Back with a Vengeance

Hello, everyone! I’m back from a lovely one-week vacation to the South of our great land where I was able to accomplish several things (not the least of which being visiting my lovely little sister, and gallivanting around her place of employment… Disney. Yes, I know,

While I was in Disney this might have happened....

While I was in Disney this might have happened….

life is hard when you’re a Rosvally).

Today, I was back in the saddle hitting the ground running. I’m honored to be a Fellow at the Tufts Graduate Institute For Teaching program this summer and, as such, am participating in twelve seminars designed to help improve my skills as a teacher. I’m learning a lot already (today was the first day) and am overjoyed to be meeting and interacting with other graduate students from (gasp) different departments. It’s nice to have somewhere to go first thing in the morning; this kind of structure really kicks off the day right and is something that I’ve been missing in recent semesters due to coursework having come to a close. Dissertation work can be extremely isolating, and this Institute is really the perfect combination of socialization, enrichment, professional development, and personal accountability for me at this point in my graduate career.

As part of seminar this morning, one of our glorious presenters gave us a sheet of quotations about war meant to spark conversation. None of them were accredited (in an effort not to bias us) but after the exercise was over, he went down the list and let us know where each had originated. I was perplexed when he reached one axiom that we’ve probably all heard before: “all is fair in love and war”. The presenter attributed it to Shakespeare and then admitted that it’s been said by people ad infinitum the world over since the dawn of time and moved on.

I was dubious about accrediting this quotation to my man Will because, first thing’s first, the syntax really doesn’t scream “Bard” to me. Secondly, and this is where things get hazy, I wasn’t recalling it from any of the plays off the top of my head (this is often a good source of information but not necessarily definitive; while I can probably quote more than is healthy for a human being, I’m not going to claim an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire canon…yet).

The attribution was really a minor point and I didn’t want to hang the class up with something completely tangential to what we were actually talking about. However, the factoid kept wheedling me after we left seminar (so much so that I was inclined to look it up on my own and determine where this famous phrase came from).

Sure enough, I was right. It’s not a Willism. The first round of answers I got were mixed; some attributing it to English novelist and playwright John Lyly and some to English novelist Francis Edward Smedley.

Further investigation proved that both of these answer are, after a fashion, correct. The Lyly derivation is actually a paraphrase of a line from Lyly’s 1579 novel, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit. Lyly actually wrote: “the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war” (you can see where the paraphrase is a bit more elegant for today’s syntax).

pretty flowering tree I found on campus today

pretty flowering tree I found on campus today

Which left the Smedley question. How did he get mixed up in this? I looked into things a bit more and discovered that, in fact, the first appearance of the quote as-is was in the 1850 novel Frank Fairleigh by Francis Edward Smedley (who apparently, in addition to one of the funniest names in literary history, also had a flare for the axiomatic).

Neither of these people are Shakespeare (though, funny enough, Lyly is noted for having written pretty copiously for the child companies, popular amongst upper class Elizabethan audiences and notorious for “stealing” audience members from the adult companies such as Will’s). So there you go! While it’s often a safe bet to attribution quotable quotes to Will, it’s never a sure-fire thing (as proven by this, your little bit of pop up dramaturgy for today). I hope that your week is off to an incredible start! Mine certainly is.

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:

A Step Back

Yesterday, it was brought to my attention that perhaps I’m not being entirely fair in my depiction of graduate life.  In fact, to quote the individual who precipitated this, it was mentioned that I depict the department as “some kind of Dantesian circle of hell”.  In light of this, I want to take a moment to clarify some points and hopefully make my motivations in blogging a little less opaque to people who may stumble across this and misunderstand my intentions.

First things first: I am extremely lucky and entirely blessed (by a nondenominational atheistic power) to be where I am.  I love my department and I love my university.  Despite the rants and ramblings that appear here all-too-often, I recognize that I am one of the few (the happy few, the band of brothers) who had both the good fortune and the chops to be admitted to a place at a prestigious institution such as Tufts University.  My department is small and I have never been (and will never be) reduced to a barcode (despite what the University healthcare system may think).  My professors are supportive and giving of their time and expertise.  The library is a bastion of useful resources.  The research librarian is smart, patient, and wonderful.  My colleagues are brilliant and unafraid to challenge ideas even if they think it will make them unpopular.

In short, though like anyone else I have bad days, I can’t think of a better place for me to be spending the next 4-6 years.

Next: I love my job.  Period.  It is challenging, stimulating, and incredibly fulfilling.  It is also extremely stressful, but show me a job that isn’t (and isn’t mind-numbingly boring).  My hours aren’t set, I don’t get to walk away from my desk at 5:00 (or even on the weekends), and I’m always buried in projects.  But you know what?  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m a restless heart and a compulsive multi-tasker, being in a cube is absolutely mind-numbingly soul-suckingly awful for me, so I have chosen a vocation that caters to these personality traits.  This also means that I have chosen a vocation that I live with, 24/7, and in which I alone am accountable for the successes and failures that I face.

As I said, this is an extremely stressful situation to be in.  Oftentimes what this means is that my creative outlet (i.e. this blog) is a way to work through the everyday stress which I am experiencing.  I make light of the things that are upsetting me, I re-frame them in an entertaining fashion, and in doing so I aim for a measure of catharsis.

I do try to blog about positive things but on the whole I find that things which are going well are boring, and things which are going according to plan even duller.  There is nothing interesting about a plan coming together in exactly the way I expected it to.

What this also means is that when I have more work to do, the blog explodes into a downward spiral of hellish depravity.  In hindsight, perhaps I’ve been a bit too negative recently.

Let me assure you that, though I may dramatically recount my foibles through this completely cumbersome year, I am doing so with a grin.  My goal has always been to depict graduate life in a realistic fashion; the good, the bad, the velociraptors.  I don’t want to present a rose-tinted haze of nostalgia for one’s salad-years, but I also don’t want to make you (dear reader) believe that I live in a bookish hell of theory-demons in which highfalutin’ tweedy professors flog me day in and day out with bad Hamlet quartos.  Neither of these things are fair assessments and both would be a disservice to my colleagues and my institution.  Rather, believe this:

This is the tale of a girl who had only some idea of what she was getting into and would like the rest of the world to be a bit more educated than she was when she decided that she wanted to continue her education.  She began the journey with a map but no guide and things which appeared one way often weren’t while things which appeared another often were.

I am Alice and this is my wonderland.  Fanciful, beautiful, fleeting yet all-too-real, perplexing and lateral, a place in which things I thought I knew vanish into sand and things which I am learning are life-saving skills, a place where my bourgeoning expertise is valued but I must always enter with a beginner’s mind, a place where I must leave some weapons of the past at the door and cling to others (but I’m not always certain which is which), and above all a place I wouldn’t dream of giving up for anything.