Today in ABQ: Conference Hell, Muslim Harry Potter, Southern Devils, and Simon Ortiz

Today was busy. I’m pooped. In my defense, and in addition to having a cold, it is after 1 A.M. back home, though only 11 here. I cannot promise this will be readable.

I started my day with a workout and a way overpriced breakfast, followed by a presentation titled “So you want to go to Grad School.” Most of the info was pretty run of the mill, but she did have some really interesting insights on alternatives to academia. Plus, she was funny.

Then followed my personal hell: networking. I managed to meet the overall and regional presidents. They were nice, intelligent humans, and did not bite me, so I’ll call that a success. I’m reminded of the funny internet meme that says “Introverts Unite! We’re here! We’re uncomfortable! We want to go home!” Yup, that sums up my networking experience. Here’s to hoping I appeared more competent than I felt.

Lunch turned into a mini adventure when, on my way to a local deli, I got lost, headed to Jimmy Johns instead, took another wrong turn and ended up eating at a great local pizza place. The waiter and I had a heart to heart about the virtues of homemade dough and mozzarella, adding to my socialization experience. (Bonus: they served me way too much food, so I didn’t have to venture out again for dinner! Both economical and introvert friendly. Win!)

After lunch I went to two panel presentations.

The first was called “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the panel discussed representations of Satan and evil in the South, especially in Southern Gothic literature. Color me impressed. They outlined the Gothic, then the Southern Gothic, talked about what characterizes classic texts, then focused on four contemporary novels, while pulling in other media, music, and pop-culture. They talked about the influence of African religions, especially Voodoo, on Southern images of evil. Really a wonderful presentation, and our discussion afterward was engaging.

After the talk I hung out with some of the panelists and audience members and we continued the discussion. They asked me about Appalachian literature and how it departs from and is similar to the general trends of Southern Lit. Not only was I proud of my social self, but was also proud I had retained what I read in Dr. Claxton’s class.

I went to another panel Titled “Harry Potter and Christian Theology: A Muslim Perspective.” I cannot say enough wonderful things about their presentation. Though the panel was arranged by four students, two could not get permission to enter the country from Iran, so the presentation was done by just two. They did a beautiful job; I’m sure their colleagues would be proud. They pointed out that Harry Potter has been banned in both Christian and Muslim nations, but for opposite reasons. In the US, Harry Potter is banned for being anti-Christian, while in Muslim nations, it is banned for being too Christian. They talked about Harry as a Christ figure, the Deathly Hallows as the trinity. There is too much to explain here, but I learned so much about Muslim culture, and about how my own culture looks through the lens of theirs.

At the end of the day I went to see Simon Ortiz speak. He was amazing. I have so much to talk about, it might be a separate blog post tomorrow. It was an honor to hear him, though. He talked about the history of war and genocide against indigenous groups in the Americas, and the boundaries placed around those groups now: on our landscape, in our language and rhetoric, and in our historical memory. He was thoughtful and eloquent, and I was enchanted.

Now. That hotel bar had better have some bourbon.

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Welcome to ABQ! Plus Gary Soto and trying new things.

Back in December I was surprised, proud, excited, and horrified to learn one of my papers had been accepted for presentation at Sigma Tau Delta’s 2015 International Convention. This year’s theme is Borderlands and Enchantments, and is aptly located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It really is an honor to be here, but my introverted self is not super excited about going solo to such a social event, or about opening myself to ridicule when I read, for that matter. But anyway, the tickets are paid for (thank you Western Carolina University English Department and the Theta Sigma chapter!), the time has come, and I’m off on my trip.

11 hours (six of which were in an airplane) after leaving home I found myself landed and bags recovered at the airport in Albuquerque. I’ve never flown for more than an hour before, so I’m exhausted.

I proceeded nervously to another personal first; I hailed a cab. The cabby wasFeatured image nice, talkative, and knowledgeable. He asked me where I was from, why I came to ABQ. We compared accents. He thanked me for magically bringing my mountain rain to the south-west. He dropped me at my hotel. I thanked him profusely, checked into my hotel, found myself in a lovely room with a gorgeous view.

I missed the abecedarian – the new people meet and greet – but if I hurried I could still make Gary Soto’s speech. I walked the couple of blocks – in my own magic rain – to the convention hall.

I missed his opening, but caught the rest of the speech. He was funny. His speech was on the conference theme, Borderlands and Enchantments. With wit, ease, and pop-culture references he spoke of the very personal borders of our identity, the effect of names, ethnicity, and age.  he slipped into enchantment, asking us, mostly young people, if we agreed with him that people lose the ability to enchant and be enchanted as they get older. He commented that, as we age, we experience too much world – that the experience of life dilutes our ability to find magic in it. He challenged us to refute him, said he would love to find a way to recapture the enchantments he feels he has left behind. He continued and spoke of physical borders and how they affect history, memory, and identity. He talked about the way we acknowledge the changing of borders, and how we sometimes ignore it. The ramifications of both approaches are etched into the landscape here.

I was impressed by my fellow English nerds and their astute questions. A few brave souls ventured to challenge Soto’s comments on age and enchantment. He was asked about literary influences (Pablo Neruda), his poetics (a focus on imagism, no matter the genre), what he is reading now ( Jim Harrison), personal experiences, when he knew he was a poet. A few of the questions were so good he jokingly told the asker to go sit back down and think of an easier question.

I’ve challenged my introverted self to be more social on this trip – especially since I’m here alone. So far I’ve chatted with my cabby (totally counts) and smiled awkwardly at fellow conference-badge-wearers in my hotel. Progress!