23 January 2004

To School or Not To School

Okay, so my title's a cliché. But there are two reasons I've been thinking lately about giving this blog more focus. The first is this post from Language Log, on why the world needs more scholarly weblogs. I realized that the blogs I most enjoy are ones that have a specific topic. So I know if I want to read about books, I go to Bookslut; if I want to read about comics, I go to Journalista, or Grotesque Anatomy; if If I want to read writers' takes on the world, I'll head for Neil Gaiman's journal, or Caitlín R. Kiernan's, or Poppy Z. Brite's.

The second reason I've been thiking about focussing the blog, is that I'm considering going back to school. "Eek! Not again!" everyone shrieks. Well, I don't have a PhD yet, and I'm in that career limbo where I'm overeducated for most jobs, and not educated enough for the really good jobs. And I'm finally beginning to face the fact that even if I'm going to be a great writer, I still need a job. At least in the meantime.

As far as I can figure, I've got three choices for school:

  1. MA in Archaeology (possibly in an Anthropology department), followed by a PhD
  2. MFA in Writing (possibly in an English department), followed by trying to find a job (I don't think there are any schools offering a PhD in Writing, even through an English department, though I could be wrong)
  3. PhD in Folklore (probably at Memorial)

They've all got their attractions. I'd love to do some more archaeology fieldwork, and the only way I'm likely to do that is to back to school. Or move to Alberta and volunteer at a site. I'd also love to have a few more years in school where all I have to do is write. But then again, I periodically get the urge to do actual scholarship, and most of the topics I come up with are at least related to folklore. Some of them would also work in an English department, but I really don't have the background to get into an English PhD program (I tried at U-Vic), and maybe not even into an MA program.

So that leaves folklore, probably. The question then is what topic? Although I won't have to actually choose a thesis topic right away, an application isn't much good without a really good probable/possible focus of research to make those who read applications think, "Hey, this one really knows what she wants to do!" Anyway, topics I've been considering are:

  • Folklore in literature. This is the topic I proposed for my failed PhD in English application. Something about the use of folklore in contemporary interstitial fiction. I also want to investigate the possibility that writers in exile or in cultural diasporas are more likely to use folklore than those firmly situated in a culture. Also writers who feel detached from culture and are looking to belong (I think this is one reason I tend to get so folkloric in my writing).
  • Fairies in fantasy fiction. I've kinda been tossing this idea around for a long time. I gave a conference paper on fairies in Charles de Lint's fiction while I was a Master's student at MUN. It was fun, but I don't know if I could get a whole PhD out of it. Or one that really said anything new. The previous topic would work much better for that, as interstitial fiction is a relatively new (or rather, newly-named) category, so not much has been written on it yet.
  • Fairies and UFOs. Again, I don't know if there's enough in this topic for a whole thesis, but it's fascinating how many of the characteristics of fairy folklore--especially that surrounding abduction--have been co-opted by UFO folklore (again, especially abduction). I just read an article in a recent back issue of Skeptical Inquirer about UFO landing sites. They're the very same rings (mostly circles on turf caused by various fungi) that were once know as fairy rings. This is worth a good long article, at least.
  • Folklore of archaeology. I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately (hence, also, some of the changes I made to the blog). Basically, I'd start with a survey of some of the folklore associated with archaeological sites (lots of fairies and buried treasure), working up to crackpot archaeology (oops, I mean fantastic archaeology, or is it alternate archaeology?). Then I'd survey some undergrads to see what sort of crackpot things they believe (I'm thinking first and second year students in archaeology and folklore courses to lead into the last thing). Finally, I'd look at the different attitudes to fantastic archaeology expressed by folklorists and archaeologists.

It might be evident from what I've written that I'm currently leaning towards the last topic. I really, really like the first one, too, though. Anyway, I have a while to decide, as it's too late to apply to most universities for September entry, and not too many places have January start dates for grad students. But, y'know, the one thing I'm actually good at (besides writing, and maybe that's a happy delusion) is scholarship. (Some days I think I should've gone into the sciences.)

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