14 April 2008

Run Away! Run Away!

I have a confession to make about one of my weird tendencies. When things go well, I run away. As for example please, after I took my exams and got gladhanded by all the smiling profs at the end, I bolted as quickly as possibly out of the building. After defending my prospectus, which was essentially a love-fest, I literally ran to the bus station so that I could leave campus before accidentally doing something to ruin it. I have some deep-seated fear of the other shoe dropping, or of screwing something up (especially pronounced when I've just done the opposite of screw up). So this weekend I presented at this conference, which I was really nervous about doing since the bulk of the panelists and attendees were professors and the paper is in the early stages and is a very rough version of the first part of my nonexistent first chapter. So let's say, it's at the VERY early stages.

Anyway, I presented, and things went well. Surprisingly good attendance at the panel, no grilling, lots of "comments" from audience members that consisted of them trying to add whatever special subject they know about to my topic in order to attach to it and marry the two ideas, rather than trying to use what they know to tear it down (if that makes sense). Finally, the last speaker was a professor in the audience -- this guy for you Americanists, who is pretty much a rock star -- he gave a very complimentary analysis of my paper and one or two mild criticisms of the others. Then after the panel, two professors came up and asked if I could send them a copy of my paper, one professor asked me to give them advice on sources (seriously), and Professor Rock Star waited patiently to talk to me and say nice things and then asked if I could send him a copy of the paper and gave me his card. I managed to stutter out some gibberish and frankly, after talking to him, I fled. Like, fled the building in case I ran into someone and said something stupid, which seemed unavoidable. Unfortunately my session was in the morning so I had a bunch of lunch, afternoon and plenary panels to attend the rest of the day, along with a banquet at night, which were all kind of torture. I had to stop myself all day from bolting the conference, and managed to only because they were actually paying for me to attend, so I thought it would be pretty bad form. I realize this is absurd, and since I managed to get through the remainder of the day without excessively foolish behavior I disproved my own fear, but I doubt that will stop me from freaking out again in future. Am I alone in this behavior? I probably need to adjust my expectations or some psychobabble thing, but so far, fear and anxiety have served to get me where I am, and I have trouble letting go of them as motivational tools. :)

In other news, I found out this week that I got this fellowship for next year, which was a terrific surprise and which means I don't need to teach and can just write all year. I feel very, very lucky, especially because I know what a total crapshoot these applications are, and in particular, that this is evidence of the way in which certain educational pedigrees (or previous fellowship awards or particular formulations of projects at a particular political moment) serve to open the door for more benefits and privileges in an ongoing cycle. Of course I'm happy, but after reading the email notifying me I did have to recheck it every five minutes for about an hour to confirm I wasn't imagining things, at which point I fled campus and the sneaky computer that had informed me of the good news.

05 April 2008

Home Again, Back Again

Home again for the first week of classes -- still enjoying the memories of Cambridge and Philly and NYC. Thanks for the excellent company and the super find on the cheap B&B, S.! And thanks to M. for giving me the whirl of many fantastic NY experiences in a few short days, even as I was watching historians do their thing during all the daylight hours. I wish I could have stayed up even later! As it was, I did kind of-almost-barely-there fall asleep during the presentation of, naturally, my former professor on Sunday afternoon. I blame all those cake mix drinks Saturday night.

Watching historians do their thing reminds me of my favorite random quality of these conferences: the inspiration. And I don't mean that I get inspired by the amazing level of the papers (though some were quite good, of course, but many are sort of ho hum), but that there's some psychic impact to being surrounded by a bunch of really smart people who are doing work that's both different enough and similar enough to yours to get your wheels turning. I feel this much more at the OAH, less at the AHA where it's every kind of field. It reminds me of my law school years with the brilliant and crazy and beautiful and terrible folks from my section and beyond, and of my recent time in the history department with my staggeringly intelligent cohort and the adopted members thereof, Trust in Steel and Dolce Vita. Now, it's a little more...distant. Everyone's so spread out! So there's something to be said for the gathering together to talk about some stuff, and this is true even though I knew barely anyone at the conference. I have all these jotted-down notes on my own research or my own project that I took during various paper presentations at the conference, most of which had no relation to my momentary inspiration. The papers on adoption after the Korean War or whatever were conduits for my brain to briefly channel a few seconds of the combined group historical intelligence in the room and apply it to my own work. Seriously, I think that's how it works.

And now I go back to the East Coast to present my own paper at a conference! Well, maybe I can give someone else some random inspiration on 19th century cultural studies or something else completely unrelated to what I'm doing. I have to say I'm looking forward to not flying anywhere for a few months after this trip!

Also -- check out LinkTV. Interesting stuff.