You Betta Werk

I go through cycles with my research.

At this point, I can pretty accurately predict the cycles (at least that they will happen and in what general order they will occur). This was driven home by a phone call I made yesterday to my always-amazing boyfriend.

I’ve been feeling kind of lost in the dissertation project. This is certainly not helped by the fact that I’ve had to return most of my library books to prepare for the move, nothing is in the place where I expect it to be because of the move, and I’m experiencing no small amount of anxiety about the move. Basically: move move move, move move, hard to work

Even my plants are getting ready for the big move.

Even my plants are getting ready for the big move.

because move.

This, coupled with being away from my research for some time due to be a Jolly Good Fellow with the GIFT program, send me on the inevitable downward spiral of existential crisis.

“What am I doing? Why am I even doing this? What am I looking for? Why does any of this matter?”

…this happens a lot. At least to me. I find scholarship to be very difficult sometimes, especially something as abstract seeming as theatre history. It’s hard to touch the ground when your work is mostly ephemeral.

I was explaining this to said boyfriend the other day and trying to keep myself from sounding teary and pathetic over the phone. He was trying to keep himself from laughing. Finally I worked up the nerve to ask him why.

“You said this was going to happen. In fact, you used these exact words to describe the inevitability of this happening in the future the other week when you were all excited about your work.”

“…well…. But… I just don’t know what to DO!”

“You said you just have to keep working.”

I sighed. “But I don’t know how to keep working because I don’t know where any of my work is right now because it’s all returned to the library or back in boxes and and… past me just doesn’t understand!”

…just keep working. Thanks, past me. Great advice.

So I’ve been climbing back on the horse slowly trying to find my place in the saddle again. It’s been tough, but I’m getting there. There are definitely things on my to-do list that make use of the plethora of digital technologies at my disposal (thank you, greater realm of library science, for digitizing major texts… please continue to do so because it really does make research SO much easier). But hard is hard and daunting is daunting; and dissertations are nothing but a combination of both.

A Little Chaos

Things are a little nuts around here.

I just got back from my sister’s wedding (which was lovely, by the way, and might have included such things as a wedding-party-using-weapons photo shoot, a swordfight between the bride and groom, and a ukulele flash mob organized by yours truly in lieu of a

Me in said awesome library

Me in said awesome library

Maid of Honor toast since it just seemed easier). While away, we saw some beautiful things (including an AWESOME public library), and managed not to stress out about the oncoming move.

Oh yea I’m moving in two weeks. This has meant many things. Not the least of which being my library is currently in boxes. This mostly doesn’t affect me EXCEPT for the syllabus that I forgot I’m helping to craft and so will have to rely upon my memory and library copies of some of my more beloved teaching texts. At least for the next two weeks after which I may liberate said library to graze in its new field and multiply creating a bigger, stronger, faster herd from amongst the ashes of its box prison.

Since I started packing early, I’m not really in any kind of time crunch and moving stress is a cakewalk compared to wedding stress. At least at this juncture. Ask me again when I’ve finished the process and I can give you a better panoramic view of the entire issue. I’m still reasonably certain that moving trumps wedding since moving doesn’t involve any high-anxiety members of my family freaking out about completely mundane things which, on any other day, would be simply completely mundane things. Apparently weddings do this to people.

Through it all, I’m still working. I’m back at Apollinaire choreographing a piece of violence for their summer in the park production of ¡Bocón!. The fight is really an opportunity to do

This is the world's BIGGEST ROLL OF BUBBLE PAPER and it's MINE MINE! MWAHAHA!

This is the world’s BIGGEST ROLL OF BUBBLE PAPER and it’s MINE MINE! MWAHAHA!

something incredible and I’m taking full advantage of it; I’ve got sixteen cast members (almost all of whom have previous fight experience), leave to create supernatural elements, and enthusiasm from all parties involved. Really I could make anything. I think that what we’ve put together is truly special and I highly encourage you to get out and see it.

By the way and for the record, I absolutely do not recommend working six jobs while simultaneously moving and dealing with a family wedding. I’m reasonably sure that, though I have things pretty well under control now, there will be at least one downward spiral that I can only partially control before this is all over. Especially because less than a month after my move I am leaving for a one-month research trip to New York City courtesy of a generous fellowship given me by Tufts University.

And on that note, I really should go get ready for fight call. Can’t wait to throw my actors around a bit tonight; they’re always good for some stress relief after a day of packing!

The Tempest

Since taking a post as a theatre reviewer with New England Theatre Geek, it’s not very often that I get to see a show without a pen and reviewer notebook in hand. It’s also not very often that I get to see a show with no obligation to come home and write a poignant yet witty review about it. So I find it a wee bit hilarious that the first time I’ve been out to see a show I wasn’t reviewing in some time, I immediately came home with the urge to write about it.

I’ve been waiting for the A.R.T.’s production of The Tempest since they announced their season last year. You heard me correctly; it’s been over a year that I’ve been champing at the bit for a chance to see this show. Last night, the man and I finally made it out to experience the magic and it was well worth the wait.

As a child, I spent a lot of time hanging out with magicians. As a kid, one Saturday a month was devoted to a road trip to the not-so-local local chapter of the Society of Young Magicians. There, myself and a couple of other like-minded individuals (including my brother who was the one who got us all into this mess in the first place) would sit at the knees of local magicians and learn magic tricks. It seemed commonplace to me to come home with playing cards tucked in various surreptitious pockets of my clothing (because it was a favorite game to reverse pick-pocket cards onto other people without them noticing… and actually, a great exercise in prestidigitation for the developing table magician), to look for jackets with giant pockets or loose lining in which more pockets could be sewn, to figure out whether it would be doves or rabbits that were the chosen animal of the house and, thereby, the focus of the next big trick. Eventually, we grew old enough to join the real society and because of this childhood influence, I have a soft spot for magicians and a fascination with magic in general. Despite the fact that I can’t do a card trick to save my life (trust me, I’ve tried), I am a long-standing card-carrying member of the Society of American Magicians.

Magic… plus Shakespeare. It’s a theme that I’ve been turning over in my head for some time. Would one distract from the other? Would people come to see this show just because of its famous producer (Teller of Las Vegas fame)? Would it rub up against all of my traditionalist sensibilities?

Apparently, add some Tom Waits into the mix and you get veritable alchemy.

The show I saw onstage last night was definitive for me in a way that no show has been since I had the opportunity to see the McKellon Lear at the RSC in 2007. The Tempest is a show with problems: music, which is always a challenge since there are no melody notations left from Shakespeare’s songs; long and rambling courtly scenes that if done improperly will just drag on and on and dull your audience into the same slumber that Ariel visits upon the hapless mariners; an ingénue that’s nearly impossible to play; and spirits of all types which appear and disappear seemingly at the whim of the playwright.

Prospero (Tom Nelis)  and Ariel (Nate Dendy) conjuring the storm.  Photo courtesy of the Smith Center/Geri Kody

Prospero (Tom Nelis) and Ariel (Nate Dendy) conjuring the storm. Photo courtesy of the Smith Center/Geri Kody

I’ve seen good productions of The Tempest before, but they all pale in comparison to what’s onstage at the A.R.T. right now. “Inhuman” gains new meaning, as does “American” representations of England’s playwright laureate.

There’s a sense of danger on Prospero’s island, and magic lurks in every corner. Ariel is ever-present/absent, seen and unseen, all-powerful and completely subjugated. The music is part of the island (literally and figuratively) and comes from a band that looks like it could have bubbled forth from the sea itself. The director was not afraid to cut the text; a necessity to keep the long scenes short and the short scenes pithy. Instead of losing content, this gave the show more room to explore what it clearly set out to do: re-add the “magic” back to this late Romance in a way that I don’t think the stage will see again.

Since my dissertation deals so heavily with American Shakespeare and since that project has taken so much out of me lately, I was exhilarated to be so thrilled by a landmark production right in my backyard. Enchanted by Teller’s tale, I can say with some certainty that this energy was just what I needed to get me through the current busy-times slump.

I wish I could tell you to go see it, but every show is sold out. Standing room tickets are available on the day-of performance at the A.R.T. Box office. The Tempest closes on June 15th, so if any of what I’ve said intrigues you, don’t wait for the storm to pass.

Goodbye, Old Friends

Over the weekend, I worked on my bookshelves.

I am currently in the process of packing for a long-anticipated move. As I’ve often said, the vast majority of my belongings consists of yarn, clothing, and books. In my current apartment, I have the luxury of an entire room devoted solely to my books and almost nothing else (it’s also got a sadly underused dining room table, but that’s a permissible addition to a library… especially since it’s positioned in such a way as to not take up any precious wall space). I have a LOT of books.

Compound this with the number of library checkouts I have and you’ve got yourself a real problem. I’ve actually had to strategize how I’m going to move my books (for those who are curious: I’ve carefully documented my library checkouts and have started to systematically return them since they will almost all come due when I’m on my grand research adventure in New York anyway and its much easier to tote them back in twenty-book loads to the library and leave them to the tender care of librarians there than it is to

Breakfast in my library

Breakfast in my library

box them up and cart them with my other belongings across town to my new digs, the whole while fervently hoping that none of them will go missing en route).

Phase one was implemented this weekend in which I went through all of my books and decided which I am keeping, and which I am parting with.

This is a HUGE decision. For more people, hanging onto books is a matter of “will I read this again or not?” For a budding professor, hanging onto books is a matter of “will I ever need to reference this, or teach it, or give it to a student to read?” There were whole piles of books that I kept because, while I certainly wouldn’t read them if left to my own devices, I do anticipate needing to teach them at some point in the near future.

Predicting the future is a matter of foreseeing the canon. While I know what is likely to be on a general intro to theatre history class syllabus right now, how about when I teach? Will the department demand things of me that I sadly gave away in my last move? Will I get the chance to teach a class that I’m really really prepared for (say, Early Modern Theatre History), or will I be asked to stretch into something that is slightly out of my ballpark (like Modern and Postmodern Theory)?

It’s all a balancing act. I tend to dispose of things that A) I am not very likely to teach, and B) are readily available online. If B is true, then A is less important. If A is true, then I double-check B first. The age of the internet has made teaching materials plentiful and it’s incredible just how many primary sources I can access from my desk at home without even requiring a library log-in.

While it pains me to thin out my collection, the new place has one flight of stairs which I will have to personally cart every single box up. A good question that I ask myself is “is this book worth carrying on my back up that flight of stairs?” If no, then out it went.

Don’t worry, by the way. I would never do something so horrendous as actually destroy a book. I have re-sold all of my leavings to a mom-and-pop shop that functions on this kind of book “donation” and they will all be lovingly read and re-read by drama enthusiasts in years to come. Either that or “up cycled” into etsy art projects, but I’m definitely hoping for the former rather than the latter.

Godspeed, little books! May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

…and may my move proceed without much stress, drama, or hassle. Because one thing is for sure: I can sugar coat this all I want, but at the end of the day I REALLY hate moving.

GIFT

This summer, I have the extraordinary privilege of being a Fellow with the GIFT program here at Tufts University. GIFT is a clever acronym for Graduate Institute For Teaching and it’s really an amazing program. Every summer, fellows are chosen from amongst Doctoral Candidates university-wide to participate in the institute. Seminars are held in various aspects of teaching and pedagogy and are conducted by top teachers from all of the disparate departments.

So far, the seminars have been delightful and extremely applicable to my job. I’m learning

A pano of my book fort that I took to show the other fellows what my workspace looks like

A pano of my book fort that I took to show the other fellows what my workspace looks like

a lot about teaching, and I’m learning a lot about being a graduate student.

You see, this is the first time that I’ve encountered other Tufts Doctoral Candidates in the wild. This is the first chance I’ve had to have close contact with a group of people so very like me, but also incredibly different. Lunchtime chats are dominated by discussing the similarities and differences in our fields, what Quals are like, what it means to work on a dissertation or culminating project, and what we expect to do when we grow up.

And the food. I have to say this about being a Fellow: in addition to being a really cool title (tee hee… I’m a “Fellow”), it also comes with certain expectations. You work hard, you make sure to represent your department in the best light that you can, and you try your hardest not to get fat. They’re feeding us really well at this program and it’s definitely been a source of mid-day delight and end-of-day regret.

In all seriousness, having somewhere to be every day first thing in the morning is a welcome change of pace. I wake up, I have coffee, I dress like I care what other people think of me. I’ve worn two blazers this week and four different pairs of shoes. The isolation of graduate study is a really crushing beast to deal with and my involvement with this program has been pivotal to understanding several concepts which, in theory, I knew but which, in practice, I had yet to truly uncover for myself. Impostor syndrome affects all of us. We all have trouble doing one thing or another and that doesn’t reflect our expertise as professional academics, just our growth as humans. There will always be a student who you don’t quite know how to reach, but with the right support system you can better enrich both her experience in the classroom and yours.

The program is a lot more intense than I was expecting it to be and I have found that I’m exhausted at the end of the day (and certainly now, at the end of the week, I’m dragging to get through the last tasks I need to accomplish before I can rest a bit this weekend). It has been so very worthwhile already, though, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the program has in store.

Also, you’ve never felt like you’re in an incredible discussion until you’ve been in a room full of budding experts in fields from Theatre History to Theoretical Physics. Just saying, we’re pretty smart.

Back with a Vengeance

Hello, everyone! I’m back from a lovely one-week vacation to the South of our great land where I was able to accomplish several things (not the least of which being visiting my lovely little sister, and gallivanting around her place of employment… Disney. Yes, I know,

While I was in Disney this might have happened....

While I was in Disney this might have happened….

life is hard when you’re a Rosvally).

Today, I was back in the saddle hitting the ground running. I’m honored to be a Fellow at the Tufts Graduate Institute For Teaching program this summer and, as such, am participating in twelve seminars designed to help improve my skills as a teacher. I’m learning a lot already (today was the first day) and am overjoyed to be meeting and interacting with other graduate students from (gasp) different departments. It’s nice to have somewhere to go first thing in the morning; this kind of structure really kicks off the day right and is something that I’ve been missing in recent semesters due to coursework having come to a close. Dissertation work can be extremely isolating, and this Institute is really the perfect combination of socialization, enrichment, professional development, and personal accountability for me at this point in my graduate career.

As part of seminar this morning, one of our glorious presenters gave us a sheet of quotations about war meant to spark conversation. None of them were accredited (in an effort not to bias us) but after the exercise was over, he went down the list and let us know where each had originated. I was perplexed when he reached one axiom that we’ve probably all heard before: “all is fair in love and war”. The presenter attributed it to Shakespeare and then admitted that it’s been said by people ad infinitum the world over since the dawn of time and moved on.

I was dubious about accrediting this quotation to my man Will because, first thing’s first, the syntax really doesn’t scream “Bard” to me. Secondly, and this is where things get hazy, I wasn’t recalling it from any of the plays off the top of my head (this is often a good source of information but not necessarily definitive; while I can probably quote more than is healthy for a human being, I’m not going to claim an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire canon…yet).

The attribution was really a minor point and I didn’t want to hang the class up with something completely tangential to what we were actually talking about. However, the factoid kept wheedling me after we left seminar (so much so that I was inclined to look it up on my own and determine where this famous phrase came from).

Sure enough, I was right. It’s not a Willism. The first round of answers I got were mixed; some attributing it to English novelist and playwright John Lyly and some to English novelist Francis Edward Smedley.

Further investigation proved that both of these answer are, after a fashion, correct. The Lyly derivation is actually a paraphrase of a line from Lyly’s 1579 novel, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit. Lyly actually wrote: “the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war” (you can see where the paraphrase is a bit more elegant for today’s syntax).

pretty flowering tree I found on campus today

pretty flowering tree I found on campus today

Which left the Smedley question. How did he get mixed up in this? I looked into things a bit more and discovered that, in fact, the first appearance of the quote as-is was in the 1850 novel Frank Fairleigh by Francis Edward Smedley (who apparently, in addition to one of the funniest names in literary history, also had a flare for the axiomatic).

Neither of these people are Shakespeare (though, funny enough, Lyly is noted for having written pretty copiously for the child companies, popular amongst upper class Elizabethan audiences and notorious for “stealing” audience members from the adult companies such as Will’s). So there you go! While it’s often a safe bet to attribution quotable quotes to Will, it’s never a sure-fire thing (as proven by this, your little bit of pop up dramaturgy for today). I hope that your week is off to an incredible start! Mine certainly is.

White Lies

As the weather gets nicer, it’s becoming more and more difficult to focus on the work I need to do rather than go outside and play all the time. This means that my running has definitely gotten some attention, but that I’ve had to get clever with how I get myself to my desk in the morning.

I was once given the advice that, whenever you’re feeling down about your work (and hey, it happens!), you should “eat dessert first”. Find what it is about the topic, the job, whatever it is you’re doing that drew you there in the first place. Some of what we do as academics is administrative red tape rigmarole, some of it is downright unpleasant, but there’s always going to be that shining kernel of things you love.

This week, it’s been about using that kernel to trick myself to my desk.

Due to the generosity of my home institution, I’ve been given the gift of research this summer. I’m enabled and empowered to visit New York for a full month to do dissertation research (which is vital because, you know, my dissertation is kind of all about New York). I’m so EXTREMELY excited for my trip for so many reasons (not the least of which being all the food from home that I miss so much up here in Boston). This means that I have to take some time before my trip to figure out what I’m actually going to look at at each of the various archives that I will be visiting.

Here's a picture of a T-Rex that I found in a bar a couple weeks ago.  For no reason really just that I had nothing else to put here.

Here’s a picture of a T-Rex that I found in a bar a couple weeks ago. For no reason really just that I had nothing else to put here.

Which basically means online shopping. I’ve spent no small amount of time this week (and will spend some more in weeks to come) browsing the catalogues of my target institutions for items that might have information which would help my project. Essentially, I get to sift through the holdings of these CRAZY LARGE PLACES in order to try and determine what small subset will be worth my while to look at.

This process is more complicated than you might think. The trouble is that library science, while certainly further along than it was when my grandparents were working on their dissertations (while I have used a card catalogue, it’s thankfully only a small subset of a specific corner of my research which requires such medieval measures), is still an imperfect science. But it’s not the field’s fault really; I mean how do you accurately catalogue boxes upon boxes of material in a way that is intuitive to the general researcher? Generally, the answer involves a complex series of sub-headings, and documents known as “finding aids” (slightly more detailed descriptions of what’s in a box than the collection’s title, but when I say “slightly” I often mean just that… most finding aids that come across my desk are one-line descriptions of date, persons involved (if it’s a letter then usually it’ll be the to/from), and maybe some brief description of places involved). These “finding aids” can be quite old and are generally in PDF form (and not even OCR PDF) which means that, rather than use a computer to look for the word/words you might need to key you in to items on this twelve-page list which might be useful, you have to sift through them using your own two eyes.

If this sounds like a special breed of torture, then you’re not entirely wrong. After about hour five of this, I tend to be too tired to continue without fear of missing something important. But the cool part is that you get little bursts of inspiration/encouragement along the way. Remember, you’re looking through these lists to find something related to your research. That means that the gems you find here will be the things that are the backbone of your project; one document could change the way we look at history! Every time I find something in one of these aids that might be useful to me, I get (at least a little bit) excited. What I’m looking at now will, when it’s in front of me, help to formulate the big ideas that I’m currently wrestling with and provide the documentation to support my arguments.

Also, handling stuff that’s easily five times your age never gets old.

So that’s been my method of tricking myself into productivity this week. Let’s see how long it holds up!

Weekend Adventures

Some weekends, I come back to my desk and feel like I’ve been in a completely different world for a few days. Some weekends, I feel like I’ve never left (…some weekends I don’t actually leave). This weekend was chock full of activities through which I wore a variety of different hats (literally and figuratively), and enjoyed some really awesome theatre!

Friday night, the man and I caught the opening performance of “Trapped in a Room with a Zombie”. This is a site-specific interactive piece in which an audience of twelve is invited into a room and the door is locked behind you. In the room with you is a zombie. All around the room are clues designed to help you open the door (there are five “steps” to the final process, each of which has several clues which must come together for the group

Our group shortly after being zombified

Our group shortly after being zombified

to figure it out). Oh and every five minutes, the zombie’s chain gets a little looser. You have one hour before the zombie rampages and kills you all.

The “show” (for lack of a better term) is a piece which began in Chicago and now has ten locations nationwide. The Boston location just opened and it’s in a warehouse at the industrial end of Chelsea. Just walking into the building is like stepping into a zombie flick!

We had a blast solving the puzzles. I have been sworn to secrecy by the staff of the attraction, so I won’t go into any detail here; but suffice to say that it’s quite challenging. I would highly recommend the experience to anyone with even the slightest interest in zombies, teamwork, problem solving, or fun.

Saturday, I led a swing and foxtrot tutorial for a group of dancers in New Hampshire in preparation for an awesome forties-themed photo shoot that a good friend is coordinating next weekend (don’t worry; there will be plenty of amazing pictures!). The highlight of this event, for me, was having the opportunity to be dancing again.

I worked my way through my Master’s as a ballroom dance instructor (no joke; I’m a woman of wide and sundry talents). Before that, I danced on and off for most of my life. Dance is a thing that I don’t do enough of here in Boston and it was absolutely amazing to spend an afternoon kicking up my heels. I love to teach ballroom to an appreciative audience; and this group was as eager to learn as I could have ever hoped for. Because they were already dancers, they picked up the steps quickly and asked good, productive questions. Also, it made me really think about my basic steps again (a task which I used to do a great deal of but haven’t much anymore since when was the last time I had to break down a foxtrot basic for a group of inquiring minds? Heck, when was the last time I even danced a foxtrot?) What a treat!

On Sunday, we caught Seven Stages Shakespeare Company in the encore production of their ShakesBEERience series. The ShakesBEERience performances are truly a joy: semi-rehearsed staged readings of plays which take place in taverns, breweries, and restaurants all around Portsmouth New Hampshire. These performances are free and audiences are invited to come for as much (or as little) as they like. This weekend, Seven

Artsy rendition of my drink plus playbill

Artsy rendition of my drink plus playbill

Stages performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Gas Light in Portsmouth. What was really great about this show was that it was the direct result of a collaborative effort between several different Portsmouth-based artistic groups. The Dorks in Dungeons (a role playing game inspired improvisation troupe) performed as the Rude Mechanicals. The Neoteric Dance Collective was on hand to play the fairies. There was magic, there was music, and there was so much beer.

What I really love about the ShakesBEERience effort is that it keeps Shakespeare extremely accessible. Free performances happening in low-pressure environments with a come-as-you-are attitude encourage new audiences to consider Shakespeare an experience within their reach, and even an experience that could be enjoyable. If you want to talk about new audience curation, these guys have that in the bag. Their work is community-oriented and reaches out to bring the outside in. I would highly recommend catching one of their shows (they’ve got two coming up this summer; Taming of the Shrew and Comedy of Errors).

So now I’m back at my desk, preparing to dive in to the next steps of my current project (read: dissertation). Maybe not as tried and true as foxtrots or Midsummers in bars, but definitely at least as exciting.

So… how was your weekend?

The First of the Last

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowing it Down

Being busy is a really weird thing, and the busier you are the weirder it gets.

I’ve been so busy for so long that since the semester is winding down and I’m no longer running at a break-neck pace, I’m feeling like I am not doing enough. I know, right? Because working three jobs (instead of seven) while writing a dissertation, blogging, and having a social life is TOTALLY not enough and I’m definitely a slacker.

In moments like this, I contemplate starting another project. Then I contemplate why it is that I’m so intent on dying young due to stress-related heart complications.

There’s a huge sense of guilt which comes with being essentially self-employed. Some things will test the boundaries of what you thought you could do. Studying for my comprehensive exam last summer, for instance, was one such task. I learned exactly how many books I could read in a day and still retain the proffered information. After that, even when comps were over, if I wasn’t reading five to eight books in a single day and watching two documentaries as a cool-down, then clearly I wasn’t working at full capacity.

It’s the same with the end of the semester. I get up every morning at 8 and drag myself to my desk after making a cup of coffee. There, I stay (unless I have to teach during the day) until at least 7:00 PM. At that point, I often leave the house to fight direct or review a show. And on days when I don’t do that (and I’m not taking a rare social break), I have been known to work until 9:00 or 10:00 at night because there are things that just have to be done. Essentially, I’m used to twelve hour plus days (I think my record is something crazy like sixteen hours, but on a typical week I average more like thirteen). I’m used to every single moment of my time being filled with some work-related thing of one variety or another.

So when it’s not, I feel like I might be doing something wrong. Like I’m not doing enough. Never mind that “normal” people work eight hour days and maybe burning the candle at

rare glamour shot; public library on my day off last weekend

rare glamour shot; public library on my day off last weekend

both ends isn’t the most sustainable work habit. It takes me a while to acclimate to a “normal” workload because I’m always so busy. When I drop by my desk time to a “regular” schedule, I feel like I don’t get as much done as I should.

I’m led to believe that this is a common thing in academia. It stems mostly from the fact that our projects are almost never completed (and when they are, never all at the same time). We can always always be working on something. There will indefinitely be another draft to write, another book to read, or another set of research to plow through. So when there’s work to be done and time in your schedule, why aren’t you working?

Part of it also stems from the constant drive to produce. With the job market being the way it is, there’s always a need to do more faster than the person behind, in front, or next to you. That one extra published article on your CV might make a different somewhere to someone at some time (especially at the early stages of your career).

Yet another part of it stems from the perfectionist tendencies which produce viable academics. Let’s face it; you don’t go for a PhD unless you’re incredibly driven to succeed and have a track record of near-perfection. If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re used to being amongst the “smartest” people in the room no matter where you stood.* Now, you’re in a department full of people like you. That’s a really tough situation to be in and can result in no small amount of struggle. When the cream floats to the top,** some of that cream is inevitably going to feel like milk again. Or, to put it as my mother says it, “not every doctor graduates top of the class”. You worked hard to get here, now you have to work twice as hard to stay where you’re used to being: at the top.

So the semester slow-down, while a perfectly healthy form of work curbing, doesn’t always feel right. I try to remind myself that it’s okay to average out those long days with a couple of “short” ones, but that only goes so far.

So I’ll be here trying my hardest to sit on my hands at 5:00 if anyone needs me. I can’t guarantee success, but I can certainly at least try!

 

*I put “smartest” in quotation marks because I want to differentiate a socially-accepted view of book smart from street wise, kinesthetic smarts, or emotional maturity that can make a brilliant person feel overlooked in a conventional classroom setting. Books and grades aren’t a sure-fire way to measure intelligence.

**Again, not sure this is a metaphor I’m entirely comfortable with but I’m having trouble coming up with an alternative.