Digital Humanities and the Digital Classroom

The following is the text of a brief talk I was invited to deliver as part of the opening graduate student roundtable at the Indiana University Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference on March 26, 2015.  The conference theme was Breaking Futures: Imaginative (Re)visions of Time, while the roundtable theme was “Digital Humanities in Practice.”  I was joined by Lydia Wilkes, Mary Borgo, Whitney Sperrazza, and Erika Jenns, whose talks provided grounding for a rich dialogue for the many overlapping “digital” futures of the humanities, both in the classroom and in research.  It was a wonderful experience, if you want to see more from the conference, trawl the hasthtag #IUIC15 on twitter to see the archive of live-tweets.

schola

“Are you available for in-person office hours?” is a question I receive, in various forms, at least once a week.

For the past ten months or so I’ve been working with Lydia Wilkes and Justin Hodgson to build and implement an online version of English W-131, the intro to composition course most of the graduate students in here in the English department teach or will teach at some point.  This semester has seen the three of us piloting the course, personalizing it based on the framework we built collaboratively.  It’s my first time teaching online and, as such, has given me a reason to stop and reflect on what it means to practice digital humanities in the classroom; here, for me, the issue of the digital humanities necessarily emerges in the space of the online humanities classroom, since it raises questions about the technologies we use to facilitate education not only in face-to-face interactions, but how those technologies necessarily do or can reconfigure facilitation across greater spatial and temporal boundaries.

I’m not sure if before this semester I would have called myself a “digital humanist.”  Frankly, I’m still not sure that’s a label that I’d embrace.  Part of this is because – to put in it in the pithy and cynical way I developed when I was an undergrad – what will happen with the digital humanities is exactly what happened to the cellular phone: just as the latter became simply a phone, so too, I think, technological and computational creep will eventually become par for the course for doing any sort of work in the humanities.

Despite my suspicion that something about this still holds true, I now recognize that my too-cool-for-this-English-major-senior-capstone bon mot enacts a form of what Mark Sample last year called “facile thinking” about the digital humanities.  Though he uses this phrase to refer to the strawmen arguments of many DH alarmists and skeptics, I think it could also characterize the tacit way in which I rendered myself and the field unto the DH geist.

“[F]acile thinking strives to eliminate complexity,” Sample writes in his blog post on the subject, “both the complexity of different points of view and the complexity of inconvenient facts.”  By contrast, he says, the digital humanities and writing on them needs to evince more “difficult thinking,” a mixture of “evidentiary-based reasoning” and acknowledgment of divergent perspectives that adds up to what he calls a “rational empathy.”  In other words, by consigning to an inevitable digital ascent and assimilation, I primed myself to overlook the oddities and complications encountered in this transition.  For my students especially, the emotional and material stakes of education are far weightier than smartphones.

writing

So, then, back to my opening, which by this point you may have forgotten: “Are you available for in-person office hours?”

I commute into Bloomington irregularly.  In this way, teaching online has been something of a relief for me, so my office hours are usually also online.  However, because occasionally I do have to be in Bloomington, and because the students in these pilot courses are all on campus, sometimes my office hours are in-person.  What I discovered, however, is that my students want to meet me in person far more frequently than, first of all, they actually can, and second of all, than I have ever experienced in my time teaching in a face-to-face classroom.

I assumed students who were okay with taking an online course that met once a week via videoconference would be okay with having office hours in a similar format.  One has to imagine, at least, that they feel comfortable enough with technology to take the plunge on the online course, anyway.  What I discovered, however, is that digital office hours are the most unpopular type of office hours I have ever had.  In fact, the only times students have met me in digital office hours are when I have explained to them that I wasn’t going to be on campus any time soon.

Indeed, another thing I have discovered is that the students in my online course are far more anxious about technology in general.  If an assignment or module posts with a typo or misdirected link, within an hour I’ll receive at least three emails – usually sounding mildly panicked – asking me for clarification and guidance.  When students take online quizzes and browser issues or an accidental page reload wipes or otherwise malforms their work, I receive lamentations explaining what happened, hoping I’ll be merciful.  The stakes in these instances are relatively small – a pietá over, at most, two or three points in a class scored out of 1000 – but the students’ frustration with the system is often palpable.  The obvious thing that has happened is that the technology has become more central in the students’ experience.  Rather than supplement my in-class lectures, the LMS is now the primary way of completing work.  When the tool fails, the student’s immediate fear is that, from my perspective as an instructor, this is also their failure.  These classroom technologies become more conspicuous as things that separate the students from the class and what I suspect they understand as the “real” me.

To provide evidence for this last assertion: the desire for in-person office hours is often framed by my students as a need to find out what “you” really want.  This is familiar rhetoric: I’ve heard it before in meatspace classes.  But I’ve heard it more frequently, and with a stronger valence of confusion, with this online course.  One student told me she wanted to know about what she called “your ideals,” and explicitly stated she felt like the online nature of the course had kept her from finding out what I wanted on our assignments.  Again, this is not a complaint unique to online coursework, but I think it’s important that in this scenario, technology can and does take the fall.

pictura

In the preface to his 1659 translation of the Czech pedagogue John Comenius’s Orbis sensualim pictus, one of the first illustrated textbooks, English humanist Charles Hoole explains how the innovation of adding pictures to the book, alongside parallel vernacular and Latin captions, will allow students to pick up Latin much more easily and quickly than ever before.  The reason for this, he argues, is that the sensual quality of the illustration and a preexisting knowledge of vernacular English allow the student to ground the Latin in a personal, experiential reality inaccessible when one is simply laying out grammatical rules.  This is incredibly important for Hoole, as he writes it is “the very Basis of our Profession, to search into the way of Childrens taking hold by little and little of what we teach them, that so we may apply our selves to their reach” (sig b1v).

What strikes me is Hoole’s commitment to the needs and limits of his students, based on a generalized sense of their day-to-day experiences.  The basis of our profession, he says, is to “apply ourselves to their reach” – to meet them halfway, and then move further along together.  I am reminded, actually, of Lisa Spiro’s argument that what defines the digital humanities is not necessarily the computational analysis of texts, but rather “collaboration, openness, and experimentation” as it is afforded by new technologies (“This Is Why We Fight”).  I am not arguing that the digital humanities will allow us to rediscover some forgotten or lost element of humanistic education.  But I would like to suggest that in his bid to defend the utility of the picture book, Hoole is engaging in precisely the “difficult thinking” Sample advocates, though his humanities are analog: he considers the perspectives and needs of his students and then does his best to search out technologies that will help him meet those needs, developing what Sample calls “rational empathy.”  Difficult thinking about DH, at least for me, has likewise foregrounded the importance of the interactions I have with my students as they are maintained and facilitated by our classroom technologies, and how this often seems to put my students at what they feel is a disadvantage.  For Hoole, studying what he calls the “representations” in the picture book is an intuitive activity, in that it is more or less the same as seeing or imagining the things themselves.  The technologies at work in my online teaching, however, seem to throw into question precisely the gaps between what my students see or read, what I write on our wiki pages, and what they hear me say in our videoconferences.

liber

I plan on disseminating a survey to my students before the end of the semester, in which I’ll ask some particularly pointed questions about their experience in the class, and try to deduce a more evidentiary basis for what is right now a hunch.  What I suspect happened is something that supports the old platitude, you don’t really know what you have until it’s gone.  That is, certainly my students had expectations for what an online course would be and how it would function.  Maybe some of them even relished the idea of never having to see me face to face.  Maybe some of them thought it would be easier than a normal course, precisely because it was technologically mediated – we must keep in mind that our students may be as prone to facile thinking about the digital as we are.  But on the other hand, I recognize that I myself am an intuitive and a familiar piece of classroom technology that seems to have malfunctioned: from a student’s perspective, the online instructor is like a volume that is always checked out of the library, and can only be read in 15 page chunks on Google Books.  As I continue to the end of this semester, then, I know I must work in new ways to identify my students’ reach and apply myself to it, and to keep in mind the difficult thinking we all must do – students and instructors alike – in the weeks and years to come.

Blogging the quals

Hello.

You may remember that some point I mentioned I am in grad school.  Well, I am now in a position where I am preparing to take my PhD qualification exams which, in case you’re not already an English grad student or PhD yourself, means I’m going to spend this summer reading something like 150 books.

These will be diverse, though of course largely oriented around my period (Shakespeare and early modern drama) and my theoretical concerns (performance, Renaissance humanism, intellectual history, and contemporary “posthumanism” as it might be broadly construed).  I don’t have any particular interest in saying I’m one type of scholar or another, but I am highly inclined toward what medievalist Eileen A. Joy has called “weird reading.”  Let’s take a look:

Any given moment in a literary work (all the way down to specific words and even parts of words, and all the way up to the work as a whole), like any object or thing, is “fatally torn” between its deeper reality and its “accidents, relations, and qualities: a set of tensions that makes everything in the universe possible, including space and time,” and literary criticism might re-purpose itself as the mapping of these (often in- and non-human) tensions and rifts, as well as of the excess of meanings that might pour out of these crevasses, or wormholes. We’ll call this reading for the weird, which is fitting when you consider that the word ‘weird’ (traditionally linked to ‘wyrd,’ or ‘fate’) is related to the Old English weorðan [‘to become’], rooted in Indo-European *wer– [‘to turn, bend’]. This will entail being open to incoherence as well, as one possible route toward a non-routinized un-disciplinarity that privileges unknowing over mastery of knowledge. The idea here would be to unground texts from their conventional, human-centered contexts, just as we would unground ourselves, getting lost in order to flee what is (at times) the deadening status quo of literary-historical studies at present, aiming for the carnivalesque over the accounting office.

I agree with the general sentiment here.  Joy says in a footnote that she does not mean to jettison historicist criticism entirely, and indeed, I find my current work an attempt to revive some of the stranger, less disciplined qualities of history-making that the Foucauldian turn of New Historicism deanimated.

In order to pass the time by doing something other than simply reading and worrying about my exams this fall, I am going to do my best to post weekly or bi-weekly updates here listing what I’ve read since my last post and, perhaps, some scattered thoughts, impressions, or quotes.  (In this sense I’m taking my cues from when I was in a similar situation as a senior undergrad.)

So let this be the inaugural post in my “Blogging the quals” series.  I’ll list below the eclectic mix of what I’ve read so far this semester, to give you an idea of what’s to come in full force later on.

Lyric poetry (selections)

Lanyer, Aemilia (Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum)
Sidney, Philip (Astrophil and Stella)
Spenser, Edmund (Shepheards Calendar, Amoretti, Epithalamium)
Wroth, Mary (Pamphilia to Amphilanthus)
Wyatt, Thomas (Sonnets)

Drama

Ford, John – ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
Shakespeare, William – Antony and Cleopatra
— Love’s Labours Lost
Webster, John – The Duchess of Malfi

Period/Field Criticism

Charnes, Linda – Notorious Identity: Materializing the Subject in Shakespeare
MacKay, Ellen – Persecution, Plague, and Fire: Fugitive Histories of the Stage in Early Modern England

Theory

Bogost, Ian – Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing
Latour, Bruno – We Have Never Been Modern
Zizek, Slavoj – The Sublime Object of Ideology

Music Videos My Students Tell Me About

As a teacher of freshman composition, I insert a tiny clause in the very back of my first-day syllabus promising students a point of extra credit on their first assignment if they bring me the name of their favorite music video on the second day of class.  This is basically a test to see who’s reading the syllabus through, and this semester for the first time I actually got hits — and not just one, but four!  The other point of this exercise is to give me music videos to think about for when I demonstrate film analysis in the course’s second unit.  Reproduced below are the music videos my students told me about, followed by a brief paragraph of commentary.

Gas Pedal

Sleek and dark — oppressively Gothic but also chic. Women are objects, props. Furniture and wind-up dolls. Shots of figures down hallways at times Kubrickian. The video seems to know how terrifying it is, hence a little post-credits “blooper” that shows Sage the Gemini tripping before doing a light-hearted dance. We watch the script that has been dictating this haunted house ride fall through.

Everlong

Very 90s in a way I can’t precisely pin down, since the entire video is a kind of recapitulation of 80s pop culture. A distinction between dream and reality that the viewer might be tempted to make is turned on its head as the end suggests a series of interlocking dreams culminating in the band’s spectacle — music stardom as ultimate dream/fantasy.

Wake Up Call

A series of incoherent vignettes stylized to look like the trailer of a contemporary crime film. The strongest discernible plot thread concerns Adam Levine shooting a ladyfriend’s manfriend (notably bloodless, woundless) and then enlisting her to dispose of the corpse, which for unclear reasons leads to him (but not her) being arrested. The police are women in very tight uniforms, for some reason. Did the ladyfriend betray him (and also the other band members, who are also arrested)? Shots of the band performing interspersed with “obviously” fake film scenes accomplish a similar sort of double logic as the Gas Pedal video — yes, women are sexual objects, nameless props for this story about men, but none of it’s real.

Story of My Life

One Direction shows us their family photos. They gaze upon their pasts, but so do we, as their family members are pulled into the video for reenactments.  A nod to similar trends on line, recreating childhood photos with older siblings, etc. Intense nostalgia. Suggests both the closeness One Direction fans feel with the band but also, via the strangely panopticon-like structure in which the band stands with the camera, the sort of prison such fame constructs.

I graduated a year ago

when i went to my alma mater’s graduation yesterday i was overcome with an intense feeling of mixed nostalgia and incredible sadness, because as i watched all of my friends who were only a year younger than i grab their little pieces of paper and pose smilingly  it occurred to me that so long as i didn’t visit the campus, so long as i didn’t see this happening, i could have maintained a little fantasy in my head that though i had left, all of these friends of mine would still be there, still doing what they had always done, having the same sorts of parties and petty squabbles we had always had, and in that sense the thing i lost was more the thing i left.  but that really isn’t how this works. if i go back in four years i will know nobody except faculty, not that they don’t count for anything, but the ecosystem which i had personally inhabited will be entirely grown over, replaced, the landscape uncanny and new and not for me.

a friend who graduated yesterday observes this morning in her facebook status, as she prepares to move out:

i don’t know how to do this.

and my response, my thought based on my year turned out:

you know how sometimes you have a dream, really good or really bad or just plain vivid, and after you wake up it kind of stays with you? and you think about it a lot while drinking your coffee and eating breakfast but eventually the day goes on and other things happen, the thousand little mundane expectations and frustrations, and you forget about it for a day or two or a week or however long but then, suddenly, for no real reason, you remember it and it seems just as real to you at that moment as it did when you woke up from it and you experience a sensation of heartclenching injustice at the fact that something so real could so easily and quickly become unreal, and yet at the same time leaving you incapable of not feeling what you still know to be its reality? and you do this again and again as time goes on, forgetting and remembering the dream sometimes at random, or sometimes because you want to tell someone the story, or sometimes because simply and frankly it feels good to feel that way, to remember that even if things aren’t real now at one point they were, at one point every dream you ever had was the realest thing that ever happened to you?

it’s sort of like that. you do it like that.

Should have gotten on that bus

Today let’s look at some links, guys!

First off, my friend and yours Ross “Japanese Literature” Henderson has translated a few amusing Haruki Murakami parodies over at his blog.

Secondly, my friend Anna who does good poetry and is awesome has pointed me toward these poems by Mark Leidner, who also does good poetry and is awesome but I don’t know him personally so Anna is cooler in that regard.  You may also notice that Anna, like a good college student, is now ABROAD, much like I was last year.  She is currently blogging her experiences in Jordan!  As always she is by turns hilarious and capable of an emotional honesty that will forever elude me in my writing, autobiographical or otherwise.

What are you waiting for GO GO GO READ READ READ

A Serious Game: The Ethical Dimension of Literature, Part 1: A Personal Reflection

Howdy, friends and neighbors!  This is the first post in a series of six that will encapsulate A Serious Game, my final senior essay on the power and nature of literature.  It’ll be a long read but I hope it will be worth it.  Tune in every Friday for the next section — if there have ever been posts I’ve made that deserve the “i hope you like text” and “limitless literary pretension” tags it’s these.  I hope you enjoy them!

“Enchanted by its rigor, humanity forgets over and again that it is a rigor of chessmasters, not of angels.”

– Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

When I was a child there was a monster called Old Hickory that lived in the woodwork of my grandparents’ house.  It was not uncommon for this creature on occasion to reach out and attempt to grab me, my siblings, or my cousins.  Though Old Hickory never succeeded — each failed attempt to abscond with me or one of the other children simply ended with a solid thump of wood on a head, knee, or elbow, with the related sobbing one might expect — I spent a significant portion of my childhood absolutely and absurdly terrified of my grandparents’ furniture.  Old Hickory was described to us many times, though always with the same grotesque humor, by my grandfather, who had imagined the creature as a sort of joke to explain the normal rough-and-tumble bumps and scrapes children acquire when they are playing in a home filled with a few decades’ worth of accumulated furniture.  Whenever one of us blundered face-first into the corner of the couch or the wood paneling of the living room during a game of Red Rover, we would fall down bawling, and my grandfather would chuckle to himself and say, “Old Hickory almost got you.”

I offer this story because it serves well as an introductory metaphor for my concerns in this paper.  It is appropriate not because it speaks specifically of literature but it at least sheds personal light on why I concern myself with literature’s study; in broader terms, my anecdote about Old Hickory speaks of narrative and storytelling, of which literature is a primary form.  Wayne C. Booth argued that all narrative is a form of rhetoric; narratives ask the reader or listener to understand a certain situation in a certain way.  They require us to give assent, and by listening to them, we do.  We come to narratives expecting an “efferent transaction” — that is, we are motivated by “a search for some practical guidance, or for some special wisdom, or for some useful ‘carry-over’ into non-fictional life” (Booth 13).  We approach even acknowledged fiction as if there is some grain of truth to it, some way it speaks — no matter how elliptically — of the world in which we live.

These truths, when we find them or think we find them, can have serious ramifications on the ways we view and interact with the world.  Old Hickory certainly wasn’t real, but my thinking about it was; I responded as if it did exist, I believed in it, and so in that sense, Old Hickory was quite real to my five-year-old self.  Not until I grew older did the idea of a terrible creature living in the woodwork of a house become obviously impossible; in retrospect it was clear that my grandfather was simply telling a joke.  He’d exaggerated reality, personified the furniture I was constantly slamming my elbows and forehead into, to amuse himself.[1] But my reaction — because I was a child, and prone to magical thinking, and because he was my grandfather, and therefore a direct authority on all aspects of life — was not one of amusement, but fear.  What was a game for my grandfather was something dreadfully serious to me.

But I think it is this sort of tension that has drawn me to literature.  My earliest memories of stories all involve people close to me — my grandfather, my mother, and my older sister — telling me stories about strange or bizarre entities and events.[2] As I grew older it became obvious that a great number of these stories were improbable if not impossible, and yet I still enjoyed them.  Learning to read (and of the obsession with reading that soon followed) seem to intensify the feelings I had while listening to people tell me stories — except now I was in control of what stories were told and when.  Even though the things that happened in most of the stories I consumed never factually occurred, or in some cases could never occur, there was an innate pleasure in contemplating the possibility of these worlds and how they were or were not like the one I knew.  Reading, and by extension literature, was a game, something I did for fun and personal amusement.

My classes at college stressed the capacities in which literature is a social force — the ways it gives or takes voice, the way it implicitly approves or disapproves of social currents, and so on.  This critical atmosphere presented a problem for me.  On one hand, I wanted to be able to look at a text and merely play my game with it, interrogate its plausibility, its structure and consistency; on the other hand, I was intrigued by the way in which various people found methods to appropriate something wholly imaginary as a tool to speak about the real world in ways much more direct and diverse than I’d ever envisioned.  For instance, was Paradise Lost an epic, a religious apology, a liberal political manifesto, a reactionary conservative apologia, a valuable tract in the fight for women’s rights, a tool of patriarchic oppression, or a dramatization of imperialist economics?  Somehow my classes managed to present me with theorists and critics who argued all of these points — and all of them seemed, in their own ways, to make sense.  How could I reconcile all of these compelling readings of a poem that I, on my own terms, had read as a simple adventure story?  More pressingly, how could something so obviously fictional be of so much evident real-world importance?  To understand this, I had to comprehend on a more conscious level the efferent nature of reading, and the way stories influence our lives.

This paper’s epigraph comes from Jorge Luis Borges’s story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” in which a cadre of intellectual luminaries conspires throughout the course of human history to imagine and disseminate a fictional world by way of false encyclopedia entries and misprinted history books.  I read it at 17 and thought it was a neat piece of speculative fiction; when I read it again at 20, after two years of a serious study of literature, the tale’s actual significance broke through to me.  It helped put into perspective the issues I’d been facing, but could not articulate.  In the story, the fabrication of the world of Tlön is so extensive and intricate that by the time the conspiracy is discovered, the human race becomes enamored with the uniqueness and complexity of the fiction their brightest minds have imagined.  As the story ends antiques from Tlön — clever forgeries, of course, but no one cares — are starting to appear in markets, and the languages of Tlön are being taught in schools.  The narrator intimates that, in time, our world will for all practical purposes become Tlön.  The game of imagination has enchanted humanity so that they forget they are even playing a game; the creators of Tlön are thought of not as the planners and chessmasters they are, but divine angels.

Before intensive literary study led me to see things otherwise, I had focused chiefly on the ways in which fiction presented worlds that were not the one I inhabited.  In so doing I overlooked the fact that even this was a way in which fiction defined my inhabited reality.  The multiplicity of readings my literature courses exposed me to were methods of refining and focusing that definitional power, attempting to draw my attention to a single aspect of the world and the way in which a text invited me to understand or think about that aspect.  Though fantastic to the extreme, Borges’s story put this into perspective on my second reading.  In the tale, fiction is used to effectively draft a new world.  It is a disturbing development, as the narrator seems convinced that nothing good will come of unquestioningly embracing this new reality — or rather this new way of looking at and interpreting the old reality.  That was the key for me: fiction is, partially, a device for the interpretation of the real world.


[1] And maybe he meant to amuse me, too.  I am amused now, anyway.

[2] Highlights include: a nameless monster that kidnapped little boys who caused a fuss when they had to get haircuts, a race of extraterrestrials who traveled through to space via mirrors rather than starships, and a seven-foot-tall Kentucky dentist who used whiskey as anesthetic.

Initiate finals week in 3, 2, 1

So hey I go to college!  I used to be pretty secretive about where exactly but given recent links I’ve posted this semester it is not entirely a secret anymore.  So if you want to know what kind of school I go to, you should check out this blog.

Also, because I go to college, I am getting ready to start the first finals week of my senior year.  Oh gosh, guys!  Just think, this time last year I was all freaking out over going to London and basking in the glory of American Psycho… which reminds me, they are making an American Psycho musical.  Isn’t that a terrible idea!  Or maybe the best idea?  If all the songs are done in the style of 80s power ballads or other era-appropriate music is might actually be pretty amusing.

I case you couldn’t tell I don’t have any profound thoughts this week so I’m just collating some links.  Once things wind down I’ll maybe get back to thinking about dumb things to say about popular books or movies, and then we will be right on track!  In the meantime, watch this and think of me.

This blogging thing

Sometimes it seems like a bad idea to do this blog every Friday, especially on the Fridays when I have nothing important to say — not even literary criticism quotes! — and this Friday is one of them.  The year is winding down, I got a few final papers to write up, some drafts of some stories to do, and three more grad school applications to finish.

However, it is cold, and there is snow, so let’s enjoy the beginning of this wondrous season with a special performance by my new favorite musical artist, OtamaTone.

DO YOU REVERSE?

The summer lull begins.

I find myself wasting a remarkable amount of time in the hopes that I will feel relaxed once my summer obligations come to bear.  In a little over a week I’ll be back on campus, working on a small research project about Measure for Measure.  It’s common knowledge (more or less) that Shakes lifted the plot from Machiavelli, but I think it’s worth investigating exactly how he’s dealing with Machiavellian politics in the play.  (If I manage to get something useful out of this, I also suspect there are variations on this theme in Coriolanus and The Tempest, and maybe that will also be a profitable area for further research.)  Anyway, that’s boring.

After I finish that up I’ll be a teaching assistant for a two-week course for high school students, during which they’ll hopefully read Hamlet and come to like it.  I’ve taught high school kids before, but that was Anglo-Saxon lit, so they were understandably not very receptive.  Hamlet, at least, can be related to by most teens in ways of differing profundity; the riddles from the Book of Exeter, not so much.

There are a few other things I could talk about here.  For instance, how less than a week after I leave London the country is so lost without me that they just cocked things up royally.  But again, that’s boring.

Instead I’ll leave off with a delightful glimpse into the past, when a little girl named Mary O’Connor taught a chicken to walk backwards.  She also became one of the greatest American writers of the past century and probably my single favorite writer of all time (which is obviously saying something), but that all happened much later.

I am going to be homeless for a week, let’s talk about plays

Going to put this on automatic update, just so I don’t miss another week.  See, my abroad program incorporates a week of “free travel” into it, which is supposed to be more or less equivalent to Spring Break back home.  A vacation, if you will, or a holiday as they are called here.

This is where we run into problems.  I’m not much for vacations, you see, and I didn’t have to read any Jamaica Kincaid or DFW essays about lobsters to make me like this.

There’s this horrid little neologism that’s made the rounds recently, the ‘staycation.’  That is, a vacation where you stay home instead of going out somewhere; the thing is, every vacation for me is a staycation, and it always has been.  It may surprise you, given my seething antipathy towards fun, good will, sunshine, and human beings in general, that I really, really dislike going out onto beaches or to theme parks and seeing various things/people/situations that only intensify my disgust and displeasure with life on this earth.  When I have time off I don’t want to fucking go anywhere, I want to lock myself in my house and sleep for twelve hours and read books until three in the morning.  This is how I relax, this is how I unwind.  This is what a vacation means for me.

Not for most other people, unfortunately.  The “free travel week” my program has is a bit misnamed.  You see, it’s a misnomer because 1) if it were truly a “free” week I could stay at my house and sleep, as would be my preference, or 2) if it were “free” in the pecuniary sense, it would be a lot more appealing.  As it happens, for seven days I am required to leave my house and travel either on my own or with friends and fend for myself.  My host family is not being paid rent for that week.  In essence, I am being kicked out.

My program, for whatever reason, thinks it’s a good idea to have a mandatory crash course in homelessness.

This all sounds a bit whiny, I’m sure, as I am a privileged young white male college student in an abroad program, which puts me a damn sight ahead of 80% of my cohort.  I’m in Europe, aren’t I?  I should be taking in the culture and traveling and seeing the sights.  If you’re thinking that right now, then I have an offer: you fucking pay for it.

I’m a goddamn scholarship student.  I’m only on this abroad program because I am incredibly, indescribably lucky — my tuition has been covered, thank god.  But on the other hand, I’ve had to pay for plenty of other stuff out of my own pocket — plane tickets, clothes, supplies, food, various other travel expenses such as cabs and trains.  My personal savings were drained by this trip, and supporting myself as an itinerant for a week will pretty much reduce me to nothing.

If I were the kind of person who read literature as being, in its heart, about class conflict, or if I were the kind of person given to screeching about systemic classist elements of any setup, I would have been bitching about this sort of thing long before now.  So while I normally don’t care about it, I’ve finally come into a situation where it really irks me.  (Enough to blog about it, anyway.)

To put it succinctly, I don’t have the money to live on my own in a foreign country for a week.  My family does not have the money to help me.  This is not something I can do.

But I’m doing it anyway, because I don’t have a choice.

Luckily I have some connections in Stratford-Upon-Avon who are willing to put up with me for a few days, though they’re in the process of moving so I can’t stay there the whole time.  My family back home has managed to get me enough money that I can stay in a hostel (as much as I hate hostels with all my soul they are cheaper than hotels) in London for the remainder of the break.  I’ve been living as a spendthrift over the last seven weeks, saving large amounts out of the grocery stipend I receive, so I have enough money to eat and buy various little stupid things I need, so I should be all right.

I’d still like to lock myself in a house and read all day, though.

Anyway, excitement: while I’m away I’ve used WordPress’s handy autoupdate feature to organize a series of short reviews of plays I’ve seen recently.  These should be popping up at various points during the week, digitally prepackaged and intellectually microwaved for your consumption.  It’s not going to be in the vein of the Psycho series, since there’s less for me to string together, so I figured it wouldn’t be bad for me to throw up all three reviews in a week.  We’re looking at a Monday/Wednesday/Friday thing here, so stayed tuned.