Today I shared the presentation from New Orleans with my colleagues, friends, and students during our free lunch hour. As I walked upstairs to the library, I fretted: what if no one comes? What if my talk sounds dumb? What if people wonder why I'm paid to write papers about books and present them to other scholars? I mean, how do you justify humanities research that isn't transparently practical?
I can always think of things to worry about.
But I had my pink patent leather pumps on, and so I continued walking towards the library at the end of the hall.
The librarians made coffee and hot water for tea, and set out a platter of cookies.
Students--including some not in my class (who were cajoled with the promise of extra credit and therefore may have ulterior motives) lined the couches. My circle of faculty and staff friends pulled up chairs. More faculty and students came.
Now I was really nervous. I tried to make a few jokes. I warned them that Jenny Crusie's novels are racy. I passed said books around the room. I talked about vampires being hot (note: my presentation had nothing to do with vampires, though my trip to NOLA did).
And I started in with my paper, which was very well received. People asked questions, others followed up on the questions. Staff members who couldn't come stopped by to see how the talk went.
After feeling "meh" about my work last week, I felt heartened today. People are interested in ideas, in humanities research.
With all the talk in the newspapers about the demise of the University as we know it, and the humanities in particular, I question my relevance beyond the writing classroom. What good is literature? Is it necessary? Does it save lives? I would say yes. What role does the literary scholar have in society? How can this seemingly esoteric act be meaningful? Does my emphasis on popular culture texts (popular romance fiction) and the stuff of daily life (food, fashion, relationships) help understand this society that we live in and create?