Saturday, April 2, 2011

St. Petersburg Sojourn and Thoughts on Academic Conferences

Months ago, I submitted an abstract to the College English Association and happily, my paper was accepted. In past years, I've gotten away from the practice of going to academic conferences. They can be ghastly expensive, and out of price range for adjuncts. And I wrestle with whether or not presenting at academic conferences will be seen as important, should I ever go on the job market again. Some years I think it's far more important to focus on my poetry, and others, I worry about this hole in my CV.

So, even though there was no travel money this year, I decided it was time to go to academic conferences again. I went to the AWP and enjoyed it thoroughly. I decided to cut my time at the CEA short.

For one thing, when I had originally thought about going, I thought that my spouse could go with me, and it would be a mini vacation. Alas, he had to work. Suddenly, that special conference hotel price of $129 a night started to look very expensive.

So, I decided to cut my time short. I looked forward to time away and the chance to explore a new city. However, it was not a good weather week-end for exploring--very stormy. Plus, St. Pete was having some sort of Speedway car racing event, which meant that parts of the city were impassable,wrapped in chain link fencing. And when you've come from the DC region, where the Smithsonian museums are free, finding out that the museums in St. Pete charge $14-21 for admission--well, I decided to stay put.

I braved the winds and read by the pool. No threat of sunburn on Wednesday. I came back to the room and did some final proofreading for my writing project that was due Friday. I looked through the volumes of poetry that Dave Bonta and I will be discussing. I read some of the poems in each book and took notes for what to look for during my intense read. I read Kelli Russell Agodon's Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room straight through. I made notes on my presentation.

I didn't write a paper, the way I would have when I was younger. One of the reasons that I don't like traditional literary conferences is that everyone reads a paper, often in a dreadful monotone. One of the reasons that I liked the AWP so much is that people had conversations. So, I approached my CEA opportunity as a talk, not a paper presentation.

It went very well. I presented at one of the very first of the 12 (!!) concurrent sessions, at 8:00 a.m. We had an audience of about 8 people, not counting presenters--that's about 6 more people than I was expecting.

I had thought that I might stick around for more sessions, but the weather that morning had already been apocalyptic to the north, and the system was expected to head south and settle in by afternoon (which it did, with massive damage). So, after my presentation, I threw my stuff in the car and headed home.

There are people who might criticize my approach to this conference. They might say that I should have made more of an attempt to network, never a strong suit of mine. What if I find myself flung back onto the merciless job market?

Well, it will be hard to know which connections will be most important, should I find myself out of work. Will it be the people I might have met at conferences? Will it be old friends from grad school? Co-workers from past places? People I've met through blogging? I suspect the latter categories will be more important than random connections I might make at a literary conference.

It's the same way that it's hard to know how best to prepare for retirement. Or to return to an earlier example, which form of intelligent interaction with my field will be most important (conference presentation, poetry publication, reviews, literary criticism, something that hasn't even been invented yet?) should I ever need another job?

As with investments, I try not to put all my eggs in one basket. I publish creative works and theology and the occasional review or literary criticism piece and I hope that my Renaissance approach will be appealing to the kinds of places (non-research focused, post secondary education) I would apply.

The best part of my 20 hours in St. Pete? The chance to reconnect with old family friends, who have known me since I was 4. They've seen me in all my unattractive phases (think smart-mouthed 19 year old in combat boots), and they were still willing to meet me for dinner. We had a lovely evening with a perfect dinner.

The best part of my drive? That trek across the state, through the Everglades, with broad vistas unmarked by humans--well, except for the stretch of Interstate, of course. If I had been in a mood to stop and take pictures, I'd have taken a shot of the sign that said, "Check your gas gauge. No facilities for the next 50 miles." How often do you see that? I might have also taken a picture of the sign that announced the Florida Panther Sanctuary.

But I took no pictures. I got home, put my stuff away, and went right back to the process of meeting deadlines, thinking about book promotion (look for upcoming announcement about a reading in the wine shop--hurrah!), grocery shopping, laundry, what needs to be done at work. I'm both missing my St. Pete sojourn and feeling happy to be back home. I need to get back to poetry writing, and what better time than now, National Poetry Month!

1 comment:

Kells said...

How cool to see Letters from Emily D was with you!