PhD derailed and a Small New Assignment… a recent short history.

Recording this story is partially for my friends in Australia, and also for my own sanity. I can’t believe my life is just so – hilarious – I genuinely don’t know how I got here…

Yesterday, Tim did an impromptu overview of his last five minutes. I think it was in response to my query, “what are you doing with those socks?” … but I was caught off guard at a general need for recent histories. It made me desire to write one…

The last months have been hectic, to say the least. At the farthest point I can actually remember, we were in Australia, doing three cities in five weeks. Not that this was bad – in fact it was exciting to finally be home. Of course, I had ten textbooks with me which made the fun-ness fade; and also, I’ve noticed, once I hit the six week mark traveling, I’m done. I implode. I first found this out in Prague during our belated honeymoon. So, my inner self packed its suitcase, and had an outright tantrum when we returned to Orange County and I realized my house was no longer in Pasadena, or Sydney, for that matter – and I didn’t know what my front door key looked like. It was really just a result of breaking my own six week rule, and it wasn’t pretty.

Well, my inner self managed to hold it together enough for five days in Orange County. Just. And mainly that was because we still had boxes to unpack after our move. But I had committed to travel to Calvin Institute in Grand Rapids. Where, simultaneously to attending the conference on Worship and Globalization, I attempted to write a chapter on the indigenous communities I had visited in Australia. This was a joy, but also somewhat daunting, as I knew that doing justice to what I had witnessed was central to cheering my inner self, and convincing it that all this dislocation was worth it. During the day sessions, my inner grump spent most of its time telling academics who disliked Pentecostals that really they weren’t that bad. And at night, it refused to write, no matter how I cajoled it… so I transcribed interviews and let it eat popcorn and watch Netflix, and be just the most annoying inner self on the planet, because I couldn’t get away.

However, of course, I knew the conference was actually a diversion from ‘real’ life – the main aim of which is completing my PhD. However, in an act of either utter madness or incredible brilliance, I had unhinged my PhD from the secure and somewhat plausible discipline of Ethnomusicology and launched it off into the Great Unknown of Development Studies…

Thus, with the excitement of flying back through Chicago (you still get to pin a city if you’re watching men in suits drink at jazz bars in the airport, right?), there was a growing small dread of facing a new supervisor, and rewriting my new first year summary proposal.

Which did happen, thank goodness, despite the trepidation of inner self. The one thing that is sure is that if you keep living, eventually fears turn into memories… and Bryant is perhaps the wisest sage to be supervised by. Anyways, so I ended up going in with vague ideas (not a good idea for PhD meetings), and I came out with an instruction written on my white piece of paper… “to do: map Identity Studies”.

Okaaaaayyy… well, identity studies is the burgeoning field of interest at the moment. Which is why some academics have declared it no longer useful as a concept, and are off in search of a new great term to describe what we’re talking about. Well, I read like a lunatic. I developed a cure for my fear of Sociology and mapped the linguistic turn, the narrative turn, and any piece of literature I could to explain identity. My inner self was empowered by a mission, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Meanwhile, the overdue chapter needed to be written, and so I poured the rest of my energy into turning these transcripts into something worth writing. Something that would allow me to esteem the Aboriginal Christians I had met, and their transparent gazes, deep grief and breathtakingly funny sense of humor… and, on Friday, I managed to shoot out of my inbox an attachment, with a firm belief that it would become something. Perhaps not what I intended at first, but something.

This was clearly the beginning of the end of the transience, my inner self thought. It felt empowered. There was only one more meeting scheduled – with Bryant my supervisor to report on my map of identity studies. I sent this document to my PhD classmate, Mike Karim, who is known to read Margaret Archer for fun. Let’s just say that Margaret Archer is the epitome of my fears of Sociology. In between dentistry appointments, Mike looked at my mindmap and shot me a text “me thinks perhaps you have over-read“. Good, my inner self thought – it is not possible to find a chink in this armour, and I will be in second year in no time. It nervously walked down Fuller’s main campus under the trees and into the offices.

Bryant said nothing. He leaned back in his chair ready to hear my overview of identity studies. I presented a summary of my findings, outlining how two edges of the identity literature mislead people to believe they had mastered the field while simultaneously ignoring the other half. I talked about identity politics, and the dramaturgical, and the narrative turn. My inner self was in its element, describing its thoughts in vivid detail with a caveat for my limited research period. He wasn’t looking unimpressed, my inner self noted, but, unfortunately, he wasn’t exactly impressed either.

“I’ve been thinking”, Bryant said “I figured that if I was going to get you to read this stuff, that I should read it too. And I was at the beach yesterday”

My inner self here pricked its ears up. The beach. I hadn’t been to the beach properly in over a year and a half. Primarily due to the stack of books that I had been consuming in the hopes of completing a PhD program that I dimly remember signing up for.

“And, I’ve been thinking”, Bryant continued. “The question we really need to answer is ‘what does it mean to be human?”

My inner self blacked out at this point, and I walked it back to the chapel offices where we attempted to program Fuller’s 2012 inaugural worship services. I went out for a burger last night, and this morning I’ve mainly just instagrammed and watched tattoo-ed people in Fullerton. I’ve started up another mind mapping document… and I’ve been thinking, you know, I’m actually pretty privileged to be able to sit in a Vintage American suburb and ponder existential questions. I think my inner self might have died from a lack of achieving its life goals, but I’ve spent the morning perusing French fabric shops and eating organic sandwiches in preparation of my new assignment. If anyone has any ideas on what it is to be human, please let me know!

4 thoughts on “PhD derailed and a Small New Assignment… a recent short history.

  1. Hi Tanya! I’m just catching up with old blog posts and after reading this one, I’m a bit out of breath. That’s a lot of activity in one summer! I wish I could say I read as voraciously as you did, but I resolved (and was successful at) to read nothing but the Hunger Games and a book by an old psychiatrist that reads more like Henri Nouwen than published research.
    It seems like our interests are kind of aligning. I’m quite ignorant of what I want to study (in narrative psychology, with particular focus on cultural narrative) and I was wondering if you might share your map with me? I need to know where I need to read next. Or if you have book suggestions that you found especially helpful, I’d be just as glad.
    I personally found the work of a research psychologist at Northwestern in Chicago extremely enlightening. Look up Dan McAdams and books like “The Redemptive Self” and “Stories We Live By.” It’s quite accessible stuff for non-psychologists– like me! I also found “After Virtue” by Alasdair MacIntyre helpful. I read a little of Hauerwas too– he seems a giant in narrative theology– in “Why Narrative.”
    Anyway, I’d love to hear more. Email me on Fuller email so we can exchange ideas! 🙂

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