At the Finish Line

One thing I have emphasized as we go along (and that I feel the need to reemphasize) is the importance of cross training.

Getting a PhD is insanely taxing mentally and emotionally. You spend all day every day working out your brain (so… basically you can ignore those luminosity commercials that pop up in Hulu when you’re trying to kick back a bit). Moreover, your work becomes something that you’re invested in; there are huge emotional stakes in turning in a paper, chapter, draft, or even research proposal. Getting a PhD is tough on the psyche. But like working any muscle, it’s important to rest and relax between sets.

This is part of why I’ve taken up so many physical hobbies over the course of getting my PhD. When I was studying for my German language proficiency, I taught myself to play the ukulele because it would relax me and help me unjam my mind from words too long to fit on one line. When I was studying for my written comprehensive exams, I taught myself to crack a six foot bullwhip and spin poi because taking ten minutes to just step outside and do something in my own body really helped me to de-stress and uncram my brain so that I might fit a bit more in with each study session.

Workouts have also been an important part of this cross training. While I’ve been a long-time gym bunny, over the last year I’ve gotten serious about one workout specifically which has really helped me in a lot of ways: running.

It sounds silly because it’s something we learn to do as children. Everybody, after all, can run. But let me tell you, before I started my C25K program last year, I was pretty hopeless at it. I set in hoping to just complete a 5K (because who wouldn’t want to cross that completely doable task off their bucket list?). One Spartan Sprint later and I was hooked.

I’ve had to be careful; running is tough on your body and if you have any particular injuries or quirks it will exacerbate them (I, for example, have knee issues that I have to keep a close eye on). Since I started running outside, I also have learned to wear highlighter-colored jackets to avoid being hit by less-than-careful Massachusetts drivers.

But I’ve found that it’s extremely satisfying to train up distances. Nothing can turn around a bad day with my books like setting a goal and doing it; and my running goals are something I keep very achievable just for this reason. I upped the stakes this winter by investing in some cold-weather running gear and, despite being a general wimp about the cold, I’ve never enjoyed working out more. Cold-weather workouts mean that once you get warmed up, you have a pleasant (natural) coolant to keep you from overheating (… unless you accidentally put on too many layers which is a learning curve all to itself). Let me tell you, I was the most astonished when I woke up the morning of my most recent race to nineteen degree weather and thought “It’s not that bad out!”

feeling pretty beast at the finish line!

feeling pretty beast at the finish line!

This year, I’ve decided that to celebrate my achievements by running twelve races; one race a month in 2015. The races can be of any length, they just need to be chip-timed events (and it is, of course, preferable that there’s some kind of cool race-sponsored after-party to attend). On this Saturday past, I ran my first race of 2015: the Resolution Run to Kick Cancer 5k. I set a personal best for chip time, and even overheated in the nineteen-degree weather. Not a bad way to start my year of races!

In a world of hazy deadlines and work that has seemingly no end and no beginning, running these races gives me something to work towards, something to look forward to, and something to feel accomplished about at the finish line. If you’re in your writing phase and haven’t found that for yourself yet, I highly recommend that you do. It doesn’t have to be running, but it should be something that you can accomplish and feel proud about (and, ideally, share with the wide world of the internet; because what’s achievement without facebook fame?).

Next up for me will be the Super Sunday 5M (followed by the Black Cat 10M in March). I am really excited about it!

Productivity

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!

Holidays are Stressful

The hardest things about the holidays is letting yourself walk away from your desk.

This year, we’re going to be spending some time with family (a week of it away in New York). I’m really looking forward to seeing my family, I’m really looking forward to being in New York, but I’m not looking forward to the inevitable pile-up and feelings of guilt I will experience while I’m gone/when I return because I took some time off and didn’t work on my dissertation.

Though Holidays also meant I got to meet this guy: my Birthday Present was an encounter with GreenBlack the African Penguin!

Though Holidays also meant I got to meet this guy: my Birthday Present was an encounter with GreenBlack the African Penguin!

December is a tough month to work through. The inevitably jerky start/stop rhythm necessitated by finals, end-of-semester celebrations, holidays, birthdays, etc. does not lead to the most productive environment for the academic writer. Especially the academic writer who is out of coursework and thus has no excuses about why end-of-semester is so tough on the brain.

Working at your own pace on your own calendar with only the loosest of deadlines set and agreed upon with any kind of higher authority can be taxing this way. It means that you are your own boss and, as everyone knows, being your own boss means that you have to answer to yourself. Your harsh, slave-driving, judgmental, over-achieving self.

The problem with this stage of the Ph.D. is that, by this point, you know your own limits because they were pushed and tested so hard by the rigors of your exams. During my peak Comps. studying time, I was reading 4-6 books in a day (…and watching at least one documentary or film as a sort of “cool down”). I was also, of course, not-so-slowly having a nervous break-down about the stress of studying for these colossal exams, and the pace at which I was cramming information into my head. Let’s just say that it wasn’t exactly the most healthy time of my academic life (… and that seems to be the common experience amongst humanities Ph.D. candidates).

Unfortunately, this also means that I know it is entirely possible for me to work at that pace and sustain it for four months. And because I know that, I know that when I’m not working at that pace I’m not working at top capacity. And because I’m my own boss and can’t hide anything from myself, excuses don’t really jive with me. So when I don’t output at that level, I feel like I’ve “wasted a day” unless I do some pretty serious sanity checks about what I actually accomplish in a given period.

Perspective is a hard thing to maintain when you’re staring down the eyes of something as big as the Dissertation beast. At the moment my beast and I are still friends, but I am fully aware that at any time it might turn on me savagely and tear my arm off. My only hope of survival is in keeping up with the deadlines I’ve imposed on myself. Ensuring that I don’t tire myself out with irrationally-placed demands while at the same time balancing the amount of work that I need to accomplish is key to winning the long game here.

So, while I’m not going to feel entirely good about it, I am walking away from my desk for a week. When I come back, I’ll be refreshed and good to go for another year. Or at least another several months until I can justify taking another break longer than my workout.

I hope you find it in yourself to put down the keyboard and leave the book stacks to themselves for a few days. I also hope that you have a wonderful holiday season full of warmth, love, and delicious food! I know I will; there’s a maple-glazed bacon turkey in my future.

Gimme S’More!

In keeping with my theme of stress baking, I made S’mores cookies this week!

As I mentioned, I started baking this semester because I wanted to learn how, but also because some things are just so much awesomer home-made. I’ve been using cookies as a morsel-of-sweet staple to get to know baking techniques, and at this point I have a pretty solid understanding of what goes into crafting a well-made cookie. Here is the recipe I used as the basis for my S’mores cookies.

I actually get a lot of my sweet tooth recipes from Averie Cooks. She knows how to make a good cookie, that’s for sure! I made a half batch of these cookies because I was trying to keep the amount of diet-breaking things in the pantry to a low. Despite the fact that Averie claims her recipe yields 26 cookies, my half-batch made 20! So either she makes HUGE confections, or mine are a bit on the small side for a standard cookie. Either way, the recipe below is how I made them…

INGREDIENTS

3/8 cup (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/8 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I actually used vanilla bean paste because I find that it packs more flavor than the extract)
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped graham crackers (I used fat free honey flavored graham crackers)
1 cup (half of a bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the mini chips)
5/8 cups miniature marshmallows

DIRECTIONS:

  • Averie calls for a stand mixer to cream the butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla with, but I don’t have this piece of equipment in my kitchen. Instead, I use an immersion blender on high. I took the first five ingredients of this recipe, mixed them together in a tall measuring cup (actually the one which came with my immersion blender), and blended for about five minutes until the mixture became light and fluffy. I would highly recommend a stand mixer if you have one; my immersion blender requires you to hold the button down for the blender to work (which is actually really annoying for periods longer than a minute or two).
  • I moved my creamed ingredients from their tall measure into a mixing bowl at this point, scraping down the sides of the measure as I went. To them, I added the next four ingredients (flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and pinch of salt), and used a rubber spatula to fold them together until everything was combined.
  • I crumbled the graham crackers by chopping them with my kitchen knife. Because more problems should have “kitchen knife” as a viable solution. I then folded them into the mixture along with the mini chocolate chips and marshmallows until everything looked pretty evenly combined.
  • I have a cookie scoop (it’s a medium scoop) and I love it. I know that my ever-patient boyfriend was strongly adverse to my bringing this single-use kitchen implement into our already-packed kitchen, but trust me; this little baby has more than made up for the space it takes. If you don’t have a cookie scoop, use the old spoon and scrape method to make 2-inch balls of dough. Place dough balls on a plate (I set down parchment paper sprayed with nonstick spray for easy transfer later and covered with plastic wrap to ensure they didn’t get tough in the fridge). You’ll want to refrigerate them for at least two hours if not overnight before baking. Warm dough will spread in the oven while chilled dough gives you fluffy, thick cookies. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP; trust me. I’m going to be a Doctor.
  • Preheat your oven to 350F. You’ll want to destickify your cookie sheet with spray, a silpat mat, or parchment paper (I tend to double-dip and use parchment sprayed with non-stick). Transfer chilled dough mounds to your baking sheet giving the cookies plenty of space to expand. Averie says you want at least 2 inches per cookie (I bake a bit closer together, but then again… I like to live dangerously). You want to bake the cookies until the tops are just golden brown (it took mine 8 minutes; though I checked them at 7 just in case). The cookies will firm as they cool, so keep that in mind when you’re checking on them. Because of this, you’ll want to you’re your cookies rest on their baking sheets for a bit before transferring them to a cooling rack to finish the cooling process (five minutes or so should do the trick).

I’m told that cookies will last at room temperature for up to one week if stored in an airtight container. Honestly, mine never last that long. You can also freeze them for “up to 3 months”, but I’ve not yet tested this theory.

Hope you’re having a nice week!

The Parking Lot Rule

As you can imagine, I see a lot of theatre.

As a reviewer, PhD Candidate, fight director, and general denizen of the theatre community here in Boston, it’s important that I remain active and supportive on the theatre scene. It’s also important that I stay professional whenever I’m out at the theatre. For those who have read my reviews, you will know that I see theatre that’s good, theatre that’s not so good, and pretty much everything in between. While the casual observer perhaps isn’t concerned about being overheard at intermission yapping with their neighbor about this actor or that directing choice, I very much am. When I’m at the theatre, I represent several different brands that have backed me and my professional thespian skills: Tufts University, New England Theatre Geek, and my own brand as an FD (to name a few). The last thing I want to do is compromise any of these brands by letting a half-thought sentiment be overheard by the wrong person. Theatre is art. Art is personal. We theatre people take our theatre-babies very seriously.

....this is a photo of the time that I managed to improvise a song in rhyme while playing the ukelele for no reason other than I sure had things to say about the experience in the parking lot (good things.  All good things).

….this is a photo of the time that I managed to improvise a song in rhyme while playing the ukelele for no reason other than I sure had things to say about the experience in the parking lot (good things. All good things).

So I have developed a solution to the inevitable theatrical eavesdropping which might potentially get me in trouble. I call it “The Parking Lot Rule”.

This is a rule that I impart to all of my theatrical companions as they enter the theatre with me. It’s actually very simple: no matter how bad a play is, we don’t talk about it until we hit the parking lot of the building. While inside the theatre, we can praise the show’s good parts, but criticism waits until we are outside.

This accomplishes several things:

1) It curtails the issues I discuss above.

2) It forces you to think about criticism before spouting it in the heat of the moment. Theatre is visceral; humanity has known that since the Greeks; often times it can provoke a visceral reaction which bypasses your critical thinky muscles. To put something down in a harsh way without first examining your criticism is not fair to the artwork, and the parking lot rule helps you take a moment to step back and figure out why it is that you feel a certain way about something before you hurt anyone’s feelings.

3) It lets the play settle in before you make a snap judgment. Sometimes, you really need to see a piece in its entirety before you can determine your feelings on it; the parking lot rule gives you a bit of breathing room in which to make up your mind before you begin to discuss your thoughts. It also allows the “small stuff” to fall away. Sometimes things will catch your eye in the moment which, in the long run, mean nothing; the parking lot rule allows those details to fall into perspective before you render judgment.

4) It allows the theatre to remain a “sacred” space. Acting comes with a lot of woo, and much of it I don’t (personally) subscribe to; but I do believe this: the theatre space is a temple. When a company is performing in a given place, that’s their home for the duration of their run (sometimes longer depending upon circumstances of the play). You wouldn’t criticize somebody’s cooking while sitting on their couch; you shouldn’t criticize somebody’s acting while sitting in their theatre. The parking lot rule allots a certain amount of respect to the art which I believe is necessary for healthy audience/performer interaction.

Whether you’re an experienced theatre-goer or just getting to know the theatre, I highly recommend that you give the parking lot rule a shot. In my opinion, it’s the first step towards learning to think critically about theatre. It has certainly served me well over the years, and I hope that it does the same for you!

Bread

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 allrecipes.com (which, if you vet the reviews carefully, is a pretty solid source for such things).

Ingredients 

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.

IMG_5569.JPG

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 (twitter.com/[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!

Busy Busy Busy

Man oh man the semester is in full swing and it’s going to be a long and complicated one!

I’m able to now officially announce that I’ll be teaching stage combat at Apollinaire this fall with their actor training program.  We’ll start with a six week unarmed fundamentals class, then move into a six week class on swashbuckling.  If you’re looking to pick a fight with me, coming to my class is a great way to do it.  I’ll be excited to teach this as, let’s face it, fighting with others is my favorite means of paying my rent.

I also recently put together a bit of violence for Zeitgeist Stage Company’s production of Bent.  If you’re at all interested in hard-hitting theatre performed by extremely talented actors, you should check this one out.  The performance, from what little I saw at the edges of my fight call, is going to be intense.  These guys are the real deal and, as usual, Zeitgeist is producing theatre that speaks to the darkness of man.  Prepare for some emotional after-care after this one; whether that means beer or chocolate, you’re going to need it.

In addition to my two department-sponsored classes (one as an instructor, one as a TA), I’m also teaching another OSHER class this fall.  We’re reading Twelfth Night and Merchant of Venice.  I love teaching adult students and find it incredibly fulfilling to spend a couple hours a week discussing Shakespeare with the brilliant folks who come through OSHER.  And, really, what teacher wouldn’t want to be given a classroom full of people who took their class by choice, for self enrichment purposes only, and who are doing it for the pleasure of doing it?  Oh… and I don’t have to grade them.  That also helps to make this class one of the more enjoyable things I do with my precious time.

Have I mentioned recently that I love teaching?

Someone remind me of this around finals when I’m going nuts trying to make sure that everything gest graded in time.