I love conferences. I say this as a woman without a declared career or, at this moment, any kind of professional association membership, so I’m not addressing any specific type of conference. I love the idea of conferences. I like all types — writing conferences, academic conferences, business conferences, political conventions (which are, let’s face it, pretty much like big conferences, annual meetings, etc.), I’d probably even enjoy the Star Trek conventions if I went. What I like about conferences is the same thing I like about political rallies (and at some point, I need to mention and write down the experience of seeing Howard Dean live in Lawrence a week ago Friday): Everyone there feels so strongly about the thing they’re there for.
Today I went to the final plenary session of the New Literacies conference on campus. I’ll admit it, I went because I was required to attend one session, and I slept through the 9 a.m. speech that I was looking forward to seeing. ANyway, this was a panel discussion with the three key note speakers from the whole conference. And they debated things that I honestly know very little about — the academic treatment and merit of American drama and how it’s seen outside the U.S., the American identity in drama and the effects of what they call “transnationalism” but what I would call “multiculturalism” on it — but they did it with such meaning, and such focus, and such history. It was like theater just to watch the audience members reacting and responding to the questions raised by the panelists. I left wanting to go home and read journal articles on the history and future of American theater and drama.
This has, really, been my experience at every conference I’ve ever attended. Journalism, poltics, now English, the topic doesn’t matter. I go into a room and see so many people who all speak the same language, who all have the same studies in their histories and have all of these fascinating in-jokes and communal annoyances and sorrows, and I want to join them. I’d guess that I could attend a higher mathematics conference, or a conference on the growing of grapes, and I’d leave the room wanting to know more about it all, wanting to be a part of the future of studying vine structures in rural California or whatever. It’s not so much the topic that interests me — it’s the way everyone feels so deeply about it. I am, in the end, attracted (platonically, romantically, etc.) not to people who feel things deeply but when they’re in the middle of discussing something they feel deeply.
There are other connections I could make. This is why I always liked going to big protests in D.C. — the people there were so unified in their goal, if not always in their reasons. Political rallies have the same appeal. Even LJ has a certain degree of this feeling to it. And on and on and on.