Teaching: The Hidden Cost

While I hear it a lot less frequently now (mostly due to a work-imposed social exile that keeps me in my cave hunched over my books by candlelight most evenings), I’ve definitely heard it before.  It’s the bane of every teacher ever and something that, try as we might, we simply can’t escape.  “Oh, so, your semester ends soon which means that you’ll just be goofing off for a few months, right?”

This tune is a byproduct of a general lack of comprehension about a teacher’s job.  The idea that we are only working when standing in front of a classroom is completely deceptive.  Let me give you an idea of the hidden fees of teaching…

If I teach a class which meets twice a week for two hours each meeting (not uncommon; right now my class meets twice a week for 2 hours and fifteen minutes each session), I am in the classroom for that time certainly.  But how about the time it takes me to prepare the class?  If the class is a course I’ve taught before, it might take me between ten minutes and a half hour to prep my lesson plan and materials for the day.  Not a big deal.  If the class is a class that I have not taught before, or a session that I’m adding to a previously taught course, I might spend upwards of one to two hours preparing a lecture (depending on how familiar I am with the material, how much visual material I need to prepare, and how many handouts I need).

But wait, there’s more.

my classroom for stage combat this spring; not your typical, but definitely my style

my classroom for stage combat this spring; not your typical, but definitely my style

I also assign written work at least once every other week.  Grading these pieces will take me approximately fifteen minutes per piece of written work (unless it’s a longer paper, in which case we’re looking at at least a half hour per).  Multiply this by eighteen (for the number of students I have in a typical class) and that’s 4.5 hours of grading (at minimum) every other week.

But wait, there’s still more.

I’m required to hold office hours at every institution where I teach.  I tend to do mine by appointment, but generally I’ll have at least one hour per week on average over the course of the semester devoted to my students completely outside of the classroom.

Oh, and the administrative duties I take care of (like my roster, class participation grades, and sundry e-mails).  Depending on how much support my class needs, I can spend several hours a week doing this; let’s say a combined total of two hours on average per week.

Add all this up and you’re looking at thirteen hours a week minimum for one class.  A teaching load for a contracted professor might be 2/3 (two classes one semester, three another), but adjunct life is not so kind.  It’s not unusual for us to take on between four and five classes in a semester if we can get them.  That’s a sixty-five hour week just devoted to getting your classes taught (this does not include commute time, which can be substantial for adjuncts who need to move around in order to acquire the coarse load that makes a sustainable pay-check).

According to the Adjunct Project, an invaluable source of information about these things, the average pay for an adjunct is $2,987 per three-credit course.  Multiply that times the proverbial ten classes that creates the proverbial sixty-five hour week to determine the average salary of such an individual: $29,870 per year… with no health benefits or job security.

Oh, and, this doesn’t take into account the dissertation (which for most people is a second full-time job; that is, if you want to finish it in a socially appropriate time).

I don’t mean to sound like a negative Nancy or come off complaining about my lot; I actually love my various jobs and it’s a joy to work them.  But I want to make extremely clear the kinds of sacrifices that someone in my position (not necessarily me) makes just to teach a good class, live a sustainable lifestyle, and achieve her long/short terms goals.  Let me tell you how many family gatherings I’ve missed just this year because of my job.  If I choose to take a few days off in the middle of the week or (gasp!) over the summer, those are hard-earned days that I fought uphill to get.

So please; before you cast aspersions about “summer holidays”, think twice.  And think twice about the education you/your children have received/are receiving then say a little “thank you” to the adjuncts out there who labored to give it to you/them.  Adjunct kind will thank you for this.

Reduce, Reuse, Revise

I’m deep in the thralls of writing my prospectus, which essentially means dealing with a great deal of feedback on a regular basis.  This feedback is all constructive and extremely useful, and I’m learning a lot about so many different aspects of the academic process.  That said, I’d be lying if I told you that this was anything but overwhelming at times.  Because, let’s face it, if you’re a writer there is nothing more nerve-wracking than getting feedback on your work.

Here’s the big problem: you wouldn’t be showing your work to someone if you thought it was horrible.  Yes, of course you know that there will always be little kinks and things that you need to sort out, and every piece of writing is a work in progress (how often have I had to go re-jigger something I’ve published on this blog because someone caught a spelling or grammar error that I simply didn’t?).  Despite this, you wouldn’t be doing your work if you didn’t think it was important and/or worthwhile, so allowing someone a window into

This is a bookstore; not my apartment; but I kinda wish I lived here.

This is a bookstore; not my apartment; but I kinda wish I lived here.

your world before the work is complete is extremely anxiety provoking.  What might they say?  You know it isn’t done, but how done is “done” and can this be done enough that it makes sense to someone outside of your brain?  Will they judge you as a horrible writer, person, teacher because your draft wasn’t pristine?  IT COULD BE THE END OF THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT!

Feedback is an important part of the writing process.  I always tell my students to write with enough time to ask for peer and/or mentor input.  What makes sense inside your head will almost always make sense to you on paper but it’s the other person that this all has to coalesce for.  Having someone else take a look at your work is a vital counter-check to ensuring logic, sensibility, relevance, and efficacy in communicating your thought process.

This is especially true if you’re experimenting with a style of writing that you don’t normally utilize.  The first time you write a cover letter, or CV, or (in my case) a prospectus, you’re bound to do a few things wrong.  After all, if you knew how to do everything, why aren’t you making a million dollars running the world at the top of you own evil empire?  Remembering that feedback is a constructive part of the process can sometimes be difficult; again, if you’re like me, you put your heart into your work.  You sweat, you cry, you bust your proverbial bum to make certain that there’s something special and worthwhile in every piece you turn out.

So cut yourself some slack when you let someone else in.  It’s okay to feel disappointed that you didn’t “DO IT RIGHT” the first time.  Us perfectionists are always going to put pressure on ourselves, but doing so also means that we need to develop a keen ability to let it go (this is still in progress for me, I’m not great at the whole “let it go” part… despite Idina Menzel’s insistence otherwise).  Getting back on the horse, back at your desk, and back in the fray is what’s going to keep you working (and sane) in the long run.

I like to think of the revision process as forging a paper (much like forging a blade).  You put the unmolded lump through fire and hammer it until it looks more like what it’s supposed to.  Then you cool it off in ice.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Each iteration lends strength to the finished product and, with perfunctory repetition, you don’t turn out something with integrity.  Maybe you’ve made an object that looks pretty, but it lacks the strength to do what it was meant to.  Under the pressure of battle, it will fall apart and be useless.  The only thing that will give the finished product the strength it needs is constant and vigilant reshaping.

Besides, the process of ripping something apart can be extremely cathartic once you get through the preliminary tearing.  The longer you sit with those red-penned drafts, the longer you have to get worked up over the feedback.  So face your fears; conquer the red pen; let us go boldly forth today comrades, and revise.  ONWARD!  INTO THE NIGHT!

 

Books Don’t Keep you Warm

Here is your obligatory complaining about the weather post: on Tuesday it was warm enough for a run outside.  Today I’m going to have to shovel my driveway before I leave for class.  Because I live in New England.

I’ve spent the week looking yearningly out of windows and hoping that the words “Spring Break” would actually mean something to the weather gods.  Unfortunately for me, the weather gods are tricksy jerks and care not for a university schedule, or even the pleas of a desperate doctoral candidate looking for some small way to salvage what’s left of her sanity.

On that note, I don’t know why I’m continually surprised at the revivifying quality that exercise has on my mind.  No matter how many times I prove it to be true, I am consistently astounded by the fact that if I go for some kind of physical activity right at the point when my eyes get bloobity and I can’t really read/comprehend what’s on the page in front of me, an hour later I’m raring to go again.  This re-realization only compounds my yearning for the warmer weather; convincing myself to go outside for an hour is so much easier when “outside” is a pleasant place to be.  I do break down and move my workouts indoors during inclement weather, but even walking from my door to the gym can sometimes be a fight when it’s bitter and leaky out there.

If anyone knows anyone who has a hookup with someone who can make spring come faster here in Massachusetts, I’d be ever so grateful.  I’m plumb tired of being cold.

Dissertation work is draining, and my book fort doesn’t seem to be moving one way or another.  This is mostly due to the fact that the minute I manage to reduce my “to read”

artistic desk shot.  This doesn't really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

artistic desk shot. This doesn’t really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

pile to workable number, I get another dose of ILL books from the library and stack them on top again.  Despite diligently hacking away at the pile on my desk (which at one point this week was tall enough to literally bury me), I’m still surrounded by things that need to be read.

I suppose I should look at the other end for any indication of real progress: it is true that my “have read” book fort is steadily growing larger.  It has, at this point, expanded to the point of walling me into my desk.  I have to traverse an obstacle course before I can actually sit down these days.  The scary part is that I haven’t even really begun to work on the bulk of the project; I’m still just picking at the edges.  I suppose that means I’ve chosen a topic ripe for exploration, but it does leave me a wee bit nervous about just how many library books I’m going to be held accountable for before this is all over.

And that’s not even to consider the archival work ahead of me.  I’ve identified piles upon piles of things that I’ll have to sort through; but at least those items won’t follow me home.  Well, they will, but in neatly sifted digitized form so that they won’t take up any room on my floor (just on my hard drive).

And on that note, it’s time to re-launch today’s attack upon Research Mountain.  Wish me luck!

 

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.

Through Good Times and Bad

In case you haven’t been super-stalking my digital life, you may or may not know that I’ve just come off a grand adventure.  Three days; three plays; three reviews.  All have been posted to New England Theatre Geek (since in my copious free time I moonlight as a reviewer there), and you should check them out if you’re at all interested in the American Shakes-scene right now.

What this really means is that I’m exhausted.  I’ve been working so much that I’ve forgotten what “fun” is.  I demonstrated this fact the other day when I sat down to my desk, looked at the pile of books I set aside to read that day for my Prospectus prep, and thought unironically “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST DAY!”  (… it was “THE BEST DAY”

Not my book fort, but some days it feels this way.  This is a used bookstore in Salem, MA.

Not my book fort, but some days it feels this way. This is a used bookstore in Salem, MA.

for maybe two hours before I realized that I had about 1,000 pages of reading to do before sundown, wasn’t getting through it as fast as I wanted to, and OH BY THE WAY also had a veritable pile of other work to do).  The stationary bicycle of PhD work has really got me down this week, and as a result I’m plugging along like the little engine that could (“I THINK I CAN I THINK I CAN”), or if you prefer, Dory the forgetful fish (“JUST KEEP SWIMMING! JUST KEEP SWIMMING!”).  That said, I have a hard time sitting down at my computer for more than twenty minutes without my eyes glazing over.  It’s just the way it is sometimes.

The problem is that it will always be like this on occasion.  There are days, no matter what you’re doing and how much you love doing it, that you simply don’t wanna.  Heck, there might even be whole weeks when you simply don’t wanna.  That doesn’t mean you don’t love your work, it just means that you’re a human being and not a research machine.

Understanding this and getting through it is a process.  Up until now, I’ve prided myself on the point that I can work through just about anything; extreme weather conditions (you laugh, but it’s actually a problem in deep summer when your apartment doesn’t have central air or deep winter when you’re freezing mid-day because you’re trying to keep your heating bills down), extreme emotional conditions (life happens and you still have to work), extreme stress (I swear I will never again be able to hear the words “exams” without a small spine-tingling shudder), extreme pain (I’ve undergone minor surgery and still had to work the same day), and extreme workload.  The fact that these extenuating factors take their toll is not something that I’ve cared to put much thought into, but we need to face reality.

Being a graduate student is hard.  Doing the work for a Ph.D. is REALLY hard.  There’s a

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

reason that not everyone gets one.  What we’re doing is extraordinary.  Period.  If, at any time, you feel tired, overwrought, or wrung out, it’s probably because you’re working your smart little elbow patches off.

This work is exhausting, life-consuming, and never-ending.

It’s also incredibly fulfilling, exciting, and the most enormous privilege.

To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

There’s good and bad in everything and, when you’re doing something extraordinary, the extremes are pretty extreme.  Admitting this is not admitting defeat.  If you’ve hit a point where you’re just tired don’t let it stop you, but don’t assume that it makes you weak or lesser in some way.  Taking breaks is healthy and finding your break zen is important to productivity (I, for instance, need longer days to work at a slower pace.  I will take an hour and a half mid-day to fit a workout in, but I will work until 9 or 10 at night to get what needs doing done).

Really, though, if you’re going through a rough patch for whatever reason, be gentle with yourself.  It doesn’t make you a bad scholar, it doesn’t make you a bad teacher, and it certainly doesn’t make you a lesser person.  Just take a moment to accept that you’re a human being.  Remember your triumphs, and consider slowing your pace just a tad.  You’ll pick up the slack when you’re back in the saddle.  As long as less work doesn’t become a habit, it all evens out in the end.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go watch some trashy television and detox from my Academic Life for a while.  If you need me, I’ll be on my couch with my Netflix.

 

Ascendance

After a hard-fought uphill battle, I am EXTREMELY pleased to report that I have ascended to Candidacy (with distinction, even!).

I would like to say that this occurred with great pomp, ceremony, circumstance, a standing ovation, and an elephant parade.  In actuality, it occurred in an office, at an unremarkable hour on Friday with little ceremony other than a few hearty handshakes.  T.S. Eliot’s prediction about the world ending could very well apply to my ascendance (…while I could also use the word “advancement”, how often in life do you get to say that you “ascended” as applied to yourself?).

I didn’t then make a great clamor, but rather had a lovely lunch with a friend, went directly to rehearsal to choreograph the murder of Young Siward on the battlefield by a bloodthirsty Scottish King whose name shall remain unsaid (using broadswords even), then went out to dinner with my beloved.  Saturday we celebrated with a spectacular trip to an ice castle in the White Mountains (a gorgeous drive, even when

At night, lit up, the ice was just lovely.

At night, lit up, the ice was just lovely.

headed through a not-so-small snowstorm on your way home).

I’ve begun a two-week sabbatical from most things academic because I’ve been running on overdrive since May.  I can only stop doing “most things” because the semester has already begun and, therefore, my acting class is in session.  Luckily it’s a joy to teach and not as thinky as something like… say… Postmodern Theory.

While I would like to say that being ABD doesn’t feel any different from being a Ph.D. Student, right now it feels completely different.  For once, I get to think about my own projects and only my own projects.  I get to stop worrying about crazy exams and tests that measure my aptitude for things that I may or may not use (probably will, but who knows?) in the near future.  I get a chance to really stretch my wings and fly home to victory while dancing in the glory of my subject matter.  In other words: from here on in, it’s all-Shakespeare all-the-time.

Mostly.  Unless I pick up an intro class, or a history of theatre class, or a writing seminar, or any number of things that they might ask an adjust instructor with a degree in English to teach.  I might even teach (gasp!) novels!

But for the next two weeks, I’m catching up on e-mails, putting projects to bed that have been awake for far too long and are (thereby) cranky, running errands that have lain dormant far past their expirations dates, and on the whole preparing for the next step in this grand adventure that is doctorhood.

So for now, I sign of as (for the first time),

Danielle Rosvally
ABD!!!!!!!!

First Day of School!

The first day of school, no matter how many times I experience it (and at this point in my life and with my level of education, trust me, it’s a LOT), is never less exciting.

I’ve found that many of the same things which got me going as a student also get me going as a teacher.  Will I like my new class/classes?  What kinds of exciting challenges does the semester have in store?  Where will be my habitual sitting place so as to exude the proper air of interest without creepy slobbering over-engagement?

What should I wear?  What’s the first thing I should say?  Every semester, I’m allotted the golden opportunity to leave yet another first impression.  These people will, over the course of the next several months, becoming incredibly important in my life and with whom I will (with any luck) leave some kind of impression.  It’s absolutely vital that they take away from that first moment some kind of essence of who I am and what they’re about to get.

My room.

My room.

I’ve always seen a kind of magic in the first day.  Like you can somehow use it to gaze into the murky depths of the future and see what kind of semester you’re in for.  My experience over the years has been mixed with this tactic, but I’ve never stopped trying and today will be no exception.  Looking around the room, I will absolutely attempt to glean the nature of the students before me and what kind of challenges we will face together.

Another great thing about teaching is that I know this will never work.  At some point this semester (and probably at several points this semester), my students will throw me something that I absolutely could not have seen coming.  Some curve ball or complication, some question or concern, something I had never thought of before.  Solving this problem will be a learning experience for all of us, and this is part of why I love my job so very much.

The moral of the story is this: I love school.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be here.  Teaching excites me, learning makes me feel alive, and the exhilaration of the classroom just hasn’t gotten old.  If I can instill one thing and one thing only into my students during any given semester, it would be my love of learning things.  I suffer under no delusions about teaching classrooms full of future Broadway stars, and though I do firmly believe in the infinite potential of my students, I also recognize that most of them are probably taking my class for a liberal arts credit.  As such, it’s important to me to leave them with skills that they will use no matter what they choose to do with their lives.  To love learning is one of the greatest gifts I could give them.

Archives: The Real Deal

So here’s the thing about archival work: while it is absolutely thrilling in concept, in practice it is more often dusty, sneezy, and tedious.

Let me paint a picture for you here.  Mind you, this is a hypothetical situation based upon a compilation of real-life experience I have had.  Take it as historical fiction.

You know that a certain performance, which you are extremely interested in, played at y London theatre on x day.  Let’s say, for the sake of ease, that this performance is a performance of Hamlet in which Hamlet was played by a woman whose name you have found but not her picture (yet).  The theatre is a medium-sized London house in the early twentieth century (before WWI).  You know that the archive has a stack of broadsides for this theatre which spans the date range encompassing the performance.

First of all, getting into the archive is a process.  Generally all you will be

it’s been a while since I’ve posted an artful picture of my desk. Seem appropriate here.

permitted to enter with is a pencil, a laptop, a notebook, and a camera.  They’ll have lockers outside where you will be expected to strip away and store any “unnecessary” materials.  This includes your coffee and water bottle for obvious reasons, but in so doing also means that you have perhaps a 2-hour working window before you need to take a break, get a drink of water, or run to the powder room.

So you call up the broadsides and they come in a giant box that looks like it hasn’t been opened in twenty years.  The broadsides are crumbling at the edges because they haven’t been stacked properly and, as a favor, the archivist asks if you could re-stack them as you go in order to better preserve them.  The stack is approximately four inches high.

So you page through one at a time (because you can’t page any faster than that if you’re re-stacking, or even if you’re not re-stacking since they’re arranged in precise chronological order and you don’t want to disturb that… also they’re fragile and will crumble if they aren’t dealt with properly).  While this is exhilarating at first (tee!  You’re a real researcher!), it gets tedious very quickly.  Inevitably what you’re looking for is at the middle of the stack.  As you approach the target date, you can feel your blood begin to pump a little faster.  Here it comes.  That thing you were looking for!

You hit the target date.  And there’s a broadside, but not the one you were expecting.  Alternately, the broadside is missing.  You squint, wondering if you missed something, and continue paging.

If you’re lucky, it’s only moved by a day or two.  If you’re having a particularly bad archive day, it may be filed in the wrong year.  The archivists are horrified by this oversight (and very polite about it and extremely helpful in assisting you to locate the missing broadside).

While you’re paging, you find something that’s tangentially related to your primary research topic.  Alternately, it’s related to some other project that you’re working on.  You find some way to make a note to yourself that you pray you’ll remember to look at later on because, really, where do you file random notes to yourself with any efficacy?

So you finally find the stack of broadsides advertising the run.  Now you need to document them in detail as precise as possible.  You set them up to take pictures with your camera (or, as I’ve recently started doing, your phone since its camera is actually better than the one that’s dedicated to being a camera).  But make sure you take at least two or three because heaven forbid your pictures come out blurry.

Unless you decide to tether the camera to your computer (or, again as I’ve recently started doing, use dropbox to wirelessly transfer the pics so you can take notes on them as you go).  You now need to figure out how to demark which of these extremely similar looking broadsides is noteworthy, why, and how this broadside is different from all other broadsides.

And you hope you’ve gotten it right because coming back to the archive is a difficult/impossible task (depending on its proximity to your home/office) so really you’ve just got this one shot to document it.  In the immortal words of Ru Paul “Good luck; and don’t F#&% it up!”

So yes, archive work is thrilling.  If I wrote here saying that I had less than an amazing time during archive days and that I was anything under exhilarated by the prospect of rare books and manuscripts, I would have to hang up my scholar cap right now and go join the circus.  But that being said, it’s one of those tradeoff things.  You suffer for your art; for that one moment of “ah hah!”; and the dinosaur bones are always buried under layers upon layers of dirt.

Christmas won’t be Christmas without Research, Grumbled Dani

So, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, tomorrow is Christmas Eve.

Also, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, a lot of places are closed tomorrow and Wednesday.

I mention this only because it completely crept up on me and I had banked on this entire week to get some work done in order to appease the research panic I’m currently working through.  I knew I needed access to a bunch of things but was pretty casual about when I actually got that access.  Except next week I’ll be going to New York to spend some time with my family because apparently Christmas doesn’t happen on Christmas if you’re a member of my family and you thereby need to celebrate it on viable days when archives happen to be open instead of closed.

So that whole week that I thought I had is instead three days.  Unless I was smart and got a bunch of archive stuff done today, Monday, before it closed.  And by “a bunch” I mean I need to page through about thirty years’ worth of material to analyze a couple patterns I’m tracking.  I also needed to pick up a few ILL books that had arrived.  Which basically meant that, unless I got my cute behind to the library today, I was going to be caught in a grinding halt for the entirety of Christmas (you know, whatever time I found in those two days to eke work out).  I time-manage best when I have piles of work I can do, even if I don’t necessarily have the time to get through them.

Sure.  I thought, No problem.  Archive day Monday then I’ll be good to go for the break.  No.  Big.  Deal.

A couple observations:

Okay; see those four shelves of GIANT GREEN BOOKS in the middle?  Yea.  That was "a day's work".  Hah.

Okay; see those four shelves of GIANT GREEN BOOKS in the middle? Yea. That was “a day’s work”. Hah.

If a publication is a monthly publication, thirty years is a lot of material to look through.  Like… a lot.  Like… an impossible amount.  For one day at least.

Campus is really deserted today.  Like… ghost town.  Kinda creepy deserted.  I have an entire floor of the library to myself.

Which leads me to believe that if I do stay after closing today (five PM because the library apparently operates by normal business hours during intersession rather than the “yea we’re open like all the time forever” hours that I’m used to), nobody would really notice my presence down here in bound periodicals.  I could spend Christmas happily paging through and doing my research by the light of my laptop.

….anyone feel like delivering a Christmas goose to Tisch Library?  If you need me, I’ll be buried under this pile of periodicals.