Through Good Times and Bad

In case you haven’t been super-stalking my digital life, you may or may not know that I’ve just come off a grand adventure.  Three days; three plays; three reviews.  All have been posted to New England Theatre Geek (since in my copious free time I moonlight as a reviewer there), and you should check them out if you’re at all interested in the American Shakes-scene right now.

What this really means is that I’m exhausted.  I’ve been working so much that I’ve forgotten what “fun” is.  I demonstrated this fact the other day when I sat down to my desk, looked at the pile of books I set aside to read that day for my Prospectus prep, and thought unironically “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST DAY!”  (… it was “THE BEST DAY”

Not my book fort, but some days it feels this way.  This is a used bookstore in Salem, MA.

Not my book fort, but some days it feels this way. This is a used bookstore in Salem, MA.

for maybe two hours before I realized that I had about 1,000 pages of reading to do before sundown, wasn’t getting through it as fast as I wanted to, and OH BY THE WAY also had a veritable pile of other work to do).  The stationary bicycle of PhD work has really got me down this week, and as a result I’m plugging along like the little engine that could (“I THINK I CAN I THINK I CAN”), or if you prefer, Dory the forgetful fish (“JUST KEEP SWIMMING! JUST KEEP SWIMMING!”).  That said, I have a hard time sitting down at my computer for more than twenty minutes without my eyes glazing over.  It’s just the way it is sometimes.

The problem is that it will always be like this on occasion.  There are days, no matter what you’re doing and how much you love doing it, that you simply don’t wanna.  Heck, there might even be whole weeks when you simply don’t wanna.  That doesn’t mean you don’t love your work, it just means that you’re a human being and not a research machine.

Understanding this and getting through it is a process.  Up until now, I’ve prided myself on the point that I can work through just about anything; extreme weather conditions (you laugh, but it’s actually a problem in deep summer when your apartment doesn’t have central air or deep winter when you’re freezing mid-day because you’re trying to keep your heating bills down), extreme emotional conditions (life happens and you still have to work), extreme stress (I swear I will never again be able to hear the words “exams” without a small spine-tingling shudder), extreme pain (I’ve undergone minor surgery and still had to work the same day), and extreme workload.  The fact that these extenuating factors take their toll is not something that I’ve cared to put much thought into, but we need to face reality.

Being a graduate student is hard.  Doing the work for a Ph.D. is REALLY hard.  There’s a

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

A gem from my stack of dissertation reading.

reason that not everyone gets one.  What we’re doing is extraordinary.  Period.  If, at any time, you feel tired, overwrought, or wrung out, it’s probably because you’re working your smart little elbow patches off.

This work is exhausting, life-consuming, and never-ending.

It’s also incredibly fulfilling, exciting, and the most enormous privilege.

To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

There’s good and bad in everything and, when you’re doing something extraordinary, the extremes are pretty extreme.  Admitting this is not admitting defeat.  If you’ve hit a point where you’re just tired don’t let it stop you, but don’t assume that it makes you weak or lesser in some way.  Taking breaks is healthy and finding your break zen is important to productivity (I, for instance, need longer days to work at a slower pace.  I will take an hour and a half mid-day to fit a workout in, but I will work until 9 or 10 at night to get what needs doing done).

Really, though, if you’re going through a rough patch for whatever reason, be gentle with yourself.  It doesn’t make you a bad scholar, it doesn’t make you a bad teacher, and it certainly doesn’t make you a lesser person.  Just take a moment to accept that you’re a human being.  Remember your triumphs, and consider slowing your pace just a tad.  You’ll pick up the slack when you’re back in the saddle.  As long as less work doesn’t become a habit, it all evens out in the end.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go watch some trashy television and detox from my Academic Life for a while.  If you need me, I’ll be on my couch with my Netflix.


Not a Doctor Yet

Hello, all.

Having taken my break, I’m back in the game today.  I hit the ground running with some Brockett and Hildy (as any good Drama comps taker should) and proceeded onto some reading about rituals and the origin of Drama (problematic theory, blah blah, many details that most of the population will never care about but since I’ve decided to devote my life to bettering myself by way of the mind I need to know at least for the moment).

Over the course of the past week, I’ve been asked by many of my friends if I’m “a doctor yet”.  Let me clear this one up: NO.  I’m SO not a Doctor yet.  I’m WAY far out from being a Doctor still.  In fact, despite the fact that I’m about a half to a third of the way through the process by way of time (two years in to what should be a 4-7 year process), I’ve probably only done about a fourth of the work.

So the next thing they ask is “well what happens now?”

Here’s what happens now: I spend the summer studying for my exams.  What this means in practice is cramming into my already-full mind every single detail about theatre history, actor training, the history of scenic design, theatre technologies, famous actors, playwrights, and important plays that I can possible manage.  I will be held accountable for all of this information in the fall when I take my comprehensive exams.

At Tufts Dance and Drama, comprehensive exams (or “comps” for those of us fondly acquainted with them) consist of basically a week-long process.  Two days of in-house test-taking, then a weekend take-home.  It’s an essay-based procedure which essentially examines the student’s ability to craft arguments out of the vast amount of theatre history described above.

It’s extremely stressful.

After comps (non-denominational-deity-willing that I pass them), I then proceed to my orals.  This consists of two lengthy lectures which I will give on topics of my choosing within certain parameters set by the department (parameters mostly relating to the breadth of topics and how similar they can be) to a panel of professors whom I assemble.

Once I do this, provided I appease the savage gods of academia, I will take a month off.

My Coffee Table today: a still life

My Coffee Table today: a still life

Once I return from my month off, I will write a proposal for my dissertation.  This will be reviewed by my diss advisor and likely rejected several times with suggestions for revision before it is accepted.

Once this is accepted, I start writing.

I write for a good year (if not two or three) then come back with a book-length manuscript.  That golden dissertation.

Then I defend it.

Then I get a pat on the shoulder from the department, provided I’ve once again done well and appeased the savage academic gods, and then (oh then) you can call me “Doctor”.

Each of the steps on this road is huge, important, and extremely stressful.  I appreciate the support and love of my friends and compatriots, and will require it in spades as I continue down my path to enlightenment and letters after my name.  Every achievement is a hard-fought battle and will leave scars.  Just because I may appear to have a cavalier attitude about it does not mean that it’s not a big deal (don’t let me fool you).

So: I thank you for your congratulations.  I appreciate the excitement and I understand how confusing this process must be for someone completely outside of it (heck, it confuses me sometimes and I’m the one doing it).  But no, I’m not a Doctor yet.  And every small status change (Done coursework!  ABD! Doctoral Candidate rather than Doctoral Student!) is HUGE.

Blood, sweat, and tears.  A whole lot of sleepless nights.

I do love my job, but there’s a long way to go.

Here’s to another two to five years!

Con Men

My trusty partner in crime by my side, this weekend past I was cajoled into visiting my first SF/F convention.

Okay, before you close your browser window, point at your monitor, and laugh yourself silly, let me get a few things straight: 1) No, I wasn’t in costume.  2) Neither was anyone else for that matter. 3) Yes, I’m a nerd, but I was definitely the best-dressed nerd there. 4) Even though no one was wearing a costume.  Especially because no one was wearing a costume.

The con was readercon, an extremely local convention which prides itself on being more “literary” than other SF/F conventions.  What this really means is that instead of attending panels to discuss which pop-culture vampire is the hottest, you go to panels with useful information on being a writer, reading stories, and interacting with books.  The con is well-attended by some pretty well-known SF/F authors who participate in panels and also offer readings of their up-and-coming works throughout the weekend.  Perhaps the coolest offering of this particular convention is what they call a “Kaffeeklatsche”, an intimate gathering between a designated author and up to 15 conference attendees.  You sign up in advance for an hour in a special lounge with a small group of other con denizens and whomever you’ve signed up to klasche with.

As a result, I got to meet and talk to some really neat people (including Elizabeth Bear  and Scott Lynch… fan girl squee!).

I also got to hear some really solid advice on becoming a SF/F writer.  And so, since it is my wont as a blogger to blog about my experiences, I’m passing this advice on to you.  This is culminated from my weekend of listening, discussing, and observing and is not from any one source (direct or indirect) other than the con as a whole.  Suffice to say with the amount of publishers, editors, and authors running around doling out the advice, I feel that it’s pretty solid (though of course, can neither personally confirm nor deny any of it as… well… I’m a blogger, not an author… at least for now).

 Thing 1: Don’t quite your day job.  Writing does not pay.  Even if you get that book contract, it could be a long time before you see any money and chances are it won’t be enough to live off of.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (Twilight, Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Gray, etc…), but it’s a rule for a reason.  You won’t be the exception, so don’t bank on it.

 Thing 2: Write the stories you want to read.  If they sell, great!  If they don’t, at least at the end of the day you won’t be sitting there with a gun to your head (seriously, I heard and re-heard the story of depressed-to-death writer this weekend).  Writing is art and in no other profession based upon art do you hear people give up simply because it’s not making money.  How many hobbyist painters do you know?  Actors?  Musicians?  Same thing with the written word.  And, since you took Thing One under advisement, you won’t even have to move into a cardboard box.

Thing 3: If you want to write, write!  If you want to publish, submit!  An editor can neither accept nor reject a manuscript if it has not been submitted in the first place.  Just do it.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Thing 4: Less writing advice and more general tip for courtesy during Q/A sessions/small groups meetings: do your research first.  Don’t waste the time of everyone in the room (who, by the way, has done their research) by asking questions which could easily be answered with one google search.  Similarly, we know you’re excited about your own work.  We know you fancy yourself an artiste.  But unless you have a “participant” badge, I did not come here to hear you talk.  I don’t care about what you’re writing, how hard you’re trying to get an agent, or your insecurities about your work (and frankly, neither do the panel participants).  Don’t waste our time listening to you blather about these items (or, really, yourself at all unless it’s pertinent information and, in that case, keep it concise).  If you feel you must talk about this stuff with the participant “on-stage”, catch him/her in the hotel bar/elevator/hallway between panels and don’t inflict your dithering upon the rest of us. (…can you tell how grumpy this made me?)

 Thing 5: Especially if you come to make networking connections, dress like you’re headed to an interview.  Leave your super hero tee shirts at home.  I’m not saying you need to bust out the three-piece, but at least look a bit polished when you’re trying to oh-so-covertly slip your card/manuscript to the editor.

 Thing 6: Panel moderators take note!  You have fifty minutes to accomplish what your panel description says you are going to accomplish (actually more like thirty-five to forty if you want to have a Q/A at the end).  You have between four and six people on your panel.  That means that each individual (including yourself) is allotted approximately eight minutes of talk-time spread over the entire session, during which you probably want to make three or four points/present that many rounds of questions.  This means that, for each question you present, each individual should be allowed no more than two minutes of talking.  Wasting this time with preamble, summation of why we should care about the issue at hand, and/or lengthy introductions is going to make it such that you can’t get to the real meat of your panel (and, by the way, what we came here to listen to).  Slim down, think hard about what you really need to say, and be ready with extra (not necessarily vital) material which you should be fairly certain you will never get to.

Thing 7:  Plan for all temperature conditions.  Though it was well into the 90s outside this weekend, the panel rooms ranged from comfortable, to sauna-hot, to arctic.  I made good use of my shawl collection (as blankets sometimes!).

Thing 8: If you, like me, are easily distracted and find it difficult to focus without something

in lieu of a “dealer room”, this con has a bookstore! Scored some swag pretty cheap (i.e. more books to read…. oh the horror)

to do, bring knitting or other unobtrusive crafts.  I saw embroiderists, seamstresses, fellow knitters, crocheters, and doodlers at this convention all quietly doing their thing while folks were presenting.  There’s nothing wrong with needing something for your hands to do, but it is really rude to not be attentive.  As a result, I finished an entire sock over the course of the weekend (and could probably have finished its mate if I didn’t refuse to knit during kaffeeklatsches… somehow that feels more intrusive than knitting in the grand ballroom).

Thing 9: Drink water, eat well and at regular intervals, sleep as much as you can.  Trust me, you’ll need it.

Well, that’s that!  I’m excited about all the things which I was able to see this year, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be back next year (…maybe even with participant badges… stay tuned).  Happy conning!


So one of my summer quests is to learn to read in German.

One of the requirements for most PhDs in the Humanities (I know for certain English and Theatre Studies, other areas I’m not so clear on) is a reading knowledge of two languages other than English (alternately, a deep comprehension/fluency of one other language).  This requirement is often best taken care of in the early stages of your coursework so that it doesn’t hang you up when you go to do big things like comps and orals.

For me, I came into the program with a fairly solid reading knowledge of French.  German, while it seems esoteric, is a good choice for someone in Theatre Studies as the field was basically conceived in Germany, though like most things conceived in Germany fell apart during that big black hole in history that began in Germany.  Nowadays, the Free University of Berlin is a fairly happening place (especially for Shakespeareans and especially over the summer).

To assist in my quest, the school has hired one of my colleagues in the English department to teach a reading-in-German tutorial for anyone in the humanities required to pass such an exam as mine.

Learning to read in a language is a skill set entirely different from learning a language.  We did not spend the first day talking about our names, how we were, and where we lived.  Because we have a very limited time frame and are expected to retain a whole lot of information, this course is essentially a strategy guide for quick and dirty German.  Here’s how you recognize a noun, here’s a verb, here are common irregular verbs, now go learn all the vocabulary you can stuff in that little brain and come back later.  It’s a lot more technical; let’s break down this sentence (almost diagramming the sentence) and figure out which words we absolutely need to look up.  How many trips to the dictionary can we avoid?  How much can we clarify what you’re actually looking up and what you will find when you do?

This is made slightly easier by the fact that German, like English, is a Germanic language (and, to be even more technical, a West Germanic language).  It’s closer to English than a Romance language and thereby has a great many cognates which can help the English-speaking German-beginner.

It’s also made slightly easier by the fact that in my undergrad I decided to take a smattering of all kinds of languages.  Flash back to the first semester Freshman year, my brief flirtation with Latin.  I had a slightly longer affair with Italian, and the longest-lasting

This picture might best encapsulate my time in Dublin* *this is not entirely true… but that is a whole nother book of stories…

was with Irish (two and a half years of Irish Gaelic and a summer living in Dublin later and, while my Irish has decayed over the years from lack of use, I may still know more than native Irish people who don’t live in Gaeltachts).  Latin taught me grammar.  If you want to learn English grammar, go learn Latin.  I also taught me the meanings of cases and declensions, a building block for many of the other languages I’m working with.  Irish taught me how to deal with an inflected language (that is, a language in which word order doesn’t really matter).  This is the same in Latin, but since I lived with Irish longer I was better able to grasp the concept.  German word order is often strange and unusual because the rules governing sentence structure are not the same as they are in English.  Italian taught me to order in restaurants and buy a verb dictionary.  Seriously.  More irregular verbs than any language a sane person would actually want to learn.

So, while German is foreign, it’s not completely foreign.

It’s also delightful to be learning something new and different.  I’ve spent so long with a certain kind of schooling (namely: go home, read this book, do some research, come back and talk about it, write a paper) that having a new way to exercise my mind is almost salivatingly good.  Last night, the teacher handed out worksheets!  I haven’t had a worksheet to do since the 90s! (…almost as long, by the way, as I haven’t done higher-level mathematics…. I think I may see a corollary here…)

So, yes, they basically throw you in the deep end clinging desperately to your dictionary like a lifeline.  And there’s a lot of vocabulary to memorize.  Like… all the vocabulary.  The more vocab you know, the fewer trips to the dictionary you need, and thereby the faster you are at translating.

But it’s fresh, it’s interesting, and it’s extremely different from the kind of learning I do during the year.  While I can’t really call it a vacation, I can call it a drastic deviation from my regularly scheduled programming.


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.

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.”


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.

Thoughts on the New Year

Good evening good friends!

I’m breaking the radio silence this evening to bring you greetings from sunny Orlando.  I have a great deal to say about what’s been going on down here, but frankly the much-needed break has been so good for my semester-addled brain that I’m having trouble convincing myself that breaking the sanctity of “vacation” is worth the amusing blogal anecdotes.  Don’t worry, I’ll get around to describing my antics at some point, but for now, I’m going to rest up, spend some time with my family, and forget that I’m an educated person.

I’ve read four books since the end of the semester, all of my own choosing, and I started on a fifth this morning.  None of them have anything to do with theatre, Shakespeare, or my comps list.  This, if anything, means “vacation” to me.

I wanted to take a moment at the dawning of a new year to reflect on how far the past 365 days have taken me.  Last year at this time I was just finishing up my PhD applications, struggling to steel myself for the final semester of my MA, teaching ballroom dance in New Jersey, karaoking several times a week for lack of anything else to do with my time, and in utter and complete life limbo as I couldn’t plan anything until I heard back from my programs.  Though I knew my life was about to change drastically, there was no way I could have any inkling as to how and where those changes might lead me.

This next year, I have a much better idea of the trajectory of the next twelve months.  That being said, the past year has been a reminder that even when one has plans, one still needs to allot for drastic change in them.  As much as has happened in the past year (and more!) could happen in the next year.  The illusion of consistency (the hobgoblin of little minds) is limiting at best and devastatingly crippling at worst.

I do have some plans for the next year.  I have at least one conference lined up, my first ever academic publication forthcoming, and another year of coursework ahead of me.  I will be learning another language over the summer to fulfill degree requirements.  I will be ramping up for Comps.  Next fall, I will be teaching at least one class.

I’ve never taken much stock in New Years’ resolutions.  To me, they mostly wind up being over-rated hype that more quickly turn into empty words than fulfilling promises.  Then, at the turning of 2006 into 2007, I realized my problem.

Start small.  That year, I resolved to finally finish reading Pride and Prejudice.  It worked.

This year, I’m resolving to memorize a better toast for next year.  Inevitably people look at me at midnight and expect something witty or wise or funny or some combination of the above… inevitably I come up short (either because I’ve had a few too many glasses of champagne or because I’m tired).  Somehow people are aghast and agog that the Shakespeare scholar can’t think of a single set of sage words to ring us into the next year.

Next year, I won’t be stuck fumbling around for such things.  For now, though, you’ll have to count yourself satisfied with this:

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Have a happy, safe, healthful, fulfilling new year folks!  I’m going to go bury my head in the sand for another week.  I’ll catch you back in Boston!

To Liberty, not to Banishment!


Today is an historic day my friends.

A day, as they say, that will live in infamy.  A day for the books.  A day to be celebrated.  A day of wonder and joy.

Today, I turn in the last two finals of my first semester.  Turn in.  Done.  Can’t look at them anymore, won’t look at them anymore, goodbye, see you next year, adios, hate to see you leave but love to watch you go.

I can’t say it hasn’t been a bumpy ride.  This semester has had its trials, its tribulations, its joys, its sorrows, its mysteriously unexplainable illnesses which the doctors are still scratching their heads over…

But I did it.  And I’m still standing (though barely due to aforementioned mysterious illness).  As of this afternoon, I will be free to enjoy a few weeks of working on other projects and reading things that I want to read before I dive back into the fray in January.

For now, let’s have a look at the things that I’ve done this semester.  A re-cap, if you will; a sentimental journey into the past three and a half months.

I have seen seven plays (not bad, but not great… will do better next semester).

I have read four leisure books (before you start casting aspersions, remember that this is reading I did when I wasn’t in class, sleeping, reading for class, researching, or writing papers.  Considering these books average about seven hundred pages a pop, I think that’s pretty darn good).

At the peak of my book hoarding, I had forty-seven simultaneously checked out library books.  Every semester, I mean to do a count of total books checked out but this isn’t as easy to manage as you may think.  I have a revolving door for library books and sometimes only keep a book for a single day before returning it… I really have to develop a more sophisticated tracking system.

I can’t even begin to approximate the number of pages I have read.  Again, every semester I mean to develop a system to figure this out (either to scare or impress myself, I’m not certain which).  I’m open to suggestions about either of these systems in hopes that next semester I can have an actual counter… and maybe a progress bar or something.

I have produced eighty-two pages of turn-in-able scholarly writing (if you think about that as a breakdown of pages per day I’m averaging 1.17 pages per semester day; not counting the blog or leisure writing.  That’s pretty darn impressive, if you ask me!).

I have conducted my first bit of research based in interviews with real live people.

I have produced my first bit of turn-in-able scholarly research based solely in archive work.

I have narrowly avoided being eaten by velociraptors.

I have landed my first gig writing something to be published (book review, forthcoming, not a huge thing but it’s definitely a start!)

I have, on the whole, survived, more or less intact.  This, again, is a gigantic feat.  For many days, my mantra was “don’t worry, you’re a first year, you’re only expected to survive.  Keep plugging.  Don’t fret.  Just keep going.”  Hey, look, with the strategic application of that mantra, I did survive!

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go turn in my last papers for the semester.  Then I’m going to go read something involving zombies and having no scholarly value whatsoever.  Then I’m going to watch a movie that has nothing to do with my research or area of expertise.

Winter break, she is here at last.

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.