I've been slowly readjusting to "normal" life after the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in Philadelphia last weekend. Being childless in a swank hotel in a nice city is pretty great in and of itself, but this year's conference really emphasized for me the true value of academic conferences once one is post-grad school and moving along career-wise. It seems to me that these events offer brief interludes of return to all that was good about grad school. Think about it: the intellectual stimulation of hearing people's ideas, of engaging in group discussions and debates, even of critiquing that which really does not work. While I have moments of this sort of thing in my daily professing life--during an especially good on-campus talk, or in a rousing graduate seminar--on a regular basis it really does not approach the rapid-fire grappling with ideas that makes graduate school such an exciting, exhausting, and absorbing place. To me, this general sensibility and climate outweighs my reactions to specific papers and panels. For more on those, check out my travel companion's take, and his links to others'.
Conference life also brings a social dimension that I'm now convinced gets better and better over time. After all, over time you know more and more people and have more and more life to catch up on with friends old and new. But it's a particular kind of socializing, one that carries with it that grad school kind of fun--everyone is passionate about the same kinds of things, everyone is smart, with great ideas and often great wit. Also, in terms of those friends from grad school with whom one is reunited in conference life, there is a shared bond of trial by fire, and of intellectual exploration, and of you-had-to-be-there remember-whens. Socializing with new people is also a great part of conference life, of course, just of a different variety than the old grad school pals kind.
I've had old friends on the brain lately, too, because of this being the year of a certain anniversary of my high school graduation. Either due to this or just to the expanding reach of Facebook to the rapidly aging, I've been hearing from more and more high school friends, which has been great fun. I feel tied to these people, too, though in a very different way than to the grad school folks. While it's difficult to connect the me of today with my high school cohort, the life-changing experience that is grad school (at least that it was for me) makes my connection to those I associate with that time much clearer and much more directly linked to the me of the present. I can only assume that my high school classmates feel a similar sense of both connection to and remove from me and each other. Who knew that conference life would take me back not only to grad school but to, gulp, high school as well?