Monday, December 28, 2009

office life

The view from my window in the Philadelphia Marriott downtown (not a hotel I want to stay at again in a hurry - so impersonal that I even managed to get lost on my own floor, ending up in a corridor with a view down into the swimming pool - I hurried on past, in case I saw any hyper-fit colleagues putting me to shame) reminds me why, despite the ritual of moaning at the MLA (in my case, it's more likely to induce panic, very reminiscent of going to parties when I was eight or nine - only I could hide under the table then, and did, and that would be rather conspicuously peculiar here), and despite the fact that attendance at it always seems to be accompanied by a vile headache (maybe the cold wind that comes along with it in eastern cities?), and despite the fact that, as Elaine Showalter once put it to me, there's that sensation of seeing one's past life heading away from one in the opposite direction on the escalators - one is very, very lucky to be here, and not working in an office block.

Lucky, that is, of course, if one has a tenured job. There are certainly fewer delegates here this year (that's an entirely subjective comment, but it certainly feels much less bustling, much more anxious. There are 767 sessions, which seems normal enough, and we had a good attendance – 35 or so – even for a 7 p.m. evening panel last night.). There are conspicuously fewer jobs - down fifty-something per cent in two years. I know that we had been hoping to hire this year, and aren't - hence my being in the Marriott at all - a hasty downgrade of room, however, when we learned that we weren't to be lucky this year. I am always hyper-conscious of interviewees’ angst around one (the awkward wearing of suits, the uncertain heels) – but in 2009, the stakes seem higher than ever. Too cruel to take photographs of the human environment…another note on the catalog of things that I feel that I can’t photograph and write about with any directness, whatever the temptation.

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