Another personal post about grad school (oh, and some more plays, too)

I swear, I am trying my hardest to write posts with as little distance between updates as possible. It’s just that work—along with a general level of tiredness I’ve been fighting as of late—has made my procrastination even worse than it usually it.

 

 

 

Fortunately for me, I’m writing this with only two shows on the docket to talk about, instead of the usual 5-6 (or more). Also fortunately for those of you who still (?) read this, the play breakdowns are going to be much more manageable (aka, shorter) this time around.

 

 

 

First up is La Bible, vaste entreprise de colonisation d’une planète habitable, presented at the small, upstairs theatre at the Théâtre de la Bastille. As was the case with Points de Non-Retour at La Colline a couple months ago, this was the first time I had ever been in the smaller upstairs theatre at La Bastille, making this a moment of spatial discovery more than anything.

 

 

 

 

As one could probably guess, the theatre itself is rather small. Small…and deep. There aren’t many rows of seats, but the ones that are there are arranged on a rather steep (by comparison to other theatre spaces I frequent) incline, making it almost inevitable that one will be looking down at the actors rather than up or directly at them. The stage was set up to look like something resembling a giant playground, with climbable structures (one of which was basically a lifeguard chair) flanking either side. The cast—five women, playing the roles of five precocious adolescent boys—were dressed in scouting uniforms, knee-high socks and awkwardly long shorts and all. Some had a little emblem embroidered on their shirt pockets (I’m assuming this is a Catholic thing since it did have something of a crucifix design on it, but I don’t want to go making claims on how official it is…anyway).

 

 

 

The next hour was what could best be described as a frenzy of burlesque-level nonsense and buffoonery (in the best of ways, though…at least for the most part). Fed up with the fact that the earth—god’s own ‘creation’—has been brought to the brink of (environmental) destruction by mankind without punishment from the Great One in the sky, these five kids, fresh out of a catechism class, have decided that the best and only solution would be to build a rocket ship, launch into space, and start everything anew on a distance planet.

 

 

 

Because what better way to build a ‘civilization’ than by using one of the world’s oldest tools for colonial dominance and suppression, the Bible?

 

 

 

What followed was a series of rehashing/retellings of selected Biblical passages, with some cameo appearances by Richard the Lionhearted (decked in a white tunic with a red cross, as is tradition), a robot, Dolly the Sheep, and Philip K. Dick. All of these roles were, of course, played by each of the individual children, who were switching up costumes at the pace of a seven year old who’s just been let loose on the costume box after downing a Red Bull. As a final image, a large ball and white sheet were attached onto a large crucifix-like structure hanging from the center of the ceiling. As this DIY-Jesus was hoisted up into the air, the children gathered round it dressed in either red, green or white capirotes (those pointed hoods that some Catholic brotherhoods wear during Holy Week processions, particularly in Spain…also, yes, the white ones do look a bit like KKK hoods, but this is only a coincidence), singing and dancing in a final ritualistic number.

 

 

 

Honestly, by the time this thing was over—what with all the singing, the costume changes, the running around, and the energy level that started at an 11 and pretty much stayed there—I almost felt I could empathize with the positively worn-out actresses, drenched in about a gallon of sweat. Criticism as to the efficacy of this type of performance aside—there were times when the frenzy became a bit much, and I found myself having to tune out for a minute to take a breather—, I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that these performers managed to give it their all 100% for the entire hour.

 

 

 

And the intensity only continued last Sunday with a performance of 4.48 Psychosis (in a French-Canadian translation) at La Villette.

 

 

 

 

This was one of those rare times when I went to see a show because I genuinely wanted to, and not just to fulfill work/research obligations. I couldn’t, in good conscience, pass this one up though. I love Sarah Kane. Even before I spent the better part of a year working on my Master 2 thesis on some of her plays, I was always fascinated by her. It wasn’t until I started said thesis, however, that I began to gain a greater appreciation for her non-explicitly corporeally-violent works, in particular this one, the last play she wrote before committing suicide at age 28.

 

 

 

Some critics—and I think fellow playwright Edward Bond was one of the first to make this statement, though I could be wrong—consequently think of 4.48 Psychosis as a kind of suicide note. I’m hesitant about that interpretation—would not the performance, the constant bringing to life and reinterpretation of this text be the antithesis of a suicide note?—but I would agree that this is probably still one of the better plays around mental health that I’ve ever read or seen in recent memory. Opting to keep it as a solo performance, the actress first starts out behind a microphone on stage, looking something like a stand-up comic. This is our ‘in’: it’s a familiar set-up, never mind that we’re not getting jokes but an insight into the workings of a particular mind, and the people who dismiss it. Eventually, the curtains open, revealing a stage bathed in red light, with movable walls curving back on themselves to create two circular spaces on the stage—though only one of them was actually penetrated into. Whether or not at this point we were meant to be inside the actress’s head was unclear—and I’d argue deliberately—, and really to question that kind of misses the point. Because this shit doesn’t just mess with the inside of a person’s head; it screws with their whole perception of reality.

 

 

 

I think this second piece ended up resonating with me more than the first for several reasons, beyond the personal-academic connection to Sarah Kane. I’m not in a low a place as I was for a large part of summer/fall 2017, but I have been feeling not quite like myself these past several weeks. Maybe it’s the weather—hell, that probably has a little something to do with it—, but in any case, I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve gotten brutally honest and raw about things.

 

 

So here goes:

 

 

 

Going to shows by myself—constantly—is incredibly isolating. As much as I want to keep hyping myself up for getting out there and going to see things (yeah, yeah, it’s for the dissertation, but still), constantly being surrounded by people in pairs or groups really drives the point home that I am here in this purportedly social space by myself. Honestly, this feeling is the reason why I’ve tried to stop going to things on Saturday nights because who, on one of the more social nights of the week, wants to really be reminded of the fact that they have no one to talk to but their own thoughts…again?

 

 

 

I don’t want pity for this. I have people here. I don’t see them as often as I would like (I won’t make any comments on their end), and it’s not for lack of trying. But there are certain things about being a grad student in the humanities that no one really talks about, and this is one of them.

 

 

 

To really drive it home: some days, other than a brief exchange of words with a shopkeeper or person at a ticket counter (which last a total of about 5 seconds), my only in-person interactions are with my high-schoolers. Hell, sometimes, I can go a few stretches without even the latter. But, this is what happens when you have a deadline looming over your head that could spell the difference between a final dissertation-writing year in (relative) financial security, or a fucked up tuition bill and maybe more sleep sacrificed for the sake of editing a paper to earn a bit more cash. Because maybe someone will call, or maybe someone will pick up the phone…and you want to go out, see people, do things with them…you deserve that, right?

 

 

 

 

I take the time that I see people that I like very seriously, maybe more seriously now than I used to. That’s a thing that comes with time and experience, right? Learning how to value other people?

 

 

 

So yeah, sometimes when I leave a theatre late at night after a show, I get a bit sad because I want to talk about it and share my thoughts with someone. But then I go home and write a little bit, and remind myself that all of this will be worth it. Don’t ask me for an unbiased opinion on my thesis—those who know me well know the one thing I am incredibly self-critical about is my writing—, but I am getting closer to something. Slowly. And it’s my thing.

 

 

 

 

With that being said, this past week I did end up getting a chance to reconnect with perhaps one of my oldest friends (as in, we’ve been friends since kindergarten and now our parents hang out) who was visiting the city for the first time with her mom. Another opportunity for me to play tour guide—and to expand my repertoire of restaurant recs to now include more vegan-friendly options for her and her mom—, and a chance to show off a place that, despite this new bout of personal nonsense, I am so incredibly happy to live in.

 

EDIT: I forgot to mention this one thing…

So, living in a slightly older apartment has many charms, but one of them is definitely not impeccably insulated windows. Translation: things were getting a bit drafty.

 

 

Not anymore though! Why? Because I was gifted insulating curtains for my birthday.

 

 

Black, light-blocking, insulating curtains.

 

 

My excitement over these should not be taken as an exaggeration. These are literally saving my mornings/evenings (and my wallet). Yay!

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The Hurricane at Lulu White

 

Sometimes I feel as though I get into these sort of slumps where writing feels more like a chore than something I actually really look forward to doing. Maybe that explains why I felt like I had to drag myself to update this thing today. Granted, I did come off just finishing a preliminary bibliography – including small (and large…very large) paragraphs to accompany each text I read – so the thought of typing out anything didn’t exactly seem very appealing. Thankfully, weekends exist to help with the whole recuperating process.

 

 

I’m one of those grad students who basically treats what I’m doing as my job and, as such, I hold weekends – particularly Friday nights and Saturdays – pretty sacred, as in, I’m not going to touch anything related with my work unless I absolutely have to. Experience (and let me just take a minute here to process the fact that I’m currently in my sixth, yes sixth, year of graduate school right now) has sort of taught me that the best ideas come after I shove everything to the side for a minute and think on other things. Or  simply just try and be in the world instead of thinking about it from an ‘outside’/theoretical perspective.

 

Friday night thus found me back at Lulu White’s where I discovered that they occasionally play live music. It’s kind of surprising to think that they can pull this off to be honest, given how small the space is, but let’s be honest, if your Friday night doesn’t occasionally involve you cozying up to a three-piece jazz combo (as well as one or two small clusters of individuals who, immediately after admitting they aren’t experts on jazz, try to offer their opinions on what is happening to everyone else within earshot while taking on an insipid air of ‘expertise’…) are you really living?

 

Honestly though, the music was a really nice addition to the night. Coincidently, so was the hurricane cocktail that I ordered. Nice and rather potent.

 

 

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CalArts comes to Paris

 

Saturday was a bit more chill compared to Friday, in part because a good chunk of my afternoon was spent at the theatre (my one exception to the no work on weekends ‘rule’ – going to see a show…because it’s fun). This was my second time at the Théâtre des Abbesses, and I think I can honestly say that I’m not incredibly keen on seeing a show in this space again, unless I happen to be sitting in the orchestra. I was talking this over with my companion for the afternoon, and we both agreed that we were right to take the opportunity to move to the orchestra from our original seats in the mezzanine, mostly because even before anything started, the distance between our section and the stage coupled with the fact that the proscenium arch – and thus the stage itself – is not particularly tall, made it feel as though we were too far removed from it all. Honestly, I think the space would be better served with keeping things relatively intimate, but then again, theatres – even ones supported by the State – need to survive somehow. Capitalism…

 

Moving on to the show itself, the reason why I wanted to try and squeeze this one in to my rather full March schedule is mostly because it is a partial retelling of the Orestia, and I’m due to attend a conference around notions of power and theatrical representations/retellings of the Agamemnon myth throughout history. The fact that the show is not only a coproduction between CalArts and La Comédie de Saint-Étienne – and cross-cultural theatrical collaborations interest me – but also is a production of a text written by a female playwright of color (Alesha Harris) kind of gave me the last convincing push I needed to buy my ticket.

 

At its core, the play tackles the question of what makes us a society through the examination of two different families: the Halburtons, a political family lead by a matriarch with ‘lofty’ aspirations (and I mean this literally because her dream, as she lays out in her opening speech, is to build a great tower that will house all of society), and  the family of Agamemnon (here portrayed as a military general recently returned from war), his wife Clytemnestra and their son Orestes, a very shy, awkward fifteen year-old. There’s no direct mention of any of Agamemnon’s daughters (Iphigenia and Electra), though at one point Clytemnestra does evoke a female baby that she remembers holding in her arms before it disappeared (could we say a reference to Iphigenia perhaps…?). The play opens, however, not with a presentation of the two families, but with one of the actresses from the ‘chorus’ delivering a soliloquy on memory, the dead, and the evocation of ghosts.

 

I’m going to be upfront and say I was *slightly* disappointed in this production, but only because my expectations were so high after this first monologue. As the play was performed entirely in English – though the actors were a mix of French and American performers – the expectation was that there would be a screen of some sort set up for the surtitles in French. Imagine my very pleasant surprise when, instead of just a rectangular screen with ordered lines of text, the words were projected directly onto the curtain behind the actress, sometimes with print so large that the projection crossed over onto her body. These were not static words, they were rhythmic, lively playful words, words that appeared and disappeared in a rhythm evoking the spoken-word pace of the text being voiced. Call it an addition of vocality onto an otherwise silent form, or a way to  create an active form of reading text. I almost expected this to be brought back again, but unfortunately, instead of being a sort of throughline – and I should be specific here, I mean this in the case of both the alternative surtitles and the spoken-word style of the text itself – all this  manner of approaching speech and translation was reserved just for this opening prologue, though the themes of ghosts and reviving the dead came back again briefly. Instead, the overall structure returned to a slightly more traditional approach with regards to the surtitles, clean orderly lines replacing active and bordering on musical playfulness.

 

I will say though that the set design was probably my favorite overall element of the show. Created in a way so as to both keep a trace of a fourth wall – one thing that stood out to me as I was reading the dossier pédagogique  before going in to see the show was set designer Carlo Maghirang’s comments that he wanted the space to evoke that of a prison, with the cells stacked atop one another – as well as imagine the existence of possibilities beyond said fourth wall, the action was confined to two floors of the aforementioned tower, each one representing an apartment of one of the families. Verticality, I find, is something that is often not quite taken advantage of as much as it could be, and it was interesting watching the constant up and down shift of focus from one apartment to the next, making moments in which someone did actually cross the stage horizontally that much more impactful.

 

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Sun’s back…time for ice cream

 

The rest of Saturday consisted of a long walk home – the weather had finally taken a turn for the better so there was no way that was not happening – followed by a dinner featuring very smelly cheese (aka the best kind of cheese). I had originally intended to stay in on Sunday and spend the day tackling one or two chores that needed doing, but then the morning of, a friend put out the call to grab a coffee and given how nice it was out (sun! Finally!), I really could not resist.

 

And so I spent the day in the great sunny, yet still a tad crisp, outdoors walking. Oh, and eating the above ice cream cone.

 

 

Have I mentioned I’m really ready for spring and summer to get here? Because I am.

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You know what helps fight off cold weather chill?

 

Chilis

 

 

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I put two in when I made the curry…then pretty much said “To Hell with it” and added another

 

I feel like today is the first day I’ve really had to just sit and do nothing – recharge, if you will – from my trip. Considering I pretty much hit the ground running with teaching right when I got back (including back-to-back 8:00am classes on Wednesday and Thursday…oy), it’s a wonder I hadn’t collapsed yet.

 

 

Given my teaching schedule, I’ve had to push my market days from Wednesday to Saturday, meaning there was a point during the end of this week where I had to get a bit…creative with my meals. This is what happens when you’ve got almost no food in your house, save for a few things  in the freezer, and you’re just too damn tired from jet-lag mixed with incredibly early mornings (because yes, I still insist on sticking to my workout routine) to really care.

 

 

Maybe it’s just that time of year, but I’m also starting to get into that mindset of  feeling as though I really need to expand my social circle. Funny how you don’t really think about these sorts of things until you are knee-deep in a professional track that, for the lack of a better word, can feel somewhat isolating from time to time. This could also have something to do with the fact that…and this is something I started to realize right before I left for California…I actually miss being in classes with people. Like seminar-style classes. Even if I never see those people again afterwards, something about that kind of intellectual exchange never ceases to stimulate me. I was too wrapped up in figuring things out (and in tutoring gigs…if we’re being honest) this fall to really take advantage of the fact that I legitimately could go sit in on any seminar that interested me at pretty much any university here (point to you, Paris, for that bit of intellectual accessibility), but I am set to take one starting in a couple of weeks. If nothing else, at least it’ll keep my mind busy. I find I work best under pressure.

 

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Took me until two days ago to finally have a jambon-beurre again since I moved back…

 

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Amazing the things that can happen when you finally get out of your own head.

These past few weeks – as some of my posts can attest – I’ve been grappling with some pretty unruly writer’s block with regards to my dissertation prospectus. Although I had jotted a few notes down here and there, I had yet to attempt to flesh out anything, partly due to my recent project change, partly due to a feeling of uncertainty that I had any authority to say anything about my subject (though this could also be linked back to the first point). It was getting to the point where I could almost feel myself bending and overburdened by stress – the jet lag was certainly not helping either – but then last night, in what I’m calling a brief flash of sanity, I reserved myself a spot at the BNF, the goal being to go there with just my ipad, park myself in a chair, and write.

And although towards the end of the afternoon, coherent paragraphs gave way to rather extensive bullet points, I can say that I left this afternoon feeling very productive and clear-headed. In short, I have a lot of thoughts, but at least for now they’re out of my head and filling up a word doc instead. There are still gaps to fill, I am fully aware of that. My goal was never to write a ‘perfect’ document. But I can start to see the gaps more clearly, at the very least. It’s almost as if I’m untangling myself from the weeds.

Progress is a slow, steady thing. Sometimes I still need to remind myself that I’m not tasked with writing the next great text that absolutely must upend everything and completely revolutionize the field, etc. etc. etc. Not that this should downplay what I’m working on, just that maybe I need to slightly readjust my way of thinking. Let the project just be. Nurture it, change and grow with it instead of trying to force it to become some idealized…thing (also, idealized according to whose standards?). Anyway, I told myself that this year I would actively try to be less hard on myself when it came to my work. Perhaps now would be a good time to start.

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There are always those points when researching a (major, defining, all-consuming) project where you feel stuck.

 

Overwhelmed

 

 

Blocked

 

Unsure of where to go/what to do/what happens next

 

 

Feeling as if you’re not doing enough of what you should be doing. That you’re not reading enough – or worse, that you’re reading the wrong things for what you eventually want to produce. So would all that just be time wasted?

 

 

My project went through a bit of a much-needed house cleaning when I was in Boston, and while I am incredibly happy for that, there’s that unmistakable rush of stepping back into the wide expanse that is ‘research’ that is staring me in the face. I want to read everything but almost don’t know where or what to start with. I’m casting off some things – or actually, a certain writer – that have been my ‘anchors’ for a while, but maybe it would be more accurate to call them ‘crutches’.

 

 

Sometimes I do wonder about my capabilities to do this…thing. Whatever it ends up being. Then I remember that these sort of crises are normal – I experienced at least one during both years of my Masters programs as well as right before my Generals last year. Somewhere in the bowels of the BNF is the book/journal/text I need that will relaunch me on one of my reading ‘kicks’. I just need to find it.

 

 

Until then, there are walks at night, tacos for dinner at Candelaria (because it, unlike many other places, is actually open on Mondays) and conversations that get you to probe back into your thoughts, rehash them, remake, refresh them, bring them back into process.

 

 

I am a lioness. Hear me roar.