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Tag: Thesis

Cruising Over the Hump

Cruising Over the Hump

When the end is in sight, sometimes the best way to get there is with an epic effort. That’s how I felt on Sunday, for two different reasons.

First, Maddie and I teamed up to defend our title as Mixed Relay Champions of the Middlebury Maple Run. We had stiffer competition this year in the Middlebury Cross Country coach and her husband, and though the rain held off, stiff winds blew all over the course. My opening leg left a little to be desired, especially because I gave Maddie about a minute of time to make up over our competition during her leg, but I was proud of my effort and the way I ran the final mile. Fortunately, I had a talented and fast teammate who blew away her leg of the relay and ensured that we kept our title. We finished in 1 hour 30 minutes and pocketed $100 for our hard work!

I had little time to relish over the victory, though, because of a more pressing deadline. My critical thesis, the 40+ page comprehensive analysis of the fiction of Alistair MacLeod that I had been dreaming about since the Fall of junior year, was due just over twenty-four hours after the Maple Run ended. So, I set out to suspend my fatigue, compartmentalize the soreness in my legs, and complete my thesis.

At noon the next day, after forfeiting a few hours of sleep and consuming a few extra cups of coffee, I submitted a bound copy of my thesis to the English department. I felt as if there were very few works left in me, but that mattered little, because the final product was polished and coherent. The words that I had been trying to nail down since September finally fell into place in a way that was clear, presentable, and made me proud. Hopefully, I stumbled upon some profound statements about MacLeod’s work along the way.

My thesis, titled “The Heart’s Compass: Disorientation and Reorientation in the Stories of Alistair MacLeod” can be found on my Portfolio page and on the website I built that pays homage to MacLeod.

It is both rewarding and strange to complete a project that has enveloped so much of my time and thoughts over the past twelve months. I am glad that I kept a few journals going along the way, because the process is what I will remember years from now when I forget the details of my critical stance or finer points of my arguments. It was a long process, but I am glad I gave myself the time to thoroughly understand the material, to learn to love it not just for the brilliance of the storytelling but also for the layers of deeper meaning that unveiled themselves only after months of analysis. I am not quite finished, as I still have to defend my thesis, but I am glad that I have finished the biggest hurdle.

The Weathervane (A Poetry Creative Thesis)

The Weathervane (A Poetry Creative Thesis)

This week, I finalized the first of my two theses. I am proud to say that “The Weathervane: Poems by Tom Dils” is now a complete collection. Not only is it a fulfilling feeling to finish a large project such as this and move one step closer to graduation, but it also rewarding to hold in my hands a year’s worth of ideas, trials and errors, and lasting themes and images that will stay with me well beyond Middlebury.

I am also excited to share my work. The entire collection can be found on my Portfolio page. It was fun to write, design, and perfect, and perhaps there will be life beyond this collection for some of poems that turned out best.

I am in the home stretch. The hard work is not over, but the to-do list gets shorter every day. Whether it is finishing a thesis, packing up items to make the final move-out easier, or enjoying a planned adventure or spontaneous moment with a friend, I am proud of what I am doing right now.

Theses Rough Drafts and a Family Weekend

Theses Rough Drafts and a Family Weekend

I am in the midst of finalizing my theses rough drafts and am finding it ironic that a rough draft has to be finalized at all, considering it is only a rough draft. But of course, the more presentable and polished the rough draft is, the easier it will be to achieve a final draft. And so I write, or I think about writing while I write a blog post. I do so while watching the greens and blues of a vibrant spring day, checking the scores of the Boston sports teams, and dreaming up post-graduation plans.

While the thesis work has consumed the majority of my time (hence, fewer blog posts), the past week or so has not been without highlights:

I built a cutting board and continued to dream up woodworking projects.

I presented my website titled The Stories of Alistair MacLeod at Middlebury’s Spring Symposium. The site pays homage to MacLeod – the focus of my critical thesis – and explores the geographies of his life and his stories. The mapping component of the website combines my interests in literature and cartography, and the cumulative product is a unique foray into digital storytelling that is atypical of an English thesis project.

I got to spend quality family time with my parents, my brother Sam, and my grandparents. We all stayed in Westport for a night – Sam to play in a soccer recruit camp at Middlebury, my grandparents to check up on the house after their two months in Florida, and my dad and I to sit in on preliminary summer staff meetings at Camp Dudley. We enjoyed some time in the new Leadership Barn and heard a detailed explanation about the new high ropes course that Dudley is adding – complete with a 400-foot zip-line and a giant swing that will soar over the lake.

And just this morning, I rode to Vergennes and back with Maddie, enjoying new roads, new views, and a coffee break at Three Squares Cafe.

Maple Street, Vergennes

As I turn back to my writing, I look forward to other events in the near future. I have two upcoming races, plans to mountain bike as soon as the trails open, and some IM Golf sessions that begin this week. And more momentous occasions lie in sight, too. The completion of my theses, the defenses, senior week, graduation parties, ADKs in June, a tentative trip (more details to come!), and the final send-off to Germany. I feel just as much excitement for the little moments as I do the huge celebratory events, and be they big or small, I will continue to write about them – mindful of how lucky I am.

More Questions than Answers

More Questions than Answers

Vermont has transitioned from Winter to Spring since I last wrote, and with it, I feel the end accelerating towards me. I am on track, continuing to garner compliments on my thesis progress from both of my advisors and to make time for fun activities on a daily basis, and yet I find myself teetering more frequently than I would like.

Events have passed by in a blur, and I hope to capture the most meaningful snippets in this post. Below are two photos from “Winter” – the first, from my final visit to Craftsbury over Spring Break (I think that brings my total Craftsbury days to five –not bad considering the distance from Middlebury); the second, from the April Fools’ Day snowstorm that dumped eight inches of wet powder on Westport.

Two days later, I was out on my road bike for the first time, and now that it has reached 75 degrees two days in a row, it is officially Spring. When I delineate in this manner, it all sounds so easy. But the first week-and-a-half of the second half of my final semester has been anything but straightforward. My thoughts exist in multiple planes and temporalities, seemingly at all times. Between two theses and their upcoming deadlines, woodworking projects, and the temptation of springtime activities, I have enough to crowd my vision – but that is just the present and nearest future. I am also considering my bucket list items and all of my commitments before graduation, the logistics of my post-graduation plans before I leave for Germany, and finally the reality of moving to New York and beginning my job there. It is not stress that I feel, but rather a desire to not let anyone down, especially myself. Every day that is unproductive or strays from the plan that I outline feels like a blow to this goal.

But I am moving forward, even if I allow myself to relish in long lunches on the Atwater patio, spend extra hours in the wood shop, or drink a beer on a weeknight. And I am allowing three facets of my life to spur me onwards. First, my fingers continue to write. The lulls in motivation to do so are there, but every day I am able to write something, and when I sustain focus, the results are impressive, even to me. Second, I have a new pair of running shoes – The Freedom ISO from Saucony (pictured below). They are the best running shoes I have ever owned, and they will be put to the test in races this spring, beginning with two that I have signed up for at the end of April and first weekend of May. With a spring in my step, I am getting fitter and faster. Third, and most notably, Maddie and I have signed a lease for an apartment in New York. We will be on the first floor of a newly renovated building on 58th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, and though the space is significantly smaller than our setup in the Townhouses on campus, it will be the first time we can call a space our own. We are particularly jazzed about the location (both of us can walk to work), the tiny-house concept applied in the design to maximize the utility of the space, and the small patio out back for sitting in the sun or grilling on the weekends. There will be many details to come about the apartment, especially as I begin to build furniture for it, but for now, I am thrilled to know that come September, Maddie and I will be settled into New York life together.

Winter Clearances

Winter Clearances

This past weekend had been marked on the calendar for a year – well, actually, for two years. I have been adamant about making my foray into the Nordic ski racing world at one venue and one venue only: the Stowe Derby. After the race was postponed and then called off last year, I geared up for an extra winter of training and improving my skate technique. As February dumped snow across the northeast, it seemed a sure thing that the Derby would take place.

Now, on a Monday morning with my weekend plans gone awry due, I prepare for a week of theses deadlines, variable weather conditions, and no Stowe Derby to get me excited. Sure, there are plenty more adventures in the near future, but I had built all of my skiing up as “training” for this race. Yesterday’s 6:30 AM email reporting ice, poor snow coverage, and downed trees on the race course prohibited me of pursuing my novice ski racing career. I must wait to check that one off of my “Before Moving to New York” bucket list. Perhaps the race will be rescheduled for a later weekend, but I know that chances are now low.

Yesterday instead became a day of reflection, of planning, of setting my sights on new goals. I am beginning to feel my relationship with my critical thesis material – the stories of Alistair MacLeod – growing stronger than ever. I’m loving my woodworking class, and it’s changed the way I explore. Now, when I’m out trail running or even driving, I key in on impressive trees and fallen logs, and I’ve noticed so much already. Lastly, I love that I can turn to my poetry whenever I need an escape. I am still formulating the way I want my collection to come together, but some of the individual poems that I have written are my favorites to date.

Drawing on the disappointment and optimism of this past weekend, on my recent interests, and on human issues I notice and engage with through thought, conversation, and action, I wrote this poem that I share today.


The brush pile was twisted
and resinous. Wet smoke
seeped upwards through
boughs that pricked
as they fell, and the heat
from meager embers
was too low to melt more
than a small radius in the snow.

Shoulders slumped, toes frozen
in wet boots, eyes fixed
on the dark spaces—
green and brown curtains
shrouded in smoke.

Once, the grain had run true—
blinds flung wide open,
gaze set on the horizon—
but in this particular time
of this particular year
the saw blade’s teeth grew dull,
ground down upon knots
and burls and barbed wire,
and despondent attempts at progress
were met with a shiver.

But still, the brush
needed to be cleared—
to burn and return
in simpler form
to the ground.

So the evergreens
smoldered slowly,
and there was no better course
than to wait in the periphery
for that inner glow
to come again.

Last First Day

Last First Day


How is one supposed to feel when commencing his or her final semester of college?

Today was truly my last first day as a Middlebury student, although I certainly didn’t spend it doing typical first-day-of-classes types of things. No bookstore visits or dropping off “add cards” to the registrar. Instead, I battled the snow day crowds at Mad River Glen and found the best powder turns and tree skiing of the season. The East has been getting hammered with snow recently, and this storm was the icing on the cake. 14-18″ of fresh, fluffy white stuff at the best ski mountain anywhere. I was fortunate to have a few friends join me, and we quickly concluded that it was the best first-day-of-classes ever.

The reason I was skiing and not inside listening to a professor? I have only three courses this semester, two of which are theses, and the third being a woodworking class that meets on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I take independent work seriously – (see the athletic nutrition guide that Maddie and I made during Junior year) – but I trust myself enough at this point to know that I won’t procrastinate away my time. As I set aside wide open blocks of time each week, I know that if I can use these hours productively, I can afford myself timely adventures. Taking advantage of the best skiing conditions of the year was an adventure of which I wholeheartedly approved. So will be midweek overnights in Westport, hikes in the ‘Dacks, a few more powder days (hopefully!), and random excursions with close friends.

Now as I ponder the magnitude of launching a semester that I have anticipated so eagerly and for so long, I realize my biggest challenge and priority will be to carve out space. I’ve given myself time and trusted myself to use it productively, and to do so, I’ll need to do my best to find spaces that encourage creativity, eliminate distractions, and allow for sustained focus. These spaces are physical – establishing a thesis carol is high on my to-do list – and temporal – creating routines that give me the best chance to think clearly and operate efficiently. Keeping a daily “theses grind” journal of morning check-ins will be a way for me to stay on track, and dedicating my “20% time” to this blog will also give me purpose and opportunities for reflection. And if I stay on it, that will mean a comprehensive critical thesis, wild and poignant poems, more time in the wood shop, and the freedom to take adventures.