So yesterday, after making it past another security guard by flashing the badge from my pocket, I soon found myself sitting through the tedious middle paper of an otherwise excellent panel. I started flipping through my enormous conference program, as one does, and found this item amid the blather at the front about policies, procedures, and so on:
"A convention speaker may obtain a pass for a family member or friend who has no professional interest in language or literature to hear a paper given by that speaker."And I have to wonder: does the friend or family member have to prove that he has no professional interest in literature? Is there a test?
I was amused by this passage for a while, envisioning the many ordinary Chicagoans trying to sneak into this exciting convention happening in their midst*, until I wound up going out to dinner with two nonspecialists--and hoo-boy: I kinda wish that they had been banned not just from the conference panels, but from the entire city of Chicago.
I was joining a professional friend, who had a number of associates in tow. They included the following:
1. one of his colleagues: a nice, smart, generally interesting person whom I spent most of the dinner talking with;I'm not one to exaggerate the charm or appeal of academics, but these nonacademics made me, for more than a few moments out of the evening, feel all kinds of snotty impatience. I'm sure that it's hard being a non-academic, or even a non-literary scholar at MLA. And I like nonacademics (some of my best friends are nonacademics!). But I also like interesting people. And these were not interesting people.
2. a non-academic friend of his from grad school (she's in the arts): one of the loudest, least clever, and most annoying people I've met in a(n admittedly rather short) lifetime of encountering annoying people;
3. his new girlfriend: she's 24 (he's somewhat older than I), perfectly sweet, but entirely uninteresting, at least in the slice I got to see.
Sometimes it's really best to stick with one's own kind.
*At the INRU reception I spent a fair amount of time talking with a friend who's still a grad student. I'd asked him if this was his first MLA and he said that it was actually his third: he'd gone once at the beginning of grad school, when the convention had been held in his hometown, and once as a senior in high school, when the convention had also been held in his hometown and he and some friends had snuck in. Because, you know: they'd heard what a kick-ass time it was.