List! List! O, List!

So you know that burn-out that everyone told me would happen right after my written exams but never really happened so I just kept steam-rolling ahead to clear the projects off my desk which had back-piled while I was too busy worrying about comps?

Yea… it’s finally hit me.

Travel beer is fundamental; this was mine during my layover in DC last week

Travel beer is fundamental; this was mine during my layover in DC last week

After I got home from Blackfriar’s I had an initial rush and wave of inspiration, but that quickly faded with the realization of how very much work I have to do in the next few weeks and how very little time I have to do it in.

It got to the point where, when I received some updated information on my flight for this weekend (two conferences in three weeks, I realize every time, is never a good idea), I actually began to dread leaving my lair.  This is particularly odd for me since I love to travel, I’ve never been to Texas (this weekend’s conference is ASTR in Dallas), and I have always wanted to ride a mechanical bull.

“Plugging away” has become an artform in my life since I started the PhD.  “Making something out of nothing” (generally work out of less than zero energy) should really be listed as a special skill on my resume.

When I start to feel this way, one of the few things that I can depend on to keep me going is a copious number of lists.  Whenever I feel overwhelmed about the amount of work on my desk, I make a list: here’s what I have to do today.  Whenever I feel like I might not get to sleep because I’m worried about how much I have to do the next day, I make a list: here’s what I have to do tomorrow.  Recently, a new kind of list has entered my life: here’s what I have to do before I get on an airplane to go to the next conference (in the case of that list, I was even able to schedule when these tasks would get done and sketch out my week that way so that whenever I had that creeping “I’m forgetting something” feeling, I could just re-check my work schedule and make sure I had everything under control which, generally, I did).

Lists help me to prioritize my work.  Sometimes, I include “optional” tasks at the bottom of

moody shot of my desk last night; complete with tea!

moody shot of my desk last night; complete with tea!

my lists (“in case you finish all of this, also do this!”).  This keeps me from being overwhelmed, but also allows me to stretch to finish all of my tasks.  I am the kind of person who really can’t relax unless I am absolutely certain that everything which can be taken care of has been (even niggling e-mails will bother me unless they are sent).  My lists help assure me that yes, I can take a break right now without worrying that something is left undone.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I am definitely not there yet.  One way or another, as George R.R. Martin would remind us, winter is coming.  And in this case that isn’t so horribly bad because winter means break time.  I just need to make sure all of my work gets done first.

Rejuvenated

I have just returned from Shakespeare Camp and OH MAN am I excited.

In this case, “Shakespeare Camp” is the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.  Held every other year, the conference is hosted by the American Shakespeare Center at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia.  On odd numbered years, this sleepy little town (charming to us city-folk) plays host to the hoard of Shakespeareans who descend en masse to give papers, hear keynotes, drink copiously, and network network network.

This year, I gave a paper on my work surrounding the African Grove Theatre’s production

A particularly dramatic moment of my presentation  captured by the wonderful Amy Wratchford of the ASC

A particularly dramatic moment of my presentation
captured by the wonderful Amy Wratchford of the ASC

of Richard III.  It was received extremely well and I spent the rest of the conference in scholar heaven with loads of encouragement, plenty of questions, and oodles of intellectual fodder.  Sometimes, it really takes another eye to help take your work to the next level.  In this case, I had a couple hundred eyes and I’m so excited by all the questions and feedback that I got.

This was a very long conference.  I didn’t make it down until Wednesday afternoon, but it technically begins on Tuesday evening and stretches until Sunday.  Essentially, that’s a week’s worth of work that we all miss to come and play with each other at the Blackfriars.  By the end of the conference, you’re tired (sessions begin at 8AM and often don’t end until midnight, and that’s not even counting post-panel drinks and networking at the hotel bar which is amongst the most important part of what we do at conferences), you’re stressed out by the amount of work that’s lurking on your desk and has accumulated since you’ve left, but you’re invigorated.

For me, the beauty of a good conference is the amount of inspiration it provides.  I always know that a conference was worthwhile if I come home really ready to attack my work so that I can meet newfound goals provided by the conferencing atmosphere.  Especially given the amount of mental drain that I’ve experienced over the past several months due to the examination process, this was a much-needed rejuvenation.

Another very neat aspect of these things is that since everyone goes to them you get to meet people from fellow graduate students all the way to superstar academics.  On Friday morning I sat in a keynote given by Russ McDonald.  It was interesting and he was absolutely charming, but here was the best part:

Another presentation shot; this one courtesy of Eric Johnson of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Another presentation shot; this one courtesy of Eric Johnson of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Six years ago, in my undergrad, I spent a summer researching in Stratford upon Avon.  It was one of the first times that I had a taste of what “real” research is like, and certainly was the first time I had been given the opportunity to do archival work.  It was the first time that I really realized this could be a life choice, that I could possibly spend the rest of my life doing this.  I’d say that, while it wasn’t my first date with Will, it was definitely the moment when things got serious.

As preparation for that trip, I had to read several introductory articles and books (including things by McDonald… Russ, not Old).  I will be honest and say that it’s not something I think about every day, or even every week, but as I sat in that keynote address, I suddenly remembered the feeling of reading that work.  The over-arching wonder that I was going to be visiting (and living in) Stratford; that I would walk those streets; that I would see those shows in that place.  When I remembered that, everything just clicked into place and I had a feeling of vertigo.  How far had I come in six years; how much had I experienced.  It all flew past me like some sappy eighties montage culminating with a thunking landing on that seat in the Blackfriars playhouse.

So here’s to the last six years; and the next six years; and all the intervals in between.

A shot of the last panel of the conference starring the infamous ASC bear which chases you offstage if you go over your allotted time

A shot of the last panel of the conference starring the infamous ASC bear which chases you offstage if you go over your allotted time

Let’s see how productive I can be in the interim between Blackfriars so that next time (October 2015) I can re-encounter old acquaintances with new vigor, new stories, and new bylines on my CV.

So now: back to your regularly scheduled programing.

Getting Ready for an Adventure

Ah the magic of conference prep.

How is it that I always manage to convince myself that writing the conference paper is the hard part?  How is it that when it comes time to actually pack, and plan, and travel, I then remember that the paper, while the focus of the voyage, is small pickings compared to

My desk.  I will miss it!

My desk. I will miss it!

hotel arrangements, packing, planning snacks, planning meals, figuring out how to dress, networking, figuring out how much work to bring, figuring out how much work I can miss, planning travel-knitting, planning travel reading, not forgetting dumb stuff like a cell phone power cable, transportation arrangements to/from airport on either side, and oh yea!  Blogging!  And whatever other projects I’m working on….

I’m leaving on Wednesday morning for Staunton, Virginia to participate in the 7th biennial Blackfriars Conference where I hope to spend a glorious five days absolutely steeped in Shakespearean Geekery.  My panel is at 9AM on Friday, in case you were somehow magically in the Shenandoah Valley and wanted to say hi.  In the interim, I will be panicking about the things I’m (probably not) forgetting and hoping that I don’t insult anyone by saying something utterly dumb about bad Hamlet quartos.  I may check in again later this week, but if I don’t, rest assured that I am not dead… just in Virginia.

Pre-Conference Panic

At its best, conferencing is both draining and stressful.  It’s also wonderful, horizon-broadening, and fun; but we cannot forget the fact that it involves many particulars which can be disruptive to the life of an average graduate student.

I love to travel and flying is a special treat.  It’s probably good that I chose a profession which allows me to do so on a regular basis (since I’ve been in the PhD I’ve averaged about 2.5 trips a year for various things).  That said, it always takes me a night to adjust to sleeping in a bed that’s not my own in a city that’s not my own away from my schedule, desk, library books, and on the whole away from my life.

It can be very unsettling to attend a conference when your life is bustling and the things

A shot I took last year of the conference hotel.  Pretty snazzy, no?

A shot I took last year of the conference hotel. Pretty snazzy, no?

you’re flying away from to spend a few days in an actual manifestation of the ivory tower are large and stressful.

Which is probably why I’m having such a hard time this week.  I’ve so far managed to recover from every little blunder (forgetting my iPad at home, nearly missing meetings, making minor scheduling errors which could have huge rippling effects on certain committees I’m chairing, etc.)  The worst part?  It’s only Tuesday.  I have plenty of time to make all kinds of crazy mistakes which could impact my future as I know it.

I’m trying to be methodical to head off any chance of large error; my paper is already printed, I’ve done the majority of my packing, my packing list is composed, I’m creating my usual conference redundancies (kits to deal with paper loss, bad breathe, bleeding, spills, etc.).  Despite this, I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m going to forget something and that something is going to be vital to my future as an academic.

I leave for Baltimore tomorrow.  If you’re at the Comparative Drama Conference, feel free to say hi and ask me if I’ve remembered my pants.  At this rate, there’s the very real possibility that I might be living that particular anxiety dream.

Some random mid-week thoughts

With Twelfth Night behind me, I’ve dived head first into an insane-o week.

The midterms for the course I’m TAing have come due and are in the process of being graded.  This process is otherwise known as “Operation: dig yourself out of the avalanche of papers that just fell on you”.  I’m making pretty good progress (and, without saying horribly much about it, the class is turning out some impressive work – good job, team!).

All of the projects which I had pushed off until after the show are suddenly looming before

Plus side to having just completed a show: I get to wake up to this every morning.  I love roses!

Plus side to having just completed a show: I get to wake up to this every morning. I love roses!

me like the chimeras and dragons they are.  This semester’s big projects consist of one paper (due ASAP), one paper (due in May), one more lecture for my TAship (in two weeks), my German qual exam (mid April), a conference paper that’s written but has yet to be conferencified (beginning of April), and a class presentation (end of April).  Basically I’ve got a series of staggered deadlines for big projects that are all screaming at me simultaneously.

Luckily, next week is Spring break.  If I can make it to next week, I can have the entire week to not be on campus and sit and work in my pajamas all day every day.

This doesn’t sound healthy.

…or it sounds extremely healthy.

One of the two, I’m not sure which.

I just finished translating Grimm’s Aschenputtel (Cinderella) yesterday which means I need to start in on a new piece.  I try to spend an hour or so every day with my German.  I’m thinking of going back to the German Goethe articles I had the library pull for me.  I should also probably return to my grammar book.  But translating fairy tales is so much more fun than learning grammar!

I have spent the last week steeping in Molière.  I’m writing a seminar paper on him and there are a LOT of plays to get through.  My professor loaned me some books so I’ve been trying to (with a moderate degree of success GO ME!) to get through them in a week so I can return them to her.  This means over-saturation in French witticism.  I’m continually surprised (to the point that it really shouldn’t surprise me anymore) about how much more pleasant it is to research something that’s enjoyable to read than to research something you couldn’t give a damn about (or is just torturous to get through).  Though he many not be my man Will, Monsieur Molière is slippery, witty, and wonderful and I’m having fun getting to know him.  I’d be grateful if you didn’t disclose this to Herr Shakespeare; he’s a jealous mistress (don’t believe me?  Read the sonnets).

I’ve had some wonderful professional opportunities fall onto my plate this week (details to follow; I don’t want to give too much away before things are finalized).  Suffice to say you may want to leave the evening of April 23 available (Shakespeare’s birthday) if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Portsmouth, NH.

And on that note, I should return to the mountain to defeat the midterm dragons.  They’re becoming rather insistent and I’d rather not walk away smelling of scorched hair.

News from the Front

Random news from the front:

  1. For the love of all things holy, please don’t wear jeans conferencing. I’ve seen people do this from graduate students to faculty members and every time I see an offender, my blood boils.

Wearing jeans at a conference communicates that you don’t take the conference

sunrise over Nashville Saturday morning

seriously enough to dress professionally for it. The old axiom “dress for the job you would like to have” definitely applies. Would you wear jeans to a job interview?

I was networking every moment of every day in Nashville (including a clandestine encounter with a Yale reference librarian on the shuttle from my hotel to the airport). There was never a moment when I wasn’t, in some way, on display. You never know who you will meet or where you will meet them, and especially at a large conference where most of the participants are staying in your hotel, you want to make sure you look your best for any possible encounter.

So say it with me: I will not wear jeans at a conference.

  1. My book fort is up to 47 and counting. Of these 47, there are only six that I have not yet cracked. This means that, in addition to keeping up with my class reading, I have read all or most of 41 additional books since the end of September. No wonder my brain is tired.
  1. I spent four hours in the archives at Harvard yesterday paging through so much material that the poor reference librarians were working overtime just to pull my requested obscure folders, boxes, and files. I cannot say how thankful I am for all the work that these people put in to making sure that I can do my work.

On that note, paging through two hundred year old documents will never get old. However, I live in fear of the day that one disintegrates in my hands through no fault of my own, or I accidentally turn the page a bit too rigorously and tear something that’s older than my country.

Though if I ever need to hide from some murderous gunman, I’m going to do it inside of an archive. They are seriously the safest places I’ve ever encountered and the murderer would have to breech so many levels of security and protocol to find me that I’m pretty sure he would just give up when faced with the infinite yards of red tape at the library privileges office. And even if he didn’t they’d strip him of everything except a pencil, notebook, and digital camera before they would buzz him through three different glass door anyway. And that would be just to get into the reading room! Since we already know that archive librarians are superheros, he’d pretty much have to contend with the most badass of superpowers before he found his way down to me crouching behind the stacks of bad Hamlet Quartos (mostly because those would be the things most worthy of being destroyed that would actually be available in the archive). Although now that I’ve given away my planned hiding spot, maybe I should instead take cover by some collection of modernist paraphernalia…

  1. For the purposes of one of my research projects, over the course of the last week, I’ve clocked more hours than I care to relate conflating the first folio Richard III with Colley Cibber’s 1700 adaptation. While I cry inside to really and truly see the deplorable reworking of my patron Bard’s great works that so many generations of theatre goers were subject too, I also think that this should earn me some kind of stamp on my nerd card. I take every chance I get to bring it up in conversation because, well, who does this stuff? “Oh, yes, I spent another two hours conflating Cibber’s Richard with Shakespeare’s first folio… how was your day at work?” “How’s your paperwork going? Cibber’s just dandy.” “What did you do today? Oh, me? Just understanding adaptations of great works of literature and how they affected generations upon generations of theatre goers and their comprehension of Shakespeare… no big deal.”

another thing that proves my geek cred is my insanely awesome pair of Shakespeare socks.

  1. Dramaturgy is a weird job. To give you a small sampling of questions which have crossed my desk this week: “Define ‘moated grange’.” “What does x line of text mean?” “What are some ritualistic gestures of the Catholic mass?” “Woops! This character was cast as a woman! How do we solve this problem textually?” To my geek cred, I find it fascinating to answer these questions; when I know the answer off the top of my head, it makes my little bard heart sing. When I have to dig for the answer, all the better; I’m learning something about Shakespeare that I didn’t know before!
  2. It’s snowing in Boston! And, as everyone knows, there’s no business like snow business!

On the Road Again

Hello, everyone!

I’m reporting to you live from Nashville where I have arrived safe and sound after a day of

take-off in Boston

travel which included (in no particular order): one big plane, one puddle jumper, chicks with guitars, writing, reading, copious amounts of coffee, and a ten-minute scramble to get from one end of O’Hare’s terminal H to the extreme opposite (on that note: I sincerely apologize if you were literally run over by a shortish New Yorker in a red leather jacket while innocently ambling your way through Terminal H today).

I’m wiped.

I’m here in Nashville to attend the 2012 American Society of Theatre Research conference. It’s a bigun’ with a whole lot of people from all sides of the theatre academic world; from Ancients to Contemporarists, from lowly graduate students to heads of departments. This mixing makes for an almost overwhelming environment and, even walking into the hotel, I could feel the excitement and anticipation in the air. Or maybe it’s just me.

Told ya. Chicks with guitars. Didn’t even have to leave the airport to find them.

I’m a little nervous as this is the biggest conference I’ve attended yet, but I have some good meetings lined up and I’m hopeful that I will learn a great deal, meet a great many people, and retain some measure of my sanity. Maybe even escape the hotel to hear some good music as the Country Music Awards are in town this weekend!

Have a great one, I’ll catch you on the flip side!

To Rewrite, or not to Rewrite?

Today, dear readers, I write you from the brink of an age-old academic quandary.

I will be giving a paper at this year’s ASTR conference.  ASTR follows a work-group model rather than a conference-panel model, and this will be my first experience with such.  What this means is that every individual in a given work group has written a paper.  This paper is sent around to the other individuals in the work group.  Everyone in the work group reads all the papers.  Then, at the conference, we all sit down and talk about the guiding idea of the panel in hopes of coming to some kind of higher understanding of this idea.

On the whole, I think that this round-table style is much more productive than the

no matter which model a conference goes by, coffee is a necessity. This is a life truism though, rather than a conferencing factoid.

traditional read-and-listen model.  What it does mean, however, is that I need to send my paper to a group of academics who have never met me before to read, critique, and be ready to discuss my ideas.

This is an extremely daunting proposition.  Compound this with the fact that the work groups consist of a vast range of scholars – from graduate students to department heads.  My work group is particularly large and particularly vast in range of experience.  There will be people reading my paper who have been in the field much longer than I have and who know much better than I do what they are talking about.

The paper I’m presenting is a paper I wrote for a seminar this semester past.  I did a lot of research and put many man hours into this paper.  For that, it most certainly needs some work before it can be sent off to aforementioned group of scholars.  As I sit here, cradling its pages between my hands like the body of a newborn infant, I am faced with an important decision: To re-write, or to re-vise?  That is the question.

William Fualkner famously said of revising, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings” (though he was likely quoting Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch).  Stephen King later agreed with him (“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when I breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” On Writing).

Yes, yes, I know I must be ruthless, but so often I feel like completely scrapping something is the cheater’s way out.  While it may seem less time-consuming in the long run, in reality to just burn what I’ve written is to invalidate all the work that I’ve already put into it.  So while, at this moment, dashing the brains out of this poor pile of pulp only to allow a bigger, stronger, faster model to emerge from the slurry seems like perhaps the most advisable solution, I have to remember something: I spent a lot of time on this.  I edited.  I slaved.  I wrote and re-wrote.  All that time and energy must have produced at least pieces of a finished product.

So, generally, when I’m feeling like just starting over would be best, I take a moment to recall the hellish process of editing.  I allow myself a moment of silence for the many many stacks of pages of drafts that were fed to my fireplace.  And then I realize that no, there must be something in here worth saving.

I start with my abstract.  I go through it and write myself a clear logic train.  A rhetoric map.  “Fact: X.  Fact: Y.  Following in this progress, you reach my inevitable conclusion which is Z.”

abstract outline on right, prep to red-pen on left

Then I proceed into a harsh red-penning of my previously-produced paper.  What do I absolutely need?  What can go?  Ignoring the length of the final paper, I cut and slash my way through the prose jungle until I’ve boiled things down to their essence.

Then I take those bits and I re-arrange them.  Sometimes I physically cut and move them around on a table until I have something that makes sense.

Then I reverse-outline what it is I’ve wound up with.  I boil things down to topic sentences; what am I saying?  When am I saying it?

I compare the reverse outline to my rhetoric map to discover where my holes are.  Do I need a bit more research on weird fact B?  Do I need to explain logic leap C a bit better?  What do I need to do to ensure that we all wind up smoothly at the station of my final destination?

Then I set to work.  Sometimes this involves more research; a trip to the library, some ILL articles.  Sometimes this just involves a few days in the bunker holed up with my previous research and a fully loaded French press.

Then, a few drafts later, I have something.  It’s very different from what I started with.

Then come the external eyes.  Always always vet your writing by an outside party if you can possibly manage it.  Work out paper-shares with folks in your department.  Find a friend willing to proofread in exchange for dinner.  The more outside eyes you can have on a piece, the stronger it will become.

After this step, I generally have to go back in for a draft or two and adjust a few things – generally not a complete overhaul at this stage since I’ve already spent so much time living with the paper.

And then I have something.  Is it finished?  Well, it will never be finished.  But at least it’s evolved.

So that’s what I’m facing down now.  The next step in the evolution of a paper.

Well, hey hey and away we go.

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.

Surprising Oneself

I’m coming up on the one-year anniversary of moving into my current place (this Sunday it will be exactly one year) and that’s made me rather contemplative.

That and, in the midst of the extreme pressure of high speed German-learning (a full contact sport which should have some Olympic equivalent), I’m trying to grasp at any small thing that will help me remember that I’m not a total mess-up and I can do some pretty astounding things.

With that in mind, this weekend I began to assemble a list of crazy-insane-amazing-wonderful things that I have done this year that, prior to this year, I would never in a bagillion eons have thought that I would wind up doing.  I’m fairly proud of what I came up with and, so dear readers, have a gander at the glamorous life of an academic….

1)    As a way to procrastinate learning my German for the day, I translated an article from Diderot’s encyclopedia for the encyclopedia project.  Between 1751 and 1772, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert published what they called Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société de gens de

the man, the myth, the legend: M. Diderot

lettres, mis en ordre par M. Diderot de l’Académie des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Prusse, et quant à la partie mathématique, par M. d’Alembert de l’Académie royale des Sciences de Paris, de celle de Prusse et de la Société royale de Londres. (Encyclopedia, or a systematic dictionary of science, art, and crafts, by men of letters, arranged by M. Diderot and the academy of science and belles-lettres of Prussia, and the mathematical portion by M. d’Alembert of the royal academy of science at Paris, to the Academy of Prussia  and the royal society of London).  The encyclopedia was the first of its kind, contained 71,818 entries, was published in 28 volumes, and has never been comprehensively translated into English.  The Encyclopedia Project is a free online resource through which individuals of differing levels of French-speaking have come together to translate it piecemeal.  I’ve volunteered my time to lend a hand with a few articles because I think it’s a neat project, I want to practice my French, and it lends me the ability to fancy myself a professional translator (SO far from the truth).

Reasons why this incident surprised me: I’m learning to read German?  I have enough French that I can reasonably translate an article from an eighteenth-century manuscript?  I am involved enough in the project to have assigned articles to translate?  How does this even happen?

2)    Sat up with my work until 11 or midnight for up to five nights straight and not had a bad thing to say about it.  Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.  Often times, this means complaining.  Other times, you’re so enthralled with whatever it is that you’re working on that you don’t even think to complain.  If I don’t like something, I don’t lose sleep over it.  Period.

Reasons why this incident surprised me: I’m that kind of person?  I have work that’s important (and interesting) enough to be done when otherwise I should be relaxing or attending to other necessary life functions?

3)    Cold-contacted organizations to request information, interviews, or tours of places related to my research/work… and actually got them!  This year, thanks to the courtesy of directors, actors, designers, curators, park rangers, and ever-toiling librarians, I was able to accomplish a great deal of original first-hand research.  I was allowed to tour historical sites not open to the public, handle and photograph original scene designs, chat with actors/directors about their work and document it, handle documents older than this country, and get the inside scoop on a great many items of interest otherwise left obscured to the general public.  So many many thanks to all the folks who lent their time to my crazy research escapades.  Valuable lesson learned from all these experiences: you’d be downright amazed what folks would be willing to do if only you asked them.

Reasons why this incident surprised me: Telephones frighten me.  Despite my swash-buckling bravado via textual interface, I’m actually rather shy.  In addition, acquiring this information means that outside forces took me seriously as a scholar and were willing to lend a hand to help me out!

The Tufts crew at CDC 2012 with Ms. Vogel. SHE WAS SO AMAZINGLY WONDERFUL! …I wanted to keep her.

4)    Was paid to present my work at two major conferences in a one-month period and traveled across the country to do so.  Oh, and at one of them I had jello shots with esteemed playwright Paula Vogel.  I love to travel, and the fact that I got to do so much of it this year makes me extremely happy.  Next year, I have a definite trip to Nashville, TN (the first time I’ve ventured to Tennessee), and I’ll likely have at least one more trip lined up before the dust settles.  Stay tuned!

Reasons why this incident surprised me: Someone believes in my work enough to send me places to share it?  And it’s valuable enough that when I do share it, people ask me intelligent questions about it?  Smart people like my work?  THEY LIKE MY WORK!

5)    Uttered the words “I can’t, I have a research trip.”

Reasons why this incident surprised me: Because who has a RESEARCH TRIP?  HOW COOL!?

I’m sure I could go on at length, but these are the big ones.  The basic theme that keeps cropping up is this: despite the long hours, hard work, small paycheque… despite the uncertainty of the job market, the funding, or really anything about my life year-to-year… they haven’t quashed me yet.  I’m still enthralled with what I do, I’m still excited about next year, and I’m extremely proud of myself for the things that I have done this past 365 days.

Here’s hoping that, at this time next year, this list is at least twice its current length.  And if not, I haven’t done my job right.