These are the last days and unfinished pages of a dissertation on Pragmatics and Features of Sex, 1998—Beth says—expected by her committee members in two weeks, or at-most, a month. Her defense is in three weeks, but she doesn’t think she’ll finish. She says she’d happily quit and work in a bank or in a mall selling perfume behind shiny counters—spritzing the stuff on eligible men who will buy it from her with hopes of getting laid. She says even if she quits, she will continue her work, untethered and uncriticized and make her own study of the language of love, its features through natural conversations, speech acts, implicatures, while managing the flow of reference and the theories of the mind. Then, Beth pauses. But it’s still too big, she says. It’s always too big.
Lance tells her that she “owes it to herself to finish”—comforts her—the first three chapters, generative; convinces her—the second two, iterative; contends—the last, evaluative. “This, after all,” he decries, “is defensive writing.”
Two weeks prior, Lance, unable to generate a love life, finds himself at the YWCA speed dating: eight minutes per person, then move on. There are the rules. There are always rules.
He meets Beth, a female graduate student—studying cognitive theories of metaphor—Beth—who sits down at the table across from him and tells him within the first minute that when she made plans to reformat her wedding schema, she suddenly found herself single—again. She tells him within the first two that she is lamenting her Overview date. She tells him after three that she has taken to printing multiple drafts of her dissertation chapters and stashing them all around her house, all around her parents’ house, all around her pug Beefo’s house. She tells him that even after the break-up there are still multiple copies at her ex-finance’s house. At four minutes, she admits she has been having dissertation destruction nightmares: “bad dreams about fires and floods,” she says, “bad dreams about the mighty cloud and evaporating pages; bad dreams about unspeakable acts of God”—“All these bad dreams,” she says, “conspire against the act of completion.” She pauses briefly for effect. She has practiced this.
“Writing so many drafts has been a nightmare,” she says, “but,” she says she “tries not to take herself or it too seriously and that,” she says, “is precisely the reason why I am speed dating at the YWCA, instead of working on it”; although she admits that she, even now, while talking to Lance, that’s his name right? is still thinking about it. She says she is always thinking about it. “What else is there to think about?” she asks and adds as a sad afterthought she, “doesn’t remember any more.” At six minutes, she asks if she can be so bold and asks Lance if she may leave a copy of it—the dissertation on Pragmatics and the Features of Sex framed by theories of tension, controversion, and grammatic deviance and informed by philosophy of metaphor and meaning with him; but, she enumerates, she will only relinquish the pages under the following conditions: 1) that he will, under no condition, read it— 2) that he will put it in his ice box and under no condition, move it, touch it, or let anyone else read it or touch it; 3) that, if they were to stop speaking, and he were to read it that, even so, he won’t even think about editing it, even for good semantical reasons. With 30 seconds to go, she places an official looking contract spelling out these conditions in front of Lance and asks him to initial it. After he does, she says at speed dating’s conclusion she will provide her contact information on the summative evaluative survey value sheets. Then she moves on.
The next evening, Beth brings her dissertation draft over to his apartment. It is cold to the touch. She talks fast, says she likes speed dating because most of the men she meets are nice and, like Lance, allow her to keep her baby safe with them. She oversees Lance as he places her dissertation along with the signed contract in his pretty-empty freezer. Calmer after having watched him scrape out a space and after having deposited it and the contract in the icebox, Beth sits down on his plaid couch and drinks wine straight out of the bottle.
After the first gulp, Beth says she can read Lance. After the second, Beth says she would very much like to write Lance. After the third, Beth points to Ping—Lance’s pygmy hedgehog—and makes an off-color remark about having, as a girl, fed apples to a big fat hedgehog who lived near her grandmother’s fig tree and swallowed apples whole.
The sex is iterative, then recursive, then iterative. After-talk is sentence-level defensive. There is little attention given to overall meaning. No judgement, Beth says, no evaluation.
Later, Beth pulls on her pants, carefully picks up Ping from his revolving wheel, wraps him in her sweater, says “Insurance” and bolts out the door.
Lance can’t say he doesn’t learn something about Beth and pragmatics and the features of sex from reading her dissertation: after he finishes reading it, he puts the cold pages under the cushions of his couch, sits on them, pours himself a glass of wine, and stares into Ping’s empty cage.
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