Revenge of the Microfiche

Over the course of the past two days, I have spent a grand total of 3.5 hours sitting in the library with a microfiche machine scanning a 1963 dissertation to PDF so that I could take a copy home with me and peruse it at my leisure rather than be bound by the in-library usage of a microfilm reader.

If you’ve never scanned microfilm, you can consider yourself a happier person for it.  It entails sitting at a dimly-lit workstation with machines that haven’t been updated in the last fifteen years (and can’t be since the drivers for the microfiche readers are no longer made

My work area at the library today

My work area at the library today

to accommodate updated windows systems… also a microfiche reader will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand dollars and that’s the cheap model… for technology that hasn’t been updated since the eighties and actually can’t be updated anymore).  You line up your shot, click at least three times, then wait twenty seconds for the reader to scan the page.  You hope that the page scans with an appropriate brightness setting and, if it does, you move on to the next page.  Advancing the film is an entirely manual process.  There’s no automating it.

The book that I scanned was 250 pages worth of frames.

So you sit, advance, click click click, wait… sit, advance, click click click, wait… You can perhaps hope to do some bits of work in the interim between clicks (if you have work that you don’t need to think about constantly).  I used the opportunity to catch up on my grade-book keeping… for the first hour at least.  Essentially, once you’re done, you now have a pile of reading to do and your eyes are glazed over from a marathon of fluorescence.

I couldn’t help but think that it would be reason enough to become a rock star academic just so I could have someone else be responsible for this kind of menial task for me.  At the same time, there is something romantic about scanning your own microfilm.

Oh, did I mention that the students behind the reference desk often know nothing about the readers and so, if there’s a problem that you can’t fix yourself, you have to wait for someone from IT to show up?  Because those readers are probably older than the student workers.  I was advised by the circ desk worker that I was the first person he had ever encountered who needed to know where the readers lived.  That’ll give you hope for the researchers of tomorrow.

Living life in twenty second intervals is extremely disorienting.  The day slips by and you haven’t even noticed.  It made me wonder what other things would look like if performed in twenty second clips.

Cooking?  Baking?  The greatest works of literature?  Acting?  Dancing?  Twenty seconds is all you get… then you pause to re-align… then you get another twenty seconds.  Anyway, suffice to say that I got very little done today… and yesterday.  It feels, however, like I accomplished a few mammoth tasks.  And I guess that could be accurate(ish).  I did manage to fit some proof-reading, record-keeping, e-mail writing, twitter feeding, contract-writing, and internet-surfing in between those bits of film.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dissertation that’s old as sin to get through (this dude’s, not mine… mine is still in its infancy).  I also have two plays to review in two days (both Shakespeare-related – Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppets’ Midsummer Night’s Dream at ArtsEmerson tonight, then Vagabond Theatre Group’s Breaking the Shakespeare Code tomorrow).  If you need me, I’ll be buried under my job for a while.

Judgment Day

Over the weekend, I had the good fortune to act as a judge for the Massachusetts Educational Theatre Guild’s Massachusetts High School Drama Festival.

Let me start with a disclaimer: I will not be discussing any details of the judging process, or provide any justification for the decisions that were made.  I will not, actually, even discuss the decisions that were made.  What I will talk about is the overall experience.

Every year, high schools all over the state prepare 40-minute one-act pieces to showcase at Festival.  These pieces can be anything from adaptations of old stand-bys, to original pieces, to cut versions of classics.  The students are then invited to perform their pieces at preliminary festival rounds.  Each preliminary round includes eight performances over the course of one grueling day.  Three of these performances will move up to semi-finals.

So essentially, if you choose to stay for the entire day, you get the opportunity to see eight shows performed by exuberant, energetic, youthful performers who are just so excited for the opportunity to perform in front of their peers.

I can’t even begin to say how refreshing and rejuvenating the experience of watching this was.  Professional theatre can make you jaded and it can make you jaded quickly.  While there are certainly wonderful, magical things about the theatre (which, of course, is why we all choose to stay in it), the underbelly is its own ugly, irredeemable beast.  At its worst, theatre can be a conglomeration of horrible things: the politics, the narcissism, the nepotism; it can get to be a lot sometimes.  Additionally, the constant struggle for work is just that… a constant struggle.  As with many things, if you find yourself in a jungle of the bads without experiencing the fresh breath of the goods, you can begin to see a very grotesque and ugly mask.

You can often forget why it was that you got into this in the first place.

If you’re ever feeling that way, I highly recommend that you figure out how to get yourself to see one of these kinds of festivals.    The energy that tingles through the air is absolutely titillating.  The obvious effort that goes into each and every project is simply touching.

But if you really want to see something, stick around for the awards ceremony.  In addition to awarding three shows placement in the semi-finals, awards are also given out for “all-star” performances.  These awards can be for anything that a student put forth to add to the production: costuming, lighting, set design, acting, directing, etc.  The students who are recognized in this way are so excited and grateful to be presented with an honor before their peers.  The ceremony entails tears, cheers, and (most notably) no jeers.  While exuberance for a winner definitely comes most noticeably from the winner’s own school, the rest of the auditorium joins in congratulatory applause rather than any kind of derision.  Sportsmanship was an incredible portion of the day.  While I’m still on the fence about the benefit of “friendly competition” to the arts, I can most certainly say that this event encourages good social habits for an artist to have: a sense of accomplishment with one’s own work, and a sense of awe and inspiration from the work of one’s peers.

I can also say that I believe, with some surety, that lives were changed this weekend.  It may seem silly to say that, but assurances from co-judges, teachers, directors, and the ambient adults in the room that this event meant “so very much” to the kids were absolutely confirmed by the number of teary-eyes award recipients whose hands I shook.

While it was a long day (fifteen hours on-site, not including the time it took me to drive to/from the host school), it was absolutely a worthwhile one.  I am so very happy to have been a part of it, and I well and truly can’t wait to see what happens next year.

 

I Would Prefer To: Scrivener

As any crafter, home improver, or DIYer will tell you, having the right tool for the job makes the job a lot easier.

And, dear internet, I’ve been writing papers with the wrong tools for so long.

Basically I’ve had access to a sledgehammer and a machete when what I needed was a jeweler’s hammer and a surgeon’s scalpel.  Microsoft word is many things and it’s a workhorse of a program.  Basically anything you want to do you can somehow find a way to make it do.  In terms of text manipulation and the actual process of word processing, it’s got many great features (tables of contents, version control, find and replace, text manipulation capabilities, etc.), but for a research paper it’s so not the tool for the job.  At least, not the way I write.

Most writers are lateral thinkers.  You’ve definitely heard me expound upon the beauty of lateral thinking before, so I don’t feel a need to go into it here.  Basically, we (of necessity) hold many different bits of information in our mind at one time in order to forge new thoughts and ideas on the page.  What this means is you’re juggling a lot of things at once: references (both bibliographic and visual), notes, facts, timelines, inspiration, and a host of your own thoughts.  I work with a dual monitor set-up on a Mac, so I can keep a lot of windows open at once, but it’s often inconvenient to have to bounce back and forth between windows when the information I need could be gracefully compiled side-by-side in one place if I had the right interface for it.

Well, it turns out that they make the right interface for it.  It’s called Scrivener and it’s my new best friend.  While it definitely ran me a chunk of change ($45 for software is nothing to sniff at when you’re living on a grad school budget), I consider the investment worthwhile in just the last week of playing with the tool.

My best beloved turned me on to the software and introduced me to the notion.  It’s apparently something that novel-writers swear by (and I can definitely see why).  In fact, Scrivener is so awesome that they even offer a one-month trial version for folks participating in NaNoWriMo every year.  I can’t imagine writing one large project on this and then being without it; I’m absolutely certain that the good folks at Scrivener make a ton of business that way.

I was resistant at first.  It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and the Scrivener help files are long and a bit arduous to get through.  Scrivener will automatically open up to a tutorial upon your first usage after installs, and that tutorial will take you some time to get through.  Consider it an easy-access pass to the yellow brick road; a small time investment will definitely save you in the future.

I think the best feature for me is that I can see, as I go, the accumulation of what I’ve

In center, my research notes.  At right, you can see my comments; each comment is a new source.  I can auto-jump to that source by clicking in to the comment.

In center, my research notes. At right, you can see my comments; each comment is a new source. I can auto-jump to that source by clicking in to the comment.

done.  If I set up my comments correctly, I can see how many sources I’ve already compiled (and in what category so I know where I’m weak without having to dig through all of my notes).  Since I’m currently embroiled in preliminary Prospectus research, this is HUGE to what I’m doing right now.  Additionally, I can file multiple documents in one project; my notes are thus auto-sorted as I research, and I can swap back and forth between them with extreme ease.

Another feature I absolutely love is the ability to embed images in a project.  If I happen upon a broadside or picture in a reference book that I’d like to include in my notes, it’s incredibly easy to do so (I generally snap a shot with my cell phone camera, which auto-syncs to my dropbox, and then I can just drop the image into the scrivener folder and link it within the text).  I don’t have to fiddle with dimensions (as in word), or worry about text wrapping or layering.  The image is just there for me to look at when I need to see it.

Corkboard View of my current prospectus research

Corkboard View of my current prospectus research

One of the selling points for me was “corkboard view”.  Each document has a set of notes you can file alongside it, and when you drop into corkboard view the document is represented by an index card.  You can move the index cards around with drag-and-drop to visually rearrange how your material will be presented.  I can picture how wonderful this is going to be when I start drafting chapters; I can even break those chapters up into sections and drag/drop my material as I write it.  As I’ve said before, I’m a tactile learner which makes the vast amount of reading/writing/research I do extremely difficult; this kind of interface really jives with my learning style and helps to de-conceptualize my writing.

Another great feature is custom meta-data tagging.  Within each document, you can specify meta-data fields that can help with search functionality later.  Scrivener provides a robust search interface (which really means that it will search many different parameters to find the data you’re looking for).  Essentially, the more ways you label your writing, the easier it will be for you to find what you need.  I can also see this coming in handy when generating an index.  You know.  For WAY in the future when that sort of thing is a part of my life.

On the whole, Scrivener has made me excited to write.  This, as you may or may not know, is a HUGE hurdle in actually getting your work done.  Experimenting with the program’s features and finding new ways to make my life easier has made dragging myself to my desk in the morning a task rather than a chore, and if there’s anything that will make life easier it’s inspiring the impetus to work.  When I get going, I’m always fine (my work is fascinating and I love doing it), but climbing to my desk is an uphill battle.  Scrivener has made it that much easier to ascend Everest, and it’s definitely making organization a pleasure.

I would highly recommend giving this program a shot; especially if you’re struggling with keeping your dissertation material in a format that’s not overwhelming.

Blogging; And You

As I’ve kept this blog over the years, I’ve had many different reactions from my peers and mentors about my ability to remain consistent with it.

Some have expressed that it’s an odd experience to read the blog.  I’ve been told that being in the room during an event then later reading my description of the happening is a touch surreal (I can understand how this might be true).

By and large, the most common reaction that I’ve been privy to is an incredulity at my ability to keep writing and my ability to find time to devote to this project.

I will be honest, writing has almost never been a struggle.  I’m a writer.  Writers want to write.  I have, sometimes, found myself awash with a plethora of possibilities for blog content, and sometimes I have been in the blogging doldrums with nothing that I can really relate.  I’ve also been in the situation where I’m dealing with something that I would love to craft a blog post about it, but for political or personal reasons I am not able to at that given moment.  Sometimes, I’m able to shelve these ideas for later use.  More often than not, I have to consent that I will be unable to put my thoughts into writing about an issue at hand in a public forum until I have tenure and, at that point, the issue will (hopefully) be rendered moot.

Throughout my early PhD experience, writing was an important exercise for me.

One of my Dissertation Personalities; American Actor Lester Wallack.  WHAT A MUSTACHE!

One of my Dissertation Personalities; American Actor Lester Wallack. WHAT A MUSTACHE!

During coursework, you can spend a whole semester without writing a single page, then be expected to spit out at least 100 pages of pristine, intelligent, and interesting writing at the semester’s end.  This doesn’t set a very sustainable pace for the tasks ahead.

During my comps prep, writing was important because it kept me on-task, and gave me the practice of spitting out focused content in a small time window.  One of the skills which these exams test, but is extremely difficult to study for, is your ability to craft a cogent piece of writing under extreme stress and pressure.  I’ve known that, for some of my forbearers, this was the most stressful portion of the exam.  Because I’m used to creating such content blasts (thanks to my writing here), it was the least of my concerns.

Now that I’m into dissertation work, writing is more important than ever.  Unfortunately, it’s even harder than it used to be to push myself to do it.

You see, this process is a long and drawn out one.  It’s a process of thinking BIG DEEP THOUGHTS over a substantial period of time.  As such, I’m engaged in work that doesn’t necessarily leave me with cogent bits of information at the end of the day.  Blog posts require something that can be discussed in a certain space.  The things that I’m currently entrenched in are long, drawn-out battles… and not ones that I’m necessarily willing to share.  As much as I would love to live in an open-source world, Intellectual Property is a real and ever-present element of any academic’s work.  Especially an unpublished graduate student.  I really can’t let you in on my research process in detail that’s too great, which is really a pity because (trust me) it’s fascinating.

So as much as I’d love to share my triumphs and tribulations as I go along, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to stick to the abstract for the moment… and for the foreseeable future.

In terms of finding time to blog, I can’t articulate how worthwhile an exercise this is.  I’ve given you some reasons above as to why this might be.  If you’re currently writing a dissertation and NOT actually doing any writing on a weekly basis (it may sound weird to an outsider, but trust me it’s very easy to do), I can’t recommend the experience of blogging highly enough.  It helps to order your thoughts and keep you together.  It allows you to achieve small goals throughout the week, and that will create a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment your work often lacks since your large goals are a long ways off.  Blogging is a great way to give you structure (which, as we all know, is key to any work regime, especially a free-form one like dissertation work).  And, at the risk of sounding like a romantic, it’s sometimes nice to have a physical manifestation of your work and time to look back upon.

Even if you don’t choose to share your thoughts in an open public forum, you should consider a journal, or a private blog, or just somewhere to put a collection of your writing as you go through this process.  It might be worth something to you someday, and the process is definitely worth something to you right now.

Through Good Times and Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

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

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

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

To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

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

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

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

 

Breaking News: The Internet is Here to Stay

Over the weekend, my dearest friend and I celebrated the silly holiday by attending a performance at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.  The performance was a staged reading called “Unfeigned Love: The Letters of John and Abigail Adams” and it was, essentially, everything you might think from that title.  Some very apt performers played the parts of John and Abigail and, with the help of a narrator, led the audience through a tour of this great couple’s love via the contents of their letters.

The performance was well done and enjoyable, but I took great issue with something the

The stage-setting for our performance on the evening

The stage-setting for our performance on the evening

narrator said in a nearly-offhand moment of his tale.  At one moment, the narrator chose to ask his audience what their legacy would be; when had they last put pen to paper?  When had they last spent time crafting a letter rather than composing via keys and screen?  “Real” letters, his rhetoric ran, were much more lasting than the fleeting updates one places on the internet and digital technologies cannot be trusted for information permanency.

This fallacy is one which I combat on a daily basis.  Distrust of technology is notorious and rampant; people seem to think that things put on the internet simply fizzle into thin air.  Because these things are not tangible, they are not permanent.  The paper letter is superior in form and longevity.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong mister narrator.  Just…. So very wrong.

Let me put it to you this way: how often do we warn our children against the dangers of putting things on the world wide web where they can be found?  How often do we caution the eager youth against rampant facebook posting for fear that it may be brought to bear against them at some point later in their career?  (say… when looking for a job…?)  Information put online, I would argue, is more permanent and more public than any single piece of paper knowledge crafted since the dawn of the digital age.

So let’s go through these false notions one step at a time: the fallacy would have us believe that digital information is fleeting, impermanent, impersonal, and inferior to something written on a piece of paper.  Additionally, digital communications are entirely replacing hand-written correspondence.

Digital media is far from consumable.  It is nearly impossible to well and truly wipe a hard drive of all traces of information, and doing so requires special equipment (…rare earth magnets, for instance).  Data stored “in the cloud” is actually (generally) stored in physical form at a data center with one (or several) points of redundancy.  Public-facing websites are also considered something of public domain; once the information is available, anyone is free to access or archive it (and people do).  In essence: to erase every trace of something off the internet, you would have to hunt down every physical copy of whatever it is you are looking to destroy, and utilize an obscure process to clean the multiple machines upon which it is stored (generally in more than one physical location).  That doesn’t sound consumable to me.

And how about the notion that gmail auto-archives all of my outward correspondence?  I can’t say that about the paper letters I’ve received and sent.  The truth is that a hand-written note is much more likely to be lost in the shuffle or otherwise destroyed by the ravages of time than a digital one.

Oh and paper is really easy to destroy.  Just ask the good librarians at Alexandria.

As for the impersonal nature of digital media, I will grant you that computer interfaces can often seem cold.  Who hasn’t bemoaned the lack of a “sarcasm font” on one occasion or another?  But I will say that a healthy digital presence can tell more about a person than almost anything else.  Do you want to know who I am?  Then read my blog in conjunction with my twitter feed; google my name and you’ll find pictures of me as well as stories about me scattered through cyberspace; you can even find youtube videos of me doing various things if you want to hear my voice.  Don’t you think that will get you closer to me than a letter can?  The internet allows for a variety of expression that, before the digital age, were all but a dream.  So sure, maybe one brief e-mail isn’t as heartfelt as a gushing hand-drawn letter, but you can’t take the letter out of its context.

Also; the ship was REALLY pretty on the water.

Also; the ship was REALLY pretty on the water.

As for digital correspondence completely replacing the “superior letter”, it will only do so if the individual allows it to.  Despite writing a blog, various e-mails, text messages, social media updates, and all kinds of pixilated content in my day-to-day life, I still maintain a long-term pen pal connection to several of my close friends.  Additionally, even this week I took the time to write my best beloved a hand-written note, sent by old-fashioned post, in celebration of Hallmark’s Holiday.  E-mails don’t kill letter writing; people refusing to write letters kills letter writing.

And, for the record, digital technologies will only make the job of future historians an easier task.  Can I please tell you how much simpler it is to search digitized archives than it is to page through stacks of broadsides or (even worse) hand-written letters?  It’s a true joy to handle written material, but it is (by no stretch of the word) “easy” and I’m certain that much more gets lost in the cracks.

So on the whole, “Unfeigned Love” was an enjoyable event.  I would, however, rather like the historians at Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum to reconsider their stance on digital technologies.  There’s no reason to privilege the written word and put down the typed one; especially since social media makes great (free) advertising.  Encourage your audience to tweet, facebook, and blog to their friends; not forsake the evil computer for the romance of the fountain pen.

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

For the Children

As you may or may not recall, I’ve just come off a project at the Charlestown Working Theatre.  It has been my pleasure to fight direct their Advanced Youth Ensemble’s production of Macbeth.  The show opens on Saturday the first and runs weekends through the ninth (for more information, check out the CWT website).  This production has given me the opportunity to think about a great many things (not the least of which being “What’s the best way to kill a child, but not the infant he’s carrying, onstage?”; “How badass are the Banquos?”; and “If I were the King of Scotland, what would my signature broadsword move be?”).  One of the more poignant issues came up the other day in rehearsal, and I’d like to take a moment to discuss it.

This show is a production with teens.  The cast is (mostly) aged 13-18.  CWT plays host to several youth programs for children of varying ages and it’s truly a family place.  As a result, the director mentioned to me that she has been asked by parents if this show is appropriate for their younger children.

Alright, look.  Macbeth is a violent show that deals with adult themes.  Depending on the production company and the director’s imagination, sometimes the show is more violent than other times.  This version of Macbeth happens to be “bloodless” (by this I mean that, while murders are staged, we are not using blood or gore effects) and the violence is relatively straightforward (the murders are “clean” without being psychotic or sociopathic; the murderers take no apparent relish in their task but rather perform it as a duty).  Honestly, I think that this Macbeth is extremely appropriate for children of a certain age.

 

Me working with the cast.  Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson

Me working with the Macbeth cast (specifically Macbeth and Young Siward). Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson

Because bad things do happen in the world; and sometimes they happen to good people.  There isn’t a single news channel that wouldn’t show coverage similar to what we’re producing onstage.  This world is not always a safe place to be, and coming to terms with that is a part of growing up.

We go to the theatre to be transformed.  The old adage that philosophers unto ancient times have touted is that good theatre is meant to educate and entertain.  What better way to teach your children about violence than to expose them to violent acts in a safe space, where no one will really get hurt, and where the consequences are reversible?  Will young children feel disturbed by what they see in Macbeth?  I hope so.  If you can witness these kind of deeds without feeling some kind of stirring in your gut, then I don’t think you’re fit for humanity.  But what a teaching moment for them; what a place to learn is a theatre.

Besides which, there’s nothing we are showing that they can’t see in to even greater extreme on television, in movies, or in video games.  Did you know that gun violence in PG-13 rated films has tripled since 1985?  I’ve seen enough faceless murder victims on the big screen to know that killing isn’t a thing Hollywood takes seriously.  Blood, gore, assault… these are issues which we should be discussing with our children.  And, luckily, they are issues which Shakespeare takes seriously.  I think that Macbeth is a learning opportunity.  It’s an outlet for conversation about some BIG TOUGH issues which are and are not pieces of our daily lives.  Because, let’s face it, even though we are confronted with depictions of violence on an almost-daily basis, how often do we talk about it?

So I encourage you to take the opportunity that theatre has presented.  Teach your children about violence in a meaningful way in hopes that they can come to respect it and, in turn, realize how impactful it can be.  And, hey, maybe come see Macbeth.  Just to find out what that signature move I invented might be.

Ascendance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danielle Rosvally
ABD!!!!!!!!

First Day of School!

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

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

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

My room.

My room.

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

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

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