It ended exactly one year after it started. 16 September 2012, I exited Heathrow Airport with nothing but my hopes and dreams. Well, my hopes, dreams, and a loooooot of suitcases. Which made the hour Tube ride to my new home interesting. I’ve already gotten off topic….
Exactly one year after I schlepped those suitcases to my first set of London digs, I turned in the biggest piece of academia I’ve ever created with my own two hands. Exactly one year after I arrived in London, I finished my M.A. in the same manner in which I started it: crying my eyes out. The ‘beginning tears’ were the heartbreaking result of losing my Papa one week after I got to London. The ‘ending tears’ were the culmination of a week where pretty much anything that could have gone wrong technologically, did. It was just one more piece of evidence in the theory that I was born in the wrong era, because I was DEFINITELY wishing that the department would accept something written by a typewriter. Or by hand, with a really cool calligraphy pen. But I’d have to have taken lessons on calligraphy, and that sounds like a lot of work…
You see, last week, in the heart of ‘do or die’ writing, several sources I’d bookmarked would only appear in source code. Or whatever term applies to the History of Hungarian Forced Labor looking like this:
As you well know, I am the least technologically savvy individual of all time, so I had no idea how to rectify this situation. Especially in my sleep deprived state. But my tech goddess did, so she fixed it, and emailed it back in PDF form. Again, because she rocks my socks off. Then I left my Carrie Bradshaw nest to come home to the new flat and work into the night…only to be forced into this lighting scenario:
My entire block in Camden was without power from 3 PM until 12:30 AM. I’m not certain, but I think what happened is that everyone decided to turn on their electric kettles while drying their hair, while doing 4 loads of laundry, while trying to achieve cold fusion, thus blowing the block’s transformer. In my mind, I lost power in the name of science, caffeine, and cosmetology. That’s the only plausible explanation, and someday I’m going to get a really great hair cut while someone explains what cold fusion actually is. Things got better, with only minor glitches occurring until Monday/turn in day/most anticlimactic day of all time. I had made plans with Katie to have the celebratory-holy-moley-how-in-the-world-did-we-just-finish-grad-school lunch where we drank ourselves into a stupor, but I was running late as my awesome computer decided to be awesome and periodically delete segments of the introduction I was trying to form into a masterpiece. When this was coupled with the hour and a half sleep I managed to squeeze in the night before, I got a bit punchy. Which made the arthritis flare up even more awesome as I tried to type like a caveman. (I make a lot of jokes about being 80…but that’s because my body thinks that it’s actually 80. Which might explain why I’m so grumpy all the time?) So by the time I polished it all up, I was out the door. Only, the universe thought it was still Friday the 13th because it had partied too hard that weekend and was suffering from a case of not know what day it was. You see, UCL, in its infinite wisdom, decided to install an entirely new printing system and printers RIGHT before all of its now haggard MA students printed and turned in their dissertations. Needless to say, it took 45 minutes for me to figure out this new system and get the first of three copies printed. Only…somehow the computer had added in several of the changes that I had made in the past week and a half because it thought it was being super helpful. After Katie and I toggled around and thought we fixed the problem, I printed it again…only the margins were still extremely off, as somehow the ‘track changes’ function was still on, making the right side margin about 2 inches wide. I can’t remember, but I am 98% certain this is how the movie ‘I, Robot’ started. The machines start by changing your margin space, and then they strike by actually accomplishing cold fusion and use it against us. That’s definitely the plot of ‘I, Robot’. SO, after we figured it out for the final time (in case you were wondering the timeline of all of this, we’ve now been in the library for 2 hours at this point…) the awesomesauce printer told me that my account was out of dolla dolla bills. So I grabbed my wallet and headed to the machines which would take my money in exchange for releasing my hostaged dissertation. But, of course, the top up machines were broken. And, of course, the website where you can pay by credit card was down.
At this point, the frustration broke me, and I, of course, started to cry. It was now 3 PM, and I couldn’t see myself making the 5 PM deadline which would release me from UCL’s grasp. So I went across the way to throw myself at the mercy of the department. Only to have my tutor repeatedly offer me cookies in his attempt to get me to stop crying, and the department admin who can never remember my name gave me a hug. My tutor was so sweet, he offered to print my dissertation for me in his office. Only he printed one copy, when I needed two to be printed. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, I thanked him profusely, and took to the main library to see if their top up machines were functioning. They weren’t. The member of staff at the enquiry desk embarrassingly relayed in an extremely hushed tone that all the machines on campus were down, and mumbled that I should try the website. So I went BACK to the science library to throw myself at the mercy of the IT desk. And you know what my tears got me, for the second time that day? They made the person observing said tears so uncomfortable that I got to use their personal computer for my own personal gain. The lady at IT told me that the only way to access the website was from an admin account, and so, with a queue of 5-6 people behind me, she swiveled her monitor around and told me to go ahead and top up my account. And the tears stopped, doves flew in choreographed unison, and the rain pouring outside stopped and the sunshine beamed down on her to illuminate her halo. After that, things went exactly as they should, it took me 2 minutes to print, and even though the line at the ULU student services was full of students doing their last minute binding, it only took 20 minutes to stand in line and bind the three copies of my dissertation. I made the deadline with 20 minutes to spare.
If that isn’t the most physically and emotionally draining way of finishing an M.A., well then I don’t know what is. But now that I’ve had a couple of days away from it, it’s slowly starting to sink in what exactly I just accomplished. I told myself I wanted to do a grad school program that I was passionate about, and I wanted it to be in London. The day I found this MA, I never really thought that I would have ever been qualified enough to be accepted. But listening to one man helped to set it all in motion: my favorite professor from undergrad told me that I should volunteer at the Holocaust museum in Dallas, and maybe that would lead to a job. And wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what happened. And then when I decided that it was time to continue my education and actually apply to this program, he helped me out again with the kindest letter of recommendation I could have ever asked for. And now, here I sit, having just completed a rigorous M.A. program from the #4 internationally ranked university in the world. I’ve read more books in one year than I have in the past 5 combined, I’ve had more learning experiences than I would have ever thought possible, and I think I’ve retained more than ever before.
So the final product is in, and I’ve created a dissertation outlining the various ways the Holocaust forced Jews to use psychiatric institutions. Though the extermination actions against the mentally handicapped community prefaced the mass shootings and extermination camps utilized in the attempt to annihilate Europe’s Jews, Jews with psychological disorders were still allowed (albeit briefly) to exist within several of the larger ghettos. Because of this, psychiatric institutions were necessary to provide treatment for this demographic. The way these institutions operated differed drastically from ghetto to ghetto (I examined the ghettos of Kovno, Lodz, Warsaw/Otwock and Theresienstadt). In addition to these differences, Jews also used mental institutions outside the ghetto in a manner which had nothing to do with psychological treatment: they used them as hiding places from the persecutory actions made possible by the Second World War. I wanted to combine my interests in psychology and the Holocaust, and I was actually able to do that with this dissertation. So that’s the ‘brief’ diddy on the final weeks of my graduate school career. It got weird, it got nerdy, and it is finished. I absolutely cannot believe that a year has flown past me…
Coming up next: the ways in which I celebrated finishing my degree. Chapter One: Meals now consist solely of chocolate and wine.