That’s how it went: I got married, I got cancer, and I got a Ph.D. We could say the cancer treatment was bookended by marriage and a Ph.D.. Highest highs, lowest lows, weirdest moments, sweetest love. That was the last year. As we approach our one year wedding anniversary now as Dr. & Mr., (did you know Dr. always goes first, and it’s kind of effed up that we require a piece of guidance for what to do in formal situations when (gasp!) she outranks her husband, but I’m also fist-pumping because it seems like we doctors bucked the patriarchal ettiquete system and I love being first and I love bucking the system, so it’s a win.) it seems appropriate to reflect on the sheer madness of this life we call ours.
The sheer madness, the absolute horror, the queer fortune we stumbled across in the darkness. Some people say that getting my Ph.D. is a silver lining, or building a wide cancer-support network is a silver lining, or that finding all the young writers and poets and media makers who had breast cancer is a silver lining. I completely disagree. Maybe it’s a queer fortune. But it’s not a silver lining. I will not, and I repeat, will not ever cast this queer fortune a silver lining. I’m absolutely unwilling to participate in a system that tries to appreciate, celebrate, or otherwise make pink, pretty, and palatable a disease that has manifested in our bodies because we continue to ensnare ourselves with capitalism and we get sicker and we yet we refuse to take the kind of radical political action that would hold transnational companies accountable for causing pain, illness, death, horror. So, I’m unwilling. I won’t engage that way. No silver linings. But maybe I can think about the support of my community as queer fortune. I have found friends, I have found role models, I have found celebrators and I have found people who can cry their eyeballs out with me. And besides, now I have a Ph.D. so I’ll base my resistance to silver linings in research and theorize my way out of ever needing to relate in even the most subtle ways to some mystical duplicitous gratefulness for cancer, and then I’ll run into the sunset with my queer fortune.
Because guys, I got the Ph.D.. I have wanted those three letters after my name since I was like 20. I remember asking a young professor I had my senior year at Pitzer College again and again, how she decided to do the Ph.D.. She told me her story, which involved communities of Asian American baseball players, more than once, until she tired she turned to me and asked, “Haven’t I told you this before?” Truth be told, she had. More than once. I just wanted to keep hearing it, I wanted the words to wash over me, I wanted to imagine myself in her shoes, each time she recounted how she got her Ph.D.. But I got my Ph.D., and I don’t need to imagine myself in her shoes anymore: I got my own big-girl heels in which to do my Ph.D. dance. Maybe she has an inkling of the sort of impact her story had on me. Maybe I should tell her.
On Dr. day, I was nervous as nervous could be. I arrived early. I was too nervous to drink my jar of perfectly juiced organic vegetables, but I guzzled my almond milk latte. I flipped through my slides. I stared obsessively at my theory and concept maps. I could only half-acknowledge each new person as they arrived in the room, the committee members settling in around the table and everyone else taking seats on the periphery. I made sure my supervisor had a secret hand gesture in case I was going way off track, a gesture that would scream to me and only me “re-focus!” I listened on repeat to wakawaka, channeling all the AMIGOS spirit I could muster.
And then it began. “The exponential rise in access to networked media has paralleled a research trend that celebrates participatory practices….” And the nerves calmed in about thirty seconds because I realized, DUH, I’m talking the stuff I dream about at night. And I do mean dream at night. This is theory with which I have a deeply embodied relation: in fact, there’s one book that whenever I open it, I want to climb inside. I want to get my body between the lines of text, and know how it feels to lay inside of those ideas, I want to taste the words and eat the ideas and snuggle up really close with the sentences. I want to climb inside the pages. I’ll let you imagine if its this book, or this one, or this one, or this one.
And you know when I relaxed, at the defense? I relaxed when I got to the methods slide, and the bullet point reminded me to “explain AMIGOS,” and I could feel all those people, that vast community, that gigantic network of people dancing to wakawaka and planing youth workshops and feverishly believing in a world that doesn’t yet exist. I could explain AMIGOS backwards, upside down, and inside out. So when I got to the bullet point, 75 seconds into the presentation, I took a deep breath and in that AMIGOS explanation, everyone who was ever with me in AMIGOS was present. My host mom from the Dominican Republic who used to braid my hair every morning was there, and board members with whom I’ve struggled over the meaning and mission of AMIGOS were there, and Maribel, who I ran the Boaco project with was there, and the girls I went through AMIGOS trainings with were there, and my staffs and youth were there, and my Boaco truck driver Alfredo, who got into and out of so many pickles with me was there, and the Plan Boaco team was there, and the communities that loved me, and the youth that I love were all there, in those words.
And so I could breathe. The rest was history. It felt so good.
Then came the exam period, during which the committee poses questions for the candidate to answer. And the questions were so generous, and so insightful. I got to talk about practice and theory and movements and ideas and evaluation and hope and democratic practice and agency. I could not have asked for more glittery, exciting, hopeful, engaging questions. I loved every single one. They were light and playful. The external report was magical and exciting, and magic in the form of a report from someone who’s work I admire so much makes for so much bright, hopeful energy. And my supervisor with the secret-code-for-refocusing? She never made the signal, she only nodded and smiled really big, and I so I knew we were golden. I know so well the way she peers over her glasses with one raised eyebrow as if to say, this isn’t good enough yet, right before she dismantles my theory like someone pulling the wooden piece out of a jenga-tower that makes the whole thing crumble. And so the smiles were a big deal.
You know what was especially awesome? My supervisor said this whole thing about being able to do critical work without extinguishing the passion-flame, about being able to do post-structural and feminist critique and still believe in the power of young people to play with revolution, and about being able to write a critical diss and still be hopeful for something outside of capitalist structures. There have been times when I have doubted AMIGOS. Moments when I have wondered, wow, is this too colonial, too racist, too gendered for me to associate with? And yes, sometimes, it is all of those things, but even in the face of that stuff, I have to say my belief in AMIGOS is still brilliant and passionate and willing. I believe. I love youth and technology and democratic practice. I am hopeful. And I think I can ground that hope in theory, in Tsing’s friction and Zerilli’s democratic practice. Knowing that my supervisor M thinks so too is really, really cool.
And then the committee deliberated, and we waited outside and chewed our fingernails, and finally they came out to get me, Dr. Hauge! And there were no revisions. And it was only 70 minutes long, which is about 50% shorter than every doctoral exam ever. And so now I just need to turn this thing in, brush my hands off, and figure out what on earth is next.
But what is next can wait. We went out, we ate, we drank, we celebrated, we slept. And the whole time, I was thinking, I’M A DOCTOR! And I got to celebrate that with people I love so dearly and so much and it was awesome. And I still am on a kind of high, because well, I’m a Ph.D..
So when people say “you know what cancer cannot do?” I say bullshit. Cancer can take and ruin everything: it definitely can cripple hope, shatter love, and erode friendship. It invades the soul, steals life, and conquers the spirit. It is insufferable. It seeps into every corner. But I got a Ph.D. anyway. Not the same Ph.D. I would have gotten without cancer, for cancer forever changed everything. But a Ph.D..
People often ask how. They want to know how I finished writing, held committee meetings, and re-drafted chapters between chemotherapies and mastectomies and blood draws. I never really know what the other option is that everyone seems to refer to, that would have been “easier.” I missed that memo. It always seemed like this was the only choice. My supervisor never blinked at the cancer. She just listened and then kept pushing the theory, as she always had. She had breast cancer, and maybe she knew that the consistent distraction my dissertation work provided was comforting and safe. It is very weird I got breast cancer while working under someone who themself had breast cancer, and who now writes about the cultural politics of cancer. Maybe that was some kind of queer fortune. It is odd, wonky, and uneven. But it was something to grasp and hold steady in the cancer-tilt-a-whirl. And in the end, I can say, had cancer, have Ph.D.. Had cancer, have Ph.D..
I hate cancer. Getting the Ph.D. is not a silver lining, but it is a moment of really really awesome achievement. The people around me are not a silver lining, but they are so full of love and sparkle that we are all covered in metaphorical glitter. I am grateful for these people, but I didn’t need cancer to get them: I had them before cancer. Now I just have them and cancer. I wish I just had them.
It started with a wedding, and it ended with a Ph.D. What a crazy 365 days it has been in my life. So to sum up, the year in review: got married, got cancer, got Ph.D..