an open letter to my thesis

by sam prendergast

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candice carlin body 2
photo by Candice Carlin.

Dear thesis,

This is kind of awkward but I think our ‘thing’ is over. I mean, literally speaking, you are actually finished – printed and handed in. But I thought I’d write to say that I am not returning, please do not call.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some moments. The day our statistics were turned into graphs. The time we spent circling words in Russian dictionaries. Those were nice, you know. I really thought we might have something. When I went out you were the centre of my conversations. I glowed when people asked how you were going. “Oh, you know,” I’d say, and smile at the thought of you awaiting my return. In bed on Sunday mornings I’d drink coffee and read you over. Sometimes we’d make small changes, add a line or a reminder: come back to this, later.

But, by the time that ‘later’ came, you’d changed. You were a mess. We’d spent earlier months engaged in exploration, and it was fun. But by mid-way through the relationship it became fairly obvious that it was time to stop exploring. Time to settle down. Things got more intense. The treasures of our travelling were mainly discarded. Interview transcripts and antiquated guides to Soviet Moscow – all were picked at and tossed aside, as if they were not the precious findings of those months we spent in bliss.

It went downhill fast. All of a sudden you were keeping me up until 4am highlighting dates and erasing unnecessary adjectives. With no one’s company but our own, we started to develop a weird odour – kind of a mix between urine and gin. You had me eating toast crumbs off the bench and wearing pyjamas as day-time clothes. I cut you down and then pasted you back together more times than I can count. Friends stopped calling, and when they did they were all: “I guess you’re staying in with thesis, again?”

They were right. You consumed me, and not in the sexy vampire way, but in the hurtful way that made my skin look yellow and my hair turn to matted wool. I’d wake up scared to see you, having just spent the night dreaming you were dead. I turned to substances – coffee and endless cups of tea. “Eat more chocolate,” said my brain, in the hopes of postponing our meetings. But we were always drawn back together. You on the table, me on the chair, and all around us 40 to 50 apple cores in various stages of decomposition. So this is it, I’d think, and from the laptop screen you’d stare back, unsmiling.

More than anything, I guess it’s just disappointing. Neither of us expected things to go this way. We had foreseen grandeur, enlightenment, and in particularly ridiculous moments, glory. Instead we got ‘scent of urine’ and ‘skin of jaundiced grandma’. In the supermarket I’d stare at rows of canned beans and think, “Maybe paragraph two should go after paragraph three,” while children pushed past my feet. But no one really cares where paragraph two/three goes, thesis. It’s just not a big deal.

In the days since we parted, I’ve thought of you often. You appear in my dreams as a female version of my supervisor, unable to communicate except in simple Russian verbs: to do, to fail, to start again. I ask endless questions. Why didn’t I spend more time with you when it mattered? Why did I think it was a good idea to add a comparative section in the last week of writing? The answers don’t matter. Just like 90% of essays in my undergraduate degree, I handed you in unfinished and that’s how you’ll remain.

Neither of us turned out to be what we’d expected, and while I’d like to say that’s nice, it’s really just nicer to let you go.

Have a nice life,

Sam.

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