Friday, May 10, 2013

In a wild dice game of Gods

This entry may sound like whining but the reason why I'm sharing the following is not so much to complain, or a desire for attention, or a call for empathy or help, or provide an excuse for my unproductivity but rather to show how things don't always go according to plan during dissertation writing. If I don't share these frustrating moments like I share the events that make me look like I know what I'm doing (the operative word is 'Look like' here. Believe me, half the time, I really don't :-P), if I'm not completely honest, I feel like a graduate student somewhere reading this blog would feel alone and marginal in his/her experience. I didn't have anyone to tell me that sometimes things get messed up and that it is more or less a normal part of the process (or shall I say part of life in general). I wish I had such a person but maybe I can be that person for someone else. So my purpose is not whining per se, but sharing my experience in its entirety and as honestly as I can.
I'm afraid things are not going swimmingly. This last month or so has been really difficult. I did my best to be productive but life kept happening and no matter how hard I tried, it felt like everything I touched turned into ashes. The time and effort I put into things just seemed to disappear without a trace. Then, of course, came the learned helplessness period so I didn't even bother; it wasn't going to make any difference anyway. As I have told you before looking into my history for the literacy narratives was painful and pretty much sucked the joy out of my life. Seriously, this much reflection gets you way too close to depression and madness. I do NOT recommend it (please don't worry, I'm feeling better now :-).
Although there were nice people and events in my life and I don't think I have had a particularly horrible life, looking back, I cannot help but wonder if it was really worth the trouble, because there always was some trouble and I rarely if ever got what I wanted from my emotional investments. When you see the whole picture like this, you realize that life is those troubles, not what you have between troubles. To cut the long story short, I had to find a way to make peace with the fact that things could have been much better and easier and there is a huge gap between how good it could have been and what it really was like, what I think I deserved and what I got. Yes, I made some bad decisions along the way and I take full responsibility for my actions. That's not the difficult part. What I found hard to accept was the luck factor, the randomness and unfairness of life in general. One thing I learned from autoethnography (that is, on a personal level) is 'you better learn to enjoy the ride instead of looking at your life in terms of the goals you want to achieve. Could have should have would have are irrelevant and unhelpful'. In general, I kind of find it easy to enjoy the ride and keep the balance sheet of life at bay because I'm quite a present oriented person. I don't dwell on the past and I don't worry about the future that much. I just enjoy the moment, that is, as long as I have a minimum level of stability in my life, as I learned recently about myself. Lately, I couldn't maintain that stability. In my defense nothing was really my fault this time. Everything got a little bit out of control and it really felt like I was a pawn in a game played by capricious Greek Gods and I was not the champion of any gods or goddesses either. Please see this short film called Titans of Newark for an illustration how the Gods play such games.

Titans of Newark from TitansOfNewark on Vimeo.
 Let me summarize my last couple of weeks in its particularity.

1. My husband is between jobs right now and I'd decided not to work as I wrote my dissertation, so there goes the financial stability out of the window. But more importantly the injustice of his situation, and the dreadful situation Turkish academia seems to be in, caused quite a deal of existential angst for me. Even though I don't usually worry about the future, this time I couldn't maintain my distance to the events since they were too close to home. My first instinct was to run away as far as I could and to get the hell out of here but it seems like we are stuck here for the time being. I'm seriously worried about my future after my husband's experience, and that of our friends in Turkish academia.

2. I learned that someone I care about has a serious health problem, which made me much more scared and worried than I thought. So let's add some mild death anxiety to the mix, shall we?

3. My husband and I moved to our current apartment in December and now the apartment we live in has been sold so we have to move AGAIN :-(. Moving takes so much time and it is exhausting. Last year I moved twice and this year I'm moving again. I HATE moving, but it seems like I keep moving in spite of myself. Like many graduate students and faculty, I feel like a nomad. This last time, I didn't even bother unpacking or breaking the boxes, as you can see in the pictures below. One room in our apartment has been like this since we moved here. I think I will keep things like this in our next apartment too. I mean, what is the point in settling in? Anyway, my husband and I spent a couple of days hunting apartments and finally we found one we liked. If everything goes according to plan, we're moving next week. As the past was making me feel exhausted and my future projections very insecure, the present was unstable too. Dealing with the past, present and future simultaneously was just too much to handle at once. I think we all need a rock, an anchor, some stable place or person to be able to deal with the cruelty of memory and reality. Fortunately, I have my husband and I'm very grateful for his support. And thank you friends for listening. You know who you are.

What do you think about this title for my dissertation, 'my life in boxes' :-)))? Although it is not poetic enough to my taste it is quite accurate.

4. I received an email from the Office of International students and scholars telling me that my I-20 expires and I have to renew it. In order to renew it, I have to show around $40,000, which, needless to say, I don't have. The amount is ridiculously high in Turkish liras. You can almost buy a small apartment with this money. So I had to ask my family (and the shame of it all killed me). It really stinks to be asking for money from Mom at my age (not a chance, I'm not telling you how old I'm :-). Taking care of the paper work meant a stay at Mom for a couple of days, an annoying trip to her bank, which was quite reluctant to give us a bank statement showing the balance in US dollars or giving us a statement in English. I had to go through the same annoying process at my husband's bank, in which I almost made a scene because they asked for around $30 for a bank statement in English. I was furious and my husband seriously thought I was going to turn into Hulk.

5. I filed my taxes in April, first time all the way from Turkey, and then I received a letter saying that there was a mistake in my files and I owed them money. I was hoping for a return. I still think I did it right and I sent the documents to support my argument but we'll see. I'm still waiting to hear from them. Fingers crossed.

6. My laptop decided to become a desktop computer. Yes, you read it right. I don't have a laptop anymore. I lost almost a week trying to figure out what was wrong with my laptop and until my husband found a reasonable solution. The problem was something related to the monitor. Apparently the computer was working but the monitor wasn't. Changing the monitor would cost me so much that it would be better to buy a new laptop. Needless to say I didn't have the money to buy a new one. So my husband comes up with a solution, to hook my laptop up to a desktop monitor. Below you see my new desktop computer. I  use the keyboard of my laptop but its screen is completely black, I use the external monitor. You can imagine that a computer break down is one of the worse things that can happen during dissertation writing. Fortunately, I didn't lose any documents thanks to google drive and my almost obsessive back up taking, but you can imagine the frustration I went through. I kind of feel like the situation of my laptop is analogous to my situation, I'm kind of broken (depressed) and I just want to settle down and stop moving around all the time :-)

7. And the cherry on top of everything. A couple of days ago, I check my final grade for the research hours I'm taking this semester. I log in to my account and click on my final grades and WOW there it is. NS, not satisfactory and credits earned a big fat '0'. Whoa?!!? I almost had a heart attack. I immediately wrote an email to my advisor asking if there was a mistake. I'm pretty sure I was in shock as if I was in a car accident. A couple of hours later my advisor writes to me and says it's just a mistake and he will get it corrected. Phew!

Seriously, you cannot make all this up. It's stranger than fiction all this happening one after the other. I had my birthday in April too and birthday blues didn't help either. This summarizes my April and the first week of May. Despite all this madness, I managed to finish reading for my methodology chapter, collecting data, and writing my literacy narrative until I went to the US. My original plan was to finish data collection, all my narratives, and the methodology section by the end of April. Considering how crazy things have been, I cut myself a little slack. I'm still sane and standing. That's good enough for now. I have to admit I had to watch a lot of TV to numb myself. The distraction of April was the TV show Midsomer Murders. Anyway, wish me luck, for it seems like I need some right about now.
So here comes the moral of the story "sometimes life sucks and we just have to hang in there until the storm is over'
Recommended treatment:
  • a Bakhtinian laughter
  • a 'bring it on' attitude
  • talking to friends and family might help, but for the most part, I just didn't want to talk about all this, or get out of bed for that matter. I say watching movies and TV shows help.
  • doing one small thing everyday, even if it is just organizing your data or reading an article.
  • swearing (Just kidding. I don't even know how to swear)
  • drinking (no surprises there :-)
  • listening to songs like the below. Enjoy!

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