Tag Archives: thesis

The Annotated Nightstand

When I moved out of Wesleyan, I salvaged my old $12 particle board nightstand from Walmart and bought a pack of 30 sharpies.

Now, on this nightstand, between the short stack of books I flip through at night, is the careful calligraphy of a girl who grew up in the digital age (read: well-intentioned, scribbly cursive).  Sprawled across its white surface are colorful quotations from my favorite books, graphical renditions of my prayers and dreams, and what is pretty much the only surviving record of any attempt at poetry that I’ve ever made.

While my personal library rivals that of my two roommates combined, the stack of books on my nightstand occupy a coveted and elect space.  They’re the only ones within arms reach of my bed and thereby serve as the books I’m most likely to actually read on a quiet night.

One’s on entrepreneurship, another on deception and morality.  The others include a short how-to on leadership training from the perspective of a former Russian communist and a healthy collection of thinking theological texts.

Sometimes I go to the grocery store, and I become overwhelmed by capitalism.  The possibilities are practically endless, and yet, I just ate crackers and cheese for dinner.  Worse yet, it was the third time I’ve done that this week.

Something similar happens when I read.  Overwhelmed by how much I don’t know and understand, I read five chapters of everything and change books.  It’s like saying I’ve put munster, gouda, and cheddar cheese on my crackers this week, but still haven’t figured out that if you add deli meat, two slices of bread, and a pan you get a panini.  It’s also why my nightstand collection includes communist commentary, pop non-fiction, and Oswald Chambers.

This can be really bad.

I almost always did almost all of the reading for class.  One particular week in a post-imperial history tutorial, I got a paper back, one in which I had called a certain unnamed political transition “peaceable” in the introduction.  The professor circled the word and wrote, “Millions of people died.”

Yep, I’d missed an entire genocide.

That’s really terrible.

I say all this to say–I really miss my thesis research.  It provided focus, scope, and perspective on everything I read.  It also provided an insanely small nano-universe in which I was the so-called “expert” and served as the primary argument-maker.

My annotated nightstand speaks nothing about my research, but it says everything about a will to articulate, understand, and a life that meters progress by months and years instead of semesters.

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After Thesis

It’s all over next Friday.  And when it is, I will:

Dinner for champions.

Wesshop dinner for champions.

1. Eat normal meals at normal hours.

2. Play basketball.

3. Go shopping.

4. Sleep.*

5. Read a novel.

6. Read on Foss.

7. See a movie.

8. Go out.

9. Host a party.

10. Go to class.

11. Actually do the reading for class.

12. Listen while I’m there.

13. Call my parents.

14. Cook.

15. Attend neglected friendships.

16. Work normal hours.

17. Do laundry.*

18. Talk about stuff other than my thesis.

 

*Actually might need to do before next Friday.

 

 

 

 


Flatbread Crackers & Cheese

DSC00988One time last semester, life was falling in pieces, or at least I thought it was.  I really can’t remember why I was upset.  I just know that I was in my spot on the Dennison steps, legs dangling a few feet above the heads of students walking below.   Judy came along behind me, and speaking the universal code that is I wish I could help but really can’t, she gave me food.  Flatbread crackers, tomato sauce, and shredded cheese has been my thing ever since.

I work on deadlines.  I always have.  Pretty sure the over-achiever, ambitious timelines I set fall in rhythm with my own heartbeat.  Supposing this connection were true, it would explain why not meeting deadlines of any kind, include my own, sets my pulse racing.

Watching an idea larger than I can properly explain come together has been the achievement of my academic life.  Admittedly, there are things far more important.  Likewise, a few dozen mostly coherent pages doesn’t really count for anything truly “academic.”  While its stolen my life, interests, time, relationships, sleep, and is about to get away with my sanity, a thesis is an exercise, not book.  If I’m a lucky, a dozen people will actually read it, and half of them will be either paid to do so or share my bloodline.

And yet, it’s all I want tonight, because it still matters.  The sophomoric (literally, cause I was a sophomore) Thursday night stomachache of fear and tension and not actually being fully convinced of my ability to make my deadline is setting on with prodigious force.

I spent most of the day camping out in the CSS library, a location with the unique advantage of being unoccupied, large enough to pace, and far enough away from anything that matters to yell at my computer without disturbing anyone.  The introduction I wanted to complete on Thursday is finally written and the rewrite of Part I is at last underweight, but the gaps, unwritten conclusion, edits, and eight days I have until I need a complete draft rise on my shallow breaths.

I’ve never run a marathon before, but I’m pretty sure this is the intellectual equivalent, and I’m doing it on flatbread crackers and cheese.


A few words

Fixed a widget to my desktop as a constant reminder to go back to writing.

Somewhere between (still) staring at the first two pages of chapter three and trying to force myself to focus, I made a declaration to that little crevasse of my heart that had somehow not given up on the possibility of one day working in academia.  Research after graduate school and the unspoken dream of book writing were simply never going to happen.  Ever.

Funny that my writing had never been so relevant to anyone as it was yesterday.

Late last night, sheltered away from Nemo’s wrath and tucked underneath every single blanket I own, a friend came in and sat on the edge of my bed.  I had just gotten warm, so I didn’t even sit up.  She proceeded to talk to me about her summer plans, applications, and all the other questions that don’t leave your mind when you’re in college and don’t know where you are going next. Eventually, she asked me a very serious and direct question about decision-making.

Sadly, I don’t actually remember the exact question, which might speak to poor listening skills, but I’m pretty sure I can’t remember it just because I was so overwhelmed with the answer.

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Nemo from the inside of Exley

I had recently spent many hours untangling books, blogs, histories, videos, lectures, conversations, and ideas on the topic of her inquiry.  The only thing I had to show for it were those two pathetic pages in front of me.  But last night, instead of being a lamentably short introduction, those two pages were the clearest, most concise answer to my friend’s question.

Instead of adding to a muddled mess of thoughts, they helped.

Now, it is not lost on me that the realization that my words could matter for something came after I had an opportunity to share them with someone.  Discussing ideas always makes the good ones better and the bad ones obvious, but it was because I had driven myself mad writing them all down that I could offer a thoughtful, coherent answer to my friend.

All to say, as far as motivation to keep writing and belief that I can actually finish this in 61 days goes, last night was good.


In the present

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWithin a four day window, I started a new job, start my final undergraduate semester, will “finish” a chapter of my thesis, and will travel to North Carolina to attend a seminar having nothing to do with any of three previous activities.

I said I’d go to the conference because I was invited in October.  I remember the distinct thought, “It’s the first weekend of the semester.  What could I possibly be missing out on?”  I now have no less than three places I need to be this Saturday afternoon.

Knowing that this week would be uncharacteristically busy, I remember thinking that the drive back to campus in the evenings would be long.  Instead, I find myself wanting the road to be longer and wishing I could script the thoughts that come when I drive.  They’re always the most eloquent.

When I drive home, ideas come out in organized phrases that get strung together and rearranged like they would on paper, and in them is the reason otherwise absent in the momentous chaos and excitement that characterize this last week.  Slipping into mechanized motion (not zoning out, I promise), it’s so much easier to shut off the processor and just be.  And rest.  And pray.

Funny thing is, I don’t even know what that road is called or which way it goes.  It’s just the way home.  This is a slightly embarrassing fact, and I probably ought to look it up in case I need to give somebody directions sometime.  But it all sortof speaks to the point.

To that end, I will cope with the new phone that wouldn’t activate, the possibility of not being able to port my number, and the fact that the library closed at 5pm with all my books in it.  In doing so, I’ll funnel this week’s emotion and stress away from tense joints and toward my fingertips, step away from WordPress and back to Word, and finish draft one of chapter two, tonight. 


Breaking without Recovery


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Despite the affect of finals and furious thesis writing to my general health, the common, end-of-semester exhausted wave of immobility is yet to fall.  The last paper was completed with great expectation, but the familiarity of the end-of-semester load and realization that it isn’t actually done (thesis work and job searching this beautiful break) keeps that “what will I do with my life for the next month” feeling at bay.

Sometimes I just sit and think and write and think and draw and think some more, and now that colloquium is over, I can pretty much do this all I want.  My mind combs through books and conversations, ordering them and categorizing their arguments.  There are days where I will spend the whole day just trying to fill in the diagrams that I draw in my carrel, which are often a mix of color-coordinated arrows connecting loosely associated terms attached to a timeline.

These long days have a funny connection to graduation.  All this thesis work should be pulling me away from my job applications, career research, and networking opportunities, and who knows; maybe they are.  But it has been my evenings over these crazy old books (and sometimes the really old handwritten notes I find inside of them) that all those post-graduate life questions start to make the most sense.

I got the impression that second semester senior year was suppose to be frightening and disorderly.  After all, I am officially homeless in five months.  But instead, it is just very, very exciting.  My mind bubbles over with ideas and half formed sentences, but my heart races with the possibilities of where those ideas could take me.


Permanent Residency

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe circulation doesn’t really carry to Olin’s attic very well.  My carrel smells a bit like stale corn chips and feet.

At last count, there were 83 books sitting on my little desk, illuminated by the meager light beneath the shelf.  It’s the kind of light that goes off if I sit and read without moving for too long.  The over-priced amazon white board sits to my left, its reflective surface making the light go just a little bit further and flashing my latest chapter diagram back at me.

I’ve discovered that if I angle myself exactly corner-to-corner, it is possible to fully extend my legs and take a nap on the floor, which is something of a discovery in a room so small that you can’t really open the door without hitting the chair.  On the plus side, at least the chair is comfortable.  Duly sun-faded and possibly as old as the CSS itself, but comfortable nonetheless.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe completion of chapter one marks a significant accomplish and one that I fully intend to revel in until I get Prof. Elphick’s comments back.  The research for chapter two is scheduled, the readings for chapter three started, and the logic for chapter four partially solved, meaning that despite long hours (pushing 8 hours in this chair today), I remain on track.

It’s a good thing I like what I do, otherwise this tiny, little office space might be just enough to drive me crazy.