June 21, 2011

Moving on Up!

"The time has come!" the blogger said, "To talk of many things.  Of domain names, how to blog on one, of server space and pings.  And how to get more google hits, and whether meta-tags are strings."

It is long overdue, folks!  The Dithyramb of the Black Swan has officially migrated to my brand spanking shiny new domain name.  Join me at www.daniprose.com for the continued adventures of our intrepid hero as she quests after the elusive PhD.

See you there!


May 18, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance

Well folks, this is it.  The end of an era.  The closing of a chapter.  The valiant conclusion of our hero’s epic tale of love and loss as she battles the dragons of English literature (or at least book two of such).

As of yesterday, I have had officially conferred upon me the degree of Master of Arts and I have a pretty certificate to prove it.

“How do you feel?” seems to be the question on the minds of the people and, honestly, no different than I felt the other day.  The feeling of accomplishment was achieved when I submitted my last paper.  The elation of being finished really hit me when I saw that all of my grades were in.  The discovery of this rumored thing called “free time” occurred late last week.  I no longer wake up in the morning and run through a mental checklist of everything that I have to do to keep my head above water.  I can feel the stress begin to roll off my shoulders in waves of calm (well, you know, as much as can do so when I still have a move to plan and a veritable wall of things which I had put off doing until all of my coursework was in).  I have returned all of my library books.  I have sold back my unwanted textbooks.  I have purchased the requisite school hoodie to keep me warm in Boston.

As I tie up loose ends here, I keep having to fight the urge to mourn what I’m leaving behind.  As I addressed in a previous post, it’s not so much that I’m leaving anything, but rather that a golden time has passed.  My friends are moving on too, with no coursework to do here and no library access it’s not like my research would flourish, I think at the end of it I just have a tough time saying goodbye (and I’ve had the muppet song stuck in my head all morning.. trust me, it’s not helping misty-eyed matters).

The convocation was nice (though our graduation speaker was atrocious… note to the world at large: if you need someone to speak at a graduation, get someone from the humanities not the hard sciences… we want a touching and inspirational message not a lab report).  Post-convocation family dinner plus friends and their families was perfect.  I am still trying to figure out what to do with this egregiously expensive polyester cap and gown, but I’m a creative person and I’m sure I’ll think of something.

At dinner after graduation, my dad looked at me and said “Congratulations, Doctoral Candidate Rosvally!”.  It really hit me at that moment that it was time to don the new hat (over my MA cap, of course… you can’t really leave something so mind-altering as a theory-intensive program in your sock drawer).  I guess it was such a shock because I had been so relying upon the summer as a time during which I wouldn’t have to be in the process of becoming something.  This summer, I am something.  And that’s enough.  The Doctoral hat can wait on my bookshelf; I’m not quite ready for it.

In the meantime, I think I’m going to take a much-needed (and well-deserved) break.  I keep threatening to pretend that I’m illiterate.  We’ll see how long that lasts.

May 6, 2011

Anticipatory Nostalgia

Ho… ly… crap.  As the semester draws to a close and the number of days until graduation slips into the single digits (nine days… can you believe it?), I am (less frantically than I was a week ago) scrambling to finish the final coursework of my MA while simultaneously planning my great Northern Migration and looking forward to a summer of pretending to be illiterate (well… maybe at least a few days out of the week).

I have two papers which I am currently putting the final touches upon before they get gleefully patted on the bum and sent scampering along down the e-mail trail to their intended recipients.  After that, we are in the clear for a long-anticipated and much-deserved break before I dive back into this crazy mess that is my life as a scholar in September.

I haven’t really planned any sort of celebration (besides the obligatory post-graduation family dinner) to commemorate this achievement… but I’m sure that at some point someone will decide that it’s at least worth a trip to a good micro-brewery and drag me out accordingly (hint… hint…).

In wrapping things up, I’m not-so-slowly becoming nostalgic about everything that I will miss about my life here.  It’s not the place I’m going to miss per say (though there are some local spots that have their charm), but rather the moments in time which comprised my existence as a Master’s student.  I have before hinted at the importance of this program to me as an individual and a scholar, and that importance remains.  I really can’t think of a single (feasible) thing that would have made this great learning experience more positive, more fruitful, or more full of personal and professional growth.

So since I haven’t done one in a while (and since I’m running on empty for brilliant ideas right now), here’s a list of all the things that I know are going to be different upon my arrival in the new fishtank that is Tufts and thereby will miss about my old fishtank that is Rutgers.

1)    The feeling of comfortable ease which allows me to say whatever it is I want whenever it is I want.  There is something to be said for being a big fish in a small pond and being the type of student who is known by the faculty.  Having pre-established relationships with my professors and colleagues, I have never felt stifled from speaking out in a class, even if my point of view is completely unpopular, tangential, or downright wrong.  This feeling will return once I manage to find a certain comfort zone at Tufts, but for the first little bit of time there is always a difference when moving in to new territory.  I’m going to have to get the lay of the land before I make any critical mistakes, and that could take a while. 

2)    Getting away with whatever I want to in certain courses run by the Best Professor in the World/my Boss.  This overlaps thing one, but definitely deserves its own category.  Since a mutual respect has been developed between myself and said professor, I try not to push the limits on this one.  I am a model student when it comes to reading and deadlines, but class discussions make me spunky.  I really do try not to de-rail conversations too horribly much, but having the freedom to “peanut gallery” (yes, I just made up a verb) really adds to my classroom experience.  Thank you, Best Professor in the World (you know who you are) for putting up with my antics.  This will be missed.

3)    The Best Professor in the World.  Here is a man who mentored me through my program, gave me advice about sensitive professional topics when I was nervous, wrote me glowing recommendation letters whenever I needed them (at least, I think they were glowing…), bought me wine when I deserved it, and overall provided the sense of always having an academic big-wig batting for my team.  Of all the people who I’ve met in this land of Oz, I’m going to miss him the most… and part of me wishes that he could come to Boston with me (though since he just got tenure, I wouldn’t really wish the implications of that fate upon him).  Thank you, BPitW.  For everything and more!

4)    Our local dive bar.  There’s something to be said for having the popular watering hole within walking distance of both my apartment and classes.  There’s also something to be said for being able to say, at any given time, “come out with us for drinks!” and having everyone in the room know exactly where to meet you.  They do killer wings, they always have Blue Moon on tap, and our waitress loves us and consistently buys us free rounds and SoCo shots at the end of the night.  God bless her and bottoms up.  I can’t believe I’m going to have to find a new dive bar.

5)    My jobs.  All of them.  This includes my co-workers, my bosses, my students, and the administrative officials associated with said forms of gainful employment.  Not much to say about this other than god I hope I find something as good as what I’ve got here in the next port of call.

6)    My friends and colleagues who have made this experience a pleasure.  There are very few fields in which you may directly glean the quality of your relationship by the quality, consistency, and vehemence of the fights in which you partake together.  I’ve met some amazing people in the past few years, two of which in particular (and their attached significant others… so I guess that makes four) have added so very much to my existence.  We’re scattering to the winds this summer (literally.  I’m moving North, B’s moving South and L’s moving West) and I can’t help but marvel at the fact that our lives intersected at all.  I very much hope that, someday, we will be drinking at the MLA convention (after we have each spoken on our completely disparate panels) and recall fondly the days when we were just bright-eyed kids in Newark with two nickels, a dream, and access to the OED. 

7)    Living across the street from the library.  For reals.

8)    New York City.  It’s my home.  Even though I don’t exactly visit regularly, just seeing the skyline while I’m driving around doing errands is comforting.  It is nice to know that, if I want to, I can go see a play, or walk through Central Park, or do a run for Thai food at four in the morning.  When myself and aforementioned colleagues were talking about moving, we were all in agreement that NYC was what we would miss the most about Jersey (which is funny in and of its own right).  I’ve always known that my road would take me away from New York, but I’m a New Yorker and reserve the right to be anxious/sad about that.  Boston’s okay, but it sure ain’t New York.

9)    The relative proximity of mom-cooked meals.  Okay.  I live an hour away from my parents if the traffic is good.  I don’t visit them all that much, and when I do it’s usually waving from the car as I pick something up to whisk myself to my next destination.  But there’s something very very comforting about being close enough to get that special mom-food when you really really need it.  Come on, who doesn’t like mom-food!?  It’s the one thing you NEVER grow out of.  And the leftovers!  My god the leftovers!  Koogle and Matzoth Ball Soup and Brisket, oh my!

10) My local coffee / tea digs.  From the coffee shop with the muppets, to the coffee shop/art supply story, to the cafĂ© with the best half-cooked tollhouse cookie soufflĂ© ever invented, to the tea shop that has an array of pots and mugs from which you pick your own de la guarda style.  I collect awesome coffee shops.  I only hope that Boston delivers, because man this area is chock full of amazing grading/homework/paper-writing/class reading spots.  And everyone knows that a graduate student runs on caffeine and Derrida.  

April 27, 2011

Guest Speaker

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of attending a reading/talk with Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison. 

By now, you very likely have heard about the Rutgers Snooki scandal (just to sum things up: Rutgers paid Morrison 30K to appear.  Rutgers paid Snooki 32K to speak.  Anyone else sick to their stomach?).  I’m not going to rant about this.  I’m also not going to talk about the ethics of a public university which serves a largely under-funded student body spending so many zeroes on things like guest speakers.  Notably, I do not believe that the reading which I attended was part of Morrison’s 30K commencement speech deal.  I’m not entirely certain how/why Morrison wound up in Newark, but I’m frightfully glad that she did.

As an added bonus, we were graced with the presence of Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker who has been making a real splash on the political scene with the things that he’s done for this city.  He’s an articulate, smart, passionate individual and it was a true joy to heard him give Morrison’s introduction.

When Morrison took the stage, I noticed a few things instantly.  First: Toni Morrison is old!  She’s an eighty-year-old woman!  They wheeled her on and off the stage in a wheelchair, though she managed to walk herself to the center-stage table where they had a seat prepared for her.  I suppose I’ve never really thought about her age; like all literary figures she’s ageless to me.  In addition, with the frequent highly sexual and sexualized nature of her works, I don’t really want to think of her as a grandma.

She still has her trademark dreads (though they’re a lovely silver color) and she wore them back in a pink bandana.  Her voice is rich and soothing with an occasional Southern-esque drawl to it which comes out more the more she speaks.  She started out faltering with frequent pauses, but as she became comfortable lit up the stage with energy, light, and life.

She read us a section of a work in progress (which was a treat in and of its own right).  Sitting in the room with hundreds of other people, somehow as she was reading I was brought right up next to her.  As my imagination collided with hers (an image which she herself used in describing fiction), I was no longer seated in an audience but rather in her living room.  She was speaking directly to me, telling me the story, making sure I was listening, seeing what I thought about her work… I would have listened to her go on all day.

Of course she’s a transcendent writer, but more than that she’s an engaging person.  She answers questions with grace and personality, never lacking in an entertaining anecdote which clearly displays her fearlessness.

Toni Morrison writes the sublime (and I mean that in a very aesthetic sense).  Her writing isn’t pretty or neat, it’s not tidy or simple.  Instead, it’s raw and deeply deeply uncomfortable.  I have trouble picking up her books because I know that the entire time I am reading them my stomach will be in knots.  Her books are terrible, powerful, and beautiful.  They are not something I willingly subject myself to more than once every few years.

So to see this little old woman speaking… this little old woman whose mind does and has encompassed and encompasses such genius… is like being in the presence of a true divine conductor.  It’s like some greater literary power flows down through her; like she channels the soul of an age and transmits it to paper and there it is, for all to see.

Maybe it’s time for me to pick up Song of Solomon… it’s been at least six months since I’ve considered slitting my wrists as a direct result of a piece of literature.

April 21, 2011

The Twilight Zone

As you may have noticed by now, I am slightly pre-occupied with vampire fiction. As such, the Twilight phenomenon has utterly fascinated me. I’ve thought long and hard about it. I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I’ve blogged. Repeatedly. And I’m still not certain that I entirely grasp it.

My midterm for Jack’s Gothic class was a piece connecting Twilight with the vampire genre as a whole and attempting to fasten it to the greater issues at stake within vampire fiction. My attempt was only slightly successful, mostly due to the fact that I was juggling the impending MA exam at the time, but also because there seems to be a dearth of serious scholarship on the matter. I would say “you can’t really blame them”, except for the fact that I’ve unearthed a plethora of Buffy scholarship. Why should Twilight be so different? Same genre, similar demographic, granted Buffy has been around a bit longer so it’s had longer to be kicked around by the requisite minds… but eight years isn’t all that long. Something about the situation didn’t sit right with me, and it took me some time to realize why.

I never really thought about the major difference that a good, solid piece of literature makes to a paper as opposed to shallow drivel. Because really, let’s face it folks, Twilight ain’t Finnegan’s Wake. It wasn’t until I was deep within my paper’s crafting that I realized how difficult it was for me to write anything truly meaningful, insightful or original about it… even though it wasn’t a scholarly village horse like Frankenstein or the Shakespeare stuff that I’m used to working with upon which everyone’s had a go and thereby much less likely to be shocked, awed, or otherwise affected by your own turn with it.

What I’m really getting down to is a simple fact: Joss Whedon can write. Stephenie Meyer can’t. Whedon makes something deep and engaging, Meyer makes brain bubblegum that will do nothing but rot your proverbial mental teeth. It may taste good, but trust me, it has no caloric or nutritive value whatsoever.

Anyway, I cranked my midterm out, thoughts of publication only vaguely floating through my mind. Yes, there was a place for the scholarship but A) did I really want to be that Twilight girl and B) the paper itself wasn’t really up to my usual par. I blame the literature. Wait, no, not literature… book. It’s just a book.

Suffice to say that Stephenie Meyer and I haven’t really been on speaking terms since that midterm paper. Imagine, then, my surprise when I walked into Jack’s office before Gothic this week and saw, sitting proudly upon his desk, a paperback copy of Twilight. I arched my eyebrow at him, trying to formulate a suitably smart-ass remark.

Flash back to earlier in the semester when Jack had been poking around for suggestions for the last week of class; a time he wished to devote to the “modern Gothic”. I believe the first thing out of my mouth when he suggested that perhaps Twilght would be a great option was “Please don’t willingly subject people to this.”

Wavy lines and funny music bring us back to Jack’s office, present-day. He looked at me slightly sheepishly, “Yea, I decided that it’s the most popular example of Gothic out there these days so… I’m assigning a chapter.”

I sighed, “I want it on record that this was against my advisement.”

“Duly noted.” He said, and we began talking about much more consequent things.

Flash forward again to the last ten minutes of class. Jack reaches over to the ubiquitous stack of copying that has been lurking on the table in front of him for the entire class period as he launches into an explanation of the class for next week. “So, there are some songs on blackboard and we will be watching some film clips, and Danielle told me that you should all be reading a chapter from her favorite book so… here you go!”

He passed the dreaded pages down and my colleagues groaned as they saw the title. “Jack!” I said, “What are you doing!? I’m going to get beat up in the alley after class!” … I didn’t remind him (or them) that this was the second time the syllabus suffered at my hand. The first, of course, was a fight to the end for the inclusion of The Mysteries of Udolpho which (by the by) is the foundational text of modern Gothic… it’s also a six-hundred-page-slow-moving-book-from-hell. I think my colleagues have finally forgotten about my role in their being forced to read this thing so far be it from me to freshen their memories.

That didn’t stop them from being upset about the Twilight thing. “Hey, Danielle, I hear there’s a dumpster out behind Robeson…”

It’s a good thing that I do a lot of cardio.

In any case, I’m sitting here now attempting to read this chapter and, for the first time, I’m actually having trouble getting through it. I am pleasantly surprised by this fact, and would be more happy about it if I didn’t have to get through said chapter for class next week.

This is the first time that I’ve returned to any of the Twilight books since the midterm debacle. I would like to say that demystifying their allure has helped to break their uncanny spell upon me, but I’m pretty sure that it’s mostly due to end-of-semester mental gridlock.

April 19, 2011

MacBeth hath Murdered Sleep

It was a dark and stormy night. 

We walked the gray streets of Chelsea under a steady drizzle of rain as we gazed upon the generic building fronts hoping to arrive at our destined address sooner rather than later.  It was just cold enough for the rain to be unwelcomely chilly, like little specks of recently-melted ice oozing upon us.

We arrived at a warehouse attended by two men clad all in black.  “Are you looking for the McKittrick hotel?”

Upstairs, a gay lounge decorated with an eye towards thirties glamour is hopping.  A four-piece jazz band plays while a singer lovingly croons period music, a bartender dressed in spats serves up cocktails, and a woman in a blue sequined gown slinks around from table to table asking if you are ready to join the party yet.

By now, anyone even remotely connected to the theatre has likely at least heard about the Punchdrunk theatre company’s immersive theatre experience “Sleep No More”.  The New York revival (currently playing at the McKittrick Hotel on W. 27th street) is a re-make of the phenomenon which hit Boston in October of 2009 (ran Oct. 8, 2009 – Feb. 7, 2010 at The Old Lincoln School in Brookline).  To support the sheer amount of space required for the endeavor, Punchdrunk has taken over three conjoined Chelsea warehouses.  According to the New York Times, 200 unpaid volunteers spent approximately four months meticulously putting the over-100 rooms in the hotel together.  And believe you me it shows.

As you enter the hotel, you are given a white Venetian mask which you are asked to keep on during the duration of the production (my comrades with glasses reported that this made things a little difficult for them).  You are asked not to speak, and (as usual) to silence your cell phones.

You are then ushered into a large freight elevator where a porter randomly assigns chunks of the party to begin their journey at different floors.  We held hands to keep from getting separated (by the by, if you do go, go with a very small group or decide that you will get separated and agree to meet at the bar afterwards – it’s difficult to keep track of people in the dark when everyone’s wearing the same white mask and nobody is allowed to speak). 

You enter a veritable labyrinth of rooms (environments really) where you are permitted to touch, move, examine and explore.  We found everything from a foggy London street, to a taxidermist’s shop, an apothecary with dried herbs hanging from every available surface, a hedge maze, a ballroom, a Victorian hospital, a Victorian asylum, Macduff’s children’s rooms, to a large room with a bathtub filled with bloody water (I take this to be the Macbeths’ room).  In every room there is something to discover (some of my favorite discoveries were hand-written letters strewn about the place including the famous letter which MacB writes his Lady Wife – “They met me on the eve of ascension…”). 

As though the living museum aspect of this weren’t enough to sate the rampant voyeur, there is a human aspect as well.  Actors dash about around you (easy to spot – they’re the ones without the masks) and you can choose to follow them and watch them meet up with other actors to portray wordless scenes in various environments of the hotel.  Amongst some of the scenes we saw were the famous Macbeth banquet, a couple dancing in the ballroom, the Witches’ first encounter with Macbeth (complete with shot roulette), and the murder of Duncan.

I really can’t describe to you how wonderfully creepy the entire experience was.  Imagine floating about darkened rooms, not knowing where you will end up when you turn a corner, constantly meeting with white-masked individuals who are somehow comforting rather than terrifying, and occasionally being grabbed by actors who seem to appear from nowhere.  Perhaps the highlight of our time in the hotel came when we were attempting to find our way out.  We had reached the stairway and were trying to follow an actor one way (at the back of the white-masked cloud) when a woman’s scream echoed through the hall.  We all looked at each other, about-faced, and (like good heroes) ran towards it to find Macbeth standing over the body of a very pregnant Lady Macduff.  Somehow, the knowledge that we had just missed the murder (even if there was nothing we could have done about it) sank sickly into my gut.  Had there even been anyone there to observe her last moments?  Had she expected to see him coming round the hall?  Had she greeted him or did he surprise her?  And did she try to fight him off or gracefully accept her fate?

Now this is theatre.

The experience jostled me.  As we explored the different rooms, there was no doubt that I was moved; to tears, terror, laughter, excitement, suspense, pity and everything in between.  Being able to touch and be touched by what was going on brought the story home to me in a way that I’ve never experienced before.  Of course, there isn’t really a cohesive story.  There is no set path for a visitor to explore, there is no pre-determined way to experience the hotel.  Proprietors estimate that each guest only sees 1/16th of the total experience.  And I won’t say that at times I wasn’t left wondering “so what does this have to do with Macbeth?”  But even in those times, I was too enraptured with what was going on around me to mind too horribly much.

Some reviewers find that Shakespeare haunts the attraction rather than is the attraction.  I don’t entirely disagree with them, but I find it difficult to lend their argument full credence.  Certainly liberties were taken with “Sleep No More”, and there are things which still don’t make sense to me.  That, however, is what I think holds the greatest appeal.  The entire thing is a puzzle which can be solved one of ten billion ways and it is up to each individual to determine her own experience and what that experience means.

When I left the hotel I was exhausted.  I felt like my mind was going to leak out my ear.  I had a difficult time forming coherent sentences, and we drove home through the now-torrential thunderstorm in almost complete silence.  As I collapsed into my bed that evening, all I could think was “Macbeth hath murdered sleep.”

…for that… I slept like a baby.  Despite having bizarre blood-soaked dreams with figures in white Venetian masks and random time-traveling with an eye towards steam-punk style globetrotting antics. 

Go.  Seriously.  Find some way to get there.  This is a veritable revolution in the way audiences experience Shakespeare and I can only hope that this cutting edge cuts deeply into the fabric of American Theatre.  I don't think that saying "I will cheat on the bard" works here because technically I didn't really.... it's more like having a tryst with his similar-yet-different twin brother.

April 14, 2011

Time for a Quick Re-cap

You know what hit me today?
A few more weeks and I’m done. Done with the MA. Done with English lit. Done with Rutgers. Done with Newark. Not quite done with Jersey, that will remain for another few months, but almost there!

I have previously lingered upon how bittersweet this is. This program has been a wonderful and fruitful growth experience for me personally and professionally. I have met some amazing people; colleagues, mentors, students, and everything in between. The program also came at a time in my life when I was in a very dark place and, almost single-handedly, is responsible for my rehabilitation into the functional and successful (albeit often harried and eccentric) intellectual that I am today.

It’s been an awe-inspiring and sublime two years.

As I dive into writing the final few papers of my MA, I wanted to take a moment to dwell upon all of the work that got me here. Here’s a little review of the courses that built this degree for me, the papers I wrote for them, and what I did with those papers subsequent to the lecture ending.


Semester one: Fall 2009

Intro to Graduate Literary Study

Final Paper: “One of These Things is Not Like the Others”

Analysis of Frankenstein using Race theory

Later Became: recycling. I didn’t have many ambitions at this juncture…

Rhetoric and the Teaching of Writing

Midterm Paper: “Great Expertations; an Examination of the Novice-as-Expert Predicament in College Freshmen Papers”

Analysis of a batch of undergrad papers in which I explicate what I call the “novice-as-expert” phenomenon. How does a college Freshman deal with being put in a situation where he must form an opinion on a field he knows nothing about? What rhetorical strategies does he use to accomplish this, and how can teachers use those strategies to better teach paper-writing to young college students?

Later Became: Conference paper

Final Paper: “If Lost, Please Return To… Imitation and Abandonment in the College Freshman Paper”

A second analysis of a batch of undergrad papers in which I uncover what I call “rhetorical abandonment”; students giving up on their arguments for one of several reasons. I discuss how students do this, why they may do this, and how we can use this discovery to (again) better teach paper-writing as a whole.

Later Became: Conference paper; Presented at the NJCEA annual conference 2010


Final Paper: “Act One Scene One: The Tabard Inn; Performativity and Theatricality in the Canterbury Tales”

A theatrical examination of the “Canterbury Tales” postulating that the Tales were, in fact, the first modern example of playwrighting.

Later Became: Conference Paper; Presented at the Virginia Tech Graduate Student Conference Jan. 2010; also became the basis for the paper which I presented at the University of Montreal’s Graduate Student Conference in Feb. 2010

Semester Two; Spring 2010

Studies in Satire

Midterm Paper: “Everything you Wanted to know About Dildo but Were Afraid to Ask”

An analysis of the Earl of Rochester’s Signior Dildo arguing that it is more pornography than lampoon.

Later Became: submission for 1st ever Rutgers Newark MA Publication

Final Paper: “Dirty Words: The Utilization of Graphic Imagery Within Satire”

An examination of the use and purpose of graphic imagery which runs rampant through (especially eighteenth century) Satire. Expectedly, I focused mainly upon Swift, Rochester and Voltaire.

Later Became: not much of anything due to the fact that I can’t present it to a professional colleague or especially mentor without blushing (I still have trouble looking Jack in the face because of this one).

Rhetoric of the American Revolution

Final Paper: “Obnoxious and Disliked”

An examination of the character of John Adams within the musical 1776 and his relation as a projected political personae within the play to his projected personae via letters, biographies and historical documentation.

Later Became: a bragging point that I actually got to write a legit academic paper about a musical.

Intro to Renaissance Literary Studies

Midterm Paper: “More Will than Will Serve”

A look at how Shakespeare uses the word “Will” in Sonnet 6, as informed by Erica Zilleruelo’s similar examination of Sonnet 135.

Later Became: A conversation starter. Will really loved his Willy.

Final Paper: “Walk Like a Man”

An examination of the roles of cross-dressing within The Merchant of Venice and As you Like It

Later Became: Not much of anything because there was almost nothing original about this paper. I really think I was running out of steam that semester…

Semester Three: Fall 2010

Science Fiction

Final Paper: “Let’s do the Time Warp Again”

Well, if you listened to my podcast earlier this week, you’d know exactly what this paper was about. So go listen! Go on!

Later Became: Conference Paper, presented at the first ever Rutgers Newark MA Consortium


Final Paper: “Beyond the Sea”

A discussion of the role of the ocean in “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”.

Later Became: the reason why I’m friends with my arch-nemesis. She’s my doppelganger and will likely be forced to kill me someday because we two cannot live in the same world. If you think I’m joking, ask Ben. He will (once again) corroborate the facts of the case.

Jane Austen

Midterm Paper: “Parlor Theatrics; Jane Austen and the Reader/Audience”

An examination of the role of theatricality within Northanger Abbey and the implicit suggestion that the book is more of a play script than novel. Also a defense of Catherine Morland as a theatrical character for an actor to play rather than a novelistic heroine.

Later Became: My PhD writing sample. Also hoping to publish this…

Final Paper: “Jane Needs More Brains”

A look at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as a piece of literature as well as the role of the Zombie within it. 

Later Became: Again, hoping to publish this.

Semester Four: Spring 2011

Research Sources and Data Technologies

Final project: research proposal based upon Kenneth Brannaugh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. That’s about all I can say about it right now. What? I’ve still got time!

Henry James

Midterm Paper: “Daisy Miller: Leading Lady”

A look at Daisy Miller as a character, a piecing-together of her role within the book as well as James’ play by the same name. Daisy has (notably) never before been assembled this way as a conglomeration of all the parts which James wrote for her.

Later Became: Proof that I could write a paper and study for an end-of-the-world exam from hell.

Final Paper: something about Gothic, "The Turn of the Screw", and "The Uncanny".  Again... I have time!!


Final Paper: An analysis of Macbeth as a Gothic piece. A lot of work has been done with this and Hamlet, but almost nothing about this and the cursed Scottish Play.

April 11, 2011

Podcast: Let's do the Time Warp Again!

You may or may not remember some mention of the first-ever Rutgers Newark MA Consortium a few months ago at which I gave a paper.

With the help of some fantabulous friends (THANK YOU MISTER WILKEY!), I have a recording of that talk that, in lieu of a post today, I would like to share with you.  For the record, that's my good buddy Ben giving the introductions and you can hear a guest appearance from the Best Professor Ever towards the end in the Q&A section (Jack Lynch, everyone).

Please enjoy!

(Linked to the title of this bog, click that and it should take you right to where you need to be.  Follow the yellow brick road, Dorothy.)

April 6, 2011

Dawn of the Dead

Right now, my life consists entirely of cocktail parties with dead white men.

Before you make the inevitable “I see dead people” joke, have a looksy at these sage words of wisdom from Mister Stephen Greenblatt:

"I began with the desire to speak with the dead.

“This desire is a familiar, if unvoiced, motive in literary studies, a motive organized, professionalized, buried beneath thick layers of bureaucratic decorum: literature professors are salaried, middle-class shamans.”

Well.  I’m gettin’ my hooba-joob on.

In this last stretch of my MA, I have holed myself up in my tower and barricaded the door with library books.  I have been using my machete of focus to forge through the dense textual jungle of Henry James and Gothic and Shakespeare to put together the research that will quickly turn into the last three papers of my Master’s.  I have been questing for the grail.  I am tired and battle-sore, my arms are stiff from fighting (and typing!), and the burden of the scholarship weighs heavily on my over-tense traps.  I can see the finish, it’s right there, and it shines ever-promisingly in my near future as I reach towards it.  There’s a meadow with the sun of success shining down on comfortable beds of sweet grass where I can dip my feet in the cool pool of well-deserved summer laziness while the laurels of my degree make a nice comfy pillow.

I wish I could say that the process to getting there is glorious, but these dead guys are contentious!  Henry James and I are barely on speaking terms, Kenneth Branaugh keeps rearing his not-so-ugly head and challenging me to arm-wrestling matches, and my man Will looks benevolently and mysteriously over the wholes scene as if to say “you’re almost there, but not quite”.  Will’s Mona Lisa smile pretty much drives my existence as a scholar, and I love him for it, but for once I just wish he’d be clear and direct with what he’s telling me.

As a paladin of The Bard, I never expect him to give me real answers (at least not right away).  Searching for them strengthens my ties to my deity.  If the Red-Cross Knight had everything he needed from the start, he never would have gone questing.  In fighting with Will and the other scholars who interpret him, I’m coming to my own understanding of him.  It’s like finding Nirvana; even though it’s inevitably unachievable you have to keep working if you ever want to even vaguely understand it.

In addition, it’s the good fight that makes the hero in the end.  Dorothy had to walk the yellow brick road.  Alice had to fall down the rabbit hole.  It’s about growing, becoming stronger as a person, becoming more certain of your connection to whatever it is that drives you, learning yourself, you know, all that jazz.

But my god is wonderland tough and Oz isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  To make matters worse, I’m stuck in a general Bartleby-esque malaise and continually left wondering “how much work do I really have to do to get through this?”  I have a place in a program, I have funding, what would it really take for me to lose that?  With the coming of bright, sunshining weather and the promise of the impending move, I have so many things that I would much rather be doing than stuck in the ivory tower day after day.

Do you think a ouija board would help me write these papers?  Maybe I can convince the dead to speak for themselves… I wonder where one gets goats prepped for ritualistic sacrifice in New Jersey these days…..

April 3, 2011

What a Crazy Random Happenstance...

I’m not a highly religious person, but I am quasi-spiritual and I only believe in chance to a certain extent.

In his infamous essay upon the true nature of horror (“Dan Unheimliche” 1919; frequently translated as “The Uncanny”), Freud speaks about what it is in a certain situation which gives that situation a measure of eeriness, creepiness, or “uncanniness”.  He uses the example of a number (62, actually, though pity… he totally should have used 42… or Adams should have used 62… I digress) having no innate unusualness attached to it.  If one were to check one’s coat and receive the coat-check number “62”, it would hold no factor of eeriness whatsoever.  However, if one were to come across that number several times in one day, or repeatedly within one’s life, one would begin to feel a certain degree of strangeness attached to “62”.  If the number follows you, it’s a little uncanny.  And not just because of the idea that the number may be a creepy mouth-breathing stalker.  

So here’s my little uncanny anecdote, or rather series of uncanny anecdotes. 

To begin, we have to go way back to the dawn of Danielle.  Back when the Danielle you know and love today was a wee little Danielle (this, by the way, is a favorite story of my mother’s which she whips out at every possible opportunity so… if you’re coming to graduation dinner, expect to hear it.  HI MOM!).  This Danielle had no concept of space and the realities of it.  This Danielle loved animals.  This Danielle thought it would be a great idea to have an elephant for a pet.  This Danielle told her mother in as many words.  When told that the elephant would be too large and unable to fit in the house, this Danielle rationalized “but just a baby one!”.

Embarrassing story over, flash forward to the education of The Danielle.  The Danielle attended two separate high schools – the first a very large and well-funded college prep school where she felt utterly alienated from anything offered at the school itself, and the second a small under-funded inner-city public school where she felt that everyone understood her and she fit right in.  The first school’s colors were purple and white.  The second school’s colors were red and black.

Move forward again to the higher education of The Danielle.  The first institute of higher education which The Danielle attended (her undergrad) was a large, well-funded school where she felt utterly alienated from anything offered at the school itself.  The second institute of higher education which The Danielle currently attends (her Masters’) is a small, under-funded, inner-city public school where she feels that everyone understands her and she fits right in.  The first school’s colors were purple and white.  The second school’s colors are red and black.

The Danielle is now getting prepared to journey off unto what will hopefully be her final port-of-call in terms of her own formal education (though as a Professor she will never stop learning).  That institution’s colors don’t fit into the schema (brown and light blue… who the heck chose those anyway?) however, the mascot most certainly does.  Ladies and Gentlemen; The Tufts mascot:

 Yep.  I think Freud would agree with me when I say that things, in the end, always work out the way they’re meant to.

March 29, 2011

Rumors of my Death have been Greatly Exaggerated

During the last stretch of her MA in English, Danielle Rosvally was tragically crushed to death beneath a pile of papers that she had yet to write.  The English Department at Rutgers University issued the following public statement: “We mourn for the loss of such a bright young mind, but wonder how it is possible for someone so vibrant and vivacious to be squelched by something that doesn’t technically exist.”  Services to be held next Tuesday.

While attempting to balance a stack of library books she was returning with one hand as the other hand held her precious mug of coffee, Danielle Rosvally was suddenly and violently run down by a car speeding through Newark’s University Heights.  The driver of the car, one Judith Butler, denied giving an official commentary though reports indicate that she is sufficiently beleaguered by the death of so performative an individual.

Danielle Rosvally perished in a freak elevator accident.  The elevator was purportedly stalled between the floors of “Masters” and “PhD” long enough that the unpublished scholar perished… but not before performing an act of unconquerable bravery in inscribing the theses to her final papers upon the walls of the elevator in her own blood.  She purportedly hopes that her professors will forgive her untimely demise and issue her “A”s in her classes despite her absence from them for the rest of the semester.  She is also fairly certain that all of her students loans will now be forgiven, freeing her soul from its contractual obligation to Sallie Mae so that it may re-incarnate into a body that will be born fabulously wealthy and have no need for further student loans.

Ambitious and up-and-coming Shakespeare Scholar Danielle Rosvally was found in her Newark Apartment last night having hung herself by her bed sheets with a hand-revised copy of the Riverside Shakespeare clutched to her breast.  Rumor has it that Norton and Oxford are currently fighting over the rights to Rosvally’s last project, which is anticipated to have record-breaking sales due to the publicity surrounding her death.  The last words, inscribed on the final page of the volume, read: “I follow thee.  The rest is silence only interrupted by my post-mortem book tour at which I will be available to answer questions via ouija board.”

This morning, the world (or at least the area immediately surrounding Rutgers University) mourns the death of Danielle Rosvally.  Scholar, actress, chocolate aficionado; she rests in peace after an undergraduate paper delivered her a lethal dosage of run-on-sentences last night at the local Starbucks.  The family requests that individuals send their memories of Danielle along with poems written in sonnet form to be hung on a memorial tree outside of their New York residence.  They’re pretty sure that even bad sonnets count as good fun. 

March 23, 2011

Academic Hazing

Last night, I completed the last in a line of important milestones towards my MA: my comprehensive exam. 

The exam was a six-hour ordeal stretched over two days in three-hour sessions.  It was a series of essay questions based upon this list of readings which I’m sure by now you’re all sick and tired of listening to me talk about.  Day one we had to choose to answer two questions in each of three sections (so we could omit one entire time period) for a total of six questions.  Day two we were give a series of essay questions which spanned the list of which we had to answer two; one in one hour and the second in two hours.

Really, what this amounts to is an age-old hazing ritual unleashed upon graduate students designed to test their mettle, their stamina, and their ability to pull things out of their butt under pressure.

That being said, I think I did pretty well.

The exam is graded upon a Pass/Fail system with marks given for Fail, Low-Pass, Pass and High-Pass.  The mark itself goes nowhere on any official documentation, it is for your own edification only (unless of course you fail, which would mark the beginning of panic-time for you and denote the fact that you are utterly incapable of preparing for a test and aggressively stupid to boot). 

I’m not going to say it was no big deal, because it was a big deal.  But I am going to say that it wasn’t the most rigorous exam I’ve ever been through.  Because of the amount of preparation, forethought and stress that I put into this, I went in well-prepared and all of that preparedness paid off.  The test itself, while long and stressful due to its innate ability to set me back in my life-plans, was not stressful because of its content but rather the pressure exerted upon that content.

I would be curious to know how this sort of thing goes in other departments.  Is it really something worth the amount of stress that we few, we happy few put into it?  Is it something that is seriously failable without being laughed out of the department?  Is it just a right of passage that our mentors had to go through and so subject us to on principle?

I’m not saying that comps exams don’t have a place; I’m just wondering if they are as important as we make them out to be.  And if they are, aren’t they worth being an actual measure of something more than a student’s ability to spew forth focused BS on command?  If a department has faith in its students (and its own ability to prepare those students for the rigors of higher education), shouldn’t the test be crafted to reflect that?

I’m not going to say that it was a piece of cake, it wasn’t.  But I will say that it felt like a shot at the doctor’s office; a whole lot of dread, a whole lot of build-up; some mild cases of panic; then when it’s over you wonder why it was exactly that you were so worked-up in the first place.

…and then you get a lollipop.  Or a beer.  Or a whole lot of beer.

Needless to say, I took last night off from doing any other work to celebrate the fulfillment of this educational landmark with my fellow graduate students at our local dive bar.  I woke up this morning and a few things immediately occurred to me in quick succession:

1)    I was done!  Yes, done!  No more scrambling to scrape together time to read items off of that god-forsaken list!  No more wondering and worrying about how the hell I was going to study for the exam when I had so much other stuff going on in my life!  Yippee!

2)    Oh bloody hell.  I have a paper due on Sunday.  I’ve started researching that one, right?

3)    Yes, I’ve started researching…. But I haven’t started writing… I’m going to need to beg another extension.

4)    I had a paper due two weeks ago!  I’ve started writing that one, right?

5)    Yes, that one’s actually done.  Thank god.

6)    Did I do the readings for tonight’s class?

7)    No, but it’s just a couple Poe stories.  Should be fine.

8)    I have three more papers on top of the two aforementioned papers to write and then I’m done… and a presentation to give… when is that presentation?

9)    Next week.  Crap.

10) It’s snowing.  What the hell, New Jersey?

11) I really shouldn’t have had so much beer last night.

March 16, 2011

Finding Hogwarts

As per my facebook status yesterday (and, as everyone knows, if it’s on facebook it’s official), I have found my new Hogwarts.

Though this term has become a common metaphor in my life, I realize that I may be unique in that.  So, in case my vernacular doesn’t match the universe’s, I decided to take a moment to explain. 

By this point in the history of popular culture, if you haven’t read (or seen) enough Harry Potter to understand what Hogwarts is, you may want to check your pulse.  Seriously, how can you live in modern America (or any English-speaking country for that matter)?  Let’s take a moment, however, to dissect the particulars of the Harry Potter allegory in reference to how it can be applied to one’s everyday life.

For the first eleven years of his life (or at least for as many of them as he is conscious), Harry Potter lives in a world where he constantly feels like he just doesn’t fit in.  There is something about him that people around him can’t explain, he knows that he is different, but he can’t put his finger on why.  Those around him treat him differently because of this difference and, we come to find later, that they are mostly afraid of him because of this difference.

One day, Harry receives a letter which changes everything (well, actually, a series of letters – but we’ll try to keep this as simple as possible).  The letter is his passport to a place away from life as he knew it as an outcast weirdo, a place where people understand him, a place where powerful and intelligent mentors are supportive of him, and a place where he forges relationships which change him forever.  This letter opens a door to the rest of Harry’s life.

I believe that everyone has the potential to have several Hogwarts in their lives.  As we grow, we change and places that guide and mark these changes stand like touchstones on our personal timelines; monoliths to the people we were and the people we become.  Not everywhere we stop will be a Hogwarts, some will just be inns and taverns along the way.  To truly qualify for Hogwarts status, a resting point must: have left a significant (usually positive) impact on your life; have people who remain in your life (even in thought) for a good long time after you’d left it; have mentors who have significantly shaped who you became; and be a place where you felt like you were understood and unconditionally accepted.

Usually a Hogwarts will come to you after you have been through a particularly rough patch.  If you, like Harry, feel that nobody around you truly understands you (hush, we all have an allotment for acceptable emo moments), you are likely to reach out to a place where people do.  Sometimes (especially if you work hard enough), you’ll find it.  Sometimes it will find you.

The Hogwarts will always be a place where you are surrounded by “your people”.  A place where you are in tune with the culture and feel comfortable without trying too horribly much. 

The Hogwarts is a place that you know like the back of your hand.  A place you can call home, if for a brief time.  It gets extra points for having “magical” nooks, but they’re not necessary.  Any place can be magical if you have a large enough imagination.  Trust me, I live in Newark.

I have had the distinct pleasure and luck to have attended three Hogwarts in my life and I’m about to move on to a fourth.  The first was the Professional Performing Arts High School in Manhattan.  The second was Shakespeare & Company (the first time around… the second time was a bit… complicated).  The third was here at Rutgers.

And the fourth, it looks like, will be Tufts.  Hold onto your hats, folks – we’re all in for five to seven years of academic anecdotes and miscellaneous literary fripperies. 

Danielle Rosvally: The Quest for the PhD has officially begun.

March 12, 2011

Mad Hot Ballroom

Since I’m trying my darndest not to think about books whenever I can get away with it (MA exam in nine days people… AH!), I realized that it’s time to talk about one of my favorite hobbies that I have managed, against all odds, to make into a profession.

For those not in the know, I teach Ballroom dance at Arthur Murray.  Dancing has been a life-long passion of mine (though has always taken a back-seat to theatre and its accoutrements), and ballroom has ducked its head in and out of my life ever since I got to do a workshop with Sid Grant during my undergrad.  In another one of those right-place-right-time moments, I secured myself this job last June and have been happily training hard ever since.

I could wax poetic about the awesomeness of dance and how much ballroom has added to my life until next Tuesday, but as brevity is the soul of wit I have boiled it all down into the following list which I am entitling “Ballroom Dance and You” or “All I Ever Needed To Know About Life I Learned in the Ballroom” or “Eleven Quick-and-Easy Life Lessons Learned from Ballroom Dance”.  Enjoy!

1)    Communicate clearly, succinctly and at the right moment.  When you speak, use just enough force to get your point across, but not so much as to be overbearing.  When you listen, listen with your entire body.  Be open to whatever it is that your partner (in dance or conversation) is going to say and willing to react accordingly.

2)    Poise.  Things in the ballroom change at the drop of a hat and you never know what is going to happen.  People move around you and you need to adjust yourself so as not to run into them.  You never know what your partner may lead.  You must be ready to go into anything at any moment.  Being stuck in old habits will just lead to getting stepped on.

3)    Never turn down an invitation to dance.  So your feet hurt.  So you’re grumpy.  So you’re tired.  It doesn’t matter.  You never know when the last dance may be and you never know when the music may end.  If you love it, just do it!  Don’t let anything stand in your way.

4)    Anyone can learn anything given enough time, diligence and effort.  Some things will come more easily to some people than others, but don’t worry; they have their weaknesses too.  Don’t let the learning process of others curtail your own process.  If you’re stuck, work harder.  You will get better.  The harder it is, the more practice time you will need.  Just keep cracking.

5)    There will always be someone better at it than you are.  There will also always be someone worse at it than you are.  All this means is that they’ve been doing it longer (or for less time).  Don’t let it get to you (or go to your head).

6)    New muscles hurt to work and new movements feel weird before they feel normal.  Rely on your mentors to tell you that you’re doing it right for the first few times.  Memorize the pattern and watch yourself in the mirror.  Do it until the weird feels normal and the muscle soreness goes away.  Then do it a hundred times more.  If it hurts, you’re probably doing it right.

7)    No blood, no foul and sorry’s for when I’m bleeding (or crying).  Don’t waste time apologizing unless you really really need to.  Don’t let the little things get to you.  And for god’s sake don’t be afraid to lead steps just because you stepped on my foot once or twice (unless you did it really hard).  You’re not going to learn if you never practice.

8)    If it looks graceful and easy, it’s bloody difficult.  Don’t let the pros fool you, it’s a long hard road to ease and elegance.  But totally worth it.

9)    Learning to smile through the pain builds character.  No matter what you’re feeling, adapt, overcome, and don’t let it stand in your way.

10)  Looking good takes diligence, time and effort but damn who’s that hottie in the mirror?  Learn to do makeup and hair, figure out what you should wear, have several nice pairs of shoes, and whatever you do don’t leave the house without mascara.  Brush your teeth several times a day to freshen your breath.  Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.  Take care of your hands and nails, people do look at them.  Pedicures.  Especially during the summer.  If you look good, chances are you’re going to feel good too.  It won’t solve all of life’s problems, but it certainly helps.

11)  Always buy (AND WEAR!) nylons with re-enforced toes.  Especially when you’re teaching newcomer class. 

March 8, 2011

Strategic Borrowing

My brain is a little shot so I will dispense with any preconception that I have anything interesting or coherent to say for a week or two.  In the interest of maintaining my bloging regime, (and really the timeless literary tradition of theft), I’m going to get creative with plagiarism.

Shakespeare is perhaps the world’s most famous sonneteer.  His sonnet series has inspired generations of criticism and would-be Romeos to learn and love them.  But was the sonnet form necessarily the only way for Shakespeare to express his immortal sentiments?  Was it the only choice for him, or merely the most logical?

I’ve taken the liberty of re-writing one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets (Sonnet 18) in several different forms.  I daresay that the material suffers a bit at my hand (I’m many things, but The Immortal Bard is not one of them).  However, despite my weaker verses, the spirit of my sentiment remains within the lines.  Let’s have some fun with Shakespeare!


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date: 

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; 

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest: 

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


Better than summer
My lines preserve you from death
Nature can’t touch you.


Though you ask, I shan’t tell you you’re May.
For there are flaws in a hot summer day.
Time turns seasons on
Just a blink and it’s gone,
Now death cannot take you away.

Spenserian Verse

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more beauteous, mild and fair.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summer fades into brisk autumn air.
Sometimes the sun shines hot, sometimes it’s gray,
And every flower withers in its own time.
But you shall not wither nor fade away
As I preserve you here within my rhyme,
Harboured from Death ‘till men no longer read my lines.

Rime Royal

A summer’s day cannot compare to you,
Your beauty and your mildness do it shame.
It’s here and gone away too quickly too,
Almost before one states its full acclaim.
But you shan’t fade nor suffer just the same,
My verse shall ever keep you here in bloom.

Double Dactyl

Mild and beautiful
More to my liking
Than summer’s short lease.

I shall preserve you from
Death’s keen-edged pole-scythe
Till lit’racy cease!

….and now, your turn!  Sestinas, anyone?

March 6, 2011

A Sunday List

Well folks we’ve officially hit crunch time again… or maybe still.  It’s kind of hard to tell at this juncture.

I apologize for the frequency of random lists in the past few weeks, but I’m having trouble doing much that fits into a consistent narrative… and better posting something than nothing, right?

1)    One of my professors decided that in lieu of a standard in-class presentation on pre-assigned reading, she would turn the reigns over to us for half a class each.  Essentially, each student has the opportunity to teach an hour and a half’s worth of material in lecture some week.  This week is my week.  I decided to teach Love’s Labour’s Lost with an emphasis on the 2000 Kenneth Branaugh film and its repercussions as a performance as it resounds with film audiences.  I love this film.  Apparently, I’m one of the only people in the history of its viewing who does.  Every article and/or review that I can find has something middling to say about it (if not scathing).  The only alternate explanation for this phenomenon that I can fabricate is that I’m the only person in the history of its viewing who’s not ashamed to admit that I love it.  In any case, paper forthcoming on this topic… possibly for the Blackfriar’s Conference this year as I so-far have come up with nothing better for that…

2)    There is something so vindicating about telling people that I will be in a PhD program next year.  Apparently getting one’s PhD is much more impressive than getting one’s MA.  Whenever I talk to people about it (both people whom I know for some time and people whom I have just met), they get horribly impressed in a way that they didn’t when I talk about the MA.  This makes me happy and appeases my inner academic snob.

3)    It occurs to me that I might just be happy that they are no longer asking me “Oh, well, what are you going to do with that?”  Apparently, having a PhD to have a PhD is reason enough to want a PhD.  The instances in which I have been asked the loathed question have rapidly decreased since I was admitted to a program and can tell people that that is my plan for the next several years.  It may just be because I am telling them about some goal I am actively perusing rather than some goal which I am nearing the completion of (going into a program rather than graduating).  Either way, I will take it.

4)    This does not make it any less irritating when the random person does ask “oh, well, what are you going to do with that?”  My hackles still rise, I still get upset and angry, I still feel the need to chew them out using fifty-cent words and theatre jargon.  I think what feeds this problem is the fact that most people who do ask me that question aren’t willing to listen to my entire explanation.  I want to change the face of American Shakespeare Performance, thank you very much.  Arrogant self-righteous jerks.

5)    Okay, maybe saying that makes me an arrogant self-righteous jerk… but someday I’m going to be DOCTOR arrogant self-righteous jerk… so I’m entitled, right?

6)    ….sometimes I am what I hate about academia.

7)    At least I’m still cute.

March 1, 2011

Bull's Eye

So many things happened this weekend that I have to say I’m at a loss for where to begin.  On Saturday alone I was presented with three different topics for awesome blogs, then the week just kept on rolling into more and more ideas.

Suffice to say The Public Theatre’s production of Timon of Athens is worth every penny (and more since $15 is almost nothing to pay for a theatre ticket).  That’s saying something with a play like Timon.  Expect a full review in the days to come.
The MA symposium went swimmingly and, thanks to a dear friend, I have a recording of my talk!  I will be posting it as soon as I get my hands on it, so stay tuned for that.
For now, I would like to share a self-realization I had the other evening when pondering the symposium itself.  This realization actually goes back a few years to when I was living and studying at Shakespeare & Company (the second go-round).

An integral piece (and, frankly, one of the best pieces) of the Shakespeare & Company actor’s conservatory is clown training.  Clown is a fascinating discipline for actors to study as it teaches so many useful skills.  I have brought my clown training into my daily life more times than I can count.  One of the primary clown axioms (“find the energy”) is something which I return to like a mantra these days.
The primary principle of clowning is that each of us consists of a series of “off-balances”.  These off-balances, or flaws, are usually the things that we feel the most self-conscious about.  They can be physical, emotional, or character-based.  A clown is simply a public celebration of these off-balances.  You find them, exaggerate them, and from them your clown emerges.  The clown lives within each of us, below the surface, waiting to be unlocked in this way.  One of my mentors, for example, always felt that his ears were too large for his head.  His clown wore a huge stuffed bra on his head, exaggerating the ears.  One of the girls in my clown class was extremely smart, had three degrees, and was worried about the world’s perception of her intelligence.  Her clown was a caveman who spoke in grunts and solved problems by clocking them over the head.

My entire life, one way or another, I have been pre-occupied with my body and how it moves through space.  As a kid I got teased a great deal about my weight (which, while being on the upper end of average, really isn’t that far out of the ordinary – but children are awful and will pick on the weak like chickens pecking each other to death).  I wasn’t exactly a graceful kid and I am certain that, for most of my life, I didn’t know how to carry myself properly (how can you when you’re not confident in yourself?).  I also suffer from chronic cases of am-I-smart-enough, am-I-good-enough, I don’t-want-to-be-alone.

My clown, then, turned out to be a young girl named Molly.  Molly could only speak in a very deep foghorn-like-voice that rarely said anything but sounds and her name (and occasionally echoed words that other people had said).  She wasn’t very smart.  She was not graceful.  She lumbered and lifted heavy things.  She also had a teddy bear that she was very attached to because she constantly needed a friend.  In essence, Molly was a bull in a china shop.

After the symposium, I was out having drinks with some friends and was trying to categorize the people we knew into academic “types” based upon their style of argument.  We know one girl who is a spider.  She will sit quietly and lure you into her web based upon a carefully composed series of questions.  One of our close friends is a bomb; he sits and sits and eventually his fuse burns out and he explodes.
It was at that moment that I realized.  I’ve always referred to myself as an academic pit bull; but I’m not a pit bull.  I’m just a bull.  I enter the ring, horns lowered, ready to gore whatever it is that I’m trying to prove and if anyone gets in my way, I shake them off as quickly and violently as I can.  If someone dangles a new red cape in front of me, I’m just as likely to turn and run full-speed for that.  I’m large and heavy, impossible to ignore, aggressive, dangerous, strong, and focused if easily distracted.  Without a target to aim for, I just stomp into the china shop and thrash around, doing as much damage as possible before either I get tired or someone kindly and gently removes me from the premises.

I then flashed to a situation which my colleagues and I jokingly refer to as “the Mutiny”.  We took a course last semester with a professor who was brand new to our program (and just out of his own PhD).  The class was in Romanticism.  There are a LOT of canonical Romantic texts on the Common Reading Exam list.  A HUGE reason we had all taken the class was because we wanted to study those texts in a classroom.  Imagine our surprise and disappointment when, upon receiving the syllabus, many of the texts were omitted from the course.

We decided that we should say something.  Not rudely, professionally.  We set up an appointment to speak with the professor as a group and let him know our goals and concerns about the course.  The day of the appointment, I happened to be running a bit late.  I got a text from aforementioned academic bomb asking where I was and reminding me that the Mutiny was planned to go off.  I told him that I was on my way.
I will never forget the feeling of entering that office.  My colleagues were already there speaking with the professor, but none of the individuals in the room were particularly aggressive (unless pushed into a corner somehow).  The Spider later described it as “…and then Danielle came charging in and it was like the cavalry had arrived”.  That is how I felt; heavy, powerful, bull-like.

When this stuck me, I had to laugh.  You have to understand.  Basically, I’m saying this:


 (the shot of Molly isn’t particularly flattering, but it’s the only one I have).
A person’s character will shine through in everything she touches.  With me, that just happens to be a wide range of things.  Still, the thought of bringing Molly to a conference is antithetically hilarious.  If ever I had doubts about my clown teacher being right, or my instincts being right, or my knowledge of myself being right, they are set to rest.  Bulls are pretty cool, right?  They’re majestic, strong, and they kill people who piss them off.  And hey, at least I’m not an academic lapdog.