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You don't even have to use The Word anymore. Just ask the usual, "How's it going?" and you'll get the requisite anxiety attack in response.
"It's coming along. Yeah, I've got three (read: two) of four (really, six) chapters down. Of course, a little bit (relative to `a lot') of revision would be good (`is necessary for you to pass'). My adviser says I'm really on top of it. (Actual quote: `You're gonna have to bust your butt some more over the next week.') And, I've got two weeks or so left. (That included Feb. 29 and 30.) Oh, it's really much better than I expected. (High hopes.) Really."
It is the passion toward completion of The Thesis that is driving seniors forward in their final months of College--that is, driving them crazy. At any given meal, seniors can easily be detected by their anguished postures, contorted language and plummeting silverware. Ordinarily these dining experiences become a form of group therapy. Sometimes they are cathartic as each student subsequently reveals the lack of progress he or she has made during the previous 24 hours. Other times they are masochistic as each lies about his or her "progress."
Oftentimes, seniors find it best to leave The Obvious unsaid. At a lunch yesterday in Adams House, two fellow seniors (who wish to remain anonymous) and I exchanged delirious conversation on everything but. We talked about plans for next year, which, believe it or not--and if you're a senior, you'll believe it--produce less angst than talk of The Obvious. The discussion ranged from professors' sexual habits to Soho, and spring break (the end all and be all, the Nirvana into which------writers will emerge) to summer revelry. But never once did we mention The Obvious.
No, It is taboo. The turn to the dark side can be pleasurable if the conversing Other shares a similar predicament with reference to It. But if that Other is, for example, a first-semester senior or--worse!--a junior, hell hath no fury like the------writer who is questioned as to the topic of his or her paper.
At dinner in Dunster House last night, two different seniors (who will also remain anonymous) pretended to be genuinely intrigued by this columnist's thesis travails. "Tell me, what are you writing about?" "No," I thought, "I can't discuss this anymore." So, I gave the one-liner title which I had hoped would require no further inquisition.
When this tactic fails to work, as it did that night, one must change the subject of conversation so that he or she does not recede into the netherworld in which all other hours are (or should be) spent. Those other hours seem to be most typically spent in students' rooms in front of (blank) computer screens. (Well, we do check e-mail, and often.)
Most seniors, I have found, do not go to the libraries to work because they have their materials, data sets, computers, etc. in their rooms. This home-office environment breeds some interesting habits, such as memorizing the horrible new pop songs that mutate out of the radio and checking the CNN Web site all too often.
I am not writing this as a call for sympathy. ------writers deserve to be tested if they are to achieve honors at the College. What I am doing here is an age-old Crimson tradition in which editors, having exchanged their newspaper writing duties for the sometimes more subtle task of Thing authorship, rant about their lives so that juniors will be well aware of what they might be getting into next year. First-years and sophomores need not concern themselves with such ominous thoughts just yet. There will be plenty of time for that in coming years.
To be fair, though, I should mention a few of the positives of------writing. For one thing, lectures become much, much more interesting as any subject outside of your dedicated area seems to present new meaning in life. Another plus is the feeling of accomplishment when you have finished a chapter and, I imagine, when the entire project is complete. Finally, It provides you with a good excuse--procrastination--to do many things you would not do otherwise, i.e. exercise and room-cleaning.
I will end with that positive note. To all seniors: stop reading The Crimson now. Have a smoke and get back to work.
Joshua A. Kaufman '98 is a social studies concentrator in Dunster House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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