Message very, very much at the last second, to say I will be back home soon for a short time…
Actually, I am flying out this evening. Why did I not write earlier? Er… Maybe I was quite sick of writing, after the 505 pages of my thesis? Well, that’s according to university regulations: 12 points, double line, and so on. But still around 150000 words. No, it’s not the only reason, actually I had started writing this email almost immediately after I was done. But I expect that the same perfectionism that made me finish the thesis at the Nth hour also made me consider that this email might not provide an adequate reflection of my ambiguous feelings following the completion of my thesis. (Or maybe it reflects them all too well?) And later Veena had a sinusitis, then I had a bronchitis… well, I’m quite better now, at least enough to write.

So, I land in Montreal on the 16th and I rush to Ottawa immediately, for my thesis defense on the morning of the 19th. Wish me luck, or rather inspiration. I’m curious to hear what my director will say about the thing, I had no comments to speak of since I (finally) started to send him substantial fragments. (Quite late, true enough, but still…) I expect to come back to Montreal on the 24th, celebrate St-Jean, and… well, try to see people.

Here is what I had written earlier:

[Sunday May 14th]
A quick word to say I have finished my masters thesis (and not the other way around) last Friday evening. [May 12th.]

It was, of course, at the last second, of course some errors got introduced at the last second, but overall, the dominating feeling, when I manage to realize that I’m done (which is not yet so clear in my head, I’m still quite stunned) is a feeling of relief. The post-partum will certainly come when I have taken better stock of the fact that I do not have to think upon this (censored) bargaining session anymore… at least until the defence, which will be June the 19th: hence I am coming soon in the neighbourhood. I’ll be in Montreal on the 16th, and Ottawa soon after, for a few days; there’ll certainly be celebration of some sort in Ottawa and Montreal.

Of course, whatever one can infer therefrom on the state of sleepiness or wakefulness of my reason, it seems that I have begat a monster [Quote, familiar to francophones: The sleep of reason begets monsters.]: 505 pages, double lined. No, I’m in no way proud of it, I feel rather like Pascal, asking forgiveness of a «somewhat» long thesis, that I had no time to make short. But it’s my perfectionism, and my pathological need to always integrate all elements, all viewpoints, all border cases and exceptions…

Am I happy? There are passages of which I am happy, others of which I am ashamed. But one way or another, I do not yet have perspective. Last Friday, I had a beer but I was still thinking about text fragments the next morning; Saturday we went to the housewarming of a new colleague of Veena’s, which has helped me start to unwind, nice evening by the way; early this morning we joined a tour of historic buildings in Dar, organized by a urbanist who wants to make people aware that their heritage is being demolished; I was quite behind on sleep after the party, but happy to start to actually make contact with this city where I’ve been living for over seven months now, and that I still feel I hardly know… But I am also beginning to establish contacts. Among others, a Keralite Indian who wants to promote free software in Tanzania. Since Sunday, we have been having internet at home; I had delayed installing it to minimize anything that might keep me away from writing. It’s not like high speed at home, but it should be easier for me to contact you now. (Those who have not yet done so: I strongly suggest you download and install Skype for phone communication.)
[Yah, right. My internet link has been under blackout for most of the last week, behaving like a typical Tanzanian infrastructure. Oh, and electricity will be cut again, and the internet switches also need power.]

Next? Get some sleep, first… And begin to define my numerous other projects, that were at a standstill because I was going to finish the writing. Oh, and maybe find a way to get my finances in order, studying comes not free, especially when you drag it on.

[A few days later]

I had given myself two goals at the outset of the masters: Understand a phenomenon, and develop a formalism to describe it. I think I understand what I studied much better than I used to, but my attempts to develop a formalism led me nowhere. So to describe argumentation (which is still my goal, despite the limits of the thesis) I will have to go through informalisms… I am beginning to think about it. Yes, I am still thinking in terms of research, though I must now find ways to do this outside of academia, where I have not yet found a good match for my way of working; and I really feel that, having had to work on empirical data for four years, those were years spent working precisely against my skills and talents, and if I learnt much more that way, there is also a feeling of having worked on developing something that I will never bring further. And that’s not the first time. I’ll have to stop turning around my projects, and get going. (Well, maybe the post-partum has begun after all!)

[end of draft]

So, a month later, how do I feel?
Somewhat anxious, I guess. I spent a few weeks getting up to date on programming, and waiting for contracts that failed to materialize, or did so at a less convenient time, before falling sick ; and looking for contracts for the next steps. I do not really have to work for another year, which is an incredible luxury; but no financial cushion to absorb the shock of homecoming. I must start to establish contacts from here, as much as the communication infrastructure allows. [This message was ready to send yesterday, but for the Tanzanian telecom company.] So I am thinking more of the rather uncertain future, than to this thesis which is already almost in my past. I hope of course to get a few articles out of it; but I feel already quite distant from this type of reflections that were mine during the writing of that thesis. I saw then these reflections as a preliminary to the work I have in mind for later, but I am less sure now. On the verge of turning forty, I think it is time for me to stop getting ready. So what do I want to do now? I am trying to define it more precisely, and of course that is quite difficult for me; my project ideas are marked by grandeur, as usual. And they even have precedents, most of which I’ve seen fail, or succeed without being adopted. So I must take infinite care in defining my project, going from the imaginary to a reality at the same time precise and doable. It is the greatest challenge to my Aquarian self, no doubt, than to get real.

And that is really how the thesis was also a success: I did everything to abstract my material, and I finally had to abdicate and deal with reality. It is the great lesson I had to learn there, and even if I’m still barely getting it, and dragging my feet, the lesson is being learnt a bit more each time. (who said a thesis was an “academic” exercise?) That way, the content hardly matters.

Well… maybe too philosophical? But it seems that is how one might feel after writing a thesis!

I hope I’ll be able to write emails better grounded in Tanzanian reality next time!

Marc-Antoine