How many of you were around when I started this whole thing? Show of hands?
And how do we count starting it anyway -- when I followed Kevin to Utah? That's probably too early, since at that point I was sure that I was done with school, having failed to get into English Ph.D. programs, and then having completed a supposedly-terminal MFA in Creative Writing. I was totally planning to just write fiction and teach composition for a day job, for the rest of my life -- which I still think is a fine plan, in its own way. But.
Do we start when I audited Kathryn Stockton's theory class, while adjuncting full-time at Utah, and realized all over again that academia can be fun? Do we start when Kevin got his Ph.D., and I realized that I had Ph.D.-envy and wanted one too? Do we start when I actually tentatively decided I was interested in applying to the Ph.D. program -- and almost got talked out of it by one of the professors here? (Based on her reading "Minal in Winter" -- I admit to a certain smugness that it actually did end up in my dissertation... :-)
We could start with the day I was wait-listed for the program, or the day I actually got in. Or perhaps the week school started, which apparently was also the week Aqua Erotica came out, and just before Strange Horizons was about to launch. Sheesh. And I thought I was busy now...
Or we could go back further, and count the endless hours semi-dozing in English classes at U of C, watching David Bevington or Michael Murrin passionately stomp around the room, paying less attention to them than to the lovely lovely dream of ending up a professor just like them (which might have had something to do with my not getting into English Ph.D. programs when I graduated :-) Does it really start with lazy summers as a kid, when my dad would take me to the library and bring me back with a dozen books, and I would then spend three straight days just reading, curled up in my bed. Books books books -- even then, I did know that I wanted to figure out some way to have a life where I could feel justified in reading books as much as I wanted. English professor sounds just about right for that. :-)
And all of that is just the beginnings -- some of you have been along for the whole crazy ride of actually getting the degree -- have heard me babble endlessly about classes and classmates and critiques. I don't know if I can even tell you where each critical juncture lay within my program -- when I first brought one of the Sri Lankan stories to workshop? When I had a conversation with Katie about layering history into my fiction? When they let me do an independent study in Sri Lankan history to fulfill one of my requirements and fill in some of the holes in my understanding? When I moved away from Utah, but managed to stay on track, actually doing my exams on schedule, despite panic attacks and crying jags?
It's been a long, strange ride, folks. And the Ph.D. is definitely not for every writer -- I think for most, it would be more hindrance than help. You need to be comfortable as an analytical sort of person (my verbal scores were actually lower than my analytical scores on the GRE :-). You need to be willing to take the time to spend 4-5 years on one project. You need to actually like discussing theory and philosophy, and not feel like working on that is taking precious time away from writing. You need to be able to think of your own work as literature -- without losing sight of the creative urge that actually lets you write it. I'd say that even in my program, at least one out of five folk would have been happier and more productive writers if they hadn't ever started it.
But that said, I think doing the doctorate was essential in helping me make Bodies in Motion as good as it is -- which is what got it sold to HarperCollins in the end, and which has thereby added so much extra goodness to my life. The department at Utah -- the smart and demanding faculty, the talented classmates, the generous fellowships -- has done very well by me. This probably wasn't the only path I could have followed to get this book written and published. But despite how lonely I was in Utah, despite the long-distance the program forced from Kevin and the terrible year of break-up it contributed to, I think doing this doctorate was absolutely the right choice for me, and I'm ecstatically happy with where I've ended up.
Yay, me! :-)