09 August 2009

the BIG question(s)

I'm having a lot of trouble being productive this summer: I haven't written much, haven't read enough (although what is enough? really?), haven't completed the work for the PhD applications I've been thinking about. On the plus side, our apartment has never been cleaner and the closets have never been more organized.

What I have been doing is thinking, and talking, and thinking some more. I'm feeling torn between the academic track and the life track. Here's the thing, I want to write the novel that I've had in progress for way too long now, and I just can't seem to do that while I'm in school. I need the mental space of not devoting my creative energy to academic projects in order to get back to the place where I can really work on it, really pull it apart and put it back together and move it forward. I know some people can do both, but it may be time to accept that I am not one of them.

Steve argues that if I don't at least apply to programs, I'll regret it. He might be right. In which case it would make sense to postpone decisions until March or so when I've gathered the latest batch of acceptance and rejection letters and have several options instead of just two. But on the other hand, applying to schools means polishing an academic writing sample that I feel lukewarm about, writing a personal statement that convinces not only admissions committees but also myself that this is what I want to do, and paying out hundreds of dollars in application fees. Is it worth going through all that (not to mention the months of waiting, waiting, waiting, a subject to which I have devoted more than one post on the blog in the past and which, for those of you who do not remember, I am not very good at) just to postpone my decision for a few months?

It seems to me that the question I need to be asking myself is this: if school X accepts me, do I want to spend five+ years there writing academic papers, submitting articles, attending conferences, reading for comps, writing a dissertation and still struggling to find the time to write the fiction that I want to write?

The answer is still I don't know, but I feel myself leaning towards no. It's not that I don't like academia, or that I think I'd be unhappy, or too stressed out (although I'm sure all of those things would apply intermittently); it's more that I just don't think I want to. And of course this isn't just about me. There are lots of other things to take into account, including the fact that uprooting my family again for another program and then a third time when (if) I get a job after graduation is a big deal. Moving across the country wasn't easy for any of us, but Matilda still talks about moving back to Massachusetts despite the fact that we've been here for a full year and she's made friends and loves her school.

I could use some advice here: should I apply to programs knowing that I might decide not to go, or should I figure out what exactly I want to be doing first and then take whatever steps are necessary? Some kind of list is probably in order here...

In unrelated news, here's a picture of Matilda with our neighbor Amelia:


Mamma said...

I don't know if I have THE answer, but I do think it's always better to have options.

Brian said...

Tough decision. Unless you plan on not having a day job at all, it's hard to imagine a career path other than academia that would leave you more time and juice for creative work. Have you considered applying to MFA programs in addition to the PhD variety? Whatever you choose, you will do well.

Miss you CoMO folk already.