Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"The Office" (Workstation series) 60 (gettin' up on the road edition)

Pre-launch morning: Dharmonia and I depart this afternoon to points north for the annual gathering of our particular musicological tribe, which I'm going to try to blog live (more or less). It's usually--actually--pretty enjoyable, if only for the opportunity to see old friends and to get the research/scholarship batteries recharged. I know a lot of academics who treat conferences (once their own presentations are done) as an excuse to sightsee, go to restaurants, and booze it up late at night, basically on their department's tab.

That's not really our thing: because we live hell west of nowhere on the Great Flat, the chance to hang with a lot of other research colleagues, and hear what they're doing, is quite welcome. Of course any such conference is riddled with all the behaviors that tend to make people think of academics as spoiled ivory-tower aesthetes:

  • the questioner in the after-paper discussion, usually a junior person trying to be visible and make an impression, who has obviously spent the entire presentation, not listening, but composing his/her own impossible abstruse and jargon-ridden question, not to elicit an answer, but in order to display her/his own erudition or to take the presenter down a couple of pegs;
  • the questioner, usually a senior person, who asks grumpily why the presenter didn't cite the senior's own scholarship--no matter its irrelevance to the topic;
  • the breakout sessions and task forces organized and self-promoted by members of various self-perceived under-represented demographics;
  • the overage-in-grade seniors who seem to think the conference is like Vegas: that every kind of social misbehavior (drunkenness, theft, adultery, harassment) will be left and forgotten in the conference city--but never is;
  • the juniors who, because they were stars in their graduate programs or won an organizational award for research, think that teaching skills are beneath them;
  • the hoverers in the book room who walk in on the opening Tuesday and get their dibs in the desk copies before anybody else is actually in town
  • And so on and so forth.
But there are also brilliant, inspiring people, the quality of whose erudition, the incisiveness of whose thought, the generosity of whose spirits, the courage of whose intellectual and political stances, the stamina of whose 30- or 40- or 50-year careers and intellectual contributions, all provoke a valuable dose of humility and gratitude. Sometimes they're old comrades-in-arms who had your back in the worst firefights or who walked the craziest parts of the path with you. And sometimes they're even youngsters who you yourself trained and whose dedication, virtuosity, effort, and go-for-broke commitment to the profession give you the kind of lump in your throat that parents must feel when their grown kids change the world for the better.

I always come back from this conference worn out, glad to be home, sick of hotel food and beds, but with thousands of words of notes to carry me through the next year of teaching and, usually, the next half-decade of research ideas. Conferences can be lonely when you're young, are beating the bushes for a gig, don't know people, haven't anyone to hang out with in the hotel bar.

I'm not looking forward to 24 hours of travel to get there. But, to paraphrase Kevin Murphy, when Dharmonia's with me I can have a good time waiting in line to buy gravel. I can damn sure have a good time in a foreign city with Dharmonia and the members of my tribe.

Now playing: Jeff Beck - Freeway Jam

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