Bah, Humbug!

The ghosts that visit you on Thesis Eve

Last weekend I promised myself that I would be productive. With my thesis due in less than two weeks, I wanted nothing more than to start revising. Just one problem: I hadn’t started writing. Months of tedious data collection were finally over, but I couldn’t bring myself to analyze or write up the findings. Rather than reminding myself how to conduct “Tukey contrasts” and other nasty statistical tricks, I fled my dorm room for warmer pastures.

Where did I end up? Ultra Salon, that tanning bed beacon located halfway to Central Square. Wearing my H & M bikini briefs (they’re red and green—the colors of Christmas), I closed my eyes and let the faux sunlight singe my milky skin. I had almost forgotten about my worries when they arrived: The Ghost of Pre-Thesis Past, The Ghost of Thesis Present and the Ghost of Post-Thesis Future. They reminded me of what I was before dear Thesis entered my life, and warned me what would happen if I avoided her during this final stretch.

Ghost of Pre-Thesis Past. “You were a healthy boy, fed on Annenberg chickwiches, suckled by Domna’s stale brain break bagels,” he told me. “You were a free spirit. You put an inflatable Queen Amadala armchair in your first-floor window, hoping to freak out Natalie Portman ‘03. There you are—age 18—sitting in your Grays Hall West common room, writing papers that are less than 8 pages long, sipping on booze for the first time, learning about the benefits that your ‘friend with benefits’ has to offer.”

Fast-forward three years. I’m a junior. I’m walking toward the Psychology Undergraduate Office, thesis application in hand. Dramatic music starts playing and the Ghost speaks. “This is where you screw yourself over.” I turn in the application. That night I sleep, visions of Hoopes Prizes dancing in my head.

Ghost of Thesis Present. “Do you remember your old friend?” the second Ghost asks me as he points to the shower. “You used to be so clean, but look at you now—smelly, dirty, disheveled—a real loser. It’s the middle of November. You’ve been working hard, so hard that you forget to do basic things like brush your teeth. Your blue jeans are stiff from six continuous weeks of wear, and your Harvard hoodie reeks of curry chicken, last night’s preferred dinner option. Rather than wash it you spray on another layer of cologne. You smell like a stale perfume sample in Vanity Fair and your once smooth complexion is rough with stubble and acne.” The Ghost takes me to late November and extracts a blood sample. Analysis reveals it is 75% Dunkin Donuts coffee and 25% grease.

By the first week of December, I can’t bear it anymore. I sit in my room “doing work,” but in reality I am procrasturbating. “Oh, you who wastes time! You sit learning about everyone in your section via thefacebook.com and you organize the trash in your bedroom into neat piles. Tomorrow you will actually go to lecture for one of your Core classes. Have you lost all focus?”

Ghost of Post-Thesis Future. The Ghost of Post-Thesis Future walks with CumMinus, his three-headed magna-eating monster, and takes me to mid-January. “William, your thesis has been graded. Open your e-mail and read the letter from your committee.” I obey instructions. “Dear Mr. Adams. After reviewing your Senior Feces, we have denied you honors. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, assuming they are not in any way related to academia. You cannot write. You cannot think. Your time at Harvard has been wasted. Take Care.”

The Ghost looks at me with pity and informs me of what awaits thereafter. “You will still find a decent job, you will still find happiness and financial stability and you will still adopt a baby girl and name her Starr with two Rs. Were you to ever mention what you got on your thesis—whether you did good or bad—you would be labeled an asshole. You see, naive boy, your thesis means nothing but what you want it to mean. It is merely a footnote dropped at a cocktail party.”

And with that my tanning bed session expires. I wobble over to my clothes, careful not to brush the denim against my charred thighs. I return to my room where dear Thesis is waiting. I will finish in 8 days. It may not be stellar, but it will be done. And no matter what, I’m going to have one hell of a tan.

William Lee Adams ‘04-’05 is a psychology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.