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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10 Things I Learned at #pcaaca16

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1] Twitter is the actual best (and kind of like academic crack): at cons, it’s the best way to distribute info about upcoming panels, to share what’s being said in panels, and to communicate with/meet other scholars in your field.

2] That said, tweeting at Misha Collins may have…unintended consequences.

3] Fan studies scholarship is a tres small world: in FS, it’s not unusual to have undergrads, people new to the field, and some of the biggest names in our field all in the same room–hell, on the same panel! And that’s one of our greatest strengths.

4] I am never drinking rum at a conference again.

5] Ever.

6] Hanging out with fandom + scholarly friends for three days spoils you for real life.

7] Supernatural is everywhere. It’s the textual kudzu of fan studies. I’ll never be free.

8] The most productive work at aca cons happens outside of panels: in the bar, at breakfast, while walking down to the waterfront. I’ve heard this idea many, many times before, but this is the first con where it’s been true for me. It was great, if unexpected.

9] Twitter is the actual best (and my saving grace): a space to keep those conversations going–to talk about the next con, to wax at length about Hannibal, to keep each other’s spirits up when academia is at its greatest drag.

10] Never underestimate the power of a fucking unicorn.

“Thanks for making English fun.”

My last post was, to be fair, a barbaric yawp of despair. But now, classes have ended, final exams have been given, and my students have completed the unofficial course evals I use to supplement the uni’s “official” (read: Likert scale) ones.

And so, in the spirit of the support and kind words my last post generated (thank you, readers! they were much appreciated), this post is an act of self-kindness: a reminder that whatever my state of existential, academic-related despair, I am a damn good teacher.

(Perhaps at some point I’ll publicly parse the constructive criticism that my students provided. But, for now, I’m sticking to the sunny side of the street.)

The comments below tell me that many of my students get something out of being in my classroom and some even enjoy being there. Indeed, I’ve been teaching for six years now, and never before has the word “fun” appeared so many times in a set of evals. Given how little fun I was having this semester writ large, I am pretty damn pleased to see that.

FWIW, these are responses submitted by students in both of my classes in response to this, the last question on the unofficial eval:

10. What else would you like to tell me about your experience in this course?

Continue reading ““Thanks for making English fun.””

Entangled in Public

When I worked for a presidential campaign, way back before social media even existed, we were keenly aware that, as staffers, we represented the candidate at all times. Period. Thus, we were advised to consider what our field director, Tom, called “The New York Times Test”:

Before you do or say anything, consider: would you want those words and/or actions splashed across the front page of The New York Times?

I’ve been thinking about Tom’s advice lately in light of a recent uptick in talk about grad students and social media. How we should use it. What we should say. What we shouldn’t mention. Its benefits and its dangers, huzzah. (See Karra’s recent take on it here, for example).

But perhaps it’s less an uptick and more a renewed sensitivity, because it’s been an issue very much on my mind of late.

Continue reading “Entangled in Public”

I call bullshit.

Last month at PCA/ACA, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some very excellent people who are just as damn well fond of slash as I am. And to prove it, these lovely people were willing to read porn in public—at an academic conference, no less! Bless you, my friends.

Our reading was designed as both a celebration of slash and as a very public fuck you to anybody in academia or otherwise who tries to get us to justify why we love and choose to study fanfiction.

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Presented under the gleefully George Michael-derivative title of “What’s Your Definition of Dirty, Baby? Taking Pleasure (Together) In Fanfic,” the event itself was so much goddamn fun. In teams of two, we performed excerpts from six fics, each representing a different slash pairing, in an old-school forensics-style more akin to mini-plays than formal literary readings.

(Though I gotta admit: the performance itself was scarier than I’d expected. It was harder reading Dean Winchester’s dirty talk with a straight face [or, uh, something] that I thought it would be.)

More to the point: the thing generated enough happy, pervy energy that we’re going to try and stage a repeat performance at the next PCA/ACA con next year in Seattle.

But this, what follows, is the exigence for this event, the spark that set off the slash: a NSFW rant I composed one afternoon in a fit of fic-fueled fury that came to serve as the opening remarks for our little get together. So consider this some rhetorical ammo for the next time someone looks askance at what you love and what you do: a big ol’ hey, fuck you, too.

Continue reading “I call bullshit.”

Sources I Love (‘Cause They Haunt Me)

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I have a new post up—but it’s over on the Journal of Fandom Studies (JFS) site!

A quick summary of the thing, “Sources We Love,” from JFS editor, Kathy Larsen:

Welcome to the first in what I hope will become a regular feature here.  What sources resonate with you?  What do you keep returning to?  What did you read for the first time and shout an excited “Yes!!!” or a horrified “No!!!”  (Because, let’s face it, sometimes the texts that affect us most are the ones we agree with the least.)  First up – KT Torrey (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

Read the whole thing here!

(And dude, let me tell you: writing this sucker was hard.)

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been

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If only I looked this pretty getting shit done.

A few quick updates on the (seemingly all-Supernatural?) academic front:

1) As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be participating in A Celebration of Supernatural at DePaul University next month. It’s free! and open to the public, so if you’re in or near Chicago, come hang out with us! Here’s the schedule for the event.

2) Me and my friend and colleague JSA Lowe are working on a new project, to be presented at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference in October 2015. We’ve posted a copy of the abstract for our nascent study, if you’d like to take a look:

3) And finally, I’ve posted downloadable copies of my two most recent conference presentations + slides:

Whew. And then there’s that dang (totally not Supernatural) dissertation to finish…

My Disciplinary Wish List

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Yesterday, I read Lucy Bennett’s “Tracing Textual Poachers: Reflections on the development of fan studies and digital fandom,” an excellent history-cum-consideration of fan studies, some 20+ years after the publication of Henry Jenkins’ foundational work. In the context of the conversations I was part of recently at SCMS and PCA/ACA, I was particularly struck by Bennett’s discussions of how we as scholars might encourage the continued, conscious evolution of our methodologies, objects and subjects of study, and our own reflective self-positionality as researchers.

This essay, it caused a thunderstorm of sorts in my head.

Me, I’m just a whippersnapper in these parts; hell, I’m at a stage where the phrase “early career researcher” still feels like a stretch. That said, I’ve had my flag planted in fan studies ground for a while now, and I feel settled enough in this happily still-wild territory to draw up a wish list of my own. I’ve been staring at the horizon here long enough to have a sense of the kind of work I’d like to do, the sort of scholarship I’d like to see, in the future.

So here’s my disciplinary wish list for fan studies, things I’d like to see us do moving forward:

Continue reading “My Disciplinary Wish List”

10 Things I Never Thought I’d Learn In Grad School

  1. How to spell “Apocalypse.”
  2. What it’s like to go to your student’s funeral.
  3. How to drink bourbon straight.
  4. That I’m really good at writing porn.
  5. That cats can get asthma.
  6. What it’s like to get a tattoo. Or two.
  7. That I’m a kick-ass teacher of literature.
  8. That writing at its best is always a collaboration.
  9. That Twitter is my lifeblood.
  10. That academia may not be for me.

The Road Ahead

Part of embracing this whole “the way opens” mindset for me is appreciating all the cool shit I get to do this term. I love going to conferences, as a rule, but my line-up for the next few months is particularly outstanding.

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Like the man’s hips said: awesome.

To wit: Continue reading “The Road Ahead”