to the television to turn the game off.
  • He only sensed trouble was brewing by the intense, continuous, silent games of Tetris I played in the other room.

The whole point of this is to say that I’m really good at Tetris. Oh, yeah, and I should have ended that relationship then.

Anyway, the way I got really good at Tetris was by “writing” my dissertation in the Fall of 2009, which also happens to be the semester I had an office — and office computer — all to myself.  Some of you may also remember some of my sparkling internet-based conversations, as I got even better at that, too.

But there’s a lesson here: warning signs are everywhere.  Just as a boyfriend ruining the World Series — that I REALLY CARED ABOUT* — is a sign of deeper, respect-related problems, so too, is a 400,000 point game of Tetris.  It means the topic isn’t working and that free, elementary flash-based games are a greater and deeper passion than one’s supposed “passion.”

Of course, I’m no quitter.

Which is why I stayed in that relationship until it went nuclear and why I didn’t have an honest conversation about my dissertation topic with myself or my adviser until this spring.

You see, I like right answers.  I like the world to match up in a symmetrical, well-measured, orderly way.  And so even though my academic strengths lie in writing about popular culture, I tried for a long time to stay the course and write a dissertation that was on the level for someone working in 19th Century American lit.  But it wasn’t on the level for me. It was just the right answer to the question, “What’s a good dissertation topic for someone in this field?”

While I produced pages and had some interesting ideas, I didn’t care.  Not one bit.  And it hurt.  All the time.

The answer to the question, “Why don’t you sit down and crank it out?” was always, “I don’t know,” which is baffling for someone who gets shit done.

But sometimes these things take a while to figure out.  And, after some discussion, some thought, some reading, and little bit of hope, I’m scrapping the whole deal and starting over (sort of).  It’s time to take on a project that I can better wrap my head around, one that I actually want to do, rather than sullenly march through**.

Because I do remember being able to do this sort of thing, wanting to do it.  And while I’m not planning to take my Ph.D. where many of my friends have taken theirs, it’s starting to look slightly possible that I may actually get one.

And that’s something to be tentatively excited about.


* The World Series, just to be clear. I cannot stress how much more I like/d baseball.

** I realized a while ago that I wasn’t interested in a traditional academic career, which made the dissertation process — a process largely focused on grooming oneself for the academic job market and academic publishing — doubly dreadful and without reward.


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