Porch chair

Yesterday was another beautiful day here in Keene: mild and partly cloudy. The local ice-cream stand in town is freshly painted and open for business, the college girls are out and about in tank tops and capri pants, and scruffy guys everywhere are barefoot or in sandals. You’d think it was summer in the tropics, but it’s only what-passes-for-spring here in New Hampshire. When the thermometer hits 65 degrees after a record-smashingly cold winter, everyone hits the streets.

On the one hand, it’s difficult to focus on the diss when the weather’s nice; on the other hand, I’m sorely in need of a break. Yesterday morning I did diss revisions on the porch, a tiny change of pace that allows me to get something done while offering a much-needed illusion of ease. Around lunch time Chris suggested we run some errands then grab a sandwich, so at long last I accomplished yet another necessary goal on the long and winding road toward the PhD.

I bought paper.

Now, this isn’t any ol’ ordinary paper. This is 20 lb. 100% cotton watermarked archival-quality stuff: the paper I’ll need to print “Bill” when he’s done. Northeastern like any doctoral program has rigorous requirements about dissertation formatting, paper, etc: the copy I print (and my committee signs-off on) will be bound and preserved for posterity in the library archive. If you try to submit your diss on any ol’ paper, the “Ruler Lady” in charge of checking dissertations will turn you away (yes, she measures margins with a ruler, and yes, there have been people who haven’t graduated on time because of her). No watermark, no diss, no graduation. Any questions?

I’ve been cranking so much on the content of my diss, I haven’t spent much time on the format: I figured I’d spend this next week worrying about that. Following the example of colleagues who have gone before me, I’m going to print a “dress rehearsal draft” on plain paper for the Ruler Lady’s consideration the day of the defense, then I can make any necessary changes (and any suggested revisions from my committee) in time to print the perfected version on the expensive stuff. The perfected, printed-on-expensive-paper version has to be submitted by Friday, April 9th, so I’ll have a couple of days after the April 5th defense to tweak what needs tweaking. In the meantime, though, I’ve had the occasional panicky thought: what if, at the last minute, some stupid formatting issue completely nullifies all the work I’ve done?

So you can imagine the relief I felt yesterday when we went to Staples return some computer equipment Chris had bought. Wandering over to the fine stationery aisle, I found tranquility in a box: Eaton/Southworth 20lb 100% cotton acid-free Thesis Paper. (Yep, it says “Thesis Paper” right on the box.) Eaton is one of the “approved” brands listed in the university archives’ specifications, so I was overjoyed to find it right here in Keene: I’d heard horror stories of colleagues shopping from store to store in search of the elusive Proper Paper. I bought two packages for a total of 500 pages: about twice as much as I’ll probably need, but I’m taking no chances.

And so I’m slowly but surely taking care of business as I head into the final week before the defense. Last night I had a moment of sheer panic when I realized my tried-and-true MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers doesn’t contain formatting guidelines for dissertations: for that, I need to get a copy of the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. “Oh, crap! What if I can’t find a copy? I’m under a deadline and I need this book: otherwise, the last 10 years of work goes down the drain!”

I’m learning that people in the final throes of completing their PhDs are like pregnant women: subsumed by weird cravings and always on the brink of complete emotional breakdown. Has anyone, I wondered, every throttled the Ruler Lady when she’s pointed out a discrepancy with margin size or an improperly formatted footnote? (In my mind’s eye, I can envision myself either breaking into hysterical tears right there on the spot or pulling a Bobby-Knight style tantrum: “Breaking news! Northeastern PhD candidate goes postal over paper requirements! Film at eleven!”) Having observed the emotional roller-coaster effect the diss has had on me over the past month or so, I’m learning how to weather the storm: “Okay, take a deep breath. We’ll find a copy of the style guide even if I have to send Chris all over New England to retrieve it. It’s okay…”

Within five minutes I learned that Keene State has not one but TWO copies of the MLA Style Manual: one on reserve and one available for check out. So today’s task is to stroll on over to the library and check out what I’m sure is going to be a thrill-a-minute page-turner.

It’s eight days and counting until the showdown we’ve all been waiting for. Ruler Lady, prepare to meet the Zen Mama.