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  The elevator was purportedly stalled between the floors of “Masters” and “PhD” long enough that the unpublished scholar perished… but not before performing an act of unconquerable bravery in inscribing the theses to her final papers upon the walls of the elevator in her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.