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.

Thanking You

What with finals around the corner and the end of the semester only kind of in sight, it can be tough for us grads to really enjoy what’s supposed to be a day off to reflect about all the things that make our lives pretty great.

While I can’t promise that I’ll refrain from opening a book until Campus opens again on Monday (our break is Wednesday – Sunday), I can honestly say that I’m going to take at least a moment to honor the spirit of the holiday.

To make sure I do, the following is a partial list of some of the things I am thankful for this year:

  • My incredible advisor who is a super hero, rock star, and academic pit bull all in one. Seriously, this lady is unbelievable. The fact that she does all of the things she does (president of this professional organization, top of that research field, leading expert in all kinds of things, teacher, mentor, philosopher…) is a feat of its own, but on top of everything she makes herself so available to her students. She has done more for me this year than I think I can possibly relate in words, and I am thankful every day for her guidance and wisdom.
  • For that matter; all of my mentors (past, present, and future). They let me ask potentially embarrassing questions without judging me (or at least without telling me that they’re judging me, which is really what counts), they even give me valuable answers despite their own packed research and travel schedules. Every day in dealing with my own students, I only hope to be as awesome to them students as my mentors have been to me.
  • The well-stocked school library with ILL privileges that will get me anything I need from anywhere in the world in a reasonable enough time. With a slight bit of forethought, I can have any book that I might want to put my hands on delivered to me so that I can read and love it. Hooray.
  • A supportive partner who knows when he needs to leave me alone so that I can deal with some red pen problems, when he needs to ask me questions about my work so that I can talk my way out of a funk, and when he just needs to let me cry at him about Edwin Booth.
  • Good smart friends and colleagues with sympathetic ears, appetites for good beer, and heads full of giant brains. As a note: should this year be the year of the inevitable zombie apocalypse, this item of gratitude to the universe would be written no differently. Brains.
  • Lots of tea. And espresso. Oh my espresso machine. And really anything that makes liquid caffeine. As a note: the rest of the world should also be thankful for this and the effect that it has on me. Nobody wants to deal with an uncaffeinated Dani. Trust me.
  •  All of the wonderful theatre companies who continue to include me in their creative plans. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great many incredible theatre-makers this year, and I look forward to continued opportunities to come.

Alright folks, that’s that. Go eat some turkey and be thankful that you’re not on line at the grocery store. Unless you are in which case you might want to consider how planning impacts your life, stress, and happiness.

Have a great holiday!

Happy, Merry, Healthy!

For those who were unaware, I really really love Christmas.

This may not be so odd until you consider that I’m an agnostic raised by Jews.

My deep love of all things Christmas extends to food, music, lights, celebrations, traditional flora, decorating, movies, gift giving, literature, and theatre.

This year, to celebrate the holidays with you (my wonderful readers) I was determined to

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit.  It's up year-round at the flagship store.

Yankee Candle has this beautiful display to help you get in the Christmas Spirit. It’s up year-round at the flagship store.

provide a list of opening lines to my favorite Christmas tales.  While I am a little bit late on this, you’ll have to forgive me (Santa seems to have brought me a nasty cold).  Since literature is ever lasting anyway, you can perhaps consider this as your first step towards detoxing from egg nog and Yule logs.

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore (1823):

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843):

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868):

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. 

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (1957):

Every Who Down in Whoville Liked Christmas a lot…
But the Grinch,Who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Romeo Muller and Robert May (1964):

If I live to be a hundred, I’II never be able to forget that big snowstorm a couple of years ago.  The weather closed in, and, well, you might not believe it, but the world almost missed Christmas.  Oh, excuse me. Call me Sam.  What’s the matter?  Haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz (1965):

It was finally Christmastime, the best time of the year. The houses were strung with tiny colored lights, their windows shining with warm yellow glow only Christmas could bring. The scents of pine needles and hot cocoa mingled together, wafting through the air, and the sweet sounds of Christmas carols could be heard in the distance.

 Fluffy white snowflakes tumbled from the sky onto a group of joyful children as they sang and laughed, skating on the frozen pond in town. Everyone was happy and full of holiday cheer. That is, everyone except for Charlie Brown.

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993):

 ‘Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams.  For the story that you are about to be told, took place in the holiday worlds of old.  Now, you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from.  If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Love Actually by Richard Curtis (2003):

 Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport. General opinion started to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy but it’s always there.

Obviously I could go on, but I’ll leave it there lest you wind up reading until next Christmas.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday, and that you were gifted with everything you could have possibly wanted!

Please note: I will be away for a week celebrating with my family.  I won’t be checking in here, but I’ll be back in the New Year to continue coverage from the front.  Have a happy and healthy one, and catch you in 2014!

 

Dipping Toes in the Shallow End

This morning, despite the urgings of my ever-loving bed, I got up.  I went and sat at my desk.  I opened a book.  I read assigned pages.  I took notes on it.  I thought about what I was reading.

When I was done with that, I saved the PDFs of this week’s reading assignment to my dropbox and opened that on my ipad.  I read it.  I took notes.  I thought about it, in turn.

When I was done with that, I cracked my script.  I reviewed some scenes, did some text work, highlighted and underlined some things, and took some marginalia notes on that.

When I was done with that, I sent a few e-mails and took care of some long-awaited administrative business that I really couldn’t start the semester without doing.

Now that I’m done with that, I think I’m going to go relax on the couch for a good long time.  Break may be winding down but it’s not officially over until Wednesday.

Although I will say this: despite the fact that having absolutely nothing to do on a given day is a rare luxury (and one I don’t generally afford myself, even during breaktime), having something one must do on a given day certainly works to relieve my anxiety about things I can’t really do anything about in this moment anyway.  Every time I so much as think the word “comps”, the bottom drops out of my stomach and I get an overwhelming feeling of

Ah yes.  My love.  My Preeeeciousssss.

Ah yes. My love. My Preeeeciousssss.

vertigo.  Whenever I glance at my German (a necessary obstacle before I even get to my comps), I find a little demon sitting on my shoulder whispering to me “DU KANNST ES NICHT!”  Somehow, hitting deadlines that are absolutely within my control and things that I know I am capable of doing alleviates this stress.

I will kill that demon.  He’s not long for this world.  I just need to work up some courage first.  It’s probably going to come in liquid form; I’m deep in the torrid thralls of a love affair with the cappuccino machine my folks gifted me with for Christmas.  Let me tell you, it’s done wonders to alter my outlook on life.

Now is the Winter of our Discontent

In these, the waning days of my winter break, I am taking stock of all the sundry things that I have managed to commit to for the semester to come.  And let me tell you; apparently I don’t know how to have a quiet semester.

I’ll be taking one class, TAing a second, working on my usual assortment of personal projects having nothing to do with work, dramaturging Measure for Measure, brushing up on my German, passing my German exam, in a show (this is my semi-secret-not-so-secret-not-yet-ready-to-be-released-to-the-world project), podcasting, and blogging.

No wonder I’m already going through all the stress symptoms I usually associate with the end of the semester.

For that, I think with a good system of organization in place, I should be able to hit everything I need to hit without overmuch stress on myself.

At least I hope so.

So, since I’m still working on enjoying my break, I’ll leave you with this truncated post and some pictures from my trip to New York over the holidays.

Happy Break, y’all!

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2012-12-23 17.23.30

Not Yet Dead

This is an obligatory “I’m not dead” post (also, incidentally, my first post of the post-apocalyptic 2013…. If we think of this year as “post-apocalyptic”, it’s guaranteed to make no matter what happens at least 50% more magical and 25% more awesome).

Since I got home from New York, things have been rather quiet.

I’m clearing off my desk, I’m sending e-mails that I had been putting off, I’m having meetings that had to wait until after finals, and I’m catching up on quality me-time.

I’m getting my knitting docket all lined up for the semester, I’m kicking off some exciting projects (can you say “eight person Twelfth Night”!?  Stay tuned!), I’m ordering my books, I’m obsessively checking online grading system, I’m trying my darndest not to think about German or Comps for another week.

I’m getting my gym and eating habits back on line, I’m catching up with old friends who

my favorite shot from New York: the Union Square Holiday Market (best experienced while sipping Italian Dark hot Chocolate from Max Brenner's which, by the way, I was)

my favorite shot from New York: the Union Square Holiday Market (best experienced while sipping Italian Dark hot Chocolate from Max Brenner’s which, by the way, I was)

got sacrificed under the finals bus (and were nice enough to understand), I’m mentally resetting and preparing for the last semester of coursework for my PhD.

I’m learning to use my brand shiny new cappuccino machine (thanks, mom and dad!), I’m getting my new computer set up with my docking station (again, thanks to the best daddy on the face of the planet), I’m trying to figure out how to get icloud to sync my calendars without fubaring things (surprisingly difficult given apple’s generally idiot-proof interfacing).

I’m podcasting (http://www.offensiveshadows.com in case you hadn’t heard), I’m rehearsing, I’m web committee chairing, I’m reviewing syllabi for my Spring TA assignment.

On the whole, I’m doing my best to rest and rejuvenate.  I’m also aligning things so that all of my projects are on a roll before the semester starts and thus will not need extra kicking to begin rolling down long bumpy hills when I’m in the middle of paper-drafting or midterms-grading or any number of inevitable things that the semester brings with it.

I highly recommend that you do the same.

The semester will soon be upon us and we all need to be prepared for its onset.

Auf Wiedersehen, 2012

Hello, friends and readers!

I’ve returned from the holidays a little stronger, a little more tired, and ready to spend the rest of my break alternating between resting up/resetting my brain for the new semester and clearing my desk of those projects that have backlogged in my finals-induced ignoring of all things not papers.

At this time of year, it is really easy to be utterly and completely fooled into thinking that you’re in the middle of the deep, dark jungle with no light at the end of your tunnel.  This is not really anywhere different than you were last year (because, well, last year you were also in a deep, dark jungle with little light to be seen).  You’ve just put a bunch of projects to bed.  A new semester is dawning.  The cycle of stress and woe threatens to start all over again with little you can do about it.

So it’s important to take time to recognize where you have gone between this jungle and that jungle.  In that light, it’s time for a recap.  As I cast my mind over the last year, I realize that it’s been an extremely productive one for my professional life.  I can only hope that I will do even better this year.

Things I did in 2012:

2012-12-23 17.23.39Created my first acting edition of a show (Measure for Measure) and began dramaturging my first project (I can’t say that I “dramaturged” it yet because the show doesn’t go up until February).

Began to learn to read German.

Completed a year of coursework for my PhD.

Wrote five academic papers (approx. 105 pages of writing).

Gave five in-class presentations ranging in time from twenty to forty five minutes on topics which spanned the breadth from Intellectual Property and the History of Magic to David Garrick, Patent Law, and eighteenth century editions of Shakespeare.

Attended and presented at three academic conferences, including my first ASTR.

Blogged faithfully.

Broke my retirement to play a dream role; one I never though I would have the chance to play.

Lost 26 pounds (maybe not a professional achievement, but darn it one that I’m going to put up here anyway).

TAed my first (and second) class… both in one semester.

 Became Chair of the Web Committee for the American Society of Theatre Research’s Graduate Student Caucus.

Successfully got Offensive Shadows up and running and, thereby, am officially a co-host of my own podcast.

Published my first book review; my first piece of “real” academic publishing.

Taught myself to play the ukulele (extremely important for Professors-to-be…. I

Belle playing the uke?  Another picture that proves I'm doing it right.

Belle playing the uke? Another picture that proves I’m doing it right.

alternate between shame and pride in saying, with utmost truth, that I taught myself to play while avoiding studying my German).

Didn’t move a single time (this is HUGE for me).

Read more books than I care to relate, saw more plays that I dreamed of seeing, and can honestly say that I put blood, sweat, and tears into my degree.

…pretty good for a single year if you ask me.

Here’s looking forward to a new year, more exciting projects, and the next step of the journey.

Happy New Years, faithful reader!

After the End Times

If you are reading this, it means that I have survived finals.

Well, actually, it means that the programming on my website didn’t fail me as I scheduled it to post this entry at a time after which I would have turned in my last paper and during which I would be in a car driving home to New York for the holidays and, since blogging while driving is not something that computers have figure out yet (I’m confident that Siri will change this soon), decided that was my best course of action.

Life: I'm doing it right

Life: I’m doing it right

Here is a still-life I managed to capture of my desk the other day (completely not posed, just how my desk looked at the time).  Yes, that is my ukulele and those are my chord charts.  Yes, that is a nineteenth century print of an engraving depicting Act V of As You Like It sent to me by my Academic Fairy Godfather.  Yes, my tape dispenser is in the shape of a black platform stiletto.  As far as I’m concerned, this picture is proof-positive that whatever life choices I’ve made which lead to this moment are absolutely correct.  A pretty validating thought for the end of my last fall semester of coursework.

This semester’s been tougher than I thought it would be.  That said, I learned a lot, met some really interesting people, and have some shiny new projects to get me through the winter/Spring.

So, since I’m done, I’m taking a short break to be with my family for a week.  I promise I’ll be back after the holiday.  For now, have a watch of this “holiday card” I prepared for you (…when I say I’m only a “passable ukulele player” I really do mean it, so please take this as a sort of “amusing anecdotal internet offering” rather than any sort of masterpiece…. I know I messed it up at least once).

Happy holidays, happy finals being over, and happy take-a-friggen-break.  You deserve it!

Lost of love,

Dani

“It is my birth-day”

Today is my birthday.

In recent years, it has become harder and harder to be festive on my birthday. During my Master’s (when I realized that this academia thing might actually be a lifetime commitment rather than a passing fancy), I resolved myself to come to terms with the fact that, for the rest of my life, I would be stressed out, over-worked, and over-wrought on my birthday.

Some years this sticks, some years it doesn’t.

It’s funny because, as I understand it, on birthdays you’re supposed to think back across the expanse of the year and have some thought about things you’ve done, accomplished, follies, foibles, adventures, etc. And maybe when you’ve done that, cast another thought forward to the things that you might accomplish in this year next. Since I’m still in the phase of my PhD during which landmarks are fairly mapped out and planned, I have the good fortune to be able to predict, with some degree of certainty, at least some of the things I will do before the world comes back around to December 11th once more. I will pass my German qual exam. I will study for (and pass) my comps. I will successfully execute my oral exams. And, at this point next year, I will be sitting pretty, poised for dissertation planning, and may (for the first time in many years) actually be able to relax on my birthday.

This year is not that year.

Today, I have a meeting, student final projects to look at, library books that will go into arrears if I don’t return them today, an article to track down, and mountains and mountains of writing to do. I didn’t even have time to wake up early enough for a run due to the absolute insanity that was yesterday (I spent thirteen hours on campus yesterday, left at 11PM and am doing the eleven-hour turn-around and will be back on campus at 10AM this morning…. ah the glamorous life of a theatre academic).

But I did get to partake of my new favorite birthday tradition: birthday Shakespeare. Last year, as a birthday gift, my ever-wonderful Partner in Crime took me to see Hamlet at the Gamm. The production was meh, but the point was to be able to sit back and enjoy something I love rather than worry about deeper issues (…of course, I did worry about deeper issues, but that’s just the way I’m wired). Last night, the cast of Measure for Measure treated me to the first (rough) run of the show. Some really interesting things going on and, if they continue to grow at a good clip, I think the product will be well worth the ticket price. I even had a Shakespeare-revelation while watching (this happens to me sometimes; the text hits my ear in a different way and things click into place and suddenly I understand something new about the show). So; thanks, cast!

So yes, I will be spending the day working. A lot. But the way I see it, this is paying it forward. Next year, oh sweet next year, I may even be able to take the day off entirely.

And so, dear reader, I leave you with this: have a wonderful day, think about Shakespeare for me, and have a watch of one of my favorite Shakespeare mashups: the muppets, Christopher Reeve, and Cole Porter: