Back in the Game

Hello dear readers; long time, no write.

The thing is that this semester has been crushing me.  Between my teaching load, the dissertation stress, the extra side-jobs I do (I reviewed four shows in a week the other week… four…. Shows….), and a few personal/familial obligations, I’ve been slammed to the point of sheer exhaustion.  The funny thing about writing is that, while I don’t believe you always need a spark of creative genius to sit down and write, you do at least need a

dissertation work at its finest

dissertation work at its finest

tiny bit of energy.  While you can sometimes work a miracle and produce something from nothing, you can’t always write through the fatigue.

I’ve always considered this blog to be my stretching and training regime.  The dissertation is the marathon.  But if you want to successfully run a marathon, you need to train well, train smart, and train often.  If you hit burn out, taking a break is a necessity or you’re just going to strain something.

So I took a break.  Since this is a self-directed project designed to execute skills which I know serve me well in my career (self-discipline, a scheduled writing regime, and writing in general), I can also guide my time on/time off.

The time has come to be back.  So here I go; back in training.  But now, since I’m actually in the throws of writing the diss as we type, it’s serious.

That doesn’t mean I intend to get over-serious here.  I’ve done some thinking about how I want to reshape the blog as I move forward in my graduate and (knocking on wood) post-graduate career.  For a long time, this has been a sounding board where I am able to discuss issues/observations about the PhD process.  It will continue to be so, but since dissertation writing is mostly done in the isolation of my own tower, I need some further fuel to ensure that I can keep writing at a good clip.

So I’ll be expanding the content here slightly as my fingers wind up in more (and different) pies.  Yum.  Pie.

Thank you, friends, for continuing to stick with me through this process.  It’s been a long bumpy ride, and I have no delusions that it will become anything less as I move forward into the vast unknown of dissertation land.  What surprises await our hero beyond the horizon is yet unknown, but one thing is certain: she is eager to get started, excited to be traveling in the frontiers of human knowledge, and (so she thinks) prepared to engage with what’s to come.

To infinity and beyond!

I have had so much going on recently that it’s been tough to keep track of everything. I feel like this semester I’m being chased by an Indiana Jones style GIGANTIC CIRCULAR boulder and, the minute I get on top of it, it speeds up and I fall off and it threatens to squish me once more.

Every semester I think that I’ve hit my outer limit; this is the absolute most that I can handle and I need to cut back. Ever semester, I prove myself wrong and take on yet another responsibility.

I’ve spent a great many posts discussing techniques which I use to time manage and manage my anxiety levels, so I won’t go into another diatribe about that. Instead, I’d like to give you something inspired by the buzzfeed articles which circulate the internet. “Five things successful people do”; I’m sure you’re tired of reading them. I know that I am, despite being click-bated into them every second chance I get (I blame mental fatigue for this one; I’ll pretty much click on anything when my brain juices are running low).

Or find a llama to kiss like I did this weekend.  Kissing llamas will at least make you smile.

Or find a llama to kiss like I did this weekend. Kissing llamas will at least make you smile.

Here, for your reading pleasure, are five things that you should do if your semester is already running you ragged.

1) Make Lists

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to repeat myself: but this one is important. Making lists ensures that you don’t forget anything, that you can properly allocate time to your day, and that you can have a satisfying moment at the end of your day when you look at your checked off list and say “look how productive I was today!”. I have been known to use list-making as a cure for insomnia; when I simply can’t get to sleep because I’m anxious about all the things on my plate, I make a list of what I need to do and feel almost instantly better. It allows me to see, in a very tangible way, how much I need to do and how much time I can devote to these tasks. Lists save lives. Period.

2) Know when enough is enough

If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the semester (it’s only week four; you’ve got a long way to go), chances are you’ve got a lot of work on your plate. It’s tempting to work through everything just to get the piles cleared off your desk. But the reality is this: there will always be piles on your desk. You will always be managing a complicated balancing act. Working more will not mean that things get done faster; in fact it will probably just tire you out and make you make larger, more numerous mistakes with the work you do do. So know when you’ve hit your quota, and take a gorram break for heaven’s sakes.

3) Sleep Enough.  Eat well. Exercise.

All too often, these basic precepts of living as a healthy human being get left by the wayside in times of extreme business. The truth is that they are your best means of combatting the stress which you face. Make the time to take care of yourself; sleep eight hours, get your weekly dose of activity in, and eat your vegetables. This will keep your body healthy which will prevent you from having to take time off to be sick (possibly the worst thing that could happen when you’re under the gun). Take care of yourself; nobody else is going to.

4) Remember the Seesaw

One of my mentors refers to work/life balance as a seesaw: sometimes it will tip one way, sometimes it will tip the other. If you’re going through a heavy semester, then maybe you just need to go with it for a while and make work your priority. Your friends will understand when you resurface and won’t think the less of you for it. But if you do decide to allow yourself to see for a while, make sure that you make time to saw on the other end. You shouldn’t allow work to devour your life completely even if you do dive into the deep end for a time. In the end, you need to see as much as saw.

5) Find the Joy

 Presumably, at one time or another, you found incredible satisfaction in what you do.

This elephant, for instance, brought me great joy.  In my dissertation, I write a WHOLE CHAPTER on Barnum.  Elephants = happiness = dissertation?

This elephant, for instance, brought me great joy. In my dissertation, I write a WHOLE CHAPTER on Barnum. Elephants = happiness = dissertation?

Sometimes in the thick of things, it’s good to take a moment to recall why it is you do what you do. What drew you to this in the first place? What brought you here? What were some of the sacrifices you made and why were you willing to make them? Re-discovering what it is that you find positive about your chosen vocation will help you through the roughest bits, and keep your face in the sun even when the rest of you is in darkness.

Hang in there; it’s almost midterms!

Google It

Ah the beginning of a new semester. Fresh new faces, a slew of new names to learn, and new classrooms full of new people to meet knowing that they’ve previously googled me.

As you know if you’ve done any reading of this blog, I keep and curate an extremely active digital presence. I also keep and curate a digital presence for several major professional organizations, and have helped even more begin their adventures into the digital world.

one of the more awesome shots that pops up in my google image search; me kicking butt at the Summer Sling this year

one of the more awesome shots that pops up in my google image search; me kicking butt at the Summer Sling this year

It’s not uncommon for me to meet people who are gun-shy about the internet. They think that curating an online persona entails revealing too much of their private lives, or somehow exposing themselves in a way they aren’t comfortable with.

The fact is this: in the digital era, you will have an internet presence. Depending upon the popularity of your name, that presence may or may not be immediately linked with you personally. Never doubt this, however: that presence can either harm or help you, and curating that presence is taking control of what happens when someone types your name into google.

Because, let’s face it, what do people do the minute an unfamiliar name crosses their desk? How to employers verify (or investigate) claims of expertise or previous employment? How does anyone know anything these days?

Taking your digital presence into your own hands is taking the power back from the system. By actively curating, you craft a presence that makes you more legitimate, more desirable, and more accessible.

In order to keep this presence clean and free of “unmentionable” (or at least unprofessional) personal information, the key is to create (and hold yourself accountable) to a set of personal protocol for social networking. Before I share anything on the internet, I take myself through a series of questions about the content. If the content doesn’t measure up to my protocol standards, I either find a way to share it that is protected by security measures (like facebook permissions groups, password walls, or private e-mails), or keep it to myself.

Here is my list of primary content questions that I make myself ask about anything before I post it to the internet:

             Would you be comfortable with someone reading this (tweet, status, blog, etc.) out loud at a job interview?

             Would you be comfortable with your students knowing these things?

             Would you be comfortable with this content being read aloud to your tenure review board?

 These are my “red flag” questions; i.e.: if the answer to any one of these questions is “no”, the content is not fit to be posted publicly. If the content is green-lit by these standards, I further ask myself:

             Are you currently of sound mind? (…i.e.: have you slept enough? Had your coffee yet today? Eaten recently? All of these are key factors that could influence good decision-making).

            Have you re-read this content to check for grammar, spelling, and proper attribution?

            Have you fact-checked this content with a reliable source?

These questions are “shelf it” questions; if I answer “no” to any of them, I can’t post the

Pro tip: google image will also pull from your youtube account; here's a still from some action vid of me cracking my bullwhip courtesy of this feature

Pro tip: google image will also pull from your youtube account; here’s a still from some action vid of me cracking my bullwhip courtesy of this feature

content until that answer turns into a “yes”. They won’t necessarily prevent me from posting something, but they certainly do some work to ensure the quality of my posts.

So as you begin to meet fresh faces this year, consider implementing your own set of standards for what the internet has to say about you. And, if you’re not already, consider putting your own two cents into the mix. I guarantee that, with some effort, the long run will be worth it.

Back to School!

Classes start up next week which means that I’m going through my lists of “what do I have and what do I need?” for the semester.

While I realize that, due to my eclectic and bizarre range of teaching subjects, my list is probably quite different from others, I thought it would be amusing to share my “back to school” supplies list with the great wide world of the internet.

1)   Printer ink and paper: although I try, at all possible opportunities, to do my printing outside of the house (I print paper materials for my department-sponsored classes in the department office, and for materials related to my degree such as dissertation drafts I have access to the printer within the graduate lounge which provides free ink and paper to us starving grad students), there’s always going to be the outlying scan, sign, rescan form, or the emergency “gotta have it now!” print job. Ensuring that my printer is in good working order is an absolute must before the semester starts.

2)   Colored pens that I like writing with. While I do the vast majority of my grading on the computer (I type much faster, and much more legibly, than I write), I still like to red-pen (or pink-pen, or green-pen… ) my own writing. I keep an array of colored pens on hand (I like the Pentel RSVP pens for this purpose) just to ensure that I can do multiple passes on one printed draft. It helps me better develop my thinking as I go along, and it helps me to visualize the amount and kind of work I’ve done over the course of a day, week, month…

3)   Whiteboard pens and eraser. My giant whiteboard is my savior and I love it; keeping it in good working order means that deadlines get met and sanity gets maintained.

 4)   Appropriate-sized jump drives. I never leave the house without a jump drive. It has saved my skin on more times than I care to count. Because I tend to lose them, I also tend to pick them up when I find them cheap. At the moment, I travel with one on my keychain in an attempt to keep myself from misplacing it. I’ll let you know how that goes when I have any real data on the experiment…

5)   Enough shelf space. Because Library Books (much like Winter) are coming.

6)   Batting Gloves. When dealing with swords (which I will be doing a lot this semester thanks to a couple projects that I’ve been asked onto), it’s necessary both for your protection and the swords’ that you cover your hands. You want to wear unlined, leather gloves. Batting gloves are great for this; they fit a variety of hand sizes, they’re nice and thin so you still have great dexterity, and they can be found and acquired for a very reasonable price. I actually tend to buy mine in youth sizes since I have teensy hands. Anyway, when swording: wear batting gloves. I’ve had to ensure that all of my pairs are still pairs and haven’t broken up with their mate over the many moves I’ve executed in the past few years (I am a little embarrassed to admit how many pairs I have….).

7)   Well-stocked tea/coffee cabinet. Because caffeine is necessary to sanity in troubled and/or busy times.

Having tea with my editing the other day...

A spot of tea with my editing the other day…

8)   Folders, envelopes, paper clips, various means of keeping paper together. Because I do a lot of printing of documents that aren’t necessarily sized for staples, and aren’t necessarily meant to be kept together at all times, but that I still want in a reasonable order when I get them home. Alternately, that I plan to hand to someone else and would not want to get misplaced, misshapen, or generally confused from lack of an appropriate keep-it-together method.

9)   Sanity. Because losing your mind shouldn’t happen until at least midterms.

I hope that you’re getting along well with the rest of your summer, and that bracing for impact isn’t awful. Have a great last few days of summer, all!

Back in the Saddle

Being back home from the big dig means a lot of things:

1)   I am back at my desk! I love my desk. I missed my desk. I can’t believe how quickly I became accustomed to my current work set-up, but I simply wouldn’t want it any other way and I so dearly missed having it. I missed the sunlight; I missed my giant window; I missed the comfy chair; I missed my dual monitor and raised laptop setup; I missed my external keyboard and mouse; I missed my giant external hard drive; and I missed not having to move everything around on a whim. So glad to be

In the course of my unpacking, this happened.  Because for me this is normal.

In the course of my unpacking, this happened. Because for me this is normal.

back sitting in one location when I’m working!

2)   Man oh man do I have so many e-mails to answer. I’m about caught up on all the things now; but it was dicey there for a few days. It’s incredible the amount of backlog you can build up, even when working triage between archive trips.

 3)   I might have gone a little theatre-nutty and accepted about a half dozen reviews in my first two days being back. This week I’ll be reviewing one show; next week I’ll be reviewing a different show and seeing a third show just for the sake of seeing theater… and I have a few more on the horizon coming up. I’m so happy that it’s theatre season again; and I’m so stoked to be back in the reviewers’ saddle (though I will admit, it was nice to see a show or two without a notebook in my hand while I was in New York!).

4)   I have so many pre-semester errands to accomplish. Some of them are amusing. Some of them are not. Luckily I timed my return such that I’d have a few precious days on campus before the hoards descend in multitudes. Picking up a parking pass for the semester is SO much easier when you can sneak in and out without anyone else being there. By the time the undergrads arrive back on campus, lines at campus security wind up being out the door and around the block (no joke) and I’m simply too ridiculously busy to spend two hours waiting for the privilege to hand them my money. Also: when campus is empty, I can use the quad for whip practice. Not so much once everyone returns from summer break.

5)   I have once more managed to fill this semester with exciting things. I’m TAing one class in the department and teaching a second. I am teaching my stage combat class again to the kids at Charlestown, and teaching my OSHER class again to my delightful continuing adult ed. students. I’m also fight directing at least two projects (with more on the horizon), finishing edits on a chapter for publication, continuing my work as an independent contract writer, and continuing my work with the Folger. Oh and writing a dissertation. And that’s just what I’m doing on the work front… My personal projects and leisure activities continue at a similar pace.

6)   Now I have to set order to the INSANE amount of stuff I documented over the

Of course, being back in Mass does mean I'm missing this view....

Of course, being back in Mass does mean I’m missing this view….

course of five weeks at some of the biggest archives in the country. I’m making progress, and the trip definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things that I really needed to consider over the course of this dissertation process. Also: it was fun to paw through archival material (if a bit frustrating sometimes).

7)   Back to running here means back to hill training. New York is very flat…. My neighborhood not so much. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess?

 Back to the grind!

Autumn is Coming

As August winds down and the summer comes to a close, I am nearing the completion of my study-time.  I’m also nearing the completion of my list of things to study.

Lately, when I talk to people about the study process, pretty much everyone has the same thing to say about it: “Well, it’s almost over.”  The smart people then revisit this statement, look at me with a wide-eyed sheepish gaze, and add “…which is both good and bad.”

It’s both good and bad that I’ve, at this point, combed through every chapter in Brockett except the one devoted to contemporary theatre (which I might not get to and, honestly, that’s probably okay given the amount of contemporary theatre I see and have lived through).  It’s both good and bad that I’ve been through every section of my reading list and ordered/read the books from each of them (I’ve just done the last round of book-looking for the “North America” section; I’ll be picking those up at the library tomorrow).  It’s both good and bad that I’ve even started to return some of the beginning-of-the-summer ILL acquisitions (ILL books tend to have a sooner due-date than those borrowed from my home institution, and they are unavailable for renewal so I don’t have much by way of choice here and with 135 books sitting on my floor and more to come I can probably use the cycle-out time; if I haven’t gotten to them by now chance are I won’t get to them anyway).

This is, by far, the largest book in the book fort.  It is literally bigger than I am and 300 pages long.  It nearly killed me.

This is, by far, the largest book in the book fort. It is literally bigger than I am and 300 pages long. It nearly killed me.

I’m feeling oddly serene these days (though exhausted).  Granted, it is the beginning of the week and I tend to be more at peace with the universe before Thursday morning.  However, there is a consistent feeling of calm; I’ve learned a lot this summer.  I know a lot of things.  I’ve forgotten a lot this summer, but I’ve scheduled review time into my study habits.  I continue to look at old exams and think “well, it’d be a struggle but I think could manage this”.  Perhaps it’s just that I’m getting used to the stress load (there’s only so long you can run around feeling like Atlas before your shoulders become stronger).  Whatever it is (and I don’t want to say this too loudly in case my body figures out that I’m onto it), I am grateful for the respite from the physical symptoms of stress.

I’m definitely experiencing the trifecta of exhaustion (physical, mental, and emotional).  I’m definitely still in the weeds.  But, for whatever reason, the end of summer isn’t (at least at this moment) causing blinding panic and paralyzing terror.

I’m looking forward to the start of the semester.  I’m looking forward to teaching my acting class.  I’m looking forward to taking the next step on the journey towards Doctorhood.  I’m looking forward to returning the book fort only to re-model it with shiny new books.  I’m looking forward to doing something new and different with my days.  I’m looking forward to boots, sweaters, scarves, and the return of my favorite seasonal jacket.  I’m looking forward to pumpkin flavored treats.

Autumn is coming.  You can try to run from it, or embrace it.  And I, personally, look great in fall colors.

I hope your semester-start prep is going well; keep plugging!  We’re nearly there!

Pumping Iron

Yesterday, in a rush of Hermione-esque academic over-achievement, I completed the first research project of the year.

About a week ago, I was given the syllabus to our class in Popular Entertainment and Iconography.  As such, I was also presented with this assignment.

As an exercise, the professor presented us with a list of 68 quasi-random items.  These items were presented simply as they were without any further explanation; just a list of words.  Upon further examination, it became evident that these items ran the theatrical gamut: some were people, some were phrases, some were theatrical devices, some were plays or the titles of variety acts, etc.  The assignment was simple: find out what each of these things were, their relative cultural importance, and cite a reliable print source for each item.

And so began the great academic scavenger hunt.

This assignment has easily been the most useful thing that I’ve been asked to do in my entire graduate career.  It required me to acquaint myself with library resources (some of which I knew we had available, some of which I did not); it demanded that I utilize lateral thinking to uncover what I didn’t know about a topic from what I knew (“I know this has something to do with popular theatre, likely vaudeville or circuses, maybe in the late eighteenth century… why is it on this list?”); and it prompted me to really think about how I research and how to research most efficiently (where would be the easiest place to look for this information?  What will yield the best answer in the least amount of time?).

The word “exercise” has also become important in this enterprise. To call something an “exercise” implies a repeated action which makes you stronger.  It implies that you’re going to sweat, struggle, and do things that scare you.  It implies that you will do these things until they come more easily.  You’re working out a muscle and, by doing so, making that muscle stronger.  Thinking of this assignment in that way made the assignment not only make sense, but also hold a great degree of import.  Doing things like this will, in the long run, improve me and my work.  This notion also positions my professor as a sort of coach; shouting at me to do one more set of pushups even though I don’t think I can get through the set I’m currently on, assigning me new creative ways to do things which will improve my game, and always always making me hurt so that so that I will emerge stronger.

Research methodologies are something one develops throughout one’s career and, often, not something that can be taught.  Certainly I can be shown where to find databases via my library’s website, or what archives may be useful to me, but how I document and catalogue the information I find is a system which is extremely personal to me, and one that I have cultivated through my years within academia.  Research is also rather personal; while we may talk about the things that we’re actually researching, we don’t tend to talk about the ways in which we process these things.  Often times, the processing portion is unable to be articulated.  How do you deal with information?  How do you change raw data into something that is useful to your project and presentable to a reader?

The research process is one that is rapidly changing.  When I was first introduced to a

the view from my chair in the library last night.

library, I was told to write every fact down on an index card with a citation on the back of each card.  In this way, my research was portable, traceable, and easily manipulated.  Now, I just take my netbook to the library (on the rare occasion when I need to even set foot in the library) and work almost exclusively out of word documents.  My iPad is also a valuable resource since, once I compile my information into a large word document, I can then keep my outline available while I’m writing.  Because of these changes in technology, research becomes both easier and more difficult.  While information is more readily available at my fingertips 24/7, it also means that I’m expected to know more and go deeper with this research.  Anyone can do a Wikipedia search; it takes a researcher to understand where the wiki article is wrong and why it’s not credible.

I’m not going to say that this weight-lifting session wasn’t stressful.  It was extremely time-consuming and, being the slightly obsessive creature that I am, that meant that it was life-consuming.  I had a moment of weakness in which, after I had pulled out every trick in the book to try and uncover a credible source for the origin of the word/concept of “pastie” (that would be the burlesque accoutrement, not the yummy snack) and still came up empty, I began to devolve into an unraveled ball of perceived academic failure.  How could I call myself a scholar if I couldn’t even uncover this simple fact?  What was I doing with my life?  Why were pasties eluding me?

And it was at that moment when I had to lean back in my chair, and laugh.  I was stressed out over pasties.  I couldn’t measure my success in my career by a set of nipple shields.  It was time for a break.

Valuable lesson here: zoom in close enough and everything becomes daunting.  When this happens, take a few steps back, walk away from the computer for a couple hours, and remember why you’re doing this and what you’re gaining from it.  If that doesn’t work, make yourself some tea and hit the gym for a while.  If that doesn’t work, it may be quitting time for the day.

So here I am, my efforts boiled down to 15 pages of notes to myself and a list of citations as long as my forearm, and I can’t be more proud of my efforts.  I did it.  I conquered it.  There were only a few minor freak-outs along the way, and I even managed to have fun during the process.

This exercise has gotten me pumped for the semester.  Research, especially target and stalk research, is like a treasure hunt.  Each successful finding was a new chance to feel accomplished, a new chance to learn something, and a new chance to feel like, despite any misgivings that may crop into the recesses of my mind, I can accomplish.

So take that, semester.  I’m onto your tricks.  You had best watch your back.

To Liberty, not to Banishment!


Today is an historic day my friends.

A day, as they say, that will live in infamy.  A day for the books.  A day to be celebrated.  A day of wonder and joy.

Today, I turn in the last two finals of my first semester.  Turn in.  Done.  Can’t look at them anymore, won’t look at them anymore, goodbye, see you next year, adios, hate to see you leave but love to watch you go.

I can’t say it hasn’t been a bumpy ride.  This semester has had its trials, its tribulations, its joys, its sorrows, its mysteriously unexplainable illnesses which the doctors are still scratching their heads over…

But I did it.  And I’m still standing (though barely due to aforementioned mysterious illness).  As of this afternoon, I will be free to enjoy a few weeks of working on other projects and reading things that I want to read before I dive back into the fray in January.

For now, let’s have a look at the things that I’ve done this semester.  A re-cap, if you will; a sentimental journey into the past three and a half months.

I have seen seven plays (not bad, but not great… will do better next semester).

I have read four leisure books (before you start casting aspersions, remember that this is reading I did when I wasn’t in class, sleeping, reading for class, researching, or writing papers.  Considering these books average about seven hundred pages a pop, I think that’s pretty darn good).

At the peak of my book hoarding, I had forty-seven simultaneously checked out library books.  Every semester, I mean to do a count of total books checked out but this isn’t as easy to manage as you may think.  I have a revolving door for library books and sometimes only keep a book for a single day before returning it… I really have to develop a more sophisticated tracking system.

I can’t even begin to approximate the number of pages I have read.  Again, every semester I mean to develop a system to figure this out (either to scare or impress myself, I’m not certain which).  I’m open to suggestions about either of these systems in hopes that next semester I can have an actual counter… and maybe a progress bar or something.

I have produced eighty-two pages of turn-in-able scholarly writing (if you think about that as a breakdown of pages per day I’m averaging 1.17 pages per semester day; not counting the blog or leisure writing.  That’s pretty darn impressive, if you ask me!).

I have conducted my first bit of research based in interviews with real live people.

I have produced my first bit of turn-in-able scholarly research based solely in archive work.

I have narrowly avoided being eaten by velociraptors.

I have landed my first gig writing something to be published (book review, forthcoming, not a huge thing but it’s definitely a start!)

I have, on the whole, survived, more or less intact.  This, again, is a gigantic feat.  For many days, my mantra was “don’t worry, you’re a first year, you’re only expected to survive.  Keep plugging.  Don’t fret.  Just keep going.”  Hey, look, with the strategic application of that mantra, I did survive!

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go turn in my last papers for the semester.  Then I’m going to go read something involving zombies and having no scholarly value whatsoever.  Then I’m going to watch a movie that has nothing to do with my research or area of expertise.

Winter break, she is here at last.