Finals und kein Ende

This morning: I had a conversation with Hamlet on twitter about Goethe while reading snippets from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre about a character performing Hamlet.

This sprang from my new favorite quote from Goethe “Away with your fat Hamlets!”

…what I was really doing was preparing a handout for an in-class presentation/facilitation/thingie I have to give on Thursday (one of the two big semester projects still on my docket).

Over the course of preparing this handout, I also discovered that the snippets of Macbeth I had chosen as an object lesson in early German Shakespeare translations for my class were perhaps not entirely what I had previously thought.  When one of my sources discussed the Schlegel translation of Macbeth pretty heavily, I assumed this may be a good example of how the Germans during this time period weren’t quite getting the language as we English-speakers expect to receive it.  I pulled a snippet from Macbeth’s “whence is this knocking?” speech from the 1764 Wieland translation, then same from what I thought was part of the 1801 Schlegel translation (highly regarded as the best rendition of Shakespeare into German from the time).  I re-translated them to English as best I can (because, despite any pretentions to the contrary, graduate students don’t actually know everything), and set them prominently on my handout.

…only to find out that the textual history of the Schlegel is WAY more complicated than I

Finals has done this to me.  That's will riding a horse my grandfather carved while waiting to be sent home during WWII

Finals has done this to me. That’s Will riding a horse my grandfather carved while waiting to be sent home during WWII

had thought (hey, at least I discovered this BEFORE my presentation on Thursday).  Not to bore you with details, but it’s actually a rather cool thing since Schlegel winds up collaborating with Tieck but despite this his translation of the complete works remains unfinished until Tieck’s daughter takes it up.  So apparently what I have is a kind of proto-feminist text that my inner English geek could analyze up the wazoo but, since I’m in a theatre department, should probably refrain from doing so.

Anyway, once this is done then I have a paper to write (that I’m nowhere near as prepared for as usual but thankfully have more time than I thought I would have so… it may just balance in the end).  Then, on May eighth, I turn in that last stack of pages, breathe a sigh of relief, and take a few days to a week off before I start studying for my comps like a mad person.

And at some point in the near future, it’s going to hit me that to complete this semester’s projects I had to do research in a language that I didn’t know a single word of before last June and, moreover, I’ve been routinely walking around with a bagful of books in three different languages (none of the pig Latin)…  Not to brag, but you’ve got to admit that that’s pretty cool.

On that note, I think I’ll put down the Goethe and turn to Molière for a bit.  Because apparently I like pain.

Gird yourselves.  Finals are here.

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.

Summer Days… Drifting Away

Can you believe it’s July already?  That reality check as I looked at my calendar reminded me that summer is in full swing and I had better settle into it and stop waiting for it to happen because otherwise I’ll miss it before it’s even occurred (…plug that into your TARDIS and parse it, I dare you!).

As I have previously mentioned, this summer my schedule is full to the brim with important self-propelled projects.  Large items on the docket include:

Learning to Read German: This requires the most tenacity of any of the projects which are currently on my desk.  Turns out learning a new language is, while not more difficult than I remember it being, more time-consuming.  This is likely because I’m attempting to cram the entire thing into my head in the matter of mere months.  Well… that’s not entirely accurate.  I’m attempting to cram the skills which I will need to read it effectively into my head in a matter of mere months.  These skills include: an understanding of grammar (a

This was my preliminary flashcard stack… it has since grown by at least 300%

little… complicated in German.  Very different from English, not so different from other things I’ve previous done, but definitely convoluted until you figure out how to break it down into its bits and memorize those bits… it’s the memorization part that’s tricky), an understanding of how to utilize a dictionary (not as straightforward as it sounds… curse you, German, and your crazy compound words!), and a giant vocabulary.  Vocabulary acquisition/retention is what takes up the bulk of my time.  Every day, I am learning between 50-70 new words.  That’s a LOT.  On my desk sit stacks of flash cards that grow and thrive between each passing day.  I have a pile system.  It’s nice to see things I know today that I didn’t know yesterday represented in such a graphic way.  However, problematically, since my class moves SO quickly, learning all the things in my “to-learn” pile just means I have to make more flash cards.  This has caused me no small amount of stress (since there’s CONSTANTLY something else to do and I can’t really ignore the giant stack of index cards that sits RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE), but I keep having to remind myself that a language is all-inclusive.  I guesstimate that I have acquired the reading level of an eight-year-old.  That’s pretty friggen good for one month of hard study.

Brushing off Papers for Publication: Publish or Perish ain’t just an old sailor’s adage, folks.  In fact, many respected academics say that publishing is the most important part of a PhD candidate’s marketability as a job candidate.  The job market the way it is, I need to be as flawlessly perfect as I can be (and as attractive to potential employers).  And that means publishing.  And that means a lot of work on top of the work I’ve already done to produce these papers in the first place.  Unfortunately, since this task is slightly easier to ignore than the tribble-like flash cards that litter my desk, this doesn’t take up as much of my time as it should.  That said, I hope to have at least two papers floating in the publication ether by the end of the summer.  Three would be better, but I’m trying to be realistic and not drive myself absolutely bonkers trying to accomplish something that’s only kinda feasible if I stop sleeping and going to the gym.

Learning to Play the Ukulele: While recently attending the wedding of some dear friends, I

someday, maybe I’ll be as cool as Amanda Palmer

came to the realization that since I’m a less-than-mediocre guitarist, I’d probably be halfway decent at playing a ukulele.  The idea percolated and I realized that it was perhaps the perfect way to spend my copious amounts of free time (did you hear the sarcasm in my font?).  So far, I was right!  The ukulele is perfect for me because it is small, lady-like, has four strings (four strings for four fingers instead of six strings for four fingers… it’s like heaven!), and doesn’t carry the asshole connotations that a guitar does.  Also, it’s interesting.  “Oh, yea, in my spare time, I play the ukulele”.  Who says that?  (…other than me now….).  It’s also portable; I have handbags that are larger than my uke… and I don’t eve have a small uke! (she’s concert-sized, for anyone to whom that would mean anything, and her name is Jojo after the wonderful lady  who hooked me up with chord charts and learners’ resources).

Going to the Gym: A constant process, and one I’m trying to get better at before school devours me.  During my first year, I was pretty consistent about being a 2-3 times a week gym bunny.  I’m trying to bump this to 3-4 times a week.  Can she do it?  Let’s find out…

Starting a Podcast: If you haven’t visited the links section of the site in a while, you probably won’t have noticed that I’ve added a few (…and also a page for my sundry extracurriculars… in case you aren’t tired of listening to me rant about grad school here, you can see me do it at other places on the internet!).  One of these links is to the site that is going to host the podcast which myself and my partner in crime have been cooking up.  Several months ago, he came to me with the idea to start it and, always being game for things involving Shakespeare and things involving my partner in crime, I said “let’s do it”.  Well, we’ve been busting our butts to make the dream a reality and, in the next week or two, look for our first broadcast.  We’re going to be chatting about Shakespeare’s canon in approximate chronological-to-how-he-wrote-them order in 15-minute-a-week intervals.  Our first show: Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Titus Andronicus.  Should be good fun!

Preparing for the Fall: At the back of my head, I’ve constantly been reminding myself of the

Last summer, I could get some R&R right at work (… Beach-Themed dance party at the studio)

mental fortitude required to live out a year in academia.  I need to get some R&R in this summer if it kills me or, come fall, it really will kill me.  I do have a tiny vacation planned, and have been orchestrating some exceedingly fun outings with friends (by the by, 5-wits events are TOTALLY worth going to especially if the idea of being a super-spy or steam-punk adventurer for the afternoon at all fills you with any sense of childish glee).  I’ve also been trying to take it as easy as I can between everything else, not beat myself up too much if my to-do lists are slightly behind, and enjoy some good ol’ fashioned vitamin D every chance I get.  With any luck, this will be enough to recharge my batteries so that I can be rearing to go come September.

So for now, I think I’m going to grab myself an iced tea with mint and blueberries, and return to this persistently propagating pile of plosives.  How’s your summer going?

Into the Abyss

So I have previously mentioned that part of my process come panic time involves a giant whiteboard.

This is a survival mechanism which I developed in my Master’s.  Often, a graduate student lives in three to four different worlds an each world is represented by a separate syllabus.  Each has its own deadlines, requirements, readings, library pile, points of interest on the internet, points of contact at the department, rules, regulations, and practices.  Often, meshing these worlds together is the cause of a great deal of stress come finals time (see my momentary freak-out about over scheduling myself towards the end of last semester).  Also, because a course can contain many little assignments in addition to a large one, often things can get lost in the shuffle.

To combat this, I developed the whiteboard technique.  Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by deadlines, I make a chart.  I list what the assignment is (and, if it requires further specificity which due to the nature of grad-school courses it often does not, who it is for), where to send it (if you’re talking about abstracts and publication submissions, often those e-mails can get lost in the shuffle as well), and when it is due.  Then I leave myself a place to check off when the assignment has been completed.  On the side, I create a list of ongoing projects with no due-dates, just things that I need to remember to do.

Getting it all down in black and white (and often also orange, purple, and green when I’m feeling whimsical) helps to assure me that a) I didn’t miss anything, b) I won’t miss anything, and c) I really and truly do have a handle on my life.

At the end of the semester, when all is said and done, I leave the whiteboard there for a while with all of its check boxes intact.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment to see that I’ve met all my deadlines and, at the end of a semester, one needs all the sense of accomplishment one can find.

But the other day, I took the leap.

I erased the whiteboard.

It’s pretty freeing to be able to sit at my desk and have a giant blank slate hanging over me.  Of course, my summer projects are taking up a lot more of my time than I had anticipated (I dramaturge eight to ten hours a week, German class four hours a week, study approx. ten hours a week, have been trying to catch up on my sleep, my e-mails, my reading, my knitting, my life, and my gym schedule, I haven’t really had time to touch my papers that I wanted to brush off over the summer yet but it will come).  These ongoing projects, though, the kind with no deadline, they’re not exactly whiteboard material.  It’s like looking into a great white expanse of nothing.  My time is my own again.  I’m not working under pressure, I’m not working under any imposed or hard end-stop, I’m just working as much as I can as fast as I can.

…so I guess on the other hand not having white-board deadlines also means that I’m probably working more in between all the other things I do, but at this point I’ll just relish the change of pace.



So one of my summer quests is to learn to read in German.

One of the requirements for most PhDs in the Humanities (I know for certain English and Theatre Studies, other areas I’m not so clear on) is a reading knowledge of two languages other than English (alternately, a deep comprehension/fluency of one other language).  This requirement is often best taken care of in the early stages of your coursework so that it doesn’t hang you up when you go to do big things like comps and orals.

For me, I came into the program with a fairly solid reading knowledge of French.  German, while it seems esoteric, is a good choice for someone in Theatre Studies as the field was basically conceived in Germany, though like most things conceived in Germany fell apart during that big black hole in history that began in Germany.  Nowadays, the Free University of Berlin is a fairly happening place (especially for Shakespeareans and especially over the summer).

To assist in my quest, the school has hired one of my colleagues in the English department to teach a reading-in-German tutorial for anyone in the humanities required to pass such an exam as mine.

Learning to read in a language is a skill set entirely different from learning a language.  We did not spend the first day talking about our names, how we were, and where we lived.  Because we have a very limited time frame and are expected to retain a whole lot of information, this course is essentially a strategy guide for quick and dirty German.  Here’s how you recognize a noun, here’s a verb, here are common irregular verbs, now go learn all the vocabulary you can stuff in that little brain and come back later.  It’s a lot more technical; let’s break down this sentence (almost diagramming the sentence) and figure out which words we absolutely need to look up.  How many trips to the dictionary can we avoid?  How much can we clarify what you’re actually looking up and what you will find when you do?

This is made slightly easier by the fact that German, like English, is a Germanic language (and, to be even more technical, a West Germanic language).  It’s closer to English than a Romance language and thereby has a great many cognates which can help the English-speaking German-beginner.

It’s also made slightly easier by the fact that in my undergrad I decided to take a smattering of all kinds of languages.  Flash back to the first semester Freshman year, my brief flirtation with Latin.  I had a slightly longer affair with Italian, and the longest-lasting

This picture might best encapsulate my time in Dublin* *this is not entirely true… but that is a whole nother book of stories…

was with Irish (two and a half years of Irish Gaelic and a summer living in Dublin later and, while my Irish has decayed over the years from lack of use, I may still know more than native Irish people who don’t live in Gaeltachts).  Latin taught me grammar.  If you want to learn English grammar, go learn Latin.  I also taught me the meanings of cases and declensions, a building block for many of the other languages I’m working with.  Irish taught me how to deal with an inflected language (that is, a language in which word order doesn’t really matter).  This is the same in Latin, but since I lived with Irish longer I was better able to grasp the concept.  German word order is often strange and unusual because the rules governing sentence structure are not the same as they are in English.  Italian taught me to order in restaurants and buy a verb dictionary.  Seriously.  More irregular verbs than any language a sane person would actually want to learn.

So, while German is foreign, it’s not completely foreign.

It’s also delightful to be learning something new and different.  I’ve spent so long with a certain kind of schooling (namely: go home, read this book, do some research, come back and talk about it, write a paper) that having a new way to exercise my mind is almost salivatingly good.  Last night, the teacher handed out worksheets!  I haven’t had a worksheet to do since the 90s! (…almost as long, by the way, as I haven’t done higher-level mathematics…. I think I may see a corollary here…)

So, yes, they basically throw you in the deep end clinging desperately to your dictionary like a lifeline.  And there’s a lot of vocabulary to memorize.  Like… all the vocabulary.  The more vocab you know, the fewer trips to the dictionary you need, and thereby the faster you are at translating.

But it’s fresh, it’s interesting, and it’s extremely different from the kind of learning I do during the year.  While I can’t really call it a vacation, I can call it a drastic deviation from my regularly scheduled programming.