15 minutes a day…

November 28, 2006 at 9:44 pm (Dissertation, Horror)

Marilyn lent me a book called Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day, by Joan Bolker, which I have only now (at her urging) gotten around to reading. Marilyn, I admit it: I’m a fool for having waited this long. Within the first 20 pages, this woman has done more to make me feel confident/valuable/worthy than the last 7+ years of grad school have! Now, if only I’d read this book back then…

Seriously, though, the author makes a number of interesting points. One of them is that many grad students don’t feel like a true scholar, but the meaning of that word is so vague, what does it matter? As a person who has often felt that way during the past 7 or so years, reading that single sentence took an astounding weight off of my shoulders, a weight that I never even knew was there. Misery loves company, I guess… Another point, perhaps her most interesting, is that (if I may paraphrase) writers will often spend years writing about topics that seem tangential, only to discover later that they were in fact circling around a particular topic for which their unconscious explorations were preparing them. This idea resonated with me; I look back at my early interests in Classics, which were magic and exploration; in Assyriology, I have spent a significant chunk of the last few years reading or thinking about the afterlife and the netherworld in Mediterranean myth. And, of course, in the last year I have discovered a burning passion for the ghost story. Just two weeks ago, I asked myself, “Why not combine them?” and decided to begin investigating the nature of ghosts and communication/travel between the worlds of the living and the dead in ancient literature and mythology.

To me, one of the most exciting aspects of this new topic is the possibilities that I see in it, or beyond it. My original idea was to look at administrative texts dealing with divine barges, a topic that would really only prepare me for an Assyriology position. With this topic, I can see myself getting into Classical and Egyptian literature, as well, and I imagine not restricting myself simply to the ancient world, but exploring the reception of ancient Mesopotamian literature and archaeology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its affect on the literature (especially the ghost stories!) of the day, or perhaps becoming a folklorist or branching into comparative literature. I can imagine “new media” presentations of this data, from blogging the dissertation to readings of various texts to starting a wiki about undead monsters from myth and folklore throughout the world. If I were to become a teacher at a small liberal arts college or a state school, I could see myself starting a reading/research group about “The Dead,” and inviting students from all disciplines, including literature, art, the performing arts, film, etc. to participate and look at representations of death, the dead and the afterlife. It sounds morbid, but in myth, the dead often have as active a life as the living, it seems! So why not explore it? So, I’m excited about this topic, which (I guess) is a good place to start. So, let’s mark this as my first daily 15-minute (well, 25-minute) writing session, okay, Marilyn?


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