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.