Surprising Oneself

I’m coming up on the one-year anniversary of moving into my current place (this Sunday it will be exactly one year) and that’s made me rather contemplative.

That and, in the midst of the extreme pressure of high speed German-learning (a full contact sport which should have some Olympic equivalent), I’m trying to grasp at any small thing that will help me remember that I’m not a total mess-up and I can do some pretty astounding things.

With that in mind, this weekend I began to assemble a list of crazy-insane-amazing-wonderful things that I have done this year that, prior to this year, I would never in a bagillion eons have thought that I would wind up doing.  I’m fairly proud of what I came up with and, so dear readers, have a gander at the glamorous life of an academic….

1)    As a way to procrastinate learning my German for the day, I translated an article from Diderot’s encyclopedia for the encyclopedia project.  Between 1751 and 1772, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert published what they called Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société de gens de

the man, the myth, the legend: M. Diderot

lettres, mis en ordre par M. Diderot de l’Académie des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Prusse, et quant à la partie mathématique, par M. d’Alembert de l’Académie royale des Sciences de Paris, de celle de Prusse et de la Société royale de Londres. (Encyclopedia, or a systematic dictionary of science, art, and crafts, by men of letters, arranged by M. Diderot and the academy of science and belles-lettres of Prussia, and the mathematical portion by M. d’Alembert of the royal academy of science at Paris, to the Academy of Prussia  and the royal society of London).  The encyclopedia was the first of its kind, contained 71,818 entries, was published in 28 volumes, and has never been comprehensively translated into English.  The Encyclopedia Project is a free online resource through which individuals of differing levels of French-speaking have come together to translate it piecemeal.  I’ve volunteered my time to lend a hand with a few articles because I think it’s a neat project, I want to practice my French, and it lends me the ability to fancy myself a professional translator (SO far from the truth).

Reasons why this incident surprised me: I’m learning to read German?  I have enough French that I can reasonably translate an article from an eighteenth-century manuscript?  I am involved enough in the project to have assigned articles to translate?  How does this even happen?

2)    Sat up with my work until 11 or midnight for up to five nights straight and not had a bad thing to say about it.  Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do.  Often times, this means complaining.  Other times, you’re so enthralled with whatever it is that you’re working on that you don’t even think to complain.  If I don’t like something, I don’t lose sleep over it.  Period.

Reasons why this incident surprised me: I’m that kind of person?  I have work that’s important (and interesting) enough to be done when otherwise I should be relaxing or attending to other necessary life functions?

3)    Cold-contacted organizations to request information, interviews, or tours of places related to my research/work… and actually got them!  This year, thanks to the courtesy of directors, actors, designers, curators, park rangers, and ever-toiling librarians, I was able to accomplish a great deal of original first-hand research.  I was allowed to tour historical sites not open to the public, handle and photograph original scene designs, chat with actors/directors about their work and document it, handle documents older than this country, and get the inside scoop on a great many items of interest otherwise left obscured to the general public.  So many many thanks to all the folks who lent their time to my crazy research escapades.  Valuable lesson learned from all these experiences: you’d be downright amazed what folks would be willing to do if only you asked them.

Reasons why this incident surprised me: Telephones frighten me.  Despite my swash-buckling bravado via textual interface, I’m actually rather shy.  In addition, acquiring this information means that outside forces took me seriously as a scholar and were willing to lend a hand to help me out!

The Tufts crew at CDC 2012 with Ms. Vogel. SHE WAS SO AMAZINGLY WONDERFUL! …I wanted to keep her.

4)    Was paid to present my work at two major conferences in a one-month period and traveled across the country to do so.  Oh, and at one of them I had jello shots with esteemed playwright Paula Vogel.  I love to travel, and the fact that I got to do so much of it this year makes me extremely happy.  Next year, I have a definite trip to Nashville, TN (the first time I’ve ventured to Tennessee), and I’ll likely have at least one more trip lined up before the dust settles.  Stay tuned!

Reasons why this incident surprised me: Someone believes in my work enough to send me places to share it?  And it’s valuable enough that when I do share it, people ask me intelligent questions about it?  Smart people like my work?  THEY LIKE MY WORK!

5)    Uttered the words “I can’t, I have a research trip.”

Reasons why this incident surprised me: Because who has a RESEARCH TRIP?  HOW COOL!?

I’m sure I could go on at length, but these are the big ones.  The basic theme that keeps cropping up is this: despite the long hours, hard work, small paycheque… despite the uncertainty of the job market, the funding, or really anything about my life year-to-year… they haven’t quashed me yet.  I’m still enthralled with what I do, I’m still excited about next year, and I’m extremely proud of myself for the things that I have done this past 365 days.

Here’s hoping that, at this time next year, this list is at least twice its current length.  And if not, I haven’t done my job right.


So I had a great time at the Comparative Drama Conference this weekend.  The ideas batted around were interesting, the company couldn’t be beat, and I managed to sneak off for a bit to visit the dolphins.

Over the course of the weekend, I also had a lot of time to do some thinking about my practices as a girl living in the digital era and how this relates to my job as an academic.

One of the highlights of the weekend was having the opportunity to live-tweet the keynote (a Q/A session with playwright Paula Vogel who, by the way, is the most charming,

Myself and my Tufts companions with keynote speaker Paula Vogel

intelligent, and wonderful lesbian playwright I’ve ever met) with a colleague of mine whom I had followed on twitter for a long time but never met before.  Through the beauty of hash tags, we managed to find each other.  This gave us the chance to discuss our experiences with the digital realm and how these experiences reverberate into our scholarship.

So there I was, buzzing with excitement about the twenty-first century and all the lovely things that it could offer us, when one of my Tufts compatriots mentioned that he felt that the practice of live tweeting was rude.

Now, it’s not that I haven’t given this notion some previous thought.  It occurs to me every time I sit down to class and open my netbook for notes.  There is some amount of trust implicit in the professor/student relationship that the students, all of whom are plugged in at this juncture to some degree, are paying attention, are taking notes, and are not spending the class period playing facebook games or checking their e-mail.

I have wondered at the boundaries of respect and net-etiquette for some time.  There are clearly some things that are okay, and clearly some things that are not okay, but what about the gray areas?  Live tweeting, after all, is just a form of note taking.  It’s a public archival project with the end result being to disseminate information to individuals who can’t be present at the place and time of the tweet, but who may want to somehow be a part of what is happening in the room.  What’s the difference between me typing a note in a word document and me typing a note on my twitter feed besides the public act that it entails?

I recognize that there are certain things which should not be tweeted (or facebooked, or blogged about…).  The digital age has served to do many things and one of them is to peel back layers of privacy nearly to the point of transparency.  The scary thing about this is it’s not just what one chooses to share about herself which creates her web presence, it’s also what other people share about her.  If someone chooses to tweet a conversation which we had presumably in private, there’s little I can do about it besides request that the offending tweets be removed.  And even then, by the time I notice that something may be wrong, there’s a good chance that a large contingency has already seen the offensive material.

So here are some lists of protocol which I follow for live-tweeting.  Please note: this is a work in progress and far from a perfect system (yet).  In the year to come, I will be working on an exciting project which will force me to constantly re-evaluate this criterion (more on my project as details firm up).  For now, though, here’s some good common sense advice to ensure that you keep yourself out of trouble while staying connected in the digital age.


*Cite your sources if you are quoting – use “@twitterID” if the individual is on twitter so that he may receive notification of your tweet.  If the individual is not on twitter, use a hash tag for better archival practice.

*Be true to the spirit of your source.  Since twitter only gives you 150 characters to express a sentiment, that sentiment can often get clipped into sound bytes.  Do not misrepresent your source simply because you ran out of room.

*Be aware that your source also has a web presence and be respectful of that – don’t tweet something you would feel uncomfortable sharing to a roomful of strangers even if that something is about someone else.

It is Inappropriate to…

*Tweet direct quotes from unpublished material.  Conferencing gives you a great inside look at what your colleagues are working on; don’t violate that trust by publishing their work before they get a chance to.  Yes, tweeting on the internet is a form of publication.

*Tweet something said in confidence.  This includes: something said behind a closed office door (without prior approval to share it), something remarked in passing which may or may not be appropriate outside of context, or something you read off a colleagues paper when asked for feedback about said piece.  Despite the digital revolution, boundaries still exist.  We need to be respectful of them lest the practice of tweeting be forever banished from serious conversation.

*Tweet while speaking one-on-one with someone at dinner, after a panel, or in the conference lounge.  This is just a matter of courtesy.  Eye contact is good for the soul.

*Tweet something if someone has specifically asked you not to.  As we progress into the digital revolution, we will see more and more integration of technology into all parts of our work.  We will also see people who aren’t entirely comfortable with this yet.  If someone requests that his panel be tweet-blind, you have to respect that.

Try to…

*Ask for permission whenever possible.  If you’re unsure, ask!  Wouldn’t you rather someone be flattered that you want to publicize her work than angry that you shared it without her knowledge?

*Sit at the back of the room if you plan to live-tweet.  People behind you may find your screen distracting, and the panelists may find it difficult to speak while looking at the top of your head.

That’s all the news for now.  I’m diving into some pretty work-intense weeks in this final swathe of the semester, but that just means that there will be more exciting updates in the days to come.  Now: more Strindberg.  Blergh.