Thursday, April 16, 2015


After an extra-long stay on the west coast to celebrate my one and only brother's wedding, I'm finally returned and recovered from #shakeass15. This was my seventh SAA in nine years, and maybe it's time to give in and admit that, drama scholar or no, this really is my conference now.

This was the first year that I organized and ran a seminar of my own (a rather wee one, as it turned out, but with great papers and participants), and probably the second at which it seemed fully half of the seminars were run by friends, or at least friends-of-friends, or, anyway: people I know well enough to talk to for five minutes at the bar.

When I was at an earlier stage of my career, I think I longed for this moment as a sign that I'd "made" it, that I was some kind of an insider. And for at least a couple of hours on Thursday, it did feel that way: at the opening reception, after 10 hours of travel, not enough to eat, and (just possibly) more wine than I'd realized, I was possessed of the delusion that either I knew everyone or everyone knew me. This was a terrific feeling, and led to my crashing a lot of conversations: I'd see a knot of four or five people, recognize one of them, and decide that the whole group probably knew who I was and would be thrilled if I barged into their conversation. When the expected enthusiastic welcome wasn't forthcoming, I'd think, geez, those are some weird, uptight people--and move along to the next bunch.

As a strategy to overcome the social-awkwardness-that-reads-as-unfriendliness at academic conferences, this may not have been the worst approach: without the anxious, inhibiting voice in my head persuading me that I was the weird, rude one, I was free to be . . . well, a little weird and a little rude. But also charming and friendly! (I'm pretty sure!)

Looking back on the reception from the following day's luncheon, it was clear that I didn't know half the attendees. (Using a generous definition of "know," it's conceivable that I knew one-quarter.) And the people I don't know aren't just grad students or scholars emeriti: they're often people my own age, at my career stage, doing interesting and important work; we just haven't met yet.

This is, I think, the real sweet spot: being only two or three degrees of separation from everyone, but never feeling that one has reached the end or exhausted all the possible SAAs within any given SAA.

But no matter how many sub-conferences any conference contains, Ima try to crash every one of them.


Comradde PhysioProffe said...

Drink and babble! That's my philosophy!

Flavia said...


If only we went to the same conferences!

Veralinda said...

You're adorable.

Flavia said...


And just think: you could have seen this with your own eyes had you not skipped the reception to grade!

Historiann said...

You Europeanists seem to drink more than we Americanists. At least, the parties at Euro history & lit conferences are more famous--Kalamazoo, ShakeAss, etc.

Or maybe it's the presence of Britons specifically at these things--they seem to be less inhibited about asking and looking for the bottles than we uptight U.S. Americans (and prob. Canadians too.)

Susan said...

The archeologists are the champion drinkers (and they are proud of it). I don't think historians drink that much!

jo(e) said...

I just went to a big creative writing conference -- that group drinks so much that one year, the hotel bar ran out of liquor.

Flavia said...

I think Susan may have your answer, Historiann (because I know plenty of Americanists on the lit side who are enthusiastic drinkers!).

But Jo(e)'s right that most lit scholars can't hold a candle to creative writers.