Defending a thesis is a lot like trying out for your high school's
theater company's production of Rent. You spend a lot of time
worrying and practicing beforehand, but in the end, you realize your
uncredited role as the second waitress at the Cat Scratch Club mostly
involves just being there.
My thesis defense played out like so: I met with my advisor and
reader in my advisor's office. They sat across from me with my thesis
stacked up in front of them. They made eye contact several times, got
water, grabbed pens they forgot to bring in, went back out to look
for the reader's copy of my manuscript, realized she'd forgotten it
at home, came back in, shifted in their seats and began talking.
My reader--who I didn't know before and has the reputation of being
very blunt--offered me congratulations for finishing my novel. This,
she said, was a big deal as many students turn in manuscripts that
aren't complete. Thus ending the compliments portion of her show. She
then told me that now it was time to re-write. And re-write again.
And again. Saul Bellow, she pointed out, revised Herzog twenty times.
"Wow," I said, trying to break the tension I felt pouring over me. "I
draw the line at thirteen." (deciding at the last minute to omit adding, "Zing!!!")
She paused for a second as if weighing the pro's and con's of
eliciting a fake laugh, decided against it and then proceeded to
skewer my novel for the next forty five minutes. My narrator--she
points out-- isn't engaged, doesn't enter into conflict, seems
unconcerned about whatever is going on around him, never actively
does anything, merely observes, forgets to recycle, doesn't get up
for older folk on the subway, eats food with the bad kind of
cholesterol, kicks (small) dogs, doesn't know how to whistle and--
given the choice to vote or die--probably wouldn't vote.
When she finished talking, you could feel the air of enthusiasm slide
out of me. All I could think about was the amount of work that I'd
put into the book, and then I thought about having to do that twenty
more times, and then I thought about applying for a job at Espresso
Royale, and then I thought about actively working with the hippies
and always smelling like patchouli and exotic blends of coffee, and
then I thought about whether or not they would care if I curled up
into a ball and assumed the fetal position for the rest of the
defense. I was giving up. They'd sunk my (Electronic) Battleship.
But then my advisor saved the day.
Given, she did offer critiques and say that i needed to work more on
the book, but she also gently put me back into the right state,
unpacking the harsh mental baggage that my reader made me carry and
putting it away in the proper drawers.
She found a character she loved, asked that the story focus more on
the narrator's relationship with her, and figured out real ways to
improve my book without making me think that someone should bury my
novel in a time capsule. I was so relieved by my advisor's words that
I almost jumped across the desk and hugged her when it was all
finished, something her aversion to physical contact would not have
been cool with.
So, friends, this leaves me with about a months worth of hard work
before I do the show and tell agent style, but at the very least, I
am done. I survived my defense. No more MFA. After five years of
post grad education, two masters degrees of debatable merit, and
several changes in my wardrobe, I can safely say I don't want to
think about a syllabus again for at least 3-5 years.
Then I'll probably get my PhD (JK, dad!).
And now that I have fully recovered, expect mo' blogs and mo' money
interaction via the Commenting portion of the show. You complete me.