April 23, 2010


It was not equanimity that kept my tongue between my teeth at my thesis committee meeting on Thursday. No, it was pure dissociative self-preservation. They took a good half hour dithering amongst themselves before they invited me in. While waiting, I tried to meditate, but after a few minutes thought “screw that,” and went to get something to work on. When they finally called me in, I sat quietly while they offered their opinions. It must have surprised them, because they kept looking at me as though expecting a response. When they finally ran down, I only wanted to know one thing:

“Do you want me to make these revisions and graduate in August?”

They dithered some more. They kicked me out and came up with a schedule. If I’d been in the room, I could have told them not to bother. When I was allowed back in, they went through this schedule that, so far as I can tell, had no basis in reality and then asked me what I thought.

“If you want me to make the revisions, I’ll have to graduate in August.”

More dithering. A few half-hearted recriminations I quickly sought to diffuse. Then and there they served no purpose.

“At this point, I’m not invested in the outcome,” I told them. “I just want to know if you want me to make the revisions and graduate in August?” I tried to lighten the mood.

Yes, they finally agreed. So be it. We parted with an appointment in a little over a week to discuss the schedule.

Yet as the day wore on and continues into today, I must admit to myself: I am angry. Specifically, I am angry with them. Normally, I am angry at situations, frustrated with circumstances in the knowledge I have contributed to them as much as anyone else. But this time, I’m just angry at them for failing me.

“It’s their fault for not ensuring you were on track and understood their expectations,” another faculty member confirmed. I don’t know if this validation helps or hurts.

In the end, it came down to a complete lack of communication from my committee regarding their expectations for the final thesis book.

“Normally we get these four weeks in advance,” they stated.

“Four weeks!? I don’t recall ever reading or being told that.”

“Well, it’s in the information packet.”

I checked. I found no reference to this deadline in any of the information I have or any of the pamphlets and memos kept in the office. I sought to lay down the facts – I didn’t know, it doesn’t matter how, and we need to move forward. When in truth I wanted to demand: “So why didn’t you mention this four weeks ago when you oh-so-obviously did not receive a draft to review or any of the every-single-days you’ve seen me in between now and then? How hard would it have been two months ago to say ‘Oh, Monica, you know we need your book draft four weeks in advance, right?’” That could have saved us this most recent drama.

But there was no communication regarding such deadlines. Likewise there was no communication regarding their expectations for the final product. Early on I looked at the two books of the graduates from the year before and mine is comparable.

“Did you really think two days was long enough for us to review the final document?” they asked.

“Well, considering everything in it, with the exception of four or five pages, is all documents you should have already read, images you should have already seen, and in some cases have had months or years to comment on - Yes. That’s really not a good question, because if I didn’t think it was okay, I wouldn’t have done it.”

In the end they determined my thesis narrative was not developed to their satisfaction. I fear even after another several weeks work, it will not be, because my definition of satisfactory is somewhat different from their definition. They have already pointed out several things they believe the document lacks that I know for a fact it contains. I am only willing to compromise so much of my own judgment on what is, essentially, my project.

Yet now I am left with this anger – an emotion I have always abhorred as useless and destructive. Worse, I feel entirely justified in my anger. I do not see this as my failure. I see it very clearly as theirs, yet I am to be punished for it and must now work to rectify the error.

I try to move beyond this frustration, let go of the past, dwell in the present, and prepare for the future. But let’s face it – I’m pissed off. I don’t feel like yelling or throwing things, but I do feel the muscles of my face constantly trying to pull down into a scowl.

I once read in a book by Gehlek Rinpoche that patience is the antidote for anger. So, I can only sit around and wait for this emotion to subside, all the while trying to ensure it doesn’t splash onto some unwitting bystander. At the moment, that seems to be an entirely unsatisfactory solution. Yet I don’t feel particularly like medicating with alcohol or chocolate or shopping or any one of the other neurotic coping mechanisms our culture commonly pursues.

Part of me wants to run away, go to the Sand Hills or the mountains. I feel like if I could just sit in the sun and listen to the wind and look out on a vista utterly devoid of human intervention for even so much as an hour, somehow, magically, things would be better. Maybe they would, or maybe not.

I took last night off, stayed in, and watched television. The thing that cheered me up the most is my cat. She’s such a funny little thing. She doesn’t care if I had a bad day. She still wants affection and lap-time and fighting. I wish I had a dog. We could have gone for a long, exhausting walk.

I think that’s the common thing. It helps to be somewhere or with something that simply doesn’t care how pissed off I am. The Sand Hills don’t care. The cat doesn’t care. And somehow that makes me feel immeasurably better. I don’t need someone or something that validates or reinforces this emotion. Attention, feeling big or important, doesn’t help. Being ignored, feeling insignificant, helps.

Which is ironic, because being ignored is precisely where this started. No one considered that as a student who’s never done this before I might not psychically know how things should be done.

I lied when I told them I wasn’t invested in the outcome. I am, but I was trying very hard not to be because I knew I couldn’t afford it. Getting into a fight then and there would have served no purpose. Just like there’s no real purpose to being angry now.

This anger is storyline I keep trying to cut, but in the end, I guess all I can do is put it down and hope it’ll fade away.


Anonymous said...

Last night I got unexpectedly laid off at work, a rude shock to the system. This morning I read your post. Serendipity strikes again, I suppose. I can sympathize with your anger. I'm feeling exactly the same: put upon, abandoned, treated shabbily. What to do with this anger? I don't want to feel it. Thank you for writing what you did when you did. I think for now I'll do as you suggest you're going to do: sit and watch the anger and see what happens to it, totally divorced from the circumstances that produced it or the response to those circumstances that I now need to consider. It's the mixing of the two, the anger and the external reality, that leads to further problems, I think.

John said...

I have had professors do exactly the same thing to me--tho never with so much on the line. They can't keep track of what they have or have not said to their various students. Even worse, with a committee of professors, they may each have assumed one of the others had "taken care of" this or that essential communication.
The very idea of a "committee of professors" has "fiasco" written all over it.

Take care. : )