Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Final Stretch

Apologies for not posting sooner, or anytime since April 7th, when I was buried beneath the mound of a 42,000-word draft of my thesis.

As of last week at this time, my thesis: Stranded in Neverland: Young Americans Lost and Found in Berlin, was FINISHED. I got a thumbs-up email from my adviser, Fletcher Roberts, took that as the green light to go to the gym (for the first time in Gd knows when), joined Middle Babe at some form of medieval torture known as Core Fusion at some upscale subterranean joint on Central Park South, joined my family for a late last-night-before-Passover dinner at Peacefood Cafe and spent Sunday evening preparing a list of my sources and their contact info, a document entitled How I Got That Story and conducting some last-minute, nervous fact-checking. Though I went to bed in an optimistic spirit, I lay awake for hours, worrying about my thesis and my book proposal, up for discussion the following day in my book writing seminar.

Up at the crack of dawn (after about two solid hours of sleep), I read through my 10,600-something word thesis and got over to the J School to print The Monster out. Reader, I was LITERALLY the first person to physically submit the two hard copies to Tali Woodward at 9:07 a.m. in the World Room of the J School....after which I ran to my book writing seminar to hear my proposal critiqued, a process that left me wondering what my book was a good way. When the class broke at 2:30ish, I ran home to pack for the first days of Passover in Great Neck with AGMOBB....the Almost Ganse Mishpoche of Bungalow Babe, that is, my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law, their five kids, HOBB, Middle Babe, Little Babe and Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians, who camped out in my parent's detached garage.

The first two days of Passover were spent in a high-carb state of post-traumatic stress-induced euphoria combined with creeping panic about my book project and family warmness mingled with some surly complaints from my offspring. My personal joy was also tempered by the sober knowledge that one friend's father was dying and by the revelation -- delivered on the first day of the holiday -- that another friend was battling cancer.

I rejoined the secular world on Thursday for my Arts and Culture seminar and heard that my last paper of the semester would be due at midnight the following Monday, that is, the beginning of the eighth day of Passover. I also realized I didn't yet have a topic. Indeed, as I sat in class wondering what I would write about, I couldn't think of a single thing. My brain was on strike. And, oh, yeah, the sample chapter of my book project was due at 9 a.m. on Monday, the seventh day of Passover, which was only slightly problematic because I was no longer certain what my book was about (and because there was a Sabbath separating me and Sunday, the only day I could really focus on the writing, a shortened day not only because of the advent of Yom Tov at 7:24 that evening but because of a special excursion that evening to hear the performance artist Reverend Billy with my Arts and Culture seminar.)

Friday dawned with the funeral for my friend's father. Mid-morning, I remembered that I had committed to reading the first two aliyot at shul on Shabbat. After the whirlwind of appointments, meetings and food-shopping and cooking, I prepared my Torah readings Friday night, minutes before my standing Scrabble game with HOBB. Having learned that tequila was kosher for Passover, I had bought a small bottle of Patron silver and while cooking for Shabbat, I downed about 3 shots, which certainly made me sing the ancient cantillation with great flair. I hoped that my spirited home performance would be duplicated the following morning in shul when the effects of the tequila were long gone.

It is now Sunday morning, a half hour before noon. My Torah reading went well, a good thing since the dean of the J School was part of the congregation. (Afterwards, I joked with him that at least I could look forward to a job reading Torah post-graduation. Ha ha.) I have been scribbling since Shabbat let out, trying to find the thread of the story in my sample chapter. This is a book about being adopted, which has been done before, but never by me. This is a book about adoption as identity, about how it forms a distinct personality and character. In my sample chapter I am writing about bodies -- mine, my mother's, my birthmother's, my kids'. I am writing one facet of my tale through the lens of the body.

I am camped out on my bed, wearing running clothes, surrounded by my laptop, my Pomeranians and books on adoption, most of them courtesy of Columbia's Social Work School library. Woe unto anyone who needs these books from now until June, when they are due back. As I write, I am laughing and crying and looking up all kinds of things on the Internet, relevant and not. I find myself irritated by the ubiquitous lists of "famous adopted people" most of whom are not really adopted. Or famous. My guess is that these lists were compiled to give adopted kids and adoptive parents hope that not all adoptees will become Son of Sam. My work is interrupted by a call from my mother in Great Neck. My call with my mother is interrupted by a call from Big Babe in Berlin.

Little Babe has just woken up and is preparing a Pesach-fabulous brunch for himself. Middle Babe is at her friends' house and will doubtless return home shortly, asking me to join her for a midday Core Fusion exercise class, which I cannot handle in my present state. HOBB is in his office, grading papers. Though the forecast calls for rain, it is sunny outside and I think I will take a break, go to my gym and sweat it out on the elliptical machine. I have two major assignments due within two days. It is the spring of my graduate school adventure. I am fifty years old but I feel like I am an adolescent, on the cusp of becoming.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Scenes from the Writing of my Master's Thesis at The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (aka J School)...Part Deux

Just got back from my morning seminar on Copyright Law and the Google Books Settlement and am preparing to wrestle The Monster.

Engaging in an intelligent discussion on legal matters is difficult when you are extremely sleep-deprived.

Sitting in class and feigning interest in anything other than your Masters thesis is difficult when it is due in about 10 days.

Notice the use of the word "about."

I am so overwhelmed that I don't even want to think of my deadline in actual, quantifiable terms.

Yesterday I awoke at 4 am and worked, pretty much undisturbed, until 9 pm. At that time, I went to visit a friend who is recuperating from surgery. When Little Babe and HOBB came home from school, I shouted a greeting to them through the closed bedroom door. Later, feeling like a slacker mom and wife, I emerged from my lair and dispensed hugs. If either had asked me for anything, I might have screamed.

On the way back from visiting my friend, I stopped at a J-School computer lab and printed out The Monster. You can see it, resting on the table.

Earlier, for the span of 17 hours, until I showered and got dressed to go outside, I worked in a tank top and underpants, on my bed, surrounded by my dogs.

The only other things I did include eating, drinking and going to the bathroom.

Oh, yeah. And fielding calls for other, non-school projects I am involved with.

But I had to feign interest in those subjects as well.

There is a scene in the movie Amadeus where we see Mozart composing his music leaning over a billiard table. He hears the orchestrated piece in his head as he transcribes the notes.

When he is interrupted, the music stops and he looks up, distracted and disoriented. The sudden silence sounds like noise.

I am Wolfgang Amadeus Bungalow Babe, a 50 year old student at Columbia J School. The music I hear in my head is a conversation about young Americans in contemporary Berlin.

Until I finish composing my masterpiece, everything else will sound to me like so much noise, a distraction, utterly disorienting.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Scenes from the Writing of my Master's Thesis at The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (aka J School)

Here are my research assistants, Alfie and Nala.

Though their native language is Pomeranian, they are multi-lingual by which I mean that they like to lick everything.

The next post will probably feature a picture of Alfie licking my toes. It's those small pleasures that get me through the [fill in your favorite word connoting extreme hardship] process.

But the dog is the father (or mother) of man (or woman) and so I make Alfie and Nala my parental proxies and from them, I learn the value of working doggedly.

Indeed, they are an integral part of the writing of my thesis, sitting on my lap while I read, barking in rebuke when I wake up at 4 a.m. to write, looking at me with sad puppy dog eyes when they need to go out for a walk, which invariably leads me to unexpected inspiration.

So, thank you, my dogs, my teachers, my research assistants, my little, loving, furry toe-lickers.