Right now I am in Nain with my supervisors Dr. Forbes and Dr. Whitridge, along with fellow graduate students Sarah and James. We arrived on Monday and planned to leave for our field site on Okak this past Wednesday. The gear and supplies we shipped up from St. John’s a few weeks ago took longer to get here than we anticipated. This hasn’t been a bad thing though as we’ve been able to spend some time in the town and enjoy being here. We were able to go to nearby Skull Island and survey some of the human made stone features on the surface. It was a great trip and contained moments where I “felt it all connect”, so to speak, where all of the research I’ve done over the last year and the experience of the actual landscapes and artifacts referenced in the literature came together.
With the boat that was transporting our supplies to Nain having come in last night (hopefully, but I have no confirmation of this fact as of this morning), we are expecting to leave for Okak today, weather permitting. If anything, I feel this stay in Nain has primed me for fieldwork. The anticipation has steadily grown, and seeing Labrador (little bit by little bit) has gotten me excited to see more. It comes at a great time during my studies because I have been feeling drained from the past year of classes. Now I’m at a point where I have done the work and all I need to do is show up, be present, and follow through with the fieldwork plan. The work leading up to this is done, and now I can just enjoy being here. It’s a relief from the stress of the past couple of months, and that’s a great feeling.
Stress relief is a beautiful thing. Since coming into graduate school I’ve developed mechanisms for coping with the stress, some of which surprised me. For instance, I did not expect that I would turn to certain things from my childhood that I grew up loving. Another way of putting this is that I turned to mental images, feelings, or tangible things that I drew comfort from, and began asking myself, what about them I found comforting and where they come from. For instance, I am a fan of certain genres of horror. One element from these genres that I enjoy is when human-like things do not move in ways you would expect people to move. Along with this is when a human-like thing is different enough from a human that it causes discomfort. This type of thing makes reference to what’s called “the uncanny Valley”, which is the range of likeness that a human-like thing can have (from no human likeness at all to complete identical likeness). The more human-like the thing is, the more uncomfortable that thing makes someone feel until a certain point where the likeness gets so close to perfect human-likeness, that it begins to seem ok again. A perfect example of this is in stop motion animation. There is some claymation in particular which plays within the uncanny Valley in pretty disturbing ways. Coraline, for instance, has elements of this (buttons for eyes), and a more extreme example is well illustrated in the work of artists like Jack Stauber (recommended viewing if you’re into this type of thing).
It was following these feelings and images that lead me into the uncanny Valley, and it brought me back to my childhood. I remember watching these kinds of things and enjoying them growing up. Some of it was disturbing, but I’ve come to find comfort in these human-like representations. It has informed my aesthetic preferences to varying degrees, and it’s only now that I’ve really begun to embrace my enjoyment of media and art within the uncanny Valley and seek it out. It has connected me to my youth, and in turn has contributed to me feeling like a more filled out version of myself. I feel reinforced.
These types of re-connection with myself have been invaluable in coping with the stresses of graduate school. What else has helped me is connecting with other graduate students who are in the department, and who have been through the department. Getting context and support from my peers has helped me feel seen and has reminded me that I’m not alone in what I experience. Like many things, this experience is enhanced through sharing it with other people. When these people can relate to those experiences, the validation from sharing them grows. This community is important to me.
Well, I need to pack. Thanks for reading and I look forward to sending an update when I get back from the field.
All the best,