November 18, 2013

10 Ways to Foster Happiness and Productivity in Graduate School


My poor, neglected chronicle has been dormant for far too long. I still have quite a few photographs and stories of my adventures abroad, but would like to first reinvigorate this forum by means of a transition from a travel-like blog to a chronicle about games, medieval studies, and academia. In a way, this post is about coping with transitions, of staying happy and productive during uncertain times.

For most of my PhD experience so far I have encountered little stress; folks sometimes wonder how that can be the case. I had tremendous amounts of anxiety during my MA (2007-2008), which eventually led to burnout and 1.5 years working outside grad school. When I returned to pursue a PhD (2010), I vowed to make the experience as fun and stress-free as possible. I have certainly had stressful moments over the past three years, but most of them have been fleeting or had to do with situations beyond PhD work proper. Recently, a friend was sharing his experience with the all-too-common slump that most of us endure when we transition from course work to comprehensive exams and the dissertation. Indeed, a large number of students, suddenly faced with the daunting task of going through a rigourous comp exam and a 200-page study, withdraw from their program. Others fall into depression. Still other candidates become completely paralyzed and may go for months without writing (or, hyper-focusing on teaching). No matter where you are in the process, there are strategies you can do to help alleviate some of the anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy. I have listed below ten strategies I use to keep myself focused, motivated, and, for the most part, happy. Whether you are just starting out or are in the last stages of your dissertation and feeling overwhelmed, may they bring you some relief and encouragement!

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Massive Chalice
June 8, 2013

Manorialism, Women, Queerness, and Massive Chalice: Medievalism for the 21st Century

A few days ago the game studio Double Fine launched a widely successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund their next project Massive Chalice, a fantasy turn-based tactics and strategy game that focuses on ‘feudal’ bloodlines.1 Unlike many game campaigns on Kickstarter, which post their project close to the release date, Double Fine decided to launch Massive Chalice with little more than idea and a bucket-load of enthusiasm; this invitation to actively involve the supportive gaming community in the pre-production process (called ‘backers’ on Kickstarter) has not only spurred skyrocketing pledges (currently $877,750 at the time of this post), but also conversations among backers and bloggers regarding how to build a medieval-like social system that incorporates twenty-first century liberal values: namely, gender equality and gay rights. It is with the structures and histories of medieval manorialism, in other words, that seem to be the space to explore current political and civic issues—and, I might add, accomplished with crowdsourcing funds from individuals rather than (or in addition to) major investors.

This post departs somewhat from the usual fare on L&L, but I’ve been following the threads of the conversation closely over the past few days and it is really neat to see how people ‘deal with’ the Middle Ages, especially when perceived political structures are no longer ‘politically correct.’

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  1. The $750,000 campaign reached its goal within five days. []
May 20, 2013

Medieval Puzzle of the Week #1

A few people expressed interest at solving ‘medieval puzzles of the week,’ so this post is a trial run. Similar to the game puzzles you find in a newspaper, I would post a new premodern game puzzle each week (e.g. chess, nine-man morris, alquerque, recreational math problems, etc) and provide historical, manuscript, and practical information about – Read More –

Temple Bar, Dublin
May 19, 2013

Colourful Dublin: A Tour in Pictures

I adore Dublin. I’m not sure whether it is the excellent food, large selection of Irish trad sessions to attend, or the gregarious Irish nature, but I have always felt comfortable here (I also look/am Irish by ancestry, so I can easily fit right into the crowd). One cannot walk along Dame Street, Grafton Street, or Temple Bar without encountering the smell of delicious pastries wafting down the street,1 a busker attempting to make a few bucks on a tinwhistle or fiddle, or the sound of Irish trad music (i.e. “The Wild Irish Rover”) seeping out from the many pubs, cafés, and other venues.

My week was packed with work at the Old Library in Trinity College Dublin (where they also house the Book of Kells) and exploration of this lovely city. I visited a few of the tourist spots, including the amazing Chester Beatty Library, the National Library of Ireland, and the Dublin Zoo, but otherwise spent much of my time wandering the streets of Dublin or playing my whistle at a real Irish trad session (if you are interested in listening to a true session, go to Cobblestone Pub, Hughes, or O’Donoghues, which are all located within walking distance in the city centre). I believe meandering is one of the best ways to truly experience a city and Dublin is no exception. While walking the many streets and attractions, I realized just how colourful Dublin is, and perhaps this vibrancy acts as a way to mitigate Dublin’s typically cold, rainy weather. Buildings and Georgian doors, as you will see, are often painted bright pinks, yellows, and red. The graffiti littering the many buildings could be considered highly skilled works of art. The parks, gardens, and greenery juxtapose the cobbled medieval streets, and the city centre illuminates at night. Paris may be called the “City of Lights,” but Dublin also seems to come alive at dusk in a spectacle of lights, sounds, and tastes. This post is a tribute to Dublin. I’ve snapped fifty photographs that attempt to capture the moods and colours of this fair city— its heart, people, weather, and history. I really enjoyed photographing and putting this collection together and hope to return to Dublin soon.

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  1. If you are in Dublin, be sure to check out The Queen of Tarts for some delectable pastries. []
Magdalen College Library
May 17, 2013

Oxford from the Archives: A Tale of Two Colleges

As I said goodbye to the old streets of Oxford last week, I dismayed that I had not had the opportunity to fully explore the lovely little university city. Indeed, I barely took any photographs at all—many potential shots seemed to have waves of tourists, trucks, garbage bags, traffic, pylons, construction, and other everyday objects that reduce the quality of a picturesque landscape photograph (though Oxford is quite lovely). Nevertheless, here are a few photographs I was fortunate to snap:

Hollywell Street, Oxford

Hollywell Street, Oxford

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Medieval Labyrinth, MS Trinity College O. 2.45
May 10, 2013

Meditations on a Medieval Labyrinth

Last Saturday, May 4th, marked the 5th annual World Labyrinth Day. People from all over the world walked labyrinths together in celebration of this cultural construction, “Walk[ing] as One at 1”.1  Labyrinths have existed for over 4000 years across multiple cultures and settings, including classical, Roman, medieval, and contemporary. Today, the medieval labyrinth has endured as one of the most popular styles of labyrinth construction. In one manuscript I studied a few weeks ago, I came across a labyrinth image among a collection of other game problems.

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  1. The Labyrinth Locator lists over 4000 labyrinths worldwide. []
Exploring Asquiths Teddy Bear Shop
May 4, 2013

Bearly Medieval: The World’s 1st Teddy Bear Shop

When I had arrived in Henley-on-Thames during my long walk along the River Thames, it was late and I was starving so I was not able to do much exploring that evening. Last Sunday I decided to return to Henley (via rail) for a relaxing afternoon of discovery.1

As I made my way around the little city centre, I happened upon a most unusual site: situated in a fifteenth century building—one of the oldest buildings in Henley2 —was a teddy bear shop. A real teddy bear shop, complete with elaborate window displays of antique, brand name, and handmade teddy bears.

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  1. For anyone thinking of going to Henley-on-Thames on Sundays, be aware that the trains do not run as often, so it can take upwards of one hour to reach Henley from Reading. []
  2. The oldest bulding in town is The Old Bell is a traditional pub situated right in the centre of Henley. The building has been dated by experts at 1325. []
April 29, 2013

Walking along the Thames River (Reading to Henley-on-Thames)

The Thames River Trail is a national walking path that opened in 1996 and stretches 294 km (184 miles) from the source of the Thames in the Cotwolds, through London, and out to the sea. The trail is fairly well-marked and passes through numerous rolling meadows, rural villages and historical sites. Many sections of the trail use the original old towpath as well. I am an avid hiker and jumped at the opportunity to walk a small stretch of the longest river in England (someday I would love to hike the entire trail!)

Thames River Trail

Thames River Trail


I began in Reading and walked to Henley-on-Thames, exploring the villages of Sonning and Shiplake along the way, and returned via rail. This section of the trail is quite rural. I only saw a few other people on the trail (many of which were near Henley-on-Thames).

2 feet. 6 hours. 26 kilometres. 380 photographs. 38420 steps. Here we go!

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Jack Russell Terrier playing with a ball, image from Wikimedia Commons
April 26, 2013

Do Animals Play Games?

I recently received comments on a piece of writing I had submitted that, like all good peer reviewer feedback, has enabled me to re-examine some of my assumptions (about game culture in particular). Two questions the reviewer raised were: “What is particular about the relation of games to culture?”  and“Could we say that games are designed to resist attributions of significance?”

For me, the keywords here are culture and designed. While the questions themselves lay outside the scope of the work, I believe they nevertheless sit at the heart of many curiosities about games; they not only question the cultural relevance of games, but also their very fabrication. Game scholars oftentimes state that games are products of cultural expression, for this belief stems from an understanding of games as meaning-making systems, which inherently incorporate strict behavioural models. Do games truly stem from culture? Do they portray signs of signification?

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Trinity College, Cambridge
April 15, 2013

Cambridge in 26 photographs

As I am getting ready to head out tomorrow, I wanted to share some of the pictures I’ve taken while wandering around Cambridge and Cambridgeshire. I have spent the last ten days here working in the archives at various colleges and exploring this lovely little town.

One trend in Cambridge that I saw immediately was the near ubiquity of wicker baskets on bicycles:

The lone bicycle

The lone bicycle


All in a row

All in a row

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