Wednesday, June 21, 2006

confess your faults to one another

Last night, I learned what is probably always a painful lesson--the importance of having a human confessor. This is something that I haven't really experienced so far with Orthodoxy (will a priest even take confession from someone who's still just searching?), but in principle it makes sense to me, and I've felt the lack in my own religious experience.

What happened last night had nothing directly to do with Orthodoxy or with Christianity in general. I just think God used the experience to drive home an important spiritual point for me. I was admitted to Ph.D. candidacy two years ago. I was never particularly happy with the rate of progress I was making, even during the first year. But during this second year, it's gone from bad to worse. The last time I met with my advisor, or had anything more than incidental contact with anyone in the department, was over a year ago. For much of that time, I've gone weeks, even months, without touching my dissertation. It bothered me, particularly since it's not cheap to stay in the program, but I just couldn't get myself motivated. Probably a couple of months ago, my wife asked me (for the first time in I don't know how long) how things were going, and I told her honestly that I wasn't even sure it was worth continuing. It was a difficult conversation, needless to say. But it did motivate me to focus a bit more, and lately I've been back in "good intentions" mode, where it's always somewhere on the agenda, but I'm always getting one more thing out of the way so I can spend some serious time on it. I haven't got much further, mind you, but at least it was back on the radar.

I must say, there's a clear snowball effect here. Even after the talk with my wife, I wouldn't follow her suggestion of contacting my advisor. I wanted to work for a while first, so I had something to show him. I just couldn't bear to show up with nothing. And that's pretty much how this year has gone. The longer I went without accomplishing anything, the less I wanted to talk to anyone about it. Even when I got back on the horse, I'd feel like I needed to make up some ground before saying anything. Then I'd slip right back into the old pattern, and since I'd lost even more time, I would be even less inclined to bring it up. It hasn't helped that I seem to have completely lost the taste for it. Who knows whether I'll ever find a job in my academic field that can beat what I'm already doing financially? With the changes that have come in the past couple of years, I'm not even sure I have that much interest left in my field anyway. And a thousand other things, not least of which is my exploration of Orthodoxy, have shown up as higher priorities. You might have noticed, BTW, that I happened to become a candidate right around the same time I got interested in Orthodoxy. One has not been particularly good for the other.

So, last night I got an e-mail from the chair of the department. It was brief and to the point--haven't heard from you, haven't seen anything, are you still working? (Not those exact words, but it doesn't take much more to turn them into complete sentences.) Ouch! More like, Auggh! How do you respond to that? I basically had two options--ignore the e-mail and pretend that I never saw it, or respond honestly. It was in that moment, when I literally felt physical pain at the time and money that I'd wasted, and the laziness I'd exhibited, that I realized why a human confessor is important. It takes a human to ask you pointedly about what's going on in your life. And however well-intentioned we might be, it sometimes takes a human to rip open the wound, so the recovery process can start. I also needed a human to hear my confession, so I could really begin to move forward. I could use that kind of thing in other aspects of my life, as I think we all could.

Where does it go from here? I don't know. I'm not expecting a particularly sympathetic response. I doubt that I'll get much help or guidance with how to balance the various demands on my time, or how to rekindle my enthusiasm for the work I'm doing. At best, I might get some useful input on the measly amount that I've done so far and some ideas for moving forward. But if nothing else, I can hopefully get someone regularly checking on where I'm at, holding me accountable. I guess I'll find out soon enough.

No comments: