May 27, 2012 - 5:08 PM
Last year at this time, I was returning home from a weekend in Bend, which marked my third Decemberists concert. This year I've just gotten back from a fabulous escape with some of my oldest Oregon friends, and from yet-another fabulous concert: my first time seeing The Shins.
Some of what was special about this concert was the release I've felt since my thesis was completed. I needed this time with old friends, and a chance to debrief my defense and to relax with good people around. It was also fun to be at a concert of this exceptional quality and to run into dozens of people I recognized from the UO, including more than four Inside-Out students. It just felt like the whole world was there, loving that music and having a beautiful night in the open-air concert on a beautiful evening.
One of my favorite things about life in Eugene is the easy access to all these beautiful places and exciting events. Last weekend I was on the coast, and this weekend I was in a high desert on the other side of the mountains, with extinct volcanoes all around and dry air that reminds me of my home in Colorado. Many of my friends spent the weekend in the Columbia River Gorge at the Sasquatch Music Festival, rocking out for the whole weekend. But for my less-hardcore friends, we had this beautiful evening of great music, just three hours from home. And it was a perfect night of music.
As things wind to a close for my days here in Eugene, I know just what it means to have this time with friends. This group of folks (mostly associated with Ego, the UO Ultimate Frisbee team) have been consistent companions for the duration of my years here. They have been fun and easy company throughout, and it means the world to me to have had this last adventure together in Bend.
My buddy Miles said something that particularly blew my mind. As we drove through the Cascades, he asked about my thesis defense and about the process of my research and argument. He pressed me on issues and asked questions which might help lead me in future research. And then he told me something I very much needed to hear, and something which I will continue to carry with me as time goes on. He said "you are one of the few people I know who are really working hard to make these big things happen in your life, and you also always make the time for good times like this weekend. That's a rare thing."
Rare or no, it's what gives shape and meaning to my life. This week was about the Shins, and about my thesis. Not in equal parts of effort or significance, but both present and feeding off each other. I hope I'm always able to hold these things in balance: the things that give me meaning and the things which bring me joy. For this weekend, at least, I know I managed both.
May 25, 2012 - 11:31 AM
Last night I took a group of freshmen up to the Oregon State Penitentiary. The students are part of a Freshmen Interest Group which has spent this year focusing on global ethics: taking some classes together, engaging in field trips and discussion groups, and living together in the dorms. I've met them before through speaking about Sister Helen and immigration issues, and they are a great group of young people, ready to take on these college years and then launch into leadership positions after that. They are going to take on the world, no doubt in my mind.
We were invited to bring a group of students to OSP to hold small-group discussions with a group of inmates who regularly meet with outside groups to answer questions. So Professor Cohen and I jumped at the chance to bring this group of ethics-focused freshmen to talk with a group of people who can discuss some of the complexities and realities of prison and prison life. We sat in little groups of five to seven and talked for an hour and a half.
For me, this was a powerful experience for a couple of reasons. The first is that I always appreciate the chance to have conversations of this nature: the chance to meet new people and ask questions both of the folks I've known for years and of those I've just met that night. I've always found that these groups go well and that the inside group is eager to answer questions with honesty and openness. They give by telling their stories. We give by listening. It is a very human and very important exchange: how often do we get to see beyond the bars to meet people face to face?
The other beautiful thing about last night was hearing one of the freshmen describe Inside-Out during our return drive. She offered a thorough and enthusiastic description, and included many of the complexities of the experience and the power and impact it has had on her life. I got a little choked up, to be honest: five years ago I was her age and at her stage of life, telling my friends about Inside-Out in the same way. It just made me realize again that I am leaving behind something important and something lasting. She will stay involved and the program will only grow once I trust it to the next generation of leaders. I know it, and I'm proud of it.
That's quite a blessing, here in the last days of my Oregon time.
We don't bring folks to the prison so they will gain some naïve sympathy for inmates. We don't take them there to become whistle-blowers or radical activists. We take them there so they can see what the reality of prison actually looks like, and who we are really talking about when we mention prisons or say "we are tough on crime." If you ask a group of inmates "Does prison work?" you hear a surprising range of answers, and get a sense of where the Criminal Justice System is functioning, and where it is failing.
And you meet people. Not people you will see again, but people with stories to offer and with questions of their own. You spend a bit of time in a place we rarely have a chance to see, but which plays such an important role in our understanding of ourselves and our world.
Last night I offered that glimpse to a group of eighteen and nineteen-year-olds, and they rose to the occasion with questions and open minds. My freshman-year experience at OSP changed my life forever. I wonder what last night will mean in the lives of this group.
I feel lucky to have been a small part of their journeys.
May 23, 2012 - 8:57 PM
Today I successfully defended my Master's Thesis! I presented to the three members of my faculty committee: Shaul Cohen (Geography), Susan Hardwick (Geography), and Greg McLauchlan (Sociology), as well as to twenty-five of my CRES cohort colleagues, Inside-Out students, geography students, friends (including one who Skyped in from late-night Dublin), and my mom. Shaul introduced me, I spoke for about half an hour to present my argument and conclusions, and then I spent over half an hour answering questions.
Now I am done, and it feels really good.
I gave everything I had to get this thesis done right. I put in enormous time and energy into the research, the interviews, the translations, the background information, the writing, the editing, the framing, the re-framing, and with meetings with the fabulous advisors I had for this project. My thesis is something that I truly do believe is representative of my years of study, both leading up to my Master's and the years previous. This may sound arrogant, but I also believe I did justice to the trust placed in me by my interviewees and host organizations in Honduras, and in the confidence placed in me by my advisors.
Also, I know this is strange, but I loved the defense process.
The beauty of a thesis is that it is a self-selected, self-motivated research project. I chose my subject matter and the nature of my inquiry. I went alone to Honduras and learned for myself the nature of the situation there. I have had enormous amounts of help along the way, but the project is my own and the conclusions are both my own and (I believe) are solid.
So I'm proud. I'm proud and happy and very grateful for the support I've received and the opportunities I've had. Actually tonight I feel that I could launch a new project right now, and just begin again. I could stand up in front of another crowd tomorrow and do the defense again, answering questions as best as I could and enjoying every minute of it.
I hope to do this with my life. Every day I become more certain that this is what I want to be when I grow up, and how I want to fill my days. I want to research and write. I want to speak. I want to teach. I want to travel and think critically and be challenged by my peers to look deeply into the nature of things. I want to do this as part of a community which pushes me, but also supports me and encourages me onward.
Hopefully this day will always feel like it does today: like yet-another stepping stone toward my future goals and my successful career. Like another affirmation that this is where I belong, in these centers of learning and of meaningful work.
Tonight, I feel a sense that I have done what I set out to do. I have passed the last major hurdle before graduating with a Master's degree and then heading off for another year of study in Ireland. I've got my work laid out for me, but it feels as though the task is clear.
Look out, world. I have arrived.
May 22, 2012 - 8:15 PM
For the past two days, I have been on the Oregon coast in Newport with my mom. We've been staying at a beautiful little seaside condo which is a loan from a friend, and we've been making the most of our time. Instead of feeling a sense of impending doom or panic in relation to my upcoming thesis defense (just a few hours now!) I feel a strange but powerful sense of calm. The ocean is crashing outside, and tomorrow I defend my thesis. It all feels under control.
Yesterday morning I did a practice presentation for the geography writing group I'm a part of. This whole year I have felt so supported and encouraged by this group of PhD students who get together once a week and take turns having their work edited and critiqued. I have learned so much by being part of their processes and seeing how they work through their project proposals, grant writing, and dissertation work. And I've had the opportunity of hearing their feedback on my own work, which has absolutely informed the way I write and how I think about my thesis. So on Monday I had the great opportunity to do a practice run of my thesis defense for the writing group, and invited my mom to come as well.
Now I'm thinking through my presentation again, and understand which pieces are the most compelling and what stories to tell. I've tightened my introduction and changed my conclusion completely. Things are ready for tomorrow. At least, I hope they are.
So I've spent the last day and a half wandering around in the beauty of the Oregon coast. This is an incredibly beautiful place I've lived for the past five and a half years: a place which has absolutely captured my heart and my imagination. This coast is not a place to dip your toes and spread out a towel to lounge. The Oregon coast is wild and desolate and living and beautiful. It is a place where the waves truly crash, and where rocky cliffs dominate the land-side of the beach walking experience. It is the kind of place where you feel you have reached the end of the known world and are looking out into a vast unknown.
This is one of my favorite places on earth.
Mom and I have walked on the beach, played cards in the condo, eaten delicious food, shopped for some presents for friends, and generally have enjoyed wandering around enjoying the beauty of this place. It has been a lovely interlude after the intense work of the last weeks, and the major event which will happen tomorrow.
It's strange to think that tomorrow in the early morning I will take my leave of the Pacific Ocean for at least fifteen months. Perhaps an ocean should be an ocean, and I shouldn't bemoan my luck if I'm going to be living alongside the Atlantic and the dramatic Irish coasts for a year. I'm the luckiest girl in the world, after all. But there is a strong sense of regret as I'm preparing to leave tomorrow: this is the end of an era, which I'm marking both with leave-takings and with this final chapter of this phase of my academic career.
I cannot imagine a better setting, nor a better time. So farewell to the coast, and bring on the morning! It's time to launch, full speed ahead.
Wish me luck!
May 11, 2012 - 6:52 PM
At long last, ladies and gentlemen, I have submitted the draft of my Master's Thesis!
What lies ahead is another couple of weeks of work on this massive project: my Thesis Defense is May 23rd, after which I will still have some edits and formatting to wrap up. But after these past weeks of frantic work on this massive project, I can finally and officially announce the writing portion of this project complete.
My title is "The Consequences of the American Dream: Structural Violence and Honduran Migration to the United States."
Catchy, isn't it?
Two years ago, I was blogging about wrapping up my undergraduate thesis. I wrote about the agonizing process, and the isolation that comes from writing day after day by yourself, and the desperate drive to get the pages written, and then to make the writing solid and the arguments coherent. It's a massive process from start to finish: research, outlining, seeking advice from faculty advisers, and then the writing, writing, writing and editing, editing, editing.
Now, at long last, the draft is done. And it's something I'm proud of. It's not perfect, but it is a solid document and a good piece of academic work. My research is interesting and my writing is clear. I am proud of what I've done so far.
At least, that's how I feel today.
In two weeks, I have to present, hear critique, and then make the final adjustments. I know going in that there will be hard questions asked, and that I will finish the process knowing that more could be done. That's the nature of the beast: there is always more to be done. But for now, and for this portion of my thesis journey, I declare victory.
I also believe that I have done justice to the stories my interviewees shared while I was researching in Honduras. They offered me so much in terms of their lives and experiences, and with their personal opinions and insights. They welcomed me and gave so much of time and stories. They trusted that I would take what they taught me and that I would turn it into something meaningful.
I am not finished.
The stories they told me will haunt me for a long, long time. I cannot leave them behind, and feel tied to this way of understanding human suffering: that it is often the result of structured inequalities in this world, and that I have lived as the beneficiary while these people have suffered in pursuit of what was given to me freely. I want to understand fully how this happens, and how we build our lives to ignore this fact. To be a self-examined human being, I hope to spend my life pursuing these stories and then honoring those who tell them.
So I haven't finished what I start this summer in Honduras. There is work to be done and stories yet to be told.
But when I turned in my thesis today, I did feel a sense of lightening. This work does justice to those stories, and honors their tellers. My work is not done, but it is well begun.
Well begun. And with the submission of this thesis defense draft, I can also see the final days of my time in Eugene rapidly drawing to a close.
The draft is done! Time to take a deep breath, and then plunge back in.