Day 1: Find a desk in the office you share with twenty other grad students, set up your computer, and create a new document called “Dissertation.docx.” You’re really going to do this. Starting tomorrow.
Day 2: Remember Minesweeper? You rediscover Minesweeper. But you also write the words “When the.” Your first two words! Only 69,998 more to go.
Day 3: A small hiccup. A sign on your office door informs you that it is being turned into a private sauna for the university’s senior administration. Okay, okay, you can deal with this. You just need to find somewhere else to work.
Day 8: After several days testing out cafés, you finally settle on a table at the Wendy’s across the street from your apartment. You buy a Frosty and a baked potato to justify staying there for five hours. You don’t get any writing done, but you do google “calories in a Frosty” before purchasing two more of them to eat at home in bed.
Day 165: You spend enough time at Wendy’s that they offer you a job as an Assistant Manager. You crunch the numbers and realize you will make significantly more than you do as a Teaching Assistant. You accept. You convince yourself that you will be able to work on your dissertation during your breaks. You will also get a discount on Frostys and baked potatoes, which is the only thing you have eaten for the past four months.
Day 751: It’s been two years and you’ve only managed to write ten pages. You also get fired from Wendy’s for hiding library books in the walk-in refrigerator. You spot a poster looking for volunteers for a scientific experiment at the university. Desperate for some kind of change in your life, you email the lead scientist.
Day 752: The scientist running the experiment tells you she’s working on cryogenic freezing. She wants to freeze you for a month and you’ll get $600. It’s not much, but it’s enough to support you while you make a real push on your first chapter. You sign the waiver and step into the cryogenic chamber.
Day 183,244: Light. Sound. You are suddenly awake, gasping for air. Has it been a month? The screen on the cryogenic chamber says that 500 years have passed. Your dissertation was due 498 years ago. You are trying to calculate how many semesters worth of tuition you owe when a man in a silver suit grabs your arm and pulls you out of the chamber.
Day 183,245: The man in the silver suit explains that the scientist who froze you was denied tenure and quit academia. Everyone at the university forgot about you for centuries, until you were purchased as cargo for an interstellar voyage. He tells you that the next habitable planet is eight light years away. You figure this should give you enough time to finish your first chapter. Or at least most of it.
Day 183,260: You meet the man in the silver suit again. He tells you he is researching the space-time continuum. You try to play Minesweeper on one of his computers, but the technology is confusing, and you press the wrong button. Your vision blurs and you feel yourself traveling… somewhere.
Day 27,145,729: You find yourself in a pocket outside of space and time. What feels like mere minutes to you takes countless millennia on the outside. You do not require food, drink, or sleep in this place. You have all the time in the universe. There is nothing but a desk and a computer in front of you. Unfortunately, the computer has Minesweeper on it.
Day ???: You have almost finished writing your dissertation (you are also really, really good at Minesweeper). Just one more chapter to go. Oh, and a conclusion. Plus you need to format your bibliography. On the outside, the universe approaches maximum entropy and heat death. There are no more stars, or planets, or dissertation committees. You tell yourself there is still time to add that footnote on Foucault.
Day ∞: The universe collapses into an impossibly dense singularity. Just before the new Big Bang occurs, you add the final word to your dissertation. Every atom of your being is blasted across the vast expanse of space. You are part of the miracle of creation. You also realize that you forgot to save any of the changes you made to your Word document over the last several billion years.
Day 1 (again): You drop out of grad school and get a job at Pizza Hut. That’ll show those assholes at Wendy’s for firing you.