The Finals Countdown; Fall 2012

This is a drive-by.  Things are nuts; For the past three weeks I’ve been doing nothing but work, go to the gym, and sleep.  My brain is currently the approximate consistency of tapioca pudding.  And not even the good kind of tapioca pudding, it’s the soggy from a plastic container and tin lid sort.  And it’s likely been sitting on the shelf for too long so it’s just this side of “okay to eat”…

…this is not an invitation for zombies to come raid my apartment.

In that vein, I do not feel that I have anything intelligent, pertinent, or inspiring to say at the moment.  I’ve been communicating with my roommate and partner-in-crime using grunts and clicks (I’m past even the capacity for charade-like hand motions), and I don’t trust my own judgment right now as to what would constitute “intelligent, pertinent, or inspired” anyway.

Sooo…. I will re-assert a few basic truths about this point of the finals process, and then dive back to the turmoil of the ever-present grindstone.

Thing One: Proofreading saves lives.  Amongst the errors which, uncaught, would have proved outright embarrassing (mind you, in drafts that are far enough down the writing process that I even ventured to show one to my PiC the other day) are: several punctuation mishaps, misspellings of authors’ names, and (most embarrassing of all) several accounts of the correct Shakespeare quote attributed to the incorrect character in a play completely different from the one it was in in the first place.  Apparently, I can quote Shakespeare verbatim in tapioca-mode, but I’ll be darned if I can attribute these quotes correctly.  So far, I’ve attempted to put Touchstone in Twelfth Night (this is particularly puzzling since, of all shows, you would think that As You Like it would be freshest in my

my Sassy Gay Friend pretending to be Lincoln

my Sassy Gay Friend pretending to be Lincoln

mind right now and, indeed, it’s only my performance recollections which saved this mishap from making it to the final cut of the paper), and re-attribute a piece of Macbeth’s “sound and fury” speech to Hamlet (What, what, what are you doing?).

Thing Two: I am, as of today, T-minus two papers and four days from completing the last Fall Semester of coursework in my PhD.  My first paper goes down Monday, my second Wednesday, in between I proctor and grade a final for one of my TAships.  On Wednesday, I will drive to campus, drop off my paper, and drive directly down to NY for holidays with my family.  Because my life isn’t stressful at all.

Thing Three: It’s remarkable what slack people will cut you when you look at them with the glazed-over look of hopeless “good god, I don’t remember how to talk to a normal person because my mind is still reeling about early nineteenth-century draperies”.  Either that, or my friends are amazing.  I suspect a combination of the two.  Maybe I look worse than I think I do.  At least I’m bathing regularly (IMPORTANT!).

Here is a cute picture of a baby hippo I took at the San Diego Zoo... for no reason other than it is sometimes good to look at cute pictures of baby hippos.

Here is a cute picture of a baby hippo I took at the San Diego Zoo… for no reason other than it is sometimes good to look at cute pictures of baby hippos.

Thing Four: No matter where you are, I can assure you that if you aren’t done by now, you are very close.  If you, in the past few days/weeks have experienced the same jarring helplessness that I have experienced, I would like for you to take a moment, take a breath, and remember that the light is right there at the end of the tunnel.  I know you’re tired (“exhausted” might be a better word… actually “bone-weary beyond all possible means of human comprehension” might fit best), I know you’re frustrated, I know you’re worried.  But you will do it.  I have faith.  Hold fast, Horus.

Thing Five: I’m going to take a break and sit on my couch for a few minutes.  I haven’t actually sat on my couch in at least two weeks.  Since I’ve put in a good six and a half hours already, I think I deserve this.

Keep calm, and keep editing folks!  See you on the other side!

“It is my birth-day”

Today is my birthday.

In recent years, it has become harder and harder to be festive on my birthday. During my Master’s (when I realized that this academia thing might actually be a lifetime commitment rather than a passing fancy), I resolved myself to come to terms with the fact that, for the rest of my life, I would be stressed out, over-worked, and over-wrought on my birthday.

Some years this sticks, some years it doesn’t.

It’s funny because, as I understand it, on birthdays you’re supposed to think back across the expanse of the year and have some thought about things you’ve done, accomplished, follies, foibles, adventures, etc. And maybe when you’ve done that, cast another thought forward to the things that you might accomplish in this year next. Since I’m still in the phase of my PhD during which landmarks are fairly mapped out and planned, I have the good fortune to be able to predict, with some degree of certainty, at least some of the things I will do before the world comes back around to December 11th once more. I will pass my German qual exam. I will study for (and pass) my comps. I will successfully execute my oral exams. And, at this point next year, I will be sitting pretty, poised for dissertation planning, and may (for the first time in many years) actually be able to relax on my birthday.

This year is not that year.

Today, I have a meeting, student final projects to look at, library books that will go into arrears if I don’t return them today, an article to track down, and mountains and mountains of writing to do. I didn’t even have time to wake up early enough for a run due to the absolute insanity that was yesterday (I spent thirteen hours on campus yesterday, left at 11PM and am doing the eleven-hour turn-around and will be back on campus at 10AM this morning…. ah the glamorous life of a theatre academic).

But I did get to partake of my new favorite birthday tradition: birthday Shakespeare. Last year, as a birthday gift, my ever-wonderful Partner in Crime took me to see Hamlet at the Gamm. The production was meh, but the point was to be able to sit back and enjoy something I love rather than worry about deeper issues (…of course, I did worry about deeper issues, but that’s just the way I’m wired). Last night, the cast of Measure for Measure treated me to the first (rough) run of the show. Some really interesting things going on and, if they continue to grow at a good clip, I think the product will be well worth the ticket price. I even had a Shakespeare-revelation while watching (this happens to me sometimes; the text hits my ear in a different way and things click into place and suddenly I understand something new about the show). So; thanks, cast!

So yes, I will be spending the day working. A lot. But the way I see it, this is paying it forward. Next year, oh sweet next year, I may even be able to take the day off entirely.

And so, dear reader, I leave you with this: have a wonderful day, think about Shakespeare for me, and have a watch of one of my favorite Shakespeare mashups: the muppets, Christopher Reeve, and Cole Porter:

Just Another Manic Monday

I know that I’ve been doing a lot of lists lately, but finals land is inexorably vast this year… I don’t recall hell-time being this long last year… maybe I’m just wearing my rose-colored denial glasses.

Right now (as in I have actually put work into all of these projects at some point this evening), I am:

 -Doing final prep on my presentation for Thursday. What is life without powerpoint, I ask you?

-Finishing up the grades for one of the classes I’m TAing. Ethically, all I can say about this is that it happened. At some point I will find a way to talk about grading in general enough terms that I don’t feel like I’m betraying confidences. That day is not today. I look forward to that day as I know I have learned a lot from the experience of commenting upon and critiquing the students’ writing, and I feel as though these lessons are universally applicable. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

 -Working on the official twitter feed for the Comparative Drama Conference. This

The CDC conference hotel.  I took this shot last year.  Yea, that hotel is pretty sweet.

The CDC conference hotel. I took this shot last year. Yea, that hotel is pretty sweet.

is particularly exciting; by my calculations (if we get the feed up successfully, which is a small if right now but an if nonetheless) it will be the first official twitter feed for a national conference in the humanities. The digital age has officially hit academia, and I can’t be more proud to be one of its heralds. There’s nothing on the feed at this moment (and we’re looking at a few weeks before you see anything exciting happen), but nevertheless go check us out at https://twitter.com/compdramaconf. Give us a follow, keep an eye on us, let us know how we’re doing. Then, when we’re all in Baltimore, we can have a drink and talk about how great the internet is.

 -Working on some dramaturgy bits and bobs for Measure. We’re bracing for impact as we wind up to wind down over the break. I’m headed to rehearsal on Thursday to have a listen to the text and then on Monday, December 10th the cast gives me a full run for my birthday (which, by the by, is December 11th… right smack during the middle of hell-time… I have reconciled myself to the fact that I will, for the rest of my life, be inordinately stressed out on my birthday).

 -Doing final dilly-dallying with outlines and research before I draft out paper number one. I was going to do this tonight, but a Sandy-granted extension gave me a little more wiggle-room on the timeline. I am also waiting on an e-mail from an archivist to see if I can’t do another archive dive to bolster this paper, but plan to forge forward tomorrow one way or another.

PiC and I on a boat this weekend past.  It was his birthday, so we threw tea into Boston harbor.  It seemed legit.

PiC and I on a boat this weekend past. It was his birthday, so we threw tea into Boston harbor. It seemed legit.

-Waiting on a call from my partner in crime to tell me that the first release of Offensive Shadows has gone live. We wrote the copy this afternoon and he’s uploading the sound as we speak, so by the time this is posted it may very well be up. If not, I’ll be updating the twitter feed and the facebook group when things are all green lights over there. Prepare for Shakespeare awesomeness!

-Finishing up some loose-ends classroom business for my own coursework (regular reading, message board posting, etc.). One of the great things about an academic schedule is how fast-paced it is; as soon as you get into a rhythm, or really feel like you know anything about anything, suddenly the world shifts on you. This semester has been great, but I can definitely say that I’m ready for some world-shifting. The projects I’m working on now, however, will definitely stay with me and I’m hoping that they will be extremely fruitful future endeavors. After all, “publication” ain’t just an eleven letter word.

-Setting up and administrating forums for my Shakespeare reading group. Because, like I said, the internet is a wonderful thing.

Alright, since I’ve clocked a solid fourteen hour day, I think I’m putting it down for the night. At least… as soon as the podcast goes live.

Catch you later!

Finals, Finals, Finals….

Multi-tasking at its best is the name of the game right now. As I begin to take the dive into deep-finals mode, here’s a list of things I have done/will do over the course of last week and this coming weekend.

  1. After much waiting, gnashing of teeth, and bating of breathe, it looks like we are a GO GO GO! for the launch of Offensive Shadows! About a year ago, my ever-wonderful partner in crime hatched the plan that we should co-host a podcast dedicated to explicating Shakespeare for the common man. He, as a normal smart
    Myself and aforementioned partner in crime during our visit to Gallow Green this summer.

    Myself and aforementioned partner in crime during our visit to Gallow Green this summer.

    person who has been adulterated by having a best friend doing a PhD in Bardy Goodness, had realized many things over the course of watching me at my work: 1) that Shakespeare (and theatre in general) is pretty neat! Like, much more neat than he had maybe at first thought. 2) That normal smart people (like himself) could definitely get into Shakespeare and connect with it if they had someone to talk to about it . 3) That I’m a good someone to talk to about it and, through the process of this talking to, we could help other people get into it as well.

So we set out on our quest. We are going to cover all of the plays in (roughly) chronological-to-being-written order (as much as we can), omitting the War of the Roses cycle for its own special run in the middle of the series. We will be releasing one episode a week and each play will have between three and five episodes dedicated to it. The episodes will include discussions of the play’s major themes, things to watch for in the play, information about dramaturgy, history, textual notes, and special readings of snippets by our very talented friends.

In short, if you like Shakespeare, or think you might like Shakespeare but have no idea where to begin, or know nothing about Shakespeare and would like to learn, or would really like to listen to the dulcet tones of my voice on a regular basis, you should definitely check us out!

The first series (released this weekend) is a set of preview episodes on Titus Andronicus. Through the process of recording these episodes, we learned a lot about the podcasting process and, by learning a lot, didn’t produce what we thought was our best work. As a result, these episodes will be a taste of what Offensive Shadows has to offer, but won’t be exactly what you’ll get in the real deal episodes.

Our first real deal stuff will be out the following Monday and will focus on Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  1. Prepping the last of my presentations of the semester. This talk is on the work I’m doing for my paper on William Brown’s 1821-22 production of Richard III. Some pretty nifty and exciting stuff if you like early American theatre.
  2. Wrapping up research on my two finals papers and transitioning into writing mode. This is one of the more difficult stages of the research process; when is enough enough? There is always something more to learn and when do you walk away from the books and begin to write? For term papers, I constantly have to remind myself that I am not writing a book, I am not expected to know everything about a topic, and I am definitely not going to be able to dig up every bit of archival evidence available. I tend to research until I can see (very clearly) my research looping back in on itself. What I mean by that is that if I’m reading the same facts or the same re-printed letters, looking at the same sketches or the same scripts, or if my sources start to reference each other, it’s pretty clear that I have enough to write a 15-25 page paper. There’s always the lurking gremlins, and generally there will be something you’ve forgotten to verify that will rear its ugly head when you’re elbow-deep in the writing process, but for the most part my philosophy should do you as a general rule.
  3. I turned in my essays on Measure for Measure for Prologue (Tufts’ Drama publication that comes out in conjunction with each of the shows the department puts on). For Measure, I had to write two 800-1000 word pieces; one a dramaturge’s essay (fondly referred to as “Page Three”, guess why?), and one a sort of op-ed piece about some issue which the play brings up (“Page One”). These essays, short as they were, caused me no undue amount of stress. Prologue is disseminated fairly widely and a good amount of eyes will be upon my work for it; it’s yet another way that we graduate students can bring honor and glory to the department. Have I done it with my pithy writing skills? Stay tuned to find out!
  4. Prepping my abstract for submission to the 2013 Comparative Drama Conference. I had a great time at this conference last year, and have been helping the conference
    The CDC conference hotel.  AWESOME!

    The CDC conference hotel. AWESOME!

    chair get an official conference twitter feed on its feet. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities that social media can bring to a national conference like this, so here’s hoping my abstract wows them enough to ask me down there to speak!

So that’s me right now. Excuse me as I take a deep breathe and head down deep into the land of paper writing. I think I’m well-prepared for it at least; and I know that I will always have my trusty French press at my side. Small comfort on this long and winding road to slay the semester’s final chimeras.

Have a great weekend!

LOOK! SHINY!

It’s finals time.

That means a lot of things (among them: grinding the gears, burning the midnight oil, and lighting both ends of the candle for the next few weeks).

If your life is like my life, then inevitably when you become the busiest is when everyone suddenly decides that they would like to be social with you. And, while I do love my friends and family and do need occasional breaks from aforementioned clichés of business, it can be really frustrating sometimes that busy season of necessity means “the season in which I ignore people”.

I’m not doing it maliciously, it’s just the only way I can get anything done.

Distractions come in two varieties: the long-form distraction, and the momentary distraction.

The long-form distraction is by far the simpler type to avoid. If I don’t plan well in advance for a night away from my desk, I don’t spend a night away from my desk. As much as it kills me to miss the various parties, social functions, and gatherings that inevitably occur right before the holidays, it would kill me more to neglect my work and do poorly on my finals. Wise researchers take note: this policy works. Understanding friends will understand; this is what your job entails at the moment and, thereby, any declarations of “lameness” on account of it should be systematically ignored.

For that, a break is a break and it’s important to remember that the world doesn’t revolve

this is my desk from several months ago… the book fort gets built to the right and is, currently, taking up more space on my floor than my actual desk.

around nineteenth century circus clowns performing Shakespeare. Make sure you budget time for drinks, dinner, or some fun activity at least once a week or you will wind up an overwrought bucket of stress by the time things are said and done. Also, human eye contact is good for the soul.

So long as you can balance work and play, the long-form distraction shouldn’t prove too much of a problem.

The momentary distraction can come in several forms: an e-mail, a text, a facebook message, a gchat, or a well-meaning person (your landlord, your roommate, etc.) poking a head into your workspace to bring you news from the outside. While this may seem the less innocuous form of distraction, for me it’s deadly. I find that, reliably, for every thirty seconds I have spent being momentarily distracted, it will take me at least five minutes to get back to where I was in my stream of thought pre-interruption.

For me, the problem is several-fold. I have a hard time in general with my attention span, especially if I’m not yet into “the zone”. Once I hit the red, I can go for hours; but getting there is particularly difficult for me. I blame modern technology; I am truly a product of my generation who would rather have a constant influx of disparate information to keep my mind chewing than go deep-diving on any one thought. How I wound up a professional academic with this particular personality quirk is a giant question of the universe. In addition, I am extremely sensitive aurally and have found that external words in any form (music, TV, talking, etc) will completely take me out of the internal mind-tempest that research requires.

The best way to avoid these problems is (I have found) to turn off (or at least silence) my phone, keep my browser windows open to library resources ONLY, and work during the day when there’s no one in my house but myself. If I wind up working overtime (which is extremely frequent during finals crunch), I either try to arrange to work when my roommate is out of the house, or arrange a schedule with her that involves noise-canceling headphones (I am fortunate to have a very understanding roommate). Alternately, working after the household has gone to bed is something that I have found to be extremely soothing and productive (though you do have to plan for it so that you make certain you get your much-needed finals-time sleep).

Today’s short-form distraction: decorating the department’s desk with a menorah made from a Poland Spring bottle, some glitter, and a dream.

A great way to improve the quality of your finals life is to make your nearest and dearest aware of these distractions and what they do to your work. If those people most likely to distract you understand that encouraging text messages are best left sent between the hours of 9 and 11 PM, they are less likely to inadvertently interrupt your stream of thought with a mid-day friend-crisis. If those people can fathom that when you say “I’m buried in mountains of work”, you literally mean that your book fort is actually large enough to cause a deadly avalanche, they are less likely to give you a hard time for skipping Friday night beer-o-rama. Give them concrete examples of how their actions affect yours in this volatile, stressful time. If they really love you, they’ll let you go crawl into your cave and re-emerge sometime after December 18th.

So… what are you waiting for? You have finals to write! Heck, I have finals to write! Go stop procrastinating and get your butt in gear! (…unless it’s your pre-planned night off in which case have fun, relax, and get enough sleep. Drink lots of fluids, eat right, and we’ll all get through this together somehow, I just know it).

Year One: In the Books

As if 08:30 hours this Sunday morning past, I have done the inevitable, the wonderful, what I thought for some time was the highly improbable; I have finished year one.

Yes, ladies and gents, with one click of a button, that final final was sliding on home to the comfy cozy inbox of my professor and thus closing the book on half of my coursework (…though actually more than half because this year consisted of six classes and next year will consist of four, but let’s not quibble over the small bits, shall we?)

I would like to say that I sent the e-mail then promptly took my pants off, got cozy on the couch, and didn’t move for several days, but in reality I sent the e-mail, ran around my house for a while, drove for two hours, and worked a sixteen-hour day followed by a night of sleeping like the dead then went to a dramaturgy session where I spent two and a half hours sifting through Measure for Measure line by line and explicating every fine detail for my director… when I came home from that THEN I took my pants off, got cozy on the couch, and didn’t move for several hours.  Unfortunately, today can’t be as carefree as yesterday as I still have two professional deadlines nipping at my heels in addition to several personal projects which require my attention…

But I did buy myself ice cream last night.  And I do feel a certain sense of levity.  And I do feel utterly and completely accomplished.  Summer just tastes different – like watermelon and strawberries.  And, having finished my last final, I can safely say that it tastes like summer.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me take a moment to revel in what I actually just did.  Over the course of the past year I have: survived the initial shock of PhD work, thrived in the Tufts environment, learned more than I can possibly describe (and learned about a whole host of other things that I now need to learn), kept up with a rigorous course load, not driven myself crazy, met the demands and expectations of my wonderfully demanding professors, kept myself on track professionally and hit all the professional development goals I had realistically set for myself, maintained contact with the outside world (some sections of it more than others and at some moments more contact than others), not made an abject fool of myself in class (and if I did, I don’t know about it because ignorance on this front is bliss), come to grips with my job as a professional academic, stepped out into the wider world of academia at two large conferences with my shiny Tufts byline…

And blogged faithfully twice a week to prove it all!

I cannot even describe how grateful I am to everyone this year for the support, the love, and the cheering section.  I’ve said it before, but I don’t think I could have known what I was getting into even if someone had attempted to tell me.  This year has been rough.  You, dear readers, have definitely made things more bearable and for that I am so thankful.  

Some Statistics for this Semester…

Total library books taken out this semester: 77
Total minutes of in-class presentation given: 85
Total turned-in pages at end of semester: 70
Total pages of drafts written: 337
Total performances attended: 13

So, Dani, you just finished the first year of your PhD, what are you going to do now?  Well, I do have one class over the summer.  I’m taking a German for Reading course in hopes that it will help me pass an exam to fulfill my second language requirement.  I’ve never studied German before and it’s been a while since I’ve done any kind of learning other than “read and discuss”, so this should be very interesting.

In addition, I have a few papers I’ll be taking some time to polish and submit.  It’s time to publish lest I perish, and being a model ABD ain’t just a pipe-dream for a kid with a hope and a dollar.  I will also be making as big a dent on the comps list as I can in my copious amounts of free time.

To further impinge upon that free time, I’m serving as Dramaturge for Tufts’ 2012 production of Measure for Measure.  We don’t start rehearsing until deep fall, but the summer is when we’re getting our acting edition together.  This means that I’ll be spending my days working with the director to get the script into the shape we want it (much more exciting and difficult than it sounds – don’t worry, I’m sure that this will be blog fodder all summer long).

This year, I have been pushed to the outer walls of my limits.  I have accomplished things which I, at points, didn’t think possible.  And, I’ve done it with panache and style!  Here’s the good news for all you faithful readers (and perhaps the bad news for me): the worst is not over by a long shot.  I’ve been fastidiously advised by my senior peers as I was crossing the finish line this semester that coursework is the easiest part of this entire process.

Well, darn it.  I guess I should spend another year in easy land and truly brace for what’s to come.  Because if this is easy, then I’m not sure how I’m going to handle the hard stuff…

But for now, I am hopeful.  It’s a beautiful day, I have a paper to revise, and my red pen is itching for some action.  After that I’m going to lounge on my couch for a while before a rock-climbing date with my favorite traveling companion.

Today: the rock gym.  Tomorrow: the world.

And for now: I will take a much deserved bow.

Still Finding the Energy

I’m nearly there.  So close.  Last one goes down on Sunday, and that (my friends) will be the “thud” heard round the world (…or at least the “ding” heard round the world since it’s being submitted via e-mail).  After that, I wish I could say I get a real break, but instead I’ve got two weeks to polish a paper for a publication deadline (say that ten times fast) and churn out an abstract for ASTR (which I am determined to make this year because it’s in Nashville and thereby will give me an excuse to wear my fantastic cowboy boots to my panel).  I also only have a week and a half between last final submission and German classes starting up so… yea.  Breaks are for the weak.

In an effort to maintain my sanity, today I’m making you Another Random Finals List because I really don’t have the brain space to leak anything else out.

1)    I’m a grown woman and My Little Ponies (Friendship is Magic) still makes me smile.  I

Pony with a library!!!

have no shame about this.  You should try watching it; especially if you’re an over-worked academic who would love to find more time to be with her friends because (I kid you not) the lead pony is ALSO an over-worked academic whose friends insist on her making time for them.  Yes, I am Twilight Sparkle.  Deal with it, academy.

2)    The Muppets also make me smile.  As an archetype of everything I love about theatre, watching the Muppets is a sure-fire way to make me remember why I chose this profession.

3)    So is watching “The Shakespeare Code”.

4)    I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that I now have a designated study/paper-writing blanket.  It is both warm and fuzzy.  And I haven’t managed to get red ink on it yet (though I await the day… it already has a war-wound from a crafting project gone awry).  This blanket may be the most comforting thing I own and I’m truly hoping that A) I don’t begin to associate it with the emotional trauma of finals time and B) I don’t turn into Linus because that would just be sad.

5)    Saw a pretty decent production of The Importance of Being Earnest this past weekend by Theatre to Go.  For community theatre, it was solid.  Those long Victorian scenes can be really difficult to make read to a modern audience (lots of antiquated wit flying about), but I thought it was fairly well done.  I took my favorite companion (who had never before seen nor read any of Wilde’s work) and he had a good time, which is probably a better gauge of the production than my snobbery.  I do wish there had been some dramaturgical gloss in the program, however, since so much of this wit is out-dated double-entendre (…dramaturgical gloss for those not in the know: “Earnest” is, debatably, a nineteenth-century euphemism for “homosexual” and if you’re not also reading that in the term “bunburying” you’re additionally missing the joke… I could go into a long explanation about the close proximity of the play’s London premiere to Wilde’s trial, but I’ll save that for a time when my brain functions a bit better).  Also, I am of the personal opinion that Lady

Brian Bedford as Lady B in the 2009 Broadway Revival

Bracknell is a role best played by a man of at least six feet in stature and barrel-chested.  TTG’s actress (Kate Beattie) definitely had the fire, and did a great job, but there’s nothing like cross-dressing to really get wild with your Wilde.

6)    Speaking of theatre, I will be hitting 28 Seeds again on Friday.  The show closes this weekend, so if you haven’t seen it yet, get your butt over to BCA and fix that!  Well worth the cost of admission.  I’m also hitting Bad Habit Productions’ Much Ado About Nothing tomorrow which should, at the very least, prove interesting.  The entire show is done with five actors.  This will either be a hurricane, or a train wreck.  Stay tuned.

7)    …I feel like that phrase (“hurricane or a train wreck”) could pretty much describe my life in general.  With great risk comes great reward… or great laughing at yourself when you fall on your face.

8)    I’m going to the gym now.  Exercise gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Happy people don’t just shoot their husbands.

Finals Land

Aside

Good friends and readers,

Hello from finals land.

This is a place slightly different from “finals panic” (which I was experiencing a few weeks ago).  This is a place where everything is mapped out, everything is drafted out, and all I have to do is continue working at a good clip to slide into the finish.

My last final is due May 13th.  And man, I cannot wait to plonk that baby down and close the book on what has been a phenomenal, engrossing, enormous, scary year.

The thing about finals land is that it is extremely draining.  The writing process, for me, is a slow one and one that requires meticulous drafting and re-drafting.  As I have previously mentioned, it takes between 6 and 8 drafts for me to produce something that I feel comfortable turning in.  I like to work on one draft a day but, as I am currently simultaneously grappling with three large papers, that means I’m required to produce approximately 21 drafts to feel good about my product.  I have 13 days to do it.  This means that I’m going to have to average 1.6 drafts a day (provided I take zero days off between now and due dates).  Which, realistically, means that I’m going to have to be churning out two drafts a day to give myself room for a breath sometime this weekend.

What this really and truly means is that my brain feels like a wrung-out sponge.  I feel like I’ve given everything I have to this semester and I simply have nothing left to give.

Unfortunately, I’ve not got the option to stop now.  There’s this last little bit of mountain to climb to get to the top of what’s been an arduous (but entirely rewarding) year.

There’s this saying in clown training; “find the energy”.  There are two zones in clowning; “the red” which is where you are when you are in-nose and thereby in-character, and “the black” which is somewhere below that, not quite fully to the point of true clown yet.  You get tired really quickly in clowning, it takes a lot to keep yourself going.  When you’re training to do it, you are constantly told to “find the energy”.  ImageDo whatever you need to do to keep yourself in the red.  Dance, throw stuff, run around, keep going, dip into the deep part of yourself where you store the bits that you don’t generally access and use those to fuel whatever it is you are doing until it’s done.

And really, these days, that’s all I’ve got.  I’ve got to find the energy to keep going, no matter where that energy comes from (at the moment, it’s coming from some lovely earl gray I’ve been drinking like it’s my job, though I may switch to something a little less caffeinated soon… also, girl scout cookies never hurt…).

In a few short weeks, I will be able to collapse and have a break (and trust me, in the two weeks between finals and my summer German class I intend to take full advantage of break time… if my past experience with graduate school has been at all indicative of my future experience with graduate school, I will be laid out on the couch unable to move for a solid three days before I regain the capacity to speak much less function in the real world).  In a few short weeks, I can pick up a book that I want to read and read it for no other reason than “I want to”.  In a few short weeks, I can hit all those extra random deadlines that have been lurking on the side of my whiteboard all but ignored because I simply did not have the time to devote attention to them.

…at least nature cooperated today.  It was a gray, dreary day here in Boston – the kind of day that really does make me want to curl up on my office futon with a blankie, a French press full of tea, and my writing to red-pen.  So that’s exactly what I did.

And I hit my writing goals.  Here’s hoping that mother nature continues to cooperate and doesn’t insist on too many beautiful days between now and the 13th.

The Only Pretty Ring-Time

For the past few weeks, I’ve been dealing with some pretty intense stress – deadlines, personal engagements, the general bump and grind of academia.  I’ve been managing to keep it together (for the most part) with only a few minor explosions which were quickly cleaned up and left nominal scorch marks on my desk.

There has, however, been a new complication.

Summer is in the air here in Boston.

This happens to me every year.  I don’t consider myself the kind of person who is deeply affected by the weather, which is why it always takes me by surprise when it does affect me.  I think part of the problem is that I’m a survivor.  No matter what’s going on, no matter if it’s snowing, no matter if it’s gray, no matter if puppies are falling from the sky, I will get my stuff together and do what needs doing.  I may grumble and whinge about it, but in the end everything will get done to my satisfaction at an appropriate deadline (and usually the quality of what I produce is rather high to boot!)

So really, some sunshine?  Birds chirping?  The perfect amount of not-too-hot not-too-cold wind?  Bah!  My work is more important than any of that!

…but it does mean that I get to break out the flirty skirts, and flip flops, and capris, and my tattoos see the light of day, and it’s pedicure season, and I can sit outside and work, and I no longer mind walking places so I’m much more inclined to do so, and going outside seems like a treat not a chore, and if I drive somewhere I can do it with the windows down so I’m more likely to take the long way somewhere…

Aw hell, I’m stuck in full-tilt end-of-semester summer fever.  I can see that my syllabus comes to a big scary close in just a few short weeks.  I can just taste the freedom at the tip of my tongue, and it tastes glorious… like rosebuds and ice cream.

This doesn’t do anything to help the fact that I’ve still got an abstract, one in-class presentation, two “here’s my work” in-class presentations, and three final papers to go until I may truly free myself from the shackles of repression keeping me hedged to my desk.

….can you cool it, mother nature?  Just for a few more weeks?

Getting Un-Stuck

As you, dear reader, have seen from my previous posts, it is, as they say, “go time”.

This semester, I have a unique conundrum.

I am a meticulous researcher and a slow writer. This is good for some things, but not for others.

In certain fields, it’s very easy to get bogged down by what everyone else has said before. There is so much writing on Shakespeare already that finding a place for one’s own voice can be extremely difficult. In this regard, the fact that I do spend so much time in the research phase means that it’s even easier for me to fall into the chasm of academic apathy: “Why bother saying anything when everything’s already been said?! Why do I even exist?”. It also means that it’s extremely exciting when I do come upon something within my own mind that has not been said before (“YAY! I’m smarter and more creative than a whole giant field of scholarship!” Disclaimer: not really true, it’s easy to get carried away sometimes).

Sometimes I go into the research process with an idea already formulating. Sometimes I just go into it with a general topic in the hopes that something will spark.

This semester (for one of my papers at least), I’ve been on a long and winding road of type two. I’m working on a project involving eighteenth century depictions of Shakespeare’s ghost onstage and, surprise surprise, there’s a WHOLE LOT out there.

So how do you go from “What have I done?” to “Look what I did!”? Well, let me give you a sneak peak of my process.

I’ve already written about the process which I follow to create a paper. But what if, as happened to me just this week, you hit a snag? What if you have all of your research together, piled neatly into little segments by theme, but no clue as to what it says? What if you are on a deadline and have to turn in an abstract re: what this paper is going to be about before you yourself even know? What if you simply can’t understand how the heck you’re supposed to fit your voice into this mammoth discourse already in progress, but you don’t have time to start over, and the thought of re-hitting the books is simply making you cry?

Don’t despair. Yet. Try a few of these things (they worked for me eventually).

*Take out a piece of paper and physically write down (not type, WRITE) everything

My writing-it-down led to something... as you can tell by my enthusiastic circling. Also: my desk ornaments.

you know about the topic which you have chosen to research. What are the big ideas? How do they relate to each other? Where are the holes in this web? This act in and of itself may spark something. Writing things down and thinking about them in terms of the big picture loosens up the information in your head. It gets your synapses firing in a meta way and forces you to draw connections which you may have already known, but hadn’t quite understood yet. It also demonstrates very graphically where the lapses in information are and those places are places for you to do some work. Fill in those gaps with your own thinking! Write and publish, people, so that students in the future will have to contend with your work as a roadblock.

*Don’t forget step three. The shower is the most important part of my creative process. And really, who couldn’t use more showers in her life?

*Re-read your source material. Now that you’ve done the research around it, turn back to the piece that originally inspired you (be it play or novel). Chances are, you will spot all the things that the other people have spotted, but you may also spot something new, different, and exciting. And really, you started this project because you were inspired by this piece, why shouldn’t it inspire you again?

*Go back to your theory. You haven’t just been reading it for your health. A straightforward, theory-driven reading is often times too simplistic for a graduate-level paper, but integrating theory is another great way to get you thinking about something differently. Applying theory can help you to arrive at some new conclusion, something you hadn’t seen before. Most importantly: theory is the building blocks of an argument. You can bat around theory, there are plenty of spaces for interpretation, and theory is universal and applicable almost anywhere. Get canny with your Kant, formative with your Foucault, dexterous with your Derrida, and brilliant with your Bakhtin!

*If none of these things work, and you still feel buried and struggling, contact your professor. She is a pro. She’s been doing this a lot longer than you have. If you have your research in order, if you are on top of your writing schedule, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Floundering happens to EVERYONE and your professor has also, in her time, floundered. She will have tips and tricks to help you. She will understand the discourses you are dealing with. She will likely also have a few ideas about your project that can help to unstick you. Trust in her experience, trust in your ability to articulate your own work eloquently, and turn to your mentors for support. That’s why they’re there, after all.

And if all else fails, just remember the sage words of the good Doctor (no, not THAT

not THAT Doctor

Doctor…):

You won’t lag behind,
because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang
and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.
I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.

You’ll be left in a Lurch.
You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.
And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come,
or a plane to go
or the mail to come,
or the rain to go
or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

THIS Doctor

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
  That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

So go! Off with you! Find those boom bands and make those papers sing!

…I’m off to take a shower.