Final MLA Musings

Bev of the fabulous head scarves learned much at the 2009 MLA; and Flavia (who immediately mapped the two very important “b’s” (book exhibit and bar) ponders the social meet ups that are a big part of the MLA.  

What did I learn?

  • I learned that when one hangs out with friends from graduate school, that it’s a bit too easy to revert to the fabulousness of being 20-something.  Of course, since it’s the MLA, such fabulousness is limited to drinking just a wee too much (the MLA signature drink this year, the “125”: prosecco, a splash of Canton Ginger liqeuor, and a twist of candied ginger) and enjoying some harmless flirting.  But that’s it. As the old story goes, “All [MLA-ers] do is talk. Never saw so much talking, so much drinking, and so little screwing in all my life.” ***
  • I learned that I definitely prefer sessions where the presenters are lively and passionate (whether or not they read from their papers is almost irrelevant), and that workshops where I can be actively engaged are very rewarding  (I can’t wait for more of those next year).
  • I learned that on the last day of the convention, everyone, everyone, looks damned tired. It’s not a good day to plan breakfast or lunch dates. It’s probably not a great day to have a session. It’s not at all a good day to have a craving for Starbucks  [note: I did finally get my pumpkin latte around 3pm today at a Starbucks that was NOT in the Marriott).
  • I learned that walking the mile to the Rodin and Philly Art Museums on a very cold, windy day feels like 5 miles. But I enjoyed my visits to both museums, despite the missing “Thinker” (seems he is being cleaned up) at the Rodin.
  • I learned that I need to just plan on shipping stuff back at an MLA in a world where checking luggage is now expensive and, with a 3-plane trip ahead of me, any checked luggage may not even make it.
  • Finally, I learned that I still enjoy the MLA: the trick is to find ways to make it feel more like a smaller conference (going to related sessions was very helpful since I saw some of the same people and always had someone to chat with–that’s ONE strategy)  rather than the big, intimidating controlled chaos it can often feel like.

*** [The quote comes from a 2007 anonymous blogger who immediately contradicts the old story, as does a recent InsideHigherEd, blurb].

Sleepless in Philadelphia

Ok, not exactly sleepless, since I haven’t been to bed yet, but it’s terribly LATE for Annie Em to be awake especially since she’s usually asleep by now PST!

But I’m awake.

Had a lovely, hectic, productive, interesting day at MLA 09.  Spent the morning at the hotel Fitness Center with about 8 other folks who thought it a good idea to work out at 7am ish.  Then had my biggest breakfast ever in the hopes that I would be nourished enough to last the day’s panels and the possibly very long MLA meeting this afternoon. That sort of worked (luckily, there was cake at the Book Exhibit and a colleague brought snacks to the really Very Long (but, as always, fascinating) Meeting this afternoon).

Went to a panel this morning that was not the best I’ve attended this session, mostly because it was an overview of professional issues that I am, as I belatedly realize, fully aware of now. But the young grad student next to me was not, and her thought was to learn all about the politics of the profession she was soon to enter. Brava to her. We chatted about that briefly before the session began.

We both snuck out soon after..

I chatted with several grad students today, including one who said that she had no interviews, but also hadn’t considered EVER teaching at a community college: instead, her plan was to “sell” her  barely finished dissertation to a publisher.  You see, she and her hubby have a lovely house south of San Fran on the ocean that they bought a few years ago. Yes, on the ocean. So she was sort of place- bound.   I wished her luck. You know, some grad students have it really tough.

Then I met others who had 5 interviews, 3 of them that went very well. And other grad students who were very concerned that they may soon be required to teach 2 courses a semester instead of 1. And I was really feeling very  badly for their plight. 

Luckily, I eventually met a few graduate students who seemed to be living the life I did  (those who were teaching at 3 different schools, while writing their dissertations, and searching for jobs all over the country), and I sighed with some relief because you know we full profs really want to replicate ourselves.

But seriously: it is not a good time to be the graduate student waking up from his/her 7-sort of-year slumber to realize that the climate has changed even more drastically than a few degrees.  I don’t envy them. Well, I do envy the one with the oceanfront property, but that’s all, really.

But I did have a lovely evening, after the Very Long (but fascinating) Meeting, dining and catching up with a friend from college.  Catching up with other colleagues. Learning that I prefer sauvignon blanc to pinot grigio when I’m going to drink for several hours. And if you are eating at the Marriott’s “13” tomorrow, I highly recommend the Cobb Steak Salad: it was large, yummy, divine!

A friend of mine asked me to list the names of funny, mockable panels, and I can’t find any. Really. This must be the year of the mundane conference panel titles.  Am I missing one?

I’ll sleep on it.

MLA and the 21st Century

So this is the LAST December MLA covention (an announcement that got a round of applause at the Presidential Address Monday night).  I truly understand the reasons behind the change (how crazy is it to have a major convention right after Xmas?), but for those of us on the quarter system, the switch to the first Thurs-Sat in January means we miss several days during the first week of the quarter (except for those years when we begin the 2nd week of January–all depending on when Jan 1st occurs).

Anyway, that’s not the only change.  There are more pre-convention workshops on engaging/participatory topics (this year there was one on Women and Academic Leadership, which was so popular that it filled up quickly despite an extra fee).  There are more sessions geared specifically toward community college faculty thanks in part to the work by the Committee on Community Colleges (and of course there is the resulting debate about whether more cc-sessions are preferable to more major, i.e. presidential theme- panels that include cc-faculty).  I heard that in Texas, over 50% of ALL college students are currently at community colleges:  it’s a good time for the MLA to try to entice those potential new members to their national disciplinary organization.

There are more panels on digital humanities.  And more panels on the practical aspects of teaching, including one on “Reading as a Teacher: A Workshop for Teachers of Literature”–an experimental workshop session, one of the various types of sessions that will be encouraged in the “new” MLA in an attempt to get away from the “reading a paper” model more common at a typical MLA panel.

The book exhibit also seems more compact and comfortable (though maybe that means less attended?) allowing for more casual discussion with publishers (and more access to the free wine and cheese at cocktail hour, but that’s really not the point). One publisher told me that fewer folks are buying books or taking the freebies because of carry-on luggage restrictions (I”m in that category) which may mean that fewer folks are giving in to temptation by visiting the exhibits? 

One irony: NYU Press was offering a drawing for a free Amazon Kindle (with the submission of a business card, the better for them to send us ads for the rest of our lives no doubt): I chatted with the sales person (or editor?) about how amusing I thought that was, but he wasn’t biting: instead he claimed that over 150 of their books were now available on Kindle (however, the winner of the Kindle would not get one pre-loaded with NYU books).  One NYU writer I talked with balked at the idea that his book would be available on Kindle interestingly.

 I also noted that for the first time, there was no line of computers available in the exhibit hall for folks to check email for free: in the past, I stood in that line daily.  Now, I have a netbook (taking up the space of at least one hard cover book).  I wonder how many folks were disappointed by the loss of those freely available computers?  I saw so many people, including presumably poor graduate students, with e-mail capable phones, however, that I may just be living in the past (and damn, I want one of those phones!).

I’m feeling the love: these are positive changes at the MLA at a time when job opportunities for those looking for 4-year college/research university positions are shrinking (and it will be interesting to see in winter/spring how many new positions become available at community colleges), when the fiscal health and membership figures for the organization are still strong, but not quite as rosy as in the past.  I know that smaller, more nimble groups (such as TYCA , Two Year College Association) began to offer new formats for their conference sessions years ago, and it’s exciting to see the MLA adopt the strengths of the smaller conferences while maintaining the variety and energy of a large, national conference.

Gonna Fly (and apologize) Now

Woke up to a sunny, almost spring like day in Philadelphia, and went for a little run.  Ran to the museum (there’s the Rocky statue), then through Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River Trail for a few more miles (if you were there, I was the one smiling tourist-like at all of the amusing statues along the way, and saying “good morning” to the other runners, who either smiled back or looked at me oddly).  Did you know you could run all the way to Valley Forge along that trail (20 miles)?  Maybe next time….

Then I treated myself to 2 scoops of ice cream (cookie dough and peanut butter swirl): really, it’s that warm outside (in the sunshine).

I”m now at the Convention Center picking up my plastic badge holder and using the free (and fast) wi-fi along with about 30 or more others dressed in various shades of black, just as I am, and I must use this opportunity to apologize to Rosemary Feal and all those Twitter fans who I believe were annoyed at my previous Twitter-doubting post of just a few days ago.  Clearly, it’s easier, faster and actually a little fun to post status updates while traveling. My FB friends are loving those quick updates  if we can go by the comments already posted there  (a lifelong dream to visit Philly? why did you get boring cookie dough? where is the picture of YOU with Rocky).  And for those that don’t know: status updates are pretty much the same as tweets (though I can go on longer than 140 characters, thankfully). 

Blog posts, however, just take longer to compose, and really, I haven’t said all that much more.

MLA Travel Story

One car, two planes, one taxi and 13 hours later I arrived at my hotel in Philadelphia.  It’s not anyone’s fault that the weather in Philly created major delays all day, so that by the time my plane arrived, we couldn’t land (seems there has been nearly 2 inches of rain here combined with snow melt today). We did get to spend a lovely hour at the Baltimore airport to refuel, during which we were not given anything to drink or eat, and using the toilets that no longer flushed was not advised.

Luckily the couple next to me offered me a delicious homemade holiday cookie to keep any hunger at bay.  It’s raining heavily in Philadelphia, though, so when I finally arrived at the hotel, I was relieved to find a relatively affordable hotel bar with decent food: a glass of wine and a veggie panini can be divine…

I did get some reading done, so being stuck on a plane wasn’t all bad:

  • Loved Joan Acocella’s review of the new prosey Chaucer translation in The New Yorker.
  • Finally read Three Cups of Tea:   yes, Mortensen sounds positively saint-like, and some chapters were engaging and interesting, but I found myself skipping a lot, especially toward the end. 
  • Read Allison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs (1984), a Pulitzer Prize winning academic novel.  It’s  a tragicomedy, more tragic than many academic novels. Even though the two English profs discover something about love and passion, and their own complicity in their inability to find lasting love and passion, I don’t see it as the grand comedy that contemporary reviewers (looking at the back of my used copy) seemed to deem it.  It’s definitely Jamesian (as the narrative constantly reminds us). The two main characters, 29 year old Fred Turner (asst prof and untenured) and 54 year old Virginia Miner (full prof), both from what is probably Cornell but on sabbatical at the same time in London, take turns telling their tales in alternate chapters.  Virginia’s meditations on middle aged sex are briliant. At first she seems to resign herself to the sex-lessness of being a middle aged woman since, for one reason, such women never have sex in English litererature. Then she meets a large, sort of sexy,  nearly 60 year old Oklahoman man and, eventually, she is much less inclined to think about giving up sex: “And this world, Vinnie [Virginia’s nickname] thinks now, is not English literature. It is full of people over fifty who will be around and in fairly good shape for the next quarter century: plenty of time for adventure and change, even for heroism and transformation.” But, despite this big breakthrough, she loses the Oklahoman man, and although she does a few selfless acts at the end of the novel, I fear she’ll return to Cornell and be her usual spinsterish selfish mostly sexless self.

But I did enjoy the novel, and I’ll look for more Lurie to read (or reread?) in the future.  It’s definitely a novel of the middle aged, if I want to pursue that idea someday…

Now, off to bed. The weather report says that tomorrow is the best day of the week, and I’m looking forward to my free morning to explore.  There are a few MLAers in the lobby and the restaurant, but it’s obviously the lull before the enslaught tomorrow…

Snowshoeing to the MLA

Christmas day was fabulous this year: the skies were cloudy in town, but up in the mountains the sun was shining and it felt nearly spring-like.  We snowshoed in the sunshine on relatively empty trails.  We brought hot cocoa mixed with some whisky, oranges, trail mix, peanut butter sandwiches and water, and we picnicked in a meadow in the sunshine.  A truly beautiful way to spend Christmas day.

And yes: my snowshoes are pink.

But then it was time to pack for the big trip to the BIG LIT convention.

Let’s just say I’m NOT a good packer:  it takes me hours. I know how to squeeze clothes into zip lock baggies, kneeling on them to get all the air out, allowing me to cram even more into my carry on.  And I’ve figured out that I really don’t need to bring 4 novels with me (there is usually a movie I want to watch). But it’s still a challenge for me to pack: to choose what to bring, and then to actually fit it all in.

As always, the toughest decisions are:

  • pack clothes for warmth (as always, it’s going to be damned cold in Philly) or looks?
  • bring fun novels and magazines or work-related readings?
  • exactly how much food will I need to pack for what is usually a 10+ hour trip door to door?
  • stow an extra bag for the exhibit hall goodies or not?

I have packed the netbook, so the plan is to post a few chatty bloggings about the convention, the last one being held immediately after Christmas. (Next year’s January 2011 Los Angeles site should be so much warmer than the usual locales.)  

I won’t be competing with the Executive Director’s blog or the usual fine reporting from Inside Higher Ed or The Chronicle, so if you want more variety (and actual depth) in your MLA Convention reporting, check them out.  And some of my fellow literary/language bloggers will also be reporting/blogging (and I hope to meet some of you all soon).

With  luck, this little incident won’t make travel over the next few days too much more painful than usual.

Happy travels to those of you headed to Philadelphia (or elsewhere)!


So, this quarter, I read 4 student researched essays on the popularity of Facebook or Twitter.  All four were excellent: good research, thoughtful analysis of the causes and effects (without going into the usual “the world will end” or “this stuff is awesome” conclusion that often sometimes happens with cause/effect analysis essays).

The students who focused on Twitter both joined Twitter as part of their “research” and they convinced me to join, too (the fact that Rosemary Feal of the MLA is twittering in anticipation of the convention this year also enticed me to join). 

Both students noted the phenomenon of odd strangers “following” them, and that most of the tweets were the usual Facebook-like status updates about Seinfeldian nothingness.  One student concluded that Twitter seemed to be more common with “older” people (you know, those of us older than 25) than with people his age (18ish) and that they used Twitter to connect on professional issues or to keep up with whatever sort of news that interested them.

Since I told both students I had joined  Twitter, and showed them my home page (or whatever it’s called), they both “interviewed” me, novice user, as part of their research, pointing out with some glee that after 3 months I only had 3 followers, and only followed 6 others, 5 of them professionally-related organizations, including the MLA.  {Note: neither student asked to follow me, thankfully.}

So, what have I concluded about Twitter? Well, it is amusing to read Rosemary’s tweets promoting the convention (see the Hurston film! buy the cool MLA t-shirts! go to this panel!). And I can see instant updates from The Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed.  And my one friend is quite witty with her tweets.

But  in all of those cases, I’d much prefer to read the blogs: I can read a more detailed overview of a Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed story in Google Reader; I can find out more about my friend’s subway incident on her Facebook page; and Rosemary can give a much more vivid sense of what is happening in Philly during the convention on the convention blog she promises to do again this year.  140 characters can point elsewhere or provide a quick moment of wit, but no, it doesn’t quite satisfy.

Since I so rarely remember to check Twitter, I decided to read Rosemary’s tweets the old fashioned way: by subscribing to them in Google Reader.

Twitter: Twitterdee or Twitterdum? Discuss (in more than 140 characters, please).

Dead Weekend

bachelorbutjuneThe horrid quarter system (10 weeks of instruction followed by 1 week of finals) doesn’t really allow time for the traditional “dead week” of no classes and no assignments so that students can study for finals; however, for some instructors, we do have the lovely hiatus I’m called “dead weekend”: the weekend before finals week when advanced composition students are frantically revising research papers (I spent dozens of hours reviewing the drafts last weekend) and where my online introduction to fiction students are taking their “take home” short essay finals.

So what did I do during my dead weekend? 

I must say, it was divinely decadent.

  • I chatted with students on the last day of classes who thanked me for my speech to honors students last weekend: I decided to go the personal/inspirational route. And, taking advice from Ink, my metaphor was: doing well academically is like training for the half marathon.  I also referred to David Wallace Foster’s “what the hell is water?” parable.  It was a speech chock-filled with imagery (and the obligatory “always wear sunscreen” reference got the chuckle I hoped for).
  • I went out Friday night with colleagues and friends to celebrate the end of one friend’s rotation as chair of a department.  We ate, drank and talked outside in the evening sun—something we rarely do when classes are in session. Decided we needed a faculty lounge on (our dry, alas) campus.
  • I leisurely ran my favorite trail along the river laughing to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and admiring the wildflowers in bloom.
  • I went to a birthday bbq the next night, sitting outside by the fire pit, nibbling on those yummy chicken sausages and chatting about summer plans (reading, writing, running, the 3Rs, as well as socializing and travelling).
  • I ran a 5K race on Sunday morning, and ran a personal best of 26:06: I came in 137th out of over 700 runners.  The half marathon I’ve been training for is next Sunday and I now feel great confidence that I can not just complete it, but complete it well.
  • I worked in my garden: I now have several pots filled with soon to be blooming flowers.
  • I finished watching season 1 of “In Treatment”—the HBO series starring the studly Gabriel Byrne that has me oddly hooked.  I’ve had a few sessions of therapy, enough to know that this tv show is a wild exaggeration of what is probably mostly skimming on unethical therapy in real life, but ooh, what great drama it is.  Of course, the drama in Paul’s personal life (Bryne’s character) is the most intriguing. 
  • Pondered (well, started to ponder) the definition of “happiness” as a result of Ph.D. Me’s posting on Friday.
  • I finished reading Elizabeth Strout’s amazing novel Olive Kitteridge and had a sudden flash of an idea for a project I’d like to work on this summer as a result of the MLA’s new discussion group on Age Studies.

Today is Monday and finals week has begun: I’ll receive nearly 40 research papers today, the other 50+ written assignments later this week.  One student, who handed in her essay this morning, needs to return to her home country immediately to get her mother out of a war zone where her uncle was just tortured and killed.

Dead weekend is over.