Although I acknowledge that Covid has made even more a hermit of me—I won’t deny it—and I often complain when I have to travel for work, I generally end up glad that I have. (As long as I avoid Covid.) Being at the AAR/SBL annual meeting is like being in a living library. You meet and talk with so many smart, smart people and their ideas and yours begin to blend in an amazing kind of way. I suspect that it shows that my books have been written by a guy in isolation. That is, they could be improved by other eyes on them. That’s what peer review is about, of course, but there’s something exciting about talking to my monster friends and engaging them about their ideas. Frequently they will ask about mine. I’ve even had colleagues mention that they’ve read some of my work.
The only real problem with how this unfolds is that I have so many meetings in a day that I sometimes lose track of the many ideas that crowd into my head. Hastily-scrawled memos in my notebook—I’m too busy paying attention—mean that only fragments remain the next morning. Each of them a gem. (Fitting for Denver.) When conversation comes around to what I’ve been working on, no matter how obscure it is, my monster friends know the root story and even have ideas that help shape my work. No one scholar can read everything, and those of us who tend towards being hermits have the limited sources of one human imagination. When imaginations get together, however, these ideas blossom. I learn so much from these brief days that I think I might’ve been dangerous if I’d remained in the academy. The man with an exploding head.
I sincerely hope that I give as well as receive at these meetings. It’s really unfortunate that we don’t support humanities scholars in this nation. These are some of the bright stars in our national constellation, yet they struggle with underfunding, and pressures such as “metrics,” as if you can quantify the influence on young brains and the potential future of our collective imaginative life. Although I grouse, as is perhaps to be expected of an aging hermit, I can’t help but be enriched by the fertile minds I encounter, even if behind a Covid mask. I’m never quite sure how to thank all these idea-conjurers properly. I wouldn’t have met most of them had my career not taken the strange turns it has. Now I realize that even hermits may have many friends.