There was an interesting discussion on Twitter this AM about how we as academics talk about and share our research process, rather than just the final result.
Often, the messiness of the process that we go through—ok, that we totally make up as we go along, even though we’re not supposed to admit that—is where the good stuff happens.
The weird shit that happens in the trenches, between lines of analysis and unexpected data sources, that’s the stuff that inspires us to keep writing abstracts, keep going to conferences, keep writing essays about subjects we love.
Publication is great, and final products are awesome by virtue of being fucking done. But the process is the cool part.
Ok, let me stop. I have this tendency to talk around whatever’s bothering me, whatever it is I really want to say—a bit ironic, given what I do for a living, but there it is. Let me take a deep breath and try again.
I am very, very tired of my dissertation. Of the research that it’s entailed. Of the writing up that it demands. Of what it represents in terms of my work as a scholar and yet, what it doesn’t.
People have told me: The dissertation doesn’t matter. It just has to be done. The dissertation matters, because its subject may help you get hired. Or not. The dissertation is the culmination of–what, exactly?
I’m writing about a subject that I’m intellectually interested in: how and why Christian women use what I call “rhetorical bleed” as a persuasive tactic in their discourse about female sexuality.
See? There’s even a theoretical component to it, a contribution I’m ostensibly making to the field of rhetoric and writing.
I admire some of the women whose writing I’m examining. They’re doing good work, work that needs to be done, they believe, in the face of the way that the evangelical church tries its damnedest not to discuss female desire, and women’s use of pornography, and the idea that some Christian women feel overwhelmed by those desires. The only advice the evangelical church offers to women generally about sex—as one of the subjects of my research rightly noted—is shame.
In the context of the purity movement, that push within contemporary evangelicalism for young people (esp. women) to remain physically and mentally “pure” about sex until marriage, the shame thing is particularly unhelpful. So you feel bad about experiencing sexual desire, about exploring that desire through masturbation and porn–where are you supposed to go to talk about those feelings, exactly, when the church’s response tends to be: well, you shouldn’t have done that in the first place. End of discussion.
So some of these women have started talking about these issues amongst themselves. In my diss, I’m examining how this organization talks about these ideas in public spaces, including their website, monthly podcast, and book. At the same time, I’m steering clear of the members’ only online message boards where the organization’s members talk with one another about their personal struggles; that’s their business, and not fodder for academic research, to my mind.
I like these women. I care about this project. And yet I am having a devil of a time caring enough to write my dissertation.
Maybe it’s that the reality of the job situation has slowly started to sink in: the chances of me getting a FT teaching gig, already slim, are fading fast. On the one hand, this makes me quite sad. I’ve spent the past four years figuring out what I’m really fucking good at—teaching people how to effectively express their ideas on paper—and now I have to accept that I probably will not be able to apply that skill in the academic realm.
I haven’t gotten any callbacks, as it were, on 31 applications, with 6 rejections already in hand and more no doubt to come. Maybe it’s because my diss is about women, desire, Christianity (gasp!), and porn. Maybe it’s because most of my publications deal in fan studies—rhetoric, performance studies, and fan stuff, but still, it’s not Rhetoric.
Maybe it’s because all of my cover letters have been riddled with errors, or because my font choices are offensive, or because I’ve applied for the wrong kind of gigs. Or none of the bloody above.
I don’t know.
Regardless, I will soon have to fend for myself in the world, and I need to find employment. Full stop. So I’ve begun looking outside of academia, back to the business and non-profit world I thought I’d wanted to leave behind.
I’m a good writer, damn it. And an even better writing teacher, or tutor. I love research, most of the time, and I’m pretty good at that, too. These are marketable skills, surely. I just need to figure out how to do that, exactly.
There’s part of me, too, that feels a bit like a failure for not landing an aca-gig. I know there are some people in my life—in my goddamn department—who cannot freaking wait to say I told you so. If only you’d listened to me and not written about fan studies or sex or Christianity, you’d have done so much better.
On the one hand, I want to say: fuck them. Because they WERE wrong on that front. The best part of grad school has been the research, believe it or not, and all the conferences and amazing colleagues and pub opportunities that have resulted from it.
On the other, though, part of me wants to slink away like Scarlet tries to in Gone With The Wind after she’s caught in Ashley’s arms. It’s the day of Ashley’s birthday party, to which everyone in their circle has been invited, and Scarlet’s mortified to be the talk of the town in the worst possible way. Her instinct is to hide at home and not go to the damn party.
But Rhett won’t let her! No, he insists that she wear her most stunning gown and freaking march down there to Melanie’s and show her face to the woman she betrayed and to the community that think she’s trash.
And she does, dear Scarlet. And she kills it. Even though Rhett makes her walk in by herself and even though the looks she gets from those assembled—from everyone but Melanie, of course—are beyond venomous.
So, like Scarlet, I’d much rather hide at home for the next two months. To bang out this crappy diss in misery and shuffle out of here in May with my head hung low. I’ve failed, people, by the predominate measure in PhD land and I hate it and it fucking sucks.
But I won’t.
I don’t have a Rhett in my life to goad me into it, or a killer ruby-red gown to wear, but I’m going to put myself out there in our department. I’m not going to dig a hole, as awesome as that sounds right now, and camp out until May. I’m going to show my face and talk to people and show my fellow students that, no matter what the faculty tells you, life goes on even if you don’t get a single academic job interview.