All the Pages Printed, All the Hours Given

I couldn’t sleep Wednesday night. That is not an unusual phenomenon, but it has been happening less as the months passed after graduating from ACU. I didn’t understand why this was happening because I was exhausted that night. Thursday morning though I woke up, way later than I planned, and my dad was already there to watch my niece and nephew while my sister was at the gym. I remembered that I needed to give him his copy of my thesis.

I think that was when it hit me why I didn’t sleep well that night, why I have been in a funk since Wednesday afternoon. I received my printed and bounded copies of my thesis.

I was ecstatic! I had been waiting patiently (okay, maybe not that patiently) since I submitted my final upload for this to arrive. I was proud of my accomplishment, especially by the fact that I could finally present it to my grandma. I had dedicated my thesis to her and her mom, Joycelyn, who gave the me the inspiration to study this topic.

Yet, actually holding it in my hand, completed felt not as satisfying as I thought it would’ve been. To fully understand what I’m feeling we need to go back in time a touch to 2015.

Once I decided that I would go on to graduate school, I approached one of my professors at Baylor. I asked him if he would be willing to write a recommendation for me (he did) and we discussed graduate school, what it would be like and what to expect. He advised me that if I wanted to go on to PhD, which I did at the time, then he highly advised me to go ahead and do a thesis for my MA degree. The thesis is a shorter project than a dissertation (mine clocks in at 85 pages) while dissertations typically are 200+ pages. Going on to a PhD program could be daunting, especially when the prospect of a dissertation looming over your head like a perpetual Dark Mark following you around. Your always expecting Death Eaters to jump out at you around the corner, or at least, that is what I imagine. I decided then that I was going to complete a thesis for my MA.

Fast-forward a bit to after I graduated from Baylor. Between my meeting with my professor and graduation, I had come way down from the high of school. I had always loved school and learning, but I thought my brain would explode if I had to analyze one more page of Jane Austen or Eudora Welty. I needed a break! I had been applying for jobs starting around November through December almost daily. With zero results. I knew I had past the deadline for most graduate schools; however, I was living with my sister and her husband and they looked up one of the local schools that had an English graduate program. The deadline there had not passed, and surprisingly, the deadline was the August, only a few weeks before the school year started. I applied and a couple months later found myself accepted.

I was excited to start and was quickly disillusioned by almost everything to do with graduate school. I was convinced that I was a masochist or the pod people had invaded my brain. No sane person would willingly do this to themselves. But I persevered. What can I say, stubbornness is definitely a gene that runs in my family and it was alive and well.

Yet, I did start to have doubts about going down the thesis path. And yet again, my stubborn nature reappeared and I decided thesis was the only way to go. I think at the time, I wanted to prove something to myself and maybe even to others. I still don’t know what that is. I don’t think I ever will.

Spring semester of my first year came around and when I had the meeting with the graduate advisor for out department I told him that I decided to do thesis. The process for a thesis is quite annoying. While the school I went to has one of the largest departments on campus, once you specialize yourself enough it starts to remove most of the people from your list of Thesis Chairs. I finally decided to center my thesis on Irish Literature, specifically 20th and 21st century, and to look at the concept of home in three novels when violence and war take over a person’s life and country. With this idea in mind, the list of professors that could chair my thesis narrowed down to 2. One of them became my chair and the other was on my committee.

I submitted the paperwork with the appropriate signatures in late April, early May. Since, I lived in the same town I was going to school in and my entire family lived here too, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t start this project now. I also wanted to start as early as possible so I would not be overwhelmed when school started and I was taking classes, teaching a class, and writing a thesis. What can I say, I like my sleep. I discussed this idea with my dad who agreed to meet up with me once a week at a local coffee shop and to listen me discuss ad nauseam what I read that week, what I was thinking, and when I started writing he was my first reader of my thesis.

School started again in the fall, and I became super busy with school, teaching, thesis, and I even had another job that I started at back in late June of 2017. If I was not doing anything of the above or sleeping, then I was working on my thesis. I practically lived and breathed this Thing for a little over a year. That year included many readings of articles and books, countless re-readings of the same articles and books. I filled an entire 5 inch binder with all the articles I had printed/read. After it was filled, I moved to keeping them on my computer and reading them there (something that I hated but I also couldn’t justify all the killing of trees I did).

In the Spring of 2018, I finished my thesis and prepared to defend it. For those who do not know what this entails, you basically sit in a room with your committee (3 professors) who have already read your thesis and they ask you questions for an hour and a half. I was petrified of this part of the process. Of course, once we began and the first couple of questions where answered I started to relax and it became quite fun (as I said before masochist). As I said, I spent about a year with this material at this point. Even more so, since one of the books I used for my thesis I had read twice before I even decided to use it for this project. When you spend this much time with this much material, and keep in mind that my committee while genius in their own ways where not as well versed in this theory or in Sebastian Barry’s novels, you do become the expert in the room.

Well, that finished, I left the room so they could deliberate. The most stressful 10 minutes of my life. I questioned pretty much every decision I had made that lead me to this point, wondering where I had gone wrong. Everything went well though, and they were impressed by my poise, how I would take a minute to answer a question, and even when I admitted that I couldn’t answer a question. I was given the copies of their notes, they signed the form that needed to be signed, and we were done with the defense.

I then spent the next few weeks re-working certain passages, fixing some grammar errors that made me want to slap myself for making them, and having a huge wait lifted from my shoulders. One of the most frustrating aspects of the whole process actually came in formatting the Thing, as there were specific instructions on formatting we had to follow, and I was so close to throwing my laptop out the window. I didn’t. Barely.

Yet, I finished with all the changes and notes my committee left for me. I fixed what needed to be fixed, and to be perfectly honest, some of the suggestions I didn’t take. I also managed to format the Thing (I asked the Graduate Thesis Coordinator for help and she did it all). I approved the final copy, uploaded it to the Digital Commons, and I waited.

Through this whole process I was still going to my own classes and teaching a class. These took up the rest of my semester. After the Thing was submitted, I was able to devote more time to the things I had neglected in the past year.

When I posted about this on Facebook and Instagram, I wrote that even though I received my diploma in the summer (I think sometime in late June), it had not felt official until now.

I feel a loss now that I can’t fully describe mostly because I would feel like an idiot if I did. Yet, it’s there. I spent countless hours, read tons upon tons of pages, wrote like mad, for this moment and now it is here, I feel sad. As cheesy and idiotic as it sounds, it feels like part of my self, my soul, is gone. It is forever kept within the pages of this book.

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