Of Thesis Meltdowns, Transformations & Other Everyday Occurrences

Awe-struck

From palestinerose.wordpress.com

Ready.

Set.

Meltdown.

(Where to start? Where to start? Where to start? Where to start? Where to start?!!!!)

(Not reading enough! Not reading enough! Not reading enough! Not reading ENOUGH!!!!)

(Reading the wrong things! Reading the wrong things! Reading the WRONG things!!!)

(Running out of time, time, time, time, time, TIME!!!!!!!)

Getting out of bed is a chore.

Focus is short-lived at best, elusive at worst.

Drive turns to frantic anxiety.

Not eating enough… or way too much.

Sleep is disrupted.

… and the deadline for this thesis project gets closer and closer.

For a gal who struggles with depression and anxiety on a good day… and Aspie moments here and there (okay, MANY here and theres)… this push for rigorous research, ethical discovery, and looming deadlines is a delicious recipe for a meltdown.

Add chocolate chips

2 marshmallows

Microwave for 1 min

and… MELTDOWN!

Tearfully, I imploded, exploded, freaked out all over my thesis professor (luckily it was on a skype call, so all the you-know-what that hit the fan was only virtual crap for him). This isn't like any other school project. This is the real deal. This is stuff other people are potentially going to look to as a source of quality research. This could determine options for doctoral work. This could… this could… this could…

ERIN, STOP!

(first words from my prof)

Breathe…

… (okay, breathing)…

It's just this pressure… this huge enormous pressure… can't. breathe. well. 

Breathe…

In….

… out.

In….

…out.

Breathe.

I was told grad school wouldn't be easy. I was told that much would be demanded of my time, my faculties, my entire person. I was told it would be stressful, tight, even causing a season of unbalance in my life. I think it was a matter of stepping out and doing it before the reality sunk in.

So my professor asked me about my participants — local youth between the ages of 12-24. I'm interviewing a small pool (each youth 3 times), with every participant creating a poetic expression of the own narratives during the 3rd interview. The topic? Experiences and expressions of spirituality.

That's a mouthful.

Theologians tear one another to SHREDS over that 1 word: spirituality. 

And I'm going off looking for it in at-risk youth?

Yup.

Sure am.

And you know what?

I am in awe.

I can speak Evangelical Christian-ese fluently. I was raised with it. The terms slide off of my tongue without having to think about them because I know the language so well. Does this make me more spiritual than a kid who has never darkened the doors of a church?

No way.

How am I learning this?

Movable poetry.

That's right.

Movable poetry.

Words that can be shifted, crafted, shaped, and placed elsewhere without having to erase them — a way of allowing content to burst forth without worrying about form or grammar. It's the content that's important — the essence of story — and it's what will not only assist these youth to help share their own stories, but give hearing aids to those of us Grups who believe we know all about youth already.

As I said to my prof:

It's like being repeatedly invited into closed off rooms. You know those rooms in old houses or museums that are cordoned off? You can just barely see that there's stuff of value in them, but you can't crane your neck around for a good look, nor are you allowed to cross. It's like these kids are taking a chance on me and letting me through. And there's just so much. It's humbling.

The process of writing a thesis project is akin to being flayed alive with a butter knife — nonsensical and drawn out longways for what seems like years. Yet being ushered into these cordoned off sections of life time and again are experiences I wouldn't trade for all the butter knives in the world. I am to find the transformation in my project. 

The transformation is beginning inside me.

I am not who I was before starting to listen to these young people.

Some youth articulate well what they believe and why, and how they express their spiritual worlds.

Others ask "What's God?". 

Yet once they encounter the movable poetry, knowing they have the options of using all of the words, some of the words, or none of them, the narratives become richer… deeper… the hidden parts of the old houses are opened wide, the doors creaking fast…

… and the beauty therein is heartbreaking.

Sometimes I am given to see stained glass windows, silence and loneliness…

Sometimes I am given to see dust, cobwebs, clutter and walls coated in mold…

Sometimes I am given to see shifting, shading, never-the-same rooms that change in my peripheral vision…

Who am I to bear witness to such sacred space?

No one really.

All I can do is hold the trust of these youth gently… honorably… dearly.

And hold it I will, clumsily after a fashion.

The humility and awe is by far the more difficult journey to take than the logistics of any thesis project.

These are the stories of God through the mouths of children… some of whom have never been given the chance to speak before… or been taught that they have voices at all.

I must ask: who is teaching whom here? 

 

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