In honor of completing my coursework, I’m taking the week off. That means no work. None. Including blogging. The closest thing I’m getting to work this week is seeing some theatre.
…and watching Smash. Hush.
In honor of completing my coursework, I’m taking the week off. That means no work. None. Including blogging. The closest thing I’m getting to work this week is seeing some theatre.
…and watching Smash. Hush.
I can tell you now, officially, with all certainty, that it’s over.
I’ve completed all coursework for my PhD.
I wish I could say that this momentous occasion feels as wonderful as it sounds, but truthfully I’m just exhausted. I find that, without fail, the moment I stop running everything catches up with me. All the stress, emotional turmoil, mental fatigue, physical challenges, everything I’ve been running from since mid-semester just slams right into me and belly-flops me into the ground.
It doesn’t help that coursework is widely regarded as the easiest portion of the PhD. Which is not to say that it was easy. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you can attest to just a fraction of the politically-correct things I have to say about coursework. Somehow, all that build-up of blood, sweat, and tears only makes this next step even more daunting.
So it does and doesn’t feel like an accomplishment to have survived this long.
I’m loving my couch hard core right now and I don’t have many deep thoughts to think. I lieu of those, have a watch of the films that we made last weekend!
(The second film is a making-of documentary with a twist available here on Malarkey’s website.)
Happy summer, everyone!
Over the weekend, I had the good fortune to work on Malarkey Films’ entry into Boston’s 48 hour film festival. Without giving too much away, I can tell you this: our movie was an action movie fairy tale, there was a copious amount of violence in it, and I played a rapier-wielding fairy princess.
I believe I’ve previously expressed the oddness of returning to acting. I had well and truly
thought that the portion of my life as a performer was over indefinitely and was slowly coming to the realization that that may be okay. For that, over the course of this year I’ve been hard at work as an actor, combatant, and general theatre-maker.
And I must admit that it’s been much more fun than I could have hoped. Being back in the theatre is extremely nurturing to my work and my little artist’s heart is lifted every time I get the chance to work on a project.
This project in particular was a challenge on several levels: first off physically. It’s been a few years since I’ve done any serious fight work (and this was serious fight work). We were on location shooting for nine hours, the bulk of that entailed either learning or performing choreography. Despite it being May, New England hasn’t quite gotten the “it’s Spring!” memo yet so the last few hours of our day turned much colder than what was truly optimal given the costuming I was wearing (though admittedly I was one of the more covered-up ladies in the entourage). Eventually, mental and physical fatigue just won over and to have that happen right when the weather started turning towards “not so comfortable anymore” was extremely disruptive to my groove.
Since this was a film, we were also shooting the story in not-necessarily-chronological pieces. Which meant that one of the last shots we got was one of the first shots in the film. Which meant that, despite being tired and cold, we had to muster the energy to be glowingly happy. It also means that I have a sneaking suspicion that my hair is going to look all kinds of strange in the opening scenes since they were shot after I had spent the day rolling around in forest foliage fighting for my life.
…hilarity also ensued when a grappling sequence meant that the DP, sound guy, and my fight partner were stuck picking leaves out of my hair for a good three minutes before and after every take of this phrase of our fight.
Another specific challenge with a film is the speed with which it requires committing dialogue to memory. In this instance, the writer was also the fight director and so was on set for the entirety of the shoot and gave us leave to adjust as necessary (with the exception of the one line which we were required to include as part of the parameters of the film festival…which of course happened to be my line). Short term memory is a funny and amazing thing and mine was well exercised over the course of Saturday. For that, it’s strange for a Shakespearean like myself to feel comfortable with adjusting dialogue to suit my own needs. The vast majority of my experience treats the text as doctrine: changing it is sacrosanct. Film, however, is a medium entirely different from stage and this was just one of the things that I had to accept and move on.
The finished product should be available on Malarkey’s website by week’s end. I have to say, I’m extremely excited to be seeing it on the big screen tomorrow. If nothing else, it was a welcome break from finals-writing.
For those keeping track, my last paper of coursework is due tomorrow. During the afternoon, I’ll be at Tufts speaking at the Graduate Research Symposium in the 2PM time slot if you happen to be around and want to hear about my work for ten minutes.
…just keep swimming.
Yesterday, I attended the last class of my PhD.
This isn’t to be confused with completing coursework (which won’t happen until my papers are all firmly nestled into the appropriate inboxes, a momentous occasion which will occur next Wednesday) and, really, knowing me I won’t be satisfied until the grades all pop up on my transcript affirming, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this is (in fact) real.
The class was a five-hour lecture wrapping up my ancient theatre course. This particular lecture covered Sturm und Drang, Weimar Classicism, and Romanticism. It also included a “presentation” I had prepped on Goethe’s relationship with Shakespeare (I put “presentation” in quotation marks because it wasn’t a “talk at the class for x amount of time” kinda deal but rather a “do a lot of reading and act as a pop-up video as we discuss the course reading” sort of thing). This class wasn’t a small deal at all.
But I survived. The class ended with the professor making a few profound remarks about
how far we had come and it took all my self-restraint not to stand up in my chair and yet “AMEN TO THAT!” For me, she wasn’t just talking about her course (though certainly we had come a long way there), but rather the progression of my graduate career at Tufts. Two academic years ago, I was sitting in a room, terrified, and waiting for someone to stand up, point at me, and shout “you don’t belong here!” before systematically evicting me from the premises never to return again. That feeling of being a fraud, not worthy of the opportunities allotted me in my career, has faded over time. I’ve learned so many things these past two years; some quantifiable, some not.
Among the other things I’m proud of, here’s a reasonably superficial list in terms of its breadth and depth, but it should at least give you some idea of the way I’ve changed as a scholar since my wide-eyed arrival at Tufts University:
I’ve learned how to gain access to (and dig through) an archive. I’ve learned how to cite the sources that I find there and use them in a paper that I may, someday, publish.
I’ve learned how to get on a plane to a city I’ve never been and be totally comfortable (if a little nervous the first time or two) spending two to four days networking my little Shakespearean heart out with people whom I have never met before, and may be Top Men in my field.
I’ve learned how to write better, how to read better, and how to think better.
I’ve learned about playwrights I’d never though I’d read, performances I’d never known existed, and theorists I’d never hoped to “meet”.
I’ve learned how to talk about my own work in a way that isn’t a snooze-fest (though this will depend upon the audience, of course. Even I can’t make the deep technical aspects of some of my research appeal to everyone).
I’ve learned to read and translate German (…though this is a skill that I’ll be cultivating for some time).
I’ve learned that when in doubt, just look. And when looking doesn’t help you, just ask. There are always people there to turn to.
I’ve learned that it’s amazing what people will do/reveal when you ask them questions. So many people are willing to be so generous with their time if you’re just nice to them.
I’ve learned that reference librarians are veritable deities and should be worshiped as such.
I’ve learned that it’s not enough to think, you must do. Touch the ground and your work will always have more depth and meaning. This means it’s not enough just to think about theatre; go see theatre. Make theatre. Get your hands dirty. If we forget why we fell in love with the field in the first place, there’s no way that we’re going to last in it (and there’s no way that we’re going to make our students love it).
I’ve learned that just because it’s obvious to you does not mean that it’s obvious to anyone else, or that it does not need to be said. And, moreover, if you don’t say it, someone else will. Jump on it, take credit for your ideas, and you’ll go much further than if you just simper and mull them to yourself.
…this list could continue ad infinitum but I’ve still got a paper to write. I hope that your finals are treating you well, you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and that you can take some time today to remember why it is (precisely) that you do this.
…or you could just watch this:
A tip: if at first you don’t succeed, re-analyze your plan of attack and try again.
Over the weekend I tried desperately to get some work done on this one paper I’ve got looming. I did get one draft pounded out, but try as I might I couldn’t seem to do any editing. Every time I sat down to work, I realized that something else needed to get done: my desk needed to be cleaned, my floor needed vacuuming, I had other things I needed to write, I hadn’t answered x, y, or z e-mail, etc.
It took some serious oomph before I realized I had to resort to the old stand-by: print and red pen.
When I was in my Master’s, I didn’t do anything electronically. Every single paper I wrote was something that I would (admittedly) preliminarily type, but then hand-edit. Draft after draft after draft I would ink to my heart’s content and, after about six to ten drafts, I would have something worth turning in.
In recent years, I’ve tried to become a bit more “green” and conscious of precisely how many trees I was killing in the process of producing 60-80 finished pages of writing a semester (multiply by 8; the average number of drafts I go through; yikes). Not to mention the money I was spending on ink and paper (which, believe me, wasn’t insignificant). I developed some ability to edit at my keyboard and I’ve even produced full papers without printing more than three drafts.
But this one was simply eluding me. It was taunting me on the screen and I was left with no recourse.
I printed, and went for a walk.
I find that, given the right environment and the right project, I can be much more productive away from my desk than at it. This only works for papers in draft form as, before they are
coherent, I have to reference the piles and piles of books from the book fort I’ve built on the floor next to aforementioned desk. But once I do have something I’m playing with, once the words are on the page, often times the only way I can advance past this is to go to a coffee shop and not let myself come home until I’m done drafting.
It does two things: first it removes any possibility of distraction (especially if I’m a good good girl and turn my phone off for the duration of my writing session), and secondly it gives me the impetus to work faster. If I want to go home in any reasonable length of time, well then I had better get to business hadn’t I? Often, there are artificial limitations on this: how long can I sit without a break for the necessities (food, nose-powdering, etc.), but if I work diligently, I can crank out a draft of a 20-page paper within the two to three hour time window that my attention span and biology usually allot for.
So that’s just what I did yesterday. I took my draft, I took my red pen, and I bought myself a giant iced coffee and went to town.
Luckily, it was a random daytime during a Monday so there weren’t many people there to talk around me (something I can’t abide while I’m working). I also happen to know a great place that doesn’t play obnoxious music (another thing I really can’t work through).
Writing, actually writing, the old fashioned way with a pen, is very romantic. Whenever I do so at a coffee shop, I can’t help but imagine myself into some antiquated notion of academia where we all wear tweed suits and use monocles. There’s something nostalgic about it; an act that connects you to your forefathers. Everyone I’ve ever read wrote this way (and certainly those I most admire wrote this way); pen in hand, caffeine source nearby. I guess unless you’re Kerouac in which case I’m not sure I’d want to write the way you wrote…
Anyway, my ploy worked! This paper is in great shape, all of my projects are under control, and despite any misgivings I may have about walking away from my desk at the end of today (because I know there’s more work to do, I just can’t do more work right now), I can comfort myself with the fact that everything is where it should be and nothing is getting left out in the cold.
…Unless I’m forgetting something huge. Which is always a possibility.
This morning: I had a conversation with Hamlet on twitter about Goethe while reading snippets from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre about a character performing Hamlet.
This sprang from my new favorite quote from Goethe “Away with your fat Hamlets!”
…what I was really doing was preparing a handout for an in-class presentation/facilitation/thingie I have to give on Thursday (one of the two big semester projects still on my docket).
Over the course of preparing this handout, I also discovered that the snippets of Macbeth I had chosen as an object lesson in early German Shakespeare translations for my class were perhaps not entirely what I had previously thought. When one of my sources discussed the Schlegel translation of Macbeth pretty heavily, I assumed this may be a good example of how the Germans during this time period weren’t quite getting the language as we English-speakers expect to receive it. I pulled a snippet from Macbeth’s “whence is this knocking?” speech from the 1764 Wieland translation, then same from what I thought was part of the 1801 Schlegel translation (highly regarded as the best rendition of Shakespeare into German from the time). I re-translated them to English as best I can (because, despite any pretentions to the contrary, graduate students don’t actually know everything), and set them prominently on my handout.
…only to find out that the textual history of the Schlegel is WAY more complicated than I
had thought (hey, at least I discovered this BEFORE my presentation on Thursday). Not to bore you with details, but it’s actually a rather cool thing since Schlegel winds up collaborating with Tieck but despite this his translation of the complete works remains unfinished until Tieck’s daughter takes it up. So apparently what I have is a kind of proto-feminist text that my inner English geek could analyze up the wazoo but, since I’m in a theatre department, should probably refrain from doing so.
Anyway, once this is done then I have a paper to write (that I’m nowhere near as prepared for as usual but thankfully have more time than I thought I would have so… it may just balance in the end). Then, on May eighth, I turn in that last stack of pages, breathe a sigh of relief, and take a few days to a week off before I start studying for my comps like a mad person.
And at some point in the near future, it’s going to hit me that to complete this semester’s projects I had to do research in a language that I didn’t know a single word of before last June and, moreover, I’ve been routinely walking around with a bagful of books in three different languages (none of the pig Latin)… Not to brag, but you’ve got to admit that that’s pretty cool.
On that note, I think I’ll put down the Goethe and turn to Molière for a bit. Because apparently I like pain.
Gird yourselves. Finals are here.
If you are reading this, it means that I have survived finals.
Well, actually, it means that the programming on my website didn’t fail me as I scheduled it to post this entry at a time after which I would have turned in my last paper and during which I would be in a car driving home to New York for the holidays and, since blogging while driving is not something that computers have figure out yet (I’m confident that Siri will change this soon), decided that was my best course of action.
Here is a still-life I managed to capture of my desk the other day (completely not posed, just how my desk looked at the time). Yes, that is my ukulele and those are my chord charts. Yes, that is a nineteenth century print of an engraving depicting Act V of As You Like It sent to me by my Academic Fairy Godfather. Yes, my tape dispenser is in the shape of a black platform stiletto. As far as I’m concerned, this picture is proof-positive that whatever life choices I’ve made which lead to this moment are absolutely correct. A pretty validating thought for the end of my last fall semester of coursework.
This semester’s been tougher than I thought it would be. That said, I learned a lot, met some really interesting people, and have some shiny new projects to get me through the winter/Spring.
So, since I’m done, I’m taking a short break to be with my family for a week. I promise I’ll be back after the holiday. For now, have a watch of this “holiday card” I prepared for you (…when I say I’m only a “passable ukulele player” I really do mean it, so please take this as a sort of “amusing anecdotal internet offering” rather than any sort of masterpiece…. I know I messed it up at least once).
Happy holidays, happy finals being over, and happy take-a-friggen-break. You deserve it!
Lost of love,
I had a moment of panic the other day.
I had been summoned to participate in a departmental thing. I’m really not sure who decided it was a good idea to schedule any departmental thing smack dab in the middle of finals time. This, to me, seems like a sure-fire way to make at least one of your graduate students slit her wrists in hopelessness.
Any who know me will tell you that one of the things I am best at is time management. I never leave anything to the last minute, I have a good sense of how much I can handle, I work until I’m done, and I know what is okay to sacrifice and what simply can’t be cut from any given day. As such, my schedule books very far in advance. Often, I have trouble squeezing in social engagements unless I’m made aware of them at least two weeks before they happen (at the busiest times of the year, this becomes more like a month). As such, if I was having trouble departing from my desk to attend said departmental thing, it was not because I was having last-minute finals panic, it was because scheduling a departmental thing during finals is inhuman.
The departmental thing took longer than I had planned (but not longer than it had been scheduled, I simply misread the schedule and under-calculated my timing). I got into my car and felt like my chest was clenched in an iron clamp. I still had errands to run. I still had all kinds of work to do. And I still had one more appointment with my ever-wonderful Partner in Crime that I could not miss because of a long, convoluted series of events which amounted to him helping me clean my apartment (I think he realized by looking at me that even mundane tasks were well beyond my capabilities to handle and, left to my own devices, I was in very real danger of exploding… spontaneous human combustion: not just an urban legend).
During the drive home, the panic attack symptoms started setting in. Increased heart rate, hopeless whirl of uncontrollable thoughts, and pressure behind the eyes that threatens to burst into uncontrollable weeping.
I got to my desk, sat down, and forced myself to breath.
For those who have ever experienced a panic attack, you will know: the only way to coach yourself through it is slowly and methodically. You need to clear your mind, breathe deeply, and slow your heart-rate back something resembling normal. Sometimes you need to cry for ten minutes just to get it out. I don’t have them often, but my PhD has taught me all kinds of new and wonderful things that my body is capable of when pressed against the wall (some of these things are more useful than others).
This time, head in my hands, trying to calm myself down enough to look at the word documents I had left up on my machine, my gaze drifted to my desk ornaments.
I’ve spoken about them before. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a seemingly random assortment of bits and bobs which have come to reside in happy harmony upon my desk. What I didn’t realize until that moment is that all of the little guys directly under my monitor (and, in fact, most of the baubles as a whole) were given to me by various important someones in my life. Shakes-cat: a gift from a dear old friend. Baby-hatching-Gargoyle: a
present from my grandmother upon realizing that it looked just like the logo for the theatre company I ran out of New York. Liberty-Duck: a random Monday offering from my Partner in Crime. Long-Duck-Silver: from my mom when she came to visit me during my brief-tenure in a soul-sucking office position pre-Master’s (it came in a box of Band-Aids and helped to cheer my gloomy day). Tribble Fluff the Yarn Monster: made for me by my wonderful penpal and sent in a box of comfort yarn around the holidays one year. The list, believe it or not, continues to the point where I really can’t chronicle all the things on my desk attached to all the wonderful people in my life.
And, in that moment, it was like getting a hug from all of them simultaneously. Like somehow they were all there (without even knowing that I needed them) to tell me to get my act together because I could totally handle this.
Over the past week or so, I’ve received an immense amount of support from my usual support network, but also some very unexpected places. People who are around, but whom I don’t speak with frequently (perhaps the epitome of this being a random and unprompted text from an old friend with the news that he had procured a GIANT BAG full
of my favorite girly-scented lotions and things and was sending them to me imminently… thanks again, Brian, you seriously made my week). People who would have little way of knowing the insane amounts of pressure and stress that I’m under right now who, from some twist of the universe, had me in their thoughts on a given day and thus found some way to send some extra love my way.
My point is this: no man is an island. The PhD is the equivalent to academic boot camp. It will strip you down to your most basic human elements, take those away, then re-build you (and I’m not even through the “easiest” part of the process yet). But just because you’re stressed, just because you’re tired, just because you think your brain is going to melt out the side of your head, doesn’t mean that you should forget something: you are loved. And if you can’t remember that, take a moment to find someone who will help you remember it.
So many thank-yous to all of my wonderful friends who, wittingly or not, have once more gone above and beyond to help me get through this difficult time of year. If I seem ungrateful or passive in person, it’s just because I lack the brain cells to express how much you mean to me right now.
And on that note, it’s time to face the music. Turning in my first final today. Queue The Imperial March, La Marseillaise (it always sounds victorious to me), anything from Newsies, or One Day More and send some good thoughts to Dani-land. Here we go.
This is a drive-by. Things are nuts; For the past three weeks I’ve been doing nothing but work, go to the gym, and sleep. My brain is currently the approximate consistency of tapioca pudding. And not even the good kind of tapioca pudding, it’s the soggy from a plastic container and tin lid sort. And it’s likely been sitting on the shelf for too long so it’s just this side of “okay to eat”…
…this is not an invitation for zombies to come raid my apartment.
In that vein, I do not feel that I have anything intelligent, pertinent, or inspiring to say at the moment. I’ve been communicating with my roommate and partner-in-crime using grunts and clicks (I’m past even the capacity for charade-like hand motions), and I don’t trust my own judgment right now as to what would constitute “intelligent, pertinent, or inspired” anyway.
Sooo…. I will re-assert a few basic truths about this point of the finals process, and then dive back to the turmoil of the ever-present grindstone.
Thing One: Proofreading saves lives. Amongst the errors which, uncaught, would have proved outright embarrassing (mind you, in drafts that are far enough down the writing process that I even ventured to show one to my PiC the other day) are: several punctuation mishaps, misspellings of authors’ names, and (most embarrassing of all) several accounts of the correct Shakespeare quote attributed to the incorrect character in a play completely different from the one it was in in the first place. Apparently, I can quote Shakespeare verbatim in tapioca-mode, but I’ll be darned if I can attribute these quotes correctly. So far, I’ve attempted to put Touchstone in Twelfth Night (this is particularly puzzling since, of all shows, you would think that As You Like it would be freshest in my
mind right now and, indeed, it’s only my performance recollections which saved this mishap from making it to the final cut of the paper), and re-attribute a piece of Macbeth’s “sound and fury” speech to Hamlet (What, what, what are you doing?).
Thing Two: I am, as of today, T-minus two papers and four days from completing the last Fall Semester of coursework in my PhD. My first paper goes down Monday, my second Wednesday, in between I proctor and grade a final for one of my TAships. On Wednesday, I will drive to campus, drop off my paper, and drive directly down to NY for holidays with my family. Because my life isn’t stressful at all.
Thing Three: It’s remarkable what slack people will cut you when you look at them with the glazed-over look of hopeless “good god, I don’t remember how to talk to a normal person because my mind is still reeling about early nineteenth-century draperies”. Either that, or my friends are amazing. I suspect a combination of the two. Maybe I look worse than I think I do. At least I’m bathing regularly (IMPORTANT!).
Thing Four: No matter where you are, I can assure you that if you aren’t done by now, you are very close. If you, in the past few days/weeks have experienced the same jarring helplessness that I have experienced, I would like for you to take a moment, take a breath, and remember that the light is right there at the end of the tunnel. I know you’re tired (“exhausted” might be a better word… actually “bone-weary beyond all possible means of human comprehension” might fit best), I know you’re frustrated, I know you’re worried. But you will do it. I have faith. Hold fast, Horus.
Thing Five: I’m going to take a break and sit on my couch for a few minutes. I haven’t actually sat on my couch in at least two weeks. Since I’ve put in a good six and a half hours already, I think I deserve this.
Keep calm, and keep editing folks! See you on the other side!
Today is my birthday.
In recent years, it has become harder and harder to be festive on my birthday. During my Master’s (when I realized that this academia thing might actually be a lifetime commitment rather than a passing fancy), I resolved myself to come to terms with the fact that, for the rest of my life, I would be stressed out, over-worked, and over-wrought on my birthday.
Some years this sticks, some years it doesn’t.
It’s funny because, as I understand it, on birthdays you’re supposed to think back across the expanse of the year and have some thought about things you’ve done, accomplished, follies, foibles, adventures, etc. And maybe when you’ve done that, cast another thought forward to the things that you might accomplish in this year next. Since I’m still in the phase of my PhD during which landmarks are fairly mapped out and planned, I have the good fortune to be able to predict, with some degree of certainty, at least some of the things I will do before the world comes back around to December 11th once more. I will pass my German qual exam. I will study for (and pass) my comps. I will successfully execute my oral exams. And, at this point next year, I will be sitting pretty, poised for dissertation planning, and may (for the first time in many years) actually be able to relax on my birthday.
This year is not that year.
Today, I have a meeting, student final projects to look at, library books that will go into arrears if I don’t return them today, an article to track down, and mountains and mountains of writing to do. I didn’t even have time to wake up early enough for a run due to the absolute insanity that was yesterday (I spent thirteen hours on campus yesterday, left at 11PM and am doing the eleven-hour turn-around and will be back on campus at 10AM this morning…. ah the glamorous life of a theatre academic).
But I did get to partake of my new favorite birthday tradition: birthday Shakespeare. Last year, as a birthday gift, my ever-wonderful Partner in Crime took me to see Hamlet at the Gamm. The production was meh, but the point was to be able to sit back and enjoy something I love rather than worry about deeper issues (…of course, I did worry about deeper issues, but that’s just the way I’m wired). Last night, the cast of Measure for Measure treated me to the first (rough) run of the show. Some really interesting things going on and, if they continue to grow at a good clip, I think the product will be well worth the ticket price. I even had a Shakespeare-revelation while watching (this happens to me sometimes; the text hits my ear in a different way and things click into place and suddenly I understand something new about the show). So; thanks, cast!
So yes, I will be spending the day working. A lot. But the way I see it, this is paying it forward. Next year, oh sweet next year, I may even be able to take the day off entirely.
And so, dear reader, I leave you with this: have a wonderful day, think about Shakespeare for me, and have a watch of one of my favorite Shakespeare mashups: the muppets, Christopher Reeve, and Cole Porter: