Saturday, July 31, 2010

Brief vacation

I will write those promised posts (I promise again), but Bullock and I are leaving for four days to visit his mother for her 70th birthday. I'm looking forward to seeing her and wishing her happy birthday, but I'm not looking forward to the fact that it's supposed to be stormy weather on the drive there and possibly raining the four days we're there. Pippi is NOT going to enjoy the car right through a storm! (Yes, Pippi is going with us.) We'll see just how bad her storm madness gets in a moving vehicle.

Then after we get back, I'm taking another brief trip to the Land of the Summer When I Was a Governess. I can't recall if I've ever mentioned that traumatic summer of my life (I wasn't really a governess, but I *was* an exploited live-in babysitter), but I'm sure I'll have something to say about visiting that place as an adult 26 years later.

Anyway, back to blogging when I return from these adventures in the Midwest!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don't know what to do with myself

I decided to take this week off (despite having a massive primary text editing project looming over my head), and have realized, to my utter horror, that I'm not very good at relaxing around the house. Now, I'm great at relaxing and doing nothing if I'm somewhere scenic -- on a beach or a river bank, or at an outdoor cafe or bar in a city, for example -- but I feel a little at loose ends here at home in Rust Belt. And given the mugginess of the weather, I have a little cabin fever, too.

Sure, I have books to read, and I pick one up every now and then, but none of them are really holding my interest at the moment. I think I need to order some new books (suggestions welcome!), because I think I've overdosed on the pulp genre fiction that I often spend my summers on. (Btw, can my peeps of the internets tell me: is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo going to be all financial crimes all the time? I don't think I can take 600 pages of that, to be honest.) So I find myself reading, then playing a game on my iPhone, then checking FB, then flipping through a magazine, and then going back to the novel again.

I think maybe because I was going non-stop for the entire school year until the end of NCS, I just don't have any more energy left for steady concentration -- at least not at the moment.

Has anyone else experienced this? Or is it just me? Or is it true that the web is making me stupider? Ack!

PS -- Was my last post too much about Me Me Me to elicit comment? Does no one else identify with the ups and downs of professional confidence?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The evolution of a professional identity (or: why I had a better time at NCS Siena than Swansea)

When I first saw my friend G. at NCS Siena, he said something like this: "Virago, I have to say, I'm a little surprised to see you here, because when I saw you at Swansea, you didn't seem to be having a very good time." And back in this post from two years ago, I hinted at why.

But NCS Siena was a completely different experience for me, and I don't think it was just because it was in Siena and not Swansea (although geography does play a part in this). It was different from the start, back when we were all submitting panels and abstracts. First of all, my friend H. approached me about putting a panel together, and that was the first step in what made me feel more involved, and less of an outsider, where this conference is concerned. (I should mention that part of my outsider status is that I don't work on Chaucer -- although my current work sometimes makes reference to him -- but NCS seems, in the last few iterations, to be more and more open to being about the "age of Chaucer," as its journal, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, suggests.) And then when the panels were all arranged and the CFP came out, I felt my current work fit one of the panel proposals much more than it had last time. What's more, I'd since met one of that panel's organizers, so I didn't feel as though I was sending a proposal out into the unknown quite as much. Two years ago, on the other hand, I was rejected from a panel, then told I was rejected from the conference as a whole, and then finally told a spot was found for my paper -- as I detailed here. And the panel on which I finally presented -- along with my friend G. -- was a truly miscellaneous panel in the last time slot of the conference, and it didn't really generate questions very useful to my project. This time around, though, I was accepted to the panel to which I applied, which was a good fit for my paper. More on how that all went -- very well, I think -- in a bit.

At any rate, before it even started, NCS Siena was already proving to be a better conference for me than NCS Swansea had been. And it continued to live up to its auspicious beginning. And yes, part of that was Siena -- but not just because Siena is a more historically rich place with more things to do. [Digression: in defense of Swansea, the weather was better there, the opportunity for good running was better (something that was once important to me), the bay was lovely (I'm a fan of water, of which Siena has none - not even a river, which struck me as odd), and I'm a weirdo who prefers the British climate and flora and fauna to Italian in the summer (though I did like the presence of cicadas, which reminded me of home - both Kansas where I grew up and the Great Lakes region I live in now). But that's the subject for another post.] The geography of Siena was better for my mood than Swansea's was -- and perhaps better for the mood of the conference as whole. At Swansea, there were a few people who stayed off campus, but most stayed in the dorms, which weren't terribly comfortable. But not only that, it meant that we were too much together, I think. So many meals were taken together in the dining hall that you were too often faced with the conference equivalent of the high school lunchroom hierarchy -- will I get to sit with the cool kids? And it was hard to escape the campus, situated as it was outside of the city. The edge of town was a long walk away, and the center of town was a cab or bus ride away. And so you were either trapped or, worse, stranded, if the people you knew had escaped and left you behind. But in Siena, we were in many different hotels, and the Arcobaleno, where I stayed, was lovely and comfortable -- best sleep I'd had in awhile! And I had a conference buddy this time -- my friend The General -- which eased any and all anxieties about finding company at meals or on excursions. And even at a hotel 2km outside of the city center as the Arcobaleno was, it wasn't hard to reach that center, and there was plenty to do there, of course. I actually regret not playing hooky a little more from the conference to be a tourist. I had the morning after the end of conference for that, but that left time only for a couple of things. Anyway, back to my main point here: I think less anxiety brews, and there's less posturing, when the conference itself isn't the only focus of your energies, and when you're not always forced together. And the Siena sun and heat, which could have made people cranky, seemed to mellow people out, to slow us down -- we were all in it together, we were all a little sweaty, we all dressed a litte more casually because of it (a strong effect on attitude, I think -- especially with all those previously unseen medievalist man legs in shorts!) and hey, we were in Siena!

But really, what made it a different conference for me was more about where I am in terms of my professional identity and in the number of people I know (and blogging has been no small part of that, though traditional networking has helped, too). As I said to G. when he made the comment above, "It's amazing what a difference two years and a good review in Speculum makes." Two years ago my book was out and I had tenure, so I should have felt confidence, but I was still uncertain about whether any of it mattered, whether I mattered. The feedback we get on our printed work -- the evidence of its impact -- is slow to surface. And when you have a job at a place like Rust Belt University, it's easy to think you're disappearing, that you and your work don't matter, that you peaked in graduate school, that after tenure you're *stuck* rather than *secure*. But in the last two years, four positive reviews of my book came out and I started to be cited in other people's books and articles, and my work started showing up on people's syllabuses. And people solicited me for conferences because they knew my work. Over time I became not Dr. Virago, random drudge at RBU, but Dr. Virago, who does good work that people know about.

And this conference reinforced that effect. Here, in bullet point format, are a few really cool moments that continued to boost my confidence throughout the conference:

  • On the very first day, in the first morning break, a Known Figure whom I know and admire, but to whom I'm not very professionally close in any way (despite being FB friends with him!), crossed the courtyard to say hi to me and said, "Virago, we were just talking about you last night!" An auspicious beginning to the conference!
  • A recent PhD had one of her professors introduce her to me at dinner in town one night, and said to me, "I just wanted to meet you and tell you I'm a huge fan of your work and I'm so excited to meet you!" Seriously. I have a fan! If said person happens upon this post, I want you to know you'll forever be my #1 Fan -- I *heart* you for that!
  • One of my friends told me she kept hearing me quoted in a number of papers. Really? I told her I hadn't heard that -- clearly we were going to different panels -- but she said that was a good sign: I was moving on with my work, and the work was speaking for itself.
  • The organizers of the panel I'd been accepted to told me that they had rejected papers, even after making three or four panels out of the best submissions they got. And while I feel bad for those who were rejected, it's still nice to know you made the cut.
  • My paper went really well. I started to feel a little guilty that I kept getting most of the questions in the Q&A, but for whatever reasons, people responded to what I had to say. And they liked it and had useful suggestions (or suggestions phrased as questions). They also liked the phrase I coined to name the phenomenon I was describing, which I wish I could share with you here, but even though I fully expect people to know or figure out my real life identity, I'd still rather not be Googlable.
  • Other than some technical difficulties, the panel I organized with H went really well, too, and people were still talking about it later that day. I've seen at least one of the papers on it mentioned as a highlight of the conference, too, out there in the blogosphere.
  • And finally, my paper was mentioned in the one of the final round-up presentations! Woot! I don't know if the person really *liked* my paper -- she was actually maybe a bit snarky about it -- but hey, all publicity is good publicity, eh? And it's always cool to be mentioned in a summary of the conference.
Oh, and I even had a good conference as "Dr. Virago," too. I kind of came out at this conference -- although I didn't actually name myself in the comment I made during the Q&A at the blogging session, I was happy to tell people who I was in the blogosphere. Actually, I came out in print first, in JJC's essay for the Chaucer blog book. And more than one person told me they were excited to know my real life identity or that they were fans of the blog. (Apparently, Dr. Virago has more fans than my real life identity. Heh.) One scholar who has always been supportive of my 'real life' scholarship said to me that finding out I was Dr. Virago was as exciting as finding out the Chaucer blogger's identity! Really?

The other thing that made this conference better for me than the one in 2008 is that I know more people, and the people I know I now know better than I did then. As I mentioned above, that's in no small part to blogging. I'm especially grateful to the In the Middle bunch for inviting me to lunch in the city the first day, when, because of the business meeting, we had more time to leave the conference site. What a lovely lunch that was! I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to join them on one of their late nights drinking prosecco in the Campo (one of the drawbacks of being in the further-out hotel). But all in all, I felt like this conference was full of fun and friends, and though I'm kind of a social butterfly and flit from group to group, I was happy in all the company I kept, however briefly.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Preview of stuff I hope to write about this week

Here's what I hope to write about in the coming week, as I take breaks from writing letters of recommendation and working on the big, fat editing project that's due in a month:

  • NCS Siena and how and why it was a very different experience for me from NCS Swansea, and not just because of the gelato (a post that will be one of my usual meditations on 'professional identity,' among other things)
  • A more lucid extension on my babbling comment at the end of the NCS blogging panel, originally about what personal blogs like mine can do for the profession and the sub-field of medieval studies, but expanded/modified to talk about why I've had such a blogging lull the past two years and why I want and need to pick up the pace again
  • Meditations on visiting a part of Italy that wasn't Rome (for once), and how it made me think about the relation of the medieval to the modern, about historical and present space and geography, and about my relation to both medieval Christianity and my own Catholic upbringing in an assimilating, WASPy world
  • Relics, sacred and secular. Yes, that's right: secular relics. You'll see.
  • The nearly three weeks I spent in England before NCS Siena, including stuff about the London Rare Books School; tales of overcoming my fear of the London bus system (seriously); thoughts on my changing relationship to big cities; and pictures of the ridiculously cute Yorkshire town of Knaresborough
See, if write all this out here, its public presence will hold me to the plans for writing that I have. But today, I'm going to lie around reading Entertainment Weekly and pulp detective fiction -- something I haven't done in a long time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Not dead yet...but not exactly in top form

While I was in Siena, Italy, at the New Chaucer Society biennial congress, I caught an exotic conference cold that had been imported to Italy from Leeds by my hotel roommate, The General. Now that I'm back in Rust Belt, I'm still congested, although the cold is in its final stages, I think. Still, the 95F temperature here combined with the dense midwestern humidity is not helping with the feeling that my head is some sort of giant, stuffed, pinata-like thing really to burst. Somehow the cold was more bearable in Siena. Perhaps that was because it was dryer there (but also about 95F), or because the gelato made it all better, or maybe just because I was in freakin' *Siena,* for pete's sake! But at least here I have robust American air conditioning and Bullock's homemade ice cream to replace the gelato.

Anyway, why am I telling you this? Because I'd planned to write a long post today about NCS to re-inaugurate the blog. Now that more and more people know who I am in real life, they can actually *bug* me in person to get back to posting, and I promised a number people at NCS that I would get back to it as soon as I got home. And I will, I swear, but right now my head is too muddled.