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Monday, April 09, 2007

Post-Traumatic SAA Syndrome

Like my co-bloggers, I really enjoyed this SAA. I did no blogging (didn't bring my laptop), but I did see old friends, make (I think) some new ones, drink, eat delicious food of all kinds, hear some good talks, hear some crappy talks (but: see above), sit in on some seminars (always a somewhat discombobulated experience), have some more drinks, see some fabulous and strange (non-academic) animals, have a few more drinks, ... And you see how it goes. Despite their ridiculousness, I enjoyed the weirdly nautical bar and the weirdly Yacht-club-like Special Breakfast Place. Since coming back, though, I've had the chance to reflect on the whole experience in a way that has plunged me into social anxiety. During the conference, I was on the receiving end of a few instances of Academic Social Disorder. I won't go into details, but these were the kinds of small awkwardnesses that I've come to expect from conferences, situations in which what would seem to be pretty straightforward guidelines for social interaction somehow go out the window, or fail to rescue us all from standing there embarrassed with our feelings a little too nakedly exposed. Nothing really dramatic, and nothing I thought too much about at the time. But now I'm reviewing the whole weekend with that kind of close reading that only anxiety can really inspire, racking up various instances in which, without knowing how or at all intending to, I may have irritated or offended various people.

So, first of all, I want to issue a blanket apology to the entire SAA. True, it's an anonymous, or pseudonymous, apology. Or I hope it is. But it's a sincere one. In other words: if you had a bad interaction with someone at SAA, and you suspect that that someone might be the kind of person to live a secret online life (sometimes) as Inkhorn, then, ... I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. My foot just somehow slipped off the floor and into my mouth.

I think every post-conference blog points this out, but ... academic conferences are really strange social events. Take a group of people who are prone to social anxiety and/or dysfunction at the best of times; take into consideration that many of these people come to events like this looking for a kind of recognition or affirmation that probably just isn't available, to anyone at any time, in the world; add a huge amount of professional anxiety, or performance anxiety; swirl it all in pretty significant quantities of alcohol and sleep deprivation; and -- well, it's a strong cocktail.

Then, maybe most significantly of all -- and this is the real thing that's been troubling me, I think, as I head into year X of my professional life -- there's what seems to me the fact that most of our professional activities slowly, but thoroughly unfit us for human contact. Sitting alone in a room writing expository prose, and teaching: two terrible, terrible models for how to relate to others. Terrible models. Maybe we should remold our professional and social selves around blogging instead...

  • At 4/09/2007 11:07:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    I completely relate to this post, although I'm sure that no one at BtR could ever--EVER!--be responsible for making anyone else feel awkward.

    (After all, academics are good enough at that on their own.)


  • At 4/09/2007 11:17:00 PM, Blogger Pamphilia wrote…

    Seconding Flavia's point and very glad to know I wasn't the only one who felt (unbeknowst to others perhaps) so self-conscious afterwards. Who knew that BtR would be entertaining, critical *and* therapeutic?


  • At 4/09/2007 11:24:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    You're damn right about teaching. I think the only profession that beats it for inculcating bad social habits is the clergy. My mother once told me that rabbis think there are two parts to every conversation: talking, and waiting. The same is definitely true of a lot of academics, and for the same reason: captive audiences that have to listen to you go on and on, or else risk 1) getting a bad grade; or 2) going to hell.


  • At 4/09/2007 11:46:00 PM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    Flavia: your confidence is much appreciated, but unfortunately wholly, wholly misplaced. As I'm sure all of my co-bloggers will agree.


  • At 4/10/2007 03:16:00 AM, Blogger James wrote…

    I forgive you, Inkhorn. After all, after that thoughtless snub, I have not another tear to shed.

    Seriously, though, don't you think just about everyone is capable of inadvertently or neglectfully treading on people's social comfort in a context where nerves are jangled, pressure is high, distractions are everywhere, and we all want to catch up with more old friends and impress more potential new friends than we possibly have time to do?

    I am certain that I hurt one or two people by forgetting that we'd already met, and judging by the high incidence of my own awkward tangentiality in conversational circles, I'm sure I was a party to inflicting it on others. Sorry, everyone.

    Speaking of awkwardness, was anyone else cornered by the Flashpoint Shakespeare entrepreneur people and too polite to tell them that their product was a little too simple-minded for fifth graders?


  • At 4/10/2007 08:29:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    No, I wasn't, James, but I have to admit I was morbidly curious about the guy in the cape.

    Do tell: what was that all about?

    Oh, and I apologize too.


  • At 4/10/2007 09:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote…

    i find this conversation fascinating, since I always worry that my rowdy faux pas-es are a bit more egregious. for example: one serious highlight, for me, included an informal plenary session on youtube videos that took place in the "schooner" bar. (apparently, there's a southpark version of titus!) this session however was also a lowlight since i think i tried to recreate dance moves from gerardo's rico suave video. so, i raise ya both, buster bluth and inkhorn.

    wish you kids were planning to blog 'kazoo...

    p.s. I tried to post this yesterday, but perhaps my virtual identity is trying to save me from myself?


  • At 4/10/2007 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Inkhorn wrote…

    hd: I would take that as a point of pride. I had in mind much more mundane, and therefore much more embarrassing and awkward, infractions.

    I hope the youtube plenary included plentiful quotations from "Washington, Washington."

    And to James: I have a preposterously hard time remembering anything, including names and occasions, so I hadn't really even considered that other layer of infractions I'm probably not aware of... Man.


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