School’s out for Summer

Yesterday, I attended the last class of my PhD.

This isn’t to be confused with completing coursework (which won’t happen until my papers are all firmly nestled into the appropriate inboxes, a momentous occasion which will occur next Wednesday) and, really, knowing me I won’t be satisfied until the grades all pop up on my transcript affirming, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this is (in fact) real.

The class was a five-hour lecture wrapping up my ancient theatre course.  This particular lecture covered Sturm und Drang, Weimar Classicism, and Romanticism.  It also included a “presentation” I had prepped on Goethe’s relationship with Shakespeare (I put “presentation” in quotation marks because it wasn’t a “talk at the class for x amount of time” kinda deal but rather a “do a lot of reading and act as a pop-up video as we discuss the course reading” sort of thing).  This class wasn’t a small deal at all.

But I survived.  The class ended with the professor making a few profound remarks about

Yup.  It's me.  Slaying zombie Shakespeare.  Because I roll that way.

Yup. It’s me. Slaying zombie Shakespeare. Because I roll that way.

how far we had come and it took all my self-restraint not to stand up in my chair and yet “AMEN TO THAT!”  For me, she wasn’t just talking about her course (though certainly we had come a long way there), but rather the progression of my graduate career at Tufts.  Two academic years ago, I was sitting in a room, terrified, and waiting for someone to stand up, point at me, and shout “you don’t belong here!” before systematically evicting me from the premises never to return again.  That feeling of being a fraud, not worthy of the opportunities allotted me in my career, has faded over time.  I’ve learned so many things these past two years; some quantifiable, some not.

Among the other things I’m proud of, here’s a reasonably superficial list in terms of its breadth and depth, but it should at least give you some idea of the way I’ve changed as a scholar since my wide-eyed arrival at Tufts University:

I’ve learned how to gain access to (and dig through) an archive.  I’ve learned how to cite the sources that I find there and use them in a paper that I may, someday, publish.

I’ve learned how to get on a plane to a city I’ve never been and be totally comfortable (if a little nervous the first time or two) spending two to four days networking my little Shakespearean heart out with people whom I have never met before, and may be Top Men in my field.

I’ve learned how to write better, how to read better, and how to think better.

I’ve learned about playwrights I’d never though I’d read, performances I’d never known existed, and theorists I’d never hoped to “meet”.

I’ve learned how to talk about my own work in a way that isn’t a snooze-fest (though this will depend upon the audience, of course.  Even I can’t make the deep technical aspects of some of my research appeal to everyone).

I’ve learned to read and translate German (…though this is a skill that I’ll be cultivating for some time).

I’ve learned that when in doubt, just look.  And when looking doesn’t help you, just ask.  There are always people there to turn to.

I’ve learned that it’s amazing what people will do/reveal when you ask them questions.  So many people are willing to be so generous with their time if you’re just nice to them.

Yesterday's theory board doodle

Yesterday’s theory board doodle

I’ve learned that reference librarians are veritable deities and should be worshiped as such.

I’ve learned that it’s not enough to think, you must do.  Touch the ground and your work will always have more depth and meaning.  This means it’s not enough just to think about theatre; go see theatre.  Make theatre.  Get your hands dirty.  If we forget why we fell in love with the field in the first place, there’s no way that we’re going to last in it (and there’s no way that we’re going to make our students love it).

I’ve learned that just because it’s obvious to you does not mean that it’s obvious to anyone else, or that it does not need to be said.  And, moreover, if you don’t say it, someone else will.  Jump on it, take credit for your ideas, and you’ll go much further than if you just simper and mull them to yourself.

…this list could continue ad infinitum but I’ve still got a paper to write.  I hope that your finals are treating you well, you’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and that you can take some time today to remember why it is (precisely) that you do this.

…or you could just watch this:

Writing

A tip: if at first you don’t succeed, re-analyze your plan of attack and try again.

Over the weekend I tried desperately to get some work done on this one paper I’ve got looming.  I did get one draft pounded out, but try as I might I couldn’t seem to do any editing.  Every time I sat down to work, I realized that something else needed to get done: my desk needed to be cleaned, my floor needed vacuuming, I had other things I needed to write, I hadn’t answered x, y, or z e-mail, etc.

It took some serious oomph before I realized I had to resort to the old stand-by: print and red pen.

When I was in my Master’s, I didn’t do anything electronically.  Every single paper I wrote was something that I would (admittedly) preliminarily type, but then hand-edit.  Draft after draft after draft I would ink to my heart’s content and, after about six to ten drafts, I would have something worth turning in.

In recent years, I’ve tried to become a bit more “green” and conscious of precisely how many trees I was killing in the process of producing 60-80 finished pages of writing a semester (multiply by 8; the average number of drafts I go through; yikes).  Not to mention the money I was spending on ink and paper (which, believe me, wasn’t insignificant).  I developed some ability to edit at my keyboard and I’ve even produced full papers without printing more than three drafts.

But this one was simply eluding me.  It was taunting me on the screen and I was left with no recourse.

I printed, and went for a walk.

I find that, given the right environment and the right project, I can be much more productive away from my desk than at it.  This only works for papers in draft form as, before they are

mid-way through my draft; a still-life.

mid-way through my draft; a still-life.

coherent, I have to reference the piles and piles of books from the book fort I’ve built on the floor next to aforementioned desk.  But once I do have something I’m playing with, once the words are on the page, often times the only way I can advance past this is to go to a coffee shop and not let myself come home until I’m done drafting.

It does two things: first it removes any possibility of distraction (especially if I’m a good good girl and turn my phone off for the duration of my writing session), and secondly it gives me the impetus to work faster.  If I want to go home in any reasonable length of time, well then I had better get to business hadn’t I?  Often, there are artificial limitations on this: how long can I sit without a break for the necessities (food, nose-powdering, etc.), but if I work diligently, I can crank out a draft of a 20-page paper within the two to three hour time window that my attention span and biology usually allot for.

So that’s just what I did yesterday.  I took my draft, I took my red pen, and I bought myself a giant iced coffee and went to town.

Luckily, it was a random daytime during a Monday so there weren’t many people there to talk around me (something I can’t abide while I’m working).  I also happen to know a great place that doesn’t play obnoxious music (another thing I really can’t work through).

Done!  I can go home now, right?

Done! I can go home now, right?

Writing, actually writing, the old fashioned way with a pen, is very romantic.  Whenever I do so at a coffee shop, I can’t help but imagine myself into some antiquated notion of academia where we all wear tweed suits and use monocles.  There’s something nostalgic about it; an act that connects you to your forefathers.  Everyone I’ve ever read wrote this way (and certainly those I most admire wrote this way); pen in hand, caffeine source nearby.  I guess unless you’re Kerouac in which case I’m not sure I’d want to write the way you wrote…

Anyway, my ploy worked!  This paper is in great shape, all of my projects are under control, and despite any misgivings I may have about walking away from my desk at the end of today (because I know there’s more work to do, I just can’t do more work right now), I can comfort myself with the fact that everything is where it should be and nothing is getting left out in the cold.

…Unless I’m forgetting something huge.  Which is always a possibility.

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.

The Finals Countdown; Fall 2012

This is a drive-by.  Things are nuts; For the past three weeks I’ve been doing nothing but work, go to the gym, and sleep.  My brain is currently the approximate consistency of tapioca pudding.  And not even the good kind of tapioca pudding, it’s the soggy from a plastic container and tin lid sort.  And it’s likely been sitting on the shelf for too long so it’s just this side of “okay to eat”…

…this is not an invitation for zombies to come raid my apartment.

In that vein, I do not feel that I have anything intelligent, pertinent, or inspiring to say at the moment.  I’ve been communicating with my roommate and partner-in-crime using grunts and clicks (I’m past even the capacity for charade-like hand motions), and I don’t trust my own judgment right now as to what would constitute “intelligent, pertinent, or inspired” anyway.

Sooo…. I will re-assert a few basic truths about this point of the finals process, and then dive back to the turmoil of the ever-present grindstone.

Thing One: Proofreading saves lives.  Amongst the errors which, uncaught, would have proved outright embarrassing (mind you, in drafts that are far enough down the writing process that I even ventured to show one to my PiC the other day) are: several punctuation mishaps, misspellings of authors’ names, and (most embarrassing of all) several accounts of the correct Shakespeare quote attributed to the incorrect character in a play completely different from the one it was in in the first place.  Apparently, I can quote Shakespeare verbatim in tapioca-mode, but I’ll be darned if I can attribute these quotes correctly.  So far, I’ve attempted to put Touchstone in Twelfth Night (this is particularly puzzling since, of all shows, you would think that As You Like it would be freshest in my

my Sassy Gay Friend pretending to be Lincoln

my Sassy Gay Friend pretending to be Lincoln

mind right now and, indeed, it’s only my performance recollections which saved this mishap from making it to the final cut of the paper), and re-attribute a piece of Macbeth’s “sound and fury” speech to Hamlet (What, what, what are you doing?).

Thing Two: I am, as of today, T-minus two papers and four days from completing the last Fall Semester of coursework in my PhD.  My first paper goes down Monday, my second Wednesday, in between I proctor and grade a final for one of my TAships.  On Wednesday, I will drive to campus, drop off my paper, and drive directly down to NY for holidays with my family.  Because my life isn’t stressful at all.

Thing Three: It’s remarkable what slack people will cut you when you look at them with the glazed-over look of hopeless “good god, I don’t remember how to talk to a normal person because my mind is still reeling about early nineteenth-century draperies”.  Either that, or my friends are amazing.  I suspect a combination of the two.  Maybe I look worse than I think I do.  At least I’m bathing regularly (IMPORTANT!).

Here is a cute picture of a baby hippo I took at the San Diego Zoo... for no reason other than it is sometimes good to look at cute pictures of baby hippos.

Here is a cute picture of a baby hippo I took at the San Diego Zoo… for no reason other than it is sometimes good to look at cute pictures of baby hippos.

Thing Four: No matter where you are, I can assure you that if you aren’t done by now, you are very close.  If you, in the past few days/weeks have experienced the same jarring helplessness that I have experienced, I would like for you to take a moment, take a breath, and remember that the light is right there at the end of the tunnel.  I know you’re tired (“exhausted” might be a better word… actually “bone-weary beyond all possible means of human comprehension” might fit best), I know you’re frustrated, I know you’re worried.  But you will do it.  I have faith.  Hold fast, Horus.

Thing Five: I’m going to take a break and sit on my couch for a few minutes.  I haven’t actually sat on my couch in at least two weeks.  Since I’ve put in a good six and a half hours already, I think I deserve this.

Keep calm, and keep editing folks!  See you on the other side!

“It is my birth-day”

Today is my birthday.

In recent years, it has become harder and harder to be festive on my birthday. During my Master’s (when I realized that this academia thing might actually be a lifetime commitment rather than a passing fancy), I resolved myself to come to terms with the fact that, for the rest of my life, I would be stressed out, over-worked, and over-wrought on my birthday.

Some years this sticks, some years it doesn’t.

It’s funny because, as I understand it, on birthdays you’re supposed to think back across the expanse of the year and have some thought about things you’ve done, accomplished, follies, foibles, adventures, etc. And maybe when you’ve done that, cast another thought forward to the things that you might accomplish in this year next. Since I’m still in the phase of my PhD during which landmarks are fairly mapped out and planned, I have the good fortune to be able to predict, with some degree of certainty, at least some of the things I will do before the world comes back around to December 11th once more. I will pass my German qual exam. I will study for (and pass) my comps. I will successfully execute my oral exams. And, at this point next year, I will be sitting pretty, poised for dissertation planning, and may (for the first time in many years) actually be able to relax on my birthday.

This year is not that year.

Today, I have a meeting, student final projects to look at, library books that will go into arrears if I don’t return them today, an article to track down, and mountains and mountains of writing to do. I didn’t even have time to wake up early enough for a run due to the absolute insanity that was yesterday (I spent thirteen hours on campus yesterday, left at 11PM and am doing the eleven-hour turn-around and will be back on campus at 10AM this morning…. ah the glamorous life of a theatre academic).

But I did get to partake of my new favorite birthday tradition: birthday Shakespeare. Last year, as a birthday gift, my ever-wonderful Partner in Crime took me to see Hamlet at the Gamm. The production was meh, but the point was to be able to sit back and enjoy something I love rather than worry about deeper issues (…of course, I did worry about deeper issues, but that’s just the way I’m wired). Last night, the cast of Measure for Measure treated me to the first (rough) run of the show. Some really interesting things going on and, if they continue to grow at a good clip, I think the product will be well worth the ticket price. I even had a Shakespeare-revelation while watching (this happens to me sometimes; the text hits my ear in a different way and things click into place and suddenly I understand something new about the show). So; thanks, cast!

So yes, I will be spending the day working. A lot. But the way I see it, this is paying it forward. Next year, oh sweet next year, I may even be able to take the day off entirely.

And so, dear reader, I leave you with this: have a wonderful day, think about Shakespeare for me, and have a watch of one of my favorite Shakespeare mashups: the muppets, Christopher Reeve, and Cole Porter:

Finals, Finals, Finals….

Multi-tasking at its best is the name of the game right now. As I begin to take the dive into deep-finals mode, here’s a list of things I have done/will do over the course of last week and this coming weekend.

  1. After much waiting, gnashing of teeth, and bating of breathe, it looks like we are a GO GO GO! for the launch of Offensive Shadows! About a year ago, my ever-wonderful partner in crime hatched the plan that we should co-host a podcast dedicated to explicating Shakespeare for the common man. He, as a normal smart
    Myself and aforementioned partner in crime during our visit to Gallow Green this summer.

    Myself and aforementioned partner in crime during our visit to Gallow Green this summer.

    person who has been adulterated by having a best friend doing a PhD in Bardy Goodness, had realized many things over the course of watching me at my work: 1) that Shakespeare (and theatre in general) is pretty neat! Like, much more neat than he had maybe at first thought. 2) That normal smart people (like himself) could definitely get into Shakespeare and connect with it if they had someone to talk to about it . 3) That I’m a good someone to talk to about it and, through the process of this talking to, we could help other people get into it as well.

So we set out on our quest. We are going to cover all of the plays in (roughly) chronological-to-being-written order (as much as we can), omitting the War of the Roses cycle for its own special run in the middle of the series. We will be releasing one episode a week and each play will have between three and five episodes dedicated to it. The episodes will include discussions of the play’s major themes, things to watch for in the play, information about dramaturgy, history, textual notes, and special readings of snippets by our very talented friends.

In short, if you like Shakespeare, or think you might like Shakespeare but have no idea where to begin, or know nothing about Shakespeare and would like to learn, or would really like to listen to the dulcet tones of my voice on a regular basis, you should definitely check us out!

The first series (released this weekend) is a set of preview episodes on Titus Andronicus. Through the process of recording these episodes, we learned a lot about the podcasting process and, by learning a lot, didn’t produce what we thought was our best work. As a result, these episodes will be a taste of what Offensive Shadows has to offer, but won’t be exactly what you’ll get in the real deal episodes.

Our first real deal stuff will be out the following Monday and will focus on Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  1. Prepping the last of my presentations of the semester. This talk is on the work I’m doing for my paper on William Brown’s 1821-22 production of Richard III. Some pretty nifty and exciting stuff if you like early American theatre.
  2. Wrapping up research on my two finals papers and transitioning into writing mode. This is one of the more difficult stages of the research process; when is enough enough? There is always something more to learn and when do you walk away from the books and begin to write? For term papers, I constantly have to remind myself that I am not writing a book, I am not expected to know everything about a topic, and I am definitely not going to be able to dig up every bit of archival evidence available. I tend to research until I can see (very clearly) my research looping back in on itself. What I mean by that is that if I’m reading the same facts or the same re-printed letters, looking at the same sketches or the same scripts, or if my sources start to reference each other, it’s pretty clear that I have enough to write a 15-25 page paper. There’s always the lurking gremlins, and generally there will be something you’ve forgotten to verify that will rear its ugly head when you’re elbow-deep in the writing process, but for the most part my philosophy should do you as a general rule.
  3. I turned in my essays on Measure for Measure for Prologue (Tufts’ Drama publication that comes out in conjunction with each of the shows the department puts on). For Measure, I had to write two 800-1000 word pieces; one a dramaturge’s essay (fondly referred to as “Page Three”, guess why?), and one a sort of op-ed piece about some issue which the play brings up (“Page One”). These essays, short as they were, caused me no undue amount of stress. Prologue is disseminated fairly widely and a good amount of eyes will be upon my work for it; it’s yet another way that we graduate students can bring honor and glory to the department. Have I done it with my pithy writing skills? Stay tuned to find out!
  4. Prepping my abstract for submission to the 2013 Comparative Drama Conference. I had a great time at this conference last year, and have been helping the conference
    The CDC conference hotel.  AWESOME!

    The CDC conference hotel. AWESOME!

    chair get an official conference twitter feed on its feet. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities that social media can bring to a national conference like this, so here’s hoping my abstract wows them enough to ask me down there to speak!

So that’s me right now. Excuse me as I take a deep breathe and head down deep into the land of paper writing. I think I’m well-prepared for it at least; and I know that I will always have my trusty French press at my side. Small comfort on this long and winding road to slay the semester’s final chimeras.

Have a great weekend!

LOOK! SHINY!

It’s finals time.

That means a lot of things (among them: grinding the gears, burning the midnight oil, and lighting both ends of the candle for the next few weeks).

If your life is like my life, then inevitably when you become the busiest is when everyone suddenly decides that they would like to be social with you. And, while I do love my friends and family and do need occasional breaks from aforementioned clichés of business, it can be really frustrating sometimes that busy season of necessity means “the season in which I ignore people”.

I’m not doing it maliciously, it’s just the only way I can get anything done.

Distractions come in two varieties: the long-form distraction, and the momentary distraction.

The long-form distraction is by far the simpler type to avoid. If I don’t plan well in advance for a night away from my desk, I don’t spend a night away from my desk. As much as it kills me to miss the various parties, social functions, and gatherings that inevitably occur right before the holidays, it would kill me more to neglect my work and do poorly on my finals. Wise researchers take note: this policy works. Understanding friends will understand; this is what your job entails at the moment and, thereby, any declarations of “lameness” on account of it should be systematically ignored.

For that, a break is a break and it’s important to remember that the world doesn’t revolve

this is my desk from several months ago… the book fort gets built to the right and is, currently, taking up more space on my floor than my actual desk.

around nineteenth century circus clowns performing Shakespeare. Make sure you budget time for drinks, dinner, or some fun activity at least once a week or you will wind up an overwrought bucket of stress by the time things are said and done. Also, human eye contact is good for the soul.

So long as you can balance work and play, the long-form distraction shouldn’t prove too much of a problem.

The momentary distraction can come in several forms: an e-mail, a text, a facebook message, a gchat, or a well-meaning person (your landlord, your roommate, etc.) poking a head into your workspace to bring you news from the outside. While this may seem the less innocuous form of distraction, for me it’s deadly. I find that, reliably, for every thirty seconds I have spent being momentarily distracted, it will take me at least five minutes to get back to where I was in my stream of thought pre-interruption.

For me, the problem is several-fold. I have a hard time in general with my attention span, especially if I’m not yet into “the zone”. Once I hit the red, I can go for hours; but getting there is particularly difficult for me. I blame modern technology; I am truly a product of my generation who would rather have a constant influx of disparate information to keep my mind chewing than go deep-diving on any one thought. How I wound up a professional academic with this particular personality quirk is a giant question of the universe. In addition, I am extremely sensitive aurally and have found that external words in any form (music, TV, talking, etc) will completely take me out of the internal mind-tempest that research requires.

The best way to avoid these problems is (I have found) to turn off (or at least silence) my phone, keep my browser windows open to library resources ONLY, and work during the day when there’s no one in my house but myself. If I wind up working overtime (which is extremely frequent during finals crunch), I either try to arrange to work when my roommate is out of the house, or arrange a schedule with her that involves noise-canceling headphones (I am fortunate to have a very understanding roommate). Alternately, working after the household has gone to bed is something that I have found to be extremely soothing and productive (though you do have to plan for it so that you make certain you get your much-needed finals-time sleep).

Today’s short-form distraction: decorating the department’s desk with a menorah made from a Poland Spring bottle, some glitter, and a dream.

A great way to improve the quality of your finals life is to make your nearest and dearest aware of these distractions and what they do to your work. If those people most likely to distract you understand that encouraging text messages are best left sent between the hours of 9 and 11 PM, they are less likely to inadvertently interrupt your stream of thought with a mid-day friend-crisis. If those people can fathom that when you say “I’m buried in mountains of work”, you literally mean that your book fort is actually large enough to cause a deadly avalanche, they are less likely to give you a hard time for skipping Friday night beer-o-rama. Give them concrete examples of how their actions affect yours in this volatile, stressful time. If they really love you, they’ll let you go crawl into your cave and re-emerge sometime after December 18th.

So… what are you waiting for? You have finals to write! Heck, I have finals to write! Go stop procrastinating and get your butt in gear! (…unless it’s your pre-planned night off in which case have fun, relax, and get enough sleep. Drink lots of fluids, eat right, and we’ll all get through this together somehow, I just know it).

To Rewrite, or not to Rewrite?

Today, dear readers, I write you from the brink of an age-old academic quandary.

I will be giving a paper at this year’s ASTR conference.  ASTR follows a work-group model rather than a conference-panel model, and this will be my first experience with such.  What this means is that every individual in a given work group has written a paper.  This paper is sent around to the other individuals in the work group.  Everyone in the work group reads all the papers.  Then, at the conference, we all sit down and talk about the guiding idea of the panel in hopes of coming to some kind of higher understanding of this idea.

On the whole, I think that this round-table style is much more productive than the

no matter which model a conference goes by, coffee is a necessity. This is a life truism though, rather than a conferencing factoid.

traditional read-and-listen model.  What it does mean, however, is that I need to send my paper to a group of academics who have never met me before to read, critique, and be ready to discuss my ideas.

This is an extremely daunting proposition.  Compound this with the fact that the work groups consist of a vast range of scholars – from graduate students to department heads.  My work group is particularly large and particularly vast in range of experience.  There will be people reading my paper who have been in the field much longer than I have and who know much better than I do what they are talking about.

The paper I’m presenting is a paper I wrote for a seminar this semester past.  I did a lot of research and put many man hours into this paper.  For that, it most certainly needs some work before it can be sent off to aforementioned group of scholars.  As I sit here, cradling its pages between my hands like the body of a newborn infant, I am faced with an important decision: To re-write, or to re-vise?  That is the question.

William Fualkner famously said of revising, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings” (though he was likely quoting Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch).  Stephen King later agreed with him (“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when I breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” On Writing).

Yes, yes, I know I must be ruthless, but so often I feel like completely scrapping something is the cheater’s way out.  While it may seem less time-consuming in the long run, in reality to just burn what I’ve written is to invalidate all the work that I’ve already put into it.  So while, at this moment, dashing the brains out of this poor pile of pulp only to allow a bigger, stronger, faster model to emerge from the slurry seems like perhaps the most advisable solution, I have to remember something: I spent a lot of time on this.  I edited.  I slaved.  I wrote and re-wrote.  All that time and energy must have produced at least pieces of a finished product.

So, generally, when I’m feeling like just starting over would be best, I take a moment to recall the hellish process of editing.  I allow myself a moment of silence for the many many stacks of pages of drafts that were fed to my fireplace.  And then I realize that no, there must be something in here worth saving.

I start with my abstract.  I go through it and write myself a clear logic train.  A rhetoric map.  “Fact: X.  Fact: Y.  Following in this progress, you reach my inevitable conclusion which is Z.”

abstract outline on right, prep to red-pen on left

Then I proceed into a harsh red-penning of my previously-produced paper.  What do I absolutely need?  What can go?  Ignoring the length of the final paper, I cut and slash my way through the prose jungle until I’ve boiled things down to their essence.

Then I take those bits and I re-arrange them.  Sometimes I physically cut and move them around on a table until I have something that makes sense.

Then I reverse-outline what it is I’ve wound up with.  I boil things down to topic sentences; what am I saying?  When am I saying it?

I compare the reverse outline to my rhetoric map to discover where my holes are.  Do I need a bit more research on weird fact B?  Do I need to explain logic leap C a bit better?  What do I need to do to ensure that we all wind up smoothly at the station of my final destination?

Then I set to work.  Sometimes this involves more research; a trip to the library, some ILL articles.  Sometimes this just involves a few days in the bunker holed up with my previous research and a fully loaded French press.

Then, a few drafts later, I have something.  It’s very different from what I started with.

Then come the external eyes.  Always always vet your writing by an outside party if you can possibly manage it.  Work out paper-shares with folks in your department.  Find a friend willing to proofread in exchange for dinner.  The more outside eyes you can have on a piece, the stronger it will become.

After this step, I generally have to go back in for a draft or two and adjust a few things – generally not a complete overhaul at this stage since I’ve already spent so much time living with the paper.

And then I have something.  Is it finished?  Well, it will never be finished.  But at least it’s evolved.

So that’s what I’m facing down now.  The next step in the evolution of a paper.

Well, hey hey and away we go.

The Great Flop

Well, I’m back.

And let me tell you, being back is rough.

I’m uncertain if I’ve yet documented the condition which I not-so-fondly refer to as the “end of semester flop”.  After the fall semester was over, after the last final was put to bed, and of course during the first few days of my real vacation, I was so exhausted that I felt sick.  I had to take several days to just lay in bed and sleep, not talk to anyone, and let the gigantic thing that I had just accomplished wash over me and through me.

It took me a while to realize that that was what it was: sheer exhaustion from

FLOP!

the emotional and mental fatigue I had sustained over the course of the semester.  For a while, I worried that I was incubating yet another unable-to-be-explained-by-modern-medical-science ailment.  Thankfully, after some quality time with my bed (or, rather, the hotel bed since I was on vacation with my family at the time), I was able to shake it off and be a real human being again.

I was prepared for a similar experience this semester.  Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), I had to meet a few publication deadlines hard on the heels of my finals deadlines.  What this meant was that the semester didn’t really end.  It rolled into the summer like blue rolls into indigo and, instead of being able to succumb to the end of semester flop, I just kept working.  Nights candles had burnt out and jocund day stood tip toe on misty mountain tops, but there was nothing for it.  I simply had to keep going.

Well, two weeks ago, the week before I left for my official summer vacation, I ran out of “gotta do it now”s.  I had a few little tid bits that needed cleaning up before I could leave my desk for a week, but on the whole if I really wanted to keep working I was going to have to re-open another big project (something I was loathe to do a mere week before I left it abandoned on my desk mostly because I didn’t want to be fretting over it my entire vacation).  So I took it easy.  I finished my bits and bobs and made it such that I could return to my desk with a clean slate.

And return I did.  Though I was technically home in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Sunday was essentially lost since I had slept for three hours and driven for the previous thirteen.  I spent the day doing laundry and unpacking with just enough naps to sustain my sleep-deprived self.  I woke up today and felt like I had been run over by a truck; my energy had bottomed out and I was barely able to think straight for the first half of the day.

At first, I panicked.  I had to hit the ground running.  I need to clean up my paper for ASTR.  I need to get together some things for my Measure for Measure director.  I need to learn my lines for Rosalind.  I need to hit the gym because I bet it forgets how much it hurts after I’ve had my way with it.

Then, I realized.  This was it.  The end of semester flop.  It had graciously delayed itself by about two months to give me the stamina to get through the first two thirds of my summer, but this was it.

And like it or not, I was down for the count for the next few days.

And I should just accept it and be grateful that I was going to be well-rested for September because darn it, I was going to rest.

So I took it easy Monday.  I did countless loads of laundry (finishing all of it that I came home with), took care of my tent which I had packed up while moist so it needed attention, sorted through a bunch of stuff in my basement, finished a few crafts projects, made dinner for a friend who had stopped by, cleaned my room, learned some of my lines, did a bit of writing, and attended to a few neglected household chores (yes, believe it or not, this is my life on easy mode… you don’t want to know what my hard days are like).

self-portrait taken during hour 6 of writing a paper during my Master’s

And tomorrow I will open up those projects and hit them hard.  I hope.  End of semester flop is nothing to joke about; it’s a necessary evil for the wanna-be-sane graduate student and without it, there’s no way I could be prepared for September.

The moral of this story: everyone deserves a break.  Especially after six months of consistent sixty to seventy hour work weeks.  I earned this flop with every till-midnight paper session and every Saturday that I said “sorry, I have to stay home and work”.

Enjoy your flopping!

One Draft at a Time

Did you hear that?

That, my friends, was the sound of this over-worked, over-stressed, over-tired, and way under-paid (and often under-appreciated) girl making her writing goals for the week.

Yes, in the face almost-astronomic odds, I managed to produce the nine drafts which I expected from myself in four days (that’s 2.25 drafts a day, folks).  If I manage to produce two drafts over the weekend (so work slightly slower than the break-neck pace I set for myself at the onset), I will be in tip-top shape at the beginning of next week and, by the end of the week, ready to turn everything in on time and close the book on this semester.

Phew.

Perhaps more importantly than the statistics, I’ve managed to write myself over the great mid-draft slump.

You see, I’m a very very slow writer.  I take many many drafts to produce something turn-in-able.  I’ve totally been over this before.  At some point between preliminary vomit draft and pristine turn-it-in paper, I hit what I like to call the “mid-draft slump”.  It’s that point in the paper-writing process where you look at the mess you’ve made, you look at the work you’ve done, and it hits you: this is completely inane.  You haven’t produced anything of value; you’ve barely produced anything.  In fact, all this research you just did is pretty much garbage because it hasn’t led you anywhere.  You’re not saying anything original; you’re not saying anything at all.

It’s a horrible place, an awful place, a place of desperation and darkness.  It’s a place where you simply can’t see your way out, and you just want to bury your face in all of this pulp you’ve produced and cry your little heart dry as your tears intermingle with the ink on the page and create great literary rorschachs.  It’s a place that just makes you want to give up; hang up your red pen and go be illiterate for the rest of your life.

And the only way to get through this place is to write more.  If you find yourself here, it means that you’re still hammering.  It’s inevitable; there’s got to be a place between A and Z.  The process of paper writing is the process of idea formation, and idea formation starts with research.  Getting from a ton of research to your own thought is a process; an action; it’s not a single moment.  You are never going to produce perfection in one draft.  Not no way, not no how.

What makes me nervous is that this go-round, the mid-draft slump was extremely quick.  Nerve-wrackingly quick.  I mean, in the past I’ve been stuck in the mid-draft slump for three or four drafts sometimes.  This time, it took a single draft to work my way somewhere with the bright light of hope shining down upon me.  I guess that this should make me happy (the mid-draft slump isn’t, after all, a very nice place to be), but really it just makes me anxious.  Have I picked something entirely too obvious to argue?  Am I just putting forth an assertion of the facts without adding anything new to the conversation?  Am I repeating myself?  Are these drafts just sixty pages of Graduate-level macaroni pictures?

Maybe for the sake of my own mental health, I have chosen to view this as a good thing.  I’ve come too far this semester to look back now, and I won’t let the accomplishment of my goals (even in record time) make me too apprehensive to savor that fruit.

So take that, mid-draft slump!  Return to the darkness and stay there until the end of next semester!  I have, once again, conquered you with the strength of my mind, the might of my pen, and the force of my sheer stubbornness!

Yea, I simply walked into Mordor.  And I walked out too.  Didn’t need a flying eagle rescue

Thank you, Google Maps.

or anything.

….I’m going to go collapse on my couch and return to my re-read of The Hunger Games now.  That won’t take any brain power and it’ll still make me feel intellectually superior to those who watch TV in their spare time.  I’ll return to being smart tomorrow.  Tonight is all about resting the gray matter.