Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pilgrim's Progress

If that a Pearl may in a Toad's head dwell, 
And may be found too in an Oyster-shell;
If things that promise nothing do contain 
What better is than Gold; who will disdain,
That have an inkling of it, there to look,
That they may find it? 
-John Bunyan, Apology of Pilgrim's Progress 

I'm not sure what the American Dream is (as with many dreams, it hazes over in the memory), but in my profession, the method of achieving the image of success, as reflected in the funhouse mirror which is the CV, is to participate in a multitude of advisory institutions, editorial boards, reading and research groups, department councils, and above all, conferences. All of which boils down to an unceasing procession of glorified meetings.

In the conference presentation, one of which I traveled across the country to deliver not-too-long-ago, you speak for fifteen minutes about a facet of your research and your conclusions. The value of the exercise comes in refining your work, your speaking style, receiving feedback from other scholars, networking - all good things, none of which shows up on the CV. Your talk might have stunk worse than a decomposing warthog after six days in a marshy root cellar, but you get to keep those two lines on the one-page encapsulation of your life. And good for those other scholars, because if you could Yelp colleagues for their speaking and organizational ability, quite a few of my compatriots would be sitting on three stars or less.

After suffering through some travel delays that proved quite improvident (as a friend put it, there is no more grim or tacky place than the Newark airport), I arrived in Rhode Island and awaited the hotel shuttle. One fitting the general description arrived almost immediately, and I asked the driver (then in the process of pulling away) if it was for the Hampton Inn Providence. He said no and sped off, giving me a good view of the logo for the Hampton Inn Providence emblazoned on the vehicle's side. So, puzzled, I called the hotel, and they said they were sending the correct shuttle. Cue me waiting another half-hour, having watched myriad shuttles go by, before the original van reappeared. Driver again denied being for the hotel I wanted, telling the other departees that he hoped the right one came soon, since I'd been there a long time. Cue me comparing contact info with another traveler and finding that the van was indeed the van for my hotel. Apparently it lay in a place called Warwick, which led to the driver denying my attempts to arrive at the Hampton Inn Providence, since I actually wanted what was technically titled the Hampton Inn Providence/Warwick.

                                                           You son of a b*****

After that shameful display, I boarded the shuttle and was driven roughly 200 yards to the hotel, which stood in clear visual range of the airport itself.

Despite the five hours of sleep I somehow managed, the conference itself went rather well: while I combated jitters at the podium and won convincingly, most of the effort had been expended in reading my paper over and over on the plane, smoothing over rough edges and becoming increasingly and intimately aware of its flaws. However, since it was a diachronic (read: we'll take anybody) conference, the only people aware of the flaws were my co-panelist, who surely had her own foibles to worry about, and the faculty respondent, whose critique comprised mostly 'industry lingo' and was thus incomprehensible to most of the audience.

So fresh off what I must only slightly tongue-in-cheekly call an escape, I experienced the best part of the conference junket. Once you're done, and the conference continues, all you find is catered food, free dinner, and more or less intriguing conversation with exhausted, intelligent people. Which all culminated in me using a spare day at the tail end of the conference (an extra day in the hotel being cheaper than the cost difference between flying out Sunday and flying out Monday) walking around the charming, pint-sized city of Providence.

                                                 Each of these buildings are 3" tall.

So at the end of it all I sat in the hotel jacuzzi, reading a copy of Bunyan I'd bought for three dollars at a rummage sale to benefit the Brown MFA students, avoiding the siren song of cable television in my room, readying myself for the travel snafus to come (and come they did) on the way home, waiting until the last minute to pack my shabby clothes in the nice luggage my grandparents had bought me a decade prior, and wondering what to make of it all.

Sound words I know Timothy is to use,
And old Wives' Fables he is to refuse;
But yet grave Paul him nowhere doth forbid
The use of Parables; in which lay hid
That Gold, those Pearls, and precious stones that were
Worth digging for, and that with greatest care.

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