Thesis Re-Visited

[It’s] a popular notion, that it is exclusively suffering that produces good work, or insightful work.  I don’t think that’s the case. I think in a certain sense, it’s  a trigger, or a lever. But I think good work is produced in spite of suffering, and as a response, as a victory over suffering.

Leonard Cohen

I had the idea to read through my thesis, and post excerpts on my blog; I may still do that.  As always, I hesitate; I think that some of this work is of high quality, but I wonder how it will be received. I talked about my thesis and agonized over it for so long, that I’m not sure anything I could have created would have been worth the fuss I made about it. Then again, the only arbriter that really matters at the end of the day – my supervisor – gave me an A- on it. So I’m not really sure what I’m worried about in that regard. I suppose putting one’s work out there will always feel like an act of incredible vulnerability.

Reading my thesis in preparation for posting it reminds me of how far removed I am from the academic world; I admit that this reminder is somewhat disheartening. I’d have to read and study for months before I would become as well-versed in the theoretical language and literature as I was when I wrote the thesis. Furthermore, I don’t see myself having the opportunity to write something like that and become immersed in the acts of learning and creation anytime soon; I may not have an opportunity like that ever again.  I suppose my hesitation to post my thesis is borne from that sentiment as well, which isn’t exactly regret; I’ve just become aware that there’s a gap between where I am, and where I want to be, and I’d rather not think about it.  At the present time though, I’m a still a little too weary from the struggle to get through school to knit that yarn into motivation to go back.

Although there are ideas and passages in this piece that I wish I could have developed further, in some ways, that doesn’t really matter; what matters most to me about this work is that I finished it at all. I wrote it during a tumultuous time in my life, during which I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety disorders. Hence, the Leonard Cohen quote above: this work is important to me for its merits as a piece of undergraduate-level scholarship, and because I see the completion of this project as a “victory over suffering.” I may always struggle with my mind, but this serves as a reminder that I can still (with a hell of a lot of effort, time, and support) complete the work I set out to do.

That’s what I’ll remember this piece for; this piece, with all of its glorious imperfection. Maybe one day I’ll regard the time of my life during which I wrote it as being “gloriously imperfect” as well.

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After thinking and writing about it, I’ve decided to post excerpts from my thesis after all. These can be found on the following pages:

Dance Macabre: Women’s Experiences in Burlesque Excerpt 1 (Introductory Chapter)

Dance Macabre: Women’s Experiences in Burlesque  Excerpt 2 (Research Methods Chapter)

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Status Update

I’m inching towards the finish line on my thesis (slowly, somewhat mindfully at times, and accompanied by my “study buddies” at others). But still. Progress is being made, and I can look at some of my writing without wondering what the hell I was thinking and wanting to puke at sight of my own supposed scholarly inadequacy.  When I read through a few of the passages in my text, I sort of half-smile while wishing I had a bit more time to develop my thoughts.  That might not count for much to some people, but if in the process of evaluating work I don’t experience nausea and simply wish to do more, I know I’m getting somewhere (this means that I’m essentially thinking, “my work doesn’t suck as badly as it used to! Hooray!” Yes, I’m discussing my feelings of inadequacy and sense of self as “mediocre” in therapy).

Moreover, for anyone in the audience who is familiar with Steven Pressfield’s concept of “resistance,” I do believe I kicked its ass soundly today. I know it’ll still be there ringing in my ears tomorrow, but maybe when I sit down to write then, I’ll be like an action-flick heroine; I’ll be well aware that it wants to do me in, and I’ll give it its due. But I’ll also soar into the ring on a happy cloud made up of my previous successes, perform a 35+ move combo and a killer finishing move, and run its ass into the ground. That will happen. But now I’m going to bed.

The Twilight of My Thesis

Ugh. I hate the fact that I can’t type the word “twilight” without images of sparkly vampires coming to mind. I’ve never seen the movies or read the books of the same name, but I know they’re awful because all of the real goths I know, as well as the ones on the internet, as well as legions of feminists and anti-racist thinkers, and lovers of literature everywhere have all denounced the series.  The only groups of people who seem to enjoy it are young girls and women, and nobody cares what they think [/sarcasm].  Since I don’t have the time or the inclination to read the series myself, I’ve let the opinions of the learned among us inform my own.  So it follows that the series of books/movies of the same name have ruined what was once a lovely word for me (in case I’ve lost anyone in the course of my ramblings, I’ll repeat the word here: twilight).  However, I decided to go with the phrase “The Twilight of my Thesis” anyways, because it seemed more optimistic than the first one that came to my mind: “The Dying Days of My Thesis.”  Look at me trying to re-frame things in a positive light and all.

So, that was a tangent; I’m not entirely sure what I came here to write about. Oh yeah: I miss being in contact with humans, particularly in the context of that “real world” I keep hearing so much about. You know, the one outside my head, outside of my bedroom/office even – that flesh-and-blood world which is occupied by humans that go outside and catch some of the light of the evil day star and have conversations and hold hands and kiss and fight and all of that. I can only voyeuristically participate in real life by observing the encounters of people who walk outside of my second floor window for so long before I start feeling creepy and well, kinda pathetic.

The funny thing is, I live with my sister and my fiance, two people who would (presumably) want to spend time with me if I arose from my thesis-chamber and engaged them.  So one would think that I could easily solve this problem, and I concur. However, I’m all about bitching about problems over the internet as a means of thinking through how I actually want to go about solving the problem before I do anything. And in any event, they’re usually working too, so although we all live together, we don’t actually get to socialize all that often. It’s a lonely business, this thing of trying to be a respectable adult who tries to earn their keep on this planet.

I keep telling myself that I only have a few more days of this before I absolutely have to hand in my thesis, and then I have one more paper to write before I get to enjoy my summer. And I’m pretty stoked about this, because I haven’t had a Real Summer in years. By “Real Summer”, I mean one in which I’m not struggling with unstable living situations, the depths of poverty and despair, and doing schoolwork on top of it all.  Over the past couple of years, at least three out of four of those conditions have been met; if all goes well this year, the only thing I’ll still be somewhat worried about is money.  If a full time position opens at work, I’ll be all over that shit and not even money will be much of an issue anymore.

Whenever I realize that I do have a desire for my life to be a little bit easier, my inner critic steals the show and tells me that I sure am one lazy, spoiled motherfucker for wanting such a thing.  Fortunately, almost immediately after that bitch has her say, a montage of every psychologist and doctor I’ve spoken to over the past couple of years runs through my mind, and they’re all saying pretty much the same thing (if not quite the way I’m about to put it): I’ve had a lot of shit to deal with over the past few years, and most people would have cracked under the weight of it all.  It’s not unreasonable to want a little bit of security, happiness, and hell, even fun in one’s life.  And although I haven’t pinpointed exactly what I see myself doing in my post-undergrad years, I know I don’t want to be scraping by financially and taking fistfuls of meds every day to keep myself sane; I want security,  contentment bourne from the circumstances of my life and my awesome coping skills, rather than pills that prevent the re-uptake of seretonin in my brainmeats, as well as fun, adventure, and new experiences.  I want to travel and not give a shit for a while (and somehow, I’ll still have money and a stable place to come home to; on second thought, I might have to compromise on the “not giving a shit” part of that). I want to have found a way to remove the last few shards of the stick I’ve had in my ass all my life, care less about what others think, and live whatever life I’m meant to live out on this planet, now that I’ve done what I thought I was supposed to do (ie, get the degree). I want be like one of the 30-something friends I looked up to in my twenties, who did the real-world thing, decided it wasn’t for them, and then found their own way in life based on life experience and self-awareness (rather than rejecting “the System” outright due to lowered expectations disguised in a cloak of idealism, which is what I feel I would have been doing if I had either decided against going to university, or dropped out; so as much as I complain about school, I’m glad I gave it an honest shot).

I guess what I really want, when I imagine my life in my thirties, is to be rid of the overwhelming amounts of stress and chaos I experienced in my 20’s, without becoming a boring, happy-sunshiney motherfucker with kids and a house, who has another breakdown when she’s pushing 40 because she doesn’t recognize herself anymore either.  I haven’t given up on the possibility of grad school yet either, I just know it’s something I’m not prepared to do right now (emotionally or financially).

Right. My thesis. I wanted to do this first to warm-up my writing muscles, and to remind myself of why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because it’s on my bucket list; it’s this thing I wanted to create and give to the world outside of all of the circumstances (outside of me, and in my head) that made it take a lot longer to complete than it was ever supposed to. It was so much harder than I ever thought it would be; however, I decided not to think of all the work involved from the outset, because I know if I did I’d scare myself and I’d back out.  I’m not going to lie; it was a lot of work! But I’d probably do it again, were I to travel back in time and be asked to make that decision, knowing what I do now.

Anyways, back to my motivations. Getting the “Honours” designation on my degree is kind of neat (and I do want to get a decent grade on this), but those were never my main reasons for taking this on. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and I’m almost there. A few more lonely days with my nose to the grindstone really isn’t a big deal, considering all the work that’s behind me and the sense of personal statisfaction I know I’ll feel when I finish this (didn’t my mom mention that a few days ago? Yeah, she did).

Okay, my writing muscles have been engaged. Let’s get on with this.

Great Work Provocations: The Inner Critic

Every weekday, I receive a note in my inbox from Box of Crayons, an organization that develops productivity tools for businesses and individuals.  Their daily notes, called the “Great Work Provocations” consist of a phrase or two that is designed to get you thinking about your goals and work habits. Today’s “Provocation” was particularly relevant to my work situation, and it looked like this:

“We all have our own ‘inner critic’, whispering things like, “don’t try it” and “who do you think you are?” and “you’re going to be found out” and generally beating you up. Awareness that this is not the truth just a voice in your head is half the battle. What’s your critic saying today? What’s the alternative perspective?”

My critic is surprisingly quiet today, but it seems to have become louder now that I’ve sit down with the intention to actually do something.  It provokes physical anxiety and tension: fidgeting, the desire to get up and do something else, held breath, and a furrowed brow.  Today it likes to tell me that I’m wasting my time, and that I’ll never accomplish what I want to; I’ll never be a writer, and I’m certainly not a creative person.

What is the alternative perspective? I could say that I am a creative person; I’ve had quite a few ideas already today, which is why I was motivated to sit down and write in the first place. They weren’t specifically related to my paper per se, but I did think of ways to organize the information I was reading yesterday, and I could draw connections between concepts presented in multiple texts. I even thought of ways to relate my “academic” reading to a more enjoyable text on BDSM.  This text, The New Topping Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, has been particularly thought-provoking, since it’s one of the few books I’ve seen that frames BSDM play in a quasi-feminist ethos, while admitting (and delighting in) explorations of one’s “dark side” in a coherent manner.  The dominant discourse on kink/BDSM seems to be characterized by gender essentialism and post-feminism, so this was a refreshing take on the subject.

Now the voice inside my head is chastizing me for taking a little while to get my thoughts on that book out there, and is once again criticizing me for procrastinating and wasting my time. To which I say, “How am I wasting my time? I’m starting to think about the topics I want to explore in my more “serious” writing, in a low-risk format. That seems like a great idea to me.”

In the meantime, my body beckons for sustenance, so I’m going to call a “time out” on this internal battle to deal with that.

Baby steps.

So it seems as the best thing to do when you’re overwhelmed by an academic project is to limit the scope of the task as much as possible and start anywhere. Once you do this, you’ll begin to write your way out of the chaos and confusion.

This might sound painfully obvious, but the strategy seemed too good to be true until I actually tried it. And what do you know; it works!

Maybe I can do this after all.

The Overlooked Composer

My mornings spent listening to Tempo while in contemplation are pretty much my most favorite things in the world; it is during this time that I can find a form of healing solitude. With as much time as I spend alone, one would think I’d be quite adept at using this time consciously; instead, I woke up grumpy and anxious (which tends to be my default state; come to think of it, that’s why I’ve earned the labels of “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” and “Major Depressive Episode”). I was wondering when I’d be able to even look at the academic work I had been unable to complete yesterday, due to working overtime; I was looking ahead to today’s shift, trying to think of what behavior management strategies I’d adopt now that I knew a little bit more about our current clients. I was thinking about all of the things I feel my life is missing these days (namely, fun and excitement); I was pondering the ironies of being a self-identified feminist who had unwittingly (unwillingly?) taken on the role of “mother figure” in both her personal and professional life (I want to be random and irresponsible too, goddamn it)… and so on.

Then I took my place at my desk, in front of my computer, and the magic of positive associations kicked in. I felt focused, I felt safe, I felt like I’d come home. The radio in the kitchen was tuned to CBC Radio 2’s Tempo; the strains of classical music floated through the living room and into my bedroom, where began to settle my mind by triggering positive memories of this place. I was reminded it of all of the times I’d deliberately cultivated a sense of calm in this space, by taking a few minutes to slow down my breathing and tell myself that I didn’t have to take on the world that particular day.

I don’t have to take on the world today, either.

For various reasons my apartment hasn’t really felt like “home” lately, so it was helpful (in terms of settling my negativity/anxiety) to take a few moments to remind myself of what was in my power to control, at least in this particular moment (ie, my mind). Again, it’s not everything, but it’s something.

“The Overlooked Composer,” indeed. At times one has to take stock and learn the true identity of the one who is “taking something for granted.”

Considering Theory

Something I just thought about with respect to the puzzle of “what theory to use”:

Atkinson etc. talk about things people do in everyday life, and the overall idea seems to be that the people who are doing this are participating in it in an attempt to be or become normal/normative.  People who would read this as a “political” activity see “odd/disfigured” bodies as an attempt to critique norms, and at least has feminist potential – they’re trying to set themselves apart from norms, self-consciously.

 

My issue is, what’s actually happening here? It seems like maybe there’s potential to be “revolutionary” on stage, and maybe such an analysis is more applicable to an act that is obviously a performance, like burlesque.  The “feminist” or “post-structuralist” reading might be a useful way to interpret the behavior of people who use invoke those discourses to explain what they’re doing (so they might be doing drag, or performances that are obviously political).  However, it’s doubtful that everyone in the subculture is doing so. Moreover, in everyday lives, both “political” and “apolitical” burlesque artists are probably are trying to appeal to a sense of what is “normative” locally (in which case I am better off reading behaviour that only seems “different” the way Atkinson does – as a way of establishing one’s place within the “figuration.)”

 

I have an empathy for a politicized reading, particularly a feminist one. I want to think that there is something feminist about what these women are doing, and at times they do talk about themselves in feminist terms (the “heckling” incident inspired a conversation about what women “ought” to be doing that was overtly feminist).  But it’s difficult to say one way or the other – on the one hand, women may see this as empowering – on the other, being on stage may cause a woman to self-regulate to a greater degree (I note the tendency for women to put themselves on a diet/exercise regime around the time they start performing).

 

So my research question is really something like, “is a politicized reading necessarily the best way to approach the topic of women in burlesque? Under what circumstances might a politicized/post-structuralist/feminist reading apply?”