Friday, January 29, 2016


Starting next Friday, I'll be traveling to D.C. every weekend to participate in a 10-week research seminar at the Folger Shakespeare Library. I was lucky to be admitted to the seminar; even luckier that my institution was willing to cover most of my costs; and luckiest that this is a semester where I can (probably, but we'll see) swing the time commitment.

I've had my eye on this seminar since it was first announced more than a year ago, and it's a good fit for my second book project. But I was also eager to participate for reasons that are maybe both more nebulous and more urgent than the exact topic of this exact seminar.

I am, you see, looking for New Things.

I've written before about the problem of maintaining a sense of momentum at midcareer. Most of us, I imagine, still get excited about new courses and new research projects, but after the mountainous landscape of one's early career, the vista that lies ahead--stretching into the next ten or twenty years--can seem pretty flat. That's not a bad thing, exactly, but I've always been the kind of person who needs a prize on which to keep her eyes.

So this seminar is a way of doing something new, of keeping things interesting. The last time I did something of this sort--an intensive week-long symposium that I referred to on-blog as The Institute for Advanced Flavia Studies--it turned out to be a pretty crucial bit of professional development. I gained a new conceptual framework for my first book and I made some terrific friends.

But I'm not looking for that, specifically. I'm just looking for something to throw myself into for a time--the kind of opportunity that seemed to grow on trees in graduate school but that has been harder to find (or to find the time for) since then. As unhappy as I was in grad school, I can't say I wasn't constantly doing New Things. I took courses just because they sounded interesting; signed up for summer language classes; went to speakers series organized around a particular theme; took week-long master classes in things like editorial theory and paleography. Many of these didn't start out as relevant to my work. . . but because my mind is obsessively centripetal, they tended to wind up that way.

So I've been monitoring the Folger's seminar listings for a while now, just as I've also been keeping tabs on what summer programs are being offered by the NEH and Rare Book School, and which language institutes have programs when, and where, and of what cost and duration.

I can't do everything. I don't even want to do everything. But I do need to do something, at least every couple of years. And this year, that something involves a roll-aboard suitcase, TSA pre-check, and getting up earlier, every Friday, than God himself intended.


undine said...

Congratulations on being admitted to the seminar! That is a lot of travel to cover, so good for your institution for covering it, too.

phd me said...

Good for you, Flavia, and good luck with the New Thing. I know exactly what you're talking about!

Bardiac said...

That's so exciting! Congrats!

Flavia said...

Thanks, all!

And yes, Undine--it took some maneuvering, but I'm very grateful.

life_of_a_fool said...

Congratulations!! I am totally with you on needing to do new things every now and then. This sounds exciting!

Anonymous said...

This is Nancy Warren. I'd love to talk to you about your experience with this. I'll be teaching one of these in the fall, but I've never participated in one as a member of the seminar.

Flavia said...

Hi Nancy--I'd be delighted! Feel free to send me an email whenever (whether this spring or over the summer as you're doing more planning), either at feruleandfescue[at]gmail[dot]com, which forwards to a private account, or at my institutional address (one of the links on the sidebar should take you to a faculty profile with that info).

And based on the topic of your seminar. . . I might want to pick *your* brain a bit, too!

Anonymous said...

Sounds good ... could you take the train to DC?

Flavia said...

Anon 9:38

Um, no. It's a 6+ hour drive and 11+ hours (each way!) by train. Not direct, not fast, and at weird times of day.

The goal here is to make the commute something I can sustain over the next three months!

fourtinefork said...

That seminar sounds fantastic-- congratulations, Flavia!

Now, at the risk of being that crazy person on the internet giving unsolicited advice: may I suggest reconsidering the roll-aboard suitcase? I'm a very occasional commenter, don't know you in real life, but I love giving travel advice.

Depending on your route, you might end up on those smaller planes, which force people to gate check their carry-on bags. (That is, you hand off your roll-aboard at the gate because it won't fit into the tiny bins, and it's returned to you on the jet bridge at the end.) If you travel a lot, waiting for gate checked bags gets really, really annoying. Truly. Irritating waste of time annoying. Time that cuts into sleep/drinks/whatever annoying. I used to do a regular weekend commute, and it was maddening to wait on the jet bridge. So...

Get a bag without wheels. Get something squishable that can go in those tiny bins, or heck even under the seat. If you need to take your laptop, the Tom Bihn Western Flyer (or the larger Tri-Star) would be just about perfect for weekend commutes. I have the Aeronaut 45 and love it, although it's too big for a weekend: it makes travel easier and better, and if you travel a lot, all you want is something that makes your traveling life easier. And I'm much more nimble without a wheeled bag, and I say this as someone with shoulder/neck issues.

I promise I'm not a spammer for the company, and yes, they are pricey. But it's a company I like supporting, as they make everything in Seattle, seemingly treat their workers well, and have great customer service.

Other alternatives include the Patagonia MLC (I used to have one, and prefer Bihn. There have been quality issues and I prefer the layout on the Bihns) or Eagle Creek.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! That looks very exciting. I've never done one of those (never been close enough to the east coast to manage it), but they certainly look like fun.

But on a different note, have you been following the "Remembering the Reformation" project, out of the University of York and Cambridge in the UK? It just launched in January. Looks like the Reformation is being remembered all over academia these days.

Flavia said...


oh, I don't mind the wait. I mind baggage claim and bags that are technically small enough to fit in the overhead but are a burden to lug around. So I have a nice small light wheelie that should be good! But I'll report back.

Anon 4.39:

Yes--the leader of my seminar is one of the directors of that project.

(But it's true that there's a lot of this going around:

EarthSciProf said...

Congrats! Sounds like a great opportunity. Would be interested in a few details about how you pitched & got support from hour institution. Also, helpful to hear how people several years farther into their careers keep their research & interests fresh.