Monday, November 12, 2012

Attitude for a dissertation

I remember reading these words in an article about a famous Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, "a very present search for an attitude, an emotional posture, that might make the unbearable bearable" When I first read these words I fell in love with them. Before anything else, I think you need an attitude in order to finish your dissertation and here is mine.  

It is February 2012. It is dark and cold outside, but not as cold as it used to be in previous winters. I am comfortably in my bed, watching a TV show on Hulu, probably Once upon a Time or Castle. The show is interrupted by a car insurance commercial. In the commercial a little gecko, the cute mascot of the company, is hand gliding the grains in what seems to be a vast field. He proudly and confidently says, “Like so many great pioneers, guided only by a dream, I am embarking on a journey of epic proportion. I will travel from sea to shining sea, through amber waves of grain. And I won't stop until I've helped every driver in America save hundreds on car insurance." His soliloquy stops abruptly as our little gecko comes to the edge of the field and a car zooms by. Only then do we realize that our little friend was just in a patch of grass in a parking lot. "Well I'm out of the parking lot. That's a good start," he says optimistically. It gets me every time. What makes this commercial funny and fitting to my situation is the discrepancy between the register of the gecko’s speech and the profoundness of the task ahead suggested by his words in the beginning on the one hand, and the utterly mundane topic of car insurance and the insignificance of that little patch of grass, what we thought to be a vast field a minute ago on the other. This commercial has been stuck in my mind ever since because of two reasons. First I thought my dissertation was going to be very difficult just like the task described by the lizard, and, second, I came to the realization that the difficulty I was about to experience was probably never going to translate into a perception of an arduous and worthwhile task by most people. When I watched the commercial I laughed out loud and it hit me with these two realizations. After the first shock, I shrugged and thought it was okay. I accepted.   
It is true that I think for the gecko and me probably the journey is going to be “a journey of epic proportion” from our emic perspectives but when someone looks at what we do from outside it is going to look like two small creatures stuck in their rather small and inconsequential worlds. It is also true that I think while the gecko’s aim is to travel from sea to shining sea, I have to turn my gaze into myself—no one can claim that my task is any less dangerous. Putting these similarities between the commercial and my experience aside, perhaps the most important lesson of the commercial is my little gecko friend’s attitude. I think the most fruitful approach to this challenging task of dissertation writing ahead is the lizard’s optimism and enthusiasm, which allows me to be fearless in the face of a big challenge and to bracket the paralyzing voices of potential naysayers. Inspired by the gecko’s attitude and Bakhtin’s concept of laughter as a liberating force, here I begin this project with a positive attitude that admittedly I have to impose upon myself in the beginning and probably will have to remind myself regularly in times of despair and frustration. This attitude I want requires the conviction of a person who believes in her cause, the childish ignorance of a greater fool, and the determination to do a good (between you and me I will fake it until I make it :-). To sum up my attitude, I begin this project quite aware of the challenges ahead but nevertheless trying to be as lighthearted as possible. I begin with laughter. Are you laughing? If not watch this :-) 

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