Saturday, 26 October 2013

Completion of PhD with Excuses and Explanations

The Lewis-Clark Valley
After submitting my novel and thesis for examination in February, sitting my viva in April, and resubmitting my work with minor corrections in May I returned to the States in the summer to travel through the Pacific Northwest - land of my birth - and reconnect with my home.  

Much of the work I did in my thesis involves an exploration into my own identity and the emotional links I still have with my homeland - not, I want to stress, with America but with Idaho - so after a four-year absence it was a particularly meaningful homecoming for me.  With an almost constant focus on the land, people and history of Idaho I had come to wonder if the attachments and the homesickness I felt had simply been fabricated during the intensity of the PhD. After all, I've happily lived in the UK for the past twenty-six years: more than half my life. I have a home here;  I have a husband here;  I have a life here.  This place, too, is my home.  Yet the UK will never be my homeland. I will never be from here. I will never be British. And it was partly this sense of being somehow other that caused me to question the emotional ties with my childhood home. Would it, in fact, still be my home? Or would I find that I was ultimately a stranger there, too?

I have considered myself a writer for as long as I can remember, but there are still those things which I find difficult to put into words.  Emotions, usually. Which is a dangerous thing for a writer to admit. The best writers, I believe, are those who channel  the emotions we all feel - writers who touch us in a way that makes us feel we are not in fact strange. Or alone. Writers who confirm that our feelings are valid. But the feelings I have about returning HOME stir physical responses, not words. Breathlessness. Not words. Tears. Not words. A choking sensation in the throat. A racing pulse. A desire to photograph each and every inch of the landscape so that I can carry it with me - not in my heart where it truly belongs and has always remained but in my camera. And that again is what I felt. My homecoming elicited an emotional response, not an intellectual one. I cannot, as Steinbeck could have done, put into words what that place means to me. I can only tell you that in my heart it is still, and always will be HOME.

Now, though, I am back in the UK and earlier this month my PhD journey was completed when I graduated from the University of Chichester. But while the thesis is written and the novel is being edited yet again in the hopes of finding a publisher, the real journey is not over. I am told that the PhD is not in fact a destination but a launching pad and so it is that I find my questions about identity and homeland and authenticity remain. And while this blog has been sorely neglected in the past year my intention is to keep it going. I'd like to offer my experience of completing a Creative Writing PhD as encouragement to others, to provide information where I can about the process, and to continue my investigation into Western American literature. My postings will doubtless be sporadic, but as I settle into a 'new normal' I hope to find something worthwhile to say.  Watch this space.   

Dr. Loree Westron

No comments: