The Conference as a Solo Outing
After two years of teaching to video screens, I finally went back into the in-person classroom, which gave me a newfound energy (teaching to black boxes just isn’t the same as being able to see my students, even if I’m only seeing the tops of their faces). Similarly, the last in-person academic conference I attended was the National Popular Culture Association, held in Washington, DC, April 2019. After a few rounds of presenting to video screens, I was ready to go back to the in-person conference experience, complete with hotel lobbies, Ubers, and city travel.
The trip was to Baltimore, a quick 40-minute Amtrak ride from DC. After checking into my Airbnb, I had a nice solo dinner at Mother’s Federal Hill, where I got my needed crab cake fix (along with crab soup and crab pretzels), par for the course for every trip to Baltimore. I burned all those carbs with a one-and-a-half mile walk to the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront to hear Judith Butler, legendary philosopher and idol of many in the humanities, speak. I also met up with Elizabeth, my session co-chair and fellow singleton. I sat next to a very nice English professor named Rachel who flew all the way from London for the talk. While much of the language she (as well as most academics) was dense, I got the gist of her talk, which was essentially that the pandemic has divided us up in ways we never thought possible, and that it’s important to find human connections where we can (which has proved to be true for me, outside of romance, of course).
After a nice sleep, I woke at about 6, watched an episode of Inventing Anna (about a detestable yet fascinating figure), showered, got into my “academic” wardrobe, which was essentially a brown, hipsterish sweater, and walked another mile and a half through the cold rain and snow to the hotel, uphill, both ways, yada yada. I indulged in the free breakfast provided by the conference (bagel with cream cheese, an apple, and much-needed coffee) before heading to a session about German life writers. I like going to sessions related to topics about which I know nothing, so I can learn. I learned that life writing differs a great deal from memoir writing and autobiography in that such prose contains family history.
After the session, I met up with a young gentleman whom I coached for the job clinic offered by the conference. That was a rewarding experience, as I got to help someone navigate the nebulous path that is the academic job market. I then met up with Elizabeth for lunch; we went to Kooper’s Tavern in Fells Point where Heather and I were introduced to “bubbles” the year prior. Sadly, they no longer serve crab cakes, but their meat loaf sandwich did the trick. We had great conversation about writing, life, and of course, a favorite topic, singlehood. Our walk back to the hotel was fraught with more cold rain and snow, but we made it through.
After a session involving digital assignments that encourage radical thinking among students (and learning that YouTube was started by a quest involving toxic masculinity, i.e., three preteens trying to locate the video of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl 2004 halftime show), I went into our conference room and discovered that I had forgotten my laptop charger, and my computer was at 58%. Fortunately, Elizabeth’s battery was at much higher capacity, and it turned out the adapter I purchased fit into her computer, but not mine. Interesting turn of events for sure. After some technological bumps, we met up with Debadrita, our remote presenter, on the Whova platform used by the conference. Thanks to the goodwill of one of the conference assistants, we were able to get some of the CoSPers on to view the talk, including Heather and Laura.
Despite several technological snafus (including a high-pitched sound from what appeared to be the heating vent, we rolled on. Debadrita offered an interesting talk about the portrayal of single women in film, from the traditional (Clueless, Bridget Jones’s Diary) to the slightly less traditional (the Sex in the City franchise) to the progressive (Frances Ha). I then gave my draft of a Bechdel-like test that measures how singles are portrayed in film (I wonder how the test got publicized, and as I’m writing, I’d like to research that test more to refine mine). And I think I’ll publish mine on this blog soon. Perhaps that’s how such experimental work gets noticed; an academic journal probably isn’t the best fit for this work. Elizabeth concluded with a pro-single analysis of Nomadland, a pro-single film about a woman who goes on the road after her husband’s death.
Some great questions came up from the audience, including one from a French professor named Rebecca about the plight of those who identify as asexual and aromantic and how it relates to the societal implications of singlism and matrimania. This part was where we were able to discuss why Singles Studies is an important field. It’s not just a field of academic study, but it has implications as far as the law (it favors the traditional, escalator-style narrative), which also can influence people’s relationship choices, oftentimes bad ones. Another attendee’s questions about socioeconomic ramifications got me thinking about an idea for a paper I’ve been tossing around involving the show Shameless; at the end of the series, most of the characters are coupled up, but due to economic necessity, not necessarily out of romantic attraction. It was the kind of “coupling” conclusion that left me not frustrated, but sad. But I’m glad to have gotten in touch with those feelings because I was in somewhat of a dry period with writing about Singles Studies; my idea well had been tapped, but I found something new, and I’m glad to be reinvigorated.
I celebrated my productive academic day with a solo concertgoing experience at the Baltimore Soundstage, a friendly venue, to see Shout at the Devil (a Motley Crue tribute) and Fade to Black (a Metallica tribute). Live music has always been a self-care practice of mine, and metal, however aggressive it may seem, can be quite the release. After the show, I hopped an Uber home and fell right to bed.
My solo excursion continued the next morning. The clocks sprung an hour forward, and I was up at 7. I watched another episode of Inventing Anna before taking a walk over to DiPasquale’s, an Italian deli my friend Jack had informed me about. This spot didn’t have any of the prepackaged Italian salamis or sausages I was hoping for, but I did get their homemade marinara sauce and two bags of tricolor pasta, good for some Bachelor Cooking. And then breakfast at Cross Street Market, another new spot.
The trip to the Amtrak from the Airbnb was circuitous in nature; I got on the Charm City Circulator, a free bus, but the route got blocked by the St. Patrick’s Day parade, so it was a mile walk, suitcase in hand and backpack on back. But it was good cardio, and I made a stop to add carbs at The Bun Shop.
As I sit here at Penn Station-Baltimore, I reflect. An academic conference is always good for reinvigorating my motivation to research and write, and live music is a great tool to balance that energy. And solo travel, well, the benefits of that are innumerable. Thank you to those who made this weekend what it was, and I hope to see you all soon, in-person and online.
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My name is Craig. I'm an educator, writer, and unapologetic singleton. When not reading, writing, or teaching, I enjoy hiking, running, watching movies, going to concerts, spending time with friends, and playing with my cat/son, Chester.