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7 Aug 2011

So it begins... – Well. That’s it, apparently. On Friday afternoon I went down to SNU with four hardbound copies of my dissertation. They ended up being a lot thicker than I thought they would be—I didn’t expect to end up with 250+ pages. It just... happened.

“I feel like a runner who has made it through the qualifying rounds and is now ready to run in the big race—the race that I will probably run for most of the rest of my life.”

I submitted these copies to the library, got the requisite confirmation document, and then submitted that document to the department office. And that’s it—the Dis is finished.

I’m not really sure what to say at this point. I feel like I should say something profound, but I don’t really feel all that profound. If you had asked me a year ago what I would be writing just two days after finally submitting my dissertation, I would have told you that I would be writing how relieved and liberated I felt now that it was finally over. But I don’t really feel all that relieved, to tell you the truth. Which isn’t to say that I’m not happy, I’m just not as excited as I thought I would be.

I think there’s probably two reasons for that—or maybe just two facets of the same reason. For one, my dreams of a magnum opus that would take the academic world by storm did not come true. As time went on and the Dis drew closer and closer to being “finished,” it become more and more apparent that what I would end up with would be far from perfect. I think that in some ways this was inevitable, given the nature of a doctoral dissertation in the humanities. I suppose there are some people out there—we call them geniuses—who can dash off a dissertation that will immediately revolutionize their field. Most of us, though, well, we’re lucky if we can just put something together that makes sense.

I don’t want to make it sound like I am not happy with the Dis. I am happy with it, and I am proud of what I was able to achieve. But I am also very much aware that it is not perfect, that it has its flaws. This leads me to the second reason I am not relieved (or the second facet of the single reason). I was able to accept that the Dis would not be perfect because I realized that it was not an end, but a beginning. Rather than being a magnum opus, the Dis is a foundation on which I will build the ground floor of my academic career. And so, rather than feeling like a runner who has crossed the finish line of a long race, I feel like a runner who has made it through the qualifying rounds and is now ready to run in the big race—the race that I will probably run for most of the rest of my life.

It’s only natural then, I believe, that “relieved” does not describe how I feel. Unfortunately, I’m not really sure how to describe how I feel, since I’ve never really felt this way before. There is excitement, certainly, but not excitement at reaching a destination. It’s more like the excitement you feel before embarking on a grand journey—excitement mixed with anticipation and a little apprehension.

I suppose at this point I should thank the people who have helped me get this far. First and foremost is my wife. As geeky as it may be, I can think of no better way to describe the role she played than to say that she was Sam to my Frodo. Ostensibly she was my proofreader. But she was also a sounding board and co-conspirator, someone I could talk to about things when the thoughts flying around my head got into a tangled mess and refused to come undone. After all we’ve been through, she probably knows my research now better than anyone else, including my advisor. Perhaps most importantly, though, she kept me sane throughout the whole process—and believe me, there were times where I thought I was going over the edge.

A lot of other people helped along the way. Of course, my advisor and my committee deserve much thanks. Although at times I dreaded meeting them, their sole concern was always that I produce the best dissertation possible, and their criticisms and input were invaluable. My family also encouraged me greatly, and it was a great strength to know that they were rooting for me from halfway around the world. And then there were all the friends who encouraged me as well. I shared a lot via email with Kevin, which helped to relieve some of the pressure, and then there was the PC gang as well (no link—they’re a somewhat reclusive group), who followed me every step of the way on the last and most important stage of my journey. To everyone who offered a word of encouragement: thank you. It meant more than you can imagine.

Now that the time for encouragement is over, it seems that the pertinent question is: what now? Everyone I have met or talked to recently has asked me that question. I don’t know if I have a clear answer yet, if by “what now?” people mean what the future holds for me. I have hopes and dreams, but so far I have taken life as it has come to me. I try to stay open to opportunities, snag the good ones when they come along, and see where they take me. I have yet to be disappointed by this approach, so I see no reason to abandon it.

As for the immediate future, well, there are definitely some things that I want to do now that the Dis is out of the way. For starters, I still haven’t cleaned off my desk—it is covered with stacks of papers, and one side is lined with books relating to the Dis. That may sound like a silly thing to mention first, but my desk has looked like this for longer than I can remember. Clearing off the desk is not just a matter of cleaning up clutter, but of putting away the old and preparing myself for the new. I’ll probably take care of this tomorrow, filing away the papers that need filing, throwing away the papers that don’t, and replacing the Dis-related books with other books. Then it will be time to get to other things. I’ll be checking up on the history of Korean literature book and hopefully be able to move that project along. I also have a novel translation that has been left by the wayside for quite some time, and I really need to get to work on that as well. On a more personal level, I have a book idea that I’d like to start working on (I have a number of ideas for books, actually). And at some point in the not-too-distant future I will see about building on the Dis to churn out some papers both in English and Korean.

Of course there are things that I want to do outside of academia, too. This website, for example, desperately needs attention—not only have I been posting rather sporadically, but I have a backlog of years of photos that I need to get to. I think it’s also time to finally start on the redesign of Liminality. This is primarily going to be an “under-the-hood” project (that is, recoding the site to make it more efficient), but I have some ideas for updating the look of the site as well. And after finishing a week-long creative writing workshop with my students (which also ended on Friday), now more than ever I really want to get back to writing fiction. Let’s just say that I have enough on my mind and on my plate to keep me busy.

When I first started writing—no, actually, long before I began writing—this entry, I intended to title it “It is finished.” And yes, I did have in mind the final words of Christ on the cross. Sacrilegious? Perhaps. But I honestly thought that when all this was done I would feel as if I had cast off the burdens of the world. Even after I realized, as I mentioned above, that this was more of a beginning than an ending, I still planned on giving this entry that title (seriously, if I told you how long ago I thought of that title you would probably laugh). Now that I am here at the end (of the entry), though, it doesn’t seem to fit. The end of one thing is always the beginning of another, and right now I’m more interested in looking ahead than looking back. I may be laying down a burden, but I’m so happy with how light on my feet I feel that all I can say is, “So it begins....”

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