another step on the reentry path

In my last post I talked about that peculiar process of reentering the professional life of academia from the life of stay-at-home-mom (and how brain-jolting it is). I have made significant progress this year to that end. This last weekend I made it through another milestone of that process: the first conference presentation. And not just any conference, a national conference. It was a seminar session, so our papers were pre-circulated and the session time at the conference was mainly for discussing. This format went pretty well. I got some great feedback at the session, and the general buzz about the paper, I’m told, was positive. But more importantly, I made some personal connections with people that I really needed to talk to.

This is the paper that made me feel so vulnerable. I had a personal connection to it that I haven’t had with previous work. It was also a little nerve-wracking to send a paper out there for anybody registered for the conference to read. Okay, I’ll admit. I’ve kind of been a stressed-out bundle of nerves for two months, and I think a large part of that is part of the reentry process. I think it’ll be okay now. Why? Because I’ve personally connected with some people. And I think what makes what I do as a scholar meaningful is the fact that it’s connected to me as a person. When I share that with another person, and I see my work as a conversation in a community, then it’s not sending work out there into that good night, but it is sitting down and talking. I think that great web of culture actually connects people and not this sort of disembodied idea of “culture.”  If I feel like I can add another thread to the web, then I’ve done something meaningful.

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on vulnerability

A couple of weeks ago I uploaded a paper to dropbox. This paper is part of a seminar session at an upcoming national conference. We will all read each other’s papers, prepare responses, and, at the conference, spend the time discussing more than presenting. I’m excited about this kind of conference format. I think I will be able to learn more in this kind of a environment. Since I’m at an early stage in my research, I think it will be greatly beneficial.

What I didn’t expect is the sick feeling that’s been sitting in my core ever since. Vulnerability. I’m in a new field, offering somewhat new perspectives. I don’t know how the paper will be received. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about that too much. It’s just that, for the first time, I’m personally connected to my research material. I wouldn’t be in disability studies or deaf music at all if my son hadn’t been born deaf. I spend a good chunk of my research time crying. Not because I’m sad, because I’m overwhelmed by so much. I’m overcome. My work feels raw. I believe in my topic like I’ve never believed in a topic before.

It’s been two weeks now since I sent it off. I’m starting to feel better. The bundle of nerves is starting to soothe. It is such a strange sensation to me, to feel so personally connected to my work.