Master’s Degree is now available on Amazon for your Kindle. Here is a short excerpt.
Ethan sat in his office with his head on the edge of his desk. It hurt a bit, but he didn’t really care. He was an imposter and the rest of the grad students and faculty figured that out during his first few classes. Any minute now they would come rushing in to demand that he turn in his books, vacate the premises, and sue his undergraduate school for negligence. He considered banging his head on the edge but thought better of it. He figured he was going to need every last brain cell to figure out what to do now that he had been exposed as a fraud.
The next thought that popped into that head of his was to call his friend Carlos. He had just gone through a Ph.D. program and may have some good advice. After all, Carlos was part of the reason Ethan decided to get his Ph.D. Carlos seemed to have a great life. He had a terrific partner, a job he loved, and a nice house. In the evenings, they would host the most amazing parties, go to concerts or plays, or just sit by the fireplace and read. Mostly, Carlos would read and watch movies. That was his job. For Carlos, sitting by the fireplace reading was work. Ethan, of course, wanted that job as well, so he applied to a Ph.D. program and was accepted. One month in, though, he was feeling doubt. He felt he didn’t belong. He felt like he was a fraud; that everyone in his cohort knew more than he. The idea of sitting by the fireplace reading was a bit of a façade. The truth was, behind that cool exterior, or so thought Ethan, was a man reading for his life. And that was how he felt that first semester of grad school when he called Carlos for advice.
“Quit whining,” was the advice he got. “You are going to read more than you can retain, you are going to learn less than you think you should, and you are going to shut up and do the work.”
Ethan was grateful for the advice or rather for the bluntness of the advice. There was no messing around at this point. He had to just get the work done. It would take a level of discipline that Ethan wasn’t sure he had, but he was determined to see if he had the wherewithal to get the job done. The other piece of advice Carlos gave him was to relax a little and go get a drink. “Think about what you are doing and why. Don’t do this if you don’t love it. It is brutal work, and if you don’t love it, you’re going to drive yourself crazy.”
Ethan took the advice and headed down to a place called Tryst. When he opened the door, the noise hit him like a hot wind. The place certainly had a college or young professional vibe to it. There were people clacking away on laptops or pretentiously reading books while sipping on beer and or coffee. There were bodies of all types splayed on beat-up couches or sitting at wobbly tables. The tin ceiling and bright colored walls added to the cacophony of sights and sounds. A striking waitress with warm dark features and fishnet stockings came to take his order.
“Hi, I’m Lisette, can I get you anything?” Ethan ordered and she gave him a smile. He thought it was a waitress smile, but as far as the waitress smiles go, it was a good one. It seemed genuine. Ethan felt good. It was the right advice and the right place to play out his advice. The only spot open was one of the couches, so he quickly went over and sat.
Taking out his notepad, Ethan decided that he would make a list of sorts. He was going to self-discipline and order his days. He was going to create for himself a series of rewards and punishments to get his work done. Tryst, clearly, would be one of his rewards. His cold Stella arrived and he began to plot-out every day of his life for the next three months. He figured that after three months, he could see what was working and what wasn’t and make adjustments from there. Ethan was looking down at his notebook feeling pretty good about himself when he noticed the booted legs of a tall woman standing next to him. Even though he was sitting, he could tell she was tall by how long it took for his eyes to reach her face. She had weary eyes that seemed a bit sad, but there was something underneath the sadness that pierced Ethan. She was asking if she could get by and sit on the couch with him, but it took him a bit to respond. She waited patiently for him to register her.
“Is that seat taken?”
“No, by all means.” She smiled, perhaps at the odd formality of the response. Ethan just looked at her and smiled as she sat.
“It’s crowded.” Ethan was eager to get back to his list, but he placed a high value on human connection. Those little niceties that make us human. She returned his smile and Ethan turned back to his list with a sigh.
Ethan had to read at least 1000 pages per week. Usually a novel for each class and an uncertain number of pages of criticism, literary theory, philosophy. He took a deep breath and filled out those slots in his calendar that had fixed appointments. He was taking three seminars and teaching two undergraduate classes. That was 24 hours of his week right there. He had to consider grading, student meetings, and things like that. But this was a full-time job he figured. He should spend a minimum of forty hours per week and maybe some overtime.
Ethan’s neighbor crossed her legs and her skirt slid up just a fraction revealing a garter. He looked from her leg back up to her. She smiled, as did he, before both returning to their tasks.
He had determined that he was to wake up at seven every morning, grab the book on his nightstand and read for an hour before getting ready. That should get him a good start on the day. If he breaks it down, it is only about 150 pages per day. Carlos had been right, self-discipline was key. He could do this.
“Rewards,” mumbled Ethan.
“I’m sorry?” replied his long, cool couch neighbor.
He looked her square in the eye. “Rewards,” he repeated.
“Like doggie treats?” She teased.
“Sort of…yes…I need to give myself little doggie treats when I behave well. You see, I’m…
She cut him off. “You’re a first-year Ph.D. student and you’re overwhelmed by the work.” He looked at her. “I’m Deborah and I probably still have my first-year calendar somewhere”.
“Ethan, nice to meet you.”
“I can help, if you like, I’ve been through it.” She said. There was a bit of insistence in her voice.
“Are you a professor here?”
“No,” she frowned a little. “I just defended my dissertation project last month and I’m teaching here this year while I look for full-time work and try to write it.”
“Women and Gender Studies.” There was an awkward pause that Deborah enjoyed immensely. “And I saw you looking at my leg.”
Ethan stuttered a little, “It was just there I was looking at…” He holds up the notebook.
“Relax, it has been there my entire life. I am aware of its existence.” She pulled up her skirt a little more revealing the creamy skin hidden just underneath. “See?” she said.
Ethan smiled, “I do see.”
Deborah quickly covered her leg and turned to Ethan. “Did you finish your plan?”
Ethan exhaled. “No, not yet.”
“Then you should not be looking at my thigh or speaking to me until you are.”
“And when I’m finished,” Ethan thought he was being seductive and flirty.
“Stop talking until you’re finished,” Deborah said coldly without so much as looking at him.
Ethan fidgeted for a second not knowing how to respond to that statement or its delivery. He was a little uncomfortable with the way she spoke to him, but it really didn’t matter. He was here to relax and to get this plan put into motion. He would chalk the odd exchange up to bar-induced small talk. Looking back at his plan, Ethan determined that he had to read four hours per day and maybe a few more on the weekends. He also had to write. He figured he could read for an hour first and last thing every day. That would get him down to just two more hours of reading per day. Ethan smiled as his plan shaped up. Carlos had been right, he could do this. He had been working hard and getting frustrated when what he really needed to do was to work smarter.
“Are you finished,” Deborah’s voice was a bit softer, but still had an edge to it.
“I think so,” Ethan smiled.
“Let me see it,” responded Deborah curtly. Ethan handed over his notebook. Deborah held the notebook in her right hand. She smiled and nodded at the plan while with her left hand she raised the hem of her skirt again to reveal her thigh and garter. This time she pulled it up a little further than last time. “Reward,” she said without taking her eyes off the plan. Then she frowned and pulled the skirt down just a bit. Ethan could still get a glimpse of what looked to be a perfect thigh, but the garter had disappeared.