Thursday, January 1, 2009


So, I have returned from the the MLA convention. 

I read more blogs than I should've about what to expect. Some emphasized the smell of failed deodorant; others discussed strange and unusual interviews that involved people going to sleep or attempting to conduct an interview drunk.  These were not my experiences. At least, not exactly. 

I accidentally (but fortuitously) booked us in the Fairmont, a convention hotel but not the main one.  Initially, I was confused -- where was the mania? The evidence that everyone was going through his/her worst fear? This was a golden lobby. The only people in it were shaking it to the Tonga Room or enjoying a bellini at the hotel restaurant.  Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. We met up with people we'd missed a long, long time. We shared excellent meals and watched the ice skaters on the square. 

But that was all until we were summoned to the Hilton.  The Hilton was the hub of all activity -- where most interviews were, where all sessions were being held.  I walked through the double doors and finally realized why everyone shudders when they say the word "MLA."  The first breath I took felt hot and sour; I actually breathed in everyone else's panic like it was cigarette smoke.   There must have been 200 suited, strange people in the hotel lobby. Those who weren't fidgeting or sweating were ecstatically embracing people they'd missed. What I tasted in the air was one part terror and one part impatient joy.  Everyone was scanning everyone else's nametag.  They wanted to know, "Are you somebody?"  I tucked mine away to save them the trouble.

Then I found "the phones."  In case you didn't know, MLA interviews are held in hotel rooms.  And you have to call the room where your interview will be held 5 minutes before it's scheduled to begin. There was a line of phones in the hallway with young professionals and graduate students hovering around them. Everyone was glancing at their watches, glancing at the phones, glancing at their watches, and breathing heavily.  Most looked like this was their first time in a suit. Everyone was shifty. The energy made the air hard to take in.  It was horrible. Everyone was thinking the same thing. Call now? Call NOW? 

But that wasn't as weird as the elevator ride. The elevator ride to the interview room took 1,000 years. While taking it to the designated interview room, time stopped.  I died about 10 times, came back to life, and somehow by a miracle made my way out of the elevator. This enjoyable experience was comparable only to the moment outside the door of the interview room.  For one second, I wondered if it wouldn't be a better idea to crawl down the stairs, slink out of San Francisco, and hide out in my closet the rest of my life. But I didn't do that. I felt fairly proud of myself each time I avoided this alternate plan of action.  I breathed. I avoided hyperventilating. And then I knocked. 

What happened in that room is fodder for 1,000 stories but all of them could jeopardize my chances of getting a job. So we'll skip over that part.

Perhaps we'll fast-forward to the time we saw a cat strapped to a dog walking down the street outside of where we were dining.  Or perhaps I'll just stop there.

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