It's been a week since I failed my candidacy exam and saw my hopes of a PhD disappear before my eyes and the range of emotions that I have felt have varied from deep disappointment to extreme relief. The signs of trouble going into my final were evident to me although I tried not to think too much about the possibility of failure figuring dwelling too much on it would affect my performance and eliminate any chance of success. In the end though, my positive attitude (thanks to the encouragement of my former advisor) could not move the mountains needed for me to continue in the PhD program. I would have liked to tell off my examiners, telling them they were wrong in their criticisms, but their reasons, much as I disliked them, were valid.
Where did I go wrong? Looking back I can see several weaknesses that led to this but perhaps the greatest reason was that I didn't take enough ownership in the beginning in thinking through what I truly wanted to study. Instead after a couple years I found myself going down a path of research that I wasn't 100% behind. By the time I realised what I truly wanted to write about it was too late to change course. Not thinking things through early and sticking to my guns was my downfall.
This is not to say I haven't learned anything in the past three years. I have learned a lot about what it is to be an ethnographer and cultural anthropologist, the importance of research and theory. Still it was not enough as I was not able to generate the kind of PhD level research that reflected the necessary depth, innovation and technique. So now I find myself leaving my university after three years (five if you include my MA) without tangible results. Life did get in the way of my studies but they get in the way of everyone's studies to a different degree. Working four part time jobs certainly didn't help my studies but I woundn't trade my wife and my one year old son for a million PhDs.
The finality really hit me tonight though as I was rounding up all the library books I have to return to the university. My next trip or two to the university and its beautiful campus will be my last as a student and perhaps my last for a long time. After I clear out my desk at the school I won't really have much reason to go back (especially with my MA advisor and mentor retired) and will probably not have the time anyway. I have to keep working and putting food on the table. I have one son to support and another on the way. No time to wallow in self-pity.
So what do I do now? I cannot just delete the instincts that I have honed in the past few years and move on. Yet any clear path for academia has been cut off. Perhaps the feeling of relief I described earlier has pointed the way. In the last year, writing papers for exams felt like I was trying to get blood from a stone. The relief I felt was myself being freed from fixed topics that felt wrong long ago. But I'm still interested in the world of Japanese comedy and other subjects touched by humour. In the end the answer is clear.
I will write.
I will write about what I want, in the way I want and when I want.
As much time as I am allowed with two young children and other responsibilities I will continue to look at different facets of comedy in Japan and try and bring this world to life to a greater audience in English. I won't let this failure end my passion. Time to make them regret their decision. Time to get to work.