So the Ph.D. is done. I was just looking at some posts I made in 2002 about that being one of my big goals in life. It took another 12 years beyond that moment, but it’s done. (Actually, anticlimax, it’s been done for a couple of weeks now, I just couldn’t be bothered to post about it.)
Thing is, it’s introduced a sort of malaise to be done with such a big thing, something that I’ve been working toward for so very long. It’s almost as though I can curl up and die now.
Okay, not really. But there’s at least a touch of that sensibility at work.
I’m having trouble getting things done. I’m having trouble caring. It’s thrown a giant wrench into the works.
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Part of my post-Ph.D.-personal-reflection-therapy has been the intuitive process (just getting underway) of taking stock of my life and figuring out where I am, where I want to be, how far apart the two are, and where—as a result—I go next.
One of the conclusions I’ve come to already is that I’ve become one of the dreaded Serious People that I used to really not take very seriously. Is there a way to remedy this? It’s hard to say. My life may be structurally incompatible with my preferred tendencies by now; it may be that I just have to bite the bullet, swallow it, deal with it from here on out.
Or maybe not. The next several years will tell.
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One of the things that academic jobs in my area often ironically say they want is a strong persona and brand. Of course, they only sort of want this; what they want is a strong brand that matches their institutional brand (stodgy, serious, professorial, and so on). This is not the brand that I cultivated for myself before the world of academics took hold of me.
I could be active in writing, social media, broadcasting, and so on, but it would likely lose me a job rather than earning me a job. This vexes me constantly; I do want to be myself; I feel that I, myself, am a strong brand in the public sense; but I also realize that my strong brand (any strong brand that I could happily achieve) is incompatible with many forms of gainful employment, including academic ones.
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I’m taking stock of things that I used to do well and enjoy, and that I don’t do much any longer. The list:
This. Blogging. Online participation. I was amongst the earliest people out there doing this, and was active. If I’d continued it, who knows what/where I could be today. I stopped because of more immediate concerns—the everyday need for everyday money from everyday jobs that can’t have real individuals working for them (this goes for academic work as well). But I always enjoyed Web Life, and I was good at it. It may be time to think about taking up this mantle again, particularly if academic life/positions don’t work out for me.
Creative writing. I once wrote a lot of poetry and short fiction. I had aspirations in that area that were just budding as I took my hard turn into the social sciences. I haven’t written much since. That’s a damned shame, since it once mattered to me a great deal, and in retrospect—going back and reading much of what I wrote—I was damned good at it. (This is a difficult sort of evaluation to make in the moment, but looking backward ten years later with a critical eye and much more maturity, it’s safe to say that I’m impressed with my former self.) This absolutely has to get rolling again somehow.
Geekery. It’s hard to know just how much potential there is for this kind of stuff these days, but I do know that I was once very involved in computing and technology (I mean, six books written and a dozen edited, for god’s sake, founded two tech startups, even if they went nowhere) and I know that there are more than a couple of apps/platforms I’d like to write/develop. On the other hand, my skills are now very out of date, and at the same time, the level of enjoyment was a much simpler, more superficial one than the other two things mentioned above, like the difference between enjoying a couple of television episodes and enjoying the view from the top of Mt. Fuji (this one would be the television episodes). Has the ship sailed? Is it a ship I want to board again?
Photography. I have 100,000 photos in my library. I have thousands of photos already on sale at stock agencies from a brief period more than a decade ago when I got very serious about this. It still earns me some money. I have thousands more that were shot for stock purposes but never keyworded and placed for sale; instead, I got accepted to grad school and the rest is history. Taking pictures, however, was one of the greatest joys of my life. I’d very much like to get back to it. Problem—I only enjoy the actual shooting part of things. The business side, and the labor of agencies, keywording, sales, and archive management? Hate it. I’d have to find an assistant or an employee. I also don’t like shooting people, which always limited my marketability. Once upon a time I thought I’d combine photography with visual sociology. That ship has sailed for the moment at least, but I do still wish I took more pictures and could find a way to fit this into my life.
What else? Are there other things?
One of the enduring threads of the last several years, and one that feels much more acute today, is the sense that I’ve somehow lost my identity over time—in particular, over the graduate school and Ph.D. period.
What other things have I lost that in each instance formed a core part of who I used to be?
And who do I want to be going forward?
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Figuring this out is going to be one of the central projects of the coming year, whether consciously or unconsciously, and whether I want it to be or not.