Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Taking the elephant by its tusks

While I'm not entirely convinced that anyone actually reads this blog, I still feel the obligation to write an explanatory note for my lack of - and my expectant lack of - posts. There is a simple explanation for this absence.

Comps.

For anyone who has gone through graduate school in the Humanities, the word "comps" can take on several meanings. Fear. Stress. Anxiety. Relief. Truthiness.

Since I'm right smack in the middle of comps, I can't seem to wrap my own mind around what it all means, but I think I may have heard the best comps story ever this past weekend at Wheats, a conference organized by Bill Turkel and Alan MacEachern.

An upper year PhD student, Emily, who studies animal history (?), told me that she was in the middle of her comps and had to hand in an essay by a specific date and time. She was at school about an hour or so before the essay was due, and was trying to print it, but, as is always the case when trying to hand anything in at the last minute, the printer wouldn't work. Desperate, she called the secretary of her department to ask for assistance, and broke down over the phone. The secretary, trying to calm Emily down, asked her a metaphorical question: How do you eat an elephant? (Meaning: approach a big task bit-by-bit by completing small tasks until the job is done). The metaphor, however, was lost on Emily who had just completed a field in the History of Science and Medicine that included a list of books on the treatment of animals. One book in particular dealt with hunting in Africa during the 18th century, which detailed how hunters would kill elephants, trade and sell body parts, and, when there was no other food, eat them. So, Emily, explained to the secretary, "First you slice a foot........."

Hilariously grotesque. Or grotesquely hilarious? My brother would probably argue for deliciously hilarious. Regardless, in the next few weeks, I will be preparing for my exams, and praying that I can remember all the information I have consumed over the past five months, hoping that I can learn a trick or two from that noble creature (the elephant, not my brother).

After all, an elephant never forgets.