April 25, 2010 - 4:27 PM
Friends and readers, it is a gorgeous day. Truly I tell you, there is nothing much better than spring in Eugene. There are flowers everywhere: tulips, lilacs, flowering trees, rhododendrons of every color, rosemary, and pansies. Everywhere. Flowers grow here like weeds do at home: with wild abandon, and often without apparent effort.
I love it.
It is nearly seventy degrees. After a full winter of gray days and rain, it is such a wonderful thing to look out the window and see blue skies. There are birds everywhere, and all the windows are open. There is such a distinct and powerful smell of spring and growing everywhere I've been today.
With the sun, out come the college students. We emerge from behind our books, step out of the library, throw off our shoes and hit the quad. Instead of being an open strip of grass to be crossed as quickly as possible while hustling from one class to another, the quad was instantly transformed into a place to linger, to lounge. I spent an hour on Friday sitting in the grass and talking with three girls I hadn't really spoken with in more than a year. It was nice to catch up, but let me guarantee that it wouldn't have happened on a rainy day. There is a feeling of freedom inherent in sun and fresh-mown grass.
Of course, the feeling of spring is tempered by the pile of work to be done. Yesterday I didn't even set foot out of doors: instead I pounded out twelve pages of thesis. My first draft stands at almost sixty pages, and I imagine the full first draft will be more than ninety. It was a great feeling to accomplish that much of my project, but now I'm feeling more and more that my place it outside, even as I eye my ever-growing "to do" pile.
I shouldn't exaggerate too much. I'm actually feeling pretty calm about my thesis, and all my other projects. I'm coping well, and have dealt with some recent turbulence in various projects with relatively good form. It's all going to get done, but that blue sky...
The good news is that I have a bunch of reading this term, and I can sit and soak up the rays while doing my homework. Not quite as fun as simply spending the time "in the free air," as you would say in Spanish, but it is an excuse to be outside. At this time of the year, I also will start waking up an extra twenty minutes early and walking the almost two miles to school, rather than riding the bus. It is a gorgeous walk that includes the Masonic cemetery, which is one of my favorite places in Eugene. Instead of staring out the bus window while the same houses slide by (albeit newly adorned with leafing trees and blossoming shrubs), I will be wandering through the old trees and wildflowers in a beautiful old graveyard. Some of the grass is taller than my knees already, and so lush!
In Colorado, the trees have barely leafed. Which is good, because it snowed more than a foot two days ago.
Eugene is a beautiful place to be a student. This is true all year long, but especially true in April. The winter rains are still with us, both in recent memory and in threatening weather forecasts. But today I can put on some shades, bundle up my reading, and head to the back yard to watch the birds and scoot around the tree shadows. Even better, my friends just called me for some backyard Zumba! That's worth delaying the thesis for.
April 22, 2010 - 7:19 PM
The undergraduate thesis is the culmination of a UO honors student's college career. It represents a single massive effort to research and create a project of our own creation. I have already written about my thesis several times (and can report that it currently stands at 59 pages), and have thesis almost permanently on my mind these days. If I'm not actively writing, I'm thinking about it. And I'm not alone-all students graduating from the Clark Honors College are simultaneously working to produce a thesis of their own. Since I am lucky enough to have a fabulously intelligent and diverse group of HC friends, this means that I'm constantly surrounded by thesis talk: page counts, woes of writer's block, writing strategies, and endless dissection of topics. That makes it sound merely stressful, but really it's been awesome to hear about everyone's interests and to track their progress.
So I want to share some of those with you. My friends' theses have become a big part of my life, and I'll be attending everyone's thesis defense and reading most of the final products. So I want to do a series of at least one blog a week, sharing people's thesis defense stories and a portion of their actual writing. All those featured have given permission.
Miles was the first of my group of friends to complete and defend his thesis. His title is "Reading and Ethical Understanding:Exploring a Form of Ethically Complex Narrative."\
Before I go into details about his topic, let me explain a bit about Miles's background and the defense process. Miles is one of the most eloquent people I know, both in writing and in speaking. He is a philosophy major, and has a finely developed sense of argumentation. I read his thesis on Sunday in preparation for his defense on Monday, and was truly impressed by the flow and creativity of the thesis. On Monday, he presented his topic for about fifteen minutes before answering questions from his three faculty advisers for a full hour. At that point, everyone but the advising committee left the room as the three professors decided whether his thesis would pass, and at what level. The options are: pass, pass with revisions (ie conditional pass), pass with honors, and pass with distinction.
Not to spoil the ending, but Miles passed with distinction: an honor he clearly deserved to the fullest.
Here is the abstract (summary) of his thesis:
This thesis engages central assertions of narrative theory in order to describe the basic tenets of ethically complex narratives and examine their potential to improve and deepen a reader's understanding of ethics. I argue that narrative is an appropriate medium for the communication and exploration of ethical theory because it provides a familiar conceptual structure within which various viewpoints and attitudes can arise, conflict, and harmonize in an intelligible fashion that fosters a reader's ethical understanding. This sense of understanding develops through the reader's discovery of the ultimate intelligibility of sub-narratives and settings that function within a narrative work. I describe four narrative strategies (tenets) that characterize the content of an ethically complex narrative: character identity, choice, will, and setting. These tenets exist and operate within an ethically complex narrative in a fashion that provides the broad narrative context required for the realization of intelligibility that leads to ethical understanding. To provide a concrete example of an ethically complex narrative, I analyze an existing book (David Simon and Edward Burns' The Corner) to demonstrate how the tenets of ethical complexity function within its pages.
I had heard Miles talk about his thesis for months, through every stage of the imagining and writing process. But the document itself is a beautiful example of what a thesis should be: imaginative, rigorous, and approachable.
It also had the feeling of something truly important, something I had toyed with often as a lifelong writer and reader but had never directly explored. We are inherently changed by the narratives we encounter during our lives. The roles we play and the lives we imagine are a part of the larger stories of society and culture, and are informed by the fiction and legend we surround ourselves with. As Miles discussed in his thesis, we embody story. This is extremely important, both in approaching literature and in working to change society: you have to work to change the stories people are ready to believe.
Aside from the document itself, his defense was a joy to watch. He's the kind of person who loves to be asked difficult questions and to get into debates. Even when his committee members asked questions that were clearly challenging, he didn't flinch. Several of our mutual friends were there, as were four or five members of the ultimate frisbee team, of which he is a part. Best of all, his mom was there, and looking extremely proud. Deservedly so-even I was proud of watching his project come together, and hearing repeated some of the ideas we had talked over in the past weeks.
Passed with distinction. That's a high bar to set on the very first defense I attend. Only ten percent of theses are supposed to receive this honor. Miles unquestionably deserved it, and I am so glad I was there to witness, from start to finish.
April 18, 2010 - 9:31 PM
Readers, so much has been happening, and so much is left to happen before I can go to bed tonight, that I'm going to reduce several stories that could be full blogs of their own into brief blurbs. I hope you will forgive me, and accept my assurances that there will be full-length stories in the coming week.
First, date check! Today, April 18th, is exactly one month from the day the final draft of my thesis is due to my committee. The thesis stands at forty-seven pages out of an approximate seventy-five. But fear not! I've found a method for this madness, and for me that means writing huge chunks in short amounts of time, and then resting my weary mind for a couple of days before writing again. Although there's a long way to go, I know I'll get there soon. It's coming together nicely. Still, one month to the final draft! YIKES!
On the subject of theses, my friend Miles will be defending tomorrow. I read his thesis today, and it is a beautiful document. Tomorrow he will give a presentation of about fifteen minutes before his committee of three advisors and anyone else who will attend (myself included) and then answer questions for about forty-five minutes, before the committee decides whether or not he passes. With his permission, I'll be writing a more complete report about his thesis, because I think it's fascinating to hear what my various friends are writing and researching. In brief, his thesis is a philosophy paper regarding narrative forms and ethics, specifically focusing on the book The Corner, which was written by the producers of the TV series The Wire. Essentially, our lives are shaped by various narratives and narrative identities (such as that of "student" or "writer" or "young white woman") and contexts (USA 2010, Protestant faith, University) that shape our decisions and our perceptions of what is right and good in our lives. It was a fascinating paper, and will be a fabulous presentation tomorrow. I hope to be able to share excerpts of his thesis with you later. My other friends will all defend within the next five weeks, and I'll keep you posted!
I also want to follow up on last week's blog about speaking to the League of Women Voters about my time with No More Deaths. My friend, Leah, and myself joined the LWV for lunch and a presentation last Thursday, and it went extremely well. The LWV is an incredible organization of individuals profoundly concerned with the rights of citizens and the functioning of our democratic system. They are non-partisan but take strong stances on issues they see as having an impact on the health and welfare of the American public. Speaking before this group of informed and committed individuals was both humbling and inspiring, and I had a wonderful time. It went really well! I spoke for about half an hour, and Leah for another fifteen minutes, before we answered questions jointly. I have presented about No More Deaths many times now, and each time have experienced a new perspective about my own experiences and my beliefs about border justice and our place as citizens. Even more importantly, however, I received support and affirmation from the group-some audience members challenged my stances, but supported my actions in defense of the lives of people struggling on our southern border. I was reminded that I have huge power because of my status as an educated young person, and encouraged to use that power to continue to work to better the world.
Update on Turned magazine: we've passed off almost all content to the designer, and are now waiting for layout and formatting! We've still got some work to do, including photo editing and some extra tightening on some written pieces, but we're essentially done with our part of the project. We got the cover on Friday, and it is a thing of beauty! If all goes well, we will have the printed publication in hand on June 4th. We're already planning a celebration with many of the individuals who made this possible, to happen up at OSP with James. What a journey this has been! I've learned so much, and am so anxious to see the final project!
Finally, schoolwork. Classes continue, regardless of other commitments and happenings in life. I'll be honest: I've never had such a hard time concentrating on homework. I love all three of my classes, and am learning quite a lot from each. I enjoy the readings, and am seriously a fan of Jose Marti, the author I'm studying for my Spanish class. But, friends and readers, I am a busy woman these days. I'm often out of the house from ten to ten, mostly busy with meetings and projects, but partially occupied with exercise and friends and self-care. These are all legitimate and essential to living a happy life, and are all competing with my classes for my time and energy. It's worth it, though-I feel now, more than ever, that my studies are tying in with my other interests and commitments. It's all linked, and it's all exciting. It's just a little daunting, since I have more than four hundred pages of reading due Tuesday... Breathe deep...
I want to share a final small gem of Katie D. identity. When I was in fifth grade, we had to memorize a poem and recite it for the teacher. I was so nervous, but I learned that poem backwards and forwards. Since then I've memorized several others, my favorite being "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver (translated to Spanish, also), which is my go-to poem for occasions of emotional turbulence or celebration. But that fifth grade poem has stuck around all these years, and might prove a permanent part of my life. I think of it all the time: when in need of some patience, of a distraction, of a moment to breathe. I start stressing out or getting upset at some little thing, and out comes "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, in the same singsong pattern I learned as a child. This is one of those moments: take a breath, think through the poem, take the next step.
"For I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep."
April 18, 2010 - 7:54 PM
I've just gotten back from a fabulous two-day trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The Clark Honors College funds a trip once a year, for about twenty students to go and experience some of the finest theater in North America. I have never seen acting to compare with the Shakespeare Festival productions!
I've written about the OSF previously: my first experience in Ashland was the Honors College trip last year, which was an incredible experience. It was so incredible, in fact, that when my mom came to visit over the summer we took at trip to Ashland to see two plays. The Festival runs from late March until mid-October, with multiple trips happening simultaneously, including works by Shakespeare, classical theater, and contemporary plays from the dramatic to comedies to musicals. The Festival maintains three theaters, all of which have plays running simultaneously.
The whole atmosphere of Ashland is one of art and language and literature and drama and expression.
Aside from the joy of seeing the performances at the OSF, it was also an extreme pleasure to spend the weekend with a huge group of Honors College students. On the three-hour drive, we talked about everything from music to theses to post-graduation plans to the observed behavior of sheep along the highway. Honors College students are so great not necessarily because they're smart, but because they're articulate and involved. Everyone has an opinion, everything has something to add, even if it's just in the form of a question. While in town, we wandered into thrift stores and funky old bookstores, and generally enjoyed being in the bright sun and away from our theses. Being in the context of an artistic, expressive city with a large group of expressive, invested student peers was a fabulous weekend experience.
This year, the CHC group went to two plays: Hamlet (by Shakespeare, of course), and Ruined, a contemporary play by Lynn Nottage. Each play was vastly different, and a fabulous example of the depth and quality of the Festival.
I've seen several versions of Hamlet, and have read it several times for various classes. However, I have never seen or imagined anything to compare with the innovation and power of this production. The wonderful thing about seeing a Shakespeare play is that the grace and beauty of the script can be reinterpreted and artistically manipulated into new contexts and settings. The directors at the OSF do not manipulate the language in the slightest, but are extremely adept at changing the historical moment in which the play is set, and by utilizing costuming and setting to create a new lens to experience the play. Hamlet was performed in a strange combination of contemporary and esoteric costumes and set, complete with a castle backdrop with security cameras observing the action. This allowed for some truly exciting imaginings of the script and the characters, from a vivid teenage-angst Ophelia to King Hamlet's ghost who acted in sign language, without any spoken word.
All this made a beautiful story come to vivid and immediate life, and to remind us all that the issues discussed in Hamlet, from governance to coming of age are issues that arise in a mixture of dark humor and tragedy in the lives of us all.
However, my favorite moment of the performance was the "play within the play." This is the moment responsible for that great line "the play's the thing in which I'll catch the conscience of the king!" and serves as an iconic moment of speaking truth to power through the medium of art. It is my favorite scene in Hamlet under any circumstances, but last night I saw it in an entirely new light. The players acted in beatbox and hip hop! It was beautifully done. I loved every moment.
This afternoon we saw Ruined, which is a play about women living in a brothel in war-torn Congo. The play was written by a woman who became interested in the mass rape and murder of women in contemporary Africa, and who created this drama from many real-world stories told to her during a trip to the Congo. It was an extremely difficult play to watch, and the superb quality of the acting only made it more so. Yet it was also a beautiful testament to the pain and suffering of hundreds of thousands of women today, and a composite view of a situation which I cannot even fathom. I cried during most of the play, but I also truly appreciated it for its artistry and the actor's supreme command of their characters. While it is difficult to say that I enjoyed a play like Ruined, it is something that I feel strongly as a valuable artistic moment, and an opportunity to be called to consciousness about a terrible contemporary moment.
As a bonus for an already fabulous weekend, on Saturday night a group of the seniors on the trip joined some of the actors from Hamlet at a local bar. My friend's big sister is a professional dancer in Ashland and knows many of the cast members, and invited us for a drink with some of them. It was fabulous to have a moment to tell the actors how profoundly impacted I had been by their work, and to hear a bit about the direction and artistic decisions behind the production.
Overall, it has been a fabulous weekend, and I am so happy to have had the chance to see theater of this quality and to spend so much time with my many friends and new acquaintances in the Honors College. I'm starting the week with Shakespeare's words echoing in my mind, and the many powerful images still lingering before my eyes.
April 11, 2010 - 10:59 AM
"I am pleased to inform you that you have been admitted to the University of Oregon's Masters in Conflict and Dispute Resolution Program scheduled to begin August 20, 2010. Congratulations! We have selected you based upon your academic record, your interest in conflict resolution, and our belief that you will be an excellent student in our program..."
Friends and readers, I'm in!
I am so excited, and thrilled to be selected as a part of next year's cohort of conflict resolution students. It seems to be the perfect fit for my interests and passions, and to resonate so strongly with my current projects and future goals. I feel so affirmed by this letter: so honored and so motivated!
I haven't made my final-final decision yet, mostly because of the question of finances. I haven't heard yet about a Graduate Teaching Fellowship I applied for, which will cover my tuition and a portion of my living expenses in return for my work as a teaching assistant, research fellow, and project manager with the Savage Committee for International Relations and Peace. Being an out-of-state student, I have to be conscious of the cost of education, and a GTF position would be the perfect solution. However, it is no longer the only solution. The Conflict Resolution program has offered me a scholarship for my first year of study, for which I am exceptionally grateful.
As I'm writing this, I am trying to balance my need for rational decision making with my gut knowledge that there is no way I'll be turning down the CRES program. There, it's written: I will be a CRES student next year!
Along with the acceptance letter, I received a preliminary schedule of my summer and fall classes. The CRES program has a slightly strange schedule: it begins at the same time as the Law School, so my orientation to the program will be on Friday, August 20th, with the first day of classes on August 23rd. Then fall term begins September 27th along with the rest of the University.
The summer term includes two classes: "Philosophy of Conflict" with Professor Cheyney Ryan, and a Mediation Training program during two weekends. This term runs for approximately a month, with classes three days a week. Professor Ryan is already a friend of mine from my work with the Savage Committee and Sister Helen, but I have never had the chance to take a class from him. He is a professor of philosophy, focusing on theories of conflict, war, peace, and ethical social constructs. What a perfect introduction to a program on conflict resolution! The Mediation Training will be a hands-on program to provide us with the tools for dispute mediation between individual and groups. This will also be a foundation for future training in facilitation and negotiation.
During fall term we will be taking five courses:
"Perspectives on Conflict Resolution" with Professor Jane Gordon
"Research Methods" professor TBA
"Adjudication and the Courts" with Professor Weinr
"Negotiation, Bargaining, and Persuasion" with Professor Micheal Moffitt
"Psychology of Conflict Resolution" with Professor Tint
Does this line-up look as wonderful to you as it does to me?
All classes will be taken with the full cohort of first year CRES students. I have a wonderful feeling about being part of a group like that: approximately twenty-seven students with the same classes and similar interests, moving through the two-year program together. We are Cohort 6, the sixth year of Conflict Resolution Masters students at the University of Oregon.
It feels more and more like things are falling into place. I have my acceptance letter, complete with my fall schedule! I bought my graduation cap and gown on Friday and will have my diploma in hand on June 14th, ready for a two month vacation and then this next step in my studies. My thesis is progressing. Hopefully I will know about the GTF position within the next week and a half.
Finally, finally I have an answer to that scary question, "What will you be doing in the fall?" I'll be studying conflict resolution with a cohort of my peers, preparing for a life of work in mediating conflict, living in this city that I love, working toward my future.
The acceptance letter concludes, "We look forward to your being a part of our program."
I couldn't agree more.