27 March 2006

Raisins Were Funny, But Now That I Have Chosen the Title I Think Maybe You Had to Be There

I'm back from Chicago, where one of the highlights was having Breakfast with Bloggers, where 7 of us got together on Thursday morning. jo(e) wrote:
The cool part is that every blogger I met was what I expected. How satisfying it was to eat a long breakfast with a group of warm, friendly, smart, beautiful, articulate women. Timna. Susan. Marcia. Deb. Angela. Starfish and Coffee. I had been hoping, actually, that at least one person would do something rude or bizarre so that I would have something funny to write about, but no such luck. We were too busy laughing and talking, and finding out the stories behind the blogs.
She's right: no one did anything rude or bizarre, but raisins were funny. Jo(e) and Angela had oatmeal for breakfast and Jo(e) got into a very funny exchange about raisins with our server, who ended up teasing Jo(e) about her persistent questions about whether or not the restaurant had raisins, even if they weren't listed on the menu as an oatmeal accompaniment. It was funny. Although you probably had to be there to appreciate it. What was nice was the ease with which we all fell into conversation with each other, even though we weren't all readers of each others' blogs. We all read several of the blogs represented at the table, so there were differing degrees of familiarity with all our stories. But it was an easy conversation. So definitely, next year in New York, this time, with raisins.

The rest of the conference was quite good: my paper wasn't until the last day but the session was decently attended nonetheless, and I got some good feedback on what I'm working on. I attended sessions somewhat randomly, picking some that were relevant for my current academic project on assessment, others that were given by friends, others that just seemed fun (like Deborah Tannen's featured speech).

Still, I'm happy to be home. Curious Girl ran into my arms and said, "Mama! I've been missing you!" which made me very happy. The last three times I've been to Cs, she's held a terrible grudge upon my return.

Speaking of Cs, Nels and Deborah have done some very nice retrospectives about their experiences with the conference. Here's mine: I first went in 1990, in Chicago, just to hear some papers, although mostly what I remember was arriving in Chicago and having a mix up with the friends I was to meet because they forgot to reset their watches when they arrived in a new time zone. Then in 1992, in Cincinnati, I mostly remember the fun I had staying with a bunch of other grad school friends at the home of another friend who lived in the area. I didn't give a paper until 1993, in San Diego, although for the life of me I can't remember what the paper was about (and I'm too lazy to look up an old CV to tell you). In 1994, Nashville, I remember the drive there. I was driving with Senior Colleage in my Field Whom I Respected Greatly and Who Intimidated Me At the Time But Now is a Great Friend. She gave me such wonderful advice about all kinds of things, gently urging me to find a focus to my work, encouraging me as I got settled in a new institution. And she told me stories about her career, and her life, including the changes she made after reading Your Money or Your Life, a book which eventually framed much of how Politica and I manage our money. Informal mentoring is so important to me and I'm grateful for my friend's attention.

In 1995, again, what I remember is my colleague, Really Nice Guy Who Also Intimidated Me a Little At the Time, who'd never eaten Ethiopian food. So when we arrived at our hotel, I took him to Adams Morgan and we ate fabulous Ethiopian food. I'd explained the cuisine on the plane, and when we sat down and he said "but where are the forks?" i thought it was going to be a long night. But then he loved the food. And I started to think that maybe I shouldn't be so intimidated by everyone else. I'm sure I gave a paper, and heard papers. But I don't remember that. 1996, Milwaukee, I remember staying in a historic hotel, not the main conference one, and my room reeked of smoke. And I had dinner with my friend the Environmental Worker, who drove over from Madison for the night.

1997: I actually have some professional memories! This is the conference where I met my Best Professional Friend for the first time, and we began what would be a series of research collaborations. Politica came with me, and it was warm in Phoenix. It was a nice time. By the next year, in Chicago, Best Professional Friend and I roomed together, and we were on a panel together with our joint research. She introduced me to a lot of her friends from graduate school and we started what would become a conference routine. We've shared a room every year since and it's just so nice to have a roommate and traditions. It's just very easy. And it's also fun to have friends who like to eat. In Atlanta, 1999, I remember fabulous sushi somewhere downtown. In Minneapolis, 2000, I went to hear Garrison Keillor and my department chair gave me his ticket and then met me and his wife and some friends for dinner after. In all this time, Best Professional Friend and I were still presenting our stuff, which we also did in Denver, I think, where I recall we attended a very crowded breakfast and ended up sitting at a table for two feeling rather silly that we braved the crowds only to end up talking to each other. The next year, in Chicago, I don't remember much, but I was recovering from thyroid surgery that left my hormones seriously out of whack. Actually I do remember giving a rotten paper and then feeling comforted after the fact that it was my hormones that made my brain fuzzy. I also remember walking with Best Professional Friend saying, "We're thinking of adopting a child."

By 2003, in New York, Curious Girl had arrived. The bombing in Baghdad started the night before the conference, and I've never seen New York airports so deserted. So many people at the conference were nervous about New York, and the hotel elevators had CNN TVs built into them so the bad news was everywhere in the elevators. That was bizarre. I woke up in the middle of the night my first night there, my first night away from Curious Girl in the 2 months we'd been together. "The baby! THE BABY!! Where is the baby?" I thought. "In the bathroom. I just went to the bathroom and I must have left the baby there." I got out of bed and padded to the bathroom. No Curious Girl (who was home with Politica). Then I got worried. Went back to bed, looked around some more, felt down on the floor between the bed and the wall for CG. Eventually woke up enough to remember I was in New York. Very odd.

2004--San Antonio was lots of fun, although I wasn't very happy about CG's increased verbal skills: "Come home now, Mama." Warm weather, a good paper, this time with some of my colleagues at my home institution. Last year, in San Francisco, we had a fabulous hotel room in the Hotel Nikko, but the conference itself was disappointing. Moved to the convention center because of labor concerns at the last minute when hotel workers struck, the conference had no center. It seemed harder to see people.

When I first drafted this post, and thought back to what Nels and Deb had to say about their experiences at Cs, I felt a little shallow (although to be fair to me, if I weren't trying to write pseudonymously here I could be more specific about some of my paper presentations, even if that required me to get the energy to open my CV while blogging). Most of my conference associations seem to be about food and friends, rather than professional insights and topics. But as I've pondered that in the two days this post as been in the draft hopper, I've reconsidered my shallowness. As Jo(e)'s posts about the conference also hint, I think, my conference experiences are really about making, over time, a set of conference friends. I meet new people each year, of course, but I also see a lot of the same people at the same events each year. And we've shared stories and worries about job searches, promotions, marriages, divorces, and children. We've supported each other as we've started new projects and cheered each other as we've wrapped up some projects. We've jeered editors and reviewers who've turned down our work, even as we've helped each other draft new projects over time. We share books for fun and for work. We eat together, and we help each other find ways of being in this strange profession of academe. And that's a good thing, even if it means my memories are more of hotels and meals than academic citations.


timna said...

I'm really glad we met! Maybe we'll include a dinner next time, too.

Marcia said...

Dinner! I could do dinner. :)

It was good to meet you!

I did a lot of posts on the conference, but I really like reading these retrospectives, and I'm glad there not all about the citations.

Deb said...

Hi Susan. I so enjoyed reading about your past conferences.

And I'm so glad to have met you this year!

Nels said...

I think you have me cut and pasted in 2003! I was reading along and was like, "You got hired at Hartford?"

I'm sorry I missed the breakfast, but maybe next year.

Arwen said...

So glad you're back! And glad you had a good time, and welcome arms when you got back.

Arwen said...

I also must admit some jealousy. That sounds like so much fun.

susan said...

oops, Nels, you're right (and thus is revealed the lazy way I constructed much of this post: I copied yours into my blogger window to swipe the order of dates and cities, since the Cs website has them listed in reverse order).

jo(e) said...

I so agree with you that conferences are more about forming relationships than simply listening to ideas. Otherwise, we could all just stay home and read each other's books. The best parts of any conference are the conversations that take place over plates of food. With or without raisins.

TDharma said...

Yes, the last paragraph hits the nail on the head. In searching for funding to go to conferences, I have to adopt the party line and 'line item' the benefits of conference-going, but really, in the end, it's about the great professional relationships I've made and kept throughout the years: Chicago, NYC, Nashville, Toronto, Reno...exploring new places with cherished colleagues.