Countdown

8 weeks.

 

 

That’s all that stands between me and my dissertation defense.

 

 

It’s odd being at this point, to be quite honest. On the one hand, I am almost in shock that it’s so close, given how much time I have spent thinking about this thing. On the other hand, I have this little nagging voice in my head that’s almost poking at me to push it back. It’s not because I don’t think I’m ready (I mean, it’s pretty much a universal truth that a PhD student is never fully happy with their dissertation because there is always more than can be done). It’s more that I’m somewhat…terrified.

 

 

Because this is it. This is the last degree program I will do, the last time I will be able to call myself a “student” in an official capacity (barring, of course, a second PhD, which…no). I mean, I haven’t left school since I started kindergarten in 1995. It’s been a while.

 

 

And with all these deadlines come sacrifices in other things. I’ve been seeing quite a bit of theatre since coming back from the Christmas holidays, but I honestly haven’t really felt the urgency to sit down and write about anything as much as I did last year (or even earlier this year). That’s the problem with having too much other stuff on your plate.

 

 

Full disclosure: that “other stuff” isn’t entirely dissertation related. For those (many) who haven’t been keeping up with what’s going on politically in France, there are certain major (and incredibly unequal/ill thought-out/nonsensical/etc.) changes being implemented this year that directly affect my line of work as a high school teacher (especially because the school I’m at is private but nevertheless under contract with the State to follow the national curriculum). Dealing with this mess—the strikes, the long conversations with my colleagues over what the f**k the Ministry of Education is thinking, if they’re thinking at all, and, yes, the sideline participation in some marches—has taken up a lot more of my free energy than anticipated. The dissertation, of course, is still priority number 1, but this mess has taken a close second.

 

Honestly, one thing that still keeps me going job-wise is the fact that I am teaching a literature course again. I always make sure I “show up” for my students, but getting to introduce a new crop to basic literary theory and comparative analysis and all the other things that make me love what I do (and which facilitate a kind of critical thinking that is becoming increasingly endangered, especially under the new educational reforms…again, I have some very choice words for the Minister of Education about this) taps into a part of my brain that always lights up in these situations, and inevitably gives me that extra oomph I need to carry on.

 

Then again, maybe messiness is part of the whole journey of the end of the PhD. In any case, it does match pretty well with what’s going on inside my head so…there’s that…?

 

 

It hasn’t all been nonsense, though. This past week, my sister flew over for a quick visit, and though the beginning of the week was a bit annoying because I had to work, by Thursday—my last day of work before another 2 week (yes!) holiday—, we were able to fully relax and, yes, eat so much yummy food.

 

 

 

I mean, I finally managed to go eat at La Cave de Belleville, a feat in itself considering that it is just over 5 minutes from my house, yet I have never managed to do anything but get a bottle of wine from there because I always forget to reserve a table.

 

 

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The wine we chose that night was a very earthy red from the Jura. Upon making our selection, our server had to take a minute to double check that this was actually what we wanted, but the enthusiastic “Yes!” that Isabella (who joined us) and I answered with when she asked if we liked biodynamic wines seemed to convince her. And yes, it was indeed rather “dynamic”. The slight fizzy effervescence helped.

 

 

My sister also got to experience her first raclette dinner thanks to the machine I acquired during the winter sales (a necessary investment, as far as I’m concerned, as I have already used it three times this season).

 

 

 

And we made plenty of time for museum and expo-hopping, including the exhibit on the history of shoes at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, wherein I learned that, yes, there is such a thing as a too-high platform.

 

 

 

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I know this because I tested them.

 

 

Moving forward, I promise I will try and get back to including some theatre reviews/commentary on here again (since I assume there are some people who miss it). That all might depend on how many edits (and re-edits, and re-re-edits) I will have to do between now and March 27, aka, D-Day for turning in my finalized dissertation.

 

 

Speaking of which: does anyone have any info on how to generate a table of contents on Word (or on other software)? If so, I may know someone (me) who is looking for advice.

 

 

This is getting very real.

231 – 258

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Every year, around spring, there comes a point where things both start to pile up and converge into a sort of machinal monotony, during which nothing terrrrrribly exciting happens. A large part of this – at least in my case – has to do with the fact that the school year is winding down, and going into the home stretch means paper grading, exam proctoring, teacher meetings, etc., etc., etc.

Oh, and also writing and sending off what I hope to be my final prospectus draft (just need to wait for email responses…any day now…hopefully).

Needless to say, I haven’t really felt the impulse to write much, first because not a ton of things were happening, but then mostly because the prospect of trying to condense the increasing number of days between my last post and this one into a reasonably long text seemed more and more daunting as the days missed racked up.

But there were some wonderful things I would have liked to mention. Like how my theatre students gave their final performance and blew me (and our audience…yes we had an audience, including the principal and vice principal of the school) away with their energy, dedication, and commitment. To say I’m a bit sad that some of them will be graduating and off to new projects next year is somewhat of a given, but on the bright side, my eleventh graders will be back next year (and we had some students in the audience express enthousiastic interest in joining next year). This is probably one of my biggest regrets about leaving when I did the last time I taught this course: I wasn’t able to start a legacy, to establish a sort of permanence. Hopefully, since I’m not planning on leaving any time soon, this thing will grow into a slightly larger group of misfits instead of a relatively small one (though there’s nothing wrong with either).

Then of course there were reunions with friends from Boston (including one that involved a visit to some galeries in the Upper Marais that I had never visited before, but will probably try to more often when I have the time for it, mostly because…they’re freeeeee), discovering a potentially new favorite restaurant with the boyfriend (Buffet…you are wonderful, I love you and your delicious food and incredibly affordable prices), picnics, impressionist art expos, starting up round two of the physical theatre workshop I joined about a month or so ago…

And best of all, securing an apartment for next year. Other than waiting for feedback on my prospectus, this was probably my biggest source of stress for the past month.

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Could probably also call this the month of avocado toasts…

One thing that sort of got pushed to the side more than it should have though was my theatre attendance. I missed…probably more shows than I should have. I can tell myself that I let the hectic-ness of my schedule get the best of me, but I think a bit of show fatigue had started to set in as well.

Not for too long though because now I’m back with another mini review of a show that I have already seen…well kind of.

Back in the fall, I saw a production of Je suis un pays at the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre. As part of this production, there was also a companion piece programmed on the same evenings – Voilà ce que jamais je ne te dirai – that spectators were meant to see before seeing the longer main show (but the two could not be seen on the same night). Now, last fall, I kind of dropped the ball on seeing the companion piece (the first one – which, need I remind everyone, had a running time of about 4 hours – was more than enough for me at the time), but I figured that since both plays were coming through La Colline this month, and since a) spatial dynamics are my focus and b) La Colline is one of the theatres I’m focusing on, why not go and see both again…and in the right order this time.

I should point out right away, that I wasn’t exactly the ideal spectator for Voilà… considering I had seen the longer show already, and a large part of the aesthetic of the smaller piece plays with the confusion of walking into a space that has been from all appearances largely destroyed, and trying to piece together what the hell just happened. I will say though, that enough time had passed between the first time I saw the show that I didn’t remember every detail of what transpired before, but I was able to recall enough of the ‘plot’ details that I didn’t remain confused/perplexed for long.

The experience of this show starts with arriving at the theatre about two hours after the initial start time of Je suis un pays. After checking your ticket, the ushers hand you a wristband, and instruct you to go to the coat check downstairs to drop off your bag, and pick up your white hazmat suit and small headlamp. You had twenty minutes to get dressed before meeting back upstairs with the other suited-up spectators. While this was happening, Je suis… had in the meantime entered the second of its intermissions, meaning that for a good fifteen minutes, the spectators of both shows were mingling together in the entryway/bar area, with those who had already gone through our ‘experience’ looking on knowingly, while others remained more or less confused as to what in the world these people were doing.

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At the appointed time, after the spectators for Je suis… had been called back into the theatre, we were lead down into a small room located somewhere in the backstage area. There, a video was playing showing an interview between a journalist and a ‘Finnish’ expert on the artist that features prominently in the larger work (but who I don’t think ever actually appears). The conversation quickly descends into absurdity – notably: removal of all artistic works from museums and privatizing them is a way to fight against elitism because all museums really do, instead of being democratic, accessible spaces, is cultivate an even stronger level of elitism and exclusivity…and then everyone must sing the chicken dance – before two of the principle actors from the show come in. One is wearing nothing but briefs and bleeding from the head; the other has just been doused in tar. After a long discourse by the former, we are told that there has just been an explosion, the population has been decimated, and it is up to us to repopulate the planet.

Oh, and there would be beer.

At this point, we were lead out of the small room and into the main theatre – walking through the audience space – in a cloud of fog. We were then lead onto a bank of seats on the stage itself, an act that transformed the formerly primarily frontal dynamic in a bifrontal one, and as the fog cleared, we slowly discovered the mess on stage before us. Almost total destruction. I emphasize the almost because, once again, the audience space remains untouched. Untouched by dirt, by fake blood, by tar. Even though the stage itself  was relatively level with the start of the audience space – in contrast, the stage at Amandiers is raised up, creating a notable gap between itself and the audience – there was still a noticeable division between the two.

Anyway, what to say about the rest? We watched the last fifteen minutes of the show, it ended, we were all given free Heinekens, and then the techno music started. Fun.

Yeah, I’m not entirely sure what else to say about this that I hadn’t already said when I wrote about the longer show a few months ago. In any case, I am actually seeing Je suis un pays (or, well, the first part of it) again this week so…there’s that.

I’m just going to end this here with an image from this sort of immersive, light show expo, thing that the boyfriend and I checked out last Saturday. On the downside, it being a Saturday, it was pretty crowded. On the bright side, these flowers…

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119 – 120

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Hard to believe that exactly one year ago yesterday, I was marching in Washington DC. My how things have changed since then (to say nothing of things that still remain…for now…PSA: midterms are this November).

 

There was some questioning on some of the Facebook groups I follow as to whether or not a march/gathering was going to be happening in Paris this year, as the annual Woman’s Day march will be coming up in a couple of months anyway. I’m not sure if it was the somewhat last-minute organization effort, the rainy weather (or really, a mix of both), but from what people I spoke with told me, the turnout was a lot more sparse than last year. Not that there weren’t a good amount of people at Trocadéro that afternoon, just that you could actually still move freely about the place.

 

I didn’t end up staying very long, due to the aforementioned shitty weather, as well as the fact that I still had lesson plans to finish, but it felt good to be there at least for a little bit, even though the event felt like a shadow of the march I participated in a year ago.

 

 

Today was back with another week of teaching. Let us all take a moment and reflect on how absolutely exhausting an hour with 22 sophomores right after lunch can be. It’s no wonder I almost fell asleep in my incredibly relaxing, thank-god-I-do-this-on-Mondays yoga class this evening.

 

Anyway, here’s one more photo for the road.

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108 – 111

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…

 

106

I know with the new year having just arrived, people usually use the month of January to talk about resolutions, commitments to undertaking a change of sorts.

I, however, want to talk about rediscovery.

During my visit back to the Bay Area, I accompanied a friend of mine to a Bikram Yoga class. I had never tried this style before, but as it had been over a year or so since I last practiced any kind of yoga regularly, I thought I’d give it a shot. To my surprise, I actually really liked it (then again, countless summers in Greece have made me really appreciate intense heat…), and the overall sense of calm and openness I felt afterwards was one I could not remember having felt for a long time. Being constantly on the go does have a tendency to build up tension after all.

And so I decided after that lesson to try and add yoga back to my schedule when I returned to Paris.

Although there are studios in the city that offer Bikram classes, I decided to sign up for a Vinyasa class at Big Apple Yoga primarily because 1) that’s the style I’m used to practicing and 2) my need for variety doesn’t exactly make the thought of regular Bikram practice – where the same positions are always used – terribly appealing. In any case, given how relaxed I’m feeling right now, I think I’m going to stick to making this a regular Monday night thing. I’ll need something to calm me down after spending the day teaching English classes.

Ah yes, on that note: I am back to teaching at the high school in one of those rare instances of history repeating itself, as last time I lived here I also stepped in for a teacher who had to leave midway through the year. The only difference now is that I have three classes (one from each grade, as this high school is 10th – 12th grades) instead of just two. Being busy is good for me though. I need something to keep my mind active so I’m not always dwelling on my project. It gets rather exhausting after a while.

Yes, it’s all multiple choice. Yes, it does last 3 hours (31)

When people talk about culture shock, usually it has something to do with local customs/ways of doing things that are unfamiliar to us – styles of dress, dining habits, what exactly counts as personal space, to name a few. But something that many travelers/immigrants (maybe at some point I’ll talk about why I’m trying to move away from the term ‘expat’) don’t get to experience is the cultural interactions and confrontations that arise in the classroom, specifically when it comes to styles of testing.

In France, the big exam is the baccalauréat, which is probably most akin to the AP test(s) in that students are asked to prove competence primarily through written essays – although, if I remember correctly, there were some multiple choice questions in my AP English and French exams. Consequently – and I say this from my little bit of experience teaching at a high school three years ago – the students are taught in ways that emphasize the importance of written arguments and succinct analysis. What they are not taught is how to tackle a seemingly endless scantron sheet, which poses a problem for those who want to go to the US for university. Back in California, we were basically ‘training’ for the SAT for ten years, what with STAR testing, and although the SAT still has its stresses and demons that must be conquered, sitting down to take it does not feel particularly strange or unfamiliar.

I had the first meeting with the SAT students today, and of course because I enjoy being evil – apparently – I had them hit the ground running with a diagnostic test. 40 minutes, 24 questions. Some of them finished, others skipped a few, but the most popular reaction in the end was one of shock and disbelief. Shock at the unexpected density of the thing, disbelief at how fast the time ticked by. Of course, there’s the added pressure that comes with taking a test that’s not in your first language, but the majority of them seemed determined to stick it out, even after I had just run them through the gauntlet (realizing that French could help them with some of the tougher vocabulary in the  reading texts helped as well, I think). It’s crazy to look at their faces and think about how that was me ten(!!) years ago, nervously waiting to confront what I thought then was the most important test of my life. Thank goodness these kids know very little/nothing about the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, LSAT…

After the class finished and I had answered more questions about Harvard than I ever have in one sitting, I jettisoned over to Le Comptoire de la Gastronomie to meet with a friend, her mother, and friends of my friend for dinner. The food is still excellent, but they have redone the space since I was last there three years ago and I’m not sure what to think about the new design. A bit too modern, perhaps? I think keeping the red fabrics that once covered the chair cushions instead of the turquoise ones that cover them now could have helped in offsetting that. 
Then again, when you have a beautiful steak tartare staring you in the face, you sort of forget about interior decorating (as well as remember that, as far as culture shock goes, food never really presented that problem for you).