Tortoise Tuesday: Spring Air and Bottled Sunshine — From thesis to argument

            I never find it easy to work on the first days of Spring, especially when, as in the Pacific Northwest, Spring comes only after months of drizzly gloom. When the pale, wet sun comes out for the first time, all I really want to do is go outside, smell the still-wet pines and salt-breeze, and bask in the young Spring sunshine. In the midst of that over-bright euphoria, it feels impossible to do anything useful. On the rare occasions when I have been able to overcome the urge to shut my books, the results have been remarkable, but just as often, I have found myself unable to think straight, meandering from thing to thing and always ending by staring out the window. When I am able to make something of that Spring-day euphoria, it feels like bottled sunshine poured still-glowing on the page. When I am not — well, it doesn’t bear describing.

            There is a similar sensation when a thesis crystalizes in your mind. First, there is that golden moment when you finally say, “I have it! It makes sense!” You might even get to the point of writing it down, before you begin to ask yourself what “it” really is, how you got to “it”, and how you are possibly going to explain “it” to anyone else. The jump between “thesis” and “paper” is just as large as that between spring-day euphoria and warm bottled sunshine.

            How does one get from the first to the second? I am sure the precise answer varies by person, and by mood, and by day of the week. The closest I can come is that it requires both concentration and patience. A thesis, however brilliant, can only be a starting point. What seems natural to us must necessarily seem arcane to anyone else, unless we explain it to them first. Before we can make anyone understand why “it” makes sense, we have to state all our underlying assumptions, leading the reader through the leg-work we have already done. This is tedious, or it can seem so when you yourself are already basking in the bright sunshine of a sharp, clearly defined thesis, but when we cannot bring ourselves to walk backwards through our sources, that bright sunshine fades all too quickly into a sticky afterglow of indecision.

            Much as we would like to believe the paper is all but done as soon as we find a thesis, it is rarely so quick or so easy. The more difficult hours are usually still ahead of us, when we already have the warm sense of discovery and completion, and yet still have to get through the fussy business of making everything clear to someone else. But when we can translate that bright, euphoric moment when everything clicks into a cogent explanation, the results are extraordinary and lasting. Though the dripping trees and the spring air beckon, staying indoors is not always the worst thing in the world — after all, who would say no to bottled sunshine?

— Isabella Khan ’21