Is it a DC thing? Having grown up here, having attended a lot of evening events framed as cultural ambassadorship--a mixing of "officials" in purposefully un-official settings--I'm charmed by the notion of this emerging dinner party tradition, hosted at the Watergate by David Bradley of The Atlantic, in which politicians and journalists mingle for off-the-record conversation. I've heard Andy Shallal of Busboys and Poets hosts evenings in a similar format, focusing on people from peace-activism and international-policy communities. This gathering impulse reaches the arts scene as well: tonight I'm going to a potluck for Washington's women writers.
Last night I was sitting on my balcony with another poet, and we talked about the siren call of academia. I love the pace of being in class--the performative and improvisational aspects, the chance to see someone light up in response to finding a new author they like. I would welcome the chance to teach for a year or two in conjunction with being a working writer. But so much of higher-level academia seems to be about cultivating mastery of a very narrow area of focus, as in the majority of Ph.D. dissertations, and acquiring a precise vocabulary of core texts and theories shared with those in your field. Sometimes (and perhaps this is my insecurity showing) I feel like I've spent the last 40 minutes not so much conversing as bluffing.
What I crave are conversations that emphasize breadth rather than depth of knowledge--colliding with people of different backgrounds, expertise, or ideological persuasions. I suspect this dovetails less with a university professorship and more with an administrative position at an arts non-profit or a government organization. I dream about staying in DC and building a roster of acquaintances I can draw from for dinner parties of my own some day, inviting a different mix each time, talking about ideas on the horizon.
I'm not quite there yet. My food budget is limited to hummus and pretzels; my living room lacks a couch. Perfect for standing-room-only poetry readings, not-so-ideal for a salon. But there's time.
*Confidential to Rahm Emanuel (featured in the Washington Post article linked above): Sorry about almost hitting you with my car as you biked through Rock Creek Park on Sunday afternoon. I was about to be late for a funeral, and not watching the road. You were gracious. And handsome! No wonder everyone invites you to their dinner parties.