Monday, March 10, 2008

My Plenary

I have mentioned as an aside over the last months that I've been asked to do a plenary talk. The talk is for the conference of a regional organization (that may or may not include my region... I can't quite tell) that is not in my field per se, but has focused their conference this time around on their field in performance, which is something I've worked on, and published some on.

This is all very odd to me, for a few reasons:

1) I'm a pretty junior scholar--how many untenured profs are asked to do plenaries out of the blue? Maybe more than I know, but still.

2) The major essay I published on this topic is, if I do say so myself, pretty damn good, and anticipates by a couple of years the boom in scholarship that has since come out on this and another overlapping genre. I have been concerned, though, that since it wasn't published in the biggest journal--or more importantly, a journal that is available online through MUSE or JSTOR--that it hasn't been referenced in a number of places where I would have hoped to have been referenced. The follow-up work I've done has been smaller in scope, and so I have fewer expectations for it. the point is, while I think it's good work, it hasn't been as widely referenced as I'd hope, and therefore, I'm surprised that it would have registered with the conference organizers as important enough to warrant a plenary spot for me.

3) There are scholars in the field attending who are much more prominent than I am.

4) Because I do performance but am in an English department, I am often in something of a networking eddy, which is to say that the performance scholars I read don't move in the same circles as those folks with whom I work, which means at conferences, I'm often networking from scratch. As such, I have a pretty slight network of contacts and colleagues in my field. I am trying to remedy that, but it goes slowly.

Nonetheless, I've known about this talk since December, and have been slowly pecking away at an idea, one I was sort of locked into, since the conference organizers asked for a title from almost day one. I like the idea, but in true Horace fashion, it is built on a theoretical framework that before 2008, I could barely describe to an undergraduate, let alone use in my scholarship. So I've been reading a lot of theory that is only foundational, but not specific to my talk. Then all of the illness stuff (improving every day, by the way) has meant that I've been able to do little other than take notes until today.

Then, last week, I found that what was meant by "30 minutes to present" actually meant "30 minutes for presentation and Q&A, which in practice means about twelve pages instead of fifteen. This would seem great since I hadn't had much time to write, but the problem is: I can write fast. But I edit slow, and the more I have to trim down, the longer it's going to take me.

So when I sat down to write this morning, I had about 2 pages of introductory material. by the end of the writing day (about 10 minutes ago), I had fifteen pages. I haven't written that much in one sitting since I was dissertating, and maybe not even then. OK, so I have to get fifteen pages down by two or three, but the bigger problem is that I have probably about eight more pages of material to go, including all of the critical caveats that make this argument, well, sophisticated. I guess I have to save all of that for the article version. Ugh.

So I sent off the draft to the conference contact, with whom I've been having a delightful conversation, with the disclaimer that he was getting a very rough draft, but he'd offered to look it over to get some ideas for questions to jump start discussion, and for revision suggestions if he had time.

I fear--and it's a deep deep fear, like the fear of fraudulence that tempers the most anxious of academic exchanges--that I am about to be dis-invited. Of course this is overly anxious, but damn, I'm anxious about this. Willow reads tonight to edit (she is an amazing editor as well as a brilliant writer), and I might try to draft the remaining material just to have it drafted later this week. Can you imagine? drafting a whole article in week when I'm also teaching? Oh yes, it does reflect in the work.

By the way, anyone in NYC late this week, I'll have a little bit of time.


Dr. Crazy said...

My advice is to finish writing it - get to a beginning, middle, and end - and then see where you are. Then, ask somebody who's good at cutting to read through and make suggestions for where to cut. I'd be happy to do that for you if you want to send it along (as it would allow me not to work on my article :) )

Dr. Crazy said...

Oh, another question: have you considered using a handout for any lengthy quotes? Or if not a handout then projecting stuff on a screen? That's an easy no-fuss way to cut some time.

Sisyphus said...

First of all, I am still just impressed that you got invited to give a plenary! Go you. :) They must think you are an up-and-coming, uh, up-and-comer.

but in true Horace fashion, it is built on a theoretical framework that before 2008, I could barely describe to an undergraduate, let alone use in my scholarship.

Oooh, I do this!!! I'm always biting off more than I can chew and deciding I need a complete grounding in X and Y before something is due, like, next week. This gives me hope that I can survive.

I can write fast. But I edit slow, and the more I have to trim down, the longer it's going to take me.

This is me too! I would agree with Dr. Crazy's advice, though, to just pound through the whole thing and then you can have a better idea of what to summarize and what to make an aside about and what to explain in detail. I mean, it's more work up front that way, which sucks, but I think it produces a better end product.

And if you're like me in this thing as well: there is nothing like a hard and fast deadline with terrifying consequences to get me moving in surprising ways. Good luck with it all! Whoo-hoo!

Horace said...

I agree with you guys that this would be an ideal scenario, to write a full draft and trim as necessary, but I have a batch of midterms to grade by 1 tomorrow, a meeting at 2:30, and a grad class to prep for at 4. That means that right now, the writing has to go on hold for 24 hours at least, since there are also issues like kids to bathe and put to bed (Willow's in class). So we'll see what Wednesday holds since, did I mention I fly out on Thursday?

So I think first, I turn this draft into a usable one. Then I expand to completion, and then, if there is time, I'll cut that one down to usable size.

But Crazy, don't be surprised to see a draft on, like Wednesday evening. Who knows what'll happen at this rate?

And Sisyphus, yes, there is hope for you indeed. You're too smart for there not to be hope. regardless of process.

Maude Lebowski said...

woo-hoo! i have no advice, but only well wishes!

gooooooooood luck! and have fun!

Dr. Crazy said...

If you need the help, do send it along. Sometimes it really is tough to know what to cut when it's one's own writing.

That said, don't be too anxious over the last-minute-ness of things. Remember: the beauty of a talk is that as long as you're engaging, you can dazzle and confuse the audience and they are unlikely to be any the wiser about stuff that's not as tight as it might be (or would need to be for something published).