I finally submitted my project today. It's strange to think that it's gone. I thought I had to print it, so I did, but apparently I only had to send an electronic copy to my advisor. So now I have a copy.
This project has spanned some of the most frightening events of my life. Over the expanse of this project, I have lost friends, my marriage has suffered irreparable damage, and I have grown less comfortable with my place in life than I ever have before. I leave this project an admitted social and personal mess.
Fortunately, it's done. I have a week-long, take-home exam/essay later in the month, but that will be a relative cakewalk when compared to this beast of a brainbender. I was never made to write APA research projects; I hope to never do it again.
As I articulated yesterday to a French backpacker at a Starbucks in downtown Victoria, I hope that I can now start to vomit forth songs again, that my creative juices can thrive again in the fury of relationships. But I'm not counting on it.
To celebrate, I ate some food. I then went downtown and got some film I'd developed. I played a an acoustic guitar I particularly enjoyed. And that's about it.
If I hope to treat myself to anything when I'm done, I think I'll get the new Cars anthology. No band appeals to my nerdy awkwardness like The Cars do. After all this shit, I could sure use some electronic rock affirmation.
It's Easter morning at my parents' house. I'm a little anxious as they get ready for the day. Later on, my children will run around and collect Easter eggs in the back yard. Right now I'm kind-of waiting for them to go to church.
There are very few things I miss about attending church. I didn't like most of the people; I didn't like putting on a show; I didn't like the gossip-in-the-name-of-spiritual-health. However, I miss getting to play music to an audience every week; I miss having a place to meet people and make friends; I miss spontaneous getogethers started from some church service or activity. Overall, I'm glad to have left it behind me.
But here, this morning, I'm getting an important reminder of why I've been glad to leave church behind me: time. Church took an enormous amount of time out of my day, out of my weekends, out of my Sundays. It sure feels good to get to use my Sundays as I wish.
Church is an odd beast because it is treated like the pinnicle of spiritual devotion, as the most obvious sign that you're on the right track, or at least trying, to be a good Christian. Even if your life is a mess, as long as people see your face in their community every Sunday, they'll be able to believe that you're on their team.
However, church is boring and artificial. It's easy to attend church when you're not really into it. It's easy to hold on to a community even when you have nothing in common with them. And as an artificial entity full of people putting on a show, it needs to maintain itself.
That's where "para-church" organizations—summer camps, youth groups, college Christian clubs—come in. They're often created under the guise that they will bring people into the faith or keep people involved when they're away from home. I took part in oodles of them growing up: Young Life, IVCF, a summer camp. They were certainly a force that helped keep me connected with "the fold." They did their job. Sort-of.
The problem with these para-church organizations is that they are far more organic and effective than church itself is. The summer camp where I worked from 1996-2001 regularly reminded us to make sure we told campers that church wasn't as fun as camp, but it was very important; when I was part of IVCF at UVic 2001-2003, we were regularly told that we were there to "support the local churches" and that people shouldn't treat IVCF as a church replacement. However, the Christianity at camp made sense at camp, but didn't really make sense in the real world; the Christianity at IVCF was a group based around peers of activity (students) and age bracket, so it was far more relevant than any church service could be.
Perhaps it might have been different if I was ever a large-church attendee. But apart from attending The Place, which took place on Sunday nights, I was always a small-church person. I felt comfortable in small churches because I could be both cagey and private. Perhaps if I attended a larger church, I would have been surrounded by more beautiful women or more fun people. But I didn't, so church could never hold a candle to the joys of para-church activities with my bona fide peers.
Not to mention, these organizations always had activities that were far more convenient than any sort of church service. They took place on Friday nights... like at times when you might go on a date, and they'd end early enough to go do other things. But a Sunday morning service? No way. You have to get up on Sunday morning, wait for the service to start, and by the time you get home, half your day is done.
At least that's how it felt to me.
When I moved out on my own, it was easy to skip church because I lost most of my contact with those organizations. And since the local churches were filled with people who were "not my people," their pulls' artificiality hit harder than it had before.
As I see people getting ready for church, it reminds me of how much I didn't fit in to that context, how much time I tried to spend being a good Christian when really I was something else. I was an unawares agnostic who simply hadn't the guts to admit to his atheism.
And I'm sure glad to get to choose what to do with my Sunday mornings now. And I can skip the tedious special services, like the Easter service, which was invariably the same as any other Easter service. Sure feels good.
On Thursday evening, I attended a little conversation/meetup where people discussed "Balance." In that context, we talked about how to keep our lives balanced/keep balance in our lives despite the many different pressures we face from self, relationships, work, and family. Many people echoed the sorts of things I've been learning from Nonviolent Communication, my readings about trauma, as well as my work with counsellors and a psychologist. It felt good to hear how other people deal with balance in their own lives, especially since I feel as if I've done a terrible job at keeping balance in my own life.
As I listened, I thought a little about choice and agency, and I suggested that I feel balanced when I feel I have the agency to say "yes" or "no" to a given situation. It's hard to feel balanced when somebody or something forces my hand, so agency, as a measure of balance, made sense to me. The conversation bounced around on the "agency" theme for a bit and people fleshed it out far better than I ever could.
At some point, one group member mentioned Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. I perked up because I'm quite familiar with the model from University and because I've used it in a few different contexts over the years. When we tried homeschooling our eldest daughter in kindergarten, for example, we had her make her own hierarchy of what her values were, based on the pyramid. I, for one, have no interest in ever using models the way they're supposed to be used, so applying the Hierarchy to kindergarten or to overall life "balance" is perfectly acceptable to me, as long as it sort-of works.
And I got a little bit of a brainstorm, something obvious I'd never considered before: Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs is shaped like a pyramid for a reason: The larger section at the bottom holds the rest of it up. The upper portions don't need to be so big, but they need a solid foundation for support. If something gets taken out of the lower sections, the upper sections will suffer; if something gets taken out of the upper sections, parts of the lower section aren't doing as much work as they could. And a poorly designed pyramid can lead to ugly results, like what happened to the Bent Pyramid at Dashur.
I remember a professor suggesting to me that Maslow did not think everybody could get to the top of the pyramid, to the level of self-actualization. I, however, think we can all get there in our own ways and that it's hard to have a healthy, balanced life if we don't have access to at least part of the tip of the pyramid. A person who can't self-actualize, in my opinion, will feel incomplete.
So if I treat the Maslow Pyramid as a picture of the complete self, as a "whole" person, we can squeeze lots of things into our personal needs pyramids. Some relationships might take part in all the levels, and some might just fit into one of the levels. What matters is that we don't either undermine our support by taking a bite out of a lower level, or trying to squeeze so much into an upper level that the lower levels can't support it. Balance, baby.
But the idea of taking bites out of the pyramid also got me thinking about something else: Jenga. Jenga is a balancing game as well. Let's say we're each a Jenga tower. As stresses hit our lives, we can easily "take a block from the bottom and put it on top." This is normative: it's rare to not have a few stresses here and there; it's boring to have a complete, hole-less Jenga tower. However, the higher our Jenga tower is, the more holes it has, the less balanced it is, the more likely it is to topple over. A tall, hole-y Jenga tower might stand tall, but it's more likely to topple, either when the wrong block gets removed, or when an outside force shakes it.
In my Jenga metaphor, we aim to be as balanced as possible, so I have to stray from traditional Jenga rules a little: when a stress passes by, you can take blocks from the top and put them back into the bottom. For example. within the next week I might b able to put some of the "Master's Project" blocks from the top of my tower back to the bottom. I will likely feel more balanced when that Master's project isn't on my plate anymore.
It's unlikely that you'll ever have a stress-free life, so you'll always have a few holes in the tower and a few blocks on top. I like this metaphor because it doesn't necessarily prioritize as much as the Maslow one does.
Neither are perfect metaphors, but I look forward to playing with them a little.
Here are the two ugly diagrams I made for my notes while I was listening:
Obviously, those diagrams suck and don't really say anything. But when I get back over to the Mainland, maybe I'll make a video with Jenga blocks.
As a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, it's hard not to be excited about William Nylander.
Gotta' love the forward scoring from the point. Very nice.
I am looking forward to being finished this Master's; all the joy that academia has given me over the years has faded into futility and frustration. However, over my Master's I've been drawn to a few academic papers despite my disillusionment. I'll share a couple of them here today.
I won't mind returning to either of these are papers even after I take a break from my life as an attempted academic.
INTERESTING ACADEMIC PAPER #1: Does the 'New Economy' Measure up to the Great Inventions of the past? (Gordon 2000)
Today, after listening to the most recent episode of Freakonomics, I found my way to Robert J. Gordon's "Does the 'New Economy' Measure up to the Great Inventions of the past?" It's long and I haven't read it in detail, but it's nonetheless readable and full of little nuggets of insight and interesting data.
I appreciate how Gordon takes the time to question the Internet's self-importance. Just because something is more technological doesn't necessarily mean it's more influential. Here's one of my favorite passages:
I'm looking forward to replacing my smartphone, but I know that they've only had tweaks here and there since the iPhone, and really they're just computers you can carry around. Although the online economy has made some things more convenient, we still need shipping, drainage, and sanitation. The online economy is an extraneous one and I appreciate the way Gordon has questioned it.
INTERESTING ACADEMIC PAPER #2: The Specific Challenges of Globalization for Teaching and Vice Versa (Smith 2000)
David Geoffrey's Smith's "The Specific Challenges of GLobalization for Teaching and Vice Versa" describes the alienation teachers feel as they are pressured to fill out various mandates in the name of progress. I think Smith does a good job at pointing out how many of the advances we perceive in education are merely the colonization of education by corporate values.
Here's my favorite passage:
I'm still editing my paper, so I don't want to use up much more brainspace for this blog, but there's a little food for thought, a couple passages that perked my brain towards new ways of thinking.
The Internet Archive
YouTube: ephemeral ideas