Looking ahead, this new academic year promises to be busier than ever, with the usual dollop of extra stress coming precisely at exam time. As this year begins I am pleasantly surprised to feel much better about the process of reading and more engaged with the texts than ever before. It also comes as a surprise to realize my Student Study Guides are more challenging, and organized in a way that is simultaneously less of a ‘guide’ through specific texts and much more intellectually engaging. These units are more demanding, as are my other responsibilities. Combining Plato’s insight about necessity and Rose Kennedy’s unforgettable quip about desperation, I have been contemplating how to reconcile my short-term needs and long-term goals: if desperation is the mother of invention this must be the perfect time to get creative, impressive results from my efforts.
My efforts are focused on completing 3 units, ‘Literature of the Later Middle Ages’, ‘Shakespeare’, and ‘Renaissance and Restoration’ literature. This term Shakespeare is a little light reading; it feels like a lark or leavening for my Milton texts. I actually said that at a party on Thursday. Everyone went silent, blinked their eyes and stared at me for a second, then we all laughed and had another glass of champagne. The realization that reading Shakespeare actually feels light-hearted and really, really fun came as a surprise to me too. I wondered how it happened then I realized it is like learning about wine: you learn about wine by drinking, you learn about reading by reading.
A friend and I have been reading and studying together this summer. Although we are studying different subjects we have experience with each other’s academic discipline, our organization needs are the same and we both are writing a children’s book. My friend had the genius idea of taping our reading sessions then playing the recordings during other activities like mucking out the horses’ stalls, during zumba work outs or cooking dinner. For me, taping the texts is a wonderful thing because it makes me read and work slower.
Reading and working slower might not sound like the way to get more done, but it works that way for me. Reading a text out loud like an actor or poet forces me to immediately consider things like characters, themes, tropes and dramatic interaction. Books on tape do not work the same way. Taping my texts, the process of reading out loud, hearing my voice and contemplating both the implied and inferred interpretation is what is so valuable. When I read a text out loud or listen to a tape I notice more things; sometimes when I am reading or editing written work I ‘read’ what I expect to as my mind habituates to the material and anticipates words on the page. When I take notes my thoughts can race ahead of my pencil. The texts I read out loud are more provocative and unforgettable because speech is different.
As my friend and I work toward our academic goals we have been lucky to find inventive ways to manage what can feel like intractable problems. It is empowering, effective and takes the edge of desperation off of what can feel like a mountain of work, distant goals and elusive skills. And it is fun. While Plato and Rose Kennedy might be unlikely bedfellows, for two happy students in Pittsburgh desperation truly is the mother of invention. Happiest reading!