Thursday, October 08, 2009

488. Vic's Strange Days on Planet Earth... Resolving a Very Ancient, Tangled Knot

December 8, 2009. Today is a certainly a day worth blogging about. I have been carrying with me some very deep-seeded anxiety and fear in regards to a relationship with a potential Ph.D. committee member at UC Santa Barbara, and somehow all of this anxiety had been released through a great conversation... and some third party help....

I had not been productive in the morning. I was trying to adapt my novella The Mountain's Last Flower (MLF) into a stage play, but my mind kept swirling in out of control thoughts. For some reason, I felt like I was walking toward my deathbed. I was figuratively ready to commit suicide--just figurative folks, FIGURATIVE! I really felt like I was venturing into a black box. I had not interacted with this professor since June, and it's now December! I was supposed to meet with him in July... never happened... I was in the Road Trip Nation spirit of I can do whatever the hxll I want with my life. I should choose the people I desire to be around... life's too short to create problems that don't need to exist. And then the beginning of fall quarter, all I did was romp around and find a whole fall-back committee before I returned to this professor.... I honestly thought the meeting was going to be short and sweet and it was going to be about "I think out of my own best interest, it's good to have a marine natural scientist" which implied the whole "I don't want you on my committee." But then, after walking out of the meeting (yes, I did survive!), I came to realize that this wasn't the problem at all.... The problem had to be addressed and resolved in an informal transaction, an informal agreement in code of conduct....

Okay, so back to the drama! I was driving in from Ventura and as soon as I was considering to do a quick jog, I receive a strange phone call. The meeting was at ONE pm!!! It's 1:24 pm. OH SHXT! I honestly and sincerely thought it was at 2pm for the last week. I think that my biopsy and scalp-mole appointments really screwed me up in terms of scheduling and my overall perception of time. The STAGE competition's not helping either.... The graduate advisor put me on phone hold and then she said just come on down... don't worry, stay composed. I had all these negative, pessimistic thoughts, these doomsday disaster thoughts... the very thoughts that partly fueled the novella MLF. But then I thought about all the people behind me. I thought about how my dad and mom loved me... and my sister... and Jules and Shannon and Oscar and Hector and my housematies and then I thought how Randy might consider this scene to be perfect for the next hilarious film and I thought how Jorge Cham might make a cartoon out of the meeting and then I just felt like I had this whole social sphere of people who would still love me no matter what happened at this meeting that I felt... I wasn't alone... though I didn't feel any better. It was a chronic disease of endlessly swirling pessimistic thoughts, as if I were stuck in a prison cell... and the prison cell was ironically inside a university....

I arrived to the graduate advisor's office and she was cool with me. I thought that I pissed off everyone at Bren because I was late and screwed up with the timing, but it seemed like no one really minded... it rolled off their sleeves... but still I feel ashamed. That was totally unprofessional in my part. But heck, what the hoo haa, I'm an absent-minded science-artist-a-masomething-or-other so slipping of thought with appointments is... well... may be a sporadic problem in my life....

So, we go into the professor's office, just the three of us... and I tried to start talking, fumble, fumble, fumble... I was going straight for the meat... but then the professor piped in and showed us some beautiful posters of landscapes found in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A few representatives visited to school to establish relationships... maybe future masters group projects and future employment of students.... Well, that's always a good gig. Who's hiring nowadays anyways? I didn't know the BLM actually owned sea rocks. Like those rocks that stick out of the ocean like along the Oregon coastline? I thought it was owned by the birds, because they certainly put their marks on them. Guano rocks I do call them.... So the birds and BLM own the rocks, I'll be!

And then the prof asked the "magic question" of "How are things going?" Which is just a wonderful diversion from the point... and then I just rattled off about MLF and the MLPA process and writing and Roadtrip Nation and AAAS Pacific Division and UCSB's STAGE and key features of my life from June to December and that was a lot of fun to discuss. He's the first academic person I told about the STAGE competition... and my participation in it.... So now that I told someone potentially on my committee... I feel a lot more obligated to participate... and do a VERY GOOD JOB!

I think one of the most interesting things we talked about was about the MEDIA'S representation of reality. And what is my role in the spectrum of multi-media storytelling? The basic issue is that media representation of the southern California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process in my opinion has been very fragmented, choppy, and overall disorganized... including sensationalizing the very WRONG and INSIGNIFICANT things. The case in point is at the last Blue Ribbon Task Force (BRTF) meeting... November 10, I think... there were major journalists and photographers from the southern California region (I even was able to speak to some of them!), and I discovered a day or two after the meeting that over 50% of the news articles used the hook of a pseudo-wanna-be-fist-fight quibble of two minor audience members (not major Regional Stakeholers) that lasted a couple of minutes around 11 am in the morning... and it seemed like they totally ignored the notion that there were 300 and more people sitting in the room for over 8 hours, peacefully participating and negotiating toward the end goal of an Integrated Preferred Alternative for marine reserves. It seemed like none of the news sources focused on the notion that after a year's worth of labors, the fisheries representatives walked out of the room NOT pissed off, no one seemed pissed off. And that all the fisheries reps and I-team staff and conservation reps and scientists meandered off to the bar afterwards and sat down and all schmoozed amongst each other with some alcohol to pacify their brains before they drove home. I thought the bar scene was epic. The journalists didn't pick up on that. I guess they don't see "THE LACK OF CONTROVERSY" or "PEACEFUL NEGOTIATION" as "REAL NEWS." No, they want to see fist fights and blood and guts and name-calling, mudslinging. My gosh, if they wanted to see conflict, the journalists should have been loyal, sticking around for the whole year, because they would have found incredibly rich conflict of values and ideologies inside each and every single stakeholder.... For example, fisheries groups having to grapple with the compromise of conservation with socioeconomics in a very major internal ways.... So, besides my dad wildfire ecology research, this MLPA situation has really made me come to realize the sickening state of media reporting. But the prof mentioned how some media sources do have credibility... The Economist, Scientific America, Discover, to name a few.... I said flat out that in the spectrum of multi-media storytelling, I can't be an ADHD journalist just filling up space on a paper and only committing to a project for two hours. I think having a long term perspective, such as my involvement in the MLPA process... is vital to representing a truth that is very difficult to capture in a 700-word slapped-together newspaper article.

So, I'm not sure whether all of this was necessary, the answering of the golden "How's it going?" question... was I beating around the bush? Or was it a necessary way to ease into getting to the point, versus going cold turkey to the meat. Anyhow, that's where it ended up. The Committee Issue. That's where I started to stumble again.... So, I am choosing a committee... and throughout the summer and this quarter I have received so much academic and stakeholder support for this MLPA documentary that I thought it's probably a really good idea to have a marine scientist on my committee. This prof is more biogeochemistry / remote sensing. And the second issue is, I came to realize that the people on my committee I need to be "100% open" with. At first the professor read this comment as this: "Your Ph.D. committee members can't be your 'friends.' It's a professional relationship and they can help ease you out into the real world." But that was not what I meant. What I meant was that since I am pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental media, I am generating narrative stories. One rule of science and scientific writing is that you do NOT express any overt emotions in the writing. But the fundamental drivers of narrative (and art in general) is emotions and visceral motivations. So, in order for me to function as a graduate student, I will need a committee who will allow me to put my EMOTIONS on the table, not just my logic. I will need committee members to acknowledge that I have this very sensitive, fragile ego that can easily get smashed, and that if it does get smashed or confined in any way that I will not be able to function and generate the work in order to achieve what I need to achieve for a Ph.D. So, I need committee members to be okay with that. And I need committee members to be supportive and constructively critical, not pessimistic and antagonistic. The professor acknowledged this notion right away, and mentioned it was well put: (1) for a committee, you need people who are the "best of expertise in certain fields," (2) but in addition, you need committee members to provide a supportive, emotionally stable environment that can promote mental growth and the creation of art.

PERFECT. GREAT. We are on the same page. Whew. It was such a fundamentally simple notion that can be the fundamental assumptions for a new informal contract of interaction, right there. Erase the bad. All the bad. The very bad past. I had to clarify this "bad past" with the professor. I stated that in the beginning our interactions were antagonistic, and I felt were like figurative sword fights [father]. And that this type of relationship actually made me depressed, instilled a great deal of fear, and stifled my creativity. I don't operate under these conditions. The prof acknowledged this as well, but in the beginnings I didn't have much product and he didn't know where I was heading, but now I have a lot of projects behind my back and he has a better sense of where I'm going. And our interactions had improved since this January of 2009.

So, ya, that is where we are at now. We had to end the meeting because the professor had to teach a seminar, and the graduate advisor had to go to another meeting. So... even though my initial goal was to eliminate a prof from my committee... I left feeling confused... softened... and realized that I needed to merely clarify my own psychological needs. Expertise + sensitivity. I'm a flipping female. I'm a softy. Yes, I'm very guilty. I know a lot of science, but my mind's heart is very very very vulnerable. Oh well. So the people on my committee have to know that. Maybe I should have given them a Disclaimer Sheet About Victoria. I think the profs need to do that to. So we can expose our quirks from the get go.

I left and had some anticlimactic moment. I went into the graduate advisor's office and came to realize that this massive entangled knot deep within my mind, my interface of logic and my emotional center... had been fundamentally nearly 100% dissolved... cleared... within a few seconds... maybe a minute. That this tangled knot of negative energy had been released... And now I have a segment of my mind that's freed up to do other things.... Coolio! The prof also suggested that if I needed a little more time to resolve a committee... don't worry about it.

The graduate advisor said that I handled the situation very well... and I felt kind of bad... I hope she was amused by all this quasi-beating-around-the-bush discussion.... The graduate advisor said to think about how "naughty cats get sprayed." Snuff out problems from the start. Don't let them dwell inside you, because then they rot and become overly massive mental tumors. I'll say. I told her that my grandfather died around the same time there was a quibble. I couldn't deal with it, and I took the experience overly personal. Now I know how it feels when life throw too many problems at you all at once, and your mind has no capacity to deal with it all together, and so many problems start to grow like tumors in your head, blocking your capacities to function better. Now I know a little more the life of my grandfather. Too many drastic problems thrown at him all at once. Thankfully the scale of my problems are minor compared to his. I miss you, Ray. It's all good.

I left the Bren parking lot and was surprised I did not receive a parking ticket. Yes, it was a good day. I went jogging in the sunset in Goleta, and I saw a supplemental image to The Mountain's Last Flower, equivalent to the end of one of Calvin and Hobbes books: instead of Calvin and Hobbes in a big hug... even though Heisen and Gonzo had all this antagonism and turmoil in the story, I saw them give each other a big hug. And they smiled and the caption said "Isn't it just all in our heads?" Truce!

Well, now I have one other major PESSIMISM in my head, which will be elucidated in a peacock-bowerbird story.... I started to think that a major part of my Ph.D. will be answering the question "WHY I DO NOT BELONG IN A CREATIVE WRITING DEPARTMENT."

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