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15 Apr 2011

In beta – (Things have been happening here at Liminality at a far quicker pace than usual—this is the third time I’ve posted this week. If you haven’t already, you’ll probably want to start with the big reveal for an idea of what I’ll be writing about today.)

“I decided that I was going to embrace the moment, because no doubt a day will come when I will wish that I could be that alive.”

Today was the presentation. It went well. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t actually feel like writing about the presentation itself, so I won’t. (Actually, I will, at the very end, but you’re going to have to slog through a bunch of other words to get there.)

It’s the end of a very long day right now—a very long week, for that matter—so I don’t know how long this is going to be, but I wanted to write at least a little. It feels good to write here again.

I was on the train this morning heading down to SNU, feeling a little nervous about the presentation. OK, I was feeling quite nervous. I don’t suffer from stage fright—I don’t think I’ve ever had too much of a problem with public speaking—but I do suffer from pre-stage fright. That is, the anticipation of having to speak in public is far worse than the actual speaking. Or, to put it another way, I’m adept at psyching myself out.

Of course, this was no ordinary presentation, but the beginning of the end of something I’ve been working on for almost a decade now. So to say that I felt a little nervous would be quite an understatement. I had no butterflies in my stomach, but it felt like I had a boulder on my chest, and my mouth was dry.

With nothing to do but think, I started thinking not about the presentation but about how I felt. A friend of mine told me how hard it had been for her when she wrote her MA thesis, and I remember thinking at the time that she had no idea what I was experiencing. I have to admit that I felt bad about this, but I found myself wishing she wouldn’t try to compare her experience with mine. I suppose this was because I also went through the process of writing an MA thesis, and it was nothing compared to what I’m going through now.

Or, at least, that’s what my memories tell me. Truth be told, it’s been nearly a decade since I wrote my MA thesis, and all I have left at this point are vague recollections of having a moderately rough time. But I honestly cannot tell you exactly how I felt then, or how hard it was for me. On Monday I wrote about how pulling an all-nighter is nothing compared to staying awake for five days straight, and I guess I was applying the same logic: surely an MA thesis is nothing compared to a doctoral dissertation. Maybe... but that doesn’t mean that what I experienced then was any less intense than what I am experiencing now.

And that’s when it hit me—I don’t have any better of an understanding of what my friend went through than my friend has of what I’m going through. And yet, there is still something there that allows us to connect through our experiences. No one can ever really know exactly what someone else is feeling, but human experiences are similar enough that we can in fact relate to each other. As I realized this, I felt even worse about what I had thought about my friend. She may not have gone through exactly what I’m going through, but it’s obvious that she understands the sort of emotions I’m feeling.

Along with this revelation I had another thought—I realized how precious moments like this were. I had looked down at my watch and seen that it was half past ten. In six hours, I thought, the presentation will probably be over. I won’t have to be nervous anymore. But in the very next moment a thought occurred to me: yes, and you will never again feel exactly the way you feel now. I suppose some might see that as a good thing, but for some reason it struck me as an incredibly sad thing. Yes, I may have been nervous, but my body’s physiological reaction to a purely mental stimulus was an amazing thing when I thought about it. It was a negative feeling, but it was intense, and how often do we get to feel that intensely? I decided that I was going to embrace the moment, because no doubt a day will come when I will wish that I could be that alive.

I’ve spent so much of my life looking forward to things. That’s not to say that anticipation is wrong—but I think living in the future is. The only time I have is now, this moment. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow exists only in the abstract. And so, as I sat on that train, I decided I was going to embrace the now, for better or for worse. That moment is still fresh enough that I can remember what it felt like, and I’m glad I can still feel it as I write this.

Ironically enough, embracing my nervousness and everything that came with it made me less nervous. I started thinking back on traumatic or stressful moments in my life, and I realized that they had shaped me just as much as the joyful moments—and maybe even more so. Being happy is great, and I have many beautiful memories of happiness, particularly moments with my friends, my family, my wife. But the moments of pain and sadness defined me. They were all turning points, where I had to decide how I was going to continue—if I was going to continue. In overcoming the pain I became a better person.

Seen in that light, what I went through today was not nearly as intense as experiences I have had in the past. But I’m glad I went through it—not glad that it’s over and done with (although I am glad about that, too), but glad that I felt the way I did. Ten years from now, I will not feel this way anymore. I will know that writing my dissertation was a challenge, but I will know this in the way that someone knows something they read in a book. It will be an abstract memory, part of a person I once was but will be no longer.

Hmm. I did not expect to delve this deep into what I was thinking and feeling today. I guess I wanted to put this down now, while I could still feel it. Tomorrow or the day after this will probably seem silly. But I’m going to own it. This is who I am, and I’m glad.

For those of you who were hoping to read something about the actual presentation and what’s going to happen in the near future, like I said above, the presentation went well. Afterward, my advisor said, “The attacks were a bit weak. I think you got off pretty easy.” I can’t really argue with him on that. The two people who presented before me got slammed, and I was fully expecting to get slammed myself. I was ready for it. I thought back to when I was studying karate and took my brown belt test. The final phase of the test was five rounds in succession against five different black belts. You’re not supposed to win, you’re just supposed to hold your own and stay on your feet. When I took my brown belt test I got knocked down once, but I got right back up again. At the time, it felt like I was lying on the floor for quite a while, debating whether or not I should get up, but a look at the video tape later showed that I popped right back up again. I passed the test and got my brown belt.

That’s pretty much what these presentations are. You’re not supposed to win. You’re just supposed to hold your own. But either my opponents today pulled their punches a little or they didn’t have enough time to prepare properly vicious attacks. But I did get some good advice for how to improve on what I have, so I have a pretty clear picture of what I need to do next.

Speaking of next, apparently as long as you don’t get completely destroyed at the presentation, it’s assumed that you are continuing on to the next stage. It ultimately comes down to a discussion between the candidate and his or her advisor. I didn’t have an official discussion with my advisor, but I did speak with him at dinner afterward, and it seems that he just assumed I would be continuing. So I guess I misunderstood the process a bit. Anyway, hurdle number three has been cleared, and I’m now in beta testing. I reckon that I have about a month before I have to submit another draft for the official evaluation process, but I’ll post more about that when I find out the specifics.

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