A long post in which I contemplate my future

I’m trying to psych myself up to apply for a postdoc fellowship at Oslo University. It’s for four years. They’re interested in ‘culturally oriented literary research’, including ‘projects that combine theoretical reflections on historicity and mediality with the reading of concrete literary works’. So – pretty much right up my alley. I can’t afford not to apply for this. But it is really hard to make myself do it.

Firstly, I don’t think I have a realistic chance of winning it at the moment. I just haven’t got my act together in terms of pulling together a book proposal and churning out a few articles. I’ve been working full time and studying part time for the past few months so I’m not beating myself up about it. But there it is. I should apply anyway, for practice, and so they know my name. More things will come up. Norway is a very good place to be for postdoctoral funding.

Secondly, I’m finding it really hard to come up with a new project. I’m really happy with my PhD, and quite looking forward to carving a book out of it. But something new? Do I stick with medievalism or go further afield? Do I stick with Australian literature or do I branch out? I came up with quite a nice one-year-plan for an earlier unsuccessful application, but a four-year-plan is another matter.

The trouble is, my big ideas tend to have slow, quiet births. I wrote a novel, on and off, for ten years. And I thought about my PhD for years before I started it. And I’ve never been one of those super-organized types with well thought out life plans. I’ve always thought – I would quite like to be a academic, but I won’t be devastated if it doesn’t work out. I have my other writing that I can do. I write stories. That is my deep desire. But the trouble is, after finishing the novel, I haven’t written any stories, either. I was of course writing a PhD. But finishing the novel, finding a beautiful end to a story that had haunted me for years and years, resolved something inside of me. The stories suddenly weren’t urgent any more. Even if it never gets published, it is written.

I know there will be new things to write; I can’t imagine a life without writing. (This blog helps with that a lot, actually – it’s a space to weave writing gently into the cracks between things.) But I’m not sure, right now, exactly what they will be.

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5 thoughts on “A long post in which I contemplate my future

  1. I think that it’s OK not to know. If you’re doing good work with the kiddos, and if you’re having a good life with your husband, that’s enough. You’re enough. You’re almost certainly still recovering from everything (good and bad) that happened this summer, and it’s natural to feel a lull–it’s just not natural (in academia, I mean) to be able to choose to enjoy it! So, I hope you’re able to savor it. Keep your eyes open, and know (even broadly) what you want to do, and things will begin to appear.

  2. I’m inclined to agree with Dr S. I think it suits you and your way of working better to let things grow and evolve. Coming up with a 4 year research plan from scratch sounds as if it could be rather forced and not necessarily something you would have a lot of motivation to achieve. Maybe best to concentrate on the book proposal and articles at this stage and wait for an idea to germinate, and maybe apply in the next round?

  3. The post-doc sounds like a good idea and the application practice is always good, but a four year plan! I don’t even know what my next chapter is going to be about until I have to start it and then the idea’s sort of plucked out of thin air. You’re enjoying life at the moment and maybe after the PhD you need some non-academic space. My story ideas seem to have dried up because of the PhD writing but I’m sure they’ll come back again when the heat if off. I keep in touch with writing people and friends by attending a writing group and occasionally I’ll have something to read out and other months nothing at all. Just go with the flow that’s what I say. However, making the application might germinate something in your mind which will come to fruition at a later date. Enjoy while you can. xx

  4. I know where you are – I was faced with quite a dilemma in my 40s. I’d returned to university after a 20 year hiatius, did brilliantly, was heading towards a likely first class hons and then a PhD. Things fell apart financially, I deferred for a year, my parents sadly died within 12 months, the course changed dramtatically, and I went into meltdown. The good thing is that I began to listen to my little voice – what is it I loved most about my studies? Answer: writing and psychoanalytic theory (turned into real life practice). I realised that I didn’t want to apply theory to everything, despite a love and fascination with academic life/thought.

    You are young, you have time but try not to drift – as I did for a few years. I noted your words “I’m really happy with my PhD” and that you want to continue the process via a book. Then you voice maybe small fears about something new, something that requires big decisions. That bit reminds me of me – obstacles – I’m brill at not plunging in. Adam Philips writes about obstacles – can’t remember the title of the book, but it helped me see part of myself. Hope these words help. Listen to your little voice and then add practical things, such as a career. Best wishes to you.

  5. thanks for the thoughts, guys. (and for sharing your story, anon!) yeah, i really didn’t have time to apply for that particular fellowship. i printed out the application form though, as more will come up next year. and i’ve got a couple of months now to focus on pulling things together. and plunging in…

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