The past month has been conference season for this Asianist – and a pretty exciting one, at that! I am feeling both rejuvenated intellectually & yet also melancholy. I relish the opportunity to reconnect with old friends & acquaintances and make new connections, but it reminds me how much I miss some things (and many people). However, it’s been a generally good cap to an almost-over-academic year that has been pretty upsetting for me, personally and professionally – I’m ready to have a summer of work and relative silence, one that I hope will be an opportunity to recenter.
In March, I went (for the first time) to the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) conference, where I was lucky enough to participate in a really cool panel called “Retelling Fantastic Tales.” Luo Liang organized a really diverse & interesting group of papers, most focused on East Asia, but also some forays into other parts of the globe. Strangely, it was my first opportunity to sit and talk fantastical tales with other China specialists – ever! I absolutely loved the ACLA format, which is much more like a workshop. I wish more major conferences would follow it; it made for a much more positive experience presenting than the usual ‘2 hour panel with some commentary & audience questions.’ I was also excited to have the opportunity to get feedback from literary scholars on my work – one thing I’ve always loved about my project on ghost opera is that it really does lie at the intersection of several fields. Although my work is very much for China specialists (transnational? What’s that?) – unapologetically so – I do hope that it will be of interest to non-historians, and it sounds like it is. I made some great connections & came home feeling pretty good.
Boston wasn’t too bad, either (also my first time there). The weather was pleasant & I had some really good food – and bad Americanized Chinese food for the first time in, uh, years, but that can be fun, too. And I had a wonderful night out with a friend I hadn’t seen in 9 (!!) years, not since I’d left Taiwan before starting grad school in 2007. It was great to pick up where we left off & to catch up after all that time.
I just returned from the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) conference in Seattle. I wasn’t presenting this year, but I’ve determined that – barring unforeseen financial difficulties – it’s a really important few days for me & I need to make the effort to go, even if I’m not getting a line on my CV. I skipped last year’s meeting in Chicago, and spent the whole conference feeling sorry for myself that I was alone in Bozeman. AAS is not so much about the conference portion for me (though I do like dropping in on interesting-sounding panels, and of course – the exhibit halls, with university presses running great sales on both new titles and old!), but having the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and meeting new ones. This year was particularly fun, as the American Society for Environmental History was also going on, so my first night in Seattle – when I was feeling a bit grumpy for having some plans fall through – I finally got to meet a Twitter friend for real. We had some amazing food and cocktails and hours of great conversation. We had Skyped previously for work-related reasons, but it was a real delight to have a nice evening out with someone I always thought I’d get along brilliantly with & to no great surprise – I did. I also got to meet up with Nick Stember (aka the translator of that little Star Wars thing) for a quick chat – I hope next time, we’ll have a little more time to talk. But it’s always good putting a real face to the name, especially for someone that had a lot to do with the internet success of the lianhuanhua.
I really liked Seattle – another place I’d never been. A friend took us out to his family’s beach house on Vashon Island – an opportunity to get out of the city – and it was just gorgeous. But it also made me terribly homesick: the combination of a few days of running around AAS & seeing people I hadn’t seen in years, having a big UCSD program get together (where I stood up and said I had always appreciated how special our program was, but I really recognize it now that I’ve moved to being faculty, and how lucky I felt to be a part of such a strong, talented group of scholars), and seeing scenery that was so familiar. I thought of all sorts of little moments of years past, and really mourned the fact that it will never be like that again. I mourned who I used to be (as a friend said a bit wonderingly while we were walking around Somerville in Boston, ‘Taiwan seems like it was just yesterday! But it wasn’t. You were twenty-three once!’ I was. I was … we all were), since I feel like I’ve lost a sense of myself the past year – I wake up sometimes and am not sure who I am, other than a historian of modern China who does mostly serviceable work and stresses about everything. I wanted a few more days, the opportunity to cram in more time with people who matter to me & who I don’t get to see enough, a few more hours to catch up with people who have seen my ups and downs over the years and still love me, despite the fact I’m a giant ball of stress prone to emotional meltdowns and a pervasive sense that I’m just never going to be enough for anyone, or any institution, or any press. I missed people who weren’t in attendance – my faithful editrix most of all – and a wonderful little conference we had in Santa Cruz the summer I finished my dissertation ….
I’m still mourning. But life doesn’t stop, of course, and we keep moving forward: for now, looking towards the end of the semester, I have a book manuscript to worry about, and adventures to plan for the dog (more popular among my friends than I am!), and a long summer that will inevitably feel too short.
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass