|Postcard from Thesis Hell Preview
||[Feb. 28th, 2004|03:21 pm]
Oh, You Know
|||||The Critic -- The Siskel & Ebert Episode||]|
My thesis is back on track and rolling like one of the dilapidated trains used to flatten pennies when I was a mere tot in upstate New York. Childhood friends and I would place loose change upon the rails and wait for the dingy locomotives to appear in the distance. Then we would wait for what seemed like eons, as the decrepit remains of the train wheezed and eked forward, its holey, moldy wooden boxcars swinging to and fro at the caprice of valley winds. While the battered behemoth lurched forward, I always fantasized about snatching my pressed penny from between two slow-moving wheels before every set had passed through. Though the penny was flattened by the first or second wheel, you always had to wait until the end of the train to collect your boon, lest your tender little fingers be caught on the rail and mangled into bloody stumps--or so our parents told us. “Wait until the end of the train to collect your boon, lest your tender little fingers be caught on the rail and mangled into bloody stumps!” my father warned. He was always one for theatrics. Though I hated to wait for the entire train to pass, I had too vivid powers of visualization not to be deterred by the imagined pops my little knuckles would make as they were severed from my formerly pristine hand. Thus I waited by the train tracks, passing time by throwing rocks or rolling hoops, or whatever was done back then by children in the Hudson Valley to get through those interminable summer days.
This opening paragraph seems like a tangential piece of little use and no literary import. However, I am now going to use this passage to a.) explain my current thesis-related experiences and b.) show you how this English major writes her close reading-based thesis.
On account of my erstwhile life of pastoral paranoia, I still see snippets of everything my city-born father warned against, even though we moved to the statistically safer country when I was only six. Usually, such macabre fantasies cause me to awaken in a cold sweat, but recently, on account of the academic stress, I’ve been welcoming them into my waking hours. Poised at my computer, ready to type the next word, I first must analyze its individual significance, then its success in the context of my thought before I insert in via blinking cursor. While I am painstakingly crafting every sentence like an individualized blushing Hummel, my mind still manages to simultaneously drift to other concerns--namely, now that we’re getting down to the wire, how I could possibly injure myself so that I could finally feel the sweet relief of release from this beastly thesis. Unsurprisingly, crushing my long thin fingers beneath the rails of a train is one of my favorite tickets out of this world of academic anguish. I fantasize about running down to the river tracks and laying facedown in the gravel until the new shiny Portland train comes barreling like a bullet to offer me speedy liberation. “Why me?! Why me?!” I scream on the way to OHSU, waving my bloody stumps like foam fingers at a basketball game--of course I’ve have to pretend it was an accident. My parents would be disappointed, but they said they’d love me no matter what, so really, what’s the harm? Of course I couldn’t play the saxophone any longer, but maybe I could pioneer a sort of piano-playing that is accomplished solely with the elbows and tongue. Perhaps I’d be a phenomenon and get my own freakish weeknight showcase at Carnegie Hall. “Practice, practice, practice?!” I’d laugh. “All I had to do was lie beneath a train!”
Now, if I were reading the first paragraph of this piece for the narrator’s intent, my analysis would probably lead to the conclusion that she is a sad, cracked-out sort of senior, whose desperate attempts to hold onto the last strands of humor in her life are both pitiable and pathetic. The anachronistic insertion of “rolling hoops” in a story narrated by a young woman in the twenty-first century is obviously untrue, calling into question the entire “truth value” of the piece. A studious critic is caused to question: “Are we to believe that the narrator ever crushed pennies on the tracks of trains at all?” The vivid description and proliferation of adjectives that are not typically associated with the modern post-industrialized view of the locomotive as an agent of speed and utility leads us at first to believe that the narrator is witness to the localized decay of trains specifically in the Hudson Valley, and then once again away, as the staggering continuation of overuse of adjectives leads to an overblown effect that, regardless of author’s intention, seems disingenuous. The train is obviously a symbol of the narrator’s own life, linear in direction but marked by personally unsatisfying pace; the penny is her ego. The tracks are “mother;” the boxcar “brother;” the father, “a burnt piece of toast.” In conclusion, this analysis is a tangential piece of little use and no literary import.
And as long as I’m on my tangent-fest, you know what really makes me weep? Seniors with experimental theses gone awry who have been personally affronted by my easygoing, lackadaisical approach to true thesis-related pain and suffering. If I were to address any one of these poor souls--because, goodness knows, I have no one person in mind as I pen this tender paean of sentimentality--I would start out with a simple, hypothetical apology. It might read:
I am so sorry for my inconsiderate column. I truly had no idea that The Quest's circulation had expanded to include the rocky bottoms of streams and tributaries of the Pacific Ocean. How my heart aches when I picture you waist-deep in waders, valiantly spreading wide the newsprint pages with your gnarled, blood-caked fingers, while two or three of the sixty wire traps you built yourself (!) swing dramatically from your beleaguered shoulders. To think that it was my clearly un-bleak, oblique whining that has impeded your personal writing and research process is almost too much to bear. And if I'm capable of constructing such broad bulwarks with one installment of my column, I can only image the torture and ill-fortune the entire body of my public work has brought upon you. Last semester, for example, I was so prolific in my whining and goings-on--one might say it was a deluge; you might call it a flood. That is, have you ever considered that I may have inadvertently concocted your natural disasters as well?
I am so sorry that, while your little fingers were oozing, my blood was simply being expectorated at the end of every series of long, jagged coughs. I went to the Center for the Prolongation of Pain and Suffering, and they told me that--Praise the Lord!--it was probably only dripping down the back of my throat from my cracked and burning nasal cavity and that it wasn't from my lungs--and “probably” sure is good enough for me! I didn’t share this alarming medical condition with you because my concern was misplaced--I thought that it might offend my readers of weaker constitution, cause concern among my friends and make me look like a sorry singer of self-same songs who had abandoned her thesis altogether in favor of personal propaganda. If I had only known that the lone thing you lusted after was proof of an “outlook as bleak!” I actually thought I was going to die!
Truth be told, in the end, I must admit, you’ve got it much harder than I. Seriously, I thank God every day that I don't have to leave the stark wooden desk to which I've been tethered for the better part of every day this semester. I mean, you have to go on field trips--honestly, is there anything worse? Good gracious, I'm so pleased that all I have to do is stare at white page upon page--moving around would be almost too much for my poor little arrhythmic heart to bear.
Bless you, you poor, brave experimental-thesis-gone-awry writer! You truly are a shining example for all of your fellow sufferers to look down upon.