Theses, writing, weight-loss, and sweet metaphors

Today in class, my new American Studies thesis students were challenged to answer this question, how will doing a thesis change me as a person and affect my life?

They came up with a  lot of good answers. They talked about confidence, work ethic, intellectual achievement, playing to their strengths, and managing their time. When it came to me to tell them what I believe the answer is, I told them something like this:

The thesis is a learning experience on a large scale. It’s yours, you own it entirely. You are the captain of your own ship, and as a result your successes will be yours and so will your failures. The way the thesis will change you is that when you are presented with a seemingly insurmountable task, whether it’s related to career, personal life, family life, romance, projects, or journeys, you will be able to look at it as a whole and know that you are capable of doing the work to get where you need to be. You won’t doubt yourself. When you’re presented with something that, at the outset, seems near impossible, you will push forward. You will know to break it into manageable pieces, work on it everyday, slowly and steadily. Even when you’re tired, and fed up, you will always see the forest beyond the trees and you will always trust that you will get there. The thesis will teach you that you have every bit of will, and grit, and motivation you need to do whatever you set out to do.

Large scale research and writing is very difficult. There’s a reason why not a lot of students sign up for majors that require work of this nature when they’re undergraduates, and there’s a reason why the students who do are exceptional. There’s a reason why when they write this thesis, which is, for many, their first major research and writing project, that they work closely with TAs, professors, advisors, and each other. Part of what makes this a valuable experience is knowing that they can fall, they usually don’t. But if they get lost, or need a hand – one will be there. We joke about this – “help will always be given in thesis class to those who ask for it.”

I did my first large scale (or it looked large at the time) writing project in IB2 (12th grade). It was called an Extended Essay and it’s basically a miniature version of an undergraduate thesis. I then wrote an undergraduate thesis, and capped it off with a master’s thesis. While I was doing that I started helping other people write. I love helping other people write.

Research driven academic writing might seem dry and sad to a lot of people, but I believe it provides one of the most poignant, useful metaphors for getting through life I have ever encountered, which brings me to my point.

As of today I have lost 80lbs. When I started losing weight the idea that I would ever get to 80lbs down seemed impossible. Even from my current vantage point, there is still so far to go. Starting a weight loss project where I decided to set about losing 200lbs (half my starting weight) was scary, it was scary because I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I had the physical capacity or, perhaps more importantly, the emotional and psychological wherewithal. I knew all the data about dieting and about massive weight loss, that it often doesn’t work, and many dieters don’t make it past 10%, many people never reach their goal, and many people end up gaining to weigh more than they did at the beginning. Losing weight is socially, emotionally, and culturally stressful. At the outset, in the first 20lbs (which came off quick, but were invisible) I interrogated my choices a lot, I questioned whether my motivation was good enough, whether my choices were noble rather than being selfish or, perhaps, not even mine.

However, in the last 60lbs, I’ve learned so much about myself, and my motivations. I’ve learned that my motivations are complicated and are in a perpetual flux. I’ve learned that this is a project, it is a large, seemingly daunting project, and I’ve learned that in order to get where I want, and achieve what I set out for I have to be committed. While there are days were I don’t count calories so closely (or count them but don’t worry about them) every day is in service of the larger project. Not only the physical elements of weight loss (the eating, the working out) but the emotional and psychological parts. In order to get up everyday and want to keep doing this, I have to know that I am capable.

Losing large amounts of weight is so much like writing. It’s so much like writing that everyday gets easier because I realize more and more that this difficult thing is just like the difficult things I’ve done before. The difference between success and failure is patience, commitment, grit, and knowing that no matter what happens as you go, it is the process that is valuable. When you’ve finished a thesis, and smack it down with the familiar thump of a 100 pages, when you hold it for the first time as it finishes printing and it’s warm and smells like toner, it’s finished and and while it still needs to be graded, and (you hope) read – your relationship with it is finished. Everyday, every mile, every pound I lose feels like a page of a thesis. Meeting a micro-goal is like finding that book you really need, or writing a literature review that you don’t fucking hate.* Weight loss for me is a writing process, it’s a story about my body that I am wholly in control of, it requires my dedication and motivation, and requires that I not let other people derail my ideas, or hijack my work. This isn’t about other people’s ideas, this is my project and I’m writing it with my body. Every success is my success and while I undeniably have excellent people around me to support me, when it comes down to it, it’s mine. When my feet hurt so much I can barely walk, when I’m so bored of eating the same weird foods, and when all I want is just not think about it, I’m the person who has to. And I do because I’ve written, I’ve written long, complicated things, I’ve watched students follow wild trains of thought to magnificent conclusions, and because the body follows the brain.

Writing a thesis changes you in that you learn that if you need to write, if you want to write, you sit down and you write.
It affects your life because you learn that if you want to do something, you look at it as a whole, you think about what’s it’s really made of; the research, the skills, the time, the process, and you make a plan and you follow through with that plan.

*Unclear that this is even possible.

Some of you may have noticed…

Maybe it was the thesis stress, maybe it was the allergies, maybe it was the smaller, but not small dress I bought, maybe it was the threat of spring looming on the horizon bringing with it intolerably short shorts and mostly naked undergraduate girls…

Whatever caused it, yesterday I reached breaking point.

Some of you may have noticed, I am fat.

I’m not “pinch an inch”, “could serve to lose a few pounds”, or “chubby”, “tubby” or even “festively plump.” I dwell on the plus size of plus sizes. Usually I don’t talk about it, except to make one of my no fail jokes [Look, I didn’t get this body climbing stairs and avoiding cupcakes.] I figure if I don’t mention it, you all won’t notice. You won’t notice how much of the sofa I take up, how I fill up my chair (or one of those wretched little desks), you won’t notice my thighs, or back rolls, or double chin when I’m laughing. You’ll instead notice my voice, or my smile, or my bunny front teeth, my excellent hair perhaps, or how handy I am with liquid eyeliner.

I also know this is not the case. I live in the same media frenzied world as everyone else. I know that despite everything I’ve achieved, or how well I get dressed in the morning or just how good I am with the liner, I am still fat. At the end of the day a fat girl is just a fat girl. Everyday is battle against homeliness, against looking matronly, maternal or pregnant. Everyday I walk around Washington DC, and I am aware that when people look at me, they see a fat person. I have all the stereotypes of what fat people are like hovering around me; we’re lazy, unmotivated, uninspired, miserable, out-of-control, we’re not confident, and we’re rarely sexy. Yeah – would you believe that is exactly that set of characteristics that got me where I am in life. I am 100% a successful student, friend, person, intellectual, artist and writer because I’m an lazy, unmotivated, miserable fat fuck. Funny, that.

Usually, I’m pretty confident about my body. I have the rare good fortune that I didn’t “get fat”. I started out pretty fat, and stayed fat. There isn’t a moment in my memory when I wasn’t fat. My appearance now is the logical conclusion of all my other appearances. That said, something happened the last few weeks (I do NOT want to talk about it.) that threw me a curve ball. So, after a week of panicked mega-dieting (I’ve lost 6 lbs since last Wednesday, when I’m on it, I do not mess around.) frantic waddling on the treadmill and treating my closet like a collection of burlap sacks, I went online last night and googled “fat positive”. For the first time since high school, I needed someone else, a total stranger on the Internet, talking to not me, but fat women everywhere that my body is okay. It worked, looking at pictures of other people, women, my size, larger and littler made me feel like it was okay. That I could get up today and get dressed and feel okay.

I am in love with the Internet. Why? because in a split second last night I could begin a process to put to bed a lot of hurtful feelings I’ve been dealing with all week, for this I’m very grateful.

The excellent website I stumbled onto was http://fuckyeahfatpositive.tumblr.com/

 

 

A Poem for My Thesis

[I am half-heartedly participating in Poem Month, writing a poem everyday. Granted, I haven’t written poetry recreationally in a long time (I haven’t even written poetry academically in ages.) but it’s been fun. I’ve written a couple I quite like. This was what I generated today after Shann mentioned I should transform an impassioned Facebook status into a poem. The past month has been surprising, but perhaps that means I’m at last at a space where I can write a poem now and again for fun.]

[I’m on the verge of finishing my Master’s thesis. It is, at it’s core, about film aesthetics and economics and the media it works with is the New Gore of the early 2000s and New French Extremism. I’ve spent months now watching really harrowing, troubling torture scenes and working them through my thesis. I’ve become enamored of my project. It’s been a really wonderful process, and one which has really shown me what I want from my career. This is a poem to my thesis.]

Dear Thesis,

I feel as if we have spent
so many long hours together,
You have become to me,
a lover.

We’ve spent so many nights together
the hours disappearing into each other –

and over our many months of romance,
I realize now,
I want to be with you forever.

I want to ensconce myself in your luxuries.

I want you,
you are the style I have always dreamt of,
your topic is one so dear to me,
I could weep from love.

I want our time together to be eternal,
To wake up each day and to only think of you
of your sentences uncurling and flowing over the edge of my desk
oozing with passion from the spaces in-between the keys.

You are the voice of everything I have wanted.
Even on our worst days, you are still great.

I never want worries beyond you,
my precious torture porn paper.

I feel our time slipping by so quickly,
all too soon it’ll be April 18, then May 2.

What then, my love?

Phd.

Why Write:

In the past week something pretty significant has popped up on my radar.

Firstly, I was directed to this article.
and I read it and become concerned, as the days went by, I read a few other articles, like this one and this one. I also gathered information from Eli Roth’s ever reliable twitter. What this all has to do with is the fact that Angel Sala, the director of the Sitges Film Festival is being charged with child pornography as a result of including Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film among the films being screened.

Now, if you choose to read these articles, I encourage you to tread carefully, if you choose to watch this movie – I advise further careful treading – it is not a pretty picture.

In fact, it’s a horrible, monstrous, grotesque film – full of sights that cannot be unseen, and thoughts that will turn your stomach. It is also one of the films I’ve chosen for my thesis. I’ve seen the film, and will have to watch parts of it many times over, I can’t say I’m really looking forward to it. But then I don’t always enjoy the moments of agony I watch closely.

I’ll be maybe one of the few people to think this, let alone admit it, but I really enjoyed A Serbian Film. I’m not saying I approve of the content, but I’ve learned that a lot of films are no fun at all, and that is where their greatness lies. I admire filmmakers who will not flinch under the watchful gaze of morality and include in their films whatever they want. I admire films that actually are willing and brave enough to go to whatever terrible lengths they can. I don’t believe in censorship, I understand why this film hasn’t gotten US distribution and why when it does it will be edited to death.

I don’t think this is right. I really don’t think it’s right that an important and admirable member of the film community is being persecuted for showing the film.

Film doesn’t need to be beautiful, it doesn’t need to be acceptable, it doesn’t need to be enjoyable. Some cinema hurts, some of it is horrible and agonizing. Some of it is pure torture to watch, watching some of it isn’t fun, it isn’t cool, it’s just endurance.

And this point, I know all about it.

However, this film deserves to be released, the filmmakers deserve credit, it deserves it’s place among a wide array of extreme media. A Serbian Film does not look like your everyday horror movie, it goes to lengths I never thought I would see on film. It is painful and searing and excessive. Not everyone wants to see this, a lot of people will protect themselves from media like this, protect their children – but cinema is about vision and art – and there should be no boundaries as to what can be put on screen, and certainly no punishment for people who choose to screen or watch this media.

What this has done is allowed me to understand why I’m writing my thesis. I’ve sat through a lot of horror movies, I’ve watched difficult, gross, gory, painful scenes. I chose the most horrible, disgusting, abject movies I had ever seen. Some of them I love, some of them are so hard to watch – but I have chosen them for study, I am looking at them more closely than I think anyone other than their makers have. I wonder everyday why I chose to do this, and the reason is now clear.

I don’t believe in censorship, I don’t believe in hiding scary, troubling, complicated movies. I think there’s merit and power in A Serbian Film, as well as in my other selections. I think there is a beauty to these films, if not in their content, in their construction, in their aesthetics – it is in their ability to exist, despite censorship and judgement.

Queer The Weekend

It is currently spring break for students at Georgetown. Some of my thesis-writing friends and I have thus retired to a cabin in Virginia to focus our minds, bond with our books and get a lot of new words down in the woods.
The cabin is a cute little thing, filled with every possible necessity, a sweet handful of harmless bugs, and a myriad of food items.

Jack, Julie, Lakshmi and I (The Queer Collective) have decided to name our adventure “Queer the Weekend”. We’ve so far been here since Saturday evening, we’ve cooked two complete meals, made one impromptu trip to the local WalMart, played in a hot tub and reconciled ourselves with having considerably less cell phone service than we’re used to. We’ve also made s’mores, and Coke floats.

However, the driving purpose of the weekend is to work. Thesis is the order of the day, much of the time has been spent in long quiet stretches, writing. Alternatively, walking aimlessly from room to room describing our ideas to each other. We set little goals each day and valiantly attempt to complete them. I bustle around cleaning in a compulsive way, and make sure the doors are locked before falling asleep about 4 times, things are very normal.

Yesterday it rained all day long, which was really quiet and lovely, we got to experience rain and hot tub simultaneously. Today the sun came out, and Julie and Pixel went exploring. Tomorrow, I expect we’ll foray into further sandwich pyrotechnics (Jack + Colva + Frying Pan.) and probably go back into town, as it’s a way to get out, and we’re woefully low on marshmallows.

It really is wonderful here. I feel as if I could stay for weeks, and when the time comes to pack up our little car, I expect to be quite saddened. Just being an environment where we’re able to get away from distractions, and away from the chaos of “real life” is an amazing break. It’s also amazing to be around people who are really good at what they do and be able to work together. There’s almost no coordination required, somehow we just seem to work together.

Also, Charlie Sheen and his ubiquitous hashtags are providing a welcome framework on which to identify our successes. #winning, #tigersblood and #planbetter are the order of the day.

Excuses, Excuses.

I used to update this blog all the time, I feel excessively guilty that I haven’t been. Sadly, my life is full of a million different things. Of all of these things, the one which is preventing me from blogging in a regular way is my thesis. Ah, my thesis. I’m currently in a mood where I am telling myself that my thesis is pretty excellent regularly. The reason for this is that I am writing the first chapter, which I am not altogether sure is any good.

My thesis is about horror movies (surprise!), specifically, it’s about recent extreme, gore, and torture films. Torture porn. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure when I developed all these strong thoughts and feelings about torture films. It happened sort of accidentally. I guess I always thought I would write about vampires, but alas, vampires feel so overplayed these days, that despite the fact that I am “into” vampires, and know a lot about vampires – it didn’t seem like a worthy thesis topic. So somehow, while muddling through things I found myself making some off-hand, and probably off-color (if anything can be said about this thesis, it’s that it is often rather off-color. I use words like “erotic” is VERY off-color ways.) comment about Saw and 9/11. I’m not sure how it became a thesis, but it did. I just started talking about it one day, and spent the whole of last semester talking about it, talking and talking. I ended up talking about it for hours a week, to my thesis adviser, who I do not think was my adviser at the time, in fact I think it was probably a pretty weird thing to start randomly talking about, whatever.

Well, I’ve talked about it a lot, I’ve discovered I am chock-a-block with opinions about torture, and bodies, and blood, and gore, and ratings, and politics (?) and sex, and France, and America and so on. Now I have to write all of this down, in a sensible, coherent (not in the manner that I use to review films.) style. This is really difficult. It is more difficult than I ever would have imagined. But, regardless of these difficulties it now must be done. Some days I am so excited about it, I want to sing about it from the hills, tell all the world about things like the erotics of torture, and some days I wish gnomes would come in the night and write it for me. I hope the gnomes do a good job, and read what I already have as to mimic my off-color, metaphor-heavy style. Though, frankly, if gnomes come I won’t read what they write, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to question magical gnomish writing.

film: SAW 3D

With only a little trepidation I went on the afternoon of Halloween to my local cinema and saw Saw 3D, alone. Which always make me seem endlessly creepy. Let me put it this way: Saw 3D is truly a thing of beauty.

I’ve enjoyed all the Saw films, to perhaps an uncommon and unhealthy level – but this was everything I could have wanted. The violence and destruction was truly top-notch and I must really tip my hat to the magnificent effects crew on this film. It features some spectacular returns to some classic traps (the reverse bear trap/jaw ripper, how I have missed thee!) as well as some great new ones. I would love to delve into grisly detail of what my favorites were, but I would hate to spoil it for any of you who are just desperate to get in there and gorge yourself on destruction.

I truly think that a lot of the charm of Saw (and its “torture porn” brethren) comes from the sheer inevitability of the devestation. You know they aren’t going to make it, you know that the victims are going to be sliced, diced, speared, shredded, cooked, disemboweled, beheaded, and eviserated in glorious technicolor right before your eyes, you know there’s no way they have the fortitude to survive their fates (if they were the sort of people who could survive Saw traps, they wouldn’t be in Saw traps). It’s also fantastic because I think when violence, destruction and devestation reaches this level, it takes on a surreal, sublime quality. Piranha 3D did a similar thing, elavating the gore to point where it becomes a symphony of destruction. Beautiful.

The film pays a lot of attention to the notion of the survivor. The narrative is built around who has survived traps in the past, which lead me, for the first time to think about how I would manage a Saw trap. The notion of terrible, self-inflicted bodily harm is enough to make even more squidge in the theater. Even me.

Also, I cannot ignore that this film was rendered in ultra-trendy Real 3D. Now, horror is a genre perfectly fit for 3D. In life, there’s very little as grand as feeling like you’re about to be splattered with grotesque amounts of human blood. Saw does a good job, the 3D isn’t excessive, it works when it needs to work. Not once did it make me feel headachey or woozy.

A true delight.