The weather in San Francisco is so incredibly NICE (compared to the rest of the country) that it’s a painful challenge deciding whether to attend sessions or go for a run along the Embarcadero.
Attending sessions won today: this morning I stopped at the Starbucks two blocks from the Hilton (which was pleasantly UNcrowded, unlike the one IN the Hilton), then wondered to the Hilton, where I thought I would attend the Academic Freedom? session, controversial because of the inclusion of David Horowitz (you can read about him with links to what others think about him here) and Mark Bauerlein (read about him here among other places), set up against Cary Nelson. But, at the last minute I decided against the drama of that panel (though there were fewer protestors than I expected) and chose a more pragmatic teaching online panel, where I learned that I pretty much know a lot about teaching literature online already (very useful knowledge).
Then I attended the other panel on Academic Freedom, this one sponsored by the MLA’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities (say that 10 times fast). A very rewarding choice, since the panelists were all lively and informative, though interestingly, unlike the earlier panel, this one was in a room the size of a shoebox forcing several folks to stand, and those sitting together to constantly bump elbows and knees. But, and this speaks to the quality of the mostly informal presentations, no one minded.
This afternoon I spent my very first time as a Delegate at the MLA Delegate Assembly, learning not only the painful pragmatism of Robert’s Rules of Order, but also the pleasures (and pain) of listening to very articulate people wordsmith, in a room of over 150 delegates, motions and resolutions. I also learned that next time I need to bring water and food–sitting for over 5 hours does not come naturally to me. I did figure out how things work (reminded me a little of Model Congress and Model UN, those high school extra curriculum activities that I enjoyed so many years ago), and next year I’ll be wordsmithing with the best of them.
After drinks at the hotel (the benefit of not staying at the convention hotels is that the smaller ones have free wine tasting every evening at 5pm), dinner at an Italian restaurant, then walking back to the hotel behind a very lively anti-Israel-bombing-of-Hamas protest (with more riot police than protesters, or so it seemed), and now back here, early for urban time, but late for us small town folk.
The MLA convention may be a disorienting crowd to some people, but I have always enjoyed it. I feel like I’m among “my” people, even if I disagree strongly with them, or have very different professional lives than they do. Former English majors (I can speak to them more than foreign language and other humanities faculty) are an odd mixture of introvert, socially awkward, yet forced, by profession, to be socially extroverts: I find the dissonance fascinating in them and in myself.