I sat in my dissertation meeting yesterday, listening to people talk about their topics. They were so passionate, so invested. I listened to a recent graduate talk about how he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor while he was writing, and that writing was the only thing that kept him going through his treatment. These people talked about how they ate, breathed, and slept their topics. And I thought to myself, that’s not how I feel.
I had been planning to write my dissertation about feminist reimaginings of the Trojan War story. I know: riveting. I was a classics major in college and I do love the Trojan War story. But the topic wasn’t my own. In my pre-dissertation class, the one that’s supposed to get you read to write, I was one of the only students without a topic and I let the instructor guide me towards a topic that I didn’t love: a comparison of Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad and Ursula LeGuin’s Lavinia. When I told my advisor about this topic she could tell I wasn’t passionate about it, and she helped me come up with the idea of broadening my scope and even including my own original creative writing. But again, it wasn’t my idea. It was an amalgamation of the first professor’s and my advisor’s. It didn’t belong to me and so I didn’t care about it.
And as I listened to this man (who is healthy and now in remission) talk about how his dedication to his topic made it easy to continue even when he was tired, even when he was in pain, I realized I just did not feel that way about mine. I did plenty of things when I was on maternity leave: I watched four seasons of Scandal, I read lots of books, I planned for school. But I didn’t even crack a book for my dissertation. The Iliad remained next to my bed in the same place I’d put it when we moved into this apartment in June.
So, as I waited for my turn to talk about my process, I tried to figure out what it was about my dissertation that I didn’t love. Because I should love it. It has all the earmarks of something that I’d love: post-modern literature, mythology, feminism. But something was holding me back. I quickly realized what it was. I was supposed to be looking at the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid. And while I LOVE the Aeneid and have read it in Latin several times I just . . . don’t like Homer. I don’t know why. I just don’t.
So I scrapped my idea entirely. My advisor is 100% behind me. I’m keeping the Aeneid, but I’m adding a new author: Joyce. I love James Joyce, and I love the way he uses the Aeneid. It’s a lot more subtle than his use of Homer, but it’s there, and no one is really writing about it. I stayed up late last night reading Dubliners (which of course I had lying around. My bookshelf is half Roman literature half Joyce–I should have known.).
All of this is to say that I had that intellectual aha moment when I became passionate and interested and engaged again. I dreaded that meeting yesterday because I dreaded my topic. I’m excited now and I’m ready to go. I don’t want to procrastinate anymore!