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Nat King Cole is rooting for you.

As I was writing a conference proposal to music today, one Nat King Cole was summoned to my iTunes shuffle. The song was “The Very Thought of You” (lyrics by Ray Noble) and as Cole’s earnest soothing voice sang the words that were presumably meant for a love interest, it became clear to me that they could easily be applied to the dissertation and the unflinching hold it takes on the dissertator.

There’s plenty of talk about people doing PhDs because they ‘love’ the subject. This is not, however, the whole story. Just because you love the subject isn’t really enough to cut it. You’ve gotta have the chops to rigorously research your subject, defend it against sometimes hostile audiences, and add something new to the scholarly conversation. If what you wanted was Sea Monkeys, you’re out of luck–you’ve got yourself an exotic aquarium. And I hope you’re okay with being in a non-reciprocal relationship for a long while. Your dissertation becomes your constant companion, your bête noire. I have found that you just kind of have to let it assume control over certain parts of your brain and thinking processes. I’ve been unable to turn off my critical reading responses at will for quite some time and writing a dissertation only exacerbates this.

Let’s have a look at the lyrics for “The Very Thought of You” and see how they apply to the all-encompassing hold of the dissertation over its creator. Feel free to play the song while you read through the lyric breakdown.

The very thought of you and I forget to do
The little ordinary things that everyone ought to do
I have forgotten to do many of the ordinary things everyone ought to do when thinking and working on my dissertation: eat, be a good person. You know how it is.

I’m living in a kind of daydream
Or waking nightmare. Whatever suits you.

I’m happy as a king
When I am able to organize my thoughts and put them coherently into the document.

And foolish though it may seem
To me that’s everything
Yes, that’s what it’s really all about. On the rare occasions between bouts of intense research and hours of brainstorming and unproductive writing/procrastination sessions, there’s no better feeling than hitting ‘Send’ on a completed piece of writing. We don’t think about the feedback when we are doing this. It would harsh our mellow.

The mere idea of you, the longing here for you
You’ll never know how slow the moments go till I’m near to you
Well, we’re always near to one another. Time actually speeds up the closer a deadline is. Is that part of Einstein’s general relativity?

I see your face in every flower
Or at least in every TV show or movie I watch that flashes “YOU SHOULD BE WRITING” at me. Nobody else I’m watching with seems to be able to see these messages. I think I might have that thing the kid from The Sixth Sense had.

Your eyes in stars above
Panopticon. ‘Nough said.

It’s just the thought of you
The very thought of you, my love
Yes, it’s just the thought of you that will haunt me until I have finished and, even then, I expect to sustain long-lasting effects, though a job in my field is likely not one of them.