To tell you all about my Christmas trip to San Francisco, I’ll have to tell you in two parts.
Part the First: The Huge Conference.
As you know, my reason for being in SF was the huge MLA Convention, which is THE big thing in my field. Basically all of the professors, instructors, and grad students in English, Comparative Literature, and all the Foreign Languages (as well as some in Linguistics, though not as many) convene together to intimidate each other for the holidays. It’s full of good cheer, let me tell you.
Here’s a brief description of the goings-on for those of you not in this industry. First of all, people come to share and discuss their work. There are literally hundreds of sessions/panels you can attend to hear people read their papers. [Insert here a long digression about how reading your paper aloud to a room of listeners is not the most effective way to communicate your ideas.] Even though there’s bound to be something for everyone, it can be hard to see all the panels you want, since inevitably the three you want to see will all be scheduled for the same time slot.
Next, there is a huge book expo where publishers display their wares and try to get you to chose their books for a course (causing all 30-100 of your students to have to purchase it) and where scholars can also meet with publishers to try to sell their manuscripts. For those scholars who did not arrange meetings and had to simply wander around the room saying “OH HAI, I CAN HAS BOOK DEAL NAO?” this seemed fairly awkward. (I saw several of these unfortunate encounters as I was wandering from stall to stall. I almost died of sympathetic embarrassment.) This is a nice event because the publishers will inevitably be giving away free books, tote bags, and occasionally candy, wine, and cheese. You can totally rack up if you spend enough time here, not that I would know or anything. I, um, just heard that from, um, a colleague.
Then there is the big motivator: Job Interviews. Most of the schools who are running job searches in the Fall will do their first round of interviewing here. This is why you’ll see eager young newbies running around in the uniform required by the unwritten rules of the MLA: a black or grey suit, trendy haircut, dark-framed rectangular glasses. (Check, check, check.) Of course, in discussing interviews with other newbies, one inevitably will be entered into a round of The Interview Intimidation Game whether one wants to or not. How many jobs did you apply for? How many interviews did you get? With which schools? How did they go? Etc. You’ll hear self-congratulations disguised as complaints: “Oh, it was just so hard to schedule myself this year since I had TWELVE INTERVIEWS to manage…in addition, of course, to the TWO PANELS I was presenting in. DID YOU HAVE THAT PROBLEM?” Then again there’s the faux-empathy which also really functions as self-congratulation: “Oh, I know, the job market is so tough this year. Let me tell you what happened to me. I had one interview with [Famous, Well-Respected “Regional Ivy”], and it was going so well. Really well. Everything was brilliant, just brilliant. Then I noticed my fly was unzipped!” You’ll have to resist the urge to strangle this person for boasting about the fantastic interview with the really great school when you hear just how tough they really had it. Or not. No one wins in this game.
If you are lucky at this conference, you will have friends and colleagues around to make the douchebaggery that goes on more tolerable. If it’s your first year attending, you will be lucky if you have someone to show you the ropes and explain how the program works and how to get free stuff at the book expo (um, for example), and friends to meet for a business lunch (a.k.a. a beer) in between activities, or to hit Macy’s with after lunch, or to meet for drinks at the end of the last day so you can blow off a little steam. I was lucky enough to have those friends around, and so I survived.
Coming up: Part the Second: Fun San Francisco Stuff!