Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thesis and Thesis

"Writing your first novel is like trying to swim underwater to a place you’ve never been before, without a map, while learning to inhale water and exhale whale song, while writing your first novel about trying to swim underwater to a place you’ve never been before, without a map, while learning to inhale water and exhale whale song." - Afterword, The Covenant of Salt

I write 6-12 hours a day. In the afternoons, I write something new or make substantial revisions. At night, I deal with formatting, references - the bookkeeping. In the mornings, I go over everything I did the previous day and make notes. It's a good schedule but oddly demanding. I set a morning alarm so I don't lose valuable writing time. I'm starting to see the allure of writer's colonies and writer's retreats - between the heat and the post-fire reconstruction next door, it's difficult to write in my apartment. 

This is my second thesis manuscript. The first one, Please Save Dog Named Slim. Good Dog. will probably never get finished. That thesis advisor quit abruptly. This happens - faculty move, leave academia, go on sabbatical, etc. However, I'd worked on this particular person's literary journal for two years. She was a demanding boss, but she had a fervor about the work I loved. I took several of her classes and composed Please Save... under her direction. When faculty quit, they typically gather their grad students together in small groups or one by one and break the news personally. They make arrangements to transfer supervision to other faculty or some sort of distance supervision, completely do-able online.

My first inkling came when a neighbor asked if I knew anything about the FOR SALE sign outside of my advisor's beautiful house. A few days later, the Department Chair sent an email - my advisor had suddenly quit. Other students and I quickly realized that the reason for her fervor wasn't the work. It was early tenure, which she received a few months before quitting. Getting tenured here raises her salary at future employers. My two years of work and study became a salary negotiation chip. I shouldn't say became. This was no last-minute decision. This was carefully planned, probably from before I even entered school. So I probably won't finish the project - I refuse to let her add one more item to her vita off my back. The thesis process brings back memories; I suppose that's why I'm thinking about her today.

My current advisor - Michael Martone - is the shiznit. Odd, I never expected an Icelandic writer to know much about writing. He's smart but a little hard to work with due to his accent. He gave me some invaluable advice: keep writing (my translation. It sounded like "meek fighting" or "deep biting", but he made hand gestures that I choose to interpret as writing-esque.) After this thesis manuscript is finished, I'll take a short break and start on my next project, Okahika Stories. Okahika is an odd place where good things happen, sometimes. 

In the next few weeks, I'll visit Austin (TX), present my work in Oxford (MS), start teaching, prep for fall classes, submit and defend my thesis, GRADUATE, and oh yes, GRADUATE. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow. An academic advisor who's not a useless piece of deadwood or a narcissistic, sociopathic piece of shit. Rarer than bigfoot.

    I swear, I do not understand these people at all. It's one thing to fuck over the powerless in pursuit of great wealth or power. It's quite another to do it for some low-salaried academic baubles. And the casual carelessness they carry it off with is breathtaking. Real olympic level assholishness.

    And as my brother so sagely put it, in academia you can be both an asshole AND a chickenshit. Most places you have to pick one or the other. And most career assholes have to at least face the people they've fucked over. Academics just vanish in the dead of night.