Keep Calm and Soldier Forth

One of the hardest things about the Dissertating process so far has been acceptance. Specifically accepting that there will be things that happen in and around my life which have a direct impact upon my ability to work on a given day, but over which I have no control.

One of the many issues that plague us grad students is the constant drive to keep working. Because we are masters of our own time, and because there is ALWAYS something more you could be doing, it’s very easy to live with the constant guilt that you could be working right now. Weekends, evenings, much-needed sanity breaks; it doesn’t matter. There will always be that feeling that you could be doing something “more productive” than whatever it is you are currently doing. Even worse, since most of us work from home offices, there’s no sense of “leaving work at work”; my work is always with me just a click away.

What this means is that when life gets in the way, you feel doubly guilty. When you have to spend an hour or two taking your car to get fixed, or you need to go to a doctor’s appointment, or any number of acceptable semi-urgent life situations that just need to be taken care of during “regular business hours” and could throw a giant monkey wrench in your work day, you can feel pretty terrible about it.

For instance: right now, they are doing some major construction on my apartment complex. It’s disruptive, noisy, and means that there are generally workmen staring me in the eye through my office window even though I’m on the second floor. At some point during the next several weeks, there will be workmen in my apartment who I will be required to accommodate by essentially disassembling my office so they can get done what they need to get done. I also will not have access to my own home for at least two days during work hours since they will be in it.

This is not an ideal situation. It keeps me from being as productive as I could be (or “should” be). But I have almost no control over it. I can’t stop it, I can’t make it better, all I can do is work around it as best I can.

It would be easy to throw my hands up and say “I can’t work today because of this thing I have no control over.” The much more difficult path, and the one that I have to take if I hope to ever complete this monster project, is to cope.

Dealing with writing a dissertation is stressful and overwhelming. Dealing with the academic job market is stressful and overwhelming. But this doesn’t mean that the world is going to stop around me; if I want to finish (and oh man do I want to finish), I have to find a way to work through the outside distractions and inconveniences. Adaptability is my friend; finding ways to vary up my routine that won’t prevent me from getting things done just needs to be a way of life.

It’s not easy; but if I wanted “easy” I wouldn’t have gone for a PhD. It’s definitely not convenient. But it is what it is; and I just have to soldier through to reach my goals. Nobody ever said that walking to Mordor would be a tiptoe through the tulips.

Don’t Let it Win

Some days, the dissertation wins.

There are days when I walk away from the keyboard with a feeling of triumph. I’ve conquered some little corner of some little mountain, but oh man does it feel so good. There are days when I feel like I’ve accomplished something major like reading through my stack of allotted books, finishing a draft and being happy with it, or closing a chapter of research and being ready to prepare it for its next stage.

Those days, I win.

But some days, the diss gets the upper hand. I get burnt out, I can’t communicate my thoughts clearly, I get so wound up in the tiny things that I’m unable to accomplish anything of substance. There are days when I feel like an unmitigated failure for not getting through that last 250 pages of reading, for not muscling my way through red-penning those last ten pages, for finding myself with not enough brain functionality left to do anything significant after 3:00 PM.

I’m told it’s a common phenomenon.

So here’s the thing: you’re never going to have a perfect string of days no matter what you’re doing. You’re never going to always feel like the top of the world; you’re never going to always consistently succeed at every tiny task. There will be setbacks. There will be days when the stupid writing project wins the battle.

So long as you have more days when you win, you’re still at a net positive.

The important thing when you find that you’ve lost the arm wrestling match for a day is that you do what you need to do to recover. Exercise, drink a beer, sleep, watch some Netflix; whatever it is that will reset you and get you prepared to fight another day. Do it. Avoiding it when you’ve hit the bottom of the bucket is just going to do more self harm than good. Taking the time to self-care and recover is going to give you more productivity in the long run, so just put the red pen down and back away from your desk.

Then, get back on the horse. You need to keep going back into the fray if you ever expect to win. Begin each day fresh with new research goals, new word count objectives, and a new attitude. One bad day does not have to mean a failed project; it just makes you human.

Don’t let the dissertation win.

It can have the battle; don’t give it the war.


So I’ve been working on my dissertation almost specifically these days (I say “almost” because I still have a few side-projects going on, including my ongoing work with the Folger Shakespeare Library and some of their digital initiatives, but that’s probably a tale best told later).  I’m only teaching one class this semester (my continuing adult ed. class for OSHER lifelong learning), and it’s a very odd thing.

It’s odd because I’m working almost entirely on my own time.  I have nominal amounts of meetings, and deadlines are pretty hazy.  It’s odd because I don’t have to set an alarm if I don’t want to, because if I sleep in a little bit it just means that I have to work a little later that day.  It’s odd because I have lost almost entire sense of what day of the week it is and how that effects the rest of the world (let me tell you what it’s like to try and make appointments with businesses or doctors when you have small sense of “normal people time”).  And it’s odd because I spend all day, every day, all alone with my thoughts.  It’s true.  If I didn’t cohabitate with another human being, I would go LONG SPANS without making eye contact or speaking with another human without the interference of an electronic device.

So how can one possibly hope to succeed under these conditions? 

 Well, I’ve set up some pretty strict regulations for myself to ensure that work gets done and, so far, it seems to be working.

1)   I sit at my desk to work.  After breakfast, I put down the iPad and phone, and go plant myself at my desk.  And that’s where I stay until lunch.  I allow myself an hour for lunch, then I sit back at my desk until it’s an appropriate time to end the day.  I also allow myself a break to work out when I’m in true brain-fry space; but when I’m back and showered, I sit back down at the desk.  If I’m reviewing a show in the evening, or going to a rehearsal, or doing some other kind of legitimate work, I let myself “leave” a bit early just to provide enough cool-down time between jobs.  But other than that, I regulate my desk habits.  I find that if I don’t, I spend more time cleaning my apartment than conducting research.

2)   I set micro-goals.  Every day, before I leave my desk, I try to give myself a sense of what needs to be accomplished the next day.  Whether that’s “read this stack of books”, or “finish drafting another draft of this chapter”.  I always try to visually represent these goals for myself because otherwise the things I do become too theoretical to make me feel accomplished.  Sometimes this means setting out a stack of books for myself that I’m allowed to move to the “done” pile when I finish them.  Sometimes it means leaving the red pen on top of my draft so that I know it’s time for drafting.  Sometimes it means writing a list that I can cross off when I’ve completed tasks.  Whatever it is, I make sure to give myself the satisfaction of literally seeing accomplishment on a daily basis.  This keeps my morale high, and also gives me a sense of my pace and what I can reasonably expect from myself in a day.

3)   I update my social media feeds.  I know that, for some people, this can be a time-suck and a distraction rather than a boon, but for me it’s really refreshing to be able to post about funny things I read in my research books, or small accomplishments throughout the day.  Also, it keeps my twitter feed relevant and, as a result, refreshes the content on my blog which is directly linked to my SEO.  In other words: it kills a lot of marketing birds while simultaneously making me feel connected with the outside world.  I do make sure that, once I’ve posted my update, I minimize my browser windows and turn my phone upside down on

This guy helps.  He's my new office buddy: Sir Henslowe Fishigills; First of his Name; Lord of all the waters he swims

This guy helps. He’s my new office buddy: Sir Henslowe Fishigills; First of his Name; Lord of all the waters he swims

my desk.  This way, I have to work to become re-distracted by whatever’s going on on the internet.

4)   I evaluate situations fairly, but I don’t take excuses.  Since I’m essentially my own boss, I don’t let myself off easy.  I think this is probably a personality trait that most at the Candidacy stage share (if not, you probably wouldn’t have successfully reached Candidacy).  That said, there are sometimes things that will happen which will prevent productivity for a short time.  This winter, I’ve been dealing with some car troubles (for example) that will sometimes take me away from my desk for longer than I’d like.  On days when I am stuck out waiting, I take as much work as is feasible with me (pre-planning helps with this), but I also don’t beat myself up because I couldn’t read two books instead of one while waiting at the garage.  Know your limits, know your work habits, and know when it’s acceptable to push and when it’s acceptable to slack a little.  Also have a plan for when/how you’ll be able to make up missed work at a later date.

5)   I combat anxiety at every turn.  There are some well known psychological consequences to writing a dissertation.  Imposter syndrome, stress, anxiety, and occasional bouts of depression pretty much come with the territory (no, really, they’ve done studies on it).  Learning to manage these things for yourself is a personal journey that you’re going to have to accept and grow with.  Understanding for myself, what helped, what didn’t, and who I could turn to for what kind of help was HUGE in terms of my productivity.  Find your allies, find your coping mechanisms, and use them repeatedly and often.

6)   I take care of myself.  I’m writing a dissertation.  This is probably the biggest thing I’ve so far done in my entire life.  It’s a hugely taxing endeavor mentally and physically.  In order to get it done, I need to feel my best; and in order to feel my best I need to eat right, work out, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep.  Period.  Nothing comes in the way of those things for me (and if it threatens to, I execute it before it executes me).  You have to make you a priority; even though it means sacrificing things you might want to be doing (like… say… social engagements).

 7)   Weekends are weekends.  I don’t work on the weekends.  I try not to even turn my computer on on the weekends.  I am entitled to two days off a week (…I will often review a show or FD a project on the weekends, but to me this doesn’t really count as “work” in the same way as working on my dissertation does).  The point is this: it doesn’t matter what your boundaries are, just find them and stick to them.

Those are the big ones for me, but obviously everyone is different.  Keep on plugging; that’s the real trick.  I hope that your writing is going as well as mine is!  Stay warm out there, everybody!


One of the things I have learned from being a Graduate Student with an over-burdened schedule is that I am constant devising new coping tactics.  Extreme stress will wear a body down to the point of collapse, and as a warrior on the front lines of enlightenment you are constantly needing to find ways to fight this.

My new method of stress-busting is baking.

It started as a whim.  I’m a pretty amazing cook, but baking was an art which had always eluded me and scared me just a little.  I didn’t know enough about the chemistry of it, I didn’t understand what I could and could not do to a recipe in order to change it.  But a couple season of America’s Next Great Baker and some extreme dissertation stress later, I decided that it was high time I dipped my toes into the wide world of baking.  After several experiments with cookies, scones, and muffins, I decided to try my hand at bread for the first time this week.

Here is the recipe that I used and here is what I learned making it:

No Kneed Beer Bread

I found this recipe on (which, if you vet the reviews carefully, is a pretty solid source for such things).


1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup warm water (100 degrees F or 38 degrees C)
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer
1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
all-purpose flour for dusting
1 tablespoon cornmeal

You start out with 1.5 tsp (or one packet) of active dry yeast.  Yeast, as it turns out, comes in two varieties: active dry, and instant yeast.  Instant yeast can be used directly in your bread recipe, active dry needs to be “proofed” or woken up first.  For my experiment, I used active dry (which is, by the way, what the recipe calls for).

So yeast is actually an organism that feeds on the sugars in your bread dough and lets it rise (there’s a really good tutorial on working with yeast here).  In order to wake up the yeast, dissolve the amount you need (for this recipe 1.5 tsp) into ½ cup warm water (for this recipe).  When I say “warm”, I mean between 95 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit (about room temperature or slightly above).  You can use a pinch of sugar in there as well to give the yeast some food.  Cover with a towel and let sit in a nice warm place for 6-8 minutes.  When you come back, the mixture should be bubbling; this is the CO2 that the yeast produces as a byproduct and it means the yeast is successfully woken.  Or, in the words of bad Mary Shelley impersonators, “IT’S ALIVE!”

Once you do this, add half a cup of flour to yeast mixture.  Stir together, cover again, and let sit in a warm dark place for half an hour.  Yeast likes dark and warmth to do its best work; if it gets too cold or too bright, the dough won’t rise properly and you’ll be left with a big hunk of flat, solid bread.

Next add the beer.  You want one 12-oz can/bottle (I used Blue Moon pumpkin because… well.. obviously).  Stir it into the mix, and add four cups of flour and 1.5 tsp salt.  This will form a thick dough that will stick to the sides of the bowl.  Cover it again, and allow it to rise for 2 hours.  It should double in size at that time.  Again, make certain your kitchen is nice and warm so that little diva yeast can do its business.

On a well-floured surface (that means a good sprinkling, not cakes and cakes of flour), pour out your dough blob.  Scrape down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula in order to get the most dough possible into your blog.  Flour your hands a bit and form the mound into loaf-shape, then place it on a baking sheet covered in a thin dusting of cornmeal.  Sprinkle the entire darn thing with more flour, cover, and let rise for 30-40 minutes.  Again with the dark, again with the warm.

You want to preheat your oven to 425 and place on the bottom rack a shallow oven-proof dish filled with water (I used a small pyrex).  This will humidify the oven and ensure that your bread comes out nice and crusty.

Slit the loaf down the middle with a knife or razor to create a pretty line in the dough.  Bake in the oven on a rack above the water for 35 minutes.  You will know the bread is done when the crust turns golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool on cooling rack.  Allow to cool fully before slicing open.

And TA DAH!  Bread!  All the yum, none of the fuss; so tasty, so fresh, and so much less stress than I though it would be.


Back in the Game

Hello dear readers; long time, no write.

The thing is that this semester has been crushing me.  Between my teaching load, the dissertation stress, the extra side-jobs I do (I reviewed four shows in a week the other week… four…. Shows….), and a few personal/familial obligations, I’ve been slammed to the point of sheer exhaustion.  The funny thing about writing is that, while I don’t believe you always need a spark of creative genius to sit down and write, you do at least need a

dissertation work at its finest

dissertation work at its finest

tiny bit of energy.  While you can sometimes work a miracle and produce something from nothing, you can’t always write through the fatigue.

I’ve always considered this blog to be my stretching and training regime.  The dissertation is the marathon.  But if you want to successfully run a marathon, you need to train well, train smart, and train often.  If you hit burn out, taking a break is a necessity or you’re just going to strain something.

So I took a break.  Since this is a self-directed project designed to execute skills which I know serve me well in my career (self-discipline, a scheduled writing regime, and writing in general), I can also guide my time on/time off.

The time has come to be back.  So here I go; back in training.  But now, since I’m actually in the throws of writing the diss as we type, it’s serious.

That doesn’t mean I intend to get over-serious here.  I’ve done some thinking about how I want to reshape the blog as I move forward in my graduate and (knocking on wood) post-graduate career.  For a long time, this has been a sounding board where I am able to discuss issues/observations about the PhD process.  It will continue to be so, but since dissertation writing is mostly done in the isolation of my own tower, I need some further fuel to ensure that I can keep writing at a good clip.

So I’ll be expanding the content here slightly as my fingers wind up in more (and different) pies.  Yum.  Pie.

Thank you, friends, for continuing to stick with me through this process.  It’s been a long bumpy ride, and I have no delusions that it will become anything less as I move forward into the vast unknown of dissertation land.  What surprises await our hero beyond the horizon is yet unknown, but one thing is certain: she is eager to get started, excited to be traveling in the frontiers of human knowledge, and (so she thinks) prepared to engage with what’s to come.

To infinity and beyond!

Media Socially

As you have probably noticed by now, I like social media. I feel that it has a great power to connect and reveal, as well as make the too-distant world a smaller and more interesting place.

Since I have the vast fortune of being in a position that allows me to craft and mold young, impressionable minds, I utilize this belief within my classroom. One of my favorite assignments in my acting class (and, based on previous experience, one of my students’ favorite assignment as well) is a character analysis assignment I give them focused upon social media. And because I think social media makes the world a better place, I’m going to take the time to share this with you so that you can be jealous that your acting teacher never assigned it, or (perhaps) use it for your acting classes (…if you do, please credit me).

I execute this assignment after I have already had the students choose monologues and read their plays. After a few more traditional character development exercises, I give them a chance to sit for ten minutes in class and create a social media feed from the perspective of their character depicting the events of their play. They are free to use any social media they prefer (twitter, instagram, facebook, etc.), and they are encouraged to develop this in as much detail as possible using the strengths of that platform (personal details via facebook, creating twitter handles, hashtags, etc.). Importantly: they are not required to actually develop the feed, just create some notes about it. This assignment can be done on a piece of paper, or on a computer. I have students sit with their notebooks and draw pictures, I have others who actually generate a twitter handle on the fly and form a feed that way.

Then, I give them a take-home portion. For five points of extra credit on their midterm, they are given the option to participate in this assignment:

Midterm Extra Credit Assignment: Social Media 

We can learn a great deal from what a person choses to share about himself via a public forum; especially when that person is experiencing a life-changing event.

Create a twitter account for your character. The handle should be either akin to the character’s name, or something the character himself would use. Set up an appropriate profile picture, header picture, and header text. Now use that account to tweet in the persona of your character.

You must update the feed several times a week over the course of the next few weeks; at least five tweets a week, but more is encouraged; until your final midterm monologue presentation. Updates should be in character and reference events in the play, other characters in the play, etc. You may comment upon actual goings-on in the real-world news if you feel that it is/would be valid and important to your character.

The richer your feed, the more points you will be awarded. To enrich your feed, include: links, retweets, pictures, hash tags, begin to follow people, etc.

For a few example feeds see: @HomerJSimpson (Homer Simpson, The Simpsons), @Broslife (Barney Stinson, How I Met your Mother), @KurtHummelGLEE (Kurt Hummel, Glee).

If you choose to participate in this assignment you must: Follow me on twitter from your new account (@drosvally). Once I follow you back, you will be able to send me a DM from the twitter handle with your (real) name and a note that you will be participating in this assignment. To send a DM, go to your page ([yourhandle]) and click on the envelope icon underneath your header picture. Click “new message”.

Since the midterm is coming up quick, the window for this assignment is small. If you intend to participate, you must declare that to me AND begin tweeting by WHATEVER DATE.

I, once again, can’t wait to see what my students come up with. I’m sure it will be both amusing and amazing.

I have had so much going on recently that it’s been tough to keep track of everything. I feel like this semester I’m being chased by an Indiana Jones style GIGANTIC CIRCULAR boulder and, the minute I get on top of it, it speeds up and I fall off and it threatens to squish me once more.

Every semester I think that I’ve hit my outer limit; this is the absolute most that I can handle and I need to cut back. Ever semester, I prove myself wrong and take on yet another responsibility.

I’ve spent a great many posts discussing techniques which I use to time manage and manage my anxiety levels, so I won’t go into another diatribe about that. Instead, I’d like to give you something inspired by the buzzfeed articles which circulate the internet. “Five things successful people do”; I’m sure you’re tired of reading them. I know that I am, despite being click-bated into them every second chance I get (I blame mental fatigue for this one; I’ll pretty much click on anything when my brain juices are running low).

Or find a llama to kiss like I did this weekend.  Kissing llamas will at least make you smile.

Or find a llama to kiss like I did this weekend. Kissing llamas will at least make you smile.

Here, for your reading pleasure, are five things that you should do if your semester is already running you ragged.

1) Make Lists

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to repeat myself: but this one is important. Making lists ensures that you don’t forget anything, that you can properly allocate time to your day, and that you can have a satisfying moment at the end of your day when you look at your checked off list and say “look how productive I was today!”. I have been known to use list-making as a cure for insomnia; when I simply can’t get to sleep because I’m anxious about all the things on my plate, I make a list of what I need to do and feel almost instantly better. It allows me to see, in a very tangible way, how much I need to do and how much time I can devote to these tasks. Lists save lives. Period.

2) Know when enough is enough

If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the semester (it’s only week four; you’ve got a long way to go), chances are you’ve got a lot of work on your plate. It’s tempting to work through everything just to get the piles cleared off your desk. But the reality is this: there will always be piles on your desk. You will always be managing a complicated balancing act. Working more will not mean that things get done faster; in fact it will probably just tire you out and make you make larger, more numerous mistakes with the work you do do. So know when you’ve hit your quota, and take a gorram break for heaven’s sakes.

3) Sleep Enough.  Eat well. Exercise.

All too often, these basic precepts of living as a healthy human being get left by the wayside in times of extreme business. The truth is that they are your best means of combatting the stress which you face. Make the time to take care of yourself; sleep eight hours, get your weekly dose of activity in, and eat your vegetables. This will keep your body healthy which will prevent you from having to take time off to be sick (possibly the worst thing that could happen when you’re under the gun). Take care of yourself; nobody else is going to.

4) Remember the Seesaw

One of my mentors refers to work/life balance as a seesaw: sometimes it will tip one way, sometimes it will tip the other. If you’re going through a heavy semester, then maybe you just need to go with it for a while and make work your priority. Your friends will understand when you resurface and won’t think the less of you for it. But if you do decide to allow yourself to see for a while, make sure that you make time to saw on the other end. You shouldn’t allow work to devour your life completely even if you do dive into the deep end for a time. In the end, you need to see as much as saw.

5) Find the Joy

 Presumably, at one time or another, you found incredible satisfaction in what you do.

This elephant, for instance, brought me great joy.  In my dissertation, I write a WHOLE CHAPTER on Barnum.  Elephants = happiness = dissertation?

This elephant, for instance, brought me great joy. In my dissertation, I write a WHOLE CHAPTER on Barnum. Elephants = happiness = dissertation?

Sometimes in the thick of things, it’s good to take a moment to recall why it is you do what you do. What drew you to this in the first place? What brought you here? What were some of the sacrifices you made and why were you willing to make them? Re-discovering what it is that you find positive about your chosen vocation will help you through the roughest bits, and keep your face in the sun even when the rest of you is in darkness.

Hang in there; it’s almost midterms!

The First of the Last

Yesterday was the first of the last: the first last day of class for Spring 2014. My evening acting students gave their final scene presentations (though my afternoon Shakespeare students and my Tuesday evening fight students still have another week to go; so next week will officially be the end of teaching for Spring 2014).

A gratuitous shot of one of my bookshelves (Shakespeare... obviously) just 'cause

A gratuitous shot of one of my bookshelves (Shakespeare… obviously) just ’cause

The last day of class is always bittersweet for me. It’s exciting to see how far my students have come, and it’s definitely a downer that I won’t be seeing them on a regular basis anymore. It’s exhilarating to feel that I’ve made a difference in how they view themselves, theatre, or other people, and it’s jarring that I won’t be walking with them any further on their journey. I see my role in the classroom as a guide; I can show them the path but it’s always their choice whether or not to tread it. Now, they’re on their own to machete their way through their own wilderness. They’ll meet other guides along the way who will, hopefully, be able to keep them away from obvious pitfalls and point out the edible plants as opposed to the poisonous ones.

And sometimes, they’ll be on their own. I like to think that I’ve shown them a thing or two that will help when they find themselves treading the path solo. Maybe it’s how to start a fire, and maybe it’s how to make shelter from banana leaves. Maybe it’s something smaller like the best tree to sit under on a warm day. Whatever it is, I’m proud to have taken the journey with another stellar group of students this semester. Now to make my way back to the beginning to meet my next bunch.

It takes some time to navigate back to that starting place. You’ll get back faster on your own, but it won’t be as exhilarating. And you walk with the constant awareness that the landscape always shifts; the next time you take a group through there will be new challenges, new pitfalls, and new adventures to face together.

Next semester is going to be a very different beast from this semester. I won’t be teaching acting (that I know of… yet…), but I will definitely be TAing at least one class. I have another class on the “maybe” pile (still waiting to hear back about it), and there’s a pretty fair chance that I’ll be teaching at least one stage combat course. I’ll likely also be leading another Shakespeare discussion group (but again, this isn’t a sure things yet).

There’s nothing quite like the life of an adjunct to teach you to treasure what you’ve got when you’ve got it, because you never quite know when and where you’ll find it again.

In any case, I’ve still got a pile of grading to do. I guess that’s the other “bitter” in my “sweet”: paperwork and red tape are an ever-present force in academia.

Good luck with your finals, everyone (whether you’re taking them or giving them)!

Revenge of the Microfiche

Over the course of the past two days, I have spent a grand total of 3.5 hours sitting in the library with a microfiche machine scanning a 1963 dissertation to PDF so that I could take a copy home with me and peruse it at my leisure rather than be bound by the in-library usage of a microfilm reader.

If you’ve never scanned microfilm, you can consider yourself a happier person for it.  It entails sitting at a dimly-lit workstation with machines that haven’t been updated in the last fifteen years (and can’t be since the drivers for the microfiche readers are no longer made

My work area at the library today

My work area at the library today

to accommodate updated windows systems… also a microfiche reader will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand dollars and that’s the cheap model… for technology that hasn’t been updated since the eighties and actually can’t be updated anymore).  You line up your shot, click at least three times, then wait twenty seconds for the reader to scan the page.  You hope that the page scans with an appropriate brightness setting and, if it does, you move on to the next page.  Advancing the film is an entirely manual process.  There’s no automating it.

The book that I scanned was 250 pages worth of frames.

So you sit, advance, click click click, wait… sit, advance, click click click, wait… You can perhaps hope to do some bits of work in the interim between clicks (if you have work that you don’t need to think about constantly).  I used the opportunity to catch up on my grade-book keeping… for the first hour at least.  Essentially, once you’re done, you now have a pile of reading to do and your eyes are glazed over from a marathon of fluorescence.

I couldn’t help but think that it would be reason enough to become a rock star academic just so I could have someone else be responsible for this kind of menial task for me.  At the same time, there is something romantic about scanning your own microfilm.

Oh, did I mention that the students behind the reference desk often know nothing about the readers and so, if there’s a problem that you can’t fix yourself, you have to wait for someone from IT to show up?  Because those readers are probably older than the student workers.  I was advised by the circ desk worker that I was the first person he had ever encountered who needed to know where the readers lived.  That’ll give you hope for the researchers of tomorrow.

Living life in twenty second intervals is extremely disorienting.  The day slips by and you haven’t even noticed.  It made me wonder what other things would look like if performed in twenty second clips.

Cooking?  Baking?  The greatest works of literature?  Acting?  Dancing?  Twenty seconds is all you get… then you pause to re-align… then you get another twenty seconds.  Anyway, suffice to say that I got very little done today… and yesterday.  It feels, however, like I accomplished a few mammoth tasks.  And I guess that could be accurate(ish).  I did manage to fit some proof-reading, record-keeping, e-mail writing, twitter feeding, contract-writing, and internet-surfing in between those bits of film.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dissertation that’s old as sin to get through (this dude’s, not mine… mine is still in its infancy).  I also have two plays to review in two days (both Shakespeare-related – Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppets’ Midsummer Night’s Dream at ArtsEmerson tonight, then Vagabond Theatre Group’s Breaking the Shakespeare Code tomorrow).  If you need me, I’ll be buried under my job for a while.

Blogging; And You

As I’ve kept this blog over the years, I’ve had many different reactions from my peers and mentors about my ability to remain consistent with it.

Some have expressed that it’s an odd experience to read the blog.  I’ve been told that being in the room during an event then later reading my description of the happening is a touch surreal (I can understand how this might be true).

By and large, the most common reaction that I’ve been privy to is an incredulity at my ability to keep writing and my ability to find time to devote to this project.

I will be honest, writing has almost never been a struggle.  I’m a writer.  Writers want to write.  I have, sometimes, found myself awash with a plethora of possibilities for blog content, and sometimes I have been in the blogging doldrums with nothing that I can really relate.  I’ve also been in the situation where I’m dealing with something that I would love to craft a blog post about it, but for political or personal reasons I am not able to at that given moment.  Sometimes, I’m able to shelve these ideas for later use.  More often than not, I have to consent that I will be unable to put my thoughts into writing about an issue at hand in a public forum until I have tenure and, at that point, the issue will (hopefully) be rendered moot.

Throughout my early PhD experience, writing was an important exercise for me.

One of my Dissertation Personalities; American Actor Lester Wallack.  WHAT A MUSTACHE!

One of my Dissertation Personalities; American Actor Lester Wallack. WHAT A MUSTACHE!

During coursework, you can spend a whole semester without writing a single page, then be expected to spit out at least 100 pages of pristine, intelligent, and interesting writing at the semester’s end.  This doesn’t set a very sustainable pace for the tasks ahead.

During my comps prep, writing was important because it kept me on-task, and gave me the practice of spitting out focused content in a small time window.  One of the skills which these exams test, but is extremely difficult to study for, is your ability to craft a cogent piece of writing under extreme stress and pressure.  I’ve known that, for some of my forbearers, this was the most stressful portion of the exam.  Because I’m used to creating such content blasts (thanks to my writing here), it was the least of my concerns.

Now that I’m into dissertation work, writing is more important than ever.  Unfortunately, it’s even harder than it used to be to push myself to do it.

You see, this process is a long and drawn out one.  It’s a process of thinking BIG DEEP THOUGHTS over a substantial period of time.  As such, I’m engaged in work that doesn’t necessarily leave me with cogent bits of information at the end of the day.  Blog posts require something that can be discussed in a certain space.  The things that I’m currently entrenched in are long, drawn-out battles… and not ones that I’m necessarily willing to share.  As much as I would love to live in an open-source world, Intellectual Property is a real and ever-present element of any academic’s work.  Especially an unpublished graduate student.  I really can’t let you in on my research process in detail that’s too great, which is really a pity because (trust me) it’s fascinating.

So as much as I’d love to share my triumphs and tribulations as I go along, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to stick to the abstract for the moment… and for the foreseeable future.

In terms of finding time to blog, I can’t articulate how worthwhile an exercise this is.  I’ve given you some reasons above as to why this might be.  If you’re currently writing a dissertation and NOT actually doing any writing on a weekly basis (it may sound weird to an outsider, but trust me it’s very easy to do), I can’t recommend the experience of blogging highly enough.  It helps to order your thoughts and keep you together.  It allows you to achieve small goals throughout the week, and that will create a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment your work often lacks since your large goals are a long ways off.  Blogging is a great way to give you structure (which, as we all know, is key to any work regime, especially a free-form one like dissertation work).  And, at the risk of sounding like a romantic, it’s sometimes nice to have a physical manifestation of your work and time to look back upon.

Even if you don’t choose to share your thoughts in an open public forum, you should consider a journal, or a private blog, or just somewhere to put a collection of your writing as you go through this process.  It might be worth something to you someday, and the process is definitely worth something to you right now.