Friday, April 20, 2012

What To Do with a Dissertation from the University of Chicago

I have spent ten years of my life writing a dissertation. Just to get the facts straight, a ten-year dissertation at the University of Chicago is nothing strange. A seven-year dissertation is rushed; a six-year dissertation is wrong. I'm told that in the History Department a certain professor does not allow his students even to contemplate graduation before year ten. All of this is to say that when I tell you I've been writing my dissertation for ten years, do not gasp because it's a hell of a long time to be working on a degree. Gasp because it occurs to you that spending ten years devoted to anything (finishing the basement, reseeding the lawn, or just filling an apartment with ten years' worth of newspapers) is life warping. The point is: ten years? Seriously? (And keep in mind that in this case, my life only includes three times ten years, and the first ten don't count because what does anyone really do before age ten?)

Let me tell you what I mean by life warping.

1. I am an ultra smarty pants. I punctuate my emails. I use many semi-colons and parentheticals. I save drafts of emails so I can edit them before sending. When I leave a voicemail, I listen to it, delete it, and rerecord it. Sometimes I rerecord a voicemail dozens of times. I was once on the phone for an entire hour leaving the perfect voicemail. I am the grammar police. Nothing escapes my gaze. I scowl at fortune cookie fortunes. I take pictures of misspelled signs even when I have no one to MMS them to. I interrupt my friends' stories to point out failed noun-verb agreement. I don't read "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" because I already know everything that is in it. Writing my dissertation, I have spent entire days inserting hyphens and then, after consideration, removing them.

2. I am a lazy buttnose. I don't have to go to work like you do. I have listened to midday NPR shows you've never even heard of. I have inordinate sleeping requirements. I sleep 8, 9, and sometimes 10 hours a night. Sitting around and writing is hard work, so I am often hungry. I go to the grocery store at least once a day. I am always out of gum. Why are there so many people in this aisle? I am part of the strange ambient crowd of people walking around in plain day in New York City. I am at Whole Foods at noon, at the dry cleaners at two o'clock, at yoga by four. How do I do it?

3. I am a pretentious A-hole. I throw around names you don't know. (And I don't just know Žižek, I've edited him.) I speak the names of foreign cities with an accent. The New Yorker is light reading, and the lack of footnotes is bad scholarship. I only watch films that predate 1965. When you say something I don't understand but I sense you are superior to me, I nod because I totally get what you're saying.

4. I am a doctor, and I am looking for a job.