I’m writing this at 30th St Station, working offline for the half hour before the train back to New York City should be about ready to arrive. It’s fitting that I should be surrounded by wi-fi wi-fi everywhere but not a connection in sight. For some reason I assumed that free wifi would be available everywhere at the conference. Instead, we had to pay $10 a day per computer at the hotel (which the department will pay for, thankfully) and free access available only at the Convention Center, and not at the Philadelphia Mariott and Loews Hotels where many of the sessions took place. So it’s been a less blogtastic MLA, but still a rich, varied, and delightful experience.

I’m totally fried right now, brain and body; this will be more livejournal-y than the analytical brilliancies you’re no doubt accustomed to on this blog ;). Today’s–Wednesday? I came here on–Saturday? Since I was performing major surgery on my paper in the frantic days before coming to Philly, I’ve probably been getting 4-6 hours of sleep for the last week. (Normally at this time of year I’d be getting 10-12!) It seems so long ago that I was in my Brooklyn appartment.

Not only has this been my first MLA; it’s the first time I’ve gone to a multi-day non-field-specific conference. At first, I thought that that would make it less exciting than the special holding environment that your typical assemblage of geeky Victorianist makes. As the conference went on, though, I’ve been feeling better and better about this MLA thing.

Looking through the conference program at first, I was somewhat surprised by the number of panels I wasn’t interested in going to. For NAVSA, there’d usually be two or three panels that I would have to struggle to decide which to go to; here, there were plenty of time slots that had no particularly appealing sessions. And I don’t think it’s even because there wasn’t enough of Victorian interest for me. I consider myself as always curious about what’s going on in other areas of specialization. It’s part of the reason why I’m such a regular at Friday Fora (the free wine is totally irrelevant, of course). Perhaps it’s the same reaction I have to NYC cultural events–there’s so much going on, that it’s easier just to ignore everything. By the end, though, what I got out of MLA was a more textured appreciation of what it means to be an academic in Language and Literature.

Going to Victorian conferences makes me focus on scholarship, which is great. What I did here–what I had to do here made me think of all the things about academia that aren’t really scholarship-oriented. I came here for three reasons: (1) I was giving a paper–hence the mega-stress in the week before arriving in Philly (2) I was co-hosting the Graduate Center’s suite, which involved buying and carrying lots of wine, soda pop, snacks, utensils, etc.–hence my mega-stress while I was in Philly (3) I probably would have gone to MLA even without reasons 1 and 2, to check out MLA before I had a job interview, while it was conveniently located in a nearby city.

[On the train now. Discovered that, when I dropped the bag of leftover party supplies, the wine bottles didn’t break, but the salsa jar did. Oh well…]

While having all these different pressures was misery-making in its own way, it also made for a really great experience since I had to wear so many different hats. Here are some of the hats:

  • The poor-relative-to-other-professionals, poor-relative-to-other-graduate-students staying in a more-or-less-fancy hotel. When I arrived, I experienced some degree of culture shock. What do you mean there’s a gym I have 24 hour access to? What do you mean I can get complimentary drinks every evening? What do you mean there’s a balcony, two flat-screeen TVs, two sinks? When I found out that the breakfasts (complimentary) was at a TGI Friday’s, the only restaurant in the hotel, it made me feel more comfortable.
  • The curious graduate-student hat. First MLA, checking things out, interested in what people do.
  • The party-planner hat. I wasn’t so thrilled about this after chairing Revels, but the receptions were actually far more enjoyable (less pressure, less people, less intoxication.)
  • The MLA member hat. For some reason, I felt like I really needed to go to the Presidential Address. A lot of it wasn’t all that exciting–many awards awarded, sans corny acceptance speeches and cleavage-baring dresses. And then the executive report on the MLA–I realized, I’m not just a member of the profession, I’m a member of the profession’s professional organization.
  • Representative of the program’s graduate students hat. Put on during the breakfast organized by the Committee for the Status of Graduate Students, which probably deserves its own blog post.
  • The teacher of language hat. Really underscored by Catherine Porter’s address on the importance of translation for America in the twenty-first century.
  • The teacher of literature hat. Underscored by the “Why Teach Literature Anyway?” panel.
  • The literary critic hat. Presenting on a panel as the only Victorianist made me put this hat on rather than the Victorianist hat. I really enjoyed the panel. There was lots of variety and continuity between the the three papers (Ruth Mack’s was on Defoe, mine was on Dorrit, Matt LeVay’s was on Gertrude Stein)–I just wish there had been more of an audience.
  • The bff hat. It was a real pleasure sharing the room with Angela Francis and Ashley Foster. Definitely better than catsitting!
  • And my fave: the party hat! Bringing some of our Friday Forum magic (with more liquid cheer than usual) to Philly was delightful, not to mention crashing a party for the sake of Anne’s career.
  • One final note: On the last night of the conference, I tipsily asked the front desk whether they were glad they’d soon be rid of us. “Honestly–yes!” The hotel staff was pretty wonderful.