On Writing and Being Written / Sur l’écriture

On écrit, on est écrit. I have too many disparate research projects, large and small. While all are interesting, I need to prune my research tree by foregrounding, backgrounding, and prioritizing – not only the projects, but the subfields and interests themselves. I have been trying to feel my way toward a long-term project – which one? Or, if there are two, can they be staggered and dovetailed in some way?

The reason I have so many projects is that I tend to automatically ignore my first choice, assuming that an authority will prohibit it. I then have difficulty navigating among my many, admittedly attractive second and third choices. I have just realized what the next long-term project should probably be: the dissertation I did not write.

Because my dissertation director, for reasons best known to herself, had the distressing habit of calling me lazy, I chose a topic when she said I should – one I had conceived of some years before. My own plan had been to meditate three more months and allow the true topic to emerge, as I knew it would. I was in touch with myself then, and had some confidence, although not enough to overcome her lack of it.

Three months later the topic did come to me, but I had already committed to something else. I could have changed, but I had already been told I lacked commitment and I did not want to hear it again. I knew, though, that I was writing to my academic past, not to my future.

The practical response to this situation would be, “It is wonderful, then, that you already know the topic of your next project.” But this project was in a very different subfield from that of my dissertation. By the time I could begin it, I had been hired to work in the field of my dissertation. The more liberal members of my department would not have opposed my undertaking the other project in addition to my regular research work, but the more cautious were prepared to vote against the tenure of anyone who ventured beyond the occasional out of field article.

The operative assumption here was that nobody could be sufficiently competent in both of these subfields. This, of course, was not true. It was like saying nobody could speak both Spanish and French, or read both Latin and Greek. But it was the authoritative belief, which is to say it was the position from which files would be evaluated and decisions would be made.

I took the recommended path, which then led yet further in other directions, and events accumulated. In addition, I like my official subfield, and there is much in it still to be done. And yet, when I read scholarly work for recreational purposes, it is always in the subfield of that dissertation I never wrote.

It may be time to write it. Our reading today, therefore, is Geoffrey Philp’s Top Ten Things Writers Should Know. It begins like this: “Whether you have chosen the word or the word has chosen you, the vocation of writing is about creating a self, and this will mean cultivating a set of values that will guide your work. And I mean YOUR work and YOUR values.” Read it and be happy, for it speaks truly.


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4 Responses to On Writing and Being Written / Sur l’écriture

  1. Pingback: News Flash / One More Thing « Professor Zero

  2. Professor Z,

    Thank you for the link. I don’t know if you know this, but I am about six credits shy of a Ph.D in English, but then I stopped and never went back. The thought of going back now brings chills and body aches and all kinds of nightmares.

    I don’t think I could sit through another lecture. Life is too short and too precious and I’m having too much fun doing things like this.

    So, alas, I may never be Dr. Philp. And Professor P. or Dr. P. is just ridiculous.


  3. profacero says:

    Six credits? Plus the exam and the dissertation? Well – if you actually needed the degree for some reason, I could figure out a way to design those activities in such a way as not to have them bring on body aches. The strategy would be to recycle a lot of the material you’ve produced since you left your program. Six credits of independent study – you write some things, as you do now, or expand some things you have already written. Then the exam – which you’re already prepared for, you read a lot. Put authors you are currently reading / have recently read on the list, make Caribbean literature one concentration and rhet.-comp., which you work in and know about, another. Get your next novel counted as the dissertation (claim a creative writing concentration, and write a critical introduction to it).

    However: you’ve got a job! You’re having fun! Who wants a dusty old Ph.D. when you’re already launched into an interesting professional , intellectual and creative life?

  4. Z!

    One of these days when I give up this day job, I may just do that!


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