When I was preparing to get to this conference in Aarhus, I noticed among the list of participants that I recognized one of the names.
It was someone I had corresponded with, a while back, and thus… well… someone I actually knew! An ally! I would not be alone.
Suffice to say, I was over-joyed.
The lecturer was this Australian scholar I had met on Academia.edu (a sort of FB for academics), and I can tell you… it was really odd meeting her.
She reminded me of myself, in many ways. Her reactions to people were a lot like what mine would be. Her presentation style was very similar to mine.
Yes, she was definitely higher up the pecking order, and she writes a hell of a lot better than I ever could, but she still reminded me of me.
As a result, this conference was a bit of an out-of-body experience: In a strange way, I got to watch myself do things which, up until that point, I had only experienced from, well, this “side of my eyes”.
And what I saw was something of a revelation – Here she was, this talented, intelligent woman, with important, intelligent things to say… and she was practically burying herself in her text, not lifting her eyes, and rarely being heard, since she barely spoke above a whisper.
I realized then that I was the same. When I first arrived at the conference, I had introduced myself to those people I spoke to as “the lowest of the low”, the “lowest ranked person here”, and “just an MA student”. I was intimidated, and quiet… and a moron for being that way.
Having seen her lecture, I decided on a change of course. Starting with her lecture, I began presenting myself to people based on my studies and not based on my “rank”… and, lo and behold, it worked. By the time they found out I was “merely” an MA student, they couldn’t care less. They already knew I was clever and erudite and just generally worth their time.
The next day, I was supposed to chair a session. That basically means that you introduce the lecturer, keep time to make sure he doesn’t talk too much, and then moderate the discussion, asking questions if no one else asks any.
Bolstered by my new-found confidence, I strode to the microphone, tossed off a few witty comments about our next speaker (got an appreciative laugh), and then proceeded to moderate the discussion once he was done, and even cut off some of “my elder and betters” in favour of sending everyone off on the coffee break.
I then spent the next 24hrs being told repeatedly that I was an excellent chairperson – A compliment that was further elaborated and expanded upon whenever I replied that it was my first time at it.
Seeing her hesitate like that, despite her good article… and listening to some of the less than flawless other presentations at that conference, I found myself realizing that up until that point in time, I had been too harsh a critic of everything I ever did.
It suddenly became clear to me that things which were less than my all-time best… were actually more than enough for academia.
That night, I sent a revised abstract (=summary of an article) to the teaching assistant in charge of the Oxford University workshop.
I can honestly say that I no longer feel any kind of worry about that paper. I’ll present what I can… and it’ll be more than enough.
I could tell you more… about certain lecturers with pickles stuck up their asses… or about sweet ones who walked me home to make sure I got there alright… or about one in particular who was crazier than I am, and thus nearly as alone as I was there, and who remembered when my flight was, so he tracked me down at the gate to keep me company.
I could tell you about going to celebrate Midsummer Eve at the Aarhus harbour, and hearing a massive crowd sing a beautiful song about (so I’m told) that time of the year, while standing around a lovely bonfire.
I could tell you about struggling to find food I could eat, or stewardesses that think Kosher means “blessed by a rabbi”, or about how, since I asked for a vegetarian meal, I was given “salad with salad next to salad on top of salad with a side of salad” nearly every day for lunch… and how I gave it to that Australian lecturer instead, because she was also Jewish, but unlike me, she actually does like veggies.
All in all, though, anecdotes aside, this is what I’ll be taking away from the conference – Just the sight of her, and what it means about what I must look like from the outside.
I think things will be different from now on.