In Case You Were Wondering
In case you were wondering, the Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis), also known as the tree lobster, was declared extinct in 1918, only to be discovered 80 years later in 2001 on a hunk of rock called Ball’s Pyramid, which is 13 miles of open ocean away from Lord Howe Island. The tree lobster is also one of the most hideous creatures in existence — half a foot long and armored, not thin and graceful like other phasmid relatives. The future of the tree lobster species was uncertain: the whole species consisted of 24 individuals living under a single bush. To conserve this species, scientists had to climb a sheer rock face in the middle of the night, surrounded by shark-infested waters. This story has a happy ending. Since a breeding pair was recovered in 2002, the tree lobster population has grown to over 900.
At this point, you might be wondering what tree lobsters have to do with anything. You wouldn’t be alone: my friends are sick of hearing me talk about them. They’re also tired of listening to me complain about a made-up island inhabited by imaginary people. Because, friends, I am writing a creative writing thesis, a novel titled (surprise!) “Return of the Tree Lobsters.” It’s about eight scientists stuck on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, working to reintroduce the tree lobster. One of the researchers has a secret, the uncovering of which leads to adventure and conflict. It is by no means a literary masterpiece, but let’s see you write a novel in six months.
Strange as it is, because I am old, I often get asked for advice, although the first piece of advice I would give is you might want to find someone else to emulate. Several people have asked if it’s worth writing a thesis. My answer: it’s only worth it if you actually care about the subject. I have been excited about working on this novel since my sophomore year, and after cranking out 100 pages since January, I can say that my enthusiasm has waned. This is a common side effect for thesis writers. We’re all going to be really glad we did it, but right now it’s crunch time and some of us actually want to have lives again and the free time required to secure employment. Woe betide anyone working on something they’re only half interested in. I have spent hours and hours in the library at weird hours, trying to finish a chapter on time. I have woken up at the crack of dawn (well, okay, 8 a.m.) for thesis meetings. I have acquired an unparalleled knowledge of meteorology, island geography, geology, tree lobster biology, time zones, the United States Minor Outlying Islands and the history and language of Kiribati. I have found a way to block myself from the Internet and used the promise of late night as a prize for finishing revising.
Still, like organic chemistry or rush, writing a thesis is a great excuse to get out of things. Not going to tails? That’s okay! You’re writing a thesis! (Even though you are actually in your PJs watching Netflix.) Up until the crack of dawn? It’s not poor time management, it’s because you have a thesis! Dropped out of all your previous obligations and responsibilities? You’re not lazy, you’re writing a thesis! If there is a way to write a thesis by avoiding undue pain and suffering, I haven’t found anyone who’s managed it yet. The general consensus is that somehow, the thing always gets done, and then people will be impressed and give you honors, or so I’m told.
Despite how much I like to complain about the Pacific Ocean being several thousand miles too big for my plot to work out as I would like, I’m actually glad that I’m writing a thesis. It’s been quite liberating to devote two terms to working on a long-term project, particularly at a college where things are processed in easily digested 10-week chunks. I’m proud to be able to finish a book, though looking back I would have tried to be less ambitious. I also wish I had chosen to write a book set on an idyllic college campus in New England, which would have entailed a lot less research. And I know no one is actually going to care how big the Pacific Ocean is, or Google the exact geology of an atoll (and if you do, I’m impressed), but I like to strive for at least some semblance of accuracy. Despite my trials, I really like to say, with offhand, faux modesty, “Yeah, I’m writing a novel.” And then people flatter me by asking if it’s going to be published, to which my only response is a resounding “no,” because the plot leaves much to be desired and giant, critically endangered stick insects aren’t very marketable.
But I’m almost done, though God forbid my computer crashes. I know that’s not much of a ringing endorsement, but I’ve been told by my peers that the novel is actually quite funny. It has political intrigue! Giant insects! Sharks! You guys should definitely go to my thesis presentation and admire my brilliant wit and command of the English language. If you’re not doing anything around 4 p.m. on Monday, swing by the Wren Room in Sanborn. It’ll be the best 20 minutes of your week.