Thursday, April 22, 2010

In Which My Slackery Ways Catch Up with Me

So you all know that I've got a conference coming up in the near-ish future. The paper that I will give is related to the Next Book, at least in theory. I say at least in theory because, well, let's just say that the paper is at this point only a vague idea inside of my brain.

But so anyway, the program for the conference is up online, and I took a gander at the schedule yesterday, and I'm a little... concerned. Somehow, I have been placed on a panel with Very Super-Important Guy. (I am not exaggerating his very super-importance: he literally is THE authority on the author whose work on which I'll present.) Now, VSIG and I are friendly, and I've known him since like 1996 (the only reason that this is important is that when I first met VSIG I didn't realize how very super-important he was, because I was clueless, and so only was intimidated after the fact because really he's incredibly nice and generous, which probably served me well, in the long run, but still). But it's one thing to be friendly with VSIG in a "let's chat and have a glass of wine at MLA" way, and entirely another to be on a freaking panel with him with work that does not yet even exist. And, beyond not wanting to embarrass myself in front of VSIG, his very super importantness means that a goodly number of OTHER very super important people will likely attend the panel, too, so there is a HUGE potential for me to make an utter and complete ass of myself.

I suppose the bright side of this is that I realized it all while I still have time to do something about it. There was another conference a few years ago where he showed up unexpectedly in the audience to hear the paper that I was presenting, and that was scary indeed, so at least in this scenario I'm forewarned. Of course, the dark underbelly of this situation, though, is that it's not like I can focus on this paper at all over the next month in the way that I really need to do because I'm motherfucking moving and school is ending and I'm on a search committee and I have no time to do anything other than crap this paper together.

So, readers, let this be a lesson to you. Don't write abstracts in January for vague and fuzzy ideas that you will then have to turn into super-polished work by June. It's very anxiety-producing.


Historiann said...

Relax, man: it sounds like you have a friendly working relationship with this person. Not every conference paper has to be teh brilliantest and awesomest thing evah. And, it's just a conference paper, right? 10 pages and you're out. (No one will complain if your paper runs only 15 minutes instead of 20+). At this point in your career, you can do this in your sleep, which is probably a good thing since (as you say) your waking hours will be consumed with other things for the next month or so.

Seriously: remember, you're a Senior Scholar now yourself.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Historian's comment is wise. I just have the same reaction that you do: EEEK!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Having just done this myself, I sympathize deeply. Is it any comfort that my paper, while not brilliant, wasn't a disaster? We do know, at this point, how to "crap together" acceptable work. Maybe you'll do better than that!

Susan said...

A someone who is in some contexts a VSIG (girl in my case), I can assure you that VSIG is probably saying right now, "Oh no, did I really say I'd give a paper in a month?"

Belle said...

One of the nicest things about the blogosphere is finding out that there are others who do the same things I do...

And finding others who'll salve my conscience and offer supportive pats-on-the-back.

PhysioProf said...

there is a HUGE potential for me to make an utter and complete ass of myself.

There is also HUGE potential for you to completely kick ass and impress all the real and metaphorical dick swingers at the panel.

Janice said...

Definitely good that you know this now. I'm with Historiann in recommending that you aim for ten pages, no more. That always wins friends, especially if you make a brief mention of the same, i.e.: "I'm keeping this short as there are so many amazing scholars in attendance that I want to make sure there's lots of time for discussion."

And you will inspire awe, yourself, you know, because you are just that awesome!

Dr. Crazy said...

Aw, you guys :)

I took most of the day/night off from the internet (though I accomplished NOTHING other than watching Project Runway and talking on the phone) so that's why I haven't checked in before now.

CP's comment is really the truth - that this situation really is a huge opportunity . This is where my anxiety really comes from, and not from worrying that I'll make an ass of myself. I know if I give a basic and lackluster paper that it really won't hurt me much (or even at all). But there is so much potential for awesomeness - that's where the pressure and anxiety really from. (What I didn't note in the post is that time when VSIG showed up at a paper I gave totally unexpected? Yeah, that turned into my first totally excellent publication ultimately. Actually, looking back, the times when he's been in my audience? Totally they have turned into being great awesome publication things - not because he did anything to facilitate any of those, but it has been a trend. I think that part of my fear here has to do with the fact that I don't want to be... disappointing or lame, in comparison with past performances. Does that make sense?)

But on a non-insecure note, I laugh at you folks who are telling me to write 10 pages. The reality for me (who tends to read in quite a dramatic and interactive way) is that 6-7 pages ends up being 15 minutes, and 8-9 ends up being just at about 20. My anxiety is not actually about meeting the time limit, nor is it even about giving a good conference presentation, actually. I give good conference papers. I'm sure that my presentation will meet the time length and be fine, even if it's crapped together, at least for the moment. And I'm sure people will think it's a fine paper.

My anxiety has to do with the fact that I really want for whatever I present to be *tight* and *interesting* and not just a crapped together and entertaining paper. I could write the 8-10 pages right now and it would be fine, but there would be people (including VSIG) who would know it's not what I'm capable of doing. It's that I want a *solid* 8-10 pages - not a lame 8-10 pages. And this matters so much because this 8-10 pages are likely going to be a small section of the Next Book. And people thinking these 8-10 pages are smart and interesting could be very important to seeing that through to publication. If I were just doing a one-off sort of conference paper, I would NOT be at this level of angst. Because it SO wouldn't mean anything. The problem is, this DOES mean something.

But you're so right. I know VSIG is all "I have to write this paper in a month?" right now. He's not inhuman in his powers or something. I KNOW he's procrastinated. It's just I don't want him (or others) to know that I have.

Comet Jo said...

1. I know I don't know you well enough for "I'm sure you'll kick ass" to have any meaning, but to the extent that I do know you from this blog, I'm sure you'll kick ass.

2. Being good at conference papers is a good thing, many people don't get the difference of genre. If it were me, in the circumstance you describe, I'd go for tantalizing as much as solid: if this is part of a project that is just beginning, be explicit about that, and talk about why the project as a whole is interesting to you and what you want to achieve (moving back and forth between an "analyzing the text" framing and a "broader contextualizing" framing helps wake people up in conference sessions).

3. My procrastination story: When I was a grad student I stayed in a hotel room with 3 junior profs (who were still doing the 2 to a queen bed grad student thing), and was made to feel very together by the fact that two of them spent the night before their paper in the bathroom (so they could have the light on while the rest of us slept) writing their papers.

Comet Jo said...

PS. Haven't you published a book and participated in major curricular reforms t both the departmental and university level while teaching a 4/4 load. We should all manage to develop such slackery ways!

Shane in SLC said...

Funny, I just faced exactly this situation: I presented a paper I had hastily put together in the weeks before the conference at a panel that included a couple of heavyweights, and consequently an audience of about 55 people. It was a bit intimidating, and I don't think I dazzled anyone, but it turned out okay. Yours will too.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

This was my experience at Big Medieval Conference last year. Yep -- scary as hell. And the Grande Dame was lovely.

Anonymous said...

On the housekeeping matter of the paper, with its impending due date:

Somewhere in the fuzzy idea that made you submit a proposal, there is probably something that you *really care about,* even if its relation to the presentation topic isn't fully developed.

I like to get a few words about this idea I *care* about and keep it ready to hand. Regular glances at it (or even hand-holding walks in the woods with it, time permitting) can go a long way toward preventing time-consuming safaris into my secondary sources' various own concerns and interests.

Not that I have to tell you how to freaking write, but if I had a VSIG's face looking over my shoulder, I'd certainly be looking for focusing tools.