Just to be clear I enjoyed this year’s Classical Association Conference – this post is not about why the conference is a terrible thing. It is also not about why am sad that it is all over for me for another year (though I am) – actually I want to explain my experience of the conference and why that makes me sad.
This year was my 4th CA conference, my 3rd as a speaker and my 2nd in Reading. It was a surprisingly different experience for me and yet evoked some clear memories of conferences past.
Firstly, I think I am getting better as a speaker. I stutter less and maintain more momentum although I still have a tendency to ramble on and try to fit too much in. Despite all the recommendations for ad libbing/memorising a presentation, I have to acknowledge that I am more coherent with a script and make more of my points clearly. Need to master not finishing up the notes the night before though (which I did last year too).
Secondly, I feel more like I am able to engage and interact on an intellectual level with the papers. Partly, this is the confidence of having my PhD (in all but certificate) and therefore feeling like less of a fraud and partly it is because now I am not focusing on my doctorate I am more able to see ways that all sorts of topics can feed into potential research (and aren’t just merely interesting concepts). I feel more like I have done some of this stuff but also that I could use it.
Thirdly, I am getting a little better at talking to people. Not a lot better- I still stand around like a lost sheep looking at faces I recognise but who wouldn’t know me from Eve desparately hunting for an opening comment, I still don’t have the nerve to include myself in existing conversations or to sit down next to people. On the other hand I directly engaged in several discussions without the aid of alcohol and only had one meltdown. In some ways this was rather helped by the fact that due to my work commitments I could not/did not have to spend lengthy evenings milling around which allowed for less time feeling awkward.
That brings me to my key personal issue.. I had to work. Well, I guess technically I could have taken the week off, but since I wasn’t funded and want to go to another conference later in the year that would have been a very expensive choice. Like the first CA conference I ever went to (also in Reading) whilst I was doing my MA I dashed back and forth between campus and the pub where I work brain buzzing with thoughts. Unlike the previous one, where as a student helper I often found myself doing photocopying or stranded at a desk, I was able to attend nearly all the sessions (although I only managed 1 keynote) and even to cherry-pick the speakers I wanted to hear.
It was physically and mentally exhausting and yet it focused my mind and forced me to make choices. It stopped me from networking effectively but it made me feel more positive about the connections I did make.
So why a lament?
Two reasons: firstly, without a full-time job and generally outside of academia, despite the fact I finally feel like I am getting the hang of this conference malarky this may well be the last CA I can justify going to; secondly, I have realised just how much I have missed out on by being on the fringes..