Ready for my Close-up

Now that I’ve had a few days in my own home to marinate, I’d like to give you more of an inside peek of my trip to California before I’m off again to Baltimore on Wednesday.

The Conference

I arrived at the conference hotel when it was full dark and checked into my room in time for a shower and some quality time with my book before going to sleep with the knowledge that my conference companion would be busting in the hotel room door somewhere around one AM.  Conference buddies, by the by, are must-haves!  Academia is a transient profession.  As romantic as “THE IVORY TOWER” sounds, the more I am imbued within it the more I tend to think of it as a floating castle.  I would LOVE for there to be one, giant, gleaming white citadel with an expansive library, plenty of sunny reading nooks, and unlimited amounts of coffee.  In reality, what the academy really is is a few musty offices in under-funded departmental buildings, subterranean seminar rooms with too many chairs and not enough windows, desks upon desks located within peoples’ own homes, stacks of library books, all connected by a global network via the internet and well-placed e-mails exchanges across this rainbow bridge of a pipewire.
Conferences, however, are where all this becomes tangible.  You find yourself in a room full of people who have read the things you’ve read, want to talk about the things that you want to talk about, and can bat around theory over lunch.  You put some booze into these people and suddenly you’re talking about the symbolist reading of zombies in Romero’s movies, or how Bahktin would have read “The Hunger Games”.

Since we are so spread out, so widely arrayed across the globe, it’s inevitable that your friends will move.  You will move too.  And conferences are places where you can double-team your agenda: see your friends, and make professional connections!  Talk about a win!

In this case, I was slotted to spend the weekend with a close friends whom I got my Master’s with in New Jersey before he moved to Pittsburg and I moved to Boston.  As fate has these things, we reunited in San Diego.

Said friend and I getting all gradi-fi-cated with our Masterses.

According to said friend, I “sleep like a Viking” because his entry into the room didn’t even stir me from slumber.  I woke the next morning excited to catch up with him, and buzzing for the conference.

And to top it off, there were palm tress outside my window!

Conference strategy number one: at check in, read through the schedule and highlight panels you may want to see.  You will be too tired throughout the day to really think about what is/was interesting to you, so do yourself a favor and set up your schedule early.  If there’s a window of time in which the panels don’t speak to you (or they’re about texts you haven’t read), skip them!  Go take a nap!  Decompress in your hotel room!  You will need it, trust me.

So day one was spent flitting from panel to panel, enjoying the wonderful conference-provided lunch, and looking forward to relaxing at the post-day-one reception.

And relax we did.  Wine, dinner, lovely company, and a chance to chat with all the smart people whom I had seen speak that day (including the key-note who was downright brilliant, and a woman, score for intellectual femme fatale!).

My panel, as I have mentioned, was the first panel on day two so I went to bed early in order to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for said panel.

A note: I have never been to a conference (and especially a small conference) where coffee wasn’t available in copious amounts.  At this particular conference, there was a coffee break between every single panel.  This meant the very real danger of over-caffeinating.  BEWARE the over-caffeination!  It can make you feel icky, shaky, and off your game – the last thing you want when you’re trying to present your work.

Day two was slightly more difficult to get through since I have a low threshold for “sit and listen” and an even lower threshold for “social hour”.  I did take a break towards the end of the day and spent some much-needed decompression time in my room rather than be disrespectful to the panelists whose panel I would otherwise have glazed my way through.  In the future, I intend to pace myself a bit better – I’m bad at this – and take breaks BEFORE I feel my brain leak out my ears in an effort to prevent said brain leakage.


My fabulously talented brother, as you know, is a Hollywood filmmaker.  After the conference, since I had flown all the way out to his coast, I spent some time living his glamorous lifestyle.

As a theatre girl, it was extremely interesting to see how the other half lives.  I got to sit in on

Said photoshoot in progress. That's a lot of blood!

production meetings, locations scouts, and even a photo-shoot where I wound up lending a hand as a special effects makeup artist (they were running short on hands and time and, lucky enough, I have the skills to fill in for something like this).  We used more fake blood than I can really relate in writing, but the product looked really cool and I think the photographer got what he was looking for so it was a win overall.

Conclusion: Hollywood ain’t for me.  There is an art to what they do out there, but it’s very different from what I’m used to.  Creativity is expressed as an entire project rather than an individual outlet.  In the words of my brother “everyone is allowed to be a little creative in their own niche”.  I suppose, in a way, the same is true of theatre, but I truly feel that theatre is a less limiting media.  While everyone working on an individual project is in some way limited, adding technology to the mix both curtails and bolsters the abilities of the artists to fabricate a universe.  People become slaves to the technology; the camera dictates what can and cannot be done.  Actors fill into slots on the screen, really just becoming giant puppets rather than living people.  This isn’t the illusion that we get, though.  As a film audience, we see something encompassing, something close, a false portrayal of intimacy.  We are situated as physically closer to the images on the screen since a camera can zoom into something the way a theatre audience cannot, but the human connection is gone.  We connect with light and sound, not actual people.

That, however, is a philosophical difference that I don’t think I have room to go into here.  It deserves its own podcast, actually…. Hm….

I suppose that any of this is also dependant upon the individual project and the spirit of that project.  An attitude of acceptance and cooperation will go a long way in any artistic endeavor, while creative animosity only leads to a stifling and stuffy product.


My brother also took me to the BIGGEST BESTEST USED BOOK STORE EVER! I felt like Belle in the Library!

Due to an extreme amount of self-discipline, I was able to accomplish everything I had slotted for plane-time work.  Six hours on an airplane can just fly (heh… get it?  Fly?) when you’re trying to avoid doing the homework you brought, but luckily I managed to eke it out before my will drained to empty.  Pro tip: work first, goof off with in-flight movies second.  That way you have a built-in reward for finishing your stuff, and you don’t have to panic when the plane is landing and you’re still frantically re-writing your conference paper.

So now I’m spending a few blissful nights reunited with my own glorious bed before I jet off again.  After that, it’s smooth (if packed chock full) sailing until the end of the semester.  I think these few days have allowed me to put out the major fires and that I’ll be at a manageable work-load if I continue at a good clip.

…I’ve been wrong before though, and my histrionics definitely make for more flavorful blogging.

The Scottish Play

Now that I’m sitting at my own desk and have my full computing capacity (my netbook is wonderful for some tasks, but its tiny brain combined with bad hotel wireless connections can be extremely limiting), I’d like to share with you the talk I gave this past weekend.  It’s entitled “The Scottish Play” and was presented at the National Gothic Fiction Conference in San Diego, CA on March 17, 2012.

This is a bit unconventional for an academic to be posting her work in such a public forum, but the way I see things: once it’s out there, it’s out there.  I’m not bashful about the quality of my work, I’m proud of my presentation style, and I truly think that the academy is an institution based upon the primary precept of sharing ideas.  So here’s some food for thought for you, I hope you enjoy it!

Notes from the Road

Hello again, my friends and readers!

I am writing to you from the JetBlue terminal at JFK in the midst of my most hectic week of the 2011/2012 academic year.  I am currently en route home from a week in California and will return to Boston tonight only to be greeted by a desk full of projects and only two days in which to accomplish them before a full week’s course-load crammed into three days (one day of which involves a major project due).  On day three directly after class I leave for the Comparative Drama Conference where I will be giving a paper (which, by the way, is not quite ready to present yet) and, in the next four weeks, I have to give three class-related presentations in addition to my usual course reading and the three seminar papers whose due-dates loom ever-nearer as the semester winds down.

Suffice to say I’m going to be a little tired and harried.

I did, however, want to take a moment to check in after the National Gothic Fiction Conference.  Obligatory weather comment: I managed to be in San Diego for the three days out of the year when it wasn’t sunny in San Diego.  It rained off and on and the entire trip was covered in ominous clouds perhaps as a result of the conference itself.  I have to say, the setting was rather… well… Gothic.

My paper was extremely well-received and I met some very interesting people (and got to spend time with a dear old friend).  I do have a few observations that I would like to share for you graduate students who do conference, have conference, or will conference.

Every time I’m at a conference, I notice some things that I firmly believe the entire profession of academia would be a better place without.  As the next generation of tweedy professors, it’s our job to change these things.  Just like on the New York City Subway; if you see something, say something.

So here’s a list of things that no matter what happens, no matter how much the conference gods beg, no matter how much easier this would make your presentation/flight/life, just don’t do them.  Seriously.

1)      Wear jeans.  No joke.  If you are conferencing, that means that you have an eye towards professional development, which

means that you would like to get a job in the near future, which means that as many people as possible should take you

please excuse the decor, but do you know how hard it is to find a full-length mirror in a hotel with enough landing strip to actually get a full-length photo? Anyway, this is my default conference wear.

seriously.  Jeans may be okay in some people’s professions, but they’re not okay in ours.  It doesn’t take that much effort to put on a pair of slacks and some nice shoes.  Wearing jeans to a conference is like wearing sweats to class; it shows that you just didn’t bother to take yourself seriously enough to get dressed that morning.  This rule also goes for Hawaiian shirts, tee-shirts, miniskirts, and see-through shirts.  Present.  Yourself.  Professionally.  It makes me so angry when I see my colleagues not taking conferencing seriously enough to look their best because they are, in turn, making me look bad.  Graduate Students unite and show the big boys that we mean business.  Do yourself a favor and stop giving me headaches; it’s a two-for-one!

2)      Not have business cards.  Even if you don’t have official university cards (I don’t), get yourself a little slip of cardboard with your name, e-mail, affiliation, etc. on it.  They are not expensive, and they add ages to your credibility.  Also, they’re a great way to quickly give someone your contact information (which happens a lot at conferences).  I don’t have time to write something down, my pen isn’t accessible, etc., but I can definitely take your card and stick it in my pocket.

3)      Have one too many at the bar after hours.  This is especially true of the night before your panel.  There is nothing more disrespectful than being late or hung over while giving a talk.  Remember: the industry of academia is reliant upon time and brainpower.  If a roomful of people have shown up to hear you speak, they are foregoing other important things to do so.  You owe it to them to be as polished and on point as you can.  Also, think about impressions.  You may be drinking with people who will be deciding the fate of your career in the future.  These aren’t your friends from home, they’re your colleagues.  They’re important and vital connections for you to have as you go forward in your career, and they’re what you’re here to do (network, that is).  Getting a bit sloppy means you run the risk of offending them or embarrassing yourself, or a whole host of other ailments which come with drink.  This is not to say that you can’t relax, but treat schmooze time like an interview (albeit an informal one).

4)      Read your paper directly off the page without any connection to your audience or mind for presenting.  I really don’t understand why people do this.  If I wanted to read someone’s paper, I would have had him e-mail it to me.  Remember that a panel consists of three to four papers and generally lasts 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.  The last thing I want to do is listen to someone drone on tonelessly about a work I may or may not have read while using vocabulary that is simply beyond my aural comprehension for that long.  It’s boring, it’s superfluous, and it’s a sure-fire way to lose your audience.  Don’t you want them to listen to you?  Don’t you want your ideas to be heard?  Give it some zing!  Spice it up a bit!  Make it interesting!  Chances are if you are boring yourself, your audience won’t want to sit through it either.  The best papers I’ve seen involve visual stimulation (via powerpoint usually), an engaged speaker who knows what she’s saying and isn’t afraid to speak from notes, and an attention to the feel of the room.  If you’re going first thing in the morning or directly after lunch, this is especially important.

5)      Dominate someone else’s panel from the audience.  The audience is there to ask questions of the panelists, not random audience members.  You need to be a gracious and attentive listener when you come to hear a paper.  Even if you know something that the panelist doesn’t seem to, make a note of it, and quietly go speak with the panelist after the Q&A concludes.  The panelist has done a lot of research on her presentation topic and, should a question arise that she simply can’t answer, it’s her job to find a way to talk around it.  This is great practice for teaching undergrad.  Also, unless you really know your who’s-who of academia, you may be inadvertently stepping on the toes of someone who is influential in your field.  Do you really want your name black-listed from top universities because you were rude at a panel that one time in Graduate School?  Remember that you’re wearing a nametag… it’s not that hard to track you down.

6)      Go over your allotted time.  This comes with rehearsing and being prepared.  When you practice your talk, make sure it’s at least two minutes shorter than the panel calls for.  That way you know that you will be fine for time even if you have to divulge into a tangent or two, which does happen.  Going over is rude to your fellow panelists and your audience and is highly unprofessional.  Just don’t do it.

7)      Come unprepared.  Bring a pen, bring a notebook, bring a time piece, bring business cards, bring a bottle of water, bring a snack.  These are all vital bits of my “conference survival” bag (I also usually include some ibuprofen, lip-gloss, mints, a compact mirror, an extra hair tie, a folder, a jump drive, hand lotion without an overpowering smell, my netbook, and my iPad… all of these are items which I have previously needed during a conference).  Also, bring a smile.  Seriously.  It helps.

Now that that’s out of my system, I think I’ll go work on my CDC talk.  If you’re in Baltimore next weekend, be sure to say hi!  I’ll be speaking on session seven which, while still depressingly early in the morning, is at least not the first panel this time so you have no excuse as to why you’re not dressed yet.  Hope to see you there!

Leaving on a Jet Plane

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go.
The speech is written, it’s an appropriate length.
I’d hate to forget something important…

Well folks, in approximately an hour and a half I will be off to my first conference of 2012, the Studies in Gothic Fiction conference in San Diego, California.  I will be giving my paper on The Scottish Play (entitled “The Scottish Play”) and enjoying some spring break sunshine while valiantly attempting to forget all the things waiting for me on my desk when I come home.

By now, I’ve developed something of a system for conferences.  There are a few very important items that you simply cannot forget while prepping for them and, since it’ll serve as a sort of checklist for me (though at this juncture if I’ve forgotten anything, I’m kind of screwed anyway), I’d like to share this system with you.


Make reservations at the CONFERENCE HOTEL (not a nearby hotel, not a hotel unaffiliated with the conference) early.  The block of rooms reserved by the conference

prepping for my talk at the 2010 University of Montreal Graduate Conference

inevitably goes quickly, especially during prime conference days (i.e. Friday and Saturday).  There will be a discounted rate for these rooms and, since you’ll likely be sharing a room with at least one colleague, you can generally stay fairly cheaply.

Call the hotel at least a day beforehand and find out how to get from the airport to there

sans a vehicle.  There’s no need to have a car while conferencing; it’s expensive, and too much of a temptation to forsake the networking opportunities and stressful situations for the much preferable sightseeing and relaxing aspect of travel.  Call ahead, be prepared, and make sure you know how much it will cost to get from one place to another.

Put your boarding pass somewhere easily accessible.  This seems like a “duh” but trust me, with all the paper I’m carrying onboard the airplane, one thin slip of it can get lost pretty easily amongst my notes and papers.

Your Paper

REHEARSE your paper.  At least four times.  Time yourself.  Come in at least two minutes under your time allotment.  Try to eliminate speech disfluencies from your presentation (like, uh, and, um).  You will come off more polished and more professional if you can manage to give a succinct and timely performance on conference day.

Don’t just read off the page, actually speak to your audience.  Also, keep in mind that a paper being read aloud to someone is a different medium than a paper the individual herself reads.  We process information differently in this different medium.  Allow for this, adjust your paper accordingly.  There is nothing more tedious than sitting through a paper which hasn’t been re-jiggered for reading.  You want your audience to listen to your ideas, not fall asleep on you.

Print at least one hard copy, have a copy on a jump drive, and pre-load the paper (and your notes) onto your laptop/netbook/tablet before you leave your house.  Redundancy is key here.  I’ve had so many anxiety dreams about giving a presentation only to find that someone spilled something on/ate/incinerated my paper and notes.


Say it with me: I will not wear sneakers to the conference.  Even if they are all black and my pants are a little too long.  PRESENT YOURSELF PROFESSIONALLY, people!  Graduate students already sit at the bottom of the barrel, we don’t need to reinforce this by looking like we stole our suits from our parents’ closets.  Get some nice shoes, have some nice conferencing clothes, and for god’s sake put on some makeup and do your hair.  First impressions are everything and for all you know someone you meet on any given day at a conference will want to give you a job.  Don’t give him a reason not to.

Again, redundancy is key.  Have a backup shirt/pants/clean pair of socks in case the unspeakable happens to your primary pair.

Bringing Work

My panel at the 2011 Rutgers Newark MA Consortium

Realistically, you’re not going to get a whole lot done at the conference and that’s okay.  You’re there to network and meet people while getting your ideas out into the academic ether.  Your primary focus is to make yourself available to do this.  Don’t hide in your room with homework; you may as well be at home if you’re going to spend the weekend that way.  Prevent the temptation to over-book yourself by reading way ahead the week before.  I tend to read everything that I need out of a physical book at home, then load up PDFs and articles for the plane ride.  I also take a back-up book off my comps list, you know, in case I get really antsy/ambitious.  This, for me, has been a good balance between “OHGODOHGODIGOTTAGETTHINGSDONE” and “conference time”.

While at the Conference…

Shower frequently.  Brush your teeth often.  Carry mints.  Seriously.  Do you want your personal hygiene to prevent you from getting a job?

Sleep at least eight hours a night.  Conferences are rough and can run you down easily (especially if you, like me, are something of an introvert and need a lot of re-charge time after being ON all day).  Make this concession and don’t spend too much time at the bar with your buddies the night before you give your talk.

Be courteous to EVERYONE.  Unless you’ve memorized the facebook of everyone in academia ever, you have NO IDEA who you may cut off in the coffee line or accidentally bump into while rushing to your panel.  Don’t let your career die a fiery death because you are a jerk.

And on that note, I have to go tie up some loose ends before I’m off.  I may or may not be checking in next week due to traveling, but I will try to return with a few choice anecdotes from the wide world of conferencing.