Tales of MLA
Oh, the stories to tell! For my writer friends out there attending the conference, I wish you good luck. Smile a lot.
MLA's a strange place. I've gone to every MLA from 1998 to 2004, and I've always thought that it's a time when many people in the humanities act inhumane.
For starters, it's held at a terrible time. The weather's bad, so there's the inevitable travel delay. People are getting over illnesses. People are pulled away from their families during the Holiday season. I totally understand how it can make people grumpy. And of course, there's the stress of the job search for both sides of the table. It's stressful for interviewers because they have to sit with some colleagues who they may not like but must sit with for the duration of the conference. There's the interviewees who've got the hopes of future employment. There's the crush of people everywhere you turn, making the whole process a lot more daunting.
I believe an MLA in Chicago had me in one of the slowest elevators ever. I only had one or two interviews, so I wasn't too pressed. There was a pregnant woman (she was clearly in her third trimester) in the elevator riding along with me, and she was towards the front of the elevator car while a fidgety middle-aged man with glasses from an Ivy League school groaned and griped. More people boarded the car, until it was quite full. Finally, our elevator car reached the floor the middle-aged man was trying to get to. He bullied his way to the front and said, "Get the f*%k out of my way, under his breath to those of us in the elevator car, but clearly to the pregnant woman.
I've also found it funny when scholars who study working class lit. show up in tailored Armani suits. You can tell pedigree by the cut of the cloth.
And there's always the ever-present "look at me, not my name tag. Look at me, not my name tag" thing, when we check each other out like new dogs at a kennel.
I've had bad interviews, too. I was ten minutes late for one because I kept missing the elevator up to their fifteenth floor hotel room. It wasn't that I made it to the hotel late. I had been there for 30 minutes. The interviewers generally ask that you call from the front 10 minutes in advance. Any earlier and I'd be rushing them. Meanwhile, the small elevator galley was filling up with people. There were six elevators in a cramped rotunda, and each one was taking a long time. I'd go to one, only to find it stuffed with people. Then I'd wait for the next one and see that it was way across the room. I'd park in front of one, and I'd see that all the elevators except the one I was waiting for had all touched down in the lobby.
Finally, I realized it wasn't going to happen. I had five minutes until my interview and I knew I was going to be made even later if I took the elevator. So I ran up fifteen flights of stairs to my interview.
The interviewers were good-natured about the event. I arrived at their doorstep, panting, perspiring, and full of jokes about the ordeal, which certainly helped me get my breath back.
Still, there are fun times that can be had after a days worth of interviews. I had a great time in San Diego. The MLA in New York was a blast, and I went to see a few plays. And of course, there's the close company of writers that can be found at the end of the day. Sure, you're all going after the same jobs, so there's a little tension, but in the end, commiserating about the interviews is a good way to ease the tension.