Bastard life or clarity
[Um, based on a few comments I received, perhaps I should clarify that the previous entry does exaggerate for effect. I mean, my thesis is hardly a cure for cancer, and I am not Einstein. It's just that the reaction I've received is so disproportionate to anything I could even have dreamed of (even with my fertile imagination), it almost feels that way.]
Still dazed, I was taken to lunch surrounded by miscellaneous university
dignitaries (including my first-ever real-life chance encounter with a fellow
Vassar grad, the dean of the college). "Where's your husband?" they
asked. "Would he like to come along?"
"Oh, he's taking advantage of the free time to explore a bit," I answered, according to our agreed script. Dario didn't want to face the pressure of table conversation with strangers on this occasion. We sat around a table in the fancy restaurant of our hotel, politely nibbling on fish and salad and key lime pie. Amid the talk of golf and university politics, there was some polite questioning about my thesis topic and my general plans. Somehow, I managed to encapsulate my entire concept in a single, crystal-clear sentence, which I should have scribbled down immediately on the nearest monogrammed napkin, because it's a feat I've never been able to replicate.
The day had grown warm, and the four-inch heels on my boots had begun to strain my calves. "I'll just stop off in my room and change clothes," I told my departing professors. "Then I'll be right back over for the paperwork." I also couldn't wait to share the good news with Dario, whom I pictured waiting anxiously in our room. I longed for a triumphant embrace, perhaps with the faint swelling sound of violins in the distance to enhance the Cinemascope moment.
I knocked on the door, but there was no answer.
I was disappointed, but not devastated. There had been no way of knowing when I would return, and it was only logical that Dario would want to walk around a bit on such a lovely day. However, I really did want to change my clothes, so I obtained another key card from the front desk. The green light flashed cheerfully as I extracted the card from its slot and pushed.
The bolt was closed. Hmm.
I tried calling Dario's name, through the narrow opening left by the bolt. Our room opened directly onto the hotel lobby, though, and I didn't want to stand in that cavernous space shouting, "Dario, Dario!" But my stage-whispered calls produced not a stir. He had to be in the room, but was he asleep? Listening to his Discman? Passed out and bleeding on the bedroom floor?
There was a phone on a table in the lobby. I picked it up, hoping to be able to dial the room directly. Instead, I was connected to the front desk, approximately fifteen feet away. Feeling silly, I asked to be connected to room 108. The phone rang, and rang, and rang, until the message system finally kicked in. I left a confused message, torn between annoyance and concern.
I knocked again, as hard as I felt I could without attracting attention. I opened the door the few inches allowed by the bolt, and called his name again. Finally, finally, I heard rustling, followed by a shuffle, and a bleary-faced Dario stumbled toward me to open the goddamned door.
There were no violins, no magical Cinemascope embrace. Instead, there was
a husband able only to open one eye, gruffly mumbling, "You done already?".
I, on the other hand, having determined that there was no cause for alarm,
felt free to be bitchy and annoyed at having been locked out of the room,
and thus robbed of my crowning moment.
It was not the stuff to which syndication and merchandising rights are sold.
After sending my thesis draft off to my professor--at approximately 4:30 a.m., following a weekend of spectacular meltdowns, crying fits, and a memorable twelve hours spent trying to get the pages to format correctly--we went to Riccione to spend a few days with Monica and Gianluca, to recuperate and at least pretend we'd had some sort of vacation. It was a lovely and relaxing distraction. Once we got home, of course, the anxious waiting began.
I was unsure what my professor would think of my final effort. I knew he thought I was at least a little bit crazy, but he'd always been very supportive. Nonetheless, I was taking a big risk by taking a position so contrary to the mainstream. As my advisor, he shared some of that risk.
On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, his first batch of comments arrived. Aside from minor formatting quibbles, his reaction was... well:
I always hate it when folks characterize my thinking as "pre-modernist." I am much more comfortable in the traditional positivist stance. I had a political science class at the 7000 or 8000 level that was supposed to pry me from my positivist thinking. It only served to make me think the postmodernists were a bit daft. I got an A.
With this kind of thinking pedophilia becomes just another sexual preference. Great -- from the point of view of the pedophiliac. Completely indefensible from the point of view of the child. I am not ready to come to the defense of the pedophiliacs.
This baffled me. Um, how exactly did I become a defender of pedophiles, again?
Anyway, you appreciate that you are alone... in defending your position. I can't back you up. And, I DO remember the article that was written in very scholarly language that was "intended" to be just academic gibberish. It was a joke. The article was accepted by a scholarly journal. All involved -- the reviewers, the editors -- were embarrassed (except the author). Point: dress up hollow ideas in fancy language and people are supposed to think you are smart. Some will. I hope your ideas have substance.
Well, that's certainly reassuring, isn't it? Maybe I had just assembled a lot of fancy words, and actually had nothing worth saying. The nightmare of anyone who's ever suffered from Impostor Syndrome.
There was more, but this was the worst of it. I was devastated.
The strangest part of it was, this first chapter simply elaborated on some of the same topics I'd already touched upon in my proposal back in May, when he had voiced no objections. I couldn't understand why he suddenly took such a negative stand.
Not to mention the fact that this chapter laid out the theoretical foundation upon which everything else rested. If he hated this part, well, I was quite certain he would find the rest unacceptable, especially the next-to-last chapter ominously entitled "Deconstruction."
With the help of The Usual Suspects (especially the amazing Kate, who went over the entire e-mail with me line by line, trying to fetter out any mysterious hidden meanings), I finally decided that he had simply had a knee-jerk reaction to the term postmodern, and was panicking a bit because he was unfamiliar with complexity theory as a whole. That was to be expected, and was indeed why I had already asked the only committee member "in the know" to look over the chapter earlier in the summer. She'd given it a thumbs-up, which was a reassuring contrast to my advisor's little rant.
I sat back and waited for the rest of his comments to arrive, dreading the
moment when he would finish Chapter 6. He finally sent his comments a week
later, bundled together with those regarding the conclusion.
I skimmed through miscellaneous notes on typos, formatting corrections, and other trivialities in search of something more substantial. Finally, I saw it: "You will see that most of my comments were formatting comments. That's because you did a good job of making your case."
Oh. Guess I got all worked up about nothing, then.
I was feeling decidedly unwell. My throat ached, my chest felt tight, my head achey and feverish. We had no thermometer available, but even if we had, there was no point in taking my temperature: this was no time to be sick. There was too much to be done.
Dario had been in a terrible mood the day before, and today hadn't started much better. While I sat in the cozy, warm kitchen of the amazing, eighteenth-century bed and breakfast where we'd spent the night in Philadelphia, he was pacing around the walled garden in the early morning chill, arguing with his mother on the cell phone. (She had got our itinerary a bit confused, and thought we were back at my sister's and should have phoned. Mainly, she was a bit freaked out by all the news coverage of the sniper attacks--"Entire American Continent Terrorized By Shooter!"--and wanted to be sure we were okay.) I had a leisurely second cup of coffee, briefly considered taking another thick slice of homemade cranberry bread or another dish of fresh raspberries and thick yogurt, then decided there was no time. I paid our bill, chatted briefly with the proprietor about Italy, bid her farewell and joined my sulking husband in the rental car. We set off for Rittenhouse Square, and the Tuscany Cafe.
The night before we had had dinner with the lovely and charming Melissa and husband Greg (very yummy Middle Eastern fare, accompanied by Greg's astonishingly encyclopedic knowledge of obscure religious cults), and they had warned us of the perils of parking in downtown Philly. We snaked through the morning rush-hour traffic in search of a serendipitous street spot, but to no avail. As time grew shorter and we moved farther away from our actual destination, we finally just decided to pull into the first parking garage we found.
Even there, finding a spot was no simple matter. I drove around and around,
feeling feverish and confused and beginning to panic. Dario finally got out
of the car, to do a little advance scouting and try to help me find somewhere.
I finally drove down to the next level, where I scored a space between an
SUV and a cement pillar. Despite my grogginess, I managed to park without
Dario was nowhere to be seen.
For twenty minutes, I wandered around the cavernous space shouting, "Dario, Dario!", just as I had refrained from doing back in Memphis. I was right to worry, it turned out, as other garage patrons apparently thought me to be some sort of crazy person. When I approached the bank of elevators leading to street level and to the office building towering overhead, they all surreptitiously shuffled away, filling one elevator and leaving me to ride the other one on my own.
I hesitated to leave. What if Dario was still in the garage, waiting for me somewhere (and, I imagined, growing increasingly pissed off, given the general atmosphere). At the same time, I knew it was growing late (how late I wasn't sure, since I had no watch), and I needed to walk the few blocks to my meeting with my professor.
At the top of the ramp leading up from the bowels of the garage stood a man,
dressed in fluorescent-striped raingear (even though the weather was gorgeous)
and waving a tiny plastic flag, presumably to direct drivers onto his employer's
premises. "Excuse me," I asked him. "Have you seen a man leave
here in the last few minutes?"
"Bald guy?" he asked bluntly. "Kinda heavyset? Yeah. He went down thattaway, but I can't tell you where he headed after that. I got my work to do."
I thanked him for his help, then set off with great relief, my tall brown boots smartly clicking at a brisk pace against the pavement. At least I knew that Dario had gone, and remembered where I was headed. I knew we'd meet up eventually.
Indeed, just a few minutes after I'd settled into my seat across from my smiling professor, hugely oversized cappuccino in hand, he tapped me on the shoulder. We agreed that he would check in occasionally to see when we'd finished. Later, he told me that wandering around the unexpectedly beautiful city, on such a sparkling gem of a day, snapping photos at whim and with a musical soundtrack ranging from Sinatra to Pink Floyd adding another dimension to the experience, had made it one of the highlights of the trip. Added to the amazingly exciting outcome of my meeting, and he declared it one of the best days, ever. A multisensory experience of perfect clarity and peace.
I love a happy ending.
Oh, and in addition to the photos I added to yesterday's entry, here you can see Dario's favorite pics from our trip, thirteen in all. Be forewarned that it's a heavy load for your browser, so a slow connection may mean a long wait. Go have a cup of coffee. Better yet, hot chocolate, which is what I'm about to make for myself.