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27 Mar 2010

There’s no business like... – Well, it’s been over a month now since I last posted here. So much for getting back into a regular writing schedule, huh? I am mildly tempted to launch into a long-winded explanation for my absence, but the tale is not all that exciting. The short version: I was planning on posting something after the new semester started, but then I got sick for a week, and when I finally felt better, the semester was well underway and I was very busy. I ended up so tired in the evening that I just couldn’t bring myself to write. I have finally worked up the motivation to write, though.

“If I learned nothing else on Thursday, at least I learned that I’m not cut out for television.”

This past Thursday started off with my last class for the week, which was fine. I actually like Thursdays because 1) I only have one class, as opposed to two on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 2) I get to torture the poor first-year students (who apparently have a thing for torture, as not only did they sign up for my class, they signed up for a 9:00 class). But that was just the beginning of my day.

Sometime back in January, I think it was, I got a call from a writer at Arirang Television asking me if I wanted to be on a daily talk show segment. I was quite busy with my dissertation at the time, so she said she would call back later. To my surprise, shortly after the beginning of the semester, she did. Now, had I actually intended to submit my dissertation this semester, I would have been insanely busy, but as you know I have decided to postpone until next semester, so I was not as busy as I had expected to be. For some reason, I agreed to be on the show.

I’ve heard that there are people who enjoy being on television. I don’t really understand that, to be honest. I’m the type of person who is perfectly happy just to putter along quietly in the background, pull strings behind the scenes, lock myself away in a tower to write, etc. I don’t have a pressing need to be on television, but it’s not some silly entertainment program (I once got a call asking me if I wanted to do one of those), and they actually want to talk about things that matter to me, so I suppose I should consider it a good opportunity.

So, anyway, the show isn’t that long. I’ve heard that each episode is about 25 minutes. Three or four of those minutes are going to be a segment showing me doing what I do (ostensibly). After much discussion about what we could actually shoot, it was decided that they would film me going to the library to look for materials for my dissertation, followed by me actually working on my dissertation in my office at school. This is what we did yesterday.

My class ended at eleven, and shortly thereafter a producer and a cameraman showed up. We went to the library, where I went to the reference section and pulled out the Aarne-Thompson Motif Index of Folk-Literature and The Types of the Folktale. These are not what I would call critical to my research, but I have organized the tales I am examining according to episode, and I wanted to compare very briefly with motifs and tale types just to show the story unit I’m working with. It will probably end up being a footnote in my dissertation, if that.

Of course, once I took the books down off the shelves and stood there looking at them for a while as the camera rolled, the producer decided that they needed some more shots of me looking through books and pulling books down off of the shelves. The problem is that we were in the reference section, which is usually a hodge-podge of different subjects. It’s not like the main stacks of most libraries, where you can wander around a row or two (or more) and reasonably expect to find books on more or less similar subjects. A meter to my left and I was looking at books on economics. The next row over had books on Chinese bibliography. So they tried to shoot my looking at books without actually getting the books themselves. At one point I took down a book entirely in Chinese and had to pretend that it was interesting.

We did some more shooting of me sitting at a desk and looking at the books I had selected, going back and forth between them and the tables I had made organizing the tales I’m examining in my dissertation. I actually did find a few interesting and useful pieces of information, and I took appropriate notes, but it was hard to forget that there was a camera on me all the time. In truth, I was more embarrassed at causing a commotion in the library with so many students around. So I was relieved when we finally got all the shots we needed and headed back to my office.

I don’t actually do much work in my office—most of my work is done at home, where I am sitting right now. So my office shelf is normally completely bare, with the exception of two MA theses by students from two years ago. Since we were pretending that I actually work in my office, I had stuffed a bunch of books and papers in our wheeled carry-on bag and wheeled them over to my building earlier that morning. We set the books up on the desk, spread some papers out, and then I pulled up some of my actual dissertation files on my computer.

I did a little typing for the camera, writing a little bit about a book I read recently that I needed to discuss, but I was making stuff up off the top of my head without any plan or notes, which is not the way I would normally work. In retrospect, I probably should have written something in advance and then typed that out. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. At any rate, I didn’t think of it, so I ended up writing some nonsense with no real content to it. I told them not to shoot it too closely because it made no sense, but I have no idea how it will turn out.

The producer asked me some questions about my research for the camera, which was a little weird because he spoke to me in Korean and I was supposed to answer in English (Arirang is an English-language station, in case you’re not familiar with it). The whole time we had conversed in Korean, so it felt a little awkward to suddenly switch to English. I know I’ve gotten a lot better at code-switching since I started working here at HUFS, but for some reason it felt particularly awkward yesterday.

When we finally wrapped up, it was almost 1:30—two hours after we had begun. It had all felt rather awkward, and I felt bad about not having been able to deliver a good performance. I think part of the problem was that I didn’t realize until about halfway through the shoot that I was supposed to be acting. I had been told to just do what I normally do, but let’s face it, that’s not very interesting. Just like you don’t write dialogue in a book the same way that people speak in real life, you can’t just shoot someone doing what they normally do and expect it to be interesting. By the time I realized that I was supposed to be acting, I think it was too late to salvage the situation.

Anyway, it’s over now, and I got a call from a writer at Arirang yesterday telling me that the producer and cameraman had said good things about their experience with me, which is a relief. I just feel really sorry for the person who has to edit together all this footage to make a three-to-four minute segment that will not put viewers to sleep. If I learned nothing else on Thursday, at least I learned that I’m not cut out for television. (Actually, when I was an undergrad, I worked at our university’s television station—as a cameraman.)

I didn’t realize how stressed I was about the whole thing until I got home, ate a late lunch, and then almost immediately fell ill with pretty bad stomach pains that lasted for the rest of the day. This used to happen to me a lot after very stressful situations—I would be so tense during the situation, and then afterward my system would relax and all hell would break loose. But it hasn’t been this bad in a long time, so I guess I was a lot more stressed than I thought I was.

I think the worst of it is over, though. Even though the studio portion of the show is going to be twenty minutes, I’ve been told that filming will last for forty minutes at the most. And I won’t really have to act so much as just sit there and talk with the host. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for. Last night I received an initial list of questions to help the writers finalize what we’re actually going to be talking about, and it doesn’t look like it will be too stressful. I imagine I’ll have more to say after next Wednesday, when the studio portion will be shot.

If nothing else, this will ensure that it will not be another month before my next entry. So I have that going for me, which is nice.

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