Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
For perhaps obvious reasons, this month’s list has been a little harder to write up. And the most important item was also the hardest to find any good words for at all. The pictures will have to do.
Nine days late, I know, but it’s been a busy week or so.
Lots of people do Top Ten lists of one sort or another. But do we really need to fetishize the number 10 simply ’cause that’s how many fingers most of us are born with? And do such lists really need to revolve around hierarchical rankings? I don’t think so.
So here’s my “notable nine” for September 2010. These aren’t necessarily the best — or the worst — things that happened to me this past month. And they’re not presented in any clearcut order. They’re simply nine slices of my life from the past 30 days that deserve some sort of recognition.
Several people (including many blog-less friends not linked here) have asked me about the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference in Kingston, Jamaica that wrapped up early last week. And I would be hard-pressed to do better than Melissa Gregg’s summary of the event . . . except, perhaps, to simply say to all those people who wanted to know how it went: You should’ve been there.
I know, of course, that there are lots of good reasons why people don’t make it to conferences. Not enough time. Not enough money. Competing obligations. The simple need/desire to be a homebody for a while, especially when conferences fall during the gap between semesters. So I don’t really blame my curious but absent friends for not making it to Jamaica. Still: You should’ve been there.
I have been struck by the multiple requests for reports — not just friendly “how was the conference?” queries, but an explicit desire for extended details (who was there? who gave good papers? what’s new and hot in the field? etc.) — from friends who would have fit in perfectly, who would’ve enjoyed themselves immensely, and (most tellingly) who have been to enough conferences themselves to know that even the most thorough “report” is no substitute for being there. The feel of a conference often matters as much as (and probably more than) the actual content of the presented papers, or the roster of attendees, or a rundown of who said what to whom at the hotel bar on the final night. So I’m not going to try and provide a detailed accounting of the who and the what of the event, ’cause even if I were to feel the muse and be graced with the most eloquent way to capture five days worth of conversations, I still couldn’t do the event justice. You should’ve been there.
One of the things I most appreciate about the Crossroads conferences — or at least the past two renditions — is the degree to which they take their international-ness very seriously. To be sure, they’re not some perfectly ideal space of worldly cosmopolitanism: the official language of the conference is still English, and the global South remains under-represented. At the same time, Crossroads isn’t the sort of “international” conference where most of the usual suspects from the US, Canada, and northern Europe simply gather in a big chain hotel in some different corner of the world for a long weekend and have the same basic conversations with each other that they could/would have had at a conference back home. For me, Crossroads somehow manages to simultaneously feel both smaller and larger than those sorts of conferences. It’s smaller, insofar as Crossroads has a much more tight-knit, communal feel to it than a Hilton/Sheraton/Hyatt-style conference. While it’s still a fairly large gathering, I’ve come away from the past two versions feeling like I’ve shared an experience with several hundred people — and that doesn’t happen at most other conferences I attend. And it’s larger, insofar as the people you’re sharing that experience with represent a much broader slice of the world than is the norm for “international” conferences.
We do it all again in 2010. In Hong Kong.
You should be there.
I’ve been meaning to post about the Cultural Studies Now conference and my trip to London ever since I got back . . . but Margaret’s mother arrived for a week’s visit three hours after I got back . . . and then three hours before she left, the roofers showed up to start what turned out to be a three-day job that drove Margaret and I out of the house for much of the duration (have you ever tried to write coherent prose while half a dozen men pounded on the ceiling directly above you for hours on end?) . . . and then three hours or so after the roofers were done, the I-35W bridge collapsed . . . which has been its own distraction for the past 24 hours or so, partially for the “disaster porn” that goes along with tragedies of this sort, but mostly because of the varied and multiple rounds of “checking in” that have taken place since last night.
Sometime over the past week, I did actually manage to HTMLify my presentation from the conference, but let me save a more detailed report on the event as a whole for a later post. For now, I’m still processing the bridge collapse. So far, at least, no one from my circle of friends and colleagues and acquaintances was on/under the bridge at the crucial moment yesterday . . . but given the where and when of the situation, it’s still perfectly plausible that someone I know wasn’t so lucky, and I simply don’t know it yet. The bridge is — was — right next to campus, and I-35W is the major north-south highway running through Minneapolis. I didn’t use that bridge every day, but it also wouldn’t have been unusual for me to have done so: I crossed it at least twice last week, walked by it on two other occasions, and was more or less right around the corner a mere hour before it fell.
For me, though, I think the biggest chunk of my “there but for the grace of Elvis” reaction to yesterday’s tragedy is the fact that Minneapolis is very much a river-straddling city. Unlike, say, St. Louis or Memphis, where the river marks the line between the city and the suburbs (and not always the most desirable of suburbs either) and one can plausibly spend years living and working in the area without ever needing to cross a bridge, here the river pretty much runs through the heart of things. I’m sure there must be people in town whose lives are such that they rarely have to cross the river, but I suspect they’re the exception, rather than the rule. There are six or seven different bridges across the Mississippi that I might use on any given day for any number of reasons, and I can easily need to cross the river a dozen times (or more) every week. I’m not exactly worried about crossing those bridges again — the odds that a bridge that’s stood for decades will crumble at precisely the moment you’re on it are still pretty damned small — but I’m also mindful of the fact that I could very easily have been on the I-35W bridge at the wrong time yesterday . . . or that those long odds might’ve kicked in during any of the other bridge-crossing moments that routinely happen.
I really meant to type up (blog up?) some of my thoughts on the Crossroads in Cultural Studies conference sooner, but life got in the way. More than once, clearly, since the conference was over nearly a month ago already. Eventually, I need to produce a more polished review of the event for Cultural Studies, but this is as good a place as any to get some of my preliminary thoughts in order.
Let me start with the “bad” stuff, simply to get it out of the way. There’s not very much of it, and none of it is exactly the stuff of scandals or nightmares. And, to be frank, that’s a bit surprising — if only because it’s next to impossible to hold a conference this big (600+ presenters on the program) and this global (50+ nations represented) on a shoestring budget . . . and have everything go right. The fact that so little went wrong is a testament to how well organized everything was (and a big tip of the hat to Ferda Keskin and his team of student volunteers who made that happen). My short list of “what went wrong” really boils down to two items:
Put these two things together and the conference’s formal sessions were not always as scintillating as they should’ve been . . .
. . . but, then again, the same can be said of many conferences. And I long ago learned not to judge the merits of a conference based on the overall quality of the panels. [Sidebar: Some of the best advice I was ever given was that a good conference was one where you saw one good paper, made one good contact, or came away with one good idea for a project of your own. By this standard, I've never had a bad conference . . . and I've managed to enjoy conferences that might otherwise have seemed to be huge waste of time.] What made the Istanbul Crossroads an exciting event was not the papers and panels as much as it was the people, the setting, and (at the risk of sounding much more new-age-y than I am in everyday life) the amazing energy produced by the mixture of the two. The highlights for me (in no special order) are as follows:
I’m not interested in pimping this blog out to corporate sponsors, but there are also moments when it’s worth giving props (no aviation pun inten—well, okay, maybe there’s a little intent here) to those who deserve it. As one of Northwest’s major hubs, Minneapolis is almost a one-airline city . . . and it’s an increasingly lousy airline. Even if I were willing to overlook Northwest’s egregious labor politics (which I’m not), they’ve simply become an annoying airline to fly with. The usual complaints apply here: no legroom, no elbowroom, bare-bones in-flight amenities for domestic travel, and a frequent flyer program that makes it close to impossible to actually use your accumulated miles. But the final straw for me came on my return trip from Istanbul, where the flight crew from Amsterdam to Detroit was far and away the rudest, the surliest, and the most xenophobic bunch of flight attendants I’ve ever witnessed. These folks got on the plane with a mighty bad attitude . . . and even if that attitude might have been justified by (surprise) Northwest’s egregious labor politics, the passengers wedged into tiny, uncomfortable seats for a nine-hour flight simply weren’t the proper target for such frustrations.
So Northwest is moving fast towards the bottom of my list for airline choices — while two trips to DC this summer have me convinced that Midwest should be at the top of my list whenever circumstances allow. The downside is that they’re a small carrier serving a relatively limited number of destinations (so they won’t always be a viable option) and currently everything that they fly in and out of Minneapolis gets routed through their Milwaukee hub (so they’re rarely going to give me a non-stop flying experience).
But their planes have wide, comfortable leather seats for all passengers (there’s no separate business class here). Because they’re not trying to squeeze extra passengers into every square inch of cabin space, their overhead luggage bins don’t seem to get filled up prematurely, and the boarding process runs more smoothly and quickly. Without exception, every one of their flight attendants on eight different legs of my summer travels have been personable, relaxed, and seeming quite happy with their jobs. And surprisingly tasty baked-onboard chocolate chip cookies are standard snack fare. This is how flying should be — even on a budget.