I got an A+ in Porn. That fact still amuses and delights me, and in certain circles I am sure to find some semi-awkward way to bring it up in conversation. And while I would never claim to be an aficionado of pornographic film or erotic text, I did spend a great deal of time this past Winter in a Special Studies course exploring pornography, erotica and romance, focusing on the production of erotic writing by women. And the highlight of the course was, without doubt, my final paper. While I’m fairly confident that writers typically endeavour to create something original and productive, this was the one paper that I felt genuinely addressed a gap in the scholarship. I was thrilled to have made (what I felt to be) a useful contribution to an important area of feminist discourse.
I’m sure many graduate students feel the same way:
I have discovered/written/conceived of this amazing thing! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before!? Must. Tell. Everyone. Am brilliant! I will become the next rock star of Erotic Academia! Female sexuality will never be the same!
And then Spring came, and my next course began, and my condo flooded and the craziness of the next academic year began so work was overwhelming. And the paper sat. But it still lingered in the back of my mind – it was a good paper. And it really did focus on an under-represented area. What could I do? Being “just” a master’s student, I didn’t really know what my options were, and of course I wallowed in self-doubt. Maybe I just think it’s a good paper. Maybe my instructor felt she had to give me an A+ because that’s standard in all Special Studies courses.
I had just begun to consider consulting with my advisor on whether she thought I should submit the paper to some journals, when out of nowhere; a friend sent me a link to a conference listed on a university of repository for various CFPs. The perfect conference. A conference that focused on erotica in popular culture, and at the construction of identity and…well just everything about it was perfect! At last, my answer. I gleefully created an abstract and sent a draft to both my advisor and the chair of my program for feedback (I’m surprised I didn’t send it to my boss, the Dean of Graduate Studies too). Perhaps I was a bit overzealous – but this was it! The chance to share my knowledge with the world! After endless tweaking and edits, I sent it off, cursing the fact that the conference website was down so I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t submitting it late.
Thoughts began to creep into my mind:
You know that website has been down a while. For over a month. Isn’t that a bit odd?
And why did my email provider tell me that my message was “delayed”?
Come to think of it, there really aren’t any institutional credentials attached to this conference posting.
And why does a Google search list a bunch of launch conferences in completely diverse areas from this organization? Yet none of the websites are working.
And that conference write up really is poorly written.
I became increasingly suspicious and dismayed. I decided to phone the hotel where the conference was supposedly happening to double-check: The Hilton, St. Louis.
“Oh, there are 4 Hiltons in St. Louis? Can you check them all please? Thanks ... Oh, not at any of them?”
And then my email finally bounced back with a fail receipt and I had to admit defeat. The conference was not a sign from the Academic Gods in response to my possibly earth-shattering paper. As it turned out, this was a different kind of growing experience. One that told me that even in the Academy one is subject to fraudulent events and scams for money.
I will say I have learned some things. Not all conferences are of the same calibre. Not all will generate the kind of audience and networking opportunities that you might be looking for. And some aren’t even real. However, I have learned how to write a fairly decent paper abstract. And that’s a valuable thing to have gained from what really accounts to a relatively minor annoyance.
But I still don’t know what to do with my paper.
Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada
*This is only an amusing title if you’re familiar with Hyperbole and a Half. And if you’re not, you should be.