Every street has a house with the last flickering orange porch light on at night and this cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood is no exception. The stairs that lead up to the backdoor are nearly immaculate, except for the scuff marks from fresh bike tires and skate wheels that were constantly rolled up and down, and the tell-tale sign of past teenage rebellion. Flecks of spray paint still glow in the dim lighting, and when the door slams and the light briefly flickers, it looks just like the embers of all the cigarettes stomped out on the base of the steps. All the cars up and down the street have changed for the most part, but the image of a family-friendly sedan with a dent on the fender from a wrist shot that went a little too wide is still imaginable. Slanted blinds give a glimpse of plants and scattered memories in the form of photos and books all over the coffee table. An almost perfect parallel of growth between nature and the human inhabitants. The sounds of laughter and elated cheering and chants still ring through the halls.
But upstairs, there is another light that never goes out; the desk lamp of an emerging adult, who spends more time in their head than the world around them most days. So many thoughts swirl and braid together, or float away before they can ever fully form, and sometimes never return. And within that space, there are the pillars of their values and character on display for anyone to see; perseverance, humility, and above all else, a yearning to live a fulfilling life. The remnants of childhood interests and passion still shine with posters on the wall, figurines, and little scribbles on the insides of notebooks. The most common being “You are only as good as your values.” But what exactly are those values? Are those values a steady foundation or a roadblock?
The deeper I wade into graduate studies, forensic linguistics, and simultaneously, my own life, the more it calls into question all my secure bases, especially as far as this thesis is concerned. The past couple of weeks have been nothing but mounting, and now insurmountable negativity and frustration, some internal and some absorbed from others. It’s coming from all angles and no matter what I do, nothing seems to be getting better. I can’t even put everything into words.
My project, if there even is one, just feels so obtuse and unfocused, and it sucks, for lack of a better phrase. (Actually, fucking sucks would be more accurate. Apologies for the one swear.) It feels like there’s a minimum direction and no clear vision of what to do. Every week is the same routine; research and lit review. Research and lit review and maybe some more pathetic attempts at research design. All of it is fueled by survivalist instincts, of being able to kid me into thinking I’m inching closer towards the things I want to accomplish when I’m running on a treadmill, not a track. I hate this feeling of lingering dread, and the anticipation of failure, even though I know that fear is unfounded because at least I’m trying. Part of it stems from those values that I think define a large part of who I am; what is the point of caring so much, or trying so hard when the exact opposite would probably still get me the same results with less internal pressure? Everything I like or care about feels kind of stupid right now. Why bother putting my playlists into blog posts anymore? Who cares other than me what’s going on in my life or what I care about? Is it all that Seneca I read during my adolescent years that led me to reify the belief a facade of happiness is my own form of stoicism I must maintain, and that’s why I won’t give it up? And why does recognizing frustration always have to feel so much more like a blame game than humility and self-care in action? There’s way too much happening all at once, and it’s happening to me, because of and in spite of myself. And the worst part is, it feels like this turmoil is supposed to be normal. (I know it’s not. But all of the above is by and large why I didn’t post last week.)
To focus specifically on my thesis, I know that there’s only one accurate way to define what it feels like in this very moment; this thesis is comparable to a never-ending three-on-five penalty kill, with the opposing five being the Russian Five line. (I picked this line in particular not only for their cultural impact and significance in how hockey is now played but also because Igor Larionov is nicknamed “The Professor.” Here’s to looking at you, Dr. Zamora!) I have no illusions about myself or my blogs, which probably aren’t the must-reads I wish they were, so I might as well, continue the breakdown of my breakdown over this thesis so far with hockey rhetoric! (Maybe it’ll get me somewhere, or at least make hockey make more sense, or seem interesting to anyone who reads it!)
Play-by-Play Going Into The Second Period
I picked a topic, so that’s like winning a face-off. It’s a small victory, but it kicks everything else in the three periods into gear. My main tread thus far has been my nearly-complete literature review; I made a tizzy of an outline of the areas I’d target and different sources to do so, and I stuck to it! We can count that as an even-strength goal. I figured out what methods of analysis I would need for either a research paper or a creative project. This deserves the distinction of a power-play goal. I couldn’t figure out what question I wanted to ask of all my sources and research methodology; we’ll call that a penalty for something like charging or roughing since I was not nice to myself that week. (Good thing my favorite little old man was there to save the day! I guess Dad’s kind of like a coach in this scenario.) After I figured that question out, the first penalty kill of this process came to a close, and it was back to even strength for a bit! Next came the tricky part of figuring out how to actually conduct an original qualitative research experiment; the challenge and fear it brings about while working in tandem with a different research angle, one of media studies and analysis for research days is a lot like an odd-man rush. Luckily, the netminder was on par as far as the second idea went, so the puck was covered, and with a few dings off the pipes but no goals-against, the first period of play drew to an end.
As the second period started, tensions began to mount, and it was clear in the sloppy play. In the quest to get other assignments and responsibilities cleared away, the puck, or my focus, was bobbled. My defense, which was the intricate mix of Notion, Google Calendar, and timers galore, wasn’t enough to sustain my mechanical approach to school, leaving it to take a big hit along the boards. And then it happened; the first goal-against. And a short-handed one, to boot! The replay didn’t show the whole picture, but it also didn’t hide the things I’d rather shy away from admitting to; I started crumbling under the pressure, and that gave way to more than a little apathy. That question of why care and really try when others doing the opposite always get ahead anyway just echoed, like an annoying goal horn, and no matter how much I tried to prove my own resilience to myself, it was futile. I could get on board with everything but my thesis, which constituted a really long time-out. But, the game must either go on, or be forfeited, so it was time for another line change.
Analyzing structures of power, macro and micro depictions of bonding, examining the various identities and mitigation strategies of conflict, linguistic injustice, and bias on a global scale, the issues of race, politics, and individual identities that bleed into a collective identity, sometimes prescriptive and oftentimes independently constructed and contested all come naturally to me to a degree. So does drawing the connections and similarities between the concepts. It keeps my plus-minus stat (or goal differential, if you prefer), relatively neutral. Eh, I’ll be nice and say I’m at least +12 for the semester not counting this turmoil.
It’s fascinating to surmise this is the content I’m excelling with, but the thesis I chose and I feel an attachment, or bond to, that I would count as a reflection of my academic identity is just a waking nightmare every time I see a related file on my computer. And yes, it still haunts me in everything I do, and through many of my thoughts, and as my work in other classes shows, I know how to apply forensic linguistics to various forms of text. So, it’s not all for naught! I can consider my applicational prowess of forensic linguistics my one-timer.
Some of the frustration stems from feeling like an outlier, knowing that this is one hell of a research design; it’s focalized around analyzing published articles and techniques and systems already in motion, so prior experience isn’t something I can really rely on. All my research so far has involved some quantitative element, or at least original data collection at the very least. There’s also the aggravation of wondering if I’m even doing anything right. I consulted this article, which I know is science-based, but what is protocol analysis if not meta-analysis? I checked out and skimmed several different books from both the Kean and local library to figure out how to proceed from here. I really tried to hold it together and pick at it and stay positive, but it feels like I shot for the moon, and instead of landing amongst the stars, I’m floating in cold space depth. Alternatively, I’m seven and gazing through a telescope again, and my thesis is the star that’s a million and one lightyears away.
And yet, here we remain, with about a week and a half to my thesis presentation. I can be honest and admit I picked the week of Thanksgiving to present on purpose because I had my fingers crossed fewer folks would be coming to class. (It’s also because my family doesn’t celebrate and presenting that day wouldn’t be messing up anything out of the ordinary for me.)
So, I guess that between the aggravation and unclear path forward, coupled with a looming presentation, this is why I’m on a three-on-five penalty kill. And it doesn’t look like that door is opening up anytime soon.
I Have Scaled These City Walls, I Was Cold As A Stone
One of the cruelest ironies of life this past week was the fact that every time I drove home from school this week, I managed to catch, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” by U2 on the radio. Four different days, and three different stations. By Thursday, something in me just snapped. I mean, what the hell is this cosmic message supposed to be? A call to action? A sign everything will be OK? Another reminder of the time crunch I’m in? Sympathy from Bono himself? Two emotions Venn diagramed; anger and determination. Forensic linguistics lends itself quite well to detective work, which is the reason I found myself dabbling on the other side of the thesis world, in the creative writing universe. I’ll share it out in another blog post later this week, so it’ll also ease the embarrassment I feel about not posting at all last week,
I’m Odds and Ends, But I’ll Be Stumbling Away
I feel like I just wrote a lot but had nothing meaningful to say. I feel slightly better, don’t get me wrong! I was able to address the story so far, somewhat from an outside perspective, and I put into perspective what is at stake in terms of my emotions and identity. Something has to come out of all this, right?
Like a-ha, I’m slowly learning that life is OK. It’s another cruel irony of the radio on the way home, but as I parked across from the backdoor on Thursday, where the family-friendly sedan with a dent made by yours truly used to reside, “Take On Me,” in all its meme glory and annoying pop-ishness seemed like a sign of good times ahead.
Catch you later this week!