Post-Dissertation Blues (Pacifica-Style)

One of my cohort defended his dissertation the other day. Out of my cohort group, that makes three of us (including me). But my cohort extends farther. I’ve adopted all of my Pacifica friends as “my cohort.” We may not have gone on the journey at the same time, but we nonetheless went on very similar journeys. I could say, we went on the same journey together.

During the process of dissertation formulation, everyone is quick to describe “dissertation monsters,” or little bits of life that get in the way of writing the dissertation. These range from feelings of inadequacy (“Why am I even torturing myself with this. NO ONE is going to care!) to life changes (divorce, death, move, etc.). They also encourage us to build a system for dealing with these dissertation monsters. Talk to your friends, take some time off from the dissertation… blah blah blah. Those of us on the other side of the dissertation can tell stories of how we almost quit because of our Dissertation Monsters, and we can stand with pride next to our diplomas and our pretty copy of our dissertation and say, “We did it.”

But then there’s that unspoken bit that they didn’t prepare us for. The Other Side of the Dissertation. The, “I completed my dissertation, I owe a quarter of a million dollars in student loans, I can’t get a job. Now what?” The Post-Dissertation Blues.

I think I’ve said it before, but Pacifica Graduate Institute isn’t like other graduate programs. It’s not a degree mill. The academic work we do during the program works us as much as we work through it. Something within our shadows is activated, and how we deal with this shadow flavors our approach to the program. For me, it was the money thing, and I hear the same concern echoed among many of my peers. It does make us feel like Atlas or even Sysiphus to come out of this program, stare at the mountain of debt, and try to figure out how to pay it off (or at least down).

It’s because of this level of self-work, however, that we actually have a Post-Dissertation post-partum period. Our dissertations aren’t just about analyzing Jung or Campbell and getting a degree. We pick topics that aren’t only interesting, but near and dear to our hearts, often dealing with as much autobiography as academic research.

Disclaimer: I do know there are people who graduate and hit the ground running into academic work. Power to them. Seriously. My hat is off to you.

My dissertation is about Disneyland, but it really is about so much more than that. It’s about identifying the mythology that has ordered my entire perspective. It’s about defending why I don’t subscribe to traditional approaches to myth and academia, and helping to explain why others share my perspective.

By the time I started writing my dissertation, I was running on fumes. I had a year off between undergraduate and grad school, and maybe a semester between my Master’s program and Pacifica (a semester spent getting into and ready for Pacifica). So from the start of that Master’s program in October 2004 until the end of coursework in August 2010, I had been functioning solely as a graduate student. THAT IS SIX YEARS. Three of those years were spent at Pacifica, being worked on and massaged by a variety of world mythologies, and they were, hands down, three of the most intense years of my life. Much of my cohort can’t share in the timeline of graduate student, but most of them can share in agreement that the three years of Pacifica work are three of the most intense years of our lives. Is it the vibe of Pacifica? The content? The faculty? The contrast between one week of intense class followed by three weeks of intense loneliness? It’s all of that. And I’m not going to say that those of us who made it to the end are any stronger or better than those that don’t. It’s more that what we are seeking is something that only Pacifica can provide. It’s that the myth of Pacifica (and yes, there is a very strong one) is the myth we need. Those who don’t make it all of the way through the program are looking for another myth. My hat goes off to those friends as well, and for those who are still on their search, I wish you well.

It’s because of the Pacifica myth we stay through until the bitter end (of course work, the dissertation is another matter). And it’s because of the Pacifica myth that we can go to an event on campus, such as a friend’s dissertation defense, and feel a brief surge of revitalized energy. But it’s also because of the Pacifica myth that we leave the program SO VERY EXHAUSTED. For those who aren’t Pacifica people, I can only sum it up this way: You know that kind of really intense dream? You know, that kind that keeps you engaged for a period of time, shocks you awake, and affects your mood for the rest of the coming day? Like that episode of Friends where Phoebe was mad at Joey for the entire episode, only to remember that she was mad at him because of something he did in a dream. Pacifica is like that, every day, for THREE FREAKING YEARS. Now, think of how exhausting it is to wake up from those dreams. Perhaps you are mentally refreshed, but your body isn’t. Pacifica is like that, every day, for THREE FREAKING YEARS. And then you have to write your dissertation.

And this is where I laugh loudly to myself. It’s a wonder that any of us do finish.

But then we do, and we’re exhausted, sad, depressed. Now what? We can’t find jobs. Our degrees are too weird and Academia, the path that most of us set out to achieve, isn’t hiring. (This, sadly, isn’t a problem with the larger model of Academia, not just with Pacifica folks.) Our families, who have suffered while we did this work, are on edge, wanting our attention or our active contributions again. Our friends, those few who still speak to us (because they understand the difficulties of going through grad school), are only willing to be so patient while we whine about how there are no jobs, how we need to make money to pay our loans, and so on. They tell us, “buck up and get a job already!” without considering the hit that we all take to our resumes by the life change of going through this work. Our old jobs or professions no longer want us. Without considering how few jobs there are, or that it can take upwards of a year or more to get a phone call. I just received a couple rejection letters from applications I put in before I started working on my dissertation. Our loan creditors send us statements that ask for four digits worth of repayment, and are only willing to negotiate so much.

And in the middle of all this? We’re supposed to publish, but we can’t even write a sentence. Think of how many blog posts I’ve made since finishing my dissertation. The few that I’ve made are difficult enough without having to think about articles and books.

So, to my Pacifi-peeps who are going through these Blues: it’s ok. Most of us go through it. Let’s share our tears together.

To my Pacifi-peeps who are getting near the end: don’t try to fight it. One of the often used images at Pacifica is that of the Underworld. You may think that your coursework is the Underworld. You may think that writing your dissertation is the Underworld. In truth, it’s this period after completion that is the Underworld, and guess what? We have to be here. We have to work through the last little bit of Pacifica to emerge.

To our families and friends: I know it sucks. We already asked for 5+ years of your time, but now we have to ask for more. We need your support now more than ever, otherwise the work we did is for naught.

We are phoenixes. We are burnt up from the work and research. We can only emerge from the ashes when we are meant to emerge from the ashes. I defended in May 2012, and I’m still struggling. I know that I’m not alone, and that does make it a little easier.

Please share your experience Post-Dissertation in the comments, whether you had the Blues or not, or even whether or not you went to Pacifica. I would love to hear your story, and I think more grad students and post-grad scholars need to know that it’s not always possible to walk into the Academic Publish-or-Perish world. I would also like to hear what you did to solve some of the life stressors (such as lack of employment) and what directions that helped move you.

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It should be noted as a Truth, that there’s just too much doing on these days. I’m not just talking about media overload, but there’s something in the air, a tension. I’m now living in a whole new region of the country, having left my home state of Texas just in time for all the drama about women’s rights to go to a new level:

I’m working in a very depressed city. A city that once shone as an industry leader, then *something* happened in the 1920s (*cough cough*) to destroy the paper and textile industries, and the city never really recovered. But this little city is filled by people that love it and is surrounded by a larger community that has a lot going for it:

The personal difficulty that I’m running to is that this area is a very difficult for one who identifies with Walt Disney values to live, because there is a lot of social awareness and poverty–things counter to Walt’s utopian vision:

So what do I bring to the region? What should I bring to the region? There are a lot of silent voices wanting to speak out:

Meanwhile, the Disney Channel recently turned 30:

Connections and Pacifica

Two weeks ago, the Pacifica Alumni of Texas descended on Austin for the first ever Texas Alumni event. It was fascinating to connect with a new calibur of Pacifi-peep (as I call them). Some graduated in the Nineties, while some are still working through their dissertation. The weekend began with a Friday night reception, followed by a Saturday strategizing event (i.e., how to make the Alumni Association a viable group in Texas) and a High Tea for prospective students. The weekend left me with a couple observations that easily become reflections on my own experience of Pacfica Graduate Institute.

One is that, regardless of one’s personal experience, Pacifica works you. The school is attractive because it is not a degree mill. The environment, from the faculty to the landscaping, invites and practically requires each of its students to engage in self work. This can be both good and bad, depending on one’s frame of reference, which is why I never lightly recommend that anyone goes to Pacifica if they have any questions or doubts about whether they want to go.

And there is the flip side to this. Pacifica will raise anything that is buried in what Jung calls “the shadow.” Any negative, unconscious beastie that is lurking in the depths of our unconscious will be brought to the surface by Pacifica. As you can imagine, this can cast a … well, a shadow … on any memory of the experience or influence what we do with our degrees after leaving the school.

But here’s the thing that the Alumni Association reveals: we are not alone. During the coursework, we spend a week in California, get energized and jazzed, then we come home and the Pacifica Go-Go Juice is slowly drained away by our everyday lives. Once the end of coursework comes and we return home to start working on our theses, dissertations, and/or internships, something about that connection that got us so excited in the first place feels severed. Some Pacifi-peeps start grasping at anything they can to try to reestablish that connection to the school, the faculty, and the cohort that has become like family.

So when the Alumni Association announced that it was ready to launch, I really wanted to get involved with the planning committee, but was nearing the end of my dissertation. Supporting the regional coordinators was the better choice. Being involved in almost every step of the planning process to last weekend’s event was really fun.

Overall, the weekend went according to plan. It was informative and energizing. I’m fascinated by the amount of baby metaphors that were passed around over the course of the weekend. That we were gathered to “birth the baby” and that we needed to “nurture the newborn.” I haven’t decided yet if everyone was really running with the metaphor or just expressing an unconscious response to my pregnancy…

Waiting in Line

According to my Twitter feed, a lot of people are lining up today to be among the first consumers to play with the fifth incarnation of the iPhone. For all my love of consumer culture, this is a behavior I just don’t get. First a little background:

I’ve waited in line. I have fond memories of waking up at Unholy Hour O’Clock to go to the nearest Ticketmaster to get concert tickets for my favorite bands. One of the last times I did this was a Paul McCartney tour over 10 years ago. Now, I just wait in a virtual line at my computer, comfy in my chair and PJs, to get tickets. But I do remember the excitement and the communitas of standing in line. I also have fond memories of waiting in line for midnight movie premiers and book releases. I’ve sense stopped doing the midnight showings, just because I’m not that person who can stay out until 3am on a Thursday then crawl into work on Friday morning and be functional. But there, again, is a particular excitement and communitas that happens in those midnight hours. Same with the book releases. By the end of the Harry Potter series, bookstores wisened up to the idea of throwing an actual party, making the wait that much more fun. I think my most favorite waiting in line experience was to get a wristband to see a presentation/book signing by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) at Austin’s annual book festival. The book was the 12th book of the Series of Unfortunate Events, and the festival happened to be on my birthday. My inner book nerd was very excited to spend my birthday thusly. And I was able to fanagle anniversary greetings from Handler, making it an afternoon to remember. All other positive instances of waiting in line that I can remember involve Disney somehow.

So, yes, I understand waiting in line.

I should also add that I’m an ex-Mac user. Yes, such a person does exist! I left Mac because I had (and still have) moral? ethical? issues about their pricing structure. I can think of 100000000000000000 better, more satisfying ways to part with an Unholy Amount of Money than to buy the latest OS upgrade, iPod, or laptop computer.

But, as today proves, I’m apparently in a minority.

I do love my Android phone, and I do sometimes catch myself growing skin attachment to my phone as I play around on my various apps. Sometimes, playing around on those apps seems more important than whatever else I should be doing (a behavior I’m working very hard to break for the sake of being the type of role model my kid deserves). I get the attachment we have to our toys.

But there’s something Faustian about the unholy alliance consumers are making with their Mac products. I have very dear friends who are Mac users, and we have a mutual understanding not to engage in the Mac/PC debate. When consuming PC products, because there are so many options out there, it doesn’t seem like an unholy alliance. But with Mac, you’re not only consuming a brand, you’re committing yourself to a particular product line because of Mac’s proprietary practices. Some of these practices have leaked into the smart phone app world because “it’s easier to program an app for an iPhone than it is for a Droid.” What bunk.

I saw this commercial on Hulu yesterday. Though I’m not an SIII user, I think it well explains that perplexed look I give Mac users who want the latest upgrade:

And an image from George Takei’s Facebook:

Religious Fanatacism

Reflections: Hello 2012!

I was able to finish 2011 on a positive note. My dissertation is completely drafted and in the hands of my chair. Now begins those agonizing few weeks of waiting to see if my draft will be approved. My conclusion opened a few conceptual doors for me, and I’m a little nervous that my chair is going to ask me to flesh out that tiny chapter. Since we’re entering 2012, the popularly declared year of the apocalypse, the question of mythic change is becoming ever important, especially for American culture. The growing problem is a conflict between America’s nostalgic utopianism and the realization that this dream really isn’t sustainable. Whether you want to blame is conflict on capitalism, democrats, feminists, Communists (etc.) is immaterial. All groups and “-isms” are pawns in this transition.

America has been in transition easily since the end of World War Ii. While there were plenty of events in the first half of the 20th century that shook the foundations of American myth, World War II marked a major tipping point. The world was brought under a global banner for the first real time in human history, the world population grew to the highest proportions known, and war technology reached a destructive peak. It’s no accident that the Cold War years were filled with fear, paranoia, youth rallies, civil rights, and the shift from homogeneity to diversity. Nor is it any accident that as the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War officially came to an end that Americans turned those same issues into updated versions under the banner of Terrorism. As our fear is projected onto matters more and more elusive, culture becomes unstable.

So I do not believe that the world is going to end in 12 months, but something is going to have to change. My inner hippie would like to see the change come without violence, but this probably won’t happen if what the media reports is true. 2011 revealed that this transition is a global event, and this is the message of Walt DIsney’s Cold War myth: It’s a Small World. Those four words have probably already evoked the theme song and it will be stuck in your head all day. But consider this as you hum this catchy tune: It’s a Small World reminds us that we are all fundamentally the same. It’s okay to embrace cultural differences, but not to overlook humanity.

Welcome to Mythic Thinking Version 3.1.bluuuurrrrgh

Since I launched Mythic Thinking, I’ve had to rethink my hosting on three separate occasions. The first time, I tried doing a Website Tonight account on GoDaddy, but that was just too difficult. While I appreciate all of the attempts by “geeks” who made web development easier for us Muggles, I struggle with the lack of intuitiveness many of these programs provide. I’m an intuitive person, and dealing with the frustrations of having a website isn’t something I want to deal with. I’d started dabbling with WordPress.

So that lead to version 2. A coworker offered to host my website and set me up with WordPress.org, free hosting, and all was hunky dory. Until my website got blocked–flagged for distributing malware. According to Google’s Webmaster tools, my website was clean, but the hosting server was not. This lead to another move, some more autonomy… and, a loss of content. I’ve been running Mythic Thinking for something like 3 years, so the loss of content came as a big, fat blow to my ego.

So, now, welcome to version 3. I found some of the past year’s posts on another computer, saved separately from all of this programming mumbo-jumbo, which lead me to the grand decision of starting Mythic Thinking from scratch, and slowly uploading these old posts. This is a good thing, I’ve decided. I’ve come to terms with it, I think.

For those who met me during the lifespan of Version 2, or even that one person who has followed me since Version 1, you are already familiar with my current dissertation project about Disneyland and American mythology. This will remain the core of Mythic Thinking until the day I defend and I can start expanding my horizons.

That said, I can’t help but suspect that all of the woes and pains I’ve suffered during the past week is divine payback for making the decision to cut Hermes, god of technology and other things, from my dissertation. For that matter, I’ve decided to cut all of the gods from my dissertation. Not because the gods aren’t cool enough for my dissertation, but because I want to divorce myself from archetypal psychology right now. One of the posts lost in the blogosphere is my one on James Hillman andSurfing LA in which I describe why I disagree with archetypal psychology. I guess I’ll have to rewrite something about that someday.

So pardon the dust. I’m not going to rush through recreating this website. Posts are going to come nice and slow. Eventually, I’ll get everything back up and running. I’d say that I’ll get it done when I get around to it, but since I do have a Round TUIT on my desk, that excuse doesn’t really work.

Day-By-Day Dante, or: a book you must read

Dennis Patrick Slattery, one of my professors from Pacifica Graduate Institute and Dante Scholar extraordinaire, just recently published a book about exploring one’s personal myth through Dante’s opus, The Divine Comedy. He took daily selections of The Divine Comedy and mediated on them, exploring how each of the passages serves “as passageways or corridors into understanding many of the shared sufferings and joys of being human, regardless of one’s belief system or religious persuasion.” I have no doubt that this book will help anyone through their own life journey.

For more information, including purchasing information, visit this website.

Is Civility Dead?

I caught a piece of that show, Today, which is on a station I don’t normally watch, and they were running a segment about civility versus rudeness. Today’s installment focuses on the use of technology and how it helps disassociate people from each other, and suggests that this issue compounded with social tensions – especially concerning the economy – is to blame for the endemic rudeness and aggressiveness running throughout American culture. In my own little microcosm, I see many of the same symptoms: drivers who feel they are entitled to the entire road at the expense of safety, students who text during class, students who yell at me for not giving them exceptions to the rule, conservatives who want to boycott necessary taxes for community building… That’s only the Short List.

My gut impulse is to suggest that the best way to combat rudeness is through the Humanities, since obviously parental role models aren’t working (in fact, they simply fuel the fire). Through the Humanities, we can be reminded what it means to be HUMAN, in direct contrast to the science and technological emphasis in modern education. The real sad part is that many schools are killing the Humanities and those that still have a Humanities program stop with Intro, which is painfully just one step away from art history, and really don’t get the point across. (As a side note, I’m now contemplating semester themes to highlight various human issues, but since that will require a major curriculum change, that might be awhile in the works.)

But then I think about it a little further. Aggressiveness is the realm of Ares, technology the realm of Hermes, drunken excess or other substance use to combat the daily tensions of everyday life the ream of Dionysus, and the power games belong to Zeus. I think I now get the whole Goddess movement. I don’t support the Goddess movement as a rebellion against the patriarchal norm, but I do see a lack of female influence in the cultural psyche. Where is Demeter and her connection to our food source? Where is Aphrodite – where is beautiful Aphrodite, I should say. We live under the shadow of Dark Aphrodite, the direct result of the unhealthy relationships Americans have to sex. Hera seems to be on permanent vacation, and Athena isn’t trying hard enough.

I’m not the biggest fan of archetypal psychology, especially when it holds onto the Greco-Roman paradigm, but I’m now curious what archetypes we can introduce back into our society that will finally get the point across on a universal level. Harry Potter and some of my other favorites only hit a portion of the population. The meaning of Disney characters gets lost in the commercialism and analysis falls on deaf ears. We need balanced archetypes. Not just a Jesus, but a Mary Magdalene– maybe this is why she has gained new popularity in recent years – the psyche needs her to balance.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored Buddhism briefly in my classes. To many of my students, the concepts of the Middle Way and Compassion make perfect sense, even though they have no inclination to become practicing Buddhists (which I wholly support, since I think it involves a major lifestyle change that has to be right for the Western individual because it involves a sort of reprogramming of our priorities).

It all goes back to Balance. I think of the Sacred Cow of the Kali Yuga standing on one foot, trying very hard to not topple over. The paradigm shift is coming around the mountain, here she comes…

On Turning 30

When I was in my early 20s, 30 was the dreaded age. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons for this, least of which were the stories circulated such as Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’ Diary that suggest that after 30, you become too old to have any kind of romance. Of course, there could also be the factor that, by the time one turns 30, the expected individual responsibility increases dramatically.

When I was in my early 20s, my only goal by the time I reached 30 was to have my PhD. I don’t have a full doctorate yet, but I just started writing a dissertation, so close enough.

My body isn’t in the shape it was in 10 years ago, which really wasn’t all that good to begin with, only now my body constantly reminds me that it’s not immortal.

Either way, turning 30 isn’t so bad, at least today.

The Meaning of Tea

I decided this year that my birthday party needed to be a Mad Tea Unbirthday Party. This idea really has nothing to do with the new Tim Burton Alice, though it has been helpful in finding Alice themed merchandise. On my quest for tea cups, I found a lovely antiques store in Buda, Texas called, appropriately, “The Looking Glass,” which, appropriately, sells some Alice stuffins and all sorts of tea related products. I’d never stopped to consider why tea, what is its mystique?

There is a book, which I haven’t read, by Phil Cousineau called The Meaning of Tea. I follow the Twitter, and every now and then I’m stumped as to how to have a zen moment from tea. Today’s shopping excursion answered that question for me. Right now, we’re in that annoying transition phase between summer and full-blown fall. That autumn crispness is in the air, but the temperature hasn’t caught up yet. There’s something about this particular season that causes me to want to reach for the tea cup instead of the coffee cup. There’s also something about having a bunch of people over for cakes and finger sandwiches and tea, rather than coffee.

So, I came away from the shopping experience with a tea for one Alice in Wonderland set and an Alice tiered serving set. Having a tea-for-one set makes me want to drink tea, and sit outside on my porch with a good book or my laptop either reading or writing, but not reading or writing e-mails. Something about a cup of tea is inspiring, whereas a cup of coffee is functional – it’s what you drink to get through a deadline or ready for an exam. So, with my tea-for-one set in hand, I’m ready for tomorrow’s big dissertation private launch party. But almost more importantly, one month from today, as I pass out candies to local trick-or-treaters, I’ll be outlining this years NaNoWriMo novel project and, hopefully, with tea at my side, I will finish this year’s book.