Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Well, I somehow survived the last 4 days, and I am home and I feel sort of wound up like I have a lot I want to say, but I am also feeling so exhausted that I can't string thoughts coherently. In other words, this will likely be a rambling, scattered sort of post.

Now, first things first. I really love the MLA convention. I don't think one is supposed to say that. I think one is supposed to complain about its awfulness or something. And yes, I think objectively it is sort of awful, but I love it anyway. Perhaps the best way to convey what the MLA is for me would be to give you a play-by-play of the last 4 days.

Dec. 27

9:30 AM - Crazy arrives at airport and breezes through security and gets to her gate to see 3 of her colleagues will be on her flight. To her delight, one of those colleagues is Mentor Colleague! Huzzah! I love Mentor Colleague. We have much delightful conversation and then we board the plane.

On the plane, Crazy reviews the files of the candidates, and makes some notes for herself.

We arrive in Philadelphia, get the shuttle to the hotel. I check in. I learn that I'm in a stupid hotel that requires you to have a key to use the elevator or to access the stairs. This is ridiculous when you're going to have to interview candidates in a room on the 3rd floor. So I make my way over to the MLA housing desk and I am all "Um, this is nuts" and they call the hotel and it all ends up being fine. I then ran into Mentor Colleague again and grabbed some lunch and had a very nice long chat with him.

5:30 PM I meet Search Committee Colleague for a strategizing dinner. SCC is very uptight, but he's nice enough, I suppose. This is the first time I've ever spent more than 5 minutes talking to him.

7:30 PM I run back to my hotel to freshen up.

8:15 PM I head back over to the Marriott (late, we will note, for something that I scheduled) to meet up with Bloggy Peeps! Huzzah! The MLA has begun! (For the record, why don't we just say that the bloggy peeps meet-up will always be at 8 PM in the english hotel bar on the first night of MLA? I feel like it's such a nice way to start the convention!)

Midnight-ish I return to the hotel to sleep.

Dec. 28

6:30 AM - I awake and take myself to breakfast. I then return to my room to shower, to clean up the room, to prepare for the day of interviewing.

9:30 AM - SCC arrives at my room and we go over the candidates we'll be interviewing that day.

10AM to Noon - interviewing.

Noon - head to lunch, and then to book exhibit area, where I plucked up the courage to approach Very Good Press to talk about the Next Book. At first the guy seemed sort of blank, but once I talked through the project, INTERESTED! He gave me the card of the editor who would handle the book, should I propose it to them, and he encouraged me to email her! My book would fit perfectly with their list! Now, this doesn't mean very much at this early stage, but I felt very positive about it.

1:40 PM to 4 PM - interviewing.

5 PM - meet up with sort-of friend (though i sort of despise him) and go to Hotel Room Party with Whiskey, where I proceed to get drunkedy drunk drunk. This is what happens when dinner is crackers.

10 PM - stagger back to my own hotel room, annoy FB with a drunken phone call, pass out.

Dec. 29

6:30 AM - I awake. I curse the day I was born. I take advil and drink about 45 gallons of water, eat an apple for breakfast, and think about how it's really not sensible to drink so much.

7:30 AM - 10 AM - interviewing.

10:15 AM - 11:30 AM - panel for the society of which I am president.

11:30 AM - lunch, and shopping for society business meeting/party.

12:45 PM - 4:00 PM - interviewing

4:15-ish PM - I am late to meet Horace for a drink, but we do manage to meet up, and it is lovely. I blow off arriving on time for another engagement, and we make plans to meet up again later.

6 PM - I show up late to a wine and cheese thingie, but ultimately I was wise to show up late because the business had only just begun. I volunteer to be a reader for a journal. Because I'm a sucker for such things.

7:30 PM - go to the liquor store to buy wine for business meeting/party.

8PM -9PM - return to room to freshen up, straighten up, and ready the food and drink for the business meeting/party.

9PM - 10:15 PM - hold the business meeting/party.

10:25 PM - meet up with Horace and head over to another party, in a FANCY sweet, but apparently we arrived after most of the people left. Get to meet Very Fancy People whom I admire greatly, and then we make our exit.

(Time gets muddy at this point, for I've been drinking pretty much steadily since 4:30 PM)

Head with Horace to the Marriott Bar, meet up with Sisyphus, and drink whiskey with abandon. I then go back to my hotel room and collapse into the bed.

Dec. 30

11:15 AM - I wake up, pack up my shit, and leave my bag downstairs so I can head over to a panel and to see whether there are any giveaways or deals at the book exhibit.

12:15-12:45 - panel

12:45 - 1:30 - lunch

1:30 I head back to the hotel and arrange for the shuttle.

2:10 get the shuttle, get to the airport and breeze through check-in and security, and meet back up with 2 colleagues, for again we are on the same flight.

Somehow I then made it home, to two kittens, one of whom I think eats to comfort himself when I'm gone and the other whom I think doesn't eat because he's depressed.

But so anyway, that's what MLA is like for me. And yes, it's awful. And tiring. But I love that I get to see people I don't see anyplace else, and I love all of the parties and the socializing and getting to talk about my work, and all of that. The thing is, MLA is not a conference - it's a convention. And conventions are about all of this crazy hobnobbing and networking. And I know that's not everybody's cup of tea, but it is my cup of tea, apparently. What's nuts is that I didn't even do everything I might have done this year. And I'm totally not fancy or anything - I just really do the convention.

In other news, a review of my book has appeared. It's not positive (at all), but I'm strangely ok with that. Here's the thing: I didn't write the book that this reviewer wanted me to have written. And I can't really feel badly about somebody not liking my book for not being a different book. Some of the criticisms are totally fair, and if I were writing the book now, I know that it would be a different book. Maybe a better book, but maybe it would still have these flaws. Or different ones. But it still wouldn't be the book that this person wanted it to be. I kind of feel like somebody else needs to write the book that the reviewer wishes I would have written. Maybe, in fact, the reviewer should do it, as the reviewer has not published a book.

What's weird is that I feel like I should be devastated or something that the review basically says that the book's a piece of shit. Except I'm not. I just feel like the reviewer totally didn't get it. Maybe that's stupid. Maybe I should take the negative review more seriously, or more to heart, or something. But then I think, why? I think the best thing about the book is that it's out and done. I love that I never have to think about those particular things again. I love that I'm moving forward with totally new things. I love that a lot of people who've read the book have liked it or found it useful in their own scholarship. Of course, they've not said so in a journal, but then I think, you know, I've never read a single article in the journal in which this thing was reviewed. And, typically, I don't actually read reviews of books. So who cares? I mean, it's not a good thing, that my book is hated publicly, but does it really matter?

I'm thinking that it doesn't.

But so this may seem like a digression from the MLA title of the post, but it really isn't. Because here's the thing: the only point of the MLA convention, aside from the interviewing portion of things, is that it's about being active in the profession. And while my book may be garbage, at least in this one reviewer's eyes, that's also about being active in the profession. So maybe I wrote a shitty book. But I wrote it, and it was published. I'm part of the conversation. Really "doing" the MLA convention is about being part of the conversation, too, at least in my experience.

So, yes, I'm exhausted. But I left this MLA feeling totally psyched about getting started on the Next Book (I told lots of people about it, for one of my resolutions over the past couple of years has been to talk about what I'm working on, for that is what I see people I really admire doing, even though my natural inclination is to avoid such self-promoting braggart-like behavior, and in doing so I got some really great suggestions for directions I might take and also a lot of positive interest from people who I think are fantastic), feeling totally psyched about what I might achieve in a society in which I'm heavily involved, and feeling totally good about my institution and about my colleagues and about the hire that we will make after campus visits. And even the totally negative review hasn't changed how I feel about any of that. (Actually, it occurs to me that the person who reviewed my current book will likely despise my Next Book as well. Hee! Because you know what? I'm still not a new historicist or a cultural studies person. Or a psychoanalytic critic. Or somebody who works on non-canonical stuff. Or somebody who does postcolonial theory. I'm just not. And I feel like that's totally ok.)

So as much as I'm exhausted, I'm also energized. And I am very much looking forward to 2010.


Flavia said...

Rats! I'm sorry I didn't reconnect with you and Horace on Tues after our text exchange--though I'm surprised I didn't run into you, since I, too, was at the Marriott bar from about 5-7 and then again from about 9.30-11.

But it was great to see you on Sun, and great, too, to know someone else loves MLA as weirdly much as I do.

Annie Em said...

Sounds like good times, Dr. C. You've captured some of the many pleasures of the convention nicely!

I'm still here, probably one of the last standing MLA-ers (including a few dozen others who were still at the Marriott bar last night), leaving shortly, but it's clearly another world without 7000 colleagues: Wednesday afternoon was the only time I was able to walk straight up to the Starbucks counter and order a latte.

Have a happy new year, the year of the next book!

PhysioProf said...

Hotel Room Party with Whiskey, where I proceed to get drunkedy drunk drunk.

YEEHAHAHAH!!!!!! w00t!

Dr. Koshary said...

Whiskey really is an essential component of any worthwhile academic conference. You nailed the fact that it's more a convention than a conference; my discipline's annual meeting is much the same. Come to think of it, the hobnobbing and boozing it up with old friends and colleagues sometimes seems far more worthwhile than the papers people give. I blew off at least half of the sessions I noted before the conference, and ended up hanging out in the bar with friends; it was tonic.

Historiann said...

Thanks for the excellent on-the-ground reportage, Dr. Crazy, and sorry I've been away far too long. (End of semester nonsense, etc.)

I think your read of the review is probably correct. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I wrote my share of "this book should really be X" book reviews. I think you're correct to assume that it's a trap that junior scholars fall into--although it's not just younger scholars, unfortunately! Most of us find writing a book and getting it through production to be a humbling experience, so that we come to think that any book that's actually been published has achieved something very meaningful.

Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

One of the books that inspired the direction of my dissertation, which is a book to which I've returned a number of times in framing my work and that I dearly love and think is not only smart and insightful but really beautiful is the subject of the worst book review I've ever read in my life. Seriously. It contains a sentence that effectively say "I can't believe this piece of shit made it to the publisher in this form." And you know, it's because they didn't get it. So when I'm reading the review, I get that they didn't get it and all is well. Point being, your audience will get it and form their own conclusions, no matter what a reviewer says. I think you're right not to be devastated.

Unknown said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who loves the MLA. It's the only conference where I can see my friends who aren't in my exact field, the hotels are always fancy, and there is soooo much to drink. I like running into people I know from this or that and seeing famous people. With MLA-colored glasses on, everybody looks more attractive than they really are, everybody's drunker than they really should be, and most people's papers aren't any better than ones I've given at crappy regional conferences! (okay--so maybe most of those aren't true, but they seem true enough!)

Bobba Lynx said...

Go, Dr. Crazy ! My "home convention" is a different one than MLA, and I have felt more than a tad defensive over the years after telling people what fun I had/was having. As if one is not serious. As if one is some kind of freak of nature for enjoying the energy, the networking, the old friends, the possibilities. I love it that you came back stoked with the right and proper attitude about the book review. It's also not going to be the only review, so look forward to that, too. How do we all know you had not just a good but great time ? Your Freudian mention of the fancy party in the "sweet." Sweet, indeed ! Sounds fantastic, and, let me say, I admire your drinking prowess ! Hats off !

Bavardess said...

I don't know how you can do the whiskey thing two nights in a row - I bow down! (and I'm quite jealous). Your reaction to the review seems very centred. No matter what you write or how good it is, there is probably always going to be someone who wants it to be something other than what it is.

Horace said...

Whiskey with abandon. Yup, that about covers it. It was great to hang out! See you next year, if not before...

Rokeya said...

It was nice to read your thoughts before I read the review (which I read just now). We actually work on some similar issues and I'd be interested in talking more with you about some of them. The reason I'm commenting is to tell you that reading the review actually made me interested in reading the book to see how you situate some of the arguments the reviewer describes--and I'm sure I'm not the only one whose curiosity is deepened by the review. That's a good thing :)

Dr. Crazy said...

Rokeya, thanks for the note! Am sending you a Fb note now :)