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In London now

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Mar. 31st, 2011 | 08:14 pm

I'm in London now for a conference that starts tomorrow.

Wednesday was long. It started at 5 a.m. I taught two of my three classes and managed to squeeze in four advisement appointments (the first at 8 a.m.) before leaving for the airport. It was more than 28 hours before I was able to check into my room and lie down for a nap.

I'm scheduled to present a paper at one of the earlier sessions of the conference--early in the conference, not necessarily early in the day. The conference registration begins at a very civilized 10 a.m. and the first session start at 11. I'm on the 2:00 session and then I'll pretty much be able to hang out, except for chairing a session the next day.

Too early to tell because I haven't presented yet, but I am having some difficult feelings about this conference. Thoughts are bringing me back to the first European conference I went to after accepting my current teaching appointment. That was soon after I had had my second, really bad, falling out with R. I enjoyed hanging out with a European grad student at that conference, and when I returned home I asked J out for a "friend date" and we began hanging out.

At that conference three things happened that were unsettling to me. For one, I was supposed to be giving a "keynote" presentation, which meant that I was to have 30 minutes rather than 20 minutes to speak. The session chair forgot and started cutting me off early. I knew I had timed my presentation and was not going over time, but I compromised and tried to comply. Only afterward did he realize what he had done and then apologized. In the comments after the talk, one of the organizers essentially accused me of taking a highly inappropriate approach to the music. I was shocked and believe he was coming from a place of crude misunderstanding, but I was hesitant to dress him down in public (as he had just done to me). Third, I was asked to fill in as chair for a particular session because one of the organizers (the one who had dressed me down after my talk) said something had come up with conference logistics and he was unable to do it. I complied and I chaired the session. When I notified one of the speakers that he was nearing the end of the time for his talk, he began to have a tantrum, which continued after the talk when I approached him, attempted to shake his hand and apologized (unnecessarily) in case he had misunderstood how much time was left. He rebuffed my attempt at a handshake and at a smoothing over and launched into another diatribe against me. I found out later that he has a reputation for being "difficult." (Try "personality disordered.") Naturally, I felt I had been set up and blindsided, and I was furious about it.

That conference, which was supposed to have resulted in published proceedings, eventually became a web-only publication. (Not as good for professional development purposes, clearly.) The next year there was a North American conference. That one, too, failed to produce the promised publication. In that case, there was no publication of any kind. After my presentation there, the session chair stepped out of her assigned role and proceeded to berate me for failing to address the temporal aspect of the music (which was clearly factored into my analysis for all to see). Again, I hesitated to dress her down in public, as I assumed that would be regarded as bad form. (Of course, she had at some point had a much-gossiped-about tiff with the organizer from the previous conference who had dressed me down after my talk there--no surprise there).

In the meantime I went up for tenure, successfully, but as part of the process someone forwarded a comment anonymously through the provost's office that, if I continued to work on the music of "obscure" composers, I may have difficulty finding outside reviewers for my work, should I choose to go up for promotion to full professor at some point.

The next conference cycle began last year. After my talk at the first conference, one of the well-known scholars of this composer's music addressed me (privately) in a very patronizing manner, implying that my approach to the music was somehow misguided. When I submitted my proposal for the next conference that year, I mistakenly sent the draft document that included my abstract, not just the abstract alone as I had intended. In the feedback I received about the abstract, one person made rather snide comments about my "thoughts to self" writing style and another said that it was a very weak proposal, while a third commented that it would seem that the proposal must be accepted (why--because my name had mistakenly been included in the proposal?).

People are entitled to their opinions (as I am to mine, of course). It is difficult, however, to keep pushing on while feeling unsupported or attacked, virtually no matter what I do. I give up all of my academic "breaks" to prepare courses and to write conference papers, and after a while I start to feel exhausted and demoralized. With the exception of Christmas Day (when my partner's mother fell and broke her hip and we had to take her to the hospital), I don't think I've had a complete day off since November.

So I guess it's understandable that these papers are getting harder and harder to write. Then again, once I have exhumed ideas from my "outtakes" documents and resynthesized them into new presentations, I think I may be coming closer to saying some things that aren't commonly discussed. Part of the problem then, of course, is that the logical behind what I'm doing may have become so condensed and so turned in on itself that relatively few people will likely understand what I'm actually saying. Then again, that might not be a bad strategy. With all of the anger that I have accumulated over the past few years at these conferences and around the topic of this composer, I might just go ahead and dress down people who hit me with comments that I find insulting or inane.

We'll see, but there is definitely a part of me that just wants to give up and hide and not talk to anyone.

So, I guess this is some of the professional stress that I've been trying to escape by attempting to immerse myself in various manifestations of the "spiritual path." I did go ahead and order Janja Lalich's book on cults and abusive relationships and am over 200 pages into it now (in part due to having uninterrupted time to read on the plane). I'm seeing a lot, and I'm beginning to put together pieces I hadn't been able to put together before (or perhaps rearranging pieces that have been there all along). In a sense, it's like deconstructing an attempt at a defense against various stresses in my life. The depression that I fell into after I went to satsang for the last time last November, the fact that I haven't been to a Rosen session since October, and the sense of deep emptiness and letting go that I had earlier this month all seem to be indications to me that my attempts to "feel good" by trying to "spiritually transcend" stresses in my life, and to find "alternative" means of support have all ultimately come up short. In the end, attempts to get one thing to compensate for another can easily complicate one's life.

I feel, in part, that I have been putting a lot of effort into getting intellectually and professionally back on track after having been dominated by feelings, imagination, and "emotional thinking" for a number of years. In reading account after account of how people have been drawn to those kinds of experiences only to begin to feel trapped by them, I'm considering that my experiences may have been similar in some important respects. I'm willing to allow for a certain amount of extra effort for the purposes of rebuilding aspects of my life that had become somewhat marginalized, even though I never ceased dealing with them completely. But I'm also questioning what kinds of limits are necessary and realistic in certain aspects of my work. Rather than assume that I have to take on each new burden unquestioningly, I'm starting to question more. That may not be comfortable for everyone, and it's not always comfortable for me, but I think it's something I need to do.

On that note, this is keeping me up a little later than I had planned, so I think it's time to call it quits here.

Peace,

vk

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