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- 285 Marilyn Stasio d Your Research—or Your Life! L et me tell you about a research project that literally saved my life. This would be going back, oh, quite a few decades, when I was fresh out of Columbia University with a useless master’s degree in comparative literature, granted in those days by the philosophy department, further guaranteeing its utter irrelevance. It had not been my intention, let me hasten to say, to face the harsh glare of postgraduate reality with a worthless degree in my hand. Far from it. When I came to New York to take up my studies, I never doubted for a minute that I would be in it for the long haul. I envisioned a swift, brilliant master’s degree, followed by a long and grueling (but profoundly rewarding) program of study in the PhD program, from which I expected to emerge with an even more brilliant degree and a lifetime of (need it be said? brilliant) scholarship ahead of me at some prestigious academic haven. Preferably on the East Coast. Well, that didn’t work out, did it? Although I’d sailed through (well, passed) the language requirements, I can still taste the bilious juices of horror and humiliation that filled my mouth when I took up the qualifying exam and realized that I hadn’t a prayer of passing it. (What were all those damned dates? I didn’t do dates!) Being expelled so summarily from my Edenic dreamworld would probably qualify as a bona fide trauma. (Thinking back, I do have a vague recollection of momentarily blacking out in the bathroom.) But did I accept the verdict and return home with my insignificant degree to take up a less lofty, but more appropriate career in retail sales? Not a bit of it. I moved into a small apartment house in Spanish Harlem where a jolly crowd of Columbia postgrads and academic castoffs had taken up cheap communal residence. Once installed in my cheerless walk-up apartment on the third floor, I promptly embarked on an ambitious research project that would surely result in a marilyn stasio - 286 ground -breaking (and needless to say, brilliant) piece of scholarship that would restore me to my proper place in the hierarchy of academe. The drawback to this plan was that the boisterous community in which I had pitched my tent was not conducive to study—or even, at times, to sleep. The building superintendent was a third-year philosophy student at Columbia who had recruited all his friends as tenants, so all it took to initiate a house party was for someone to throw open their apartment door and put on some music. But while my housemates may have resembled those giddy young friends you see on television sitcoms, they were nowhere near as vapid. I remember two battle-weary social workers who were doing their thesis work on street gangs and often thrilled me by bringing their dangerous work home with them. Another tenant, who told everyone she was descended from one of those fifteenth-century Florentine banking families, also attracted interesting people to the house, but she never shared them with the rest of us. And then there was the mysterious long-legged beauty who lived above me and did a lot of shopping in high-end stores like Saks and Bergdorf’s. No matter how many times she woke me up in the middle of the night, giggling with whoever was helping her up the stairs, it never dawned on me that she might have been a call girl. Although it was almost impossible to get any real work done in this environment, I did manage to produce something that made me proud. It was a literary essay that I wrote as a favor to my friend, the philosophy student, who was so panicked about the course assignment he couldn’t put his mind to it. With the help of a diet pill, I worked all night and turned over the piece in the morning. The weight of my crime didn’t register until a few days later, when my friend the philosopher came pounding on my door with the terrible news that his professor had liked the essay so much he wanted to submit it to a professional journal. I honestly don’t remember what action my co-conspirator took, or what he did with his copy of the essay, but I tore mine up into little pieces and...


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