Conference Culture

Last Sunday, I took a train down to Baltimore for a writer conference. I was already super sick with a head cold, but I thought that with a solid night of sedation with NyQuil, I would be functional for the first panel on Monday morning. I ordered soup for room service that night and downloaded the HBO app on my iPad, so I could watch Game of Thrones in bed.

Soup and drugs weren’t enough. I was pretty much sick the whole week and in danger of public fainting. Luckily, I was staying the same hotel as the conference, so I would take frequent naps in between conferencing. I’m sure I infected half of the writerly community in the country. Oh, well.

This conference was perfectly lovely. Nice people. Mostly women. Lots of POC. It was very relaxed. It was for that niche area of writing that I do, so it was very small.

I’ve been going to conferences since my first job in the late 1980s, when I was a computer book editor at Simon and Schuster. My boss used to put me and the other editorial assistant — a va-va-voom blond with a trust fund — on display at our booth at trade shows to lure the big named computer geeks into writing books for us. We all got drunk at the blackjack table in Vegas and were complete idiots.

Later, I went to a couple decades of academic conferences. Back in the early nineties, the pol sci conferences were a hundred percent old white dudes in tweed jackets, a handful of the up-coming young white dudes in khaki’s talking about regression charts, and me who showed up wearing ripped jeans and combat boots. The next time, I dressed better, but I was always an outsider at those conferences.

When I started leaving academia, I went to some writer and blogging conferences. It was a huge shock, after all the years of stuffy academic conferences. At my first blogging conference, there was a booth where you could take a selfie with Pioneer Woman in front of a butter display. Down the aisle, the Trojan booth caused a stampede when it handed out free dildos and lube.

I’ve always wanted to write an article called, “A Dozen Lanyards,” where I would attend and write about twelve of the wackiest conferences in the country. I mean all conferences are weird to a certain extent. There’s the Queen Bees who are happy to be sitting at the popular table and the insider/niche/nobody-cares-outside-that-conference-room jargon and gossip. There’s the stale air and insulation of the environment. The bad food and the crappy book bags. The bad social skills and gaffs. The billions of dollars generated for the hotel industry.

But, right now, I’m just happy to be home.

11 thoughts on “Conference Culture

  1. The furry conference is in Pittsburgh every year.

    I’ve been to only one APSA, in 1994 in New York. I learned that Phil Converse looks like Colonel Sanders.


    1. That might have been my combat boots debut. One of my classmates was wearing hot pants and pumps. We still laugh about that.


      1. Only conference I’ve ever been to that I couldn’t expense. Mostly wanted to see New York and look like I was ambitious.


      2. Oh that was the conference that I tried to sneak into and got totally nailed. I tried to say that I paid, but was in the midst of moving and couldn’t find the receipt in the boxes. They let me in with an eye roll. Looking back on it, I can’t believe that they didn’t let grad students, who didn’t have stipends or expense accounts, go in for free. What assholes.


      3. If you lived in Ohio, travel and hotel were the big expense. Of course, if you lived in Ohio, spending some time in New York was what made the trip worth the money.


    2. Around the same time frame, I went to my first conference (the Midwest) because I was attending grad school in Chicago. I’ll never forget Jim Gibson strolling in wearing a full length fur coat. I suppose it’s a step up from the khakis and blue blazers, but man – that was a look. Ahh – the 90s.


      1. I did not see any full length fur coats (or hot pants) at any conference I’ve been to. I never went to Midwest, but I remember last year when I was in Chicago, I walked past the Palmer House and thought to myself, “So that’s where everybody was going.”


  2. A Dozen Lanyards would be a great article. I disagree about the book bags, though. I love the book bags. They’re the only good thing about the huge conferences. Otherwise my favorite is the 40-person, 2-day conference where everyone presents and goes to all the sessions.

    Every year before the AAR, someone in Religious Studies pulls together a list of the wackiest paper titles and does a FB post. One of my colleagues was proud to be on it once.


  3. The only conferences I’ve ever been to are business ones, most recently the Commercial Real Estate Finance Council. 1500 people, mostly banker dudes (partly because the more senior people spend their time in private meetings while the younger ones are out and about). Good quality swag, though, i.e., umbrellas, water bottles, etc. All branded with bank logos, but that doesn’t trouble me. Some people stay up very late and get very drunk, but that’s not me.


    1. “The follow-up to A Dozen Lanyards would clearly have to be Two Years Before the Mouse.”



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