Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings

Here’s something that folks don’t normally talk about: studying art can be extremely emotionally draining.

Investing one’s full self into anything is draining.  If you have a career which you are passionate about, you will go through phases of utter and complete investment (of course followed by “down time” to recover yourself in order to push for the next accomplishment… it’s inevitable; we can’t give 150% of ourselves at every single moment).

When your career is centered around dealing closely with bodies of artwork that you, personally, find meaningful, it means that every reading or encounter with that artwork has the potential to move you.  I’m not saying it will; simply that it might.  And when you are dealing with art on a daily basis from a critical perspective, there are some things you must read at certain times.  You can’t avoid it.

But, being a human being, you have a personal life outside of your work.  And sometimes your work and your personal life clash in an unpleasant way.  This is particularly upsetting when you may be going through an emotional crisis.  In his book Will and Me (a great read, by the way, for anyone who has a remote interest in Shakespeare geekery), Dominic Dromgoole admits that certain plays of Shakespeare tend to find him when he is emotionally available to them (he specifically mentions reading Hamlet after the death of his father).  This kind of personal connection to the work brings new revelation both about the piece in question and about one’s self.  Really, I can think of no better guide to the human spirit than my man Will.

Every time I have encountered a play of Shakespeare’s in this way, I have been absolutely

a shot I took of working in the hotel lobby while at CDC... sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do

a shot I took of working in the hotel lobby while at CDC… sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do

astounded at how accurately his characters behave in circumstances similar to mine.  I have continually wondered at how one man could encapsulate such a great spectrum of the human emotional experience (as, by the way, have countless other scholars – this is one of the arguments that the heated authorship debate is based in).  Whomever Will was, I can assure you that he knew things about living; he knew people, he knew pain, he knew heartache, he knew love, and he knew desire.

So how is it, then, that we are able to compose ourselves through whatever it is we’re dealing with and focus past it into the work that’s presented itself to us?  Certainly a degree of critical distance is helpful – if you can view the text before you as text rather than an emotional journey, it will help you to detach.  If you can focus on the minutiae of what’s going on rather than give a general reading, it can assist in this; when you’re looking at the mechanical functionings of something, it’s much more difficult to become attached to an artistic whole.

Put your theory glasses on.  Try and put the piece in context and then pull it out of context.  Deconstruct the art; really break it down into nuts and bolts.  Again, if you’re looking at pieces, it’s harder to become emotionally involved with it.

If you really can’t see past the big stuff, take a moment, walk away, deal with what you need to deal with (I find that journaling is generally good for this), then come back.  When you come back, make it business.  Change out of your pajamas if you have to (yes, I know, the cardinal sin of academia: working in real-people-pants while in your own home).  I find it’s a lot more difficult to invest emotionally while wearing pants.

Remember this: at the end of the day, this is your job.  You may love it, you may be devoted to it, it may overflow into many other aspects of your life, but it’s what pays the bills.  Show me an engineer that weeps over robots on a daily basis, think about how ridiculous that is, then remind yourself that getting caught up in your work (while very easy to do) is equally ridiculous.  It’s not sustainable, healthy, or good for you in any way.

….This does not, by the by, mean that I will be able to restrain myself from weeping every time I reach the end of King Lear.  It does, however, mean that I’ll at least acknowledge the ridiculousness, allow myself to be human, and eat more ice cream when I’m working on Lear.

Getting Un-Stuck

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

This semester, I have a unique conundrum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

not THAT Doctor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS Doctor

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

  That’s not for you!

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

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

…I’m off to take a shower.

Happy Tuesday

Good friends and gentle readers,

Hello from finals panic!  Things are progressing apace here in Dani-land and I’m steeped in the inevitable mountain of reading, research, work to do, not enough hours in which to do it, library books, and yenning for my social life that comes with the end of the semester.

As such, here’s a completely random list of things that have crossed my mind/desk this week.  I don’t have a single sustained coherent thought to share, but maybe this will serve as a brief entertainment while I struggle to not get run over by the homework truck.

1)    Tea is great and wonderful and everyone should own a French press.  I get most of my tea from adagio, and have even tried my hand at blending my own.  My blends can be found here.

2)    Good god, if I need to explain to another undergrad at the library that no, I don’t want to just leave my returned books in a stack by the door, I want to watch you return them for me while I stand here checking them off my list because I have a giant mountain at home and I really can’t be financially responsible for a lost book, I’m going to beat someone with a bad Hamlet quarto.  I understand that it is possible to leave one’s books by the door.  There’s a giant sign there that tells me so.  I also understand that you’re busy checking your facebook or e-mail or whatever.  I also understand that you’re being paid to sit at this desk, so please just scan these books for me and don’t roll your eyes at me.  In my day, we had to walk uphill both ways to the library in ten feet of snow without shoes on!  You don’t know how lucky you have it!  Harumph.

3)    Knowing that I’m stressed, and knowing that I’m having a hard week, my

Charles and Mary Lamb.... also not particularly attractive individuals...

best friend brought me a copy of Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare.  I cannot think of a better finals gift.  What says “I love you and I am here to make sure you don’t drive yourself crazy with schoolwork” like a well-loved copy of early nineteenth century moralized children’s stories based upon Shakespeare’s originals written by a matricidal kook and her quasi-incesty brother? (…no… I’m serious.  The Lambs were effed up.  Also: I love it).

4)    I got interviewed as an expert for GSAS’ blog post about academic conferencing!  It went live today; you can check it out here.  I love feeling legitimate!

5)    My tweet has made it to the final round of voting for the Tufts GSAS Tweet of the Semester competition.  I managed to win this last semester, and I’m hoping for another win this time.  I’ll let you know when voting for the finals opens up.  The winner receives a gift certificate to the school bookstore (which, for a graduate student, is THE BEST THING EVER).  Go team Dani!

6)    I sat down the other day to begin the pile of research that’s on my desk and, in the first book I cracked, came across an essay by my mentor over at Rutgers.  It made me smile to see his name in print first thing in the morning and, while not entirely surprising since he IS an authority on Johnson and the book WAS about Shakespeare and Johnson, still somehow felt serendipitous.  Also: right or wrong, it gave me a cosmic sense of hope.

Since I can't think of anything else to put here, here's an adorable baby sloth.

 7)    Tally of total library books checked out this semester: 68 and counting.  Books currently checked out: 31.  Books currently unread on my desk: 8.  Days until last final is due: 34.  Number of projects that still require completing in that time period: 7.  Number of projects which require completing in the next seven days: 3 (not counting the one I finished yesterday).

8)    …and miles to go before I sleep.