In the strange, beautiful, often lonely process of writing a PhD dissertation, it is the beginnings that come easily. I don’t mean introductions – those things we write when everything else has been written and our procrastination well has finally run dry. I mean the actual beginnings, the very first ideas we jot down with a rush of inspiration and a touch of scholarly idealism.
There will be many moments throughout the three, four, five years or more that we spend trying to avoid the final hurdle of actually completing a dissertation, when we question the entire enterprise. We see our thesis topic for what it truly is: a pathetically reductive/glaringly obvious/completely dull and unimportant mess of half-formed ideas and fledgling analyses. We consider all the other career paths we might have taken before signing on for the amazing opportunity to read books and write about them for a living. We dawdle. We take exaggeratedly long lunch breaks. And then, finally, at the precipice of giving up, we see or hear or read something that drags the passion back from wherever it was cowering inside us and compels us to sit back down at the computer and write.
This week, it was an article about a new white female rapper called Chanel West Coast that caught my eye. Before I knew what was happening, I was mentally flipping through my five semesters’ worth of notes on hip-hop and whiteness. Most recently, I had been dealing with Kreayshawn, an artist so far from what I would in my right (non-PhD) mind choose to listen to that to repeatedly view and analyse her videos was becoming a test of endurance. Here, my calculating alter-ego was telling me, was another white female rapper, another strange rap song about high fashion, another few thousand words! I plugged in my headphones, dragged my beleaguered third chapter out of my computer’s guts, blew the dust off, and began to write.
My new-found enthusiasm might only last an afternoon. It might take me through June. It might just hold my attention long enough not to notice the new season of the Real Housewives of New Jersey (dammit! Too late!). In any case, it is a start. Another beginning in a process that demands regular and varied beginnings. And when the inspiration fades away and my eye begins to wander again from the open document to which I’ve committed three years of my life, I won’t be worried. I’ll begin again. With something else.