Looking Back to Look Forward

Today was back to the grind.

Which meant that I, like the rest of the world, spent the first half of my day unburying my inbox and summarily removing my head from the sand.  While I did do e-mail triage when I was away (I really can’t help it; I absolutely hate seeing those little red notification numbers pop up on my iPhone and not doing anything about them), this still took up a significant chunk of my time.  Which was a shame because my to-do list today was mammoth and included a large number of tasks, most of which could go on for an indefinite period of time.

I haven’t, until recently, really tested the outer limits of my juggling skills.  I know that my time management skills are superb, and I know (relatively) how much I can take before things begin to slip through the cracks.  As such, I tend to take on projects (especially short-term or intermittent projects) until my plate is absolutely at its breaking point.  I recently did a count of how many jobs I am actually working right now.  To qualify, I

A neat bookstore we found during our New York Adventures last week.

A neat bookstore we found during our New York Adventures last week.

considered a “job” as an ongoing project that has to do with my professional resume (either as an artist or an academic; because at this point one feeds the other and so they are essentially the same thing… I’m a mecha-demic).  Since I’ve been taking on various fight directing projects and small acting gigs (to keep up with these or where you can see my work, bop on by to my extracurricular activities page which I regularly update), the number fluctuates somewhere between five and ten on any given week.

It’s gotten so bad that my boyfriend, when I mention “my boss” or “my job”, has taken to asking “which one?”.  When we go see a show, which we do on a regular basis, he has to ask me “where did these tickets come from again?”  Usually he remembers to ask this question before the show so as to temper his feedback accordingly (you don’t know awkward until you’ve experienced a car-ride home from a show which you slammed before asking your companion how she was actually involved in its production only to find out that her input was exactly what you just vehemently protested*).

Occasionally I think that perhaps I should scale back.  When I have these thoughts, I like to remind myself that despite working long days, late nights, odd hours, and weekends on occasion**, I actually enjoy 80% of the things that I do (and that lingering 20% consists of necessary by-products; i.e. paperwork, annoying administration stuff, etc.).  There aren’t many people who can say that their job is consistently rewarding, always interesting, and ever-changing.  So even though paying my bills every month is a constant struggle, I can’t help but feel inescapably lucky.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity to pursue the level of education that I have, and I’m lucky to do so at an institution which is geographically located in a place where I actually want to live.

I’m lucky to have friends and loved ones who support (even if they don’t fully comprehend) my endeavors and are willing to listen to me ramble about history when I’ve had a bit to drink.

I’m lucky to be an artist of enough varying types that people are willing to pay me to

If you go see my latest FD project at Apollinaire, you'll see this audience set dressing.  You won't see the shadow puppet; that was a special addition from my darling other half.

If you go see my latest FD project at Apollinaire, you’ll see this audience set dressing. You won’t see the shadow puppet; that was a special addition from my darling other half.

execute my art, and give me the opportunity to showcase and stretch it on a regular basis.

I’m lucky to encounter so many talented and intelligent people in my travels: students, mentors, and colleagues.

I’m lucky to have the means to participate in all the extracurricular activities which keep my multitude of jobs going; conferences, workshops, seminars, performances, classes, lectures, etc…

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a great start.  As I look into 2014, I see some changes on the wind.  It’s nice to take stock of what I have, even as I know it’s going to become what I had.

One more week of break before classes start and I’m determined to make it count.



*please note that this hasn’t happened in quite some time; whether that says something about the growth of my skills or the quality of my current company is yet to be determined.

**…okay, fine, on a regular basis.

Why I Don’t Leave my Tower

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good rant about normal people, so I guess I was due in for one.

Through a series of related events, I’ve had to interact with a great many normies of late.  You know the type; people who hold down society-approved jobs, who are good at those jobs, and who probably don’t interact much with people who don’t hold down such positions.  This is generally fine, except for when you find yourself in a situation where these people feel compelled to make small talk (i.e. at a doctor’s office while tests are being run, at your hairdresser while your hair is drying, etc.)  Inevitably, the first question anyone asks is “what do you do?” and they expect a clean-cut answer with no frills.

Things are rarely clean-cut in my world and almost never have no frills.  I swear if one more person asks me as a follow-up question to my inevitable answer of “I’m getting my PhD” “Well, what are you going to do with that?” I’m going to go berserk Homer Simpson style and (literally) bounce off the walls.

Today, a new one got added to the small talk blacklist.  After telling a very nice and well-meaning lady that I’m a PhD student she replied, “Oh, well, at least you don’t have to work.”


Actually, I tend to work 60-80 hour weeks with no break.  I work through weekends and days that normal people are allotted “off”.  I take work with me wherever I go in case I have ten minutes in a coffee shop because god forbid I not be reading during that time.  I’m pretty much on call constantly as students tend to e-mail me at whatever hour they’re at their machines (I try to make a rule that I don’t reply after 6PM and only reply on weekends in case of emergency just to maintain my own sanity, but that doesn’t mean the work isn’t sitting in my inbox).  I serve as chair to a committee for my professional organization; this is a volunteer position for which I’m getting paid in networking opportunities, a line on my CV, and happy thoughts about how I will positively impact the future of my field.  Since my committee is also made up of volunteers, we all work when we have the time to.  We’re on

That's my desk right now covered in things I have to take care of today...  but at least I'm not working.

That’s my desk right now covered in things I have to take care of today… but at least I’m not working.

three separate time zones, we’re all busy graduate students, and it’s not unheard of to be drafting things together at unreasonable hours of the day/night.  Though I make my own hours, I work until I’m done.  Since I’m a perfectionist, this can be late nights and early mornings (though generally more like 2AM “early mornings” than 6AM “early mornings”).

Yea, sure, at least I don’t have to work.

The problem is you can’t really say this to the well-meaning nice people who are only trying to get through their own day.  They don’t understand what it is that they’ve said (which is why they said it in the first place).  Really, it’s a societal problem; there’s a huge lack of understanding about what graduate school (particularly at the PhD level) actually entails.  Those near and dear to me know, one way or another, that I’m busy even if they don’t necessarily understand what that is or what it means.  I no longer (or very rarely) get the piss taken out of me for missing social gatherings because I have to work.  I no longer (or very rarely) have to explain that despite the fact that I’m sitting at my machine in my sweats, pajamas,  or some amalgamation of both, I’m actually working.  I no longer (or very rarely) feel the need to defend my life choices to those whom I speak with.

Which is why it hits me every time something like this happens.  It’s excruciatingly frustrating to feel like the person taking appointments for your hairdresser thinks that you’re “not working”.  I mean really, what does her job entail besides surfing facebook and playing angry birds?

So spread the awareness folks.  Tell everyone you know.  Sit them down and break it to them gently: if they should ever in their travels encounter a PhD student in the wild, appropriate questions to ask are “what does your work entail?”, “Any ideas for what your dissertation will be about?”, “What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever written on a student paper?”.  Asking “what are you going to do with that?” or decrying that they are essentially a giant leech on society because their job isn’t the same as your job is about as appropriate as me telling a Medical Doctor that her degree has taught her nothing and she may as well be a denizen of Plato’s cave, grunting at shadows because she hasn’t ever seen the bright light of truth and therefore isn’t a true philosopher.

Because I swear, if one more person (well-meaning or not) makes this insinuation again, someone’s getting punched.

…I may add a paypal donation button to the side of the page soon.  It will go directly to the bail fund for when I’m inevitably brought up on assault charges for defending the academy’s good name.  It won’t be my fault that my opponent doesn’t understand the act of gauntlet throwing and I cannot be held responsible for my actions.

Auf Wiedersehen, 2012

Hello, friends and readers!

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

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

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

Things I did in 2012:

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

Began to learn to read German.

Completed a year of coursework for my PhD.

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

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

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

Blogged faithfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Years, faithful reader!

And Now for Something Completely Different…

My partner in crime has informed me that, after this week’s previous post, I should probably also talk a little bit about the flip side of the coin.  So, as his advice is generally good, and lest you think that Graduate School is a long, dark, tunnel of stress and upset leading to nowhere positive, I would like to take some time to share a bit about the wonderful things that have happened to me because of (or related to) my experiences in higher education.

Consider the previous post the warning label and this post the advertisement.  Real life, as always, will be found somewhere gently hovering in between.  Or, if you want a picture more true-to-life, real life is actually lived on the extremes.  The average found in the middle very rarely happens, but so long as your good days equal or outweigh your bad days, you can consider your life choice a sound one… at least, I do.

One of the nifty things about being affiliated with a university is that, as soon as you tag that affiliation onto your byline, folks tend to take you seriously.  Because of this (and because of the endless generosity of people willing to take time out of their busy schedules to gab with me about their work), I have had the good fortune of conducting field research at many exciting places this year.  I got to sit down with the man who inspired me to go into Shakespeare studies (a director at Shakespeare & Company by the name

Outside the mainstage at Shake & Co

of Kevin Coleman – he’s playing the fool in their Lear right now and he’s spectacular) and talk about his work.  I got to examine and photograph theatrical designs from a designer’s private archive.  I got to tour and photograph the Rebecca Nurse Homestead during its off-season even though visitors weren’t technically allowed onsite during the time in which I had to do my research.  Would a “normal” person have had these opportunities?  Difficult to tell… but I can certainly tell you that being able to point at a legitimate institution and say that I was part of it definitely helped my confidence by way of things that I was willing to ask for.

Archive access is another neat perk to academia.  The great thing about an archive is that it’s a repository of all kinds of shinies.  Sure, I love books as much as the next nerd, but something about holding a piece of paper older than one’s own country really gets the adrenaline going.  The Harvard Theatre Collection happens to be the oldest and largest Theatre archive in the United States… it also happens to be right down the road from my apartment.  This year, I spent countless hours in the archive digging for buried treasure.  I handled broadsides from the shows affiliated with the Astor Place Riots.  I paged through the Johnson/Steevens edition of Shakespeare (published 1773).  I tried to decipher John Adam’s handwriting off a letter he wrote to dear Abigail.  I (nearly) touched a First Folio (we have two native to Boston – one housed at Brandeis, the other at the Boston Public Library Rare Books room).

At the San Diego Zoo, I made friends with this peacock

I traveled.  This year, I saw two cities for the first time as I conferenced within them: San Diego and Baltimore.  In San Diego, I got to go to the San Diego zoo.  In Baltimore, I had an afternoon at the National aquarium.  In both places, I met graduate students from around the country who were working on projects that I never would have otherwise known about.  I got to be part of the greater academic discourse and understand a bit better what my peers are doing in other areas of the ivory tower.

I connected with my work in the field.  I saw so much theatre this year and, more than just seeing it, I was able to critically engage with it.  I reviewed a great deal of it, but even that which I didn’t review was always discussed with a traveling companion or two.  It’s important to touch the ground now and again and really understand what you’re working on.  In the case of theatre, it’s so easy to bury your head in the book-history and never come up for air.  I’m proud to say that the book learning fueled my desire to see more theatre and really made me pursue productions in the greater Boston area.  This drive to connect with the tangible has introduced me to some amazing venues, some wonderful companies, and some very interesting people.

I accomplished some pretty neat things.  I translated an article from Diderot’s encyclopedia.  I started my quest to learn to read German.  I produced six graduate-level papers (all of which have potential to continue on as larger projects).  I found a way to become involved with a few nifty projects for next year (including dramaturging Measure for Measure and acting the dream role of Rosalind in As you Like it).  I made connections and met people who were not only interesting, but also important to theatre studies.  I wrote a book review which is going to be published in a professional journal (details to follow).  I maintained a blog that has tripled its following over the course of the past year.  Even though I’m only part way to my grand goal, the little victories along the way have helped to sustain me with how truly thrilling they are.

I suppose, as with anything, the payoff of academia is only worth what

and if all else fails, find a bunny to help you with your homework. This bunny’s name is Rory Pond. She’s a she bunny. My friends are a little weird.

you’ve gone through to get it.  So yea, you’ll find yourself in the tunnel sometimes.  Keep calm, remember where your towel is, pour yourself some earl grey, and remind yourself that this is all totally worth it.  And if you begin to doubt that, head over to the archive and pull the oldest thing in the collection.  I guarantee that one look at whatever it is will remind you that your life is pretty cool despite its extreme trials.