THESISCRAZY 2017 (PART 2): Ghost Babies Edition

“I thought I had my shit together…I clearly did not have my shit together.”

Hello, and welcome to the second installment of THESISCRAZY 2017, where we talk to stressed thesis writers about the thing that has been taking up all their headspace for the past 8-12 months (because what could go wrong with that?). You can check out THESISCRAZY 2017 Part 1 here, read the THESISCRAZY archive here, and stay tuned for more THESISCRAZY posts before April 19th.

Are you a senior thesis writer who wants something other to do other than staring at your computer screen and running to Weshop every 20 minutes on “study breaks”? Email staff(at)wesleying(dot)org with your name, major, workspace/carrel number, and times you can meet before April 19th.

Get your thesis fix after the jump.

Yael Horowitz ‘17 FILM/AFAM double major, thesis in AFAM, carrel #452

Working title: “The Revolution Televised: Visual Violence and Movements for Racial Justice”

On her topic: “It’s a two part thesis, kind of. I made a film and the film is about a white mom, her daughter and their babysitter who is a black man who lives and went to college in their town. It takes place in 2014 when the no indictments were coming out about Eric Garner and Michael Brown. It is about how they all kind of grapple with the news and how that affects their relationship to each other. I also have a written component which kind of contextualizes that in the larger history about visual violence in the United States. So I’m looking at lynching photography and videos of police brutality and how that affects our visual culture.”

On how she thought of her topic: “I think a part of it was just going to school in a time when Black Lives Matter was starting, and when the movement was gaining a lot of ground. I feel like that really shaped my experience here and shaped the choices that I made here. This project really feels like a culmination of four years of being here and being a double major in film and African-American studies. It’s like poking holes in the film department where I feel like they’re lacking and trying to write a response to that. At the same time I’m creating art and something that I feel is creating a message that I say or feel is important.”

On her progress: “*laughs* You know, some days it’s great and other days it’s bad. I’m at the stage now where I’m like, ‘Two weeks is the longest time in the world! I could do anything in two weeks!’ And then, like tomorrow I’ll be, ‘There’s no time left! I have seven million appointments everyday for the next two weeks and I have to finish it all tonight!’ so it oscillates really. Today was the first one. Yeah, today was the first one.”

On her current mental state? “I would say that it goes from keenness to despair in like sixty seconds and then back again.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “Oh man… well, oh that’s so hard! I would say probably two things. One is, I wanted it to be a film thesis at first but I was denied from the department so I cried a lot of tears at the beginning of the year. So that was a rough start to the project. The other one was after a weekend of filming the person who was doing sound on my film took the memory card of my sound home with him and I didn’t know that. I was plugging all of these memory cards trying to look for the sound from the weekend of shooting, and I was like ‘I can’t find it! I have to get the equipment back by nine!’ and I was texting everyone and someone was like ‘Oh, I’m so sorry! The memory card is in my pocket!’ which is good, because it ended up being not too bad, but that was a horrifying moment.”

Favorite way to procrastinate: “Well, because it is so much about visual violence I’ve been looking at a lot of really violent images so to balance it out I’ve been watching fun music videos. I’m like ‘Ok, I’m only going to watch one YouTube video,’ and then it turns into like this whirlpool of YouTube videos. I’ve been watching all of Shakira’s old music videos.”
Pies Descalzos, Suenos Blancos? “Yeah! When she had brown hair, with the guitar… amazing.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “I would say… one is just find a project that you can ground yourself in and that you believe is important enough that you can devote an entire year to. Something that really matters to you. Second, realize that it doesn’t really matter what you turn in. Nobody is going to read it after you turn it in, except for your readers. It’s like a done project. Finishing is in itself a huge accomplishment, so it doesn’t really matter about the honors or the high honors. If you give up on that, then you’ll be fine.”

Favorite part of her thesis: “Right now for the written part in my conclusion, I talk about some of the legacies of campus activism that inspired me to do this project and that was really cool because that’s a part that I’ve devoted a lot of time to here at Wesleyan. It feels good to be able to bring that into the academic culmination.”

If her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “The song that I’ve listened to the most during this process is ‘Losing You’ by Solange, because sometimes I feel like that’s what I’m singing to me thesis. There is a line that is like ‘Am I losing you for good?’ and sometimes I’m just writing a sentence that makes no sense and I’m like ‘Am I losing you for good?’”

On feeling a special bond with her thesis: “Oh yeah. I snapchat it often. It’s like the most featured thing on my snapchat.”

Most used word or phrase: “Maybe iconography. EIther that or resistance. Or maybe the iconography of resistance.”

On her thesis feces: “It’s been good. You know, I feel like the coffee with the thesis really helps the bowel movements. It’s kind of beneficial.”

On her plans for April 19th: “I’ll probably not be sober, and probably also not be awake. I’m not sure in what order that will be in. That and sleeping. Yeah. I’ve been like visualising that moment [on the steps of Olin] and that’s what’s been getting me through. Just a lot of champagne bottles everywhere.”

Questions she wished we’d asked: “Shameless Plug! You should come to the screening of my fim thesis. April 21st at 6PM in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall.”

Sophie Chabon ‘17 ENGL major, thesis in ENGL, carrel #9

Working Title: “My working title? I think it’s like my real title, but I keep testing it on people, but it’s Material Remains.

On her topic: “I’m writing a novel. It’s like a gothic novel about a young woman who moves into this elderly poet’s house that’s haunted by a bunch of dead babies and then gets pregnant. So it’s kind of a little bit like Rosemary’s Baby meets The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I’m really playing with the gothic genre a lot cause it’s one of my favorite genres. I wanted to kind of see what would happen if you took the sort of trope of the tiny Victorian woman who can’t stand up for herself. And actually through the pregnancy the character gets a lot stronger, so instead of getting weaker over the course of the novel, she gets stronger. I think that’s mostly what I’m playing with right now.”

On how she thought of her topic: “I took a gothic fiction class a couple years ago and I just really love the gothic genre. I’ve always loved Wuthering Heights and those books, but then The Haunting of Hill House was like a really major book for me. And then I ended up reading this book that I have here right now that’s called White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, and that really kind of started to solidify that I really wanted to work within the genre and that I felt like there’s room for new voices there. So it was a lot of brainstorming; I was going on a lot of walks and making people just listen to me talk through the plot, and then this all sort of came together. I knew I wanted a relationship between an older woman and a younger woman because I feel like there aren’t that many. Like I was trying to come up with some fictional ones to watch movies or something to do research and I couldn’t come up with any, so I was like, ‘Okay, so that’s cool.’ And I knew I wanted ghosts. And then I’m kind of terrified by pregnancy because I saw this video of this really pregnant woman, and the baby, like, you could see it’s foot pressing out… pregnancy is clearly just the most horrifying thing in the world! So then that seemed like a natural place to go with this.”

On her progress: “I came to school with like 60 pages, cause I got an Olin Fellowship. And then I threw a lot of that away and I kept writing. So it’s been like, it was great first semester, and then I went home for winter break and I was like ‘I’m gonna work every day!’ and then I… didn’t. And now I’m kind of in hell crunch time because I’m solving a lot of plot holes. I finished my first draft and gave it to my advisor and she was like, ‘A lot of this doesn’t make any sense…” and I was like ‘Ohhhh god.” So that’s what I’m doing right now. I have more to do than I should. I apologize to my readers that there’s gonna be some major typos in there probably.”

On her current mental state: “It changes. Right now I’m feeling oddly calm, which is new and recent. But there’ve been some major ups and downs. I didn’t cry about my thesis until this weekend. So it was the first time. I made it through an entire year, I was proud of myself! Last night I was going crazy and kind of running around my house and pacing instead of writing, but right now I’m feeling calm, yeah.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “So there have been a couple, but the big one was over the summer I started, and I wrote about 50 pages of a draft, and then read it over and realized it was terrible and it wasn’t going anywhere, so I had to throw all of that away and start over. So that was pretty traumatic, but it was good, like in the long run. And then another one was when I submitted my ending to my advisor like a month ago for the first draft, she was like, ‘This is terrible! None of your plots are resolved!’ and I was like, ‘Oh god!’ So that was pretty traumatic, but I’m working through it. I don’t think it’s changed a lot from that… she was right, and blunt and honest.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “I like to watch TV. The show Legion has been really detrimental to my work habits. Actually, Netflix taking Buffy the Vampire Slayer off has been great for me, I mean, I’m sad cause it’s one of my favorite shows, but it means that I can’t be watching like nine episodes instead of writing my thesis. I also like to stare at the wall. That’s been my most recent method of procrastination. I like, looked up from having been staring at the wall a couple days ago, like this blank, white wall, and I realized it had been like 20 minutes that I had just been thinking about nothing.”

Advice for future thesis writers: About a week ago, I would have said, ‘Don’t write a thesis!’ *laughs* That’s kind of where I was. But now I got back on my feet a little bit, so I would say, starting over the summer was really important, and it really helped me get to where I am now. I started thinking about it the second semester of junior year. Also, I have a wonderful advisor who I get along with really well, and I think your advisor is very important because you’re gonna be spending a lot of time with them and they’ll be giving you a lot of feedback, and if you have a good relationship with them, then that feedback when it’s like,’This is not working,’ it’s still like, you roll with it.”

Favorite part: “I think it was just watching it transform over the course of the year. It’s just really nice, just cause I just looked over some of the stuff I wrote earlier this year, and compared it to the stuff that I had written in the past couple months. And it got just so much better. So it’s cool just to be able to track that so easily through this document itself. Also just my entire house is writing theses, so we all just have this sort of shared anxiety that’s hovering over us, but it’s nice because we have each other for it, which has been something weirdly nice about the massive anxiety when you have friends.”

On if her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: For the past month I’ve only been working to this score for the 1930’s Dracula movie that Philip Glass composed that is played by the Kronos Quartet. So probably that, but I don’t know, there’s something about it that is very haunting. If my thesis-writing process were a movie, it would be very long and boring.”

On the bulletin board in her thesis carrel: This is every chapter with everything that happens in it written out. I have it on a board so I can rearrange things, because the way that it works is, I have these letters that are from the 1700s that kind of lace through the thesis, like the main part of the story. So it’s been helpful for me to be able to move them around. That’s also advice for thesis writers, like having this *gestures at board* for writing fiction is so helpful because I can see everything just by looking up at it.”

On the flowers on her bulletin board: “I found them on the steps of Olin. Someone had picked them in September or October, and I’ve had them in here since then because they’re pretty and they make this room feel like it’s not as horrible as it is.”

On her plans for April 19th: “I’m gonna drink, and then fall asleep, probably. Maybe watch a movie? I don’t know. I don’t think that I’m gonna be very good at partying. I think that the alcohol is just gonna knock me out. *laughs*”

 

Adam Rochelle ‘17 MUSC/COMP majors, thesis in MUSC

Working title: “Probably should have come in with something… I guess, well, the music majors theses have a performance half and a paper half, and the performance half right now, which is on Friday, the concert is called “POP is 4 the KIDZ.” That was sort of the working title for a while, and then it became the actual title. The paper itself certainly won’t be that. I’m not exactly sure yet. Damn, I gotta come up with something creative.”

On his topic: “The topic is the implications of digital music production on live performance of pop music, so sort of based on the idea of a lot of pop music these days is produced basically entirely within a computer because it’s super synthesizer based, super bass heavy, and everything. And so what that means for bringing it to a live performance means that usually in a normal band, instruments can’t play the song, they have to have DJs up there playing the song for them, or people pretending to play along, or something. So I’m just looking at all the different aspects of what that digital production does to a live performance of pop music, and how people might be able to get around sounds that might not be able to be producible live, or how they might give up on certain aspects that make it more interesting live, and stuff like that, and just what that environment is like.”

On how he came up with his topic: “I think that the move from high school to college came with a very stark change in music tastes for me. I was very overly pretentious about jazz and rock music in high school and and stuff like that. When I got here, I got so much more pumped about pop music and stuff, and just music that more than just a small niche of people like. Especially being part of the music scene and realizing, ‘Oh! People like to come to concerts that are like, songs they like, and music they like, and not just a bunch of weirdos playing weird instruments and stuff.’ And so over the course of especially last year, junior year, have gotten just really into that and what it means to play music that people like in a performance space, and always looking for ways to be like, ‘Oh, my band should cover this popular song or we should figure out how to write a song similar to this,’ and sort of the conundrum that you always run into is this is just so absurdly electronic drumkit, and there’s no way we can do this with a real drumkit, or this is so bass heavy, and a real bass can’t do this, or the problem is there’s like seven different synthesizers happening, and I only have two hands. So like the problem that I and I’d assume a lot of other people run into is that this pop-type music and the aesthetic that it’s taken on in the last decade is just this super digital feel, which makes it more difficult to figure out how to perform it. So I wanted to do a performance that investigates that and do a paper that digs into why it doesn’t work, and what ways to get around it and stuff like that.”

On his progress: “I think I’m in good shape… I haven’t touched the paper in two or three weeks because I have my performance on Friday and I’ve just mostly been doing lots of rehearsals and prep for that. I’ve had a lot of–it’s not quite heavy computer programming–but I’ve been doing a lot of little programming things to deal with a lot of the performances. It’s all on live instruments, cause that was the goal, but a lot of it’s being run through a computer to be processed, so I’ve had to work on programs in there to be…it’s not just our instruments going out into the audience, it’s instruments going into the computer first and then comes out. I’ve been working on different software things to make sure that the computer doesn’t explode with the overload of what’s happening. So that’s coming together. And the paper, I did a ridiculous amount of work over winter break and just kind of coasted since then, I’d say. I think that I’m in good shape for when I look at it again after this Friday and have two weeks to feel good about it.”

On his current mental state: “Current mental state is just tired, like, you know the feeling you get of just fatigue after having headphones on for a long time? Or I don’t know, maybe that’s just a person-who-listens-to-music-obsessively type thing. But just like, I feel especially because all the music that we’re performing live, I also produced. I’m trying not to get too douchey about it, but I’ve been working in Logic and Ableton and making my beats and pop songs there. So especially spent the last couple days sitting in my room with my headphones on, looking at a screen. And my mental state is very much like I’m closed in within these headphones and bright screen looking at my face.”

On his most traumatic thesis experience: “I think the most traumatic thesis experience was the day we got back from break, we had a rehearsal for the performance in the venue that we’re going to be performing in. And previously, we’ve been practicing in a separate place. I thought I had all my shit together, cause like I said, everything’s being run through the computer, there’s wires everywhere… when moving to the real space we had to borrow a lot of equipment, and I thought I had my shit together on all the tech stuff. We just were rehearsing in the space for the sake of seeing how the room reacts to the music, and it just really, really… I clearly did not have my tech shit together. It was the first time that my advisor came to a rehearsal, so he hadn’t yet heard a lot of the music we were performing, and he didn’t really get to hear that much of it anyway. The thing is, he’s my advisor because he’s good at sound production things, and knows what he’s talking about. So he spent a lot of time somewhere in the spectrum of gentle to sternly lecturing me about all the problems that I had created and things that I should have done better to prepare for that rehearsal and stuff like that. I was excited to show him how together we had our shit, and how good the songs were that we were making, but that didn’t quite happen, especially because with all the setup it’s like a seven hour day, like going in, setting up for three hours, rehearsing for three hours, and then taking everything down. And it’s just like, ‘Wow. I just spent seven hours feeling not great about that.’”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Especially in the fall, I think, since so much of my research was just listening to pop songs and deciding, like, ‘This is a song I want to dig into in the paper,’ or ‘This is a production technique I want to read more about.’ I think I just got really, really into letting my pop playlist play and say, ‘Oh yeah! I’m doing research right now, I’m making observations and stuff!’ and just letting the music go and not actually doing work while saying, ‘Yeah, I’m listening to music that’s related to my thesis, I’m not procrastinating, that’s definitely what’s happening now!’”

On his plans for April 19: “I mean, big fan of the Olin steps tradition. I’m definitely going to get back to doing music things that aren’t pop music that I haven’t done in a long time. I’ve put a lot of random things on hold. My roommate–his senior project is actually half of the performance and I have the other half of the performance, we’re doing that stuff together–it’s his birthday on the 20th (classic 4/20 birthday). So creating shenanigans for him to go through the next day, I would say–drunkenly planning shenanigans for him to go through the next day after theses being turned in.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “I think definitely take advantage of breaks that exist, winter break and spring break and stuff. I think that I’m lucky in that I didn’t get invited to any fun Florida spring break trips, which, as painful as it was to see people having fun in warm places, I think that with all the hectic things going on during the school year normally, it’s super, super nice to feel like you accomplished something. There were a couple times where I wrote an entire chapter in a day because I had that time. I feel like it’s really easy to feel like, ‘Oh, I have time off from school, I’m burned out, I’m just gonna do literally nothing,’ and I think that works for people. But for the kind of person that I am, it really worked for me to get a ridiculous amount of progress done when I wasn’t distracted by schoolwork things.”

Favorite part: “I think my favorite part of my thesis is when I bring a new song into the band to learn and people are excited about it and think it’s cool. That’s obviously gratifying. Hopefully the performance itself will be gratifying, but it’s definitely gratifying to have that positive feedback that the things I’ve been sitting iteratively listening to a hundred times to produce sound good to people, even if it’s just the band that’s learning them. And I guess the paper part, what’s been gratifying, I think, is just that I feel so much more knowledgeable about the mystery that is music production. I think that a lot of musicians go through life maybe being really really talented at music and knowing a lot about different musics from different cultures and different types of music that they’re involved in and stuff, but recording and production is really a mystery. Like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna go into the studio, and I’m gonna play something, and then the engineer’s gonna make it sound good.’ It’s been really cool to, because I’m doing a lot of research on how not only recording and production is done but how digitally created sounds are made inside a computer literally from ones and zeros and transistors and stuff… It’s really cool to feel like I have that added knowledge so I feel confident entering studio spaces and stuff like that, to know sort of the full picture of how the sound becomes the pop song from someone playing the music to its digital representation.”

On if his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “If I could say album, it would be EMOTION by Carly Rae Jepsen. If it had to be a song, it would probably be “Boy Problems” from that album, I would say. That’s something I’ve listened to an absurd amount throughout the process.”

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Interviews by michelle and midmar.