Strangely enough — given that the last time I attended an MLA convention, I took a rather jaundiced view of the whole thing — I had a really good time at this year's conference. Maybe it was that nobody asked me "Are you on the market?" Maybe it was the fact that I didn't have to stay in a hotel room, and my friend T. was staying with me. Maybe the papers have gotten better, or I've just gotten better about picking the right papers to listen to; and maybe the fact that I didn't have any of those MLA-trauma moments* that one tends to read about in Chronicle of Higher Education columns. It could also have been that I kept running into friends I wanted to see again, and managed to break a prior streak of really bad luck with arranging conference reunions.**
And there was the bloggers' meetup on Thursday night, which led to warm fuzzy feelings of "My people!" combined with the weird but pleasant shock of finally putting faces to names. I recognized Clancy of CultureCat from her photo, but it was great to meet (among others) Dr. B., Carrie of a white bear, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Jonathan Goodwin, John Holbo, Scott Kaufman, Amardeep Singh, and Chuck Tryon. Not to mention the terrific blogger panel this morning, about which more in another post.
But the real difference, I think, was that this year, I didn't feel like I had to defend or explain my decision to change careers. I updated a few people with my current job and educational status, but I never felt the need to justify any of it. And I came to a conclusion: I'm still vastly relieved to be out of the world of cranking out articles, worrying about tenure, and grading stacks of papers on weekends. But however dysfunctional I think academia is at the institutional level, I've retained an underlying commitment to the idea of scholarship, to having an intellectual life, to conversation about interesting ideas (not to mention a great fondness for the company of certain people who share the same commitments). My next meta-project: figuring out how to have an intellectual life encompassing both my new information-science interests and my old literary-critical interests. I may be doing some thinking out loud about that here.
One more note: I was sadly disappointed to discover that Labyrinth Books didn't have a booth at the book exhibit. But I consoled myself with a few new books from other sources: Book Use, Book Theory: 1500-1700, by Bradin Cormack and Carla Mazzio; H. J. Jackson's Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books; Susan Stewart's Columbarium (I'd been waiting for the paperback); and, for fun, The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories. And (utterly shameless self-promotion) I went to the Blackwell booth and saw that A Companion to Shakespeare's Sonnets, to which I've contributed a chapter, is finally out. Yay!
* E.g. going into a hotel bathroom and hearing someone sobbing in the next stall, or getting snubbed by someone famous, or seeing visibly terrified job seekers waiting for the elevators.
** Speaking of which, if any of you reading this are going to ACRL in the spring, want to get together now that I apparently no longer suck at following through on meetup plans? Barring any major unforeseen events, I'll be there.