The post-conference hangover (which is not to be confused with an actual hangover, though that also goes with the territory) is a well-known occupational hazard; to judge by my Facebook and Twitter feeds, lots of my fellow conferees are also suffering. I myself spent most of last night in tears for no reason, and it was only in the light of day that I recognized the symptoms. It's hard to jump back into workaday life after a weekend away, and it's particularly hard after three or four days of constant intellectual and social stimulation; I'm always a bit glum and my world seems pokey and disappointing for a couple of days after I return from a conference.
This time, though, I'm not just crashing from a conference high; I'm also processing the conference lows. As the association president said at her luncheon address, the SAA is, for many scholars, their "hometown": the place where they feel most at ease, most fully understood, and most warmly welcomed. It's a lovely description of why professional conferences matter, but it implies (as she went on to say) that the other places we spend our working lives are not as welcoming.
Here's some of what I heard about those other places, in the course of the conference:
-Two of my friends were denied tenure in jaw-droppingly egregious ways;
-Another is in a department that may be dissolved;
-Three more are at institutions that are imploding (one of which may actually go under);
-Other friends and acquaintances spent yet another year fruitlessly searching for tenure-track jobs;
-Still others--like me--have perfectly nice jobs that involve major personal and domestic sacrifices.
Sure, I've heard such stories for years. And everyone I know who's actually left the profession has found happy, fulfilling work (in many cases, they're happier than those who hung on). But in a year in which I achieved both tenure and a book contract, such stories feel paradoxically more personal. This is really my profession now. And it's not getting better.
When I was in grad school and on the market, I was angry about the shape of the profession--but though it felt like my problem (I was one of the exploited, one of those who might never get a tenure-track job), it wasn't really: the crisis was the responsibility of my seniors, who, if they hadn't created it, were at least ignoring and perpetuating it.
I remember asking my union organizer why the faculty were so opposed to unionization, or why they seemed to believe--in the absence of all evidence--that everyone who worked hard and kept her head down would get a job. She said that maybe it was too hard for the faculty to acknowledge that the system was broken, that it wasn't a real meritocracy, and that they themselves didn't have the power to help or protect us.
That explanation struck me with the force of real truth, and it still does now that I'm one of them. We own this shitty system. We didn't break it, but we bought it.
So while I'm sure my conference stupor will lift in a day or two, I hope it's replaced by something less like paralysis and more like outrage.