The dream was too real, too possible, too totally and completely EXACTLY the kind of thing that would happen to me.
So, I panicked.
Although the building was quiet, it still felt exposed. I closed the door as soon as I got into the office. She answered the phone on the first ring.
“No, no,” I tried to explain, “I turned the papers in months ago. In October. Mid-October.”
“Well, you’re probably okay. Are you on the list?”
“What list?” Now I’m really panicking. “I turned in the final copy for binding and filled out the paperwork…” The last part came out fast as my voice started to rise in pitch. “…I put it on the desk at the registrar’s office. I paid the final semester fees. Did I miss something?”
“Let me check.”
Wait. Wait. WaitWaitWait.
I start to make nervous jokes. “It’s just that, you know, it seemed so EASY… I just woke up this morning panicked, thinking I’d missed something. There was this dream I had and it…”
“Oh, I see it. You’re right here. PhD, right?”
“Yes! PhD! That’s ME!”
“In the first day of the New Year, your transcript will be ready and it will be official.”
“For sure? You’re SURE? For REAL?”
“Yes. I promise. You’ll officially be a PhD, and can request a transcript to prove it.”
We arrived State-side before Thanksgiving and hit the ground running… the kids, recovering from their tummy troubles and me in the midst of my (first ever!) bacterial GI-disturbance. It made for an interesting 15-hour plane ride (FYI: if you run out of Imodium somewhere over Iceland, the crew can’t help you — they only have aspirin). But we did it. We got back, so did our luggage. Just as we were about to let out a big SIGH of relief…
— We enjoyed at least 5 different po’boys at the Po’Boy Preservation Fest on Oak Street roughly 36 hours after landing.
— I lectured for the entire student body (100+) a day later (who needs prep time?!)
— I presented a major section of my dissertation at the big Anthropology conference in town 3 days later, after having a total freak out when I discovered my co-panelists had prepared powerpoints (even calling Paul and asking him to watch for a text from me in case I chickened out and needed him to call with a make-up emergency). I sucked it up, and hey, it turns out powerpoint is not a replacement for a good verbal presentation! Who knew?
— Found one of our heaters died. Brrrr. And the cost to replace? OUCH. BUT! AN UPSIDE! They let Paul do some of the prep construction and wiring over Thanksgiving, which saved us some time and cash.
— Discovered I’m teaching a new course next spring, based on a proposal for 2-4 class sessions I wrote before leaving the country… one that will have 4-sections, is a requirement for all students, and needs a syllabus that not only I can teach, but so can 3 others.
— We threw a combined b-day party for Will and a friend (who was kind enough to offer to share his party with Will, realizing that we would not have had a chance to plan anything).
— Found out I’m a finalist for the tenure-track position I applied for, meaning that I’ve got to give a faculty lecture and have selection committee members sit in on my teaching early next term.
— Had family staying with us for Thanksgiving, including my Dad, who happily helped Paul saw out a 2×2 hole in the hallway ceiling in preparation for our day-after-Thanksgiving furnace work crew.
— The truck died, again, in the middle of a highway, with my Dad and Paul inside. They were close to their intended destination (Lowe’s) and my Dad managed to push it across the highway with Dad steering. Mid-lane, with traffic headed right toward them, the clutch engaged and Paul tore across the highway into the parking lot, burning rubber and leaving tire marks on the pavement. When I picture this scene in my mind, it is accompanied by the sound of the horn of the General Lee, and both my Dad and Paul yelling “WOO-HOO” and throwing their dusty cowboy hats in the air. Just in case you anyone was wondering if our world-travels have pushed us beyond the boundaries of redneck-living, the answer would be a resounding “NO.”
Now our lives are starting to settle into normal crazies, with one big difference. That buzz in the background, the constant whirl of STUFF and THINGS TO DO is no longer there. This is because the day before we left for India, I turned in the cotton-linen-printed copy of my dissertation. By now, it’s bound in a leather book with my name gracing the spine in gold letters. With any luck, it should remain as perfect and new as it is now… with no one ever opening it. *sigh* I’m DONE. DONE DONE DONE.
I told myself I would get my revisions done RIGHT AWAY. Maybe even the very day I defended.
But I did enjoy a Second Line of friends that showed up at the house the night I defended, playing a variety of musical instruments and singing “P-H-D! P-H-D!” All the way down the street to our neighborhood watering hole.
I was definitely distracted the morning of my defense. So much so, that I didn’t notice the Iphone camera was on “video” and not “photo” — hence the ridiculousness in my attempts to document my outfit.
See what I mean? (Don’t blink!)
I also wore shoes. (They are cute, though I did rub some skin off a toe on my right foot.)
For accessories, my glamorous jewelry designer friend, Georgia, came by with a box filled with hand-made, one-of-a-kind pieces. It was her personally designed collection of most favorite sets.
I’m calling a design trend: a Georgia-designed jewelry set is the key to dissertation success! (Movie stars, take note!)
In the end, I wore a set of her silvery pearls: a double strand necklace and simple, dangling earrings. Though I rarely wear bracelets, I could not resist one which bore a quotation: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” When I asked her about it, she told me that it quoted Goethe (natch to G: stylish, thoughtful, and readily quotes German philosophers!)
The bracelet is seen in the mirror at Galatoire’s, when I took photos of my bloody arm.
Between you and me? There was one more detail of my outfit that made a big difference. UNDERGARMENTS.
Of COURSE I wore Spanx. I’m not a heathen, forgoodnesssake. But brassieres? Well, it’s been years and years of asking recommendations, measuring and estimating sizes, trying and retrying… with a small fortune invested in wires, straps, and molded cups that don’t seem quite right. Enough was enough.
So, the day before the defense, I went to Basics Underneath. A shop roughly 200 steps from my front door that I had never before visited. If there is ever a reason to shop local, good gracious: LET THIS BE IT.
Because all that measuring?! Meaningless! Bra fitting is the sort of thing that requires at least two other women grabbing, twisting, and juggling you — showing where straps should sit, pointing out what flesh goes in what places, and discussing the finer points of cup shape and hook positioning. Sure, you CAN measure. I measure 36D. In the past few years, I’ve worn 36D, 36C, 38D, and 38C off and on in different styles, based on those measures.
But it turns out I’m actually a 32DDD. Also called 32F.
It’s a big difference. I’ll illustrate.
This is me, in a picture of the defense dress on the day I bought it. I was wearing a bra I would have, at the time, called “very supportive and well-fitted.”
And here I am, in a still photo taken out of the video Will took on the morning of the defense. See how I have a waist?
So what did I learn from my defense? That all women need bra fittings. Just like it took me 6 years to finish the PhD, it took me more than 6 years to walk 2 blocks to learn how to wear a proper brassiere. (The bra one is the embarrassing number.)
Right before I started speaking, I brushed up against the edge of the podium, opening up my arm to bleed freely during the presentation. How’s that for sacrificial symbolism?
The defense itself went fine; I was exactly on time (20 minutes) with no major embarrassments in anything I said or did (except, of course, for the whole blood thing). My dress was not tucked into my underwear. Phew.
The questions were not unlike what I had predicted to Paul the night before, when he pleasantly listened to my presentation AND (this is a big, important and) suffered through my thought process about what I’d left out of the presentation (what I’d set UP for questions) and what questions I was expecting.
Yes, these things are really thought out.
So, I answered questions and listened to discussion, and took some notes. The things you’d expect. There were no big surprises and parts of the discussion were really fun, in that academic-geeky-love-research sort of way.
I was asked to leave for “deliberation” and spent about 3 minutes in the hallway where everyone asked why the cat had mauled me that morning and left me bleeding openly through my defense (now they know the evils of the podium). After a few minutes of people saying good job, my committee chair came out to say, “Congratulations, Doctor!” and invite me back in.
“We were having a really great conversation, Holly, and we wanted you to join in.”
Hearing this is much better than, “We’re bringing you back in to talk about the extensive revisions we feel you need to do.”
In short, I have to add a table to my dissertation before turning it into the Dean for binding and copy-writing. That’s REALLY NOT BAD. In the scope of things they could have asked me to do, this is sort of the academic equivalent of coloring in the picture before turning it in.
One would think that I’m filled with relief, and it’s true that it feels wonderful to be through this, though I’m really not sure yet. Maybe it just takes a few days to sink in.
Somehow or another, the Dean’s Office accepted my request for defense. It’s been a week since the papers were delivered. Without the email equivalent of a Hogwart School Howler appearing in my Inbox, I am left with the assumption that this is actually happening. I’m defending my dissertation on the 15th*.
All in all, I feel pretty good about it. I’m ready. Today, I washed my face with shampoo. This sort of scatter-brained behavior can only be a positive sign of my fitness for academic life.
Still, I’m nervous because I want to look sharp. Something that comes across neat and clean, but not too pretentious or flashy for our 9am presentation. Suits are really out for me (they never fit right) so I’m left looking for some sort of outfit that makes me seem like a suitable Wonder Woman – Mother – International Professional – (hopeful) PhD in a creative, modern manner.
In short, I’m hoping to avoid the mid-presentation discovery that I’ve tucked my skirt into my underwear… but in the event this does happen (because I’m trying to face the truth that this is a very real possibility) I’m hoping that the outfit is sharp enough that I can recover a little bit of dignity.
Thanks to the shopping help of a friend, I brought home this plain shirt dress (which, FYI, is on sale at Macy’s):
What do you think? Does it work?
Here’s an unflattering picture of me in it, holding up the shoulders because it needs to be taken in a bit (yes: I’m short).
The photo is compliments of Will and my phone:
But here’s the question: how do I dress this up?
Links to suggested looks: accessories, jewelry, shoes, make-up, whatever. All are appreciated.
*Well. As long as the storm-formally-known-as-Gaston manages to stay out of the Gulf.
You know the story, right? International health... work all over the place... drag my kids around in sacks through villages in Central America... yadda yadda. I decided to go for another degree, so in 2004 we moved to New Orleans with no intention of staying.
And then *blink*blink* New Orleans is a completely different place and we just can't leave. Suddenly I'm on TV talking about immigrants and health and Paul is starting a company. Or two. His side is high-tech, mine is community health and our lives are yearly evacuation, regular celebrations, and nonstop work here, there, and everywhere. Our door is always open. I only ask that if you decide to go ahead and make yourself that mint julep, you make one for me, too.