Statement of Purpose

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.” ~ Joss Whedon

For as long as I can remember, I have been a writer and an actress. Words are my art, whether I am writing them or performing them, breathing life into those penned by another. Under both of those, however, the one thing that has defined my life has been my academic drive. Inevitably, the three have entwined in various ways over and over again.

When I was sixteen, I attended the Governor’s Scholars Program in Kentucky and spent several weeks at Murray State University studying a core curriculum of theater (my chosen major), general studies at a collegiate level and a debate based seminar. That was almost twenty years ago, but the quote we theater students picked to have put on our t-shirts to commemorate the summer–a t-shirt I have long since lost–has always stuck in my mind: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” It was a sentiment I do not think my sixteen year old mind fully grasped, but one which I have come to believe in more and more as time goes by, and one which draws me to the MATX program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

I was a double major in theater and creative writing as an undergraduate and went on to receive my M.A. in English Literature from VCU in 2000. My plan at that time was to teach and act in Los Angeles, and then return to school to study for a Ph.D. when I had decided on a research path to pursue at an advanced level. I let the dreams of acting professionally go when Hollywood did not turn out to be what I was looking for, and, still uncertain of what I would actually commit myself to studying at a doctoral level, I went to law school, instead of applying to an English or theater department. I felt I could return to literature and theater studies once I felt mature enough and certain enough of my focus to commit to the rigors of a doctoral program.

I continued to teach both in law school and after I became an attorney, though only part time: serving as a comments editor for the San Diego Law Review (which is much like teaching English 101 in some respects with the actual job description—working with junior students to shape and edit their writing work to make it acceptable for review by the journal and for possible publication, helping them to learn to write properly for the medium, etc); working as a teaching assistant for the first year torts class my second year; leading a study group for at-risk students during law school; and, more recently, teaching LSAT preparation and mock law school classes for Kaplan. As rewarding as my part time teaching endeavors have been, however, the time has come to return to my first career path.

Since graduating from law school, it has been important to me to stay connected to my path as a literature scholar and a writer. I have continued to expand my own reading, discovering new authors and staying abreast of scholarly discussion and debate in the academy. I have focused in on my writing, as well, not allowing that to lapse in the sometimes hectic world of legal practice. In the last year I have completed my first novel and am currently in the process of final revision and beginning submissions. I have also started writing short stories–a new endeavor for me–and am finding it to be both rewarding and challenging after focusing for so long on writing on such a larger scope as a novel. In addition, I have continued to explore the memoir and essay genres introduced to me at VCU by Dr. Hodges, and am working on adapting some of that style to blogging in the public sphere rather than just the blogging I have been doing more privately in friends-locked entries on Live Journal for the past few years.

On the theatrical side of my life, I have continued to be actively involved in the theater community. I am a member of the Board of Directors for the Reno Little Theater and have been so since 2008. I have been artistically involved in several shows with them, as well. Most notably, I played Stella in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and was J.S. in Eve Ensler’s Necessary Targets. Clips from both roles can be seen on their respective pages. In the past couple of years, I have expanded out from acting to also directing. I served as the Assistant Director and dialect coach on Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan and this past summer I directed Aurand Harris’ Androcles and the Lion for Reno’s ArtTown. More information about both of these endeavors can also be found on their pages.

My interest in new media and the Internet and the use of both in art and text is not a new one. In law school, I worked on two separate projects delving into the intersection of critical media studies and the law. Both considered the various legal issues that come up when dealing with the artistic and textual works created by fans of books, television and film. My own involvement in fandom, which I wrote about frequently as a M.A. student at VCU, was a doorway into the world, but in law school I discovered the work of Henry Jenkins and the world of critical media studies and my professional world–that of the serious law student–and my personal world–the one I had revealed in class at VCU but rarely elsewhere–collided. That fandom was something that could be studied; that it was a legitimate academic field; that there were people who studied it, who looked at media, considered its effect on how people saw the world and how people became a community, and considered the art they produced worthy of study instead of just something to be dismissed gave me a new focus in my classes that had been missing.

The focus was not one that could be carried out fully in law school, however. While my teachers were fascinated by the insight into my world, there were only so many Entertainment Law and Copyright Law classes I could bring it into, and none of them allowed me the level of research and depth of study I wanted to bring to the area. Instead, it became more of a legal argument. (See, for instance, my writing sample on the legality of fan fiction.) One thing I would really like to explore is taking a new approach to the entire spectrum of study. Folklore has always been one of my passions in literature. It is what I write about in my fiction, and what I draw on in my non-fiction as well. But the world is changing, and one thing I would like the chance to explore is whether or not our idea of folklore may change with it. Do the connections formed over the Internet–the groups that form, the net-speak, the slang–constitute some sort of folklore of their own? Specifically, I would like to explore whether or not fandom itself can be considered a folk group, and the media, art and text it produces–fan fiction, fan videos, filk music, cosplay costumes, fan artwork–be considered folk art. Of course, “fandom” is a very broad generalization, and while there are various conventions of behavior and language that apply across all fandoms, there are also many that are specialized to one group or another, as the larger group breaks into smaller units. That is a dynamic I am interested in exploring, as is the way individuals flow from one group to another, and how the best artists and writers carry their own following with them, stars in their own orbit.

My narrow interest in fandom feeds into a deeper interest in an overall desire to study the way people use text and art–both visual and performance–to present themselves on the Internet. In a digital world, more than ever, new media is being used as the hammer with which artists shape reality. Performers are able to reach world-wide audiences; writers are able to communicate with others in ways they never could have before; artists have a virtual gallery in which to display their work, but it all comes with a price of a new way of interacting, and a new sense of what community means that interests me given that so much of my memoir and autobiographical writing work has been about the search for community and attempts to define what that means in a world that shifted every three years due to my father’s career in the military. However, from a critical perspective, with the removal of the censorship of traditional means of vetting artists and writers–however unfair they might have seemed sometimes–how do you sort the wheat from the chaff in the presentation online? Popularity is hardly a determining factor when you consider what is often found to be popular in the mainstream culture. What happens to our definition of art, then, and who decides? And on the other hand–more stories are getting told, in a myriad of ways, but is anyone listening?

These are questions that currently interest me. In addition, given that the majority of fandom is made up of women, and the more subversive elements of fandom activity is undertaken by women, I am also interested in exploring how gender contributes to identity expression in art and text specifically in new media formats. Is there a difference in the way women and men use these modalities and, if so, how are those differences expressed?

While I have some knowledge of the basics of photo manipulation, video editing and web design, I am eager to learn more. The use of hypertext in fiction and poetry is something I have enjoyed reading, but not had the chance to study, and is an area I would very much like to learn more about. The fluidity of text, images and performance—the way we construct meaning from each and the possibilities of combining them in new media to fashion a new form of storytelling and meaning fascinates me, but, again, is an area that I have merely examined as an observer. The interdisciplinary nature of the MATX program at VCU interests me because it provides not only the opportunity to explore the themes I have already begun to work on in previous graduate work more deeply, but to delve into learning so much more about where I think the new wave of art is likely going. As both a scholar and an artist the potential for broadening my academic and creative knowledge and skills is a compelling prospect.

Professionally, I would like to pursue a career in academia, focusing on the interplay of media and text, possibly in a critical media studies setting, or teaching media-focused literature classes in a progressive English department. I would like to continue some of my work with fandom and explore the way we interpret media and the creation of new texts and art that are derivatives of earlier forms and to look at the way popular culture informs and reflects the creation of new art and text in our culture today. Teaching and mentoring others has always been a primary goal for me, which is why I have continued it even as I pursued a legal career. The study of writing and art is one that can open new worlds both inside and out for students, and watching that happen in a classroom has been one of my greatest joys in life. I want to continue that while pursuing my own academic growth, contributing to the collection of knowledge in the field and passing it on to inspire new scholars to think about the way words and images work to open the world around them.

Writing also features heavily into my professional goals, both in a critical form, as well as creatively. A doctoral degree is necessary for me to be able to have both the depth of knowledge to teach the courses I would like to teach, and to gain the greater teaching experience to take my skills in the classroom to the next level. In addition, earning a Ph.D. would deepen my skills in critical thinking and my understanding of the interplay of concept, language, performance and text to help me continue to become a better writer and artist. Finally, academia has always been one of the driving forces in my life, and I would enjoy the challenge of taking my learning to the next level.

A final note: If you are interested in more examples of my critical and creative writing, video clips of my performances, or director’s pages for my other plays, please feel free to browse around this portfolio. I have also included, as a point of interest only, for those who may not know anything about what constitutes fandom activity, examples of fan videos I have made and links to some of my fan fiction. These are not meant to be critical samples of my work by any means, as they were done for fun and entertainment, but to illustrate the critical pieces and give a reference point. I did not feel comfortable reposting someone else’s work when my own was readily available.