I didn’t get his name. I could have, because he was wearing a name tag. I was too busy thinking, “that won’t be me.” I ended up being wrong about that point. He was sitting in that depressing place at the AAR/SBL meeting in Kansas City. That room for those waiting to see if they’d scored any interviews. “I’ve got publications,” he told me, “I’ve got years of teaching experience, but no interviews.” Our capacity to fool ourselves should not be underestimated. I was just sure that once I was in that place—publications, teaching experience—I would be able to find a professorship. I did find one that lasted about fourteen years, but after that, my nameless friend, I have to say “you were right.”
I can’t help but think of that when I attend this conference. It’s a place of lost dreams for me. I can see my books on display here. I can see literally hundreds of people that I know. I’ve gone from a vocation to a job, and there’s no going back. Sometimes I wonder if adjacent careers are a good idea or not. I’ve put some books under contract from new Ph.D.s who eventually decide to disappear. Not to be found anywhere in academia, their books left unpublished. Perhaps they met my mysterious prophet. Maybe they came to realize that working in a job right next door to where they want to be will only ever remind them of loss and regret. We continue to the glamour of a conference that reminds many of what they never found. El Dorado.
So as I sit here in Denver with my past. I actually made it to Denver, which is, I suppose an improvement over last time. There was snow, in Denver, but the locals seem to be fine with it. Not many people are wearing masks these days, I’ve noticed. There were a few stalwarts on the plane(s) and a few here at the conference who did. The pandemic doesn’t bend to the will of people, not even religion scholars. Viewing Denver from the airport (it’s a considerable way out), it looks so small and insignificant backed by the front range of the Rockies. Maybe that’s what all of this is about: significance. My association with this conference spans 31 years. Perhaps there’s a bit of weariness here too. The pandemic may never really end, not in any meaningful way. I do wonder if my nameless friend ever found a job and if he still attends. If he does I wonder what he would say about all of this.