August 14, 2011

The Ghost of Thesis Past


The problem with pursuing a master’s degree in a field that you’re interested in but not dedicated to is that you can make it through most of the program with relatively few hitches, but then, when it comes time to write your master’s thesis, you find that you just don’t even care anymore what you should write about.

Well, ok, maybe that’s not entirely true.  Maybe I exaggerate slightly.  Maybe I’m lying outright simply because I want your sympathy.  I’ll let you decide.  :)

See, for those of you unfamiliar with my seminary saga, this isn’t my first attempt at a thesis experience.  A couple years ago, before my hiatus from extracurricular academia, I was at the same thesis research stage that I’m at now. 

Better, in fact, because I had a topic that I was excited about.  I was going to dig deep into Hell and Christus Victor and descensus ad inferos (vs. descensus ad inferna), and it was going to be this remarkable, ground-breaking study that would find its parallels with such works as Piers Plowman and Dante’s Inferno and, last but by no means least, Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell. 

Oh, I’m not kidding: from the moment I began my seminary study, I knew where I was heading.  I knew what my thesis was going to be centered around, and even though a master’s in Biblical Literature/Judaic-Christian Studies wasn’t exactly a master’s in Medieval Literature, it was going to be good.  It was going to connect.  It was going to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal in my academic present.  I couldn’t wait.

And then life…happened.

And then there was no room in my mind for pondering the mysteries of the Resurrection—or, more precisely, what came before it.  It was too much.  I broke.

And the topic broke along with me.

Time heals many wounds—a fact for which I remain increasingly grateful.  But just as Tolkien’s Frodo would never fully heal from the wound bestowed by a Morgul blade, my thesis topic also seems destined to only exist in its transformed, more wraith-like state.  It doesn’t work anymore.   It doesn’t look the same to me.  I think about it, and I get overwhelmed, and it’s like the ghost of a couple years ago comes back and causes me lose focus.

And it’s easy to come up with excuses not to be focused.  I have responsibilities, a department to keep on track.  People who need me…people who need things from me.  Constant emails.  Demands everywhere, and none of them joyfully academic in nature.

But regardless of any of that, tomorrow, I’ll head into that class as a student, and the associate dean over my college will ask me to share what it is that I think I’ll be researching for my thesis.  And I don’t have a clue how to answer that question—at all.

Part of me wants to play the game some people play when they want an answer from God and aren’t willing to wait for it.  They pull out their Bible, let it fall open to a random page, close their eyes, point blindly to a spot of the page, and voila!  There is the answer (whether it makes sense or not!).

Would it be so bad to select a thesis topic that way?  Close my eyes and point?  Or the modern technologically savvy equivalent: Google “the Bible” and click on “I’m Feeling Lucky”?

[Speaking of lying outright so as to get sympathy, which of course you’re still wondering about, I’ve been re-watching LOST, and I find Ben Linus to be increasingly fascinating, because he does that very same thing.  He’s constantly working a story to his angle, but of course, since none of us are inside his head, we never really know when he’s telling the truth and when he’s lying, except when something comes to light later, but then not everything does, and I realize this is a terribly constructed run-on sentence quite off-topic from the rest of this post, but it’s so frustrating to realize that there are things he says that we’re never going to be able to verify—so do you just base everything you believe off the hope that what he says is true, or do you approach it all as a skeptic and never really believe anything?]

I went off topic, but in a sense, I didn’t.  If you follow, I’m impressed.

I guess the bottom line here is that I feel a bit lost myself when it comes to this thesis stuff.   And…I don’t know.   I guess I’m still waiting for someone to tell me that I jumped sideways and that the stuff that’s real already happened.

But I’m pretty sure that motif only works in television.

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