Memo to Myself and Other Fellow Thesis “Fighters”

Written by Eliza on Monday, 12 March 2001, at 1:08 a.m.

Dear all, As I sit here at my desk recovering from yet another round of tears, I will write a memo to myself and to other struggling with their dissertation demons– drawing on whatever reservoirs I have left. This is instead of dwelling on the same question I have in my head, over and over, which is, “will things ever get better?”
This is the memo, this is what I know…
1.Things do get better. Things change. They have to.
2.People who make it to the Master’s or PhD level are smart cookies. (pat on back :-)! They just have to be!
3.They are also survivors. They have learned tricks of the trade to keep on going. There is no way that this could not be true, because they have gotten this far.
4.People who are writing a thesis or dissertation care deeply about issues.. whether that particular issue be hmmm…let’s see…formal interstate cooperation in the Sahel-Sahara sub-Region, post-post-modernism: a comparison of the treatment of dystopian themes in Alice Munro and Margaret Atwoods’s early works, media impact on low-income-group voter preferences in five states, 1975-1982…whatever it is! Caring deeply about issues means caring deeply about life…MAers and PhDers are treasures because they care. They’re passionate! By the way, if you’re looking for a topic, feel free to take one of the above… although they’re a little on the nonsensical side, I’m sure!
5.From Phinished, I have learned that sometimes it is useful to just free-write.
6.Other times, it is good to get the egg timer going for 40 minutes, you can do anything for that long! (this 40-minute method has resulted in somewhat of a revolution I believe, sprung from this website (in particular, the head of Jojo, I think, causing a run on egg timers in various cities…)
7.From Phinished I have learned that sometimes it can be useful to just rant…a rant free of reprimand, because kind ears are listening here.
8.When I’m done I will look back and even be nostalgic for the days of tears in front of the computer screen. I will refer offhand to that period in time as “the days of struggle” —but will say it kind of proudly.
9.Undercutters and phony police are usually just jealous of the wit and savoir-faire of those they oppose. 🙂
10.Framing the situation is everything…I have to remember to re-arrange my plight. I am NOT a worried-looking frazzled thesis student suffering from social! I am a crusader, uncovering truths no one has uncovered yet, a part-time investigative journalist, a late-night bohemian!
11. Things could be worse. Job had leprosy. But still had pluck. Milton was blind, impoverished, and imprisoned. And wrote Paradise Lost in this state…and Paradise Regained.
12.Speaking of imprisonment, there are benefits. Long stretches of isolation can be good. Both The Hurricane and Nelson Mandela have said that parts of them are grateful for the chance they had to grow and think by themselves.
13. Music can be a saving grace in the hard times. I have yelled along to Angel from Montgomery — “just give me something I can hold onto”!! And got pumped up to the Grateful Dead’s “The Race is On.” I have to remember music.
14.And the power of the subconscious. Reading recently a book by that name, I was amazed at how it all made sense. I learned that the conscious mind, that nagging, often despairing voice at the forefront of the brain is like the captain of a ship, assigning orders to a silently obeying subconscious (the crew). If I can change the captain’s orders, I can change the subconscious, and change me. I just have to try to learn to bark a little louder to get the crew in line. I have to learn to say over and over –and loudly — “You can do it!” not…”You can’t.”
15. Also, the subconscious knows a lot of things. So if I’m troubled, I have to remember that the answer already lies within me, and a good time to ask an unresolved question is right before sleep…then the subconscious has all night to work on the problem, and bring forth the light in the morning.
16. I have to remind myself not to think of “finishing the thesis, so I can start my life.” This is my life NOW. I have to enjoy the voyage, or at least try to a little bit.
17.I have to look for small pleasures to keep me going. Treats. Like a Macdonald’s milkshake. One episode of Entertainment Tonight. Or a devil-may-care purchase of a magazine at the grocery store.
18. I have to learn to shut out the voices of the naysayers around me. I will pretend to have a bubble around me, and picture things bouncing off.
19.I have to remember that things always do get done in the end.
20. I will recall that there have been times before, with other challenges before me, when it seemed like all was lost, and all was not. I can’t count the number of crises I had with various term papers or with my Master’s thesis…and what do you know…the crises were proved wrong, based on ultimately faulty doubts. This will happen again.
21. When I make a mistake and go down a dead-end with my thesis, like I have recently, not realizing I needed a separate chapter for a particular section, I have to repeat to myself: so what! YOu can’t change the past. This re-routing happened for a reason. A learning reason. As someone said, “We don’t have mistakes, we just have learnings.”
22. And when I hit a section of my thesis that seems over my head, seems HARD, I have to think: that’s okay. It may very well be that it is hard, ambigouos. What isn’t hard? As someone else said, “Everything is ambigous. It’s exciting in a way, if you can tolerate ambiguity. I can’t, but I’m taking a course where it’s taught, in the hope of acquiring the skill. It’s called Modern Living, and you get no credit.”
23.Writing a thesis on the whole is HARD, and you certainly don’t get much credit. I can’t remember the last time I got any positive feedback from my thesis director or family. All I can say to this is that at least there is a certain pleasure in learning to bite the bullet. To keep on truckin’ without anyone tootin’…
24. The thesis is long, but good things come to those who wait. The pay-off in the end, as triumphantly captured (to me) in the photographs of Sam’s defense, is so beautiful and rewarding, BECAUSE it comes from patience, and not the product of a short-lived dream.
25. As for a source of solace concerning my state of social deprivation, I will cling to the following piece of wisdom said by Lorraine Hansberry — which certainly SEEMS to ring true– “A woman who is willing to ber herself and pursue her own potential runs not so much the risk of loneliness as the challenge of exposure to more interesting men — and people in general.”
26.Last but not least: Oh! I don’t really have a last but not least. I guess sleep. My sister said they did some kind of psychological test, and people’s IQ actually went down a certain percentage for the day depending on the number of hours less then 8 hours that they had got the night before…so…I’m going to bed! I’ve got to get my IQ!
Love, Eliza P.S. I think I may have succeeding in feeling a little less disheartened, which was the ultimate goal of this memo. Thanks for listening


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