Friday, March 25, 2011

So What?

"So what? Why does that matter?"

This week, as I talked thesis statements with my students, I found myself asking the same thing over and over. I love doing this, pushing their ideas just a little farther. Little did they know that I've been struggling with the same question for the past two years. I don't think about it every day, but it is always in the back of my mind.

I met a professor for lunch this week. She asked me about my research; in the past this would frustrate me, and I even got to the point where I told people not to ask me. When she asked me, I was excited to talk about what I had been up to, even if I still don't have a clear answer to my questions. (Being physically away from your academic community for months will do that to you.) Like I had with my students the day before, she pushed my ideas further and brought up things I hadn't considered. Instead of feeling frustrated, I made mental notes to write about when I got home.

I confessed to her that there were a lot of questions I still hadn't answered, the big one being "so what? Why talk about home?" She nodded in agreement, but of course had no possible answers for me. I've been looking for the answer since the day that question made its first appearance, one day I was talking to one of my field examiners. He asked me "so why home? Why is it important to talk about home in a day and age where populations are so mobile and have different allegiances?" Of course I'm paraphrasing. But that's not the point. He asked me "why?" I hadn't stopped to think about that. I think I just assumed it was important because it was exciting and relevant to me.

Assuming: big mistake.

I sat there and stumbled over academic buzzwords that I had picked up from years of being in the graduate classroom. But I knew I didn't have an answer. He said it was okay, but that I had to keep this in mind. I guess it was on the back burner until recently.

So now I'm obsessed with the "so what?" question. I should be revising. Instead, I can't stop thinking about why I am writing about home. And it's inevitable that home comes back to me. I could go on and on about the state of Puerto Rican studies and making connections between disciplines. But I feel the urge to say "home matters to me. It just does. It's been stuck on my skin ever since we left. This dissertation is my way of paying my respects to my NYC home, the one I had to leave behind. The one I may never go back to. You know what they say, you can never go back home." But is that enough in this project? I wonder.

Dear readers, how have you articulated the "so what?" of your dissertations?

Bonus track: here's Kanye West's "Homecoming." It's part of the playlist I had on repeat on my iPod that semester I wrote on representations of home in rap. That's the same semester I realized I wanted to write my dissertation on home.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, both that it's frazzl-ing and beneficial to sit down with someone established who asks "What are you writing about and why?" Trust your gut though, you're brilliant!