samedi, octobre 29, 2005

Packing the Trunk

This acronym was meaningless to uneducated me until I became involved with Dear Wife. Back in 1999 when we began to fall in love, Dear Wife was applying to grad schools. By fall of 2000 she had moved four hours North to Santa Barbara, and The Great Trial began. I think it was in the process of finishing her Master's Thesis that I first became aware of "ABD." Now it looms over our lives like the buzzard in "Porgy an' Bess".

It's a grad school designation for "All But Dissertation," referring to the fulcrum moment in a student's life when there are no more courses to be completed for your advanced degree, and no more exams to pass, just the writing and acceptance of your dissertation.

Dear Wife is past this fulcrum moment, and beginning her full immersion into writing her dissertation, a sort of harrowing period where you find out if you've "got what it takes" to sit down and pull together disparate strands of research and then have it all coalesce into a quality volume of 150 pages or so. That's really why we're over here (and you thought it was for my blog). So when Dear Wife spotted this tree, its scuffed trunk looming behind our outdoor table at a café in Place St. Michel, it was viewed as a particularly relevant sign (good? bad? we could only tremble and guess). "Oh, we've got to get a picture!"

Was it carved by a triumphant, would-be scholar, just finished with their qualifying exams and ready to take on "The Big Write"? Or was it a last gesture from some anonymous despondent, a warning carved by the pen-knife of an humiliated wash-out, an epitaph intended for everyone unable to emerge from that most dangerous limbo stage of incipient scholarship, "ABD"?

And then I had a dream about Dear Wife's dissertation myself. That was this morning, not at the café. I’ve never ever had a stress dream on behalf of anyone else before. It appeared during that last stretch of sleep before I had to wake, that self-indulgent plateau where you’re conscious the room is bright now, but you roll over and fall back into sleep. The dream took place in that future moment when Dear Wife will be done with her dissertation, when it has been accepted and approved, and she is expecting graduation, perhaps even that day. But in a shabby conference room Dear Wife’s advisors were standing huddled, discussing something between themselves and then distilling these conversations into quick comments for Dear Wife, who sat at a table looking alarmed. Dear Wife said little in response. Every few moments an advisor would turn and stride out of the room, through a doorway that went into some other, more important room barred to us. I took advantage of my familiarity with the husband and wife who serve as Dear Wife’s primary advisors and began asking questions. I was concerned and wanted to know what was going on—why was Dear Wife seated stone still and sweating? Wasn’t all this dissertation stuff finished business? What’s the problem? They were evasive. The husband left abruptly, departed to the more important room. I wanted answers. The wife left too, but promised she’d be back. I turned to Dear Wife, aware I may have upset the process by inserting myself. “Are you OK?” I asked. She looked shell-shocked. Terror grew on her face as she tried to speak. That’s when I woke up.

Now that is evidence of stress as contagion. And this thing isn’t due for years.

I'd like to promise you that this will be the last time I write about a dream.

But I'm just not ready to do that.


At jeudi, juin 15, 2006, Anonymous HY said...

Dear Chino,

Only two minutes after I started to explore your blog, I spotted this "ABD" photo. I know exactly how your Dear Wife felt when she spotted the three letters on the tree trunk. I think the letters have been engraved on our collective memory so deep that we see them, feel them all the time...

your Dear Wife's dear fellow ABD friend HY


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