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  • Writer's pictureKristyn Bat Lopez

get with the action [final form]

I do know why I never posted anything regarding the final form of my graduate research. I was so busy, I was lost between the lines. I'll give some brief examples of what I mean through what will be, as per usual, a very vague and circuitous story time.

TLDR: Here's the link to the zine. Here's the link to the paper.

I gave my oral thesis defense from Biella, Italy, while at the Cittadellarte UNIDEE Labs weeklong residency, 'Art as Toolkit.' I had a submission deadline per university requirements and one of my committee members could only make it during the time I was out of town, so instead of sipping wine I was doing last minute edits on the 14-hour plane ride from Daytona Beach, where my mom and stepdad had thankfully offered to house my two wild children for the week. I had been working on this project since 2016, been wanting to go to Italy since starting Italian language classes in 1999, been thinking about being a student at UF since I could write my name.

I first visited Gainesville sometime in elementary school, and I remember my Grandfather telling me, rather pointedly, that, yes, Gainesville was a lot of fun, but one had to watch out for the pitfalls. My dad had left the University after what can be generalized as a total emotional breakdown after his first year of engineering school. He didn't finish the program but remained, above almost anything else, a devoted Gator anyway. I didn't understand that pitfalls, however, were something separate from the extensive and terrifying sinkholes I'd heard told of in similarly foreboding tones. When my Dad and Grandfather understood my mistake they fell into what seemed to me like absolute manic uproar, and I wished for a sinkhole to open up right there in the formica bar and swallow me whole. I mean, this was probably thirty years ago, and I still carry the memory of being SO embarrassed to have confused these words. I felt SO dumb, so naïve. I just wanted to be an adult and stop messing up all the time.

Fast forward to Biella, sitting in my room in the oldest building I'd ever set foot in, desperately banging away at my keyboard, hastily devouring the best bread I'd ever tasted, worrying that I'd never finish everything in time, that it didn't even make sense anymore, that I still hadn't put together the "project" that needed to accompany the written paper. The action research element of the study had been totally disappointing, my survey was so poorly responded to that calling it statistically insignificant would be an understatement, and I just felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Then I got a phone call from my boyfriend who was house- and dog-sitting at home in Gainesville, saying that the power was out. Absolute terror washed over me for the next fifteen minutes as I tried to take some sort of responsible grown-up action to erase the idiotic mistake of simply having forgotten to pay the electric bill. How am I supposed to take myself seriously here, as a researcher, a parent, an adult. What the hell am I doing with my life if I am in ITALY on a UNIVERSITY SPONSORED RESEARCH TRIP and still can't manage to pay my bills on time.

A few phone calls and tears and panic, and between my mom and boyfriend, the power was restored before everything in the freezer melted. The paper did get done, I passed the oral defense, the residency was great even though I spent a whole morning crying into various hot beverages after finding out that Taylor Hawkins had died. No more seeing Foo Fighters in Berlin that summer, lots of triggers relating to my own Dad's death. But my Italian was sufficient enough so I didn't feel too stupid too often, and I finished the project in time for submission. Graduation week approached. I re-organized some elements of final papers into a haphazard project proposal and sent it out with my application to a pre-doctoral program at the University of Cologne. I was rushing in and out of the letterpress studio to finish my final project there, stolen moments when I should have been packing or hanging out with my family. Three tickets plus one oversized pet fare, Atlanta to Frankfurt, had been booked. The kids had a month of school left, give or take.

Night before graduation. Backyard BBQ, an orange and blue blanket that I have only just been reunited with after sitting in customs at the port of Rotterdam all winter. My boyfriend had accepted a position at a German university and was leaving the next day. The project he had quietly nurtured since our second date, the diploma my Dad had been loudly nurturing perhaps since my conception, it was all about to end with neither of them there to see it happen. I walked into the fine arts auditorium in tears that I just hoped the rest of my family couldn't see. I sat on the stage biting my cheeks until I could taste blood, and when it was all over I soothed it with some vegan ice cream. The lease ended on the home that had been my Dad's, and my sister's before, and was the warm cocoon that had sheltered me through my separation, beginning a new relationship, and finishing my last year at UF. I moved back into the house where my children were born, where my marriage had begun and ended. I would now finally have the time to be sad, convince my dog to get into a crate, finish all the outstanding tattoo work I owed to my clients, and pack my life for Germany. Then we all got COVID.

I drove to Atlanta five agonizing weeks later terribly sick, despite never testing positive. My best friend Julia met me at the airport with a pair of socks, a hair tie, and meatballs to bribe the dog through boarding, because I'd forgotten all that stuff at home. My Gainesville house was left in complete disarray that my sisters and mom would have to finish packing up through their own pain. I hadn't been able to print out the zines I made for my thesis, I hadn't been able to finish my final projects in letterpress. It felt like I was somehow avoiding the pitfalls by being sucked into the sinkhole, like an entire galaxy, constellations nestled into constellations, had been suspended inside the jaws of this Gator - and now it was snapping shut.

After a month away, a few terrible Airbnbs and a lot of Kölsch, I came home for a quick visit, printed the zines, packed up my house and finished up with letterpress, thinking I'd be back again in the fall, and for Christmas holidays, and it's been eight months since. I don't know yet how to talk or think about what I have to show for it, this expulsion and suspension in a still unformed new life. I'm homesick, I'm annoyed, I feel SO stupid all the time. I wear my orange and blue and get mad at being simultaneously an "Ami" and feeling like an "Asi," I hate the Ausländeramt with every fiber of my being, but I have work to do, there's vegan salami here, and kids don't bring their parents' guns to school, so hopefully they eventually let me get it done.

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