Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Submitted My Dissertation to My Committee. (Or, Bring Out the Gimp).

Former President Reagan's daughter Patti Davis answered "Fun!" when asked what it was like to write her first book. (It was a memoir about how hard it was to grow up the daughter of a rich, white movie star-turned-politician who didn't communicate his feelings.) Pete Dexter, the brilliant writer and columnist responded that writing a book is not "fun" and instead compared it to "getting caught in your zipper and not being able to get unstuck for three years."

I'll ask those of you without dangly bits of your own to forgive the metaphor because it is so perfect.

I submitted my dissertation to my committee yesterday. And I feel... I am not even sure how I feel. Or how to describe it. A peculiar combination of elation, relief, giddiness and... loss. Isn't that crazy? For the first time in--literally--years I don't have part of my brain working on writing this damn thing. It's not simmering away on the back burner while I pretend to be interested in the stuff normal people talk about. My burners are cold. That book--because that's what it really is, don't kid yourself: A Book--is out of my hands. My zipper is unstuck in a big way but a sick, masochistic little part of me (let's call it the Gimp) actually misses it. I have that seat belt- after- a- long- car- ride feeling on my brain.

It has been a long process. There were times over the past few years that I thought I would crack from the stress. I wrote about... difficult things. At times they made me soul-sick even though I knew they were important to write about: Guantanamo, self-immolation, suicide terror, torture, hunger strikes. There were times I thought, "What the hell am I doing?" "Why am I not writing about something simpler?" I had nightmares for years.

I read a lot for pleasure and I have knocked back 200 page books in a day many times, no problem. But I never thought about the labor involved in writing until I started this... the task of it. I wrote, and ate takeout Chinese food, and wrote, and watched weird daytime TV, and wrote.

I saw every single episode of Judging Amy twice because the reruns came on during my break time every afternoon and they cycled through them back to back for a solid year. (For the record Bruce and Amy never would have worked as a couple, they were too different. But Jared's death took me by surprise. Maxine was never right after that, even though they hooked her up with Cheech near the end.) I am pretty sure my neighbors thought I was a junkie because I didn't leave the house for days at a time. (I have heard folktales about people who exercise regularly during their writing phase. And they climb on their Unicorns and ride them to the gym. Me, not so much.)

And then I finished it!... Three years ago. My defense has been delayed for one reason or another but the upshot is: I have been in Limbo. Which is where all the unbaptized babies go instead of Heaven (You kind of have to be Catholic to get that but if you aren't: trust me, it's funny). So even though I was finished I wasn't finished-finished. It was the worst of both worlds, I did all of the work and got none of the credit. I wanted to be official already.

But now. Now it is re-formatted according to arcane rules designed to drive you insane, expensively reproduced and bound (thanks for nothing, Kinkos) and distributed to people whose job it is to judge the hell out of it.

And I feel.

Yeah, no. Still not sure.


  1. Ive never written a dissertation before, but I can relate because I wrote and finished a 300 page novel last year, and I felt angry, hateful and bitter at the end. Weird, huh?

  2. Somehow "congratulations" doesn't quite feel appropriate. How about "Wow,Joe. Congratulations for getting that 3-year monkey - which, while adorable and loved dearly by all, had fleas and a nasty habit of biting you from time to time - off your back and into a wildlife preserve." Yeah, that's good.

  3. Three years?!? You spent three years in thesis limbo?!? That is absolutely appalling. I thought my ex-boss was bad, it took him a year to return one person's thesis so they could hand it in and get on with their life. (Oh and maybe get an actual postdoc salary with that.)

    Congratulations on submitting the damn thing, and enjoy the semi-weight off your mind. Even if there's still a defence and probably some alterations to go, you've broken the back of it.

  4. @Isn Oh, it wasn't my Adviser's fault: she has been a champ the entire way through. I couldn't be more grateful. Unfortunately it isn't any one person's fault--the economy is just shit.