Spam & Memory

I received the following email recently:

Aren’t you the smart darling with whom we had the most thrilling picnic a couple of time ago? Remember, I was scared of swimming in the river and you assured me I’d be OK and we ended up chatting the night away? You alone then and I had an ass of a boyfriend. We stopped dating long ago and I am free now. Welcome to my online profile with thrilling pictures and contact me tonight!

What is amazing about this is that it presumes that there is a sizable contingent of people A) who had a picnic with someone some time ago but who they have not seen since, B) who urged this person not to be afraid of swimming, and C) who were single then but the unknown (and unnamed) person was dating an “ass of a boyfriend.” Ok, so that last is probably pretty common, but still, for me to fall for this I would have to have had an experience that I never had, and I can’t believe that many people have had such a specific experience. So who responds? Do people allow this to become a memory?

Have you gotten any of these spams that ask you to recall such a specific experience?

The Shape of Summer Days

The shape of my summer days shall be:

morning

  • get up by 7 am (shift over time to 6:30 am)
  • do NOT check email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. as the very first thing I do
  • some kind of movement – at the very least stretching and a few yoga poses, but more often alternate between my pushup and situp routines and the Couch 2 5K program
  • write something
  • write anything
  • it doesn’t matter if it is a blog post, a letter, part of a script or a short story or a poem or lyrics for a song and for now, there is no word/lenght minimum, no matter how small I will put words to paper or computer screen
  • breakfast – where I am allowed, if I choose, to check email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • go to the library
  • write 250 – 300 words of my Zombie/Butoh article that is due July 16
  • edit my Into the Woods paper that is due May 27
  • research/read for comprehensive exams

afternoon

  • lunch
  • read for comprehensive exams
  • go to gym
  • read for comprehensive exams
  • practice guitar/ukelele

evening

  • dinner
  • watch a movie or read for pleasure or compose music or spend time with friends
  • go to bed by 10:30

That’s the plan. There will be some hiccoughs, there always are. And my trip to RI and Maine will be focused on mostly socializing, though I will try to keep my morning routine intact (sans most of my comprehensive exam work). These will be my weekdays and I hope to use my weekends for music making and exploring Pittsburgh a bit more and hopefully doing some camping or hiking or kayaking or other activities that get me out of the city when I can, spending quality time with people I like when I can, and generally enjoying some of what life here can offer beyond the ivory tower.

Pursued by a bear

One of my mantras that I offer to myself and my friends and colleagues at school is “a bear is not going to eat you.” Taken from Merlin Mann, it’s the notion that we respond with fight/flight reactions to many things in our lives that are not, in fact, actual threats that match such a response. Stress then “eats” at us because we spend so much time in a physiological state that is designed to help us avoid being eaten.

A bear is not going to eat you.

So, you know, relax a bit. Breathe. Don’t let stress settle into your body. Of course all of that is easier said than done, especially when overwhelmed by work or stressful environments or expectations to perform. I wake up and am instantly flooded with panic about the work I have that is coming due at school, about the fact that leaving a complex podcast production to the last minute has potentially let down my editors, about my ability to get everything actually done on time and with a modicum of care and attention. My body is flooded with all the chemicals that prime it for a fight or to run like hell away from the large and devouring beast that wants me for breakfast.

But the truth, the fragile and delicate and necessary and so easily forgotten truth, is that a bear is not going to eat me. Embarrassment is NOT life threatening. A missed deadline, if it comes to that, is not the end of the world. People will forgive me if I fuck up, or at least anyone worth my trust and consideration will, just as I would for them. If I let the imaginary bear dictate the conditions of my experience, I am allowing a misplaced physiological response to damage my health and my equilibrium. If I’m running from the bear, or trying to fight it, I am fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of my environment and making myself a slave to stress, allowing such conditioning to become my default emotional and physical state.

Of course, I say all this, but my body remains tense, my muscles tight with fear and worry and stress and I think I hear the low growls of the bear and feel its hot breathe on my neck and all I want to do is run.

A bear is not going to eat me.

Today is a day I think I’ll need to remind myself of this fact quite often. Actually, I have a feeling that the rest of this semester will be a struggle between finding perspective and balance and breathe, and the feeling, near constant, that I am being pursued by the bear.

I’m willing to bet money, however, that I never actually get eaten. So maybe I will, occasionally, remember that.

My New Home

Moving always produces mixed emotions. In this case, I’m excited to be going to Pittsburgh to finally finish an academic journey I began in 2001 when I went for my Master’s at the University of Maryland. I’m looking forward to the challenges I’m setting for myself as a researcher, thinker, scholar, writer, and student. I’m glad to be back in an environment that, despite all its faults (and there are many) is one which makes me feel most at home and most myself.

But I will also be moving away from some people I have strong attachments to, including my current flatmate and my friend Jen (who actually helped move me to Maryland nine years ago). I’ll be further away from Perishable Theatre, an institution that remains near and dear to my heart in many ways. There will be no more Blood from a Turnips for me in the near future.

So, a mixed bag, as most things are in life.

The reality of my move and my journey into a new stage in my life became a bit more tangible this past weekend after I went to Pittsburgh and found a place to live. In about 24 hours, I looked at a number of places and then put my money down on the one I’d decided on even before the drive out there:

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The place is small. Very small. But the whole of the building is mine: kitchen & living room on the first floor and bedroom and bathroom on the second. All new appliances in the kitchen, all new fixtures in the bathroom, the floor will be redone, new windows, a porch . . . and it’s mine all mine!!

Yes, a little more than I originally planned, but I think it will be worth it on so many levels and will provide me a nice sense of comfort and home that will serve me well as I undertake the strenuous challenge of the next 4, maybe 5 years. I hope to share my new home with the people I care about, so I look forward to having friends visit and share in my new life at least briefly even if they live far away.

So there you go: my new home.

Yay!

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My New Blog

As I mentioned recently, I am starting a new blog that will focus on my time and work as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. I am pleased to announced that it is up and running at ThisThus.com. Over the next few weeks I will probably make adjustments to the look of the site as I tweak it here and there, but the first post is posted and I’m excited by the prospect of having a slightly more focused blog that will serve as both a place for me to reflect on my journey over the next several years, as well as a place to share what I learn along the way. Posts will be few and far between until the beginning to school, but I will be posting various items that have to do with preparing for both school and the move to Pittsburgh. When school starts, I hope to post regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

But you few, you fearless readers of Living the Liminal should fear not! I will be keeping this space for non-PhD related topics and will never forsake you. Never ever ever!

So if following two blogs isn’t a chore, or if you are genuinely interested in following me as I go from getting into a program of my choice to completing my dissertation and getting my doctorate, I hope you will drop by and check out the new digs at http://thisthus.com.

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Grad School Update for March 2010

365-234_Cathedral of Learning, interior

I have accepted the University of Pittsburgh, Department of Theatre Arts offer and will be starting their PhD program this fall.

I plan to write more about my decision, as well as writing more consistently and diligently about the process of getting my PhD over the next several years. In fact, I will be setting up another site that will be dedicated to covering my journey toward my doctorate, as well as larger questions about graduate school, higher education, theatre in a university setting, technology and work-flows as related to scholarship and learning, and anything else that I feel impacts or is impacted by my graduate school experiences. I plan on keeping LTL going as a place for sharing interesting links, music, tv, and movie reviews, creative works and processes, random political rants, and the occasional deep musing on the nature of the universe . . . or silly kitten video, whichever makes more sense at the time. I expect that LtL will remain pretty much as it already is. Stay tuned for the launch announcement of the other site in the next week or so.

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Wandering the Tower – An Academic Romance, Part 2

(Link to Part 1)

Today is grey and rainy. I’m up early and listening to Pandora.com’s David Sylvian radio station (thanks to John for the recommendation of Sylvian’s work) and wondering where I should start this next entry regarding my romance with academia and grad schools. Throughout the week, I’ve started and discarded a number of openings. I planned on writing this while at work because I had next to nothing to do at my temp job and spent most of each day trying to keep myself from banging my head against the desk just to break the boredom. I found, however, that I couldn’t really concentrate enough in that environment to be productive, so I spent each day compulsively reading the rss feeds from sites like Daily Kos, Pandagon, Feministing, IO9, BoingBoing and about a dozen other, checking my mail every few minutes to see if someone, anyone had written, and contemplating just what the hell was I doing in a corporate office answering phones and making copies.

So I sit here, a cup of tea, the quiet sound of rain and still I wonder how best to talk about my complex feelings toward grad school and I keep coming back to a larger issue that, perhaps, has some bearing on the issue at hand: desire.

Desire may be experienced in the present, but it is always for something outside of the moment. Something from the past or the future. Once the object of desire is possessed, then desire ceases (at least for that particular object). Desire can be a healthy and productive driving force in a persons life. Without desire (for the mother’s breast, for love, for sex, for pleasure, for justice, etc.), there’s not much point to the whole human experiment. Yet, in religion after religion, philosophy after philosophy, pop psychology book after pop psychology book, we come face to face with the recognition that too much desire can be, like too much Rick Astley, a bad thing. Hell, if you are even vaguely Freudian (and who isn’t), our Id desires and our super-ego is there to say, “no.” So we struggle, day in and day out, trying to balance desire against either getting lost in the wild woods of our desiring or placing our very souls into the objects of desire and thereby hollowing ourselves. It is this hollowing out that helps feed our materialism these days. We put our souls into HDTVs or Bose speakers, or iPods, or Macbook Pros (damn those new models are sexy!!), or a million other things. We then hope, when we get those things in our life, that we will recognize ourselves and that the hollow feeling will go away.

Sometimes we invest ourselves in drugs or religions or political parties or other people, setting forth a continual cycle of desire and pursuit that never truly satisfies.1 Desire is like, to switch metaphors, oxygen. Too little and we can’t truly live. Too much and the air explodes around us, the flames burning us down to blackened bones. Which brings me to Star Wars (through Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru’s burned skeletons), to Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back when he said of Luke that:

All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” (Link)

And so I circle back to myself and the instant recognition I felt upon hearing Yoda’s pronouncement. I knew, even at eleven years old, that Yoda was talking about me. Writer, Actor, Director, College Professor, Writer (once more), Corporate Consultant, Academic (possibly?): all various careers/goals/plans/futures that I have held in my mind at one point or another. The problem lies not in any of these particular goals, but rather that I have been so busy looking to the horizon that I keep stumbling around the various pot-holes and broken sidewalks of my life. It’s rather difficult to make a long journey if you keep tripping every couple of steps because you refuse to look away from the distance—from your desire—to see what’s around you here and now. Most of my life I have squandered2 considerable emotional and intellectual resources just trying to keep my balance because I refused to look more often and more closely at my present surroundings; to invest myself in the now.

No wonder that I struggled with grad school! No wonder that every time I gained some distance from school I wanted to go back. By leaving the tower, I was able to stop tripping over myself in my pursuit of the faraway horizon of desire and could see just what it was that brought me into that ivory tower in the first place: the fact that I love to learn and read and think and write and teach. Because of my “eyes-on-the-horizon” perspective, however, I kept forgetting just how much joy I ought to take in my surroundings. I forgot to recognize the privilege of being in an environment that supports many of the activities that I love; an environment that encourages and challenges me to do them better and better. I saw all of the various challenges of grad school as obstacles because each one raised a bulky shape in front of my vision and broke my view of the horizon; obscured my view of that distant goal, that desired place of “I’m a Tenured Professor Now.”

So, what are you saying, that you should go back to school? Come on, how many times have you gone back and how many times have you left and what’s to say this time will be any different. (That’s an example of the super-ego right there!)

I’m saying, simply, that I need to find a more balanced viewpoint. I’m saying that I want to work on learning how to appreciate the now and to use the horizon more as a reference point rather than an end goal. If pressed, I would say that being in a university setting suits me in ways that other environments don’t and that the tower of academia gives me a sense of community that I haven’t found in other arenas. What last week’s conference reinforced was just how much I enjoyed being around the people who make up academic and university life. Even if I never became a student again in my life, I think it’s important for me to understand why I’ve had such a contentious relationship with an institution that, for all its faults, offers me a great deal of opportunity and joy and community.

  1. None of these observations are particularly new, having been made countless times over the course of our history. It seems that each of us must find our own way into this particular territory and just hope that our particular route may provide a few hints and tips for others. []
  2. Squandered is probably too strong a word if I am going to be fair to myself, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve misspent some of my youth. []

Wandering the Towers – An Academic Romance, Part 1

This weekend: A room full of academics who study and love a marginalized art form. The ivory tower that I have often railed against and that I have fled, not once but three times.1 This weekend: the American Drama Conference at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY and I feel like I’m home. Even though I don’t know anyone at the reception until The Playgoer shows up, I don’t feel like a complete outsider. I know these people. I understand these people. I am, in many ways, one these people even though I am not currently a graduate student.

So the question becomes, why do I keep disavowing them? Why do I keep leaving academic institutions when they fail to be perfect, when departments and faculty fail to live up to my expectations, or when I find myself having to fight against large and unweildy institutions that do not, it seems, have the best interests of their students at heart? I’m not sure. The past two days, however, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my relationship to academia and I think romance is an appropriate description of that relationship. There is certainly nothing wrong with romance, but you can’t base a long-term, day-in-day-out relationship solely on the heady stuff of passion and romantic desire. There has to be commitment and friendship and genuine respect and humility. More importantly, there needs to be a kind of submission to the idea of two individuals becoming a third and inclusive category: “us.”

Ok, so maybe I’m going a little overboard with the romance metaphor, but the comparison is an apt one. I’m not good at relinquishing control, whether to insitutions or to loved ones. I am beginning to suspect that my desperate clinging to self-control, and my desire to be emotionally self-sufficient have been partly to blame for my on-again, off-again relationship with grad school. I’ve also been an incredibly unforgiving and judgemental person when it comes to teachers who do not live up to my expectations of how a good teacher ought to perform in the classroom. No, strike that. My expectations go beyond holding faculty to “good” standards: I looked for brilliance in the classroom and when certain men and women failed to live up to these expectations or when they were shown to be bullies or relished their power a bit too much, I scorned them. I refused to forgive. I metaphorically shook my fists at the injustice of it all and found myself wandering away from the whole because of a few parts. I acted like a jealous and betrayed lover: angry, spiteful to the point of self-injury, and unforgiving.

Throughout my relationship with graduate school, I wanted to recapture the first blush of excitement that I found at Rhode Island College when, at 27, I went back to school for my undergraduate degree. Thanks to an incredible English department, I had my mind blown open by feminist and critical theory, by Lacan and Derrida, by Luce Irigaray and Kaja Silverman and a whole host of ideas and questions and thoughts that literally changed how I saw the world. Even though I was a double major in Theatre and English and even though I was just starting to fall in love with directing theatre, it was the classes I had with Richard Feldstein, Kay Kalinak, Claudia Springer, and Joan Dagle that re-worked the wiring of my brain in fundamental ways and made me want to be a graduate student and, someday, an academic. Those years were like the first few weeks of a new romance, when every utterence makes your heart pound and your head spin and you want to stay up all night talking and touching and you feel yourself filled by this recent stranger who suddenly, rushingly, becomes indespensible to your life. The work I did at RIC, the new ideas and thoughts that I was exposed to and wrestled with on a daily basis were so damned sexy. Graduate school, no matter its qood qualities and enticements, is not a sexy process.2 Don’t get me wrong, there are delicious moments as a grad student; moments of intellectual excitement and even a mental orgasm here and there, but on a daily basis, sexy it is not.

Let me be completely honest here: I have committment issues when it comes to relationships. I also have committment issues in my academic life. I have, until this weekend, considered these parts of my life to be seperate. Now . . . I’m not so sure. I have a sneaking suspicion that my troubles in one may be reflective of my troubles in the other.

(Link to Part 2)

  1. 1) leaving the University of Rhode Island after four years with no degree. 2) Finishing my Masters degree while working full-time and deciding to forgo the PhD program at the University of Maryland even though I was accepted and on fellowship for several more years. 3) Quitting CUNY’s The Graduate School (again despite being on fellowship) after one year and the realization that I was distinctly unhappy with the prospect of spending five to seven more years in NYC and jumping through a series of hoops for several professors that I found it difficult to respect as teachers no matter how much I respected them as scholars. []
  2. And here I’m mainly referring to MA and PhD programs. MFA programs are sigificantly different and can be very, very sexy. []

The Children of Theatre: A Manifesto

I wrote the following several years ago while in the midst of an ill-suited MFA program in Theatre Pedagogy. Looking at it now I feel slightly sad that I am no longer on an academic track because there are so many things that needed to be changed in so many theatre departments.

I still believe everything that I wrote in this manifesto–which is unabashadly extreme and idealistic, as all manifestos should be–but it is simply not my battle anymore. At the moment. For the nonce. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick up the mantle of theatre education somewhen down the road. In the meantime, I offer up this manifesto and dedicate it to all my friends who have stuck it out and who are now teaching theatre at colleges and universities across the country.

The Children of Theatre: a Manifesto

A manifesto is, by necessity, naive, willful, arrogant, overly simplified, angry, heartfelt, completely right and completely wrong. These are not the values prized by academic writers, which is why now is the time and the place for someone to come out and say that theatre departments are diseased and should either die or be treated. For many, the treatment will be worse than the death.

We are here to tell you, having seen close up and personal, that theatre departments all over the country are treating their students with the utmost contempt and neglect. Of course, this contempt is disguised by the facade of professional training.

Let us start with the premise that theatre training should not be vocational training in order for graduates to get jobs selling Chryslers or Ipods ore Bud Light nor should it be to place graduates in the latest sit-com or reality TV show. You do not get a BA or BFA in Painting in order to do the diagrams for airline safety manuals or illustrations for Time magazine. Honestly, are you training artist or employees? When the department head of a theatre program notes that a sophomore girl should lose twenty pounds and dye her hair blond … well, it’s pretty fucking obvious now isn’t it. When we pay lip service to teaching history but let students get by who can’t construct a proper sentence or spell Stanislavsky, again, it’s obvious.

“It’s hard,” you bleat.

“We need to give the student’s a sense of the business,” you simper.

“If our kids get film work then our program will be more attractive and will generate more money,” you whine.

Blah blah blah and cod-fucking-swaddle. Maybe we shouldn’t have theatre departments if all we are doing is sacrificing our student’s capabilities as artists and as people for the greater glory of Soap Operas, Commercials, Broadway and “Holy”-wood. Just give up the pretense that we give a shit about their creative powers, about their intellectual capacities, about their potential to find their own voices in a society bent on silencing passion and integrity … give up the pretense and set up some vocational training centers. And yes, we can still call them conservatory programs.

But a Bachelor of Arts? A Bachelor of Fine Arts? Are you really providing those? No. You are sacrificing these passionate, selfish, earnest, deluded, dedicated children. The Children of Theatre who are being crucified upon the insecure egos of academic directors out to prove that they are just as good as “professional directors; skewered by department politics and power plays; thrown upon the flames of sexist attitudes about beauty and appearance. Continue reading