On top of being isolating, writing the dissertation can zap one of creativity. It’s all archives and analysis and arguments. I am a nerd, and I love that stuff, but I’m also an artist and a writer. I need some real theatre in my archive. I need to fill up the creativity tank.
This past weekend I participated in a 24 Play Festival as a playwright. The theme was “Out of Context.” The five playwrights grabbed text messages from our phones that we thought would make good titles, then traded them. My title was “Real Life, Dolphin Unicorns.”
My first thought was “What the hell am I going to do with that?” The title suggested something fantastical, but I didn’t really want to write something dealing with a new world – I’m too type A to not have the rules established of a fantasy world. The person who supplied the title told me he was telling someone about narwhals. For some reason, narwhals make me think of Lisa Frank art, which made me think of life in Mansfield. I got very nostalgic – thinking about how easy things were when I was kid – but it didn’t last long, because I prefer an adult life here than a kid one there.
Then – KABOOM.
My play would be be about a girl, 23, who left her job as a high school teacher early because she got called Ma’am. She builds a fort in her living room, names it narwhallia, and chooses to reject real life for a land of dolphin unicorns.
It was a silly little play, but I enjoyed writing it. I enjoyed seeing it produced. I enjoyed being creative.
Tank filled – back to the archive.
I have picked up Susan Quinn’s Furious Improvisation this week. I have skimmed it befor, mining it for information needed ASAP, but have not taken the time to read the entire monograph.
The prologue tells the story of The England Riot. Not England the country, but the tiny little farming community in Arkansas. I’ve been to England AR once. I was trying to drive back to Ruston, LA from visiting my boyfriend, and I go lost in Little Rock. I got out the city eventually, but I was east instead of south. Not wanting to face the interstate again, I mapped out a route that would take me through some of the Natural State’s flat lands.
The riot happened in January, 1930. January is cold and wet in Arkansas. The farmers were suffering from a drought during the growing season, and the Red Cross was not providing enough food. The farmers first gathered outside the Red Cross, but when the organization refused to release rations because they were out of forms, the farmers drove into town and stormed the relief officer’s home. The plantation owner wired for emergency rations from Little Rock, and vouchers were distributed.
My research into Federal Theatre occasionally reveals anecdotes from Arkansas. They are usually about poor farming communities, tarpaper shacks, and one room school houses. Very different from the Arkansas I grew up in, yet it is still familiar. I was talking with a dear friend from Houston the other day and I told E that growing up I used to climb my grandfather’s apple trees and eat the fruit straight from the branch. She declared me “real life Anne of Green Gables.” I guess I was. My grandparents had a farm, I worked on it during the summer. My parents worked in factories. The most educated people I met were my teachers in school. It was a quiet life, far removed from the starvation and panic five decades earlier.
As I dig deeper into Federal Theatre, I am looking forward to uncovering more tidbits from the place I hail.
The process of writing my dissertation has been a cycle of breaking promises to myself. Even making these promises publicly doesn’t change the outcome. I am suffering from acedia.
Acedia is a concept that I first heard of last spring from my dissertation advisor, JF. It is a state of listlessness and sloth. It’s not depression, but this rejection of one’s divine calling. It is falling short of one’s purpose and potential by filling time with both non-activity and useless manic busy work.
To borrow a tumblr word: GPOY.
Acedia is my struggle. I battle it everyday, and I have been losing the battles.
Dissertat-ing is incredibly isolating. I hear that a lot, mainly from people who have a cohort. When I tell them I have no cohort, they all look at me like I just told them that I was a born a blind orphan. There is no one to lean on, to give encouragement to, to learn from.
Last week I promised to write about Shad Ledue. Perhaps that will happen later.
Book reading this week: Furious Improvisation