When I was instructed to write a research paper, my first thought was, “how hard could this be?” It did not take me long to find out. First, I struggled over finding a “relevant” topic that I thought my readers would enjoy and relate to, but which has not been overly exhausted. That took about a week. I finally settled upon a topic which was close to my heart and which I thought would be easy. Wrong again.
The topic I chose was Jim Jones and the Jonestown tragedy. The reason was my personal family history in connection with it. Again, I grossly misjudged the simplicity of this endeavor. I have changed the scope and direction of this paper so many times, my head hurts (and considering the size of my head that is a lot of pain).
I finally came to recognize my dilemma. I wanted to write an objective paper from a subjective view. What an oxy-moron I am. In trying to please others, I was hurting myself, and it soon became apparent to me that if I wanted to write something that matters to others, I would have to write it so that it mattered to me, or I would be doing a disservice to both.
My research for this paper took me far and wide, among varying views and perceptions of the man, the movement, and the people. The kaleidoscope of attitudes and opinion sent me on an emotional rollercoaster that threatened my very sanity and confidence, and it was not until the last day, in the final hours, that I came across a couple of sources that leveled me out and brought me back to a semblance of continuity and structure. These sources did not come in the form of historical texts, manuscripts, articles or books as much of my paper derived from. They come from last minute personal emails from survivors and family members, and one late night phone conversation with a particularly beautiful “Grammaw” of the movement which I had the pleasure of having just as I was finishing my final draft. Needless to say, I had to once again go back and revise my whole paper which gave birth to this abstract and this acknowledgement to these sources.
(Chris Lewis was recently nominated to the Pomona Chapter of the Sigma Beta Delta International Honor Society.)