I am writing this on the way home from the American Studies Association annual meeting, and am forgoing the Friday and Saturday night parties (not to mention lesbian club-hopping in Philadelphia) in favor of sleeping in my own bed tonight. It will be late when I get home, but worth the late-night travel amongst sketchy people to be home. I have been gone so long that for the first time ever on a trip I actually finished all the reading material I took with me, and watched all the Netflix videos. I also discovered that, despite the fact that Netflix keeps asking me if I want to watch something in my queue “right now,” in fact, you can’t do that with a Mac©. I know, because I finally tried last night, after about six months of piously sticking to my work, when in fact I would have rather been watching Fat Actress (or Fat Anything, for that matter.) This causes me to have a sneaking disdain for Netflix, so in love am I with my Mac©.
Thank God for the book exhibit, that’s all I can say. I was down to my last New Yorker yesterday when I got off the prop plane that flew me out of State U. But for the need to close my eyes and pray I would have finished that too: I only had a couple articles and a movie review left to go, and to my dismay, I got to the Marriott and found out that the conference book exhibit wasn’t going to open until this morning. It was around mid-day, and I realized that if not speaking to another person I was going to have to make do with the contents of my brain or the last episode of Damages on my iPod. I thought I was going to have to break down the door to the Franklin Room and start pawing through the boxes waiting to be unpacked by university press editors, but fortunately I had a lot of blog reading to catch up on, I had a panel to go to, a mother to bum an excellent meal off of, and I wasn’t left to think my own thoughts for more than a minute or two until 10:00 PM, when I could go to bed.
I thought the mania for never being without something to read was my own personal fetish, but today, in front of the Duke University Press booth I ran into an old friend, M, who confessed that she too had run out of reading material last night. She said that the last time this had happened to her was at that hideous AHA meeting in Atlanta, during the blizzard of ninety-whatever, where she was stuck in the conference hotel for days (fortunately they were rescued before they had to begin eating the graduate students). During that same storm, you may recall, I was able to leave Atlanta but not get home, and I wandered the South like a refugee before Sherman’s Fury for four days before hopping a flight to Albany, for God's Sake. Anyway, where was I? Books. My friend and I made a mutual vow to always over pack book-wise in the future, as it causes far too much anxiety and dismay to run out of reading material. One hesitates to carry too many books, since inevitably, despite the best intentions, one buys twenty or thirty pounds of books at a conference, and intentionally shlepping around other heavy volumes that one never gets a chance to read because one is too busy gossiping, drinking and going to parties -- uh, and yeah, going to panels --- seems pathological.
Did I go to panels? Yes, I actually did. I went to a big marquee panel yesterday, where I thought all the participants were wonderfully smart, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what they were all doing on the same stage together. But that could have just been me, since I had been the center of attention for the two previous days, and I probably wasn’t in good listening mode because subconsciously I was thinking, Why aren't they listening to me? Although I did run into D on the way out, and he confessed he had no idea what the panel was about either, and he bolted right behind me. Which was a good thing, since out in the hall a very large posse of queer people had gathered, many of whom are responsible for Social Text 84-85 (bought it, its in my suitcase), and many happy greetings were exchanged.
You know, as you get older, there are some people you only see in hotels, but you like them just as much as you ever did.
I also went to panels today, which were wonderfully smart. I missed the Fat Studies session, which I regret, but if you saw me at your panel, you should pat yourself on the back because it was great. And in the afternoon there was a roundtable on where American Studies is going now that it has made the transhemispheric turn, and in particular whether culture can continue to be a central concept in the era of globalization. The panelists were wonderful, and so was the audience, and it was the best general conversation I have heard in a long time.
As I wandered out of that, I passed a table where the graduate student caucus was collecting $$ to support their reception, and I gave them $20, since I vaguely remember getting an email from them last week asking if the program at Zenith could contribute something, and I was too overwhelmed by the petty details of my existence to do anything about it. So I gave them my own money instead, dumb ass Radical that I am. I did see some of my peers dropping a dollar in the box, and all I have to say about that is, Come on! Winos get a dollar; the graduate student caucus should get at least as much as you would give your administrative assistant to sponsor her in the walk against Breast Cancer.
The only party I went to this evening, very quickly before my train, was held by Potemkin U for grad students, alums and friends of the program, where one faculty member was, unaccountably, eating Chinese takeout from a paper box, although there actually was a lot of food that had been bought and paid for and was sitting on a buffet. The hotel liquor prices were so insanely high that I got a beer, and I never drink beer anymore because – well, never mind. But the beer was almost seven dollars, and I yelped at the bartender. “It’s only money,” he shrugged, snapping the cap off. I rolled over to another faculty member and griped about the drink prices, and she said, “No kidding, you should see what they charged us for the food.” The menu was salad and crudites, and a fair number of people who had nothing to do with Potemkin and who nobody knew were sidling in and filling plates and slipping out the door again. Graduate students, you say? My guess is not, that they were people with actual jobs: my mother always said academics were some of the most habitual freeloaders she had ever met.
I would say the highlight of the meeting was seeing a lot of younger folks, some of who were former Zenith students, some people who had worked at Zenith, all of whom seem to be doing splendidly. One of them was the wonderful Siva, who becomes more fabulous with each passing year. Somehow I had missed it that the Siva family had decamped for the University of Virginia, but we had a nice long chat about the pleasures and perils of the blogosphere, and exchanged compliments.
The sad news is that Roy Rosenzweig, Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of History & New Media at George Mason University, died last night after a not so long but difficult bout with cancer. It seems fitting, of course, that many of us who knew and loved him in the American Studies community were together when we heard the news (Ann Fabian announced it to a packed room before her roundtable began; I started to cry, and a nice older lady next to me pressed some Kleenex into my hand and said gently, “It’s clean.”) I first knew Roy years ago on MARHO, the collective that edits the Radical History Review, and we kept up intermittently over the years. He was one of the kindest historians I have known, and also one of the most flexible, creative and farseeing intellectuals I have had the pleasure to be connected to. Roy made a huge commitment to thinking about the implications of the internet and technology for history and for American Studies before most of the rest of us knew what an Ethernet cable was. He was one of the great innovators in using the web and teaching the rest of us how it could not just improve, but change, our research and teaching. He will be joining that big editorial collective in the sky where Sue Porter Benson, who left us a few years ago, is already cracking them up, but he will be sorely missed from our number here on earth.