Today my friend–let’s call him Wikipedia Brown–and I sorted all of my old books into a pile to get rid of. And oh, what a tremendous pile it is. About 90% of the volumes I scrounged and scurried to get for my dissertation, both for my comprehensive exams (two reading lists that were required to contain about 100 titles apiece) and for my ill-fated dissertation. My exams I passed (although not without controversy). My dissertation I never finished.
These were books I desperately wanted to obtain, books that made me feel like a queen when I found them. I luxuriated in their bulk of pages, material unread and undiscovered, soon to go straight into my brain and make me–what? I have no idea now. I think when I went into the PhD program, I mistook being an information hoarder for being a scholar. Or maybe being a narcissist for being a researcher. Because now that those books no longer serve a purpose (most of my primary sources long ago passed into the public domain, and nowadays that means I can get them for free, chock-full of typos and bad formatting but instantly accessible nonetheless), I couldn’t be happier to throw them in a giant pile and cart them out of my house. One time I thought I might do something creative with them, like write found poetry from each book that was meaningful to me in my program. Then as I looked at each title, I realized how nonessential most of these volumes were to my life.
I have no idea how I could have thought I wanted that PhD. I have no idea how I worked on it for twelve years.