Swimming and/as Schmoozing

From the balcony of the Caribe Hilton, San Juan, PR. Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 11/16/12.

I won’t lie. I haven’t attended a whole lot of sessions here at the American Studies Association annual meeting in San Juan. The time has felt rewarding and rejuvenating, both professionally and personally, but most of the benefits have come from informal contacts and serendipitous conversations that occurred outside the formal structure of the conference. Should I feel bad about having a significant discussion about  the state of my career with a senior colleague in my own department while bobbing around in the emerald green waters of the Caribbean? Or about spending 45 minutes chatting with someone whose work I’ve long admired while standing at a poolside bar wrapped in a towel? Should I feel less bad if the upshot of the conversation was an invitation to speak at a conference I am hosting in the spring? Oh, and if I extracted the promise of a syllabus for a course similar to the one I’ll be teaching next semester?

Actually, I don’t feel bad at all about how I’ve spent my time here. I offer these reflections in response to a post by Tenured Radical addressing a reader’s queries about academic conferences in suspiciously beautiful places. I”ve attended a few sessions, participated in one — with TR, Historiann, GayProf, and our fearless moderator, the Woman Formerly Known as Goose — and hit as many parties as time and stamina allowed. I am a firm believer in the value of live, person-to-person contact and in getting out of one’s usual routines and habitat as a way of shaking things up. I doubt seriously I would have had quite the same candid exchange with my own colleague over coffee back in Turtle Country. Further, our session on blogging as public pedagogy was lively and well-attended. It sparked a conversation that continued for many of us for the rest of the conference. I suspect it will continue by several means for a long time to come, and if WFKG has her way it will likely lead to a collection of essays on the session theme. Stay tuned, darlings, because WFKG can be very persuasive.

Yes, I had to do some rearranging of life and work in order to be here, and it does mean I am about to be hurled into Thanksgiving week a little further behind than I’d like to be. Still, the journey and the work have been worthwhile, if only because I finally got to meet GayProf and Historiann in the flesh and discovered that they are as delightful and charming in person as they are on screen. I was taken aback that Historiann did not ride in on a horse and GayProf seems not to have flown in on an invisible plane, but I suppose they might have been a little surprised that I was neither a dead dog nor an actual madwoman. I did bring a laptop, though, so perhaps that took the edge off their disappointment.

Conferences are good, and the work at conferences occurs in a variety of ways and locations.

Which is why, my pretties, if you’re still in San Juan, you may find me bobbing around in the emerald green waters of the Caribbean along about noon today. (Our flight doesn’t leave until this evening.) Stop by for a chat. It might be professionally advantageous to both of us.

Sandy: Here, There, Everywhere

Hurricane Sandy: On the Deck, Micro View. 10/29/12.
Photo Credit: The Madwoman

We are fine, darlings. All is well here in the place formerly known as Roxie’s World. We spent most of yesterday sitting around waiting for the power to go out, because it does “every time a butterfly flaps its wings,” as the Woman Formerly Known as Goose quipped this morning. Incredibly, it did not, despite fierce winds and relentless, driving rains. We had dutifully cleaned out gutters and set out candles and checked flashlight batteries and even cooked up a batch of chili that we were prepared to live on through days of grim, sad darkness. I filled my Facebook feed with jokes about getting ready to start killing neighbors as soon as the lights went out, because that’s what I’ve learned about how to survive a power outage from NBC’s utterly ridiculous Revolution. (Yes, I do hereby declare it ridiculous. I kept watching, hoping the show would get less gory and more political, but the bodies keep piling up and the story, such as it is, isn’t especially compelling. So far, Revolution, you are no Hunger Games and certainly no Homeland. Call me if you ever get past the whole Lord of the Flies thing.)

So, we were lucky. The lights stayed on. The neighbors are all, so far as we know, alive. If the chili gets eaten by candlelight, it will be because we are feeling romantic. We can go back to worrying about the election and the fact that, according to one new poll, our humanity has suffered a setback and may lose next week in Turtle Country. (Our humanity fares better in another poll, but it’s suddenly hard to feel confident that marriage equality will win anywhere, despite recent gains in support.) We can go back to work. The university will reopen tomorrow. Syllabi will be modestly adjusted, deadlines slightly extended. We can laugh lightly in the hallway with colleagues over how rain days are just like snow days, without the shoveling. We can make a quick trip to the store to stock up not on bottled water but on treats for Halloween.

Others, of course, will not have those luxuries, will not return so quickly and easily to anything like their normal, pre-Sandy lives. The news and images coming out of New York and New Jersey are devastating. My Facebook feed today is full of anxious queries and brief reports: How are you? . . . . I’m trying to reach my parents . . . . Lights out in Jersey City . . . . No latte in my neighborhood bodega . . . . Come see us if you need power or a shower . . . . Post-hurricane rainbow, as seen from my balcony in Brooklyn . . . . 

You can see that lovely rainbow here, along with Tenured Radical’s eloquent analysis of how helpful Twitter was for those living through the disaster unfolding in New York. TR is right. Twitter can’t be beat for real-time sharing of information in moments of crisis. Facebook, as my string of quotes and paraphrases above suggests, is better for making more personal connections, sharing feelings, carrying on conversations. And so the Hurricane Sandy story is, like all storm stories, a tale of disparate impacts and the vagaries of weather, but it is also, like so many large-scale events of the twenty-first century, a tale of disparate social media — of what we use when, how, and why and how we are used by them; of how having such tools changes our experience of such events by shrinking distances and giving us access to stories traditional media might miss. The cliches of techno-culture are validated in such moments: We are all reporters, producers, and broadcasters, as long as our smart phones don’t get swept away in the flood and we can manage to transmit data.

Really, though, the Sandy story is the oldest story in the book: Humans are social animals. We crave connection and will find it, in raging storms and seas of tranquility, by whatever means are available to us. Including public pay phones, which, apparently, still exist. I know: Who knew?

Wherever you are, I hope you are warm, safe, dry, and connected. Feel free to tell us your storm stories or to weigh in on the whole Twitter v. Facebook debate, unless you don’t use either of them, in which case you are not allowed to have an opinion. (Looking at you, PhysioProffe. Be nice.) Peace out.

%d bloggers like this: