15 May, 2012

Well hello!

Looking out the window at the church in Ocotlan.

According to the clock/date on my PC laptop (beloved Mac died, more on that later) it is May 15, 2012. According to the time stamp on this blog, my last post was sometime in early August, 2010. Wow two years. The cliche thing to say at this moment is wow how time has passed, so much has happened, etc. But part of what makes cliches and stereotypes still so powerful and relevant are the little kernels of truth hidden inside. Which is a fancy way of saying that yes, wow, how time has passed and yes, so much has happened. Too much, in fact, to cover in one blog post. And yes, by making that statement I am indeed stating (erg) that I will be posting to the blog again, focusing of course on my adventures navigating through this crazy world they call the PhD career track, the business of doing archaeology, and life here in Oaxaca.

But in these past two years I've accomplished a lot of milestones in my field and have also gone on some awesome adventures outside the world of archaeology. So over the next few weeks, updates on what I'm currently working on or avoiding working on will be interspersed with posts about the things I've been doing--survey work in the Coixtlahuaca Valley, eating snails in Hong Kong, laughing at howler monkeys in Guatemala, etc.--since I last posted. Hope everyone will enjoy.

In the meantime, here are a few updates so that we're all caught up on what's been happening on the scene, so to speak.

-- I took COMPS in Fall 2010: Huzzah and hurrah. This was a big step. The comprehensive exams are the hazing rituals of the academic world, where a student has to prove to a committee (of DOOM!) of their choosing that they are versed enough in their subjects of interest and are competent enough to undertake the rigors of dissertation research. And it is as stressful and terrifying as shit. Months of reading, note-taking and source gathering lead to three weeks of intense writing to answer in 10 pages or more (but within a limit of 50) four questions posed, one by each committee member. By the end of it I couldn't read English anymore, my brain wouldn't register anything (which I found out when I reread the papers a month later and found all these hilarious grammatical errors that had slipped past me simply because my brain just did not see it anymore), and I was shaking so much when I was about to hit send that I had to ask my roommate at the time to hold my hand.

Follow up this bit of torture with an intense, sometimes hour-long grilling session or, more properly, torturous Inquisition where said committee make fun of your answers to their question. Not really, but it can feel that way. Basically they just ask you about your answers and make you defend them...to the death! It was a verbal ballet involving sharp objects (or barbed tongues) and mental gymnastics. Yet despite how shaken I was when I left the room, and how ill-prepared for the whole thing I had felt (no one every really feels prepared for it), I passed.

Which meant that I was no longer a PhD student but a PhD candidate. And that means ABD, or all but dissertation. Which also means that I don't have to take classes or even be on campus anymore, but I can be free! Free! To live down here in Oaxaca and be close to my work and my love.

-- I changed dissertation topics: So yeah, remember that whole ball game and ball court kick I was on? After much discussion with colleagues and older archaeologists over the summer and fall of 2010, I decided that what I really wanted to do with the ball court research would be too large (and somewhat unfocused to be truthful) for a dissertation project. Especially considering that I was about to join a large survey project that upcoming winter/spring of 2011. Why reinvent the wheel when I would be getting my hands on data that could be used for my own research? I decided then that over the course of the survey I would keep my eyes out for a site that fit my research interests. I ended up finding something that, while it is still in line with the themes I covered for my comps exams, it was also a return to early research interests I had had, which leads  me to my next milestone...

-- I found my research site: On February 15th, 2011 the survey team and I registered this really cool site near the town of San Mateo Tlapiltepec. It is a pre-urban site that may have lasted into the urban transition period, there are a lot of really neat things about it that I will go into later on in a special post, and a lot of people I have talked to have expressed interest in the project and think it is well worth it to pursue. Though I've shifted focus from ball games to urbanism, this shift is not entirely radical as it is a) still about sociopolitical relationships and b) a lot of my research interest during my undergraduate years was on the topic of urbanism and the city, so really this is a return to themes I have always been curious about. Though I absolutely loved my ball game research and hope to return to it someday, I now see it as a sort of distraction, a side-trip that I took on my way to finding my dissertation topic.

Sometimes I think about how different things would have been had I answered Gary Feinman's question differently. Instead of responding "Well, I've always been interested in religion", what would my life had been like had I said urbanism instead? I can't regret the choices I've made, because I've had some great adventures and have met some great people, and did some cool things along the way too, but one can't help but wonder sometimes....

-- I did a huge survey in 2011: This will show up more in future blog posts. Too many memories, too much to tell, too many photos.

Conquering the mighty river in the Coixtlahuaca Valley near Tulancingo.

-- I now more or less live in Oaxaca full-time: In fact, I'm down here right now, chilling at our casita. I live here with Chuck, who was my good friend in 2010 and is now something more but more on that later, and my little kitty Gizmo, who I had managed to bring here to Mexico. Also more on that later.

Gizmo on the couch in the casita.
Anyway, that's more or less some of the big things that have happened. Of course there's more, other adventures, other milestones. And things are always happening--Oaxaca is nothing if not magical and random. So there is lots to tell and stories to share. Stay tuned!

No comments: