Thursday, December 29, 2005


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The night before your interview, you meet a few people for dinner. As you stand in the lobby, you recognize someone you've lost touch with, someone you used to consider a friend. She is talking on the phone like an actor, making facial gestures and grandly pacing back and forth. You want to run up to her, but you feel shy. Then you realize she has probably seen you and is pretending she hasn't. You feel confused for a minute before you realize you, too, are hiding, positioning a tall person in your group in front of you so your old friend can't see you. Then an older woman comes down to the lobby. She and your old friend hug, and their body language says advisor/advisee. The older woman walks by and checks out the woman standing next to you. It is clear she recognizes her, but can't decide whether or not to say hello. You watch her physically, visibly decide not to say hello, and you think not-so-nice thoughts about academic generations.

Just as you stand there feeling bummed out, an old friend of your girlfriend who you've only met once runs up to say hello. He doesn't have to say hi. Your girlfriend isn't even there, and besides, they lost each other taking sides in a divorce. He says hello to you anyway, even though you are the Other Woman. He is making an effort, and your mood brightens.

At the dinner, you drink too much wine. Darn! You said you wouldn't, but it was tasting so good.

You wake up the next morning feeling fuzzy. Oh no. Order room service, start drinking coffee and water. Lots and lots of water. Lasso a friend and make them ask you questions about your book, your teaching philosophy, your next project. Take a shower. Put on a suit. Use concealer to hide those bags. Change your shirt three times.

Polish your shoes with the hotel polisher cloth. Pee, again.

Take a taxi. Walk across the main conference hotel lobby. Watch people run up to each other and ignore each other. Go to Starbucks and get a double espresso. Pee one more time.

Call up ten minutes before your interview. Panic because no one answers. Call a minute later. And a minute later. Finally get hold of them four minutes before your interview. Listen to them tell you to go all the way across the world to the hotel tower on the other side of the building.


Go up, go in, go on. Realize that they are genuinely interested in a conversation. Lap it up like a thirsty plant. A plant with a tongue. Shake hands. Help someone in the elevator who is lost find her interview. Go down to the lobby and take note of your irrigated armpits. Decide not to take your jacket off. Go home. Change. Get lunch and a beer. Make it three beers.

Darn! Tipsy again. Time to go to the cash bar party. You meet What Now and her girlfriend and enjoy talking to them. You go into your university reception and it feels like a high school reunion, only more fun. The same faces you went to grad school with show up a little kinder, but still ready to dish. Some of you have gotten famous, others have lost jobs or never gotten them. People are frantically happy to see each other and wish each other well. The same profs who used to have a little too much to drink at the wine and cheese receptions are still dancing around wearing lampshades. Everyone is friendlier than you remember. Enthusiastic. Jovial. This is not just because of the wine. You feel a strange sense of family, of cousins under one roof again.

Seven o'clock comes too soon. People start to drift away. You turn in the doorway to watch the last groups cling, undulate, and break apart down the red carpet hallways, washed out on the tide of another year.

You are still smiling as you walk through the lobby and into the night, thinking that sometimes the nicest things get passed down academic generations.


dr. m(mmm) aka The Notorious P.H.D. said...

Sfrajett! Wow, you so perfectly captured my exact experience at my field's big monstrous convention a month ago. All the way down to overloading on water, ordering double espressos, people seeing and not seeing each other, and the strange sense of family at the department party. I even found that former nemeses are now just quirky people I miss.

A plant with a tongue (I love it!)

I don't envy y'all in Lit. The star system is probably worst there, especially as it bleeds into cultural studies.

metaspencer said...

This is an awesome (if painful) account! Glad you survived.

What Now? said...

Great post. I'm so glad that the interview went well and that we got a chance to talk. A happy new year to you!

vogue said...

I wasn't at my meetings this year, and found myself playing inspirational songs into the phone for people the morning of their interviews. You capture the spirit of the thing perfectly. I'm that you got a good reunion and a real conversation.