Friday, August 31, 2012

Thesis: Round 1

Stress isn't a word I use very often to describe me or my emotional state or how I'm feeling or anything like that. In fact, I feel like I'm kind of an anomaly in the English grad program here at BYU because it is full of people who seem to have a tank of stress-oline that powers them through their lives. Me, I just kind sit back and let it ride. Life kind of comes at me and I just go with it and try not to let things really bug me or get under my skin. I get a little unsettled at times, and it's not like I'm always perfectly balanced and live a life of leisure and happiness. Let's not even talk about the series of physical maladies that seem to be constantly swirling around me. (on that note, I kinda jacked up my foot last night at the football game while jogging down the bleachers. I woke up this morning and couldn't hardly walk. But it's felt better as the day has gone on so no worries.) But on the whole I feel like I'm able to deal with the usual stresses of life fairly well. One might even say that I take the title of this totally awesome Eagles tune as my life motto:

All that said, yesterday afternoon was one of those rare occasion when I was really, truly stressed about my life. Mostly it was due to my thesis. See since school started again I've been meaning to get in contact with my thesis chair and update her on the progress I made over the summer. I was able to get some preliminary research and reading done on my project, but I felt like I hadn't done nearly as much as I ought to have. I'd like to say that I was busy doing fun and exciting things all summer, but I wasn't. Don't get me wrong I did have a lot of fun this summer, but to be perfectly honest I didn't really do anything that should have distracted me from doing my thesis reading. So when I emailed my chair yesterday around noon I was assuming that she would respond saying we should get together some time next week. That way I could do some catchup work and be perfectly fine once we met. I was wrong; she didn't as I'd hoped. Instead she said we should meet at 4 pm, which was in 3 hours. Thus began the stressing.

Despite my misgivings, I agreed to meet with her at four and immediately began to feel about like this baby her every time his mom blows her nose except without the uninhibited laughing:

That look of sheer terror is what I was feeling. Now that I'm on this side of the meeting I'm not sure why I was so stressed out. It's probably because I read PhD Comics too much. For whatever reason I envisioned me going up to her office and feeling totally ashamed and humiliated because I hadn't lived up to her expectations. I figured she was going to berate me for being lazy and so on and so forth, and I didn't relish that thought.

Now before I go any further I need to make it clear that my thesis chair is wonderful. She's very accomplished and well-recognized in the field of composition studies, and she is very kind and helpful to her students. So when I say I expected an ego-breaking confrontation I was entirely without reason to think or assume that that was what was coming.

At any rate I began to frantically go over all the books I've checked out from the library dealing with my topic and review all the papers I've written about it. I also decided I should put together a quick bibliography of the things I've actually read, so I could show her some progress. Now you'd think that in doing this I'd have realized that I actually have done a fair amount of work, and I'd be able to calm down some. But for some reason the stress kept mounting and getting worse and worse to the point that I was complaining and venting my frustrations and insecurities to the people who were in my physical as well as internet-mediated presence.

Finally 3:55 pm hit and the time of reckoning had come. I made the long walk over to her office, and as I was climbing the stairs I hit rock bottom. She was going to tell me my project and research was stupid and to figure out something else. I contemplated not even going to her office and quitting the program altogether. Ok that's not true, but I was in a dark place.

I knocked on her door and with a smile and a cough (she had a cold) she let me in. For the next hour I sat across from her in her office and we talked about my project. As the conversation progressed, my anxiety lessened and lessened until it all but went away. I realized that I did have good ideas and that my summer background research, while admittedly not as thorough as I'd have liked it to be, was sufficient for where I am in the process. She gave me some good advice on how to proceed, and actually seemed genuinely interested in the research I'm proposing to do. I left her office feeling excited and encouraged, which thing had been unknowable just an hour previous. That feeling of validation and excitement was as intensely sweet as had been my earlier pain and discouragement.

I left her office with a broad grin on my face and an assurance that I really am in the right field, and that I really am doing the right thing with my life.

I stopped by Meridith's office to tell her how it had gone, and after chatting with her for a while we decided to celebrate surviving my first real encounter with the beast that is the thesis with a little Cafe Rio. So we went down the stairs and left the JFSB and my thesis stresses least for a while.


  1. Remember the time I walked out on a midterm and had a breakdown? Been there, no bueno.

  2. What an Alma experience. You are so spiritual.