Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chapter Three: Pre-Sneakview


Come here. I've got a secret for you. Now, don't tell anyone you heard it from me, but I'm about to tell you one of the inalienable truths of graduate school. Are you ready for it? Are you sitting down? Are you writing it in your college-ruled notebook with a Number Two pencil? Alrighty, then. Here you have it:

The reason that graduate programs require that you write a dissertation is?
... to keep people from applying to graduate programs.

Of this, I am convinced. If they took the more hospitable approach - let's say the departmental brochure began with something along the lines of "Y'all just come on in and spend a coupla years studyin' your favorite things!" - we'd all be PHDs. But professors don't do that, because, to be honest, they don't have the time - or (I can say as a part-time professor) the desire - to grade the papers of that many people, so in order to weed out the sane from the masochistic, they tack on the requirement of generating a 200+ page document in which you discuss topics that you really don't understand in an effort to earn a degree so specialized that you really aren't very marketable job-wise.

It's a weaning process through which only the idiotic survive.

Guess what that makes me. Idiot that I am, I'm currently wading knee-deep in my dissertation. In fact, it's been my personal goal to have an entire first draft submitted by the time my family leaves to watch our beloved Wildcats in the 2010 Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament. I decided that this would be a wise thing to do, so that I wasn't distracted while I was at the games. You know, in case Coach Cal needs me to suit up or something.

Quit laughing, Peanut Gallery. The snickers you hear are those of the people who know me best. They know the truth, which is that the chances of anything distracting me from watching the Wildcats is about as likely as Les Miles not wearing a ball cap or Billy Donovan not reminding me of Eddie Munster. In other words, it's not gonna happen.

But still, imagine how much slimmer I'll look in my swimsuit, if I shed the weighty albatross of Draft One before hitting Hawaii. Needless to say, then, I've been pressing on. For the past several weeks, I've immersed myself in Dorothy Fields and The Musical as Drama , and, this morning, Comden & Green's classic Bells are Ringing. It's not easy. My love for musical theatre ranks just below God, Family, and the Big Blue Nation, yet "dissertating," as my sister calls it, is a laborious process. It's also a loveless process. By that, I mean that you start with a topic that you love so much that you're willing to forego four years of full-time income in order to study it, and then you analyze and theorize and poke and prod and hem and haw, until the tank of your love is absolutely drained dry, and you start to think "Professor of Musical Theatre History?! I'd just as soon be hired by the San Quentin Sanitation Department."

Thus frustrated, you're just about to take your MacBook Pro and every back-up CD you ever burned and toss the lot on the tracks before a fast-moving train, and then, it happens. In your research, you stumble back over a song you haven't heard, since you submitted your masters thesis. You listen to it, and suddenly. Instantly. Like the sweet and simple fizz of Coca Cola being poured over crushed ice, your cup runneth over with the love you thought you'd lost.

That's how it happened for me, anyway. I was sitting in the Atlanta Bread Company, trying to focus on finishing Chapter Three and fighting my desire to watch UKCat8Fan's latest video when I listened to this:

Oh, Shirley Booth as Lottie Gibson in 1954's By the Beautiful Sea, how my heart explodes to hear you again. I absolutely love this song. Do you want to know why? Sure, I love it's "I ain't settlin' for anything less than everything" message, but even more I love how perfectly it illustrates what I love about Dorothy Fields. Without tipping my academic hand (for that, you'll have to wait for the "absolutely riveting" final draft, which, let's be honest, even I won't ever read), I'll tell you that no one else was writing songs like this for musicals in 1954. No one (seriously. I can quantify this. In fact, I DO - in Chapter One). That's what Chapter Three is all about - it discusses the ways in which my girl Dorothy was a singular sensation with a creative voice that was singularly sensational.

In that moment, all the academic hazing of my years in graduate school were once again worth it. Living on no heat and sunflower seeds? Not a problem. Entire summers lost to studying for comprehensives? Child's play. The Spanish Inquisition of oral examinations? It ain't nothin' but a thang, a rite of passage through which I access the dream of making a career of my musical theatre fixation.

Just as Dorothy's voice was a gift to musical theatre, studying her work has been the gift of my (admittedly short-lived) career. In the same way, it's such a gift to be able to pursue my passion. I'm thankful - amidst all the frustrations of academic hemming and hawing - to have been reminded of how blessed I am to love what I do ... even if I sometimes hate it.

Hey - now that I think about it, I remember that the way I'm feeling right now has been expressed in song.

Guess who wrote the lyrics.

"Poor ev'rybody else,
how I pity every body else
but me
- D. Fields, 1973


  1. What's your dissertation on, Kristin?

  2. I'm writing about Dorothy Fields, an American lyricist / librettist - for my masters thesis, I wrote about her lyrics in an attempt to define her lyrical style. For my dissertation, I'm focusing on her characters in an effort to determine her unique contribution to the American musical as the lone woman writing for it for much of the form's "Golden Age."

    Thanks for asking:)

  3. Um, how did I not know you have a blog??? I just saw the comment you posted on my sister's blog about her surprise prego dr appt (quite hilarious- she totally edited the words that she really used :)
    You should have called her for dinner. Yall would have laughed your guts out AND there is a LA Paz there and Shannon goes at least once a week! Anyway, so glad to have found this and have been thoroughly entertained reading. My fave is your post about Lizzie Gray. She is so lucky to have you in her life!! Wish you would happen to be in Raleigh so we could go have cheese dip someday!!

  4. Thanks for reading, Miss Jennie! Can't wait to hear about Baby Number Three - and would LOVE to meet up with Shannon at LaPaz:) You'll come with us, right?!:)