Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Top 4.

My top 4 for the month, besides the defense of course.

1 - About a month ago, I purchased a 3-month membership to the Provo Rec Center. It's been fantastic, especially since I've been getting bored with running. I discovered that I love zumba classes even though I'm terrible at dancing. My lack of coordination is spectacular, and I've face planted twice. My sister and I did an aqua zumba class last Thursday, which is perfect for her pregnant-ness. I accidentally kicked her in the butt, and I stepped on her foot.

A few weeks ago, I attended a pilates class. 15 minutes in, however, I thought, "There is no way this is a pilates class." It was actually the P90X workout from hell. I couldn't leave the workout because it would be too conspicuous, so I suffered 55 minutes of agony. The other people in the session practically glistened when they sweat. I looked like I was dunked in a river. They were able to hold conversations comfortably. I sounded like a squeaky toy was lodged in my throat.

2 - Two weeks ago, I attended the Phi Kappa Phi initiation dinner with my parents. Apparently, PKP is the nation's oldest honor society and NOT a virus that crashes your hard drive when you open the "Congratulations!" email. The evening was delightful, and the highlight was the keynote speaker who made so deep an impression that I forget her name. But really, she was funny, authentic, spiritual, and intelligent. She gave practical advice that wasn't riddled in the Mormon cliches that I'm not particularly fond of. My other favorite part was when my parents swapped out poached pears for chocolate cakes from other people's place settings. Instead of the arrangement of cake, pear, cake, pear, cake... my parents made it cake, cake, cake, and dumped the pears on the other side of the table.

3 - BYU hosts an annual English Symposium every year. I presented a paper in the—wait for it—"Graduate Panel." This panel was basically for the papers whose themes didn't fit anything else in the conference. We were the residual dregs of the submission pool. Again, my mom was a sweetheart and came, but I think my presentation interested her. I presented on Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" (it's that Fantasia scene where volcanoes erupt, and dinosaurs die). This paper was extremely fun to write; I loved incorporating the ballet and the score into my research, and I felt like a winner when people were not only awake but chipper during my presentation.

4 - This happened today. When your Electronic Thesis Dissertation is successfully accepted by the Graduate Studies department, you get a chocolate bar, and you ring a fancy bell. This might not seem like a big deal, BUT IT IS. This is like the cherry on top; the amen at the end of a sermon; basically a thumbs-up from Jesus. And I had the pleasure to share this sweet moment with my friend Nicole, who finished her work at the same time. The pictures tell it all.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Thesis = Defended!

I have made it! After almost two years of course work, research, and writing, I have finally defended my thesis for my graduate program. It feels amazing, joyful, surreal, and almost (almost) sad because it's suddenly over.

This semester at BYU (and my last) has been hectic beyond belief. I had a lot of deadlines to meet, and revisions for my thesis were frustrating. After my first revision meeting in January in which my graduate committee critiqued my work, I sat in the girls' bathroom thinking (bathrooms are good for thinking) that my writing was garbage, revision was impossible, and my life was over. (Did I mention that I have a gift for hysterics?)

But my committee gave me perfect feedback, and after working with me for over a year, they knew that I appreciated lots of support and encouragement. They were more than just teachers. They treated me like a scholar who had interesting ideas to contribute, and they gave me life advice as if I was one of their own children. I am so glad that I "proposed" to these professors to aid me in my research.

Revisions went well, actually. At first, the task was daunting. I understood exactly what they wanted me to change in my paper, but I had no idea how to actually fix it. I'm so glad that my dad was able to give me good advice, since he's been through this process many times. To be sure, this was the most stressed I've ever felt during my college career, and I was getting used to going to bed at midnight and waking up at 4:30am to get cracking on my work. But thanks to the grace of God, I still looked remarkably attractive when I went to school, I was relatively cheerful, and I didn't fail any of my students in spite.

The defense was cause for stress (and not the healthy kind). After setting up a date, I worried about the defense incessantly, and I definitely over prepared. I had been studying since January! I had a hard time sleeping, and I seriously dreamed about disaster situations during the exam. Everyone told me that I had nothing to worry about (and they were right, of course). I wish there was a "Don't-Worry-On-Off" switch in my brain.

The two-hour defense was surprisingly delightful. I don't think I ever settled down because I was always anticipating the next question. My palms were constantly sweaty, and I felt my face flushing. One of my committee members tends to pontificate (but not at all in a pompous way), and I think I half understood his questions. My professors' questions were challenging, but I still learned so much from their inquiries and the connections they were trying to help me recognize in my research.

My AWESOME committee! Loving Ed's hand-on-hip action.
One of my professors asked me a question that I haven't been able to stop thinking about... he asked about the genesis of my project. This question meant a lot to me, and I hesitated to answer a bit. I wrote my thesis on "The Yellow Wallpaper," a short story about a woman who is mentally ill and is ruined by her husband's inadequate medical diagnosis. When I first read this story in college, I jumped on the feminist bandwagon and praised the feminist heroine of the story who rebelled against the patriarchy.  But I read the story again in my last year of college... when I was experiencing a severe mental crisis of my own. From this perspective, I read "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a story of mental illness and wondered why many feminist scholars projected able-bodied characteristics onto a depressed woman.

This question made me reflect about where I was two years ago and where I am now. I feel confident and strong. Even though 2017 has been fraught with anxieties about my thesis, I have been happy. And I'm amazed that my experience with disability has given me an edge in research and writing. I was so flattered to hear that my committee loved the originality of my argument and that they gave me plenty of feedback to get the piece published.

After the defense, my family celebrated. I am proud that my parents could come and witness (thus far) the two most important hours of my life. We got curry, and we ordered a cake from Coldstone. When I looked at the cake, I busted out laughing and showed my parents the cake:

"Congraluations" — What a fitting inscription for the girl who passed an MA defense in ENGLISH. Anyway, the journey has been incredible, and it feels strange that I'm suddenly done the most significant part of my program. Everything has led up to this moment, and now... poof! It's over. But in case I haven't made it clear, I am beyond thankful for friends, colleagues, professors, and my family for helping me during school. I know that I've grown so much, and now I face the looming question mark that symbolizes my future!

Love, "Master" Bekki

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Real Adults Go to Conferences.

Finally.  My program is giving me a slight breather, and I can give some love to this blog. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the South Central Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in SLC.  The abbreviation for the conference is SCSECS, but that's still a mouthful, and they might as well include all the other letters of the alphabet. I presented in the Gender and Domesticity panel about The Coquette, an early American bestseller.
I was actually dreading the conference. I just wanted to go home instead, and I couldn't imagine anything stuffier and more boring than a few days with a bunch of intellectuals.  Luckily, I had several friends attend the conference, as well.  AND I felt like a million bucks when I made a reservation for my first hotel room alone. I felt like a real big girl. That was probably the most anticipated thing... and food. The Radisson makes good cheesecake and scones.

On my first day, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the panel presentations.  Some of them, as expected, were a bit dry, but others were engaging and interesting. I geeked out when a retired scholar passed around a second edition of a 1682 book.  It even smelled like antiquity.  I jumped on any opportunity to attend a panel in which American texts were featured and loved talking to those presenters.  The conference mostly attracted British literature scholars.  I saw several professors from BYU.  They introduced themselves to me and said, "How come I don't know you?" My response, "My studies are across the Atlantic," and then they would chuckle and walk away. Phhhht.

When I eventually checked into my room, I was excited.  The room was clean, big, and all mine.
I got lots of work done, and then my mom called me and asked how things were going. She casually asked me what my room number was, which I thought was weird.  And then she surprised me by knocking on my door and staying the night with me.  So as much as I enjoyed having a room to myself, I enjoyed my mom's surprise even more. (And she claims that she can't wait to get rid of me... ha. You bet your bloomers that my companionship is irresistible.)

The next day, I attended a few panels and went to City Creek for lunch with Mom.  I was excited she was there because she wanted to attend my panel.  I was afraid she would get in trouble because she didn't pay for registration, but nobody blinked an eye when she sat in.  She got a glimpse of what I do.  My presentation went well, I think. People were really gracious in their compliments, I didn't see any glazed eyeballs, and I held up really well during the Q&A.  The chair, Dr. Eyring, (and also my professor), asked the most difficult question.  After the panel, my mom said, "Honey, you did a really good job not answering Dr. Eyring's question.)

I am really happy with the experience, and I learned so much from scholars who shared their research and were actually interested (or pretended to be) in my studies. The BYU professor who organized the conference told me this week that I was born for this field, which only complicated the plans for my future even more.

And stay tuned for more about my thesis.  The game is on!