11 April 2008


What Would Sporty, Intellectual Mom Do?

Today it was ride up to campus despite feeling yucky, for more of the conference. And I even rode all the way up without stopping, which surprised me. Whenever I can do more than I expect to be able to, it is always such a joyful gift.

[Total tangent: My base level of fitness has shot way up in the last couple of months, largely thanks to that online league tracker. I could see how much I exercised in any given period, and for some reason that simple bit of feedback motivated me to do more and rack up more points. And then I'd get to do other things: learn to dance in a really fun dance class, ski on a spring day with a foot of new snow on the ground; or ski down a hill full of oddly spaced, gnarly bumps. Which I did, last weekend, particularly one run that dear heart said was "fun" and my thought process went more along the lines of "what the heck was I thinking?" as I started to traverse down the mogul-strewn hill. But as I always say, I can get down anything, even if it's not pretty, and I did. I even started finding a rhythm and figuring out the spacing of the turns. I stopped for a rest and let some faster people slip past me down the slope -- pretty much everyone was more of an expert than I was in this territory. But a few minutes later when I had finally straggled down, I saw a small crowd had gathered at the bottom of the hill to see me make it all the way down. They even clapped and gave a little cheer when I reached the bottom, so their little show of support felt like an bonus prize at the end of a tough run successfully navigated. I thanked them for spotting me as I skied down and away. I still feel all verklemt remembering it.]

So: highlights of this year's Conference on World Affairs? Hard to say. Some wonderful storytelling and joketelling in the every joke is a revolution panel. Bad '80s novelty songs and an obliviously reliving-his-own-past writer of said novelty songs (he was a forerunner in deals like: first, the song! then -- the movie, based on the song!). And I don't just say "oblivious" lightly, or just to be snarky -- it was that the volume kept increasing, which was fine for him on the other side of the speakers but some of us were clutching our ears and he totally ignored that in choosing the volume. And then the black conservative guy was earnestly trying to explain comedy. "What's the secret of comedy?" my friend David used to quiz us. "Timing," he'd interrupt when we started responding. There's something about the dissection of comedy, though, that knocks it flat every time. And the guy had no idea; he was trying so hard to think of important stuff to say about what made things funny. So I was grateful for Derek Lam's gracious jokes with lots of fill-in-the-blank-with-offensive-subgroup-of-your-choice here bits. Nicely done.

I tried to go to a panel about writing but was completely shut out. Instead I went to a panel about who other countries/peoples would pick to win our next election. (For the record, the panelists came in three-to-one for Obama, but one qualified his vote with the statement that "Iranians don't think he can win because of his race." Then I sat in on the one on Evangelical Atheism, in which a lot of people said "Believe all you want, but let me believe all I want." It was that point when I knew, as I always do, that it's all up to me. I can listen to these thinkers and talkers for ideas, but it's what I make out of it that matters. I'm less than likely to find something I am looking for in my work at this conference, especially given this particular subset of all the possible discussion topics on world affairs. Writing my own response to one of the topic titles yesterday felt like the right thing to do. And I noticed during the atheist one that Jello Biafra was not only communicating his truths to this audience but he was also working on his bits. He recycled a segment in both panels I saw him on, and he seemed perfectly at ease with that part of his shtick. Maybe that's the kind of thing I came for. To see and hear the way Shonaleigh Cumbers was able to connect with people all over that room (except for a few near me who were shocked and horrified by her story of how the "penis of peace" protest penetrated an arms deal). To hear Terri Jentz tell her stories about making sense of the nonsense that is violence, and to be able to tell her that her book inspired me tremendously.

In all, this year's CWA was a fun little whirlwind of ideas, but nothing earth-shaking (and maybe that's a good thing!). I told someone it was like school but it's not -- it's more like dropping in on fifty intense cocktail-party discussions in rapid succession. You never have enough time to go very deep the way you can in school, and the issues get distorted by the ones who like to hear themselves talk as much as listen (this includes panelists and audience members with "questions" in equal measures). So as much as I love the "open exchange of ideas," I know I can't really find much of what I'm looking for here. It will take a more focused search than just dropping in on discussions of topics others have chosen. But I do love seeing so many of the myriad ways there are of doing what we do in the world. That is a joy and and inspiration, always.

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