An Observation

Here’s a problem I write about pretty frequently which seems newly pertinent today: when you’re a good academic, you never stop working.

I can’t tell you the last time I spent a whole weekend without answering a work-related e-mail, cracking a work-related book, doing a library run, doing work-related writing, discussing my research, sitting at my desk, contemplating a draft, going to rehearsal, doing research, or just flat-out tagging an extra two days onto my work week.

In any other field, this would be called “workaholism”. The constant drive to continue doing whatever it is that earns you a paycheck without a regular break is widely regarded as an unhealthy work habit.

And yet, somehow, in academia it is encouraged.

Oh sure they tell you “take time off” or “walk away from your desk at the end of the day”, but really, do we? In the age of smart phones, is it even possible to leave your work at work? And what does that mean since the ivory tower is such a theoretical construct? It would be impossible for me to function if having healthy work habits meant that I could only work when on campus.

I’ve had to find ways to delineate the boundaries between my work and my life (for example, unless it’s the middle of summer and a scorcher day and thereby I need to seek refuge in air conditioning somewhere, I only work at my desk and will not bring reading to my couch or my bed no matter how tempting). But even I, with a keen eye on this issue, find that work creeps into every aspect of my life.

While out having an amazing time this weekend, I couldn’t avoid the fact that I was receiving e-mails related to my class, or my exams, or my upcoming conferences. I couldn’t stop blathering about the research I was doing and the new things I’ve realized about American actor training. My head so far into this game, it’s not really possible (I think) to leave this by the wayside.

It may just be that I’m at a particularly taxing point of the PhD process (well… I definitely am), but I can’t help but feel that this is an under-attended issue.

That being said, I have nominal suggestions for how to fix it. Thought patterns being what

....spectacular adventures like this one.  I rode an elephant!

….spectacular adventures like this one. I rode an elephant!

they are, the best work is going to come from immersion. My plan this semester was to dive in head first and take a nice long break when I popped up on the other side (so… in December sometimes). Meanwhile, I’ve been content with having a few spectacular adventures during the in-between times.

And now… back to the grind.

Working Back to Running

Operation: relax was a great success.  Spending a week away from my books has made all the difference in the world and I’m feeling much more capable of tackling the things that I left behind in Boston.

Unfortunately, getting back into my studying groove is proving more difficult than I had anticipated.  While I know that I couldn’t have maintained the pace I had achieved when I left, coaxing myself back up to running speed is not easy.

I also have found that taking a week away has done scary things to my sense of information retention.  I’m reasonably sure the information is still in there, just occluded in a way it hadn’t been when I left the Northeast.  I have to reach around the pleasant cloud of vacation to turn up the things that I need on any given occasion and that, my friends, is rather startling given the amount of effort I put into putting those select facts into my brain.

In addition, it seems I’ve brought the Florida weather back with me.  While it was still pleasantly autumn upon my departure, it now seems to be full-blown summer.  This makes my life slightly more difficult as while my apartment is many wonderful things, air-conditioned is not one of them.

In summary, while I know I needed the break and I am absolutely assured that it did wonderful things to my mental (and physical!) well being, it’s definitely wrecked some havoc on my studying habits.

Let’s go back to the marathon training metaphor I used earlier this summer.  Taking a

artistic rendering of my workspace at the local cafe yesterday.

artistic rendering of my workspace at the local cafe yesterday.

week off from any intensive training will give you time to relax and recuperate, but there is some inevitable back-slide upon your return.  I’m just feeling all kinds of sore from my workouts since my mind, over the course of the past week, hasn’t been as rigorously worked.

It is sometimes important to recognize that we are not machines.  Though the comps-study process is a great deal about becoming a sort of professional juggernaut, at some point we need to recognize and yield to our humanity.  Slowly working back up to break-neck speed after some time off is one of those things.  Actually taking time off is another.

I had promised myself that I would be as gentle as possible with my study habits while simultaneously pushing myself to do as much as I had to/could.  These goals, while they seem antithetical, are actually really important to maintaining both sanity and work/life balance.  In order to prevent myself from being anxious about all the things I’m not learning, I need to push hard.  In order to maintain my mental well-being and not turn into some kind of Gollum creature clutching books to my chest and muttering about French Neoclassicism, I need to preserve some semblance of equilibrium.  So without moving into the land of unrealistic expectations, this antithesis is just something I have to balance.

And on that note, I’m going to stop procrastinating and get to reviewing Medieval Europe.  If I do well today, which I should, tomorrow opens up early Modern to study and, since that means some quality time with my man Will, if I can’t get excited about that I should probably just quite now.

I’m Back!

Alright, here we go.

You may have noticed that I took a break last week.  This was inspired by the fact that it was, in fact, Spring Break for us Jumbos.

This is the problem with “breaks”: all they mean is that I don’t actually have to go onto campus.  Even though I didn’t have class, I was still working every day.  I was still struggling to unbury from the assortment of projects which managed to pile up on my desk.  I was still getting caught up on all of the work I had shoved to the side to get through Twelfth Night.

So, as a conceit to the fact that even I need to slow down now and again, I took a break from the blog.  I took a break from my diet and exercise regime.  I took a single day off.  And then hit the ground running.

And it worked!  I woke up this morning on top of my projects (as on top of them as I can possibly be at the moment), ready to hit the world hard, and on the whole refreshed and raring to go.

The rest of the semester is jam-packed with projects: I have a lecture to give this

Look!  Spring is really trying to happen!

Look closely! Spring is really trying to happen!

week, a conference next week, a paper to submit as soon as possible, my German exam the week after next, an in-class project/lecture thing the week after that, then a final paper due two weeks from then.  Basically it’s going to be a tough pace, but so long as I can maintain it I will be fine.  And the good news is that, right now, the only thing on my desk is work.  I have no outside projects to distract me from putting this semester to bed and, with it, the coursework for my PhD and all of my qualifying exams before my Comps!

…talk about a feat.  Let me take a moment so as not to hyperventilate.

Today I’m right back in the thick of the action with meetings, class, a library trip, and an evening to review my spoils.  I would normally say “bring it, semester!” but I don’t really want to encourage any monkey business.  Things are going to be difficult enough without antagonizing the gods of academia.  So instead, I will say this: I’m ready.  Let’s do this.  Gently, though.  I’d really like to keep my sanity intact as much as humanly possible.

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


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!

A Brief PSA

Hello ladies and gentlemen!

I am writing you from my phone while on the road to adventure (otherwise known as a “vacation”). As a result of this adventure, I will be going off the grid for the week. I may check in, but in case I don’t fear not, noble reader! I will return next week!


The Blahs

Whether it’s the lazy, hazy days of summer that have hit us here in Boston, a general sense of overall fatigue from the semester that I haven’t given myself a chance to recover from, or the moon being in the seventh house and Jupiter aligning with Mars, I’ve found myself deep within a case of the “blahs”.

You know the blahs.  That thing that happens that makes you want to do nothing more than sit on the couch and be a lump.  That thing that whispers lazily in your ear telling you “just one more episode, you didn’t actually want to go to the gym today”.  That thing that puts a fire-blanket over productivity and makes it nearly impossible to keep up with your “gotta do it now!”s (forget your “should do it soon”s).

For people with conventional jobs, while annoying, the blahs aren’t exactly life threatening.  You’ve still gotta get up, go into the office, do your basic functions, and come home.  You’re still accountable for your responsibilities to a boss, supervisor, team, company.  There’s going to be someone asking questions if your productivity takes a nose-dive for the bottom of the bar graph.

Unfortunately for me, summertime in academia is a very very difficult time during which to get the blahs.

Not only is there no one besides myself to whom I’m accountable, but I don’t even have any hard deadlines to work towards.  I’m awash in a sea of amorphous, ambiguous, and very large tasks which all require attention and diligence, but also provide the illusion that succumbing to the blahs could be alright.


My to-do list is no shorter than it has ever been, I’m just working on things that are long-term goals.  I’m trying to maintain better gym habits.  I’m putting a lot of effort into personal projects that fell by the wayside during crunch-time.  I’m trying not to give myself heart attacks while accomplishing my summer tasks, and I’m also trying to get in some of that rest that’s so crucial to being prepared for the fall.

But the blahs are not sated by ambiguous improvement, nor can they be fought with small accomplishment.

To help myself beat back the blahs, I’ve tried to create visual guides and land-marks for the things I’m doing.  I’ve created physical flash cards for my German vocabulary so that I can actually see how many words I know now that I didn’t know yesterday, a week, a month ago.  I’ve started stacking my used-draft-papers again to (hopefully) find some convenient fire in which to burn them when I’ve submitted the paper I’m polishing.  I’ve created a cheat-book of song chords for my ukulele so I can A) localize the songs I know and B) see how much I’ve learned since I took it into my head that I should learn to play a ukulele at a friend’s wedding a month ago.  There’s not much I can do about the gym other than pat myself on the back and have a nice shower when I return home, but endorphins and a few hours of temperature control (my place has many virtues, central AC isn’t one of them) are reward enough, no?


I, like this sheep, feel droopy about the ears

In my experience, productivity expands and contracts in direct correlation to the amount of time at one’s disposal.  Have A MILLION BILLION THINGS TO DO RIGHT NOW!? No problem, you will get them ALL done.  Have a lot of time on your hands and just a few projects with a bunch of space in which to accomplish assorted random other tasks?  Meh.  You’ll get done what you need to get done, but no more.

So as I struggle through my case of the blahs, I have every expectation that I will accomplish what I absolutely need to accomplish… but likely not so much as I had wished to accomplish.  With any luck I’ll be seeing some sunshine at the end of this gloomy tunnel and be able to kick my summer into overdrive as soon as I find some inspiration to do so.

Podcast of the Black Swan: Episode 5

When we last left our heroes, they had been broadcasting from a quasi-functional blackbox in a hotel room in Orlando, fondly reminiscing about the now-defunct “Jaws”  attraction at Universal Studios, Florida, and only occasionally interrupted by the blackbox’s previous contents.  Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, the hotel room was infiltrated by a group of surly pirates who promptly attacked with their advanced technologies and rendered our heroes unconscious.  For the full low-down, check out our last episode here!

Today, the adventure continues with the exciting new installment of our Podcast mini-series: “How We Spent our Winter Vacation”.  Click here to check it out.

As always, many thanks to the ever-talented Matt Rosvally and once again thanks to the voice talents of Billy Maloy.


Podcast of the Black Swan Episode Four: Jaws

So here it is, the long-awaited first installment of our Disney and Universal vacation inspired

Left to Right: Matt, Jaws, Yours Truly

podcasts!  A special thank-you to my ever-talented brother the incomperable Matt Rosvally as well as the lovely Billy Malloy for her voiceover talents.

Click here to check it out.