Back in the Saddle

Today, after much grumbling, grousing, self-bribery, and stalling, I finally climbed back in the research saddle.

Okay, “finally” may be a bit overblown (I’ve only been gone for a week), but I could feel the projects piling up and the stress of amorphous far-off deadlines was really starting to get to me.  I knew that it was (honestly) past time to get back to my journey on the road of completing coursework, but I just couldn’t seem to find the motivation.  Twelfth Night and some particularly stressful situations in my personal life have been taking a lot out of me and it’s not even the end of the day these days before I’m tired.  I’ve been waking up from full nine-hour nights of sleep tired.  I’ve been going about my days just trying to eke enough time out of my schedule to get the things I absolutely need to do done.  Far-off projects got back-burnered in favor of imminently approaching deadlines.

Well, the nearby beasts slain, it was definitely time to start on those quickly approaching things.

As usual, I started with a list.  Nothing helps me more than my giant whiteboard.  I know

The whiteboard after today's re-eval.

The whiteboard after today’s re-eval.

I’ve expounded upon its merits before.  It’s extremely useful to me to know exactly what I have on my plate and exactly when all that is due.  Making lists helps me to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.  Often, I make several lists: things that are long-run stuff, things that I need to do on a given day, things I need to do in a given week, things I need to do before I can take the day/weekend off, etc.  I find that the very action of writing this down helps to calm me when I begin to feel overwhelmed.  The above-the-desk hovering keeps me focused, on task, and reminded of where I’m going at all times.

Once I had that, it became easier to prioritize tasks.  I have a general map in my head of these projects and what it’s going to take to blow them out of the water.  I don’t tend to micro-manage myself (at least on paper) if I can possibly avoid it (some days I can’t).  I know what each of these things are going to demand of me, and I know how to break those down into smaller bite-sized chunks.

Having a mega-list means that, so long as I go down the list each day and ensure that I’ve done something towards accomplishing each bigger task, I can finish the day and be done with it.  There will always be more work to do; I will never be absolutely finished.  I sleep easier at night (and, perhaps more importantly, find it easier to take some much-needed time to unwind at the end of the day) when I know I’m on track for my big projects.  I find it easier to relax when I know I’ve done a certain quota of work.

It’s great for self-motivating.  I write my deadlines in a scary color (often red) so that I know they’re hard deadlines and that I HAVE to meet them.  I thank every teacher who ever red-penned work of mine for instilling the “red is important” feeling in me; I use it to my great advantage these days.

I did my daily grind work (caught up on my reading, took a gym trip, checked in on all my syllabi to make sure I wasn’t missing anything), and then I took the afternoon to start rolling.  I’m a born researcher; I’m good at it, I like doing it, and it is the kind of task that self-fulfills and self-motivates.  Doing research just makes me want to do more research.  There will always be more questions, more things to find out.  All I had to do was push the snowball over the hill and stand back.

So I did.  I made a list of books I need to grab from the library.  I looked up some articles.  I reviewed my notes on the topic I’ll be teaching to the undergrads in a little under a month and reconnected with the material.  I put some thought into my conference presentation.  I returned to my German translation.

A Broad, her Bud, and the Bard; leggo me, PiC, and Will who now sit on my desk (...picture included because I've spent too much time at my desk today)

A Broad, her Bud, and the Bard; leggo me, PiC, and Will who now sit on my desk (…picture included because I’ve spent too much time at my desk today)

Sometimes, ritual is important.  In academia, it’s very easy to float through life not really having any sense of what day of the week it is or any rhythm to your work because your schedule changes so dramatically so quickly.  These tasks that I had been putting off were things that provide normalcy and stability to my wild, gypsy life.  Doing them re-centered me and re-focused me.

And I feel a lot better now.  A lot more in control of my semester, a lot more on top of my work, and a lot more ready to face the coming months.

I’m not going to say “bring it, coursework”.  I’m not going to say “I own you, academy”.  Hell, I’m not even going to say “YEA! I AM AWESOME!” until I’ve had another couple days like this, but things have definitely taken a turn for the better.  Here’s hoping that I can stay in the saddle and wrangle this bronco on home.  You know.  Before the summer hits and I have to hide away underground and study non-stop for my comps.

Surviving October

The past week has been a bit odd here in Dani-land.

Coming off a show is a strange experience in and of itself. I don’t feel the need to say more on the matter since you’ve already had your fill of my prattling about post-show depression (which, in my head, often becomes “post-part-um depression”; with “part” being a play on it meaning as a synonym for “role”… har har). Coming off a show and diving into three weeks of hell because you’ve been leaving work to pile while you survived tech and performance with lingering deadlines hanging Damocles-like over your head is a special kind of hell.

I’ve been scrambling to re-assemble the pieces of my life and tame the piles which have grown on my desk. Tomorrow (or, I suppose, today as it brinks on midnight as I write this) I give my big semester presentation (on the history of Magic and Magicians which, while it has been fun to research, has presented its own breed of historiographical troubles). After that, I have a week and a half to prep for ASTR (during which I will also be putting the cast of Measure for Measure through what I’m calling “Shakespeare boot camp” to ensure that they all have some agility with the text before the Director sinks her teeth into rehearsal), then a week after that to put together some written work for the Measure playbill, and I still need to keep up on my class reading and research and pitch two disparate final papers to two disparate professors.

It’s no small wonder I’ve become a little bit of a frazzled nut case.

In my MA, this was my idea of a “day off”

I’ve been fondly referring to October as “hell month” and counting the days until I can get out of hell free and roll downhill towards the semester’s end in hopes that I don’t hit some snag or bump which causes me to careen wildly off course. So far, outlook is positive for a relatively smooth trip, but the skies change every day so stay tuned.

I have previously blogged about the techniques which I turn to to help myself get through times of normal stress loads. I will, however, take this moment to discuss what happens when those techniques erode. Anyone who has been through a nightmarish schedule knows that there are times to stress and there are times when you feel like you’re being torn apart by rabid tigers while carnivorous spider-monkeys do the macarena on your masticated corpsicle. For me, October has become a time of the latter and, in that regard, let’s talk about surviving October.

Here are some things that may help you survive your own flavor of the spider-monkey/tiger paradigm.

Thing One: Make a list. It’s often helpful to me to just sit and write out, in bulleted form, all the things that I need to accomplish. It helps me to understand how much I really need to do on any given day and, in so doing, helps me understand how best to plan my time. When can I do small ten-minute tasks? When do I need to block off hours for the big stuff? Sometimes I make a list the night before a long day of work just so I can sleep better knowing that I won’t forget anything because I took the time to write it all down. Oh, and forgetting things? I’m less likely to do that when it’s all listed in front of me. Also, I get the greatest feeling when I can cross something off the list. Built-in reward mechanism.

Thing Two: One thing at a time. My therapist perhaps said it best; “no matter how busy the bee is, it can still only attend to one flower at a time”. There ya have it folks; it doesn’t matter how well you think you can multi-task, you are still an old-model desktop lacking a parallel processor. One thing at a time.

Thing Three: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” Except replace “fear” with “worry”. Worrying does no practical good. It does not behoove you to waste your time and/or energy worrying how or when something is going to get done. If you are taking a break, leave your work at your desk, take a few deep breathes, and brush up on your favorite meditation technique. Find some way to get your mind off the work mountains. If you absolutely cannot take a break because you are worrying, then go back to work and get something done. It will make you sleep sounder. Hell, that’s why it’s midnight on a Monday and I’m sitting at my computer blogging instead of snuggling in my warm bed with a book and a mug of tea.

Thing Four: Conserve your energy for the things that well and truly require it. Just like worry will suck that energy right out of you, so will a great many other items on your list of scheduling baggage. Cut out the things that will take and give nothing back. It’s like running a marathon; you need to make sacrifices to get to the end. I haven’t been to the gym in a month because October has been too intense to give up eight to ten hours of my week at the iron church. The gym is a lifestyle. The gym gods will forgive me (though I may hate myself for a week after I do go back).

Thing Five: Work hard. When you do work, close all your safari (…or firefox… or I.E.)

These days, my desk is more likely to look like this.  Though you can see that I am pointedly ignoring some of my own advice.

windows. Silence your cell phone (or turn it off… or to iOS6′s handy dandy new “do not disturb” setting). Don’t answer the door. You will get more done if you prevent yourself from being distracted. I find that, when I’m well and truly in the zone, the tiniest interruption can pull me right out of it and, for every thirty seconds I spend in the real world dealing with something that cropped up outside of my work, it takes me about five minutes to get back to where I was before the interruption. Cut this off at the head and remove the temptation to do anything but get your hands dirty with your research.

Thing Six: When you’re done, you’re done. Be honest with yourself. Can you go a little longer? Will it be productive? If the answer is yes, then read another chapter (or write another page, or research for another hour). If the answer is no, put it down and walk away. You’re done. You are not helping yourself by pushing yourself past your limits and, in fact, you may create a mess that takes more time to clean up later. Note: this tactic only works if you can well and truly push yourself to your limits and be strict with yourself about them. If you stop just because you’re a little distracted or you would rather be watching your netflix, it will not help you get your work done. Push through the moments of weakness, and know what you’re actually at your wall and when you’re just being a weenie.

Thing Seven: Take care of yourself. Water, sleep, vegetables, gym if you can manage it. If you are not feeling your best, you will not work your best. When I have the most work is when I need the most sleep and, if I don’t get it, my work suffers. Make time to take care of your basic human essentials, and ensure that you are as comfortable and healthy as you can be.

Thing Eight: Don’t deny yourself what you need to get the job done; be that coffee, a shower, a walk, or a cupcake. If it’s really crunch time, this won’t last for eternity. You could probably use the extra pampering if you’re working as hard as you should be.

And on that note, I should to bed. Goodnight, dear readers! Here’s hoping that your crunch-times are as short and painless as possible!

A Cautionary Tale…

A Cautionary Tale for you….

Once upon a time at the beginning of a semester long ago in a far away land called Boston, there was a Lady Knight deeply embroiled in battle with the Homework Dragon.

It was one of three beasts of its type which she knew she would be facing this semester (as she did every semester).  It was of the genus “Classius Presentationus” and had a knack for being a time-consuming creature which often required creative tactics in order to properly finish off.

Just as she was reaching the peak of her epic fight, the moment that would make or break

Yup. Totally what I do every day.

her, she was given a choice as to when she would like to face the other two of its kind which inevitably awaited her down the path.

Between dodging its razor-sharp fangs and neatly avoiding the swings of its sinewy tale, the Knight uttered from between gritted teeth “as far away from now as possible”.

Of course, as often happens when entrenched in a fight for one’s very life, the Knight made one key oversight: there was a chimera lurking at the end of her current journey which she would also need to, inevitably, face.

In putting off the second two Dragons, she had created a situation in which she would be mercilessly torn at by all five adversaries at the same time.

In other words: check your calendars before you commit to class presentations, folks.  Don’t make my mistake.  Due to my own stupidity, I’m currently drowning in three papers, two and a half presentations, and the usual weekly dosage of class reading in addition to some personal projects and a conference paper which has been requested for submission to publish.

My white board is at critical capacity.

So is my brain.

So is my schedule.

Oh, and I’ve managed to incubate the finals plague again, once more baffling medical science with my body’s ability to creatively re-arrange contagion in ways that may even make Dr. House cry.

It’s going to be a long month.

Achievement

Oh.  Yes.

So, gentle reader, do you know what I just did?

I just finished all of the assigned reading that was on my desk.

This moment is a magic moment every week.  It generally happens at some point on

ohhhhhh yea!

Monday morning directly preceding my 1:30 class.  After a long weekend of toil, struggle, cramming, doing everything I can to convince myself that I have more in me, over-saturating my spongy grey-matter with words, words, words, I eventually reach a moment where I simply have nothing left to read.

Of course, this isn’t actually true.  I could always start on the readings for next week.  And I also have my own research to do.  There’s always something more on my desk, and generally it involves class work of some kind, even if it isn’t ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED RIGHT NOW READING.

But research reading goes beyond… beyond I say!  It’s a cherry on top of the literary Sunday.  It’s the other task that can get done between the more pressing weekly things.

This week was a doozy.  Eight full-length plays, one one-act, one full book, one theatrical preface, and eight articles/book chapters ranging in length from seven pages to twenty-seven pages.  On the whole, I calculate that this week’s reading load (simply assigned for classes, mind you, discounting any extracurricular research or leisure reading) was 783 pages’ worth and spanned literature representing approximately four hundred years of history.

No wonder I’m tired.  Seriously.  I haven’t even touched final papers this week (except for one trip to the library with some scanning which I have yet to read – 48 more pages, as well as the glorious bounty of one book – 160 additional pages, and more books awaiting to arrive via ILL – realistically about 500-600 pages combined).

Yea, I did all that reading and STILL cleaned up nice. I am awesome.

I also managed to attend a fun-filled social gathering this weekend with a bunch of dear friends, most of whom I haven’t seen in some time.  Of course the usual conversation starter “how have you been?” was asked over and over, to which one has the option of the easy reply (“Oh, fine, you?”), or the long-winded one (“BHSWOERND:LKJF:JSIFOWEO:JKDM<N>FJK:JXKJOIJ!” “….?” “Well, my brain is leaking out one ear, but I’m ducky!”)

I’m also beginning to wonder about the outer-limits of information retention.  There have got to be studies on this somewhere… at what point is it simply counter-productive to read more?  How much can you truly cram into three pounds of gray matter while expecting to not only retain it, but also process it critically?

In addition, I’m well and truly wondering about expectations of PhD students cross-programs.  Two out of three of my professors this semester are new to our department, so in theory their pedagogical styles are not yet indoctrinated into Tufts ideologies, which leads me to believe that perhaps this work load isn’t entirely uncommon.  If that’s truly the case, how does anyone have time to think for herself?  When imbued with THIS MUCH of EVERYTHING ELSE, at the end of the day the last thing I want to do is squeeze out an original idea.  There’s a very fine line between being inspired by the different readings and notions kicking around in one’s head, and being stifled by them.  While I’m not an expert on pedagogy, I for one would be very interested to see a study on the curve of original thought as it relates to the amount of other stuff an individual reads.

We know that good readers make good writers.  Period.  The best way to teach grammar, syntax, and heck even style, is to have the student read.  But do EXORBITANT readers make good thinkers?

….things to ponder as I wade through another week.  I’m hoping to carve out time for some of my own research this week which means either less class-reading, or more brain integrity.  Maybe it’s like lifting weights; the more you do it, the stronger you get.

Somehow, though, I’m pretty sure that that only applies to a point.

A Weekend Off

Usually, the beginning of the semester is a time to ease in to all the things that you forgot you had to do.  The first month or so of any semester is like a smooth, steady ride into the inevitable panic of finals.  Since generally all you have to do during this time-period is keep up with your class reading, it’s a way to re-set your schedule, re-set your brain from whatever break you just came off, and just get back into the groove of things.

my work... on my coffee table... yes, I do have a Shakespeare rubber duck. He helps me think.

As you are all (dare I say painfully) aware, I managed to burn the candle at both ends at the very beginning of this semester.  That did not bode well for the progress of things.  I spent last week shambling place to place like an empty-headed pre-caffeine zombie just trying every survival technique I had at my disposal to get me through my day.  Something had to give because I knew that, soon enough, I would be hitting finals research mode and with the way my brain was running, there was no possible way that I could handle more than I was already doing.

For most of us, this past weekend was a long weekend.  I hadn’t really planned on it being as amazing as it was but, as luck would have it, my life often coalesces in my favor (after an extraordinary amount of work, of course).  I spent the week putting my affairs in order and due to an academic calendar re-shuffle had one less class to read for.  And that, my friends, made all the difference.

It meant that I was able to take two days off and do nothing but spend some time with some of my favorite girlfriends.  We have a tradition, you see.  Every few months, this particular group gets together and participates in a handful of ritualistic activities.  These activities always include: playing board games, talking about yarn, drinking wine, eating

Said beautiful and bounteous spread... why yes, that is strawberries with nutella and dark-chocolate-peanut-butter

from a BEAUTIFUL and BOUNTEOUS spread which we have lovingly dubbed “the charterusery” (“charcuterie” but with “chartreuse” mixed in because that’s how much you glow at the yumminess), and chatting about girl stuff (i.e. our lives, boys, and crafting projects).  Sometimes we mix in day-trips.  Previous day-trips have included: yarn stores, hiking trails to picturesque gorges, wineries, and anywhere that we can have up-scale chocolate treats.  This weekend, however, we made the collective decision that we were all too burnt out to do anything that involved changing out of our pajamas.  So we didn’t.  We watched Up, I finished a pair of socks I had been working on, and I didn’t read a single page the entire time.

Then, to cement how wonderful my weekend away was, I spent my extra day on the town with my favorite partner in crime.  This was a sudden change-in-plans as I had slotted Monday for a catch-up reading day after my weekend away.  As it turns out, I managed to cram all my required reading in before I left on Friday so I could have a spare day to not think about anything remotely theatrical.  I took said partner in crime shopping (since, you know, boys can’t pick out their own clothes).  We grabbed lunch.  Then we went rock climbing (yes, I’m afraid of heights and I love to rock climb, I’m a creature of contradictions, I know).  There’s a great gym here in Boston that has just about everything you would want from an indoor place – top-rope, a hefty bouldering cave, even lead climbing if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m not… it scares me).  Rates for students are extremely reasonable, especially if you have your own gear (even if you don’t, it’s $20 for a day-pass and equipment rental… you’d pay more to go see a movie).  If you don’t know how to belay, you can boulder or take a class (slightly more expensive, but a one-time expense and worth it if you’re at all interested, especially if you have a partner to go with).

me modeling the socks that I made.... I should really try to get someone else to take the picture next time

The end result was an endorphin-flooded, utterly relaxed, totally re-invigorated mind ready to take on the next bit of the semester… which is good because I have two conference papers to give in March, some publication deadlines looming, two more big and two more small class presentations in addition to three finals papers, planning for the summer, and bracing for comps.  I need my brain on point, and this weekend was precisely what I required to make certain that that happened.  So… thank you, dead presidents.  Your gift to me this weekend was worth more than words can say.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

So while my week hasn’t gotten monumentally better (I’m still tired, still professionally worn out, and still grinding away at that unending pile of stuff to do on my desk), it also hasn’t gotten monumentally worse (the judicious application of delicious crepes, good beer, time at the gym, and a wonderful friend with a massage table has certainly helped me stay in the game mentally).

In addition, a few things happened in the past couple days that went a long way towards assuring me.

Let me explain.

This semester is killing me in a way that I didn’t think possible.  I remember experiencing the same bone-weariness at about this time last year; but at about this time last year I was in the middle of the PhD application process, holding down two jobs plus full-time school, and my entire life was up in the air as to where I was going to move when I got booted out of Jersey in May.  I had a reason to be bone-tired.  I honestly thought that I would never experience that level of weariness again.

Au contraire, mes amis.  Apparently it is possible to revisit that exhaustion.  My meltdown at the beginning of this week precipitated an influx of personal queries.  I began to doubt myself; could I really handle this?  It wasn’t this bad last semester, or am I just getting older or something?  How is it that I am already May-tired and it is only February?

Then I began to look around me at the faces of my comrades.  Inside of class, outside of class, running into each other in the library, and I realized something: I saw the same weariness reflected in their eyes.  The same empty staring into space that I was experiencing.  The same vacant expression which undoubtedly meant that one had ground one’s brain into a pile of mush with the cruel mistress of Chekhov and gray matter was slowly leaking out one ear.

Then I began to listen to what they were saying in class.  Of course everyone here is smart, everyone here has something to say, but I realized that none of us were on point.  None of us were keeping up.  We were all drowning together.

Then I did that thing you’re not supposed to do: I brought up the reading load.  You have to do it gradually, you see, so as not to startle anyone.  There’s this understanding in the academy that yes, you will try your best to read everything, but there’s no certainty that you will be able to do it as closely (or in as timely a fashion) as one would like.  The great paradox is that you’re not supposed to talk about this; it’s an unspoken understanding between the students that we’re all trying, but realistically there’s only so many plays you can read in one week.

And trust me, I’ve tested the outer limits of this theory.

So I worked my way around to it, edging it into the conversation, trying my darndest not to sound like the weakest link.  “So… has anyone else noticed that our workload has perhaps increased this semester?”

I was met with a barrage of “YES!” “OH MY GOD!” “How do they expect us to read all of this?” “I’m drowning here!” “I’m going nuts!”.  It was like everyone was waiting for someone to bring it up.  Everyone was doing the same thing I was; glancing side to side in hopes that they weren’t the only one.

What a relief!  No, really, I can’t even begin to express how good it feels to not be the penguin on the edge of the iceberg in seal-infested waters.

It doesn’t help the fact that I’m tired, but at least now I know that I’m in the race and not dangling behind it like dead weight.

Validation number two came from an off-handed comment by Professor X when talking about graduate writing (and, in particular, the work he has seen us do for his weekly response forums).  I’m deep into the editing process of several conference papers and I have recently received some extremely productive (though not entirely easy to swallow) feedback on my writing.  The transition from “student” to “expert” is not something that anyone really handles gracefully, and it’s extremely developmentally appropriate for a graduate student to have trouble with it.  The issue, you see, is one summed up by said professor when speaking about our writing;

 “Many of you fall into the trap which ensnares many graduate students right up until the dissertation; relying too much upon others’ work and not leaving enough space for your own ideas.  You do so much research and want to include it all that you cut yourselves short at expressing your own scholarly thinking.”

 DING.

This is my problem.  This is my problem in a nutshell.  I swim through so much scholarly work that it’s become so difficult to differentiate what I think about anything.  Of course I can summarize and quote at you until doomsday, but what is my opinion?  I’ve spent so long trying to re-hash other peoples’ ideas that I’ve lost my own.  And that is where I am with my work right now; where is my thinking and how do I express it in my writing?

Not going to lie, it feels good to be asked what I think about something; genuinely asked to write about my own thoughts.  It’s also scary as hell.  When I rely upon the work of others’, it’s not my ideas that are presented to criticize.  But it’s time to cross that bridge.  It’s time to put my stuff out there.

 So that’s the next step.  It’s not going to be easy, but I feel really good about being pushed to another level with my work.  So what if I feel like a squeezed-out hand towel?  There’s still something left in there.  This semester’s about giving 110%, overcoming myself, and surpassing even my own expectations.  I can sleep in June.

Time and Time Again

Every day when my roommate and I come home from work/school/the day’s adventures, we have some variant of the following exchange:

Roommate: Hey, roomie!

Me: Hey, roomie!

Roommate: How was your day?

Me: Good, how was yours?

Roommate: Good, I got [a lot/a little/not as much as I wanted] work done.  I’m working on [this project] that’s [really cool/aggravating/interesting/completely insipid].  How bout you?

Me: Ugh, I had a meeting with Professor [X/Y/Z] about my [paper/application/publishing/general academic stuff].  It went really [well/poorly/made me want to cry/that’s why it’s 6 PM and I’m on my third martini].  Then I had to stop at the library to [pick up/return] a ton of books on my way to class.  Then I had to do some printing so I hiked up to the graduate lounge, and I have all of these deadlines looming… I’m really worried about all the work that’s on my desk and having enough time to get it all done.

 Yesterday, there was a new addition to the conversation.  After my comment about the amount of work I have and getting it all done, my roommate mentioned “Yea, but you say that every day.”

I paused.  I thought.  Really?  Do I?

I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if I did…

 

art by roboartemis; http://roboartemis.deviantart.com

So here’s an arch-metaphor that rules my life: graduate school (and the workload involved therein) is like a giant rolling snowball atop which one is expected to run.  If you don’t keep up with the snowball, it will roll away and lose you.  If you get too far ahead, you’ll run away and lose it.  If you run a little bit too slow, you are in danger of falling off and you teeter helplessly on that brink of regaining your balance.  If you run a bit too fast, you may get rolled over by the snowball as it takes this opportunity to become larger, realizing that clearly it wasn’t big enough to begin with otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to overcome it.  Where you really want to be is balanced right on top.  But being there isn’t an easy feat; once you get there you still have to constantly run to maintain your position.

And, of course, it doesn’t help that people around you who work in normal jobs want to do things like socialize on the weekends and it’s no use explaining that you don’t really get weekends because weekends are just an extension of your work week during which you aren’t even expected to put on pants thereby you can get even MORE work done (because everyone knows that the amount of work one is capable of accomplishing is directly tied to the amount of time spent in one’s pajamas).  Pants are the anti-homework.

I have thought long and hard about this and I have come to several conclusions:

 1)    I need a time-turner.  Or a TARDIS.  Either would accomplish the ends of gaining more hours in my day.

 2)    ….or maybe a flux capacitor and a delorean.

 3)    Or I could just chain myself to my desk and never attend another social activity again… this could be a sure-fire method to writing an eccentric genius book or hatching a Howard Hughes-esque plan to make a billion dollars… either way, I’d be set financially and that would certainly take a lot of worries off my mind.  But then I’d also wind up looking like Howard Hughes… or Gollum…. Yikes.

 4)    Maybe there’s some professional secret that they don’t tell you until you’re ABD… like “oh, hey, now that you’ve suffered, HERE’S how academics do it all”.  I hold out some small hope that, upon passing my orals, the head of my department will induct me into some secret literati society with robes and fancy sigils… but no koolaid.  Nobody likes koolaid.

5)    ….maybe I should just get back to work.

This Has Been a Test of the Emergency Broadcasting System

For the record, I should be working on compiling some research or editing a paper right now.  Instead, I am checking in here with the following anecdote.

A few of my classes this semester require a response to our reading each week posted to the online class discussion board.  This response should be well written, detail your thought process on the reading, engage all of the texts, and overall prove that you’re thinking and not just osmosing.  I like to get my reading done early and my responses posted as soon as possible just so I can get on with my week/other projects and not have little things hanging over me.

This week, after posting my response, I got the following e-mail from my professor:

“Hi Danielle,

“Just as a point of clarification, the play for Thursday’s class is Monti’s Beaded Curtain. Death and the Maiden is to be read for 2/2′s course. 

“All the best,

“-Professor X”

 (No, my professor’s name isn’t really “Professor X”… though how cool would that be?… I simply continue my policy of changing names to protect the innocent.)

What could I do but panic and reply…

“Wow I am apparently really on top of this semester. I’ll just cover my bases by saying that I was being responsible and reading ahead. 

“Yup. Totally meant to do that. 

“Thanks for clarifying!”

This incident has made me grateful for a few things…

 Thing number one: that I read and reply far enough in advance that such things can be rectified.

 Thing number two: that my professor likes me enough to notify me when I make an embarrassing mistake.

 Thing number three: that my professor is paying enough attention to understand how I made an embarrassing mistake.

 Thing number four: that my professor isn’t a jerk and politely pointed out my embarrassing mistake in a private forum while using the most mild language possible in an attempt to not make me feel embarrassed.

 Thing number five: that I have an extremely public forum upon which to post my embarrassing story in hopes that it at least makes you smile.

 So I posted an updated reply to the actual reading which began with an announcement about this being a check of both the emergency broadcasting system and how well my colleagues read the syllabus.

This semester’s going to be a real winner.  I can just tell.

P.S. Expect the next installment of our “How we Spent our Winter Vacation” podcast in the next day or so!  So very exciting!

Turkey Trot

Ah Thanksgiving.  A time to relax, ponder those things in life which we are grateful for, eat some delicious food, take a nap after dinner, and spend time with the family.  It’s the little break before the last leg of the race.  Just a breather before we launch into the final stretch.

Almost there.

So close.

It’s dangling right over my head, I can see it, I just can’t quite reach it (even if I jump).

Panic?  … …. …. PANIC!!!!

At the end of the semester every semester (and sometimes at the beginning depending on

Desk avec whiteboard. It literally looms over me as I work.

how overwhelmed I’m feeling), I dig out my giant whiteboard.  I list all of the assignments standing between me and the semester’s end.  I list their due dates.  Then I make a big check-box for each of them.

The whiteboard’s been out for about a month now and, while I can see that I’m making headway on all of these things I have to do, the big three (namely: papers) are beginning to loom ever-more-menacing.

It’s funny because I kept telling myself that, since I didn’t have class this week, I could get SO MUCH DONE and be in the BEST SHAPE EVER for that final push.  Well…. It’s Thursday.  So far I have managed to chip away at things, but no great or drastic improvement yet.  I don’t feel armed for this fight, I’m still waiting for them to alter my chain mail to fit me since I’m not amazonianly proportioned and, oh wouldn’t you know it, they stopped making chain mail in “short and stumpy” so they’re going to have to custom it and can’t fighting that dragon just wait another week, because they’ve got all these backorders due to black Friday and nobody gets work done during the holidays so it’s either go out there unprotected or wait a bit longer to get suited up and darn doesn’t it look like whatever pivotal equipment they need is going to fail horribly just in time to make my life incredible inconvenient?

Anyway, enough about that.  Let me take a moment and bow to the wishes of today’s holiday spirit and put some positive juju out in the air in hopes that it will come back to me when I need it in these coming weeks.

Let’s start with a heart-warming Thanksgiving story.

I wasn’t going to go home for Thanksgiving.  Driving down to New York to have dinner with my family, while appealing, was simply going to take too long.  I couldn’t spend what would amount to three days away from my work at this critical time in the semester.  So I regretfully tapped out of family dinner and went to start making arrangements as to how I could find some turkey to eat at my desk with my man Will.

My family is pretty much the best, because they decided that this meant (since I couldn’t come to them) they would drive up to Boston to spend the holiday with me.  My mom’s bringing a full turkey dinner.  My dad’s bringing bags and bags of high quality whole-bean coffee that he can’t drink anymore due to health reasons.  My sister is bringing her lovely self.  I’m really excited to see them.

So, while I still got up early to bang some things out today, as soon as they get here I’m putting the books down for the evening and taking a mental vacation for twelve hours.  I don’t care how far back it’s going to set me.  I have a lot to be thankful for this year and that pumpkin pie isn’t going to eat itself.

Ah the turkey. Nature's ugliest animal. Eating them is like beautifying the world, one drumstick at a time.

If you, like me, are still sitting at your computer frantically trying to put your affairs in order, I hereby give you permission to set it by a while.  There’s nothing you can accomplish in this twelve-hour span that’s going to be more important, or more rejuvenating, than a good turkey dinner, some booze, and good company.  Think about how lucky you are to be in the program you’re in, thank the fellowship gods, and then forget about it.  Life’s too short to let finals stand in the way of enjoying dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  I’ll catch you on the flip side with tales of the bloody battle to come; honor and glory; valorous victory; crushing defeats; injurious blows; and how to avoid death by library books.

Stay tuned.

Cataclysmic Proportions

Due to some personal reasons which I do not wish to divulge the full details of on the internet, I’ve had a craptastic start to this week.  Life, however, plugs on whether I’m ready for it or not so, notwithstanding, I’ve been trudging forth into the semester trying my darndest to not let personal junk get in the way of my work.

This task has been made monumentally easier by the presence in my life of one individual.  A guy who is quickly becoming the third most reliable man in my life (behind Shakespeare and my dad, of course).  A guy who knows what I need, when I need it, and isn’t afraid to give that to me.  A guy who’s sensitive, adoring, and utterly enthralled with me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Jerry.

Jerry is a giant black Maine Coon.  Jerry technically belongs to my roommate.  Jerry has two younger “siblings” (Boris and Natasha) who are also black Maine Coons but due to being malnourished in their first three weeks of life have remained adorably tiny (for Maine Coons).

Jerry helps me with my reading.  Whenever I snuggle up on the couch with some articles, my iPad, or a book I need to finish, he obligingly curls up on my chest and keeps me company until I’m done.  He even encourages me to read more since, when I think I’ve hit my threshold, I have to re-evaluate moving based upon how comfortable Jerry looks.  And as long as I’m stuck on the couch, I may as well charge forth with the reading, right?

Jerry helps me with my writing.  When I sit at my desk for any length of time, he curls around the corner and hops up into my lap to sleep while I tap away at whatever it is I’m working on.  Same rule applies as with the reading; more work gets done because Jerry deems it so.

Jerry keeping my desk warm

Jerry even keeps my desk warm for me when I’m not there.  I have frequently caught him sleeping on my computer chair carpet when he thinks that I’m not around to work at said computer chair.

Jerry knows when I’m upset and has, in the past, benched me for my behavior.  Too worked up to answer an insipid e-mail about some research problem?  Jerry makes sure I pet him a good long time before I can leave the couch.  Requiring a lift because I’m feeling mopey and really need to shake the bad mood and get some work done?  Jerry cuddles me and purrs at me until he’s sure that I can handle what it is that I need to do.

I’m really not sure how I ever got any work done without a cat to tell me to do it.  Despite

Jerry helping me work

the fact that they shed everywhere and leave hairballs where I can step on them before I’ve had my coffee in the morning, I am mightily appreciative of all that the feline companions bring to this household.

Thanks, Jerry.  You’re really saving my week.