I have been ambiguous and/or pissed off about academia for several years now, and yet it is this curious moment that I choose to start a blog. By all means, I should have done it a few years ago, when I suffered a debilitating crisis that led to me “dropping out” for a year only to be pulled back in by academia’s “ghostly hand.” More on that another time, no doubt.
I am plagued by the omnipresent academic guilt . . . I should be working on my dissertation right now! That would be eminently more productive that churning words into the void of cyberspace. And yet, since I can’t, here I am. Despite that in addition to working on the dissertation, there are any number of other things that I should be doing, including the various side projects I do in order to pay the bills and/or provide for some sort of non-academic future for myself. Or just doing my damn laundry.
And yet, and yet. Here I am.
My main task for the dissertation now is to read the long-awaited comments from the advisor in order to transform the dissertation from the (apparently) utter shit that it is now into a document that is suitable of garnering me what will amount me to a useless degree. And it is at this point that I have run into a wall so thick and so unsurmountable that I cannot seem to make myself do it. And that for the first real time since my first life-shattering epiphany, I think….maybe I will just quit.
There is a big good part of me that considers this absurd. I am just a few months away, and it would be completely ridiculous to stop working on it now. Surely I would regret it. Surely it is a bad idea to come so far on a project simply because it has gotten too hard. The part of me that screams quitter says I am tempted to leave because I can’t hack the difficulty of the revision process, where I have to go back and forth with the advisor over how to improve the piss-poor quality of the diss enough to jump over the last, most awful hurdle.
But then the other part of me is suspicious that the diss is little more than a big terrible sunk cost (I must admit I almost linked to a wikipedia article to explain this economic principle, then opted at the last moment to go with a sports article. Why not). The basic idea, as far as I can understand it with my addled humanities brain, is that the costs you have expended on something are basically irrelevant to your current decision of whether to continue pursuing it. So, at this point, all the time I have spent on it shouldn’t make a damn difference in whether I keep going.
I am feeling that pretty poignantly right now and it is hard to make it go away. I already regret the time and energy that I have spent on this thing. I regret every single moment that I could have spent on something else. The number of books read, projects completed, life moments experienced . . . I am horrified with the weight of the things that I did not do while frittering away time on this. And so I’m equally horrified with spending another moment on this thing that could go somewhere else.
This has lead me to a moment of complete paralysis. I manage to get a baseline of things done that must be done. Then my brain enters this mode where I keep thinking . . . you can just leave. Abandon it, cut the cord, and walk away forever. Perhaps there are some bridges that are best burnt behind you.
There was a point a couple of months ago that I thought about continuing to pursue my work as an “independent scholar.” Perhaps publish a few articles or go to a conference or two. I like my topic and think I have something of partial (albeit highly relative) value. Of course, at this point I was also happily planning what I thought would be a spring graduation, and day dreaming about what to put in my acknowledgements, what to wear to my defense, and what to have for my graduation dinner. Ahhhhh, sweet delusions. Am now forced to rethink about how to best re-write my entire dissertation in order to make a summer deadline. I had thought then that going to the graduation might be kinda cool. My mom would certainly like it, and it would provide some “closure.”
But now that the tide has turned, and the paralysis has set in, I can’t imagine writing another word for the diss now, much less for some ridiculous academic articles in the future. Particularly for no other reason than for some vague misguided pretensions towards the “life of the mind” which I’m getting to be convinced can be found just about anywhere else than in academia’s hallowed halls. So maybe burning that bridge behind me would be just fine.
After half-heartedly deciding to go back, I plowed along more or less untroubled by the desire to leave. My decision to not pursue academic jobs freed me from much of the tyranny I experienced through working in academia. I thought that finishing the dissertation would save me from my fear of my future self regretting the decision not to finish. I hesitated at the thought of being perpetually ABD and of thinking myself as a quitter and a failure. These things are all tied to the cultish nature of academia, which many bloggers have written productively about (ugh–note my academic propensity for citations. Alas I am too lazy now to search down all my sources properly. Another day no doubt, when I talk more fully about the academicult).
So, that is all to say that I don’t know what to do now. Now that I’ve had the “maybe I should just quit” thought, I’m having a hard time un-thinking it. Do I stick it out and churn through another couple of months, just perpetually reminding myself that even this misery will soon pass into memory? Or do I finally sink the dissertation once and for all, just a few months short of the finish line? I don’t know. Pushing through still seems most logical decision, but the act of opening the files and actually doing it provokes visceral horror. This process I imagine as a lengthier, mental version of the unarmed Hawkeye walking through some angry Hurons who are beating the crap out of him in Last of the Mohicans (ah, I’m dating myself). Needless to say, bailing sure as hell looks more attractive, especially when everything I really need and want is on this side of the gauntlet.