Books Don’t Keep you Warm

Here is your obligatory complaining about the weather post: on Tuesday it was warm enough for a run outside.  Today I’m going to have to shovel my driveway before I leave for class.  Because I live in New England.

I’ve spent the week looking yearningly out of windows and hoping that the words “Spring Break” would actually mean something to the weather gods.  Unfortunately for me, the weather gods are tricksy jerks and care not for a university schedule, or even the pleas of a desperate doctoral candidate looking for some small way to salvage what’s left of her sanity.

On that note, I don’t know why I’m continually surprised at the revivifying quality that exercise has on my mind.  No matter how many times I prove it to be true, I am consistently astounded by the fact that if I go for some kind of physical activity right at the point when my eyes get bloobity and I can’t really read/comprehend what’s on the page in front of me, an hour later I’m raring to go again.  This re-realization only compounds my yearning for the warmer weather; convincing myself to go outside for an hour is so much easier when “outside” is a pleasant place to be.  I do break down and move my workouts indoors during inclement weather, but even walking from my door to the gym can sometimes be a fight when it’s bitter and leaky out there.

If anyone knows anyone who has a hookup with someone who can make spring come faster here in Massachusetts, I’d be ever so grateful.  I’m plumb tired of being cold.

Dissertation work is draining, and my book fort doesn’t seem to be moving one way or another.  This is mostly due to the fact that the minute I manage to reduce my “to read”

artistic desk shot.  This doesn't really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

artistic desk shot. This doesn’t really expound the extent of the book fort, but it does look pretty.

pile to workable number, I get another dose of ILL books from the library and stack them on top again.  Despite diligently hacking away at the pile on my desk (which at one point this week was tall enough to literally bury me), I’m still surrounded by things that need to be read.

I suppose I should look at the other end for any indication of real progress: it is true that my “have read” book fort is steadily growing larger.  It has, at this point, expanded to the point of walling me into my desk.  I have to traverse an obstacle course before I can actually sit down these days.  The scary part is that I haven’t even really begun to work on the bulk of the project; I’m still just picking at the edges.  I suppose that means I’ve chosen a topic ripe for exploration, but it does leave me a wee bit nervous about just how many library books I’m going to be held accountable for before this is all over.

And that’s not even to consider the archival work ahead of me.  I’ve identified piles upon piles of things that I’ll have to sort through; but at least those items won’t follow me home.  Well, they will, but in neatly sifted digitized form so that they won’t take up any room on my floor (just on my hard drive).

And on that note, it’s time to re-launch today’s attack upon Research Mountain.  Wish me luck!

 

Happy, Merry, Healthy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843):

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

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

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton (1993):

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

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Strawberry Banke Candlelit Christmas Tour; SO lovely.

Love Actually by Richard Curtis (2003):

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

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

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

 

Perspective

As I have previously mentioned, comps does many things.  Among those things, it gives you perspective.

It gives you perspective about your friends.  Who is really going to be there to cook you dinner at the end of the day when you can barely make eye contact and talking about anything that’s not theatre history is simply out of the question?  Who is going to not be offended that you haven’t called/been to a party/replied to text messages for the last few months because you’ve been swallowed into the oblivion of studying?  Who is going to understand when you just need to sit and stare at the wall/cry/talk out an idea that they have no possible way to contribute to?  Who is going to respond to the rally of “I need to not be in my house tonight, but I don’t have any energy to expend socially”?

It gives you perspective about your life.  Can you ever really say that you’re having a stressful day ever again?  Or a bad day for that matter?

It gives you perspective about what you can and cannot handle and what you can and cannot do.  I, for instance, am never going to say that I don’t have enough time to complete x assignment again without some serious thought about what I managed to do in four-days with my take-home exam.  I have a better idea of my own limits both emotionally and intellectually.

Most pertinent to my everyday life and writing, however, is this: it gives you perspective about books.  I have a brand new notion of how big a “big” book is, or how many books is “a lot” of books.  What this really means is that my perspective is skewed.  I sat down, for instance, to write about how I should be doing some research right now and sorting through the “large pile of books” that I brought home from the library today.  But looking at it?  It’s not that big.

In other news... campus was really pretty today!

In other news… campus was really pretty today!

…it’s really not my fault that, at my peak this summer, I was reading 5-7 books in a day and, thereby, a stack of 8 books no longer looks insurmountable, right?  Somehow, this newfound regard for the amount of research that I am capable of is somewhat dehumanizing.  If I can really pound through that many books in a day, then what does it say on days when I don’t?  Days when I’m working at my usual speed rather than ridiculous comps-speed?

The psychological aftershock of this process is something that I’m going to be dealing with for some time now.  Also; I’m not even really done yet.  I still have orals to get through.

No rest for the weary.

Yūgen

In Nōh drama (an ancient Japanese style heavily laden with chanting and slow rhythmic dance), the desired effect of a piece is termed yūgen.  Sometimes, yūgen is translated as “grace” or “a mysterious sense of beauty”, but honestly it’s just easier to try and wrap your head around the concept of yūgen than to find a good way to define or translate it.

Yūgen, when achieved, is supposedly a symptom of “refined elegance” that properly executed Nōh brings with it.  Attempting to understand it is today’s metaphor for attempting to prepare for the comprehensive exams.

the book fort is growing

the book fort is growing

You don’t really know what comps are, despite knowing what comps are (just like yūgen).  Even when you think you may understand it, explaining it to someone else is extremely difficult and you find yourself resorting to all kinds of crazy metaphors (…i.e. this post).  While it may perhaps relate to something completely outside of its realm (comps prep relates to athletics like yūgen relates to comps prep), you can never truly pin down entirely what it is.  When you think you have achieved it, you can only understand that by a true inner calm and a self-assurance that you have done well.  While others may, by gazing from the outside in, observe the process within you, only you can be completely assured that you have truly done it.

Actors study for decades to achieve yūgen.  I have studied for decades to reach the comprehensive exams.  Japanese acting teachers are notoriously abusive in their training techniques; as is the world of academia (especially since the old guard had to walk fifteen miles uphill both ways in the snow to retrieve their library books and, of course, speak fifteen languages so thereby don’t need translations of foreign-language passages in their texts).  Japanese theatre is a man’s tradition (women were banned from the stage until the later part of the twentieth century, and even now there are extremely few female performers of the traditional theatre types; Nōh and Bunraku especially; Kabuki has a bit more).  Academia is still very much an old boys’ club.  Dressing in drag is discouraged in either setting (once they let ladies onto the stage, it took care of a lot of anxieties about what onstage cross-dressing meant for Japanese gender identity… and as much as I LOVE Ru Paul, somehow I don’t think she’d make the appropriate kind of splash if she showed up in full regalia to lecture “Theatre History 101”).

Appreciative audiences often sleep through Nōh productions (the desired

a better/alternate shot of the book fort

a better/alternate shot of the book fort

viewing state is the place between wakefulness and dream, so this activity, unlike in the Western theatre, is not at all discouraged).  Sometimes I take naps on books (especially if they’re not particularly engaging, or alternatively too mentally taxing).

Achieving yūgen is essentially achieving a divine state.  I can imagine that completing comps will feel the same way.  I only wish that there would be an ensuing audience to give me a GIANT round of applause while I take a triumphant bow when I turn in the final portion of the exam.

I am officially one month away from my test.  I think I’ve finally defeated the six-day stress headache that made me slow way down last week to accommodate the ailment (…though I won’t say that too loudly in case the headache-from-hell hears).

…let’s try to achieve some nirvana, shall we?

Con Men

My trusty partner in crime by my side, this weekend past I was cajoled into visiting my first SF/F convention.

Okay, before you close your browser window, point at your monitor, and laugh yourself silly, let me get a few things straight: 1) No, I wasn’t in costume.  2) Neither was anyone else for that matter. 3) Yes, I’m a nerd, but I was definitely the best-dressed nerd there. 4) Even though no one was wearing a costume.  Especially because no one was wearing a costume.

The con was readercon, an extremely local convention which prides itself on being more “literary” than other SF/F conventions.  What this really means is that instead of attending panels to discuss which pop-culture vampire is the hottest, you go to panels with useful information on being a writer, reading stories, and interacting with books.  The con is well-attended by some pretty well-known SF/F authors who participate in panels and also offer readings of their up-and-coming works throughout the weekend.  Perhaps the coolest offering of this particular convention is what they call a “Kaffeeklatsche”, an intimate gathering between a designated author and up to 15 conference attendees.  You sign up in advance for an hour in a special lounge with a small group of other con denizens and whomever you’ve signed up to klasche with.

As a result, I got to meet and talk to some really neat people (including Elizabeth Bear  and Scott Lynch… fan girl squee!).

I also got to hear some really solid advice on becoming a SF/F writer.  And so, since it is my wont as a blogger to blog about my experiences, I’m passing this advice on to you.  This is culminated from my weekend of listening, discussing, and observing and is not from any one source (direct or indirect) other than the con as a whole.  Suffice to say with the amount of publishers, editors, and authors running around doling out the advice, I feel that it’s pretty solid (though of course, can neither personally confirm nor deny any of it as… well… I’m a blogger, not an author… at least for now).

 Thing 1: Don’t quite your day job.  Writing does not pay.  Even if you get that book contract, it could be a long time before you see any money and chances are it won’t be enough to live off of.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (Twilight, Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Gray, etc…), but it’s a rule for a reason.  You won’t be the exception, so don’t bank on it.

 Thing 2: Write the stories you want to read.  If they sell, great!  If they don’t, at least at the end of the day you won’t be sitting there with a gun to your head (seriously, I heard and re-heard the story of depressed-to-death writer this weekend).  Writing is art and in no other profession based upon art do you hear people give up simply because it’s not making money.  How many hobbyist painters do you know?  Actors?  Musicians?  Same thing with the written word.  And, since you took Thing One under advisement, you won’t even have to move into a cardboard box.

Thing 3: If you want to write, write!  If you want to publish, submit!  An editor can neither accept nor reject a manuscript if it has not been submitted in the first place.  Just do it.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Thing 4: Less writing advice and more general tip for courtesy during Q/A sessions/small groups meetings: do your research first.  Don’t waste the time of everyone in the room (who, by the way, has done their research) by asking questions which could easily be answered with one google search.  Similarly, we know you’re excited about your own work.  We know you fancy yourself an artiste.  But unless you have a “participant” badge, I did not come here to hear you talk.  I don’t care about what you’re writing, how hard you’re trying to get an agent, or your insecurities about your work (and frankly, neither do the panel participants).  Don’t waste our time listening to you blather about these items (or, really, yourself at all unless it’s pertinent information and, in that case, keep it concise).  If you feel you must talk about this stuff with the participant “on-stage”, catch him/her in the hotel bar/elevator/hallway between panels and don’t inflict your dithering upon the rest of us. (…can you tell how grumpy this made me?)

 Thing 5: Especially if you come to make networking connections, dress like you’re headed to an interview.  Leave your super hero tee shirts at home.  I’m not saying you need to bust out the three-piece, but at least look a bit polished when you’re trying to oh-so-covertly slip your card/manuscript to the editor.

 Thing 6: Panel moderators take note!  You have fifty minutes to accomplish what your panel description says you are going to accomplish (actually more like thirty-five to forty if you want to have a Q/A at the end).  You have between four and six people on your panel.  That means that each individual (including yourself) is allotted approximately eight minutes of talk-time spread over the entire session, during which you probably want to make three or four points/present that many rounds of questions.  This means that, for each question you present, each individual should be allowed no more than two minutes of talking.  Wasting this time with preamble, summation of why we should care about the issue at hand, and/or lengthy introductions is going to make it such that you can’t get to the real meat of your panel (and, by the way, what we came here to listen to).  Slim down, think hard about what you really need to say, and be ready with extra (not necessarily vital) material which you should be fairly certain you will never get to.

Thing 7:  Plan for all temperature conditions.  Though it was well into the 90s outside this weekend, the panel rooms ranged from comfortable, to sauna-hot, to arctic.  I made good use of my shawl collection (as blankets sometimes!).

Thing 8: If you, like me, are easily distracted and find it difficult to focus without something

in lieu of a “dealer room”, this con has a bookstore! Scored some swag pretty cheap (i.e. more books to read…. oh the horror)

to do, bring knitting or other unobtrusive crafts.  I saw embroiderists, seamstresses, fellow knitters, crocheters, and doodlers at this convention all quietly doing their thing while folks were presenting.  There’s nothing wrong with needing something for your hands to do, but it is really rude to not be attentive.  As a result, I finished an entire sock over the course of the weekend (and could probably have finished its mate if I didn’t refuse to knit during kaffeeklatsches… somehow that feels more intrusive than knitting in the grand ballroom).

Thing 9: Drink water, eat well and at regular intervals, sleep as much as you can.  Trust me, you’ll need it.

Well, that’s that!  I’m excited about all the things which I was able to see this year, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be back next year (…maybe even with participant badges… stay tuned).  Happy conning!

Happy Tuesday

Good friends and gentle readers,

Hello from finals panic!  Things are progressing apace here in Dani-land and I’m steeped in the inevitable mountain of reading, research, work to do, not enough hours in which to do it, library books, and yenning for my social life that comes with the end of the semester.

As such, here’s a completely random list of things that have crossed my mind/desk this week.  I don’t have a single sustained coherent thought to share, but maybe this will serve as a brief entertainment while I struggle to not get run over by the homework truck.

1)    Tea is great and wonderful and everyone should own a French press.  I get most of my tea from adagio, and have even tried my hand at blending my own.  My blends can be found here.

2)    Good god, if I need to explain to another undergrad at the library that no, I don’t want to just leave my returned books in a stack by the door, I want to watch you return them for me while I stand here checking them off my list because I have a giant mountain at home and I really can’t be financially responsible for a lost book, I’m going to beat someone with a bad Hamlet quarto.  I understand that it is possible to leave one’s books by the door.  There’s a giant sign there that tells me so.  I also understand that you’re busy checking your facebook or e-mail or whatever.  I also understand that you’re being paid to sit at this desk, so please just scan these books for me and don’t roll your eyes at me.  In my day, we had to walk uphill both ways to the library in ten feet of snow without shoes on!  You don’t know how lucky you have it!  Harumph.

3)    Knowing that I’m stressed, and knowing that I’m having a hard week, my

Charles and Mary Lamb.... also not particularly attractive individuals...

best friend brought me a copy of Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare.  I cannot think of a better finals gift.  What says “I love you and I am here to make sure you don’t drive yourself crazy with schoolwork” like a well-loved copy of early nineteenth century moralized children’s stories based upon Shakespeare’s originals written by a matricidal kook and her quasi-incesty brother? (…no… I’m serious.  The Lambs were effed up.  Also: I love it).

4)    I got interviewed as an expert for GSAS’ blog post about academic conferencing!  It went live today; you can check it out here.  I love feeling legitimate!

5)    My tweet has made it to the final round of voting for the Tufts GSAS Tweet of the Semester competition.  I managed to win this last semester, and I’m hoping for another win this time.  I’ll let you know when voting for the finals opens up.  The winner receives a gift certificate to the school bookstore (which, for a graduate student, is THE BEST THING EVER).  Go team Dani!

6)    I sat down the other day to begin the pile of research that’s on my desk and, in the first book I cracked, came across an essay by my mentor over at Rutgers.  It made me smile to see his name in print first thing in the morning and, while not entirely surprising since he IS an authority on Johnson and the book WAS about Shakespeare and Johnson, still somehow felt serendipitous.  Also: right or wrong, it gave me a cosmic sense of hope.

Since I can't think of anything else to put here, here's an adorable baby sloth.

 7)    Tally of total library books checked out this semester: 68 and counting.  Books currently checked out: 31.  Books currently unread on my desk: 8.  Days until last final is due: 34.  Number of projects that still require completing in that time period: 7.  Number of projects which require completing in the next seven days: 3 (not counting the one I finished yesterday).

8)    …and miles to go before I sleep.

Running Errands

The other day, I managed to pull some downright miracles out of thin air.

One of the problems with the Tufts campus is that it is built upon a hill.  Legend has it that

Tufts circa 1853

Tufts’ founder Hosea Ballou II had the campus built upon Walnut Hill (one of the highest hills in the Boston area) so that Tufts folk could (literally) look down upon Harvard.  The first building on campus was completed in 1854, entitled at the time “College Hall” (since renamed “Ballou Hall”).  Today, this building is the central nexus of all things Tufts.  The university has grown around the building and, as a result, around the hill.

But not just on one side of the hill, oh no, that would be far too easy.  It has spread and spawned on both hillsides, creating a situation such that to get anywhere on campus you literally do have to walk uphill both ways.  At one foot of the hill is the largest nexus of student parking.  At the hill’s peak various administration buildings.  On the opposite hillside is the library (amongst other things).  At the extreme opposite foot of the hill is Aidekman arts center, where my department is housed, and where all of my classes (and our personal Drama Graduate Lounge) are located.

Due to a series of applications, administrative red tape, and various things that I had to drop off/pick up in various places, I had to be in several locations in a short span of time.

Now.  There is a parking lot directly next to Aidekman.  This is extremely convenient on days when I just have to go to class and make no other stops.  However, when I have to do any amount of printing (in the general graduate lounge), go to the library (to drop off/pick up books), or really do anything else on campus, I opt to park in the WAYFARAWAY lot to ensure that my chores actually get done in the process of going to/coming from my car.

 

A map, for your reference

The other day I had to: stop at the administrative building to drop off a funding application, stop at the library to drop off some books, stop at the experimental college to drop off an application for a class that I’m proposing to teach next semester, go to class, stop at the library on the way back up the hill on the way to my car to pick up some books, then head to my car in time to head home.

To make matters worse, I was in a bit of a time crunch because my dance partner was due to show up at 6 PM.  My classes usually get out around 4:30, leaving me plenty of time to run a few tawdry errands and skid home just before 5.  It takes me about an hour to go from academic chic to ballroom dancer (including a dinner break).

Timing was going to be tight.

To complicate things further, I had to swing by the grocery store on my way home to pick up some bits and bobs for dinner.  And then my class let out twenty minutes late.  And then my dance partner texted that he’d be at my house about a half hour early because the combined forces of traffic and his job had treated him particularly well that day.

Keep calm and carry on?

Someone with a cosmic time-turner must have realized that this simply wasn’t going to work, because as I was trying to sprint up the hill with an armful of books, figure out what I was going to wear that night, and compile my grocery list simultaneously, apparently the streets of Arlington became a veritable parking lot.  I skidded to a halt at home with enough time to spare that I was able to chew my food, and my partner ran late enough that I was actually ready to go when he arrived.

We were on time to the dance (which was a trip in itself, by the by; a ballroomful of sixty and seventy year old couples who could quickstep and tango like pros all dressed in their cocktail best… I felt like I had stepped into some weird Gatsbeian time warp).  I got all my chores done.  Nobody collapsed due to blood sugar issues from not being fed vis a vis time crunch.  And my gluts are none-the-sadder.

Now to figure out how to fit in everything I have on my plate before I leave for the National Gothic Fiction Conference next Thursday…

Sometimes I am Wise… Sometimes

Ah the beginning of the semester.  New books, new pens, new notebooks… well… the idea of new notebooks and pens.  I gave up actual note-taking several years ago in lieu of its much more green digital cousin netbook note-taking and have only looked back on the first few days of the semester when I miss purchasing new spiral-bounds.

My favorite part of a new semester is the excuse to procure new books.  Lots of new books.  New books in spades.  New books in battalions.  New books in numbers that are certain to make me cry as I progress through the semester and actually have to read all these glorious shiny tomes.

Every semester, as I hunt for the textbooks which I legitimately need, I also manage to sneak in a little present to myself.  Often times, this present consists of more books.  Occasionally I will deviate from the tradition and treat myself to something other than books.  The only rule about the present is it must be procurable at the place where I purchase said books (school bookstore, amazon.com, half.com, or abebooks.com …this is not really a limiting factor as you can procure just about anything from amazon these days).  It’s a way to make myself feel loved and cared for as the semester continues.  It’s also a reminder to myself that, while school will always be the first priority, I should take some time out now and again to reconnect with the rest of the world.

This semester, spurred by my recent trip to Hogwarts (…I’ve been ruined for

pretty sure I drank ALL the butterbeer

all sugary drinks ever by the wonderful crack-laced butterbeer), I decided that it was time.  I invested in boxed sets of all the Harry Potter movies.

“Now self.”  I said, as I almost-guiltily hit the amazon checkout.  “You may be purchasing these films, but just because they are a wonderful part of your adolescence does not mean that you can use them as an excuse to not do your reading.  You are purchasing these films as a leisure activity to be enjoyed when all of your homework is done.”

“Yes, self, I understand.”

“Because if you’re just going to stick them in to watch before you do your real work, I’m going to have to put them back right now.  These can’t be distractions from the important things in life.”

“Of course not, self!  I will be good!  I will be the picture of discipline!  I will go to the gym and not eat carbs and my reading will always be done by a reasonable hour.  You know, I may even pile another bit of reading onto my weekly reading goal – comps is coming up, after all!”

“Good job, self.  If you can promise to do these things, then I will purchase you this golden piece of your childhood.”

“I love you, self.”

“I love you too, self.”

…flash forward to today.  A giant box has appeared on my doorstep chock full of amazony goodness.  Lo, thought I, it must be a great many of those textbooks I ordered!  Excellent!  I can get started on the reading for class on Thursday!  There is one play which I still require to be completely prepared for that first course and, as everyone knows, first impressions are so very important!

I opened the box, hands trembling with excitement.  This was it.  The thing that would complete my preparations for the second semester of my PhD.  I unfolded the lid, my breath bated in anticipation.

I tore aside the billing statement and glanced to the contents of the box.  To my delight, my Harry Potter movies were waiting cheerfully on top… along with one (count it) one of my textbooks.

One?  But I ordered everything on the same day!  Ah, but some of it was through half.com… and some of it was used through amazon sellers… and some of it through the school bookstore…. And… oh bother.  Of course luck would have it that the play I need to read for Thursday is not that one golden book entombed with the DVDs.  That would have just been too easy.

 

It really does look like that.

So now they’re sitting on my shelf… taunting me as I write this.  I do have a bunch of research to do, and some deadlines to meet, and other reading to do… but it’s been so long since I’ve seen my friends at Hogwarts.  Maybe just a quick fix?  If I write a paper on it, then it’s considered “research”, right?

…maybe I should just learn to listen to my better judgment.  At least sometimes.  She usually  has some valid points to make even if they’re couched in stupid grown-up logic.

Thoughts on the New Year

Good evening good friends!

I’m breaking the radio silence this evening to bring you greetings from sunny Orlando.  I have a great deal to say about what’s been going on down here, but frankly the much-needed break has been so good for my semester-addled brain that I’m having trouble convincing myself that breaking the sanctity of “vacation” is worth the amusing blogal anecdotes.  Don’t worry, I’ll get around to describing my antics at some point, but for now, I’m going to rest up, spend some time with my family, and forget that I’m an educated person.

I’ve read four books since the end of the semester, all of my own choosing, and I started on a fifth this morning.  None of them have anything to do with theatre, Shakespeare, or my comps list.  This, if anything, means “vacation” to me.

I wanted to take a moment at the dawning of a new year to reflect on how far the past 365 days have taken me.  Last year at this time I was just finishing up my PhD applications, struggling to steel myself for the final semester of my MA, teaching ballroom dance in New Jersey, karaoking several times a week for lack of anything else to do with my time, and in utter and complete life limbo as I couldn’t plan anything until I heard back from my programs.  Though I knew my life was about to change drastically, there was no way I could have any inkling as to how and where those changes might lead me.

This next year, I have a much better idea of the trajectory of the next twelve months.  That being said, the past year has been a reminder that even when one has plans, one still needs to allot for drastic change in them.  As much as has happened in the past year (and more!) could happen in the next year.  The illusion of consistency (the hobgoblin of little minds) is limiting at best and devastatingly crippling at worst.

I do have some plans for the next year.  I have at least one conference lined up, my first ever academic publication forthcoming, and another year of coursework ahead of me.  I will be learning another language over the summer to fulfill degree requirements.  I will be ramping up for Comps.  Next fall, I will be teaching at least one class.

I’ve never taken much stock in New Years’ resolutions.  To me, they mostly wind up being over-rated hype that more quickly turn into empty words than fulfilling promises.  Then, at the turning of 2006 into 2007, I realized my problem.

Start small.  That year, I resolved to finally finish reading Pride and Prejudice.  It worked.

This year, I’m resolving to memorize a better toast for next year.  Inevitably people look at me at midnight and expect something witty or wise or funny or some combination of the above… inevitably I come up short (either because I’ve had a few too many glasses of champagne or because I’m tired).  Somehow people are aghast and agog that the Shakespeare scholar can’t think of a single set of sage words to ring us into the next year.

Next year, I won’t be stuck fumbling around for such things.  For now, though, you’ll have to count yourself satisfied with this:

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Have a happy, safe, healthful, fulfilling new year folks!  I’m going to go bury my head in the sand for another week.  I’ll catch you back in Boston!

“It doth forget to do the thing it should”

This week’s been hot for my research.

The buzz of being onto something is really incomparable.  There’s a nervousness compounded with an anticipation and a rush of adrenaline when you realize that you’ve found some topic that other people don’t seem to be talking about.  Then there’s this fear that well, maybe they’re not talking about it because it’s SO OBVIOUSLY OBVIOUS and EVERYBODY knows that and you’re a complete idiot for even thinking that there may be some unanswered question as to what you’re working on.

I’m stuck right now in a valley of no return.  I can’t go back because, well, I’m walking an (as far as I can tell) unforged path, but at the same time I’m wondering how very far I’ll be able to leapfrog down this path and where it may take me.  I have some vague notions, some of them more exciting than others, but in my experience with research (as with life) you never really know until you get there.

This week I was trying to articulate said feeling to a colleague of mine.  We were having the

oh hello, Hogwarts, I didn't realize that you were in Boston! (courtyard at the BPL)

inevitable “where are you with your projects?” moot during a trip to the Boston Public Library (BEAUTIFUL and WONDERFUL by the by, and totally worth checking out if you like books or pretty architecture or reading books while surrounded by pretty architecture).  I mentioned that I had found something… something that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of.  Something that no one else seems to have worked on yet.  Something that I was getting somewhere with.

And he asked me the dreaded question which sent me into a Southward tailspin.  “Is it important?”

I blinked at him a few times, taken aback by the question.  It is important?  Oh the implications of this!  First off, I couldn’t understand how I had gotten so far stuck down the hole of research that I had lost track of the outside world.  How could I lose sight of some bigger picture?  How could I be so focused on such small details that I failed to see the whole?  Of course no one’s written about it, it just may not be all that important!

Then I found myself in this semantic existential crisis questioning everything I knew.  What

Is this the end of zombie Shakespeare?

was “important”?  How do you define “important”?  I mean, forchrisakes, we spend our days reading and writing about theatre.  Theatre never made dinner.  Theatre doesn’t even really make money.  And what’s worse, most of us spend more of our time talking about theatre rather than making theatre these days.  We’re intellectual hacks.  In the eventuality of zombie holocaust, we’re pretty much the top of the list of “zombie bait” because we have nothing to add to the post-apocalyptic human existence and we don’t even have any practical skills.  So really, “important”?  How can anything we do (or fail to do) really and truly be “important”?

Then I began to come up with excuses to justify my research.  It has to do with Shakespeare and Shakespeare is obviously important!  Everyone knows Shakespeare!  Everyone loves Shakespeare!  He’s the most-quoted creator of literature the world-over!  Just about every nation has appropriated him as their own!  Without Shakespeare, the English language wouldn’t exist as we know it today, so clearly what I’m doing as a small subset of this gigantic whole is obviously extremely important.

Then I wondered why it even mattered.  This is a seminar paper for a research methodologies course.  More important than what I find is how I managed to find it.  How did I solve my problems along the way?  What tactics did I use to solve these problems?  If I make a breakthrough and manage to produce something landmark, that’s frosting on the cake (what’s a cake without frosting?  Maybe I should be making a landmark breakthrough… everyone will be disappointed if there’s a cake with no frosting…. Wait, hang on, maybe it’s angel food cake which does not require frosting to be good… I can live with that).

though apparently my man Will can handle the zombies for me.

So I answered the only way I knew how.  “I don’t know.”  It was truth.  Pure and simple.  At this stage of the game, my research could be anything.  The important thing is that it’s interesting, it’s engaging, it keeps me busy, and I’m not chasing my tail as I grind grind grind away.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the archive to do some more digging.  Maybe in a few

weeks I’ll get back to this question of importance.  For now, I’m glad to have had the reality check and I’m super glad that there are no zombies at my window.