My partner in crime has informed me that, after this week’s previous post, I should probably also talk a little bit about the flip side of the coin. So, as his advice is generally good, and lest you think that Graduate School is a long, dark, tunnel of stress and upset leading to nowhere positive, I would like to take some time to share a bit about the wonderful things that have happened to me because of (or related to) my experiences in higher education.
Consider the previous post the warning label and this post the advertisement. Real life, as always, will be found somewhere gently hovering in between. Or, if you want a picture more true-to-life, real life is actually lived on the extremes. The average found in the middle very rarely happens, but so long as your good days equal or outweigh your bad days, you can consider your life choice a sound one… at least, I do.
One of the nifty things about being affiliated with a university is that, as soon as you tag that affiliation onto your byline, folks tend to take you seriously. Because of this (and because of the endless generosity of people willing to take time out of their busy schedules to gab with me about their work), I have had the good fortune of conducting field research at many exciting places this year. I got to sit down with the man who inspired me to go into Shakespeare studies (a director at Shakespeare & Company by the name
of Kevin Coleman – he’s playing the fool in their Lear right now and he’s spectacular) and talk about his work. I got to examine and photograph theatrical designs from a designer’s private archive. I got to tour and photograph the Rebecca Nurse Homestead during its off-season even though visitors weren’t technically allowed onsite during the time in which I had to do my research. Would a “normal” person have had these opportunities? Difficult to tell… but I can certainly tell you that being able to point at a legitimate institution and say that I was part of it definitely helped my confidence by way of things that I was willing to ask for.
Archive access is another neat perk to academia. The great thing about an archive is that it’s a repository of all kinds of shinies. Sure, I love books as much as the next nerd, but something about holding a piece of paper older than one’s own country really gets the adrenaline going. The Harvard Theatre Collection happens to be the oldest and largest Theatre archive in the United States… it also happens to be right down the road from my apartment. This year, I spent countless hours in the archive digging for buried treasure. I handled broadsides from the shows affiliated with the Astor Place Riots. I paged through the Johnson/Steevens edition of Shakespeare (published 1773). I tried to decipher John Adam’s handwriting off a letter he wrote to dear Abigail. I (nearly) touched a First Folio (we have two native to Boston – one housed at Brandeis, the other at the Boston Public Library Rare Books room).
I traveled. This year, I saw two cities for the first time as I conferenced within them: San Diego and Baltimore. In San Diego, I got to go to the San Diego zoo. In Baltimore, I had an afternoon at the National aquarium. In both places, I met graduate students from around the country who were working on projects that I never would have otherwise known about. I got to be part of the greater academic discourse and understand a bit better what my peers are doing in other areas of the ivory tower.
I connected with my work in the field. I saw so much theatre this year and, more than just seeing it, I was able to critically engage with it. I reviewed a great deal of it, but even that which I didn’t review was always discussed with a traveling companion or two. It’s important to touch the ground now and again and really understand what you’re working on. In the case of theatre, it’s so easy to bury your head in the book-history and never come up for air. I’m proud to say that the book learning fueled my desire to see more theatre and really made me pursue productions in the greater Boston area. This drive to connect with the tangible has introduced me to some amazing venues, some wonderful companies, and some very interesting people.
I accomplished some pretty neat things. I translated an article from Diderot’s encyclopedia. I started my quest to learn to read German. I produced six graduate-level papers (all of which have potential to continue on as larger projects). I found a way to become involved with a few nifty projects for next year (including dramaturging Measure for Measure and acting the dream role of Rosalind in As you Like it). I made connections and met people who were not only interesting, but also important to theatre studies. I wrote a book review which is going to be published in a professional journal (details to follow). I maintained a blog that has tripled its following over the course of the past year. Even though I’m only part way to my grand goal, the little victories along the way have helped to sustain me with how truly thrilling they are.
I suppose, as with anything, the payoff of academia is only worth what
you’ve gone through to get it. So yea, you’ll find yourself in the tunnel sometimes. Keep calm, remember where your towel is, pour yourself some earl grey, and remind yourself that this is all totally worth it. And if you begin to doubt that, head over to the archive and pull the oldest thing in the collection. I guarantee that one look at whatever it is will remind you that your life is pretty cool despite its extreme trials.