Reflections on Academic Community

I have felt very isolated due to 5 years spent adjuncting. Being at this conference, it somehow feels like everything has changed.

Me enjoying the Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts during a break from the conference.
Me enjoying the Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts during a break from the conference.

Today is the last day of Thinking with Stories in Times of Conflict (a fairy-tale studies conference at Wayne State University in Detroit). I’ve been having an amazing time, which is normal for me at conferences, but somehow things feel different, and so I’m reflecting on the nature of academic community and why I’m experiencing it so intensely right now.

Part of it is that most fairy-tale studies scholars, like folklorists more generally – though not all fairy-tale people come up through folklore studies, I should note – are kind, bright, and interesting folks. My colleagues tend to be very, well, collegial if not outright friendly. That helps.

But I think I’m also having a heightened experience of community because I’m coming off a time of life transition where I went from feeling isolated due to adjuncting, to having a TON of folklore colleagues for the spring semester at UC Berkeley, back to feeling lonely due to returning to Indy where I don’t have as many colleagues nearby. I also believe I struggled more than usual with impostor syndrome due to the recent events life has handed me, especially the tough feelings of being in near-constant transition to try to keep up with personal stuff in my life (divorce, blah blah).

Arriving here, and being excited to see colleagues as well as witnessing their excitement to see me, helped out with a lot of those emotions. Heck, people I hadn’t met yet in person were excited to see me! And that kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight; I delivered my first fairy-tale conference paper in 2003. This sense of community has been brewing for over a decade.

My paper, on masculinity and sexuality in contemporary North American fairy tales in literature, was extremely well received. That helps too, since I’d been stressing over the book chapter it’s a part of… and stressing in almost total isolation from my peers, since it’s summer and that’s usually what happens to academics, we hole up or go on vacation (HA) or…whatever that keeps us from seeing our colleagues on a more regular basis (in my case, moving halfway across the damn country, again).

Then again, this is probably just part of the life cycle of an academic: we cocoon ourselves into the isolation we need to work (textual or archival research, library trips, time spent alone on the computer writing), and then when that’s done, we get to reap the fruits of our labor by connecting with our colleagues at conferences and other events. There’s a cyclical nature to the academic lifestyle that I find, in many instances, comforting. And I think I’d spent longer than usual in the downswing of it, again, due to not only me trying to pull together a book chapter and other research/teaching projects, but also due to my recent life stuff.

Anyway, there is more conference to be had today, and I’m going to enjoy it. I hope others are enjoying the communities they get to be a part of as well.

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