One of the joys of my two year return engagement at the Home of the Georgia Bulldogs has been the knowledge that the culmination of this journey would be the writing of a thesis. For most graduate students, the word “thesis” is received with the same degree of enthusiasm as “a theme” as presented in the Christmas classic movie “A Christmas Story."
A thesis by Encarta Dictionary’s definition is: “the•sis (noun) – 1. proposition; 2. essay subject; 3. lengthy academic paper; 4. statement; 5. downbeat; 6. stressed syllable; 7. unstressed syllable; 8. first stage of dialectic.” If you notice, numbers 6 and 7 seem to be in conflict. How can a syllable be both stressed and unstressed? How can one tell the difference? It has finally come to me that one doesn’t need to worry about stressed or unstressed syllables; one just needs to get a lot of them on the paper and have them make enough sense to fulfill the requirement.
When Mr. Fix-It heard that a thesis was in my future, he scoffed “piece o’ cake - shouldn’t take you more than an afternoon. You’ve never had any trouble giving an opinion.” Okay, I suppose that is deserved. I am, after all, the product of The Parental Units neither of whom has ever shied away from letting someone know their personal take on any subject from whether it’s gonna rain this afternoon to whether one will be in heaven or hell when the final judgment comes. (They have been known to give directions one to the other over their 68 years of wedded bliss.)
A thesis, however, is not an opinion piece in the truest sense. It is not a recollection of some childhood event or even a dysfunctional family story. A thesis is a research paper often submitted to a group of people who know more about the topic than you do. You’re trying to appear that you actually learned something during the preceding two years of classes while taking your scholastic repository to the next level by actually offering a constructive recommendation. A thesis is not a collection of words one dredges up from the depths of memory and fires off in half-an-hour because their editor just reminded them that this is, in fact, Tuesday and your deadline was the yesterday you whizzed through without a thought to the fact you have column space to fill in their publication.
So I sit here in my pajamas sharing with you the fact that I’m in the process of writing something that can be something of a career make-or-break event. The research is as complete as it’s going to get. The source documents are semi-neatly stacked in chapters on the counter. There are no pencils to sharpen since it’s all electronic these days. The e-mail has been checked and re-checked with all the jokes read and forwarded. And my desk is about as uncovered as it gets.
The house is quiet and freshly dust-mopped. The cats are napping. It looks like it’s going to rain. My empty coffee cup stands at the ready with snacks (yes, oh fearless Weight Watcher leader, they’re healthy) nearby. They’re all ready.
Some years ago when Dan Brown was my pastor at McKendree UMC in Suwanee, some members of the congregation remarked they could pass by the church on any given Saturday night and see Dan burning the midnight oil.
“Well, it’s like this,” Dan shared from the pulpit. “I could tell you that I want to make sure something hasn’t happened after I’ve written my sermon that is more current than what I was going to share with you that Sunday.
“But the truth is that I’ve come to realize that my philosophy is that desperation breeds inspiration. When I’m staring at Sunday morning and know I’ve got to bring a message to you in a few hours, I am given the inspiration to write a better message than if I’d written it earlier in the week and changed it six times before Sunday.”
With imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, I have adopted Dan’s philosophy as my own, I’m afraid, so here I sit as the picture of desperation staring down the barrel of a double barreled cannon. My inspiration is that if anything I espouse in this thesis is put to good use, my anguish will not have been in vain. Thanks for your support. Your prayers will help.
Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.