Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Some Obstacles to Overcome

I say obstacles. I don't really think I mean things standing in the way of doing the Dharamsala field study, but possibly in the way of even more important things. It looks like I've got some major challenges to face if I'm going to do grad work in visual anthropology.

Today BYU released this semester's grades, and for the third straight term I'm barely finding a way to claw my way above a 2.0. At the end of the past two terms I understood what was happening: at the time I was taking a full undergraduate class load and teaching a daily section of French 101. That meant that there were no "off days"; before each night's homework could begin I simply had to have a spot-on lesson prepared. I was responsible for 25-30 students' educations, and I forgot that I should have first been responsible for my own. I would come into the Student Instructor office just defeated. I was at the point of wondering if higher education was really for me, why I was jumping through all these hoops just to receive a piece of paper that meant nothing more than my success at jumping through those hoops. Eventually I arrived at the point of discovering
Camus's absurd, of taking down the façades around me and seeing the nothingness behind it all.

The beauty - and irony - of this desperate period is that I started reading lots of Camus. I took him with me to
Denver where my roommates and I saw U2 on April 21. I brought him home and kept reading him over the summer. As I became more caught up in how closely my experience with the absurd matched Camus's description, I ironically found a very real meaning behind the "façade" of academia: I was getting into these texts because they meant something! These were not boring ideas to memorize because of school or tests or requirements; they were important to people and their worldview.

This sincere interest in education - in real education - slowly grew over the summer. Working during that time on the
Education in Zion Project, the initiative to create a standing exhibition for BYU's new Joseph F. Smith Building, I learned what education really meant, and my worldview continued to grow. My critical-thinking skills became stronger. I was thirsty to get back into the classroom, not hesitant. Moreover, I was happy to live principles that I believed in like thrift and diligent work, rather than forcing myself to live those ways because I felt I had to.
When the semester finally came, I considered it an experiment to see if this new attitude could actually last, and I was surprised to find that by the end I approached books and thought with almost the same vigor and thirst as when the term began. I considered this a good sign. If I had indeed been overhauling my ways of thinking, as I thought was the goal of our educational system, then the educational system would certainly reward me with its highest honors - a whole mess of great grades. What's more, it seemed like I was busy the entire semester. I can't remember a single night that found me just slacking off. But when grades were finally released today, I found my overall GPA not recovering as I had hoped, but falling just as steadily. Once again I was treading water just barely keeping my head above a 2.0. Once again I was left trying to find a solution to my problems.

Except this time my problems seem bigger. Now I have direction and purpose in my life, and try as I might I'm not finding the ways to make progress toward that purpose. If I'm to get into a first-rate graduate school, do top-notch research, put out important work because I've been well trained, then I need to recover from this series of academic blows. Moreover, I'm worried that cutting back on work so I can focus on school will wipe out my opportunities for funding my India trip, since my GPA may now be so low that I'm ineligible for awards the University and other organizations may offer. On top of that, I feel a need to take some serious media equipment with me - a digital SLR still camera like a
Canon 20D, or a digital video camera like an XL1 or XL2 for example. I had been working enough to afford these items, items that could have served to really move me closer to admission into a visual anthropology program. Instead I may be faced to forego luxuries like these, and possibly even the India trip.

I can only work to resolve all this, and (as my dad reminds me) pray.

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