I'm a bit late in my post-MLA post -- I'm finding that these past couple of days have been some kind of time sinkhole -- I've been working out like 3 hours a day and playing with the dogs and cleaning the house and cooking and starting on my Monstrous Reorganizing Project -- and whew, there's the day. Obviously, this can't go on much longer, since I have to finish an essay in the next 10 days and prep courses and all that other brainwork.
I really enjoyed MLA this year -- as I usually do. I know so many people who are still wounded from the job market and who loathe MLA -- but oddly enough I always really like it. I've been thinking about why that is, and I think it's something tribal. MLA is the one place where I feel like I'm part of something bigger, like I belong with a group of people. Of course, as a second-generation academic, this might make some kind of sense (supposedly I attended an MLA with my parents when I was 2 1/2 but I don't remember it). But at a deeper level I generally have a strong distrust of groups, of seemingly artificial communities. I was raised without any kind of religious community, youth group, sports team, or other such organizations that probably promote social skills and a sense of belonging. I'm an introverted, overeducated nerd -- so mostly I don't walk into a room of strangers and think "ah, I fit in here."
But at the MLA, I know I fit. And I know that I fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum -- I'm not the nerdiest, the smartest, the ugliest, the leftiest, the most fashionable. I'm right in the middle. And I very very rarely get to be middle-of-the-road average. It's kind of relaxing.
Sure, I enjoy the anthropological aspect of the convention, playing the game of "Spot the MLA people" while walking around the city, and laughing at, hugging, or hiding from various people from my PhD dept. But I'm allowed to gently mock our sartorial habits and our social skills because I'm one of the crowd. There are plenty of people at MLA who look like me, think like me, who are basically somehow kind of like me. And I guess that's why I always enjoy the convention.
Plus, of course, the obvious enjoyments. Even though I was on a hiring comittee, I was able to see old friends from grad school (this year I saw folks I hadn't seen in 10 years or more!), see old college friends who live in DC, go to some interesting panels, browse the book exhibit, and even do a little networking. I had a great time and came away feeling much more energized about this profession than I usually do here in my local territory. If only I could bottle that feeling and dose it out once a month during the semester...