Some experiences don’t last long enough for satisfaction. You know what I’m talking about—cream soda numbs the tongue to its own silky sweetness, so you get a couple of tasty sips, then nothing, and the more you drink, the more bloated you feel. It’s a steep parabola on a graph with pleasure as its x-axis and time on the y-axis.
Pure unending pleasure, on the other hand, is unimaginable. What if semesters never ended, and we could grade freshman papers through eternity? The graph would be a nearly horizontal line; the bliss would destroy us.
What you want is something at a rising 45-degree angle, pleasure advancing with time’s passage in equal measure. Call it Churm’s Line.
For this experience, try a Vietnamese sandwich called bánh mì, made with head-and-shoulder roll, paté, sliced hot peppers, slivered cucumber and radish, shredded carrot, cilantro, and butter, on a baguette still warm from the oven. It’s crispy and succulent and salty-fresh all at once, and if you walk a couple of miles through central Philly to get to it and have a cold beer while you’re waiting, you’ll know the meaning of thumb-suckin’ good.
Enjoyment is not an innate talent; it must be cultivated, and Frenchy and I worked hard to follow Churm’s Line during the MLA conference. While many attendees stressed over job interviews or presentations (even without these, backbiting and professional jealousy can take a lot out of you), I just went to sessions, met people, and wrote, determined not to return home in worse shape than I’d left.
We were drinking beer on the Moshulu, an old square-rigged ore ship converted into a restaurant, when I realized that IHE editor Scott Jaschik’s panel was about to begin.
We force-marched back across town to the hotel room (see pic) to get my badge, then ran to the conference, where Scott told attendees that the public largely doesn’t understand what humanities scholars do, and that they themselves are to blame. The crowd masochistically ate it up and begged for more in the form of copies of his talk, but Scott explained he spoke from notes instead of reading from a typed paper, since he’s not an academic but a working journalist.
“He was right tart,” Frenchy said. “I like him.”
On the last morning of the conference, we went to the session on academic bloggers and finally put faces to Bitch Ph.D. and some guys from Acephalous, The Valve, and Crooked Timber. Michael Bérubé was on the panel, too, and walked in bleary, rubbing his face, and plopped down with his chin in his hands. Audience members became animated; even I felt the same thrill as when I saw Eddie Albert, the guy from Green Acres, in an airport one time.
“He looks like he might have drank as much as we did last night,” Frenchy said.
The panelists wanted to be clear that there were academic blogs, and blogs about academic life. (If you’re not sure which mine is, e-mail me.) Bitch made some good points on the use of a pen name: Despite a pseudonym/eponym’s apparent distance, it’s not impersonal at all, because the personality-driven can’t maintain a sense of objectivity. A pen name permits an everywoman feeling, while revealing specific truths. (She gave an example of a guy who tried to argue that his blog could be read as being written by a woman, because his use of the word “wife” didn’t have to denote hetero marriage, but his postings contained no references to lesbianism, anywhere, ever.) Bitch warned that subjective stances might out the pseudonymous blogger, through recognizable gossip, bad taste, inner-workings of departmental meetings, the self-pity of parenting, etc.
That risk, I thought, might be a stand-in for the tension of narrative, especially needed when our material is our own banal days and tiresome thoughts.
Got home on the 30th, after two missed connections, with my cold relapsed and back totally shot, and sank into Mrs. Churm’s arms. There’s only so much pleasure a man can take from the world before he must come home to rest.