The Garden of Forking Paths

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I have this habit of making significant decisions subconsciously, carrying them around for months, and then waking up one day convinced that I’ve had a revelation when in fact it’s only that I’ve finally turned into my own head.

This was one of those. So here goes.

I am not graduating from PhD land this year. In fact, I may never do so.

If I’d written this post three weeks ago, the “may” in the sentence above would have been missing.

But I’m old and [too very much] aware that life, the universe, and everything has a way of nudging one places that one did not expect, much less bother to plan for. So I opted for a via media.

That is, I’m taking a year-long leave of absence from my PhD program. A trial separation, if you like; time for me to see other professions, meet new ways of making a living, and generally figure out if I want to finish this degree or not.

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Right.

The question is not, am I capable of writing a dissertation: for I am, without question. I’m a fine scholar and good writer and possess the required analytical skill.

The question instead is: do I want to?

A brief look back at some of my (increasingly infrequent) posts on this blog will make it plain that academia and I, the ideological institution and me, have been on the outs for a while. Part of it is me–I’ve changed a great deal since I started pursuing this degree, I’d argue much for the better. But a key component of that change has been an ever-growing disinterest in pleasing other people, in jumping through hoops, in generally keeping my mouth shut and doing what the institution of Higher Ed told me was required. It’s a hell of a time to embrace one’s rebellious streak, in the middle of a damned PhD program, a thing that’s designed to teach you how to conform to a particular set of disciplinary rules.

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I mean, there’s a reason it’s called a “discipline,” y’all.

I’ve also been ill, depressed more fully, more completely, than I have been in years. That depression has made it hard to get things done, but even worse, it’s made it almost impossible for me to reach out for help, either clinically or academically. This is part of the reason, ultimately, that I chose a leave of absence rather than to walk away entirely: I have been depressed, no question, and while the decision not to finish doesn’t feel to me to be driven wholly by that (or even in large part), it’s something I have to consider. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a few months when (knock on wood) I’m handling the world better than I’ve been able to of late. And maybe I won’t.

When you come down to it, though, I’m not finishing this degree because I don’t want to be an academic. At least I don’t today, and not for the last 360+. Academia is not, as I once believed, the panacea of my personal happiness, the key that will unlock the future I once painted in my head. And that’s ok. I’m glad I’ve figured that out now and not in five or ten years time.

For all of that, there’s so much about academic life that I adore, that my time in PhD land has allowed me experience and embrace. Even as I prepare to step away from this institution, I have no intention of leaving the excellent network of humans and scholars I’ve come to know in rhetoric and in fan studies. I’ll still write and go to conferences and participate in the scholarly community for as long as they’ll have me: they–you, my friends–are the reason that I’ve lasted here for so long. I thank you for that.

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I want to be 100% clear about one last thing, perhaps the most important one here: this is my choice, my decision, my move, and it’s the right one for me. I’ve made a lot of big, game-changing decisions in my life, and while some of them were dumb, most of them were the right call, even when they made life difficult in the short term. I feel good about moving on from PhD land–perhaps for a while, perhaps for good.

What comes next for me? I’ve no idea. But I’m looking forward, for the first time in ages, to figuring that out.

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One thought on “The Garden of Forking Paths

  1. As you might know, I am ridiculously fond of you. And I know you are making a good call here. I’m sorry you have suffered so much, because a bright soul like yours deserves all the happiness!

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