21 January 2010

Reflection 1: And lo, there shall be an origin...

A lot of people ask me how this all started. Indeed, every time I attend a con or a department function, I am always greeted by exclamations of shock and awe that I am actually studying anime and anime conventions. And I am always asked the same question: How did you pull this off?

The answer to this requires a bit of explanation.

I entered college a full decade ago, with a potential major in psychology and absolutely no direction. This is not a rarity among incoming Freshmen, in fact the sense of awe, raw potential and overwhelming choices often scares new students away from upper academia. But it was here that I stumbled across a class in anthropology that would change my life.

For those who do not know, anthropology is the study of humanity. Each of the four fields of the discipline relate to one form of human origins: Biophysical deals with the evolution of the species within science (also known by the vernacular term of Darwinism); Archaeology deals with the study of the rise of human civilization, organized society and technology; Linguistics deals with the evolution of language; and Sociocultural (my field) with the development and inheritance of intangible culture. In the past, this meant that my fellows studied “primitive” societies and tried to gleam from them how we developed into what we are today. In a more modern world, this study is found less and less, and a lot of scholars debate where social anthropology is going. I am part of a group of anthropologists who see that the world we live in creates and sustains its own “virtual” cultures centered around mass media, the internet and ascribed community. In the past, this would have been labeled as “subculture,” but thankfully that term is falling out of widespread use.

I wasn’t always this way. For a good deal of both my Undergraduate and Graduate education, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I have a deep seated love of the past, and I found classes focusing on ancient history, ancient religions and generally “old things” to be fascinating. I spent years cramming my head full of facts and dates and other information related to the pursuit of archaeology. And my university was more than happy to give me more: so much, in fact, that I devoured everything present and began to make plans to become a crusading archaeologist, studying the Vikings or whoever struck my fancy.

Then came the summer of 2008 and I decided it was time for me to leave the US for a bit. Nothing very long term, just a jaunt overseas to put things into perspective and maybe satisfy my travel bug, which had been very hungry of late. So I browsed the internet and discovered a lovely little archaeology field school in Merrye Olde England, for the month of July. I was in heaven, to say the least. Four weeks of digging up Roman stuff, exploring the United Kingdom, making new friends and generally living it up. Or so I thought.

It turns out that nobody at Hunter ever told me how much, well, digging was involved. I know that many would immediately reply that “it’s archaeology, what did you expect?” and that would be a true assertion. Indiana Jones aside, anyone with even a passing knowledge of the field knows that digging plays a huge part. Unfortunately, at my university, archaeology is more about what we know and less about how we found out about it in the first place. And the only advice they can give about the practical side of archaeology is “go to field school.”

So fast forward four weeks- my England experience has given me two major revelations: first, I really, REALLY like Doctor Who; and second, I hate digging. What’s more, I hate the cataloguing that comes after the digging is done. I hate dragging myself out of bed to sit in a ditch under the hot sun all day. I hate labeling those annoying Finds bags and filling them up with, let’s be honest here, junk. I know that for some people, this is the be all/end all of their passion, but it certainly is not mine.

I return from England knowing something about myself...and dreading what comes next. I had spent so much time and energy devoting myself to the study of ancient civilization that now I was completely at a loss on what to do. So I sat in class and smiled for the proverbial camera, knowing that my time as a grad student would be ending very soon and I had no clue what to do my thesis on. Was I destined to become another grad school dropout, lost in a world of indecision and confusion? What could I possibly do now that my carefully crafted world was coming apart at the seems?

I decided to wait a bit more, maybe after November my head would be clear and I would have some direction. After all, I didn’t want my worries to take away from one of my favorite times of the year. Yeah, I’ll wait until a bit later...

At least until after Nekocon.

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