The postgrad's prayer
At a previous writing retreat for Pasifika postgraduates, one of my peers shared how her writing had changed over the course of her PhD journey. Once removed from the context of her subject area, she could speak with the benefit of distance. “Your writing is less angry than it used to be,” her supervisor apparently said.
Another peer told me she listens to Eminem while writing her thesis. She didn’t listen for Eminem’s fast-running lyrics, but because the verbal punches and rhythm inspired something like anger, motivating her to write.
Passion is definitely an effective driver for postgraduate studies. Anecdotal evidence may show us that students would classify the postgrad journey as “an arduous experience” (that’s how we write when we can’t be bothered to qualify our statements with evidence, yo). It helps to care about what you’re studying.
When pinning down our research, we’re encouraged to think of our project in terms of what problem or opportunity we’re responding to. My current research project is one part of a long journey towards the negotiation of cultural identity as a foundation to academic and, subsequently, professional achievement. (If you want to know what I'm actually studying, please go here.)
I have an interest in social justice, awareness and wellbeing: people being given every opportunity, respective to their situation, of being able to live and live well. I live my life by a theology of compassion. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. But you’re going to encounter a lot of Christians in your life, and I’m the one following Jesus as he’s flipping tables in the temple, chasing merchants out with a whip for exploiting people and sullying places of worship with greed.
I’m working to realise an opportunity. In my feeling place, I’m pursuing this research to help lift up my Samoan people. But on a day-to-day basis, it’s spite that fuels me and it’s the problems that grease the gears. I’m annoyed by all the potential wasted by ignorance or laziness. I’m disappointed by the prideful reproaches that barricade conversations, prioritising saving face over saving our families. I’m angry at the families that don’t fight to make a place for their members who diverge from a norm. And I’m angriest at myself for each day when I don’t achieve what I set out to do.
I’m working to spite my inner child growling in the corner who’s given up.
I pray for a day when I don’t need the spite, where my relationship with God is intimate enough that I understand how to work from a place of compassion free of aggression.
But then I look to Jesus with the tables, and I think that maybe a little anger once in a while is within reason. I can forgive while holding people (including myself) to account; but forgiveness may mean that sometimes we have to move on without an admission of wrongdoing, while we expect accountability in the future.
I’m praying for a day when I can be more compassionate with myself without becoming lazy. Praying for that day when I can sustainably extend this courtesy to everyone around me. Praying for that ongoing courage to change the things I can, the peace to accept the things I cannot, and God’s wisdom to discern the difference.