There’s a palpable…

There's a palpable tension in the air here. Oh, some of it is just the same vibe you get at any major conference or convention, when lots of people are coming for the first time and don't know anybody yet and they're feeling lost and confused and wondering quite why they came. All of that exacerbated by the undeniable fact that masses of these people are here to interview in a very tight academic job market, with ten percent fewer jobs than last year, and almost twenty percent fewer jobs than a few years ago.

There are cheerful people too -- professors seeing old friends, grad students who aren't on the market yet, just here to check out the scene and surrounded by comrades from their department. I hope to be one of the latter myself shortly, once I meet up with Doug and Heidi and the rest. And of course there are all the nervous yet reasonably cheerful people giving papers (they already passed the actual bar of having their paper accepted, so it's mostly gravy from there), and the intellectual excitement of people attending good panels with interesting papers. And finally, there's the bliss of those just enjoying the lovely San Diego weather, especially those released from massive snowstorms and brutal cold elsewhere. (I hear from Paul, who ditched the conference, that Salt Lake had record snowfall today, feet and feet, and they're almost snowed in.)

So as you move through the convention (in many hotels), you move through all these different atmospheres. Pockets of anxiety and sheer terror give way to convivial good cheer slide into intellectual ferment followed by barely-buried, seething resentment from those who didn't get interviews (or who got one, perhaps, but are pretty sure they won't get the job). And of course, it's all a performance too -- even if you've got a job, you may well be trying to impress your colleagues. So there's a not-so-subtle competitive fierceness to it all, cloaked in collegiality and good fellowship. It's a heady mix, a little microcosm of human neuroses and pleasures. I'm grateful that I can be at least somewhat on the periphery this time around. It's good to be an observer sometimes.

Oh, and almost everyone's wearing black, generally accented with a little bit of color (or white). It's sleek English department fashion, apparently. I suppose I should be grateful I'm not in art, or theater, where the black might well be entirely unrelieved.

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