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Year Two, Week One: Living on the Edge

How have the past few days been for me?

Tiring.

I don’t really know where my time is going, but for some reason I’ve managed to consistently run out of it.

Tuesday, the first day of school, I actually had my act together. I got up 15 minutes before my alarm, made a healthy breakfast, left my apartment for my 1:00 PM class and arrived a half hour early.

Wednesday morning was my first 9:55 of the semester. I managed to beat my alarm clock up, only to blink and realize it was 9:00. So, I bolted out of bed, and something or other distracted me. I intended to take the bus, but by the time I got out the door, it was 9:44, and the Bus app on my phone advised me that the quickest way? Walk. I manage to walk in at precisely 9:56 after a pretty concerted speed-walk/not-quite-run. So at least now I know that should I want to make it to class on time, I need to be out the door no later than 9:43. Probably longer on cold winter days. This is going to be a long semester, isn’t it?

Anyway, I actually got to the gym that day as well, and then to the department’s “welcome back” event, and managed to get a healthy dinner in as well.

Today was my 1:00 day once more, so I proceeded to be lazy until about 12:39 and then see how long it would take me to get to Ed Sci. You could call it lazy, but I prefer to think of it as “living on the edge.” Nevertheless, I made it to the classroom at least five minutes before class started, with a trotting pace. Unfortunately, I forgot to pack a snack, and with 10 minutes to get from Ed Sci to Vilas, I decided to stop at Walgreens to grab something, but by the time I decided what I wanted to buy, it was already 2:26.

Shit.

I drop my stuff, I bolt across East Campus Mall and up to the classroom only to the beat the professor there by about two minutes. Thank goodness. It was a three-hour class, but at least during the break I ran down to CoffeeBytes for a much-needed chocolate croissant and coffee, which kept me sane until 5:30. Of course, I went straight to the library and then relaxed at home for a while, which is why it’s almost midnight now and I’m getting basically my first meal of the day – two slices of pizza – surrounded by extremely loud and incredibly annoying undergrads, mostly girls shrieking about goodness-knows-what.

So now I’ve got about an hour of work ahead of me before sleep, at least, barring any major distractions (which we all know is not going to happen).

Yo ho ho, a grad student’s life for me.

2

Get To A Better State…

There have been way too many State Farm commercials on lately. Just putting it out there.

I’m not feeling too inspired today. I got some feedback and a grade on my political science paper. Just about what I expected in terms of comments, and the professor pointed out two pretty obvious errors – I wrote “fate” instead of “fight” (Bawlmerese slipup, I guess), and I had a sentence in there that was about something that I ultimately cut from the paper. The grade was a little lower than I expected, but for what it’s worth, it could have been much, much worse. Most of the comments were along the lines of “I don’t get it,” or his favorite question, “how?” Not to say that I’m not disappointed, because I put a lot of work and research into it, but as I said, it could have been worse.

This English paper is not working out. Besides the fact that I can’t focus on it, I keep confusing myself, which isn’t good. I wrote about 800 words today, but should probably delete a lot more from what I already had. I planned to go out for lunch/dinner/food and then finish some books so I could get my book count under 40; I didn’t accomplish that while out, but since I’ve been home I decided that for 2-3 of them, I’ve probably gotten what I can get out of them.

Self-care has kinda taken a nosedive. Depression and stress have really set in for me, including odd-hour sleep, being easily distracted, lacking appetite when I know I should be eating, being on the verge of tears most of the time, worrying about the future, and no exercise since…two or three weeks ago.

At least I got a blog entry before ten minutes to midnight.

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People and Things I’ve Discovered This Semester (And How They Connect)

Now that, as of 11:58 PM CST last night, my political science paper is finished, I feel like I can breathe again. So while I complete my other three final papers (I just sent in my theatre paper as well), I can get back to blogging and Reading Like Crazy, like I set out to do.

But first, I would like to pay homage to all the work I pulled together this semester.

Let’s start with political science. I researched puppets and national identity. I came up with the idea by looking at a book which I ended up not using, but it did introduce me to Ubu and the Truth Commission, The Punch and Judy Show, Handspring Puppet Company, and Gary Friedman. On the topic of puppetry in nineteenth-century England, one of those who was also intrigued by Punch and Judy shows was W. B. Yeats, upon whom I wrote in my theatre paper. In that one, I focused on The Words upon the Window-pane, which involved mediums, spiritualism, Madame H. P. Blavatsky, and Japanese Noh theatre. Japan is where my history paper is traveling to, exploring Macbeth on the Chinese and Japanese stages. Heading further into the Pacific is my English paper, about the postcolonial stages of Papua New Guinea through Nora-Vagi Brash’s Which Way, Big Man?

And then, there’s the additions to the reading this: Power and Performance, The Spiritualists, Writing and Rewriting…to name a few.

And, now, onto Ubu, finally.

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It’s 10:15 PM, do you know where my brain is?

Yeah, that’s basically my entire thought process right now, and over the past three days.

I have spent a good portion of my waking hours on this mind-numbingly impossible political science paper. 8000-10000 words, my…whatever, man. I went to bed at 4:00 this morning with about 5200 words (not an all-nighter), and belying my fears of not getting the word count, I sit here with an hour and a half left until midnight with 9000 words down and several sources to go. What is my paper about again? Puppets? South Africa? Something like that? Why am I subjecting myself to this torture? Why?

And there were sporadic thunderstorms following me around all day as I went from Espresso Royale to Noodles to the Steepery over the past ten hours.

Oh, and welcome to my newest flag, Bulgaria. As they say in Bulgaria, finish your paper and no one gets hurt.

And then, I WILL finish my review of Ubu.

After all, I already have a several thousand word headstart.

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The Best Things in Life Happen During the Last Week of Classes

Or something like that.

Only had one class this week, but it’s been a really busy week. Just so much stuff. I had two presentations, I went to an award ceremony and then I missed the awards ceremony where I actually won an award and spent way too much socializing instead of writing my papers which are due next week.

However I did win some awards, in let’s just say it was a different ceremony. Ffrst I got a gold star from one of my fellow cohort members saying “we did it!” that went straight up on the refrigerator and then I got a crossword puzzle book for being the fastest crossword puzzle solver. Who saw that one coming?

But reality is setting pretty soon. I’m actually walking home right now. When I get there I will be starting work on all my papers due next week. And I’m actually dictating on my phone as I walk. So actually, this post began outside Madison Market and is still going on as I walk down Langdon Street. When I get home I’ll correct all the mistakes.

And then work on my paper some more.

Crap, this is going to be a long night, isn’t it?

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Fraud-enscheude

In case anyone was wondering, I went to bed before finishing my theatre paper the other night, but at least I had 4500 words. Over the past two days I’ve been adding to it, and I can confidently say that aside from a conclusion, I am done with it at ~5600 words. And of course, the syllabus was revised so that it’s no longer due on Thursday but a week from Thursday, after history and poli sci papers…so joke’s on me,  I guess.

I did, however, condense that paper into a ten-minute version and presented it to my class today. There are seven of us in the class, so we each got ten minutes to presentation, followed up by one question from a prescribed class member, and then open discussion. I was the second to present, which was great since I hate waiting; I’d much rather get it over with and then have a much longer sigh of relief. My presentation itself went fair; I hadn’t really planned it much, but instead of writing out a script, I just had the document open on my iPad, and scrolled through it, pulling out points in the order which I wanted to share them. I riffed off the ideas and focused on making eye contact with others while I spoke. For some reason, this makes me feel like people are actually listening to me and not staring through me or imagining that I’m someone else, or a sandwich if they’re hungry. A lot of “ums” and “uhs” but I got the job done in under ten minutes.

I wasn’t really sure what my prescribed class question would be, but it ended up being a good one. I can’t remember the exact wording of the question – it was something about whether the playwright actually believed in seances at that point in his life or if he was poking fun at it – but the one who asked also noted that they’ve sensed a theme of fraud in my work.

 

 

My gut reaction was, are you calling me fake? But then, since I realized that my paper actually was about fraud, I was like…oh, you’ve got a point.

Last semester, I wrote and presented a paper on street gambling, and today, I spoke about mediumship and seances. So after hearing that, I could see how the connection could be made.

Honestly, hearing that was…strangely comforting, in a way.

Someone actually used my work to point out something that I’m interested in that I had never thought about before.

Before today, I never thought of myself as someone with a particular interest in this topic, but now that I think more about it, it seems true. One of the things that draws me to theatre and performance as well as headlines in the news are scandals and the question of “is this really going on? what is the meaning of this? WHY?” Goodness knows, I never make things easy for myself, and I am always up for a challenge. I love a good mystery and delight in solving mysteries of my own, which I’ve actually done. Part of my inspiration for a research project comes from…”there’s gotta be more there. And I’m going to find it.” I suppose you could say that about many other researchers, but for me, when I want to get to the bottom of something, I just fucking go for it until I find it, and if I can’t, I die a little inside.

This reminds me of one of my favorite lines from a favorite play of mine, Bluebeard by Charles Ludlam; in a contemporary theatre course as an undergrad at UMass, I got to play the role of Mrs. Maggot, and took great pleasure in saying one of my final lines in the play: “Women want an answer!” My inner sassy black lady came out in that performance, and I guess that she might be my spirit animal. Sort of like Loni Love, or Leslie Jones, or Loretta Devine, or even Sheneneh Jenkins.

But not Madea. Never Madea.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes…there’s something about frauds and cons and scandals that just lights my fire. If there’s a dead body, a love affair, a mysterious inscription, or any sort of deception, I’m there; but the performance of performance just makes me sizzle inside.

Sizzle.

So, in conclusion…I could live with that. I could be “the fraud guy.” I kind of like that.

And to my friend: thank you for helping me discover something new about myself.

2

I will finish this paper tonight, dammit.

I am done procrastinating.

…Okay, no I’m not.

But for weeks now, I’ve had FIVE PAPERS FIVE PAPERS FIVE PAPERS looming over my head like a black cloud, wherever I go.

And it needs to end.

This coming week, I’ve got two presentations to do one in theatre and one in history. Both are only ten minutes, but I can’t just sit there, or stand there, as the case may be, and convert oxygen into carbon dioxide.

Bad news first: I haven’t started my history presentation yet, but that’s Wednesday, and I have a table full of sources, plus my own prior knowledge.

Now the good news: I am almost finished my theatre paper. Not the presentation, but the paper. The whole thing. As in, I returned most of my source materials to the library. Meaning they are no longer taking up space in my mind or my apartment. It’s been like chipping away at a big hunk of marble, but I actually sort of have a paper. In terms of length, I’ve got 3,986 words out of a minimum of 4,500, and I still have a few paragraphs left to write plus an introduction and a conclusion, so I’m not worried about that; it’s just getting my ideas out coherently and in an acceptable order is the taxing part, especially for a constant second-guessing editor like me. The end is in sight.

So here’s the deal. I am going to stay up until I finish this paper. 

I am so serious.

I am going to finish this paper, press save, close it, put all the books aside, read something for fun, check it in the morning for errors, and send it in. And I will not worry about the ten-minute presentation until ten minutes before class on Tuesday. Or something like that.

I’m not playing around this time; this ends tonight. How determined am I? I swear on Mean Girls.

In other news, I just found out that I got a small acting gig in the fall that pays, so, yay for me! Also, though my stats have been (unsurprisingly) flagging over the last few days, I still got hits from new countries Belize and Mauritius, so welcome to you!

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Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day

Every once-in-a-while, I have a day that I call Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day.

And today was one of those days.

A Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day is not a good day, a bad day, or a neutral day. It’s one of those days that starts out with some rottenness, is usually dreary, and something good happens, but it’s not enough to turn the day around. Well, the good thing that happened to me today will have some long-lasting effects, but I’ll talk about those another time.

The provenance of Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day occurred in October 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel. I can’t exactly remember what set me off, but I was still living in the WUJS apartment so it couldn’t have been a good day, period. I remember that it was raining, which is normally a bummer, but makes everyone calm and happy in drought-stricken Israel, and softens the rougher edges of the world. It’s more of an act of purification than anything else. Plus, it makes everything beautiful. That day, I slept in, and when I woke up, my heart was sinking in my chest, heavy like a bag of sand. Which, ironically, was heavier knowing that it would have to face the rain. I wasn’t tired, hungry, or motivated to do anything. And then a feeling crept up on me.

I needed lemonade and jelly beans.

Right now.

Even though those are two foods I don’t enjoy on a regular basis, I strolled through the rain down to the makolet, which, fortunately for me, had some Minute Maid bottled lemonade and Jelly Belly Sours. Double yes, went my brain. Back at home, I settled back into my bed, my computer in front of me, and cracked open the drink. The lemony goodness washed down my throat, and when I bit into each jelly bean, the sour tang tickled my taste buds, validating all the sour thoughts and feelings that were going through me, and typed “it’s a lemonade and jelly beans type of day.”

Though I didn’t end up getting lemonade and jelly beans today, I certainly felt a bit deflated as I went about my daily routine, even passing up gym time to go home and hit the studying, hard, which was kind of good, I guess, since it got me to get some of my stuff done.

Each time I have one of these days, some other odd compulsion comes out, and for some reason, today, it was 90s one-hit-wonder group Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” doubling as the soundtrack. There’s just something about Wendy, Chynna, and Carnie singing lyrics like “I know this pain/Why do lock yourself up in these chains?/No one can change your life except for you/Don’t ever let anyone step all over you/Just open your heart and your mind/Is it really fair to feel this way inside?” It’s like a damp dishcloth for your soul, complete with a wacky bass line and banal, inoffensive lyrics that essentially talk about nothing. Sometimes it’s a horrible song, sometimes it’s my jam, but today, it’s like my special friend, or guardian angel, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Everyone has a lemonade and jelly beans day once in a while, where you’re not at your best, and that’s okay. Again, it’s not happy, but it’s not necessarily sad – more like subtle, subdued, low-key, teetering between anxiety and calm.

I feel a little better now.

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The Differences Between Reading and Writing

Read, write, read, write, read, write.

This has basically been the last few days of my life.

What I’ve learned though, and want to share with you now, are the differences between reading and writing.

Reading requires way more of my attention. It is best done in the study, with no cell phone or timekeeping device around. Sitting in the upright position is best. Food and drink yes, a lovely view of course, and the more I can feel like I’m in my own private Idaho – I mean, library. The biggest thing: no music. I know, music makes everything better, but if you try reading in a quiet place where you can follow your internal monologue and even moderate a debate with yourself, uninterrupted by noise other than those of life.

Writing, on the other hand (at least for me)…bring on the noise, bring on the funk. Growing up with a TV-addicted sister who “couldn’t focus without the white noise” basically led me with the choice to either tune things out and write or get bad grades. Somehow, I ended up doing both. When I’m really in my head, I can pound out the paragraphs while completely blocking out the sound. Sometimes the music even helps me write. When I have the TV on, I often end up tuning out the show to write and then being jolted back to reality by the loud commercials, going back to writing once the program comes back on. Now, I’ve learned to mute the commercials, but sometimes they still catch my eye. And on the plus side of this skill, I can write virtually anywhere. I’ve written on planes, trains, and buses. Once, I even wrote the majority of a grad school paper in a crowded Starbucks in Manhattan.

Both reading and writing are a challenge in the face of a game, tasty treats, checking my blog stats (hi, Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Panama, Mozambique, and Tanzania!) or even, sometimes, cleaning.

And as always, anxiety.

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More Realistic Motivational Statements

Let’s get real here: motivating yourself sucks.

Motivation is tough. It’s not even the fact that I’m a PhD student; it’s still so freaking cold outside that I need a mountain of motivation to get myself out of bed, fed, clad, and off the couch every day. I managed to move from bed to couch at around 11 AM, but didn’t even leave the apartment until 5 PM. Granted, it was hovering around 0 degrees for most of the day, but I could’ve gone to the gym or something. Instead, I watched all the YouTubes, did all the crossword puzzles, watched blog stats, played Word Strips, and finally spent 2-3 hours agonizing over a dramaturgy project like a maniac before leaving the house to get Target and food.

Thursdays are always like this: I go to bed the night before thinking that I will get started on things on Thursday and not put them off until Sunday night. I spend the majority of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday doing anything but work (social, tv, even cleaning the apartment), and then freak out Sunday night as I attempt to read several hundred pages while I hate myself for having wasted 4 days. Monday through Wednesday are pure torture as I spend every free waking moment working or worrying, only to breathe a sigh of relief on Wednesday night, promise myself I’ll do better next week…and then the cycle continues.

So far, I’ve only wasted about 70% of the day; I read and took notes on half a chapter for Monday. PROGRESS.

Motivational quotes are all over my Facebook feed, and they’re all just, so, trite. So, in a vain attempt to be creative on a frosty brain that is resisting the urge to resist doing work, here’s a list of realistic motivational statements.

20 Totally Made Up Realistic Motivational Statements/Suggestions/Stuff/Things

  1. This one is from my dad – the best way to confront a crisis is head-on. Except if that crisis is a speeding car coming in your direction.
  2. Don’t tear out your hair; nature will do that for you.
  3. Nobody is grading how clean your apartment is, so cleaning it can wait. Unless you’re having it shown, in which case, clean like a crazy person for 30 minutes. You will feel so much better, and ready to work after a short break.
  4. Shakespeare didn’t write all of his plays in one sitting, you don’t have to either.
  5. If it’s on TV, chances are it’ll be on again. If not, it’ll be on the Internet. If it’s really important, like the Olympics or the Oscars, just wait for the BuzzFeeds, they’ll edit out the boring parts.
  6. If you actually get stuff done, you’ll be able to concentrate on beating that game and know that you earned that time.
  7. Move to a different spot on your apartment. You will be able to see yourself in a different light.
  8. Think of someone really successful. They are most likely slacking off right now, so if you do your work right now, you’ll be one-up on them in your own mind.
  9. You know how much you hate that person who’s gotten all their work done and is now bragging about it? Beat them to it. Works every time. And it’s even better when you tell that person “oh yeah, I just did nothing all day,” secretly knowing that you did, indeed, do the exact opposite.
  10. Pretend like there is a bomb in your apartment and if you can hit that “I’M DONE” button (aka “save” or “send”) before a certain minute/hour, the bomb will be destroyed and you will have saved the world. Yes, THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD. You’re Buffy.
  11. Make that an actual button. Have your mom/dad/sister/friend’s number programmed into your phone, and when you press “save” or “send” simultaneously press your phone and then tell them about it. But check the time first, and calculate time difference.
  12. Make dinner or a yummy treat and race against the oven timer to get your work done.
  13. So many amazing things were invented by unmotivated people. Think of how much you could do in a motivated state of mind.
  14. If you miss that TV show, there will be no consequences. There are always consequences to not finishing your work. Nobody likes the c-word.
  15. Tell yourself that if you don’t do your work, you will end up living in a dollar store shopping cart with an needle full of cocaine in your arm and stray, rabid cats licking your bare feet. That is a scary, scary thought.
  16. Think of someone who told you that you couldn’t do something. Do your work to spite them. Let hate fuel your rage, and channel that into doing your work.
  17. Heat up soup or make coffee or something, then challenge yourself to get something done before it cools. Cool = failure.
  18. Someone else, if given all the work that you have to do, would throw up their hands and call it a day. If you can even do a little bit of it, congrats – you’re not that person.
  19. Remember – somewhere else, someone is being arrested, being stoned to death, getting dumped, giving birth, getting divorced, getting a shot, starving, lost in the woods, locked their keys in their home/car, or has twice as much work as you. Revel in that for a moment, then do your work.
  20. Just fucking do it. Just go over there, not here, not on the couch, over to the desk, and fucking do it.