11,672.

0401141028My senior thesis was 11,672 words. These post-thesis days have me pretty emotional, and yet still full of words to share about the whole process. Know this: I write not to applaud myself, but because the thesis I finished yesterday taught me more about being human… so I must share why.

I could start by trying to capture my love for the writer/novelist/farmer Wendell Berry, recalling his first novel I read or telling the story of when I first read some of his poetry, but I won’t.

Because my love for Wendell Berry started when I first read his work, but the life-changing didn’t start until I was sitting in Lit. Theory class sometime in September or October. That was when I made a mental decision to write my senior thesis on his novel A Place on Earth. It was in the same course that I learned about the brilliant theorist/philosopher named Michel Foucault; a theory so remarkably dense that it’s taken me 6 months of studying it to even slightly comprehend a singular aspect. Another day in this class, after a lecture on the postmodern derogation of autonomy, I had a surge of inspiration. I frantically scribbled half a page of thoughts and all but ran to my professor after class and explained my idea: This novel I had chosen (pretty much at random and without reading the whole thing) was a perfect response to Foucault’s theory — the perfect marriage, every scholar’s dream.

20 books later I had a 23 page annotated bibliography, ready to write.

And now, I stand on the other side of a fully-completed 32 page thesis. Completely drained, but completely full at the same time.

Yesterday, one of my friends described this project as an “exhausting privilege,” and I think those words articulate it perfectly. Aside from being completely enamored with Wendell Berry, his vision, lifestyle, and writing, the process of writing and everything I learned about the world we live in was truly life-changing and really, a gift.

I learned about the beauty of conforming our bodies to the naturalness of creation.
I learned about the amnesia that comes when we sever that connection.
I learned about the ways in which postmodern constructs gave us false-expectations.
I learned that when those expectations were not met, the disparity it brought- most unknowingly.
I learned that theorists with completely different views than I can completely humble you when they are right.
I learned that I cannot listen to mainstream music after studying postmodernism all day.
I learned that I also cannot function with adequate social skills after studying postmodern theory all day…
I learned that adhering to a philosophy with no Grand Narrative, in denial of a Transcendent Signified leaves you in a void.
I learned that this void doesn’t have to be your permanent dwelling place, but neither do other voids (of distraction/consumerism/media/technology/etc)
I learned that human beings are not representations, and that power structures may frame you, but they don’t define you.
I learned that to be fully human, or a little more human requires firsthand experiences; touch things, work with your hands, do something outdoors, smell fresh-baked bread, listen listen listen and listen some more.
I learned about ecocriticism and hegemonic discourse and ontology and empirical knowledge and archaeological quests for knowledge.
I learned a lot about meaninglessness as a conclusion.
But I learned a lot about hope, centeredness, a Foundation, a Real, purpose for human existence, peace, and rest.
I learned that everything I’ve been shown adds to the brick-laying, to build upon the foundation that stands.
And I learned that this is a Truth that is a light.

And in the throws of it all, I learned everything that they’ll tell you you’re supposed to learn when you do hard things. Patience, perseverance, permitting yourself to have lots of breakdowns under your desk locked in your research carrel (maybe that was an extra?). I also learned how small acts of kindness can go a very, very long way — like notes and drawings dropped on your head (literally), the comfort of hearing your carrel-neighbor-friend typing away next to you, tutors who give fabulous advice, and tutors who let you go over your allotted time because you’re laughing too hard to be productive during your appointment, friends who spontaneously buy you coffee, professors who make you bags of snacks the day before the due date, professors who pray for you, professors who give you all the pep-talks you could ever need, I could go on and on. I believe stress can bring communities together, and I have been both thrilled and humbled at the burst of community that came around me as I wrote.

I think its best to end with some words that now have more power and depth after walking into the throws of despair, peering into meaningless, and uncovering a hopeful reality in spite of a plauged, dark reality (I of course am referring to the theory I studied and the literary analysis that helped me conjure a hopeful counter-argument). In short, I studied how Michel Foucault thinks we have “decentered selves,” and discussed through his novel how Wendell Berry articulates a foundation to find purpose and a “center.”

and, I learned that I KNOW that I have a strong Foundation amidst it all – stress, theories, meaninglessness. Not only that, I learned and continue to learn that knowledge is a weighty responsibility, but always teaches you more about a story to be shared that can point others to the Foundation, the hope we have. These are the words I have to say about writing so many words, and here are the words that spurred me to remember why I got to do what I did:

When the night comes, 
and you don’t know which way to go 
Through the shadowlands, 
and forgotten paths, 
you will find a road 

Like an owl you must fly by moonlight with an open eye, 
And use your instinct as a guide, to navigate the ways that lays before you, 
You were born to, take the greatest flight 
Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love 
To carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow 
Every hollow in the dark of night 
Waiting for the light 
Take the flame tonight 
Child the time has come for you to go 
You will never be alone 
Every dream that you have been shown 
Will be like living stone 
Building you into a home 
A shelter from the storm 
Like a messenger of peace, the beauty waits be released 
Upon the sacred path you keep, leading deeper into the unveiling 
As your sailing, across the great divide 
Like a wolf at midnight howls, you use your voice in darkest hours 
To break the silence and the power, holding back the others from their glory 
Every story will be written soon 
The blood is on the moon 
Morning will come soon 
Child the time has come for you to go 
You will never be alone 
Every dream that you have been shown 
Will be like living stone 
Building you into a home 

A shelter from the storm

–White Owl, Josh Garrels

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One thought on “11,672.

  1. Robin Orton

    Wow…beautifully said!! What joy to look back & see how the One carried you thru & how much you’ve grown emotionally & spiritually!!
    Congrats, Kate!!

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