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Identity Crisis: MLA15 Edition

When things change. 

January 22, 2015

I am about to end a call today that was not initially about, but inevitably circled around to, our shared experiences at the MLA. We were both there, in another life it seems for both of us, at the same time, but unaware of each other’s presence or even existence. At least, we weren’t then. As we traded job market war stories, I apologized about how flustered I was at the beginning of the class. “I only got back from the MLA last week.”

“Oh, gosh, why didn’t you say so? It always takes so long to come back from that place.”


I am on a plane, sitting in First Class, or Elite Class, or whatever name the bigger seats/better service/curtained-off section of the plane has now. I have been upgraded for the shortest leg of the trip (Seattle to Vancouver is barely 40 minutes, gate to gate), but I nonetheless sit there, sipping my free alcoholic beverage, feeling horribly guilty. This upgrade is a result of all of the travel I did for job interviews last year, but this trip itself, with or without First Class, is a luxury.

Both my presentations this year are about contingent faculty. When I agreed to speak, I was still contingent faculty. Now, I am not, and I am in a position of privilege, with a full salary, benefits, and the luxury of traveling in style to the MLA. Previously, I felt like it was my duty to take advantage in order to be a visible representation for all those contingent faculty who could not show up.

Now, who am I?


I skipped the first day of the MLA so I could spend some of the day with my son on his birthday. He’s six. School was canceled because of the cold. He got a birthday cake, and a full day at his after-school center, which stays open, even on snow days. We opened presents. We sang. I got to hear it was his best birthday ever.


I made a pact with myself that the goal for my MLA experience this year was to get through my time there without crying.

I’m still not sure if I was successful in meeting that goal.


It’s a strange and surreal experience to be someone who was a part of successful movement that suddenly becomes a controversy. Especially when all of the coverage excludes you and your voice. Part of that was by design. Part of it was that no one asked.

It’s also strange to have people come up to me to shake my hand and tell me that they voted for me. Encouraging me to run again. And then the faces that I know that hope that I won’t.

Knowing which ones to trust.


The dawning realization that my persona has overshadowed me. I could think about the author I study, but no one asks me about my academic research or interests anymore, so is there any point in bothering myself with them?

The cycle can get vicious and self-fulfilling.


There is one panel that gets you really excited. Everything they are presenting resonates. And then it gets really, really personal. I’m in a filled room where something like a ghost from the MLA past appears, and I knew it was going but when it happens, like Scrooge, I’m still caught off guard.

Unlike Scrooge, I have no idea what my realization is supposed to be. Who am I supposed to be when I finally wake up in the morning?

Except a reminder that there was some good more generally that came from this particular ghost, one of many ghosts who became increasingly insistent on being seen, heard, felt.


Did you see that adjuncts were in Elle Magazine? New, different audience. And as a result, we have Precaricorps, a non-profit to help adjuncts in financial distress. A non-profit where donations can be made.

What does this have to do with the MLA? Absolutely nothing. Which is exactly the point.


I never ate alone while I was at the conference. There was always someone to eat with, sit with, talk with, hang out with, laugh with. Smart, wonderful, flawed humans.

I just wish the MLA wasn’t the thing that keeps bringing us all together on an annual basis.

And I wish more of us could have been there. 


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