Letters to Myself

At the moment, I’m serving as fight director for Tufts University’s production of RENT.  This has caused no small amount of internal time travel.

Music is extremely evocative, and the music from RENT was something that I lived with on a constant basis in my high school years.  I listened to that soundtrack so much that I can still sing it top to bottom, backwards and forwards.  I may just know RENT better than I know Hamlet (and, as you know, that’s saying something).  Last night, I was sitting in on the first minute or two of their run-through (because that’s when my violence occurs… remember?  Collins gets the snot beat out of him and his coat stolen in the first number?) which meant that, inevitably, I came home to spend some time with my high school self.  And I have a few things to tell her.  So, in the event that time travel is a real thing some day, I’m publishing this open letter to my high school self in a place where she’s sure to find it using google.

Dear high school self,

You have to understand first and foremost that nothing I’m about to say is a joke.  I know you’re going to find it incredulous that some of these things have happened to you and that this is your life now, but if you can believe in time travel you can believe in this.

You still work in the theatre.  You moved to Boston to get a PhD and you’re on your way to becoming a Shakespeare Scholar.  You travel around the country to present your work at conferences (just this year, you sat in the Blackfriar’s playhouse in Staunton VA where you heard Russ MacDonald give a keynote… yep… that guy whose book you’re going to read in about three years while sitting on a plane to London where you’re going to study with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust/Royal Shakespeare company… oh yea, that happens too).  You’re also a freelance writer, and (get this) you work as a Fight Director.  Yep.  In Boston.  People pay you to do that (and, by the way, really enjoy your work).

I know you think that New York is the greatest city in the world and you’ll never leave.  Well, you still think that and you miss it terribly.  But there are things about Boston that you don’t find half bad (being able to have a car, for instance, is pretty rockin’).

Most of your friends are now married with kids.  You’re not.  It’s the cost of progress.

This is the earliest readily available picture of myself that I can find.  I'm in my New York Apartment living room painting a set for "Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abrgd]".

This is the earliest readily available picture of myself that I can find. I’m in my New York Apartment living room painting a set for “Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abrgd]“.

Don’t go stressing out about it though; you like their kids but you also like your sleep.  Sleep is important when you regularly work twelve and thirteen hour days.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t feel like work most of the time (because you love doing it), but does take a lot of energy to sustain.

Let me prepare you for this one too: some pretty tough stuff is going to happen to you.  Friends will come and go, people will die, you’ll fall in and out of love, you’re not going to succeed at everything (and some of the things you fail at you’re going to have worked really hard for)…  You’re going to understand a broad spectrum of human emotions before you write this letter to you.  None of the bad stuff feels good when you’re going through it, but at the end of the day I promise something good comes from each and every awful thing.  They help you to understand yourself in ways you didn’t before which, for you, is really important.  They make you a better human being.  And, if you really don’t care about that (which I’m not convinced you do), they also make you a better actor.

Oh, by the way, you’re pretty good at that acting thing.  Don’t let the countless fruitless auditions and meetings with agents/managers get you down.  You’re going to get to play some pretty cool roles and work with some pretty great people.  But don’t let this go to your head either; the best thing you can do is learn humility as quickly as possible.  Even if whomever you’re dealing with doesn’t know more than you do, you’ll get further with the assumption that he does rather than the opposite.  And you’ll be surprised the things you can (and will) learn from these situations.

Strive to be curious.  Curiosity will take you to great and wonderful places.

Always be tenacious.  Bouncing back with fervent persistence is one of your greatest strengths.  Whatever it is that you’re pursuing, chase it down and shake it until it’s dead.  Unless you don’t actually want to kill it (even in metaphor), in which case chase it down and hug it forever and ever.

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil anything.  The bottom line: it’s all going to work out.  You’ll have ups, you’ll have downs, the downs are tough and the ups are great.  I can promise you this: you’ll always have some awesome friends around to help you, there will always be a new adventure waiting, and you’ll only ever be as stagnant as you let yourself become.

Much love,

Future you

Flux Capaciting

I have come to the conclusion that time, much like age, is a state of mind.

As though to compound the Billy Pilgrim-like feelings that I expressed earlier this week, Tufts has decided that today (Thursday) is in fact Monday.

This is not an uncommon practice for universities.  There are certain days which must be taken/given off, certain days during which campus must be closed, and in order to ensure that each class block is given ample time during the semester, often the flow of the Newtonian universe is manipulated in order to pay homage to the gods of academia.

This semester has been notoriously difficult to get in the saddle of.  As soon as I had thought that I established a rhythm, a giant snowstorm named after a vengeful sea captain (or a clown fish, not too clear on that one) threw everything off.  Campus was closed for several days, necessitating re-arrangements in the semester’s schedule and my reading/general life flow which completely threw off the very light, narrow groove that I had

I have no good pictures to include with this entry, so here's a picture I took of a tiger at the San Diego zoo last year.

I have no pertinent pictures to include with this entry, so here’s a picture I took of a tiger at the San Diego zoo last year.

somehow managed to attain.

What next?  Cats and dogs living together?  Mass hysteria?  Cloudy with a chance of meatballs?

My conception of time is often amusing to me.  When one lives and breathes academia, it’s extremely easy to lost track of the fact that the rest of the world does not.  Simply because my years begin in September and end in May does not mean that the same is true for everyone else.  I’m often stopped short because normal people don’t understand that I obviously can’t come out in the near future because it’s finals crunch and why would they even bother asking? (fact: because they don’t know/remember/care that it’s finals time and have no sense of what it means to live in a world where one lives and dies by paper deadlines).

These troubles are mirrored by certain misconceptions about my working hours.  I know that I’ve often commiserated about this on here.  One of the wonderful parts of my job is the ability to make my own hours and, thereby, the ability to work when I best function as opposed to conforming to some artificial schedule which a tyrannical boss (or tyrannical system) has imposed upon me.  I tend to function best in the early afternoon to early evening; certainly not in the morning.  I avoid late nights if I can, but I would prefer to work a late night than an early morning.  As such, it’s a frequent occurrence that I sleep past the normal appointed time for “the working man” to be up and I’m often sitting at my desk wearing my pajamas when my roommate/local friends/house guests/partner in crime drop by after work.  This doesn’t mean that I’m not working, it doesn’t mean that I’m lazy, it just means that I like to sleep until 8:30 (9 if I can manage it) and will work until 10 or 11 if I have to to get my work done.  I would say that, during an average workweek, I clock at least 40 hours (sometimes as much as 80-100 if I’m working on projects and grinding out the end of the semester; I’ve meant to do an experiment and actually clock my working hours for a month just to clear up this little misunderstanding, but I haven’t yet remembered to do it).

Next week, we’re back to “normal” schedule for a block of several weeks.  I’m very much hoping that this normalcy will restore some feeling of rhythm to my otherwise nutzoid life; or at the very least a small dose of consistency.  Even theatre people need some consistency otherwise the world is just madness and chaos.  Madness, I tell you!

Time and Time Again

Every day when my roommate and I come home from work/school/the day’s adventures, we have some variant of the following exchange:

Roommate: Hey, roomie!

Me: Hey, roomie!

Roommate: How was your day?

Me: Good, how was yours?

Roommate: Good, I got [a lot/a little/not as much as I wanted] work done.  I’m working on [this project] that’s [really cool/aggravating/interesting/completely insipid].  How bout you?

Me: Ugh, I had a meeting with Professor [X/Y/Z] about my [paper/application/publishing/general academic stuff].  It went really [well/poorly/made me want to cry/that’s why it’s 6 PM and I’m on my third martini].  Then I had to stop at the library to [pick up/return] a ton of books on my way to class.  Then I had to do some printing so I hiked up to the graduate lounge, and I have all of these deadlines looming… I’m really worried about all the work that’s on my desk and having enough time to get it all done.

 Yesterday, there was a new addition to the conversation.  After my comment about the amount of work I have and getting it all done, my roommate mentioned “Yea, but you say that every day.”

I paused.  I thought.  Really?  Do I?

I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if I did…

 

art by roboartemis; http://roboartemis.deviantart.com

So here’s an arch-metaphor that rules my life: graduate school (and the workload involved therein) is like a giant rolling snowball atop which one is expected to run.  If you don’t keep up with the snowball, it will roll away and lose you.  If you get too far ahead, you’ll run away and lose it.  If you run a little bit too slow, you are in danger of falling off and you teeter helplessly on that brink of regaining your balance.  If you run a bit too fast, you may get rolled over by the snowball as it takes this opportunity to become larger, realizing that clearly it wasn’t big enough to begin with otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to overcome it.  Where you really want to be is balanced right on top.  But being there isn’t an easy feat; once you get there you still have to constantly run to maintain your position.

And, of course, it doesn’t help that people around you who work in normal jobs want to do things like socialize on the weekends and it’s no use explaining that you don’t really get weekends because weekends are just an extension of your work week during which you aren’t even expected to put on pants thereby you can get even MORE work done (because everyone knows that the amount of work one is capable of accomplishing is directly tied to the amount of time spent in one’s pajamas).  Pants are the anti-homework.

I have thought long and hard about this and I have come to several conclusions:

 1)    I need a time-turner.  Or a TARDIS.  Either would accomplish the ends of gaining more hours in my day.

 2)    ….or maybe a flux capacitor and a delorean.

 3)    Or I could just chain myself to my desk and never attend another social activity again… this could be a sure-fire method to writing an eccentric genius book or hatching a Howard Hughes-esque plan to make a billion dollars… either way, I’d be set financially and that would certainly take a lot of worries off my mind.  But then I’d also wind up looking like Howard Hughes… or Gollum…. Yikes.

 4)    Maybe there’s some professional secret that they don’t tell you until you’re ABD… like “oh, hey, now that you’ve suffered, HERE’S how academics do it all”.  I hold out some small hope that, upon passing my orals, the head of my department will induct me into some secret literati society with robes and fancy sigils… but no koolaid.  Nobody likes koolaid.

5)    ….maybe I should just get back to work.

Flux Capacitors

Ladies and Gentlemen, as of today, I have achieved a miracle of science.

I know, it was only a matter of time.  You hammer at something long enough and, eventually, an effect must occur.

How did I do this, you may ask?  Simple, really.  Let’s start with the laws of SCIENCE (as I know them):

Precept number one: NOTHING is impossible… simply extremely improbable.

Precept number two: Solid surfaces only appear to be solid; they are in fact made up of tons and tons of teeny tiny particles which vibrate near each other because they really like to hang out.  The closer the particles, the more “solid” something appears to be.

Deduction: Logically… if you keep bashing your head against the same wall in the same

Great Scott!!!

spot over and over and over again, eventually it has to go straight through.  Well, eventually you’ll probably break the wall (or your head) and it’ll go through anyway, but I’m talking straight-up Kitty Pride through the wall.  Right through.

A miracle.

Today, I made more hours in the day.

After determining that no, what I had simply wasn’t cutting it.  That I couldn’t get ahead fast enough.  That I just didn’t have enough time to read, and research, and write, and go to the gym, and take a breather every now and again so that my eyes don’t melt out of their sockets, I realized what I had to do.

I had to defy the laws of nature.  I had to laugh in the face of astrophysics.  I had to accomplish what nobody else has accomplished before.  I had to overcome that which binds us to this earth and creates order in a world that is otherwise utter chaos.

I started small.  A half an hour.  That’s all I needed.  A half an hour.  Maybe someday it’ll be an hour, but I simply can’t see it ever being any more than that.  It takes a lot out of me to tamper with the temporal progression of the universe.

…And while I will concede that perhaps there is life before nine in the morning, there’s not enough coffee in the world to convince me to set my alarm back before 8AM.  Nope.  Not doing it.

Uncanny Theatre

It’s midnight on a Friday.  You’re just stumbling home from an evening of pubbing or (if you’re me) away from your computer after a long day of research.  You realize that you have an e-mail in your inbox, it’s a rendezvous time for the next day.  You sigh, remembering suddenly that you had booked something and just couldn’t recall what…  the e-mail includes a link to a google map and tells you to meet there at two the following day.

Flash forward to Saturday afternoon.  You’ve managed to make the rendezvous with your travel companions.  A man in a long cape and a white beard meets you there to tell you a

the man with the beard

story; it’s a story about you, a story about something you’ve done in the past, a story about time traveling.

He weaves his tale and you realize that this story is about to pick up right now.  There’s a test, he says, being administered as we speak.  It’s on the corner of Dartmouth and Newbury….

And off you go.  You rush to make it to the test, you meet a man in a suit waiting there for you, of course someone passing by you “accidentally” dropped an answer key so you are certain to pass this thing…

…and your time-venture has begun.  “Choose your own Time-Venture” is just the most recent event put on by The Banditos Misteriosos.  This quixotic organization bills itself as “Boston’s Mysterious Playmate”.  Three or four times a year, the Banditos organize free, fun events which use Boston as a playground.  They don’t advertise (other than by word of mouth) and they aim to put forward experiences which I would term “geektastically fun”.  Past events have included a celebration of Boston day which revolved around a “historically accurate” water gun fight between the Back Bay Swamp Creatures and the Revere Horsemen, a pillow fight flash mob, and a giant Boston-themed scavenger hunt.

“Time-Venture” was particularly interesting to me due to its performative implications.  How can we classify this event?  There were definitely actors playing roles (just about every street corner had someone playing something whether it was a time machine mechanic, an agent with the time-traveling organization, or a crime boss from whom you needed to receive a pivotal piece of the time machine).  The actors were costumed and followed a

time-machine mechanic fulfilling his destiny to be a can-can dancer... really, folks, you can't make this stuff up.

“structure” rather than a specific “script” and your encounters with them were arranged to form a cohesive story.  However, what cannot be ignored is the element of choice.  This was, essentially, a live-action choose-your-own-adventure novel.  Each waypoint had at least two options to choose from and tasks which had to be fulfilled in order to enact those options.  At one waypoint, we were required to take pictures of ourselves fulfilling our destinies in order to convince our liaison that we believed in fate.  At another, we had to solve a letter-replacement cipher in order to decode a message.  At a third, we had to use the time-traveling tools which we had acquired to bend the encounter to an outcome which favored us.

Scholar Glynne Wickham recognizes five basic elements which, at the most fundamental level, create a theatrical event.  These are: 1) the existence of a theatre (a stage and auditorium), 2) the imitation of actions in sequence (story-line), 3) the means of identifying person and place (costumes and setting), 4) actors, 5) audience.  If we go by these parameters, then “Time-Venture” could easily be termed a theatrical event.  The only quality which would be up for true debate here is the existence of a theatre.  The Banditos’ mission statement (“Boston is a playground. Banditos Misteriosos is the city’s mysterious playmate. We are an organization dedicated to bringing Boston alive with a slew of activities that are free, open to everybody and most importantly, just a little bit out of the ordinary..”) makes extraordinarily clear that their intended venue of performance is the city itself.  Can we term a city a theatre?  “May we cram within this wooden ‘O’ the very casks that did afright the air at Agincourt?”.

Well, okay, let’s get more specific here.  Yes, the entire event unfolded over the course of a section of Boston.  However.  Each specific encounter was scripted for a specific street

a mediaeval pageant wagon

corner (or park, or sidewalk).  So, in a way, we could equate “Time-venture” with mediaeval pageant wagons.  For those who aren’t up on their theatre history, in medieval England during important religious feasts and festivals, the working-class would stage cycles of plays on what were called “pageant wagons”.  Each wagon was assigned a portion of the story to tell, and the wagons were paraded throughout the town, stopping at pre-arranged stopping points and commencing their bit of the story.  If you stood in one place long enough, you saw an entire play.

For “Time-venture”, rather than the audience standing in place and the play coming to us, we walked to the play.  Perhaps there were no raised scaffolds involved, but there were certainly performance spaces.  Each performer held his own “area” and, as in normal conversation, we as a group remained at arm’s length to fulfill our interaction.

Perhaps an argument could be made about the interactive nature of the text.  A play, after all, is something written by a playwright to show a certain story.  In the case of “Time-venture”, the story was in our hands.  Our group wound up first attempting to fix the broken time machine, but then becoming double agents to subvert the evil organization which was trying to go back in time and re-cast Star Wars.  We gathered the elements of the time machine from old friends, drug lords, and secret rendezvous, and used them to destroy the time machine and save the past.  Other groups, I am told, had very different experiences based upon their choices.  But does that make either of these stories less cohesive?  There remained a beginning, middle, and end.  There remained obstacles to overcome.  There remained choices.

Simply because we were placed in the middle of the action rather than passive observers of said action did not make the action any less dramatic.  We were the volunteers from an audience during an improv show.  We were the heroes of our own story.  Like it or not, we had become actors.

I highly recommend checking out the Banditos and attending any event they run.  They were a pleasure to interact with, made us feel welcome in this ridiculous adventure, and completely enfolded us in an uncanny world of strange goings-on.  What an afternoon of entertainment!

>Podcast: Let’s do the Time Warp Again!

You may or may not remember some mention of the first-ever Rutgers Newark MA Consortium a few months ago at which I gave a paper.

With the help of some fantabulous friends (THANK YOU MISTER WILKEY!), I have a recording of that talk that, in lieu of a post today, I would like to share with you.  For the record, that’s my good buddy Ben giving the introductions and you can hear a guest appearance from the Best Professor Ever towards the end in the Q&A section (Jack Lynch, everyone).

Click here to check it out.  Please enjoy!