April 27, 2009

On Salons (and Where to Go from Here)

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.


giulia said...

You'll get there. I've been here for more years than I care to recall (feel creaky at moment). I've lived more lives than Thomasina the Cat...worlds collide is one of my themes...it's the only way to live in DC (or anywhere). Well, I think so anyway. I've been lying low due to illness & so on...& that's why we've not met, I suspect.

And I am sorry that you had to go to a funeral. But very glad that you didn't flatten M. Rahm.

Cheers to you, Sandra. I enjoy your work...Susan S.

~im just only me~ said...

But this is precisely the type of professor we need in the classroom! I have always found that the best teachers were the ones who could go off track so easily and have a formed commentary on cross disciplines. Ideas and creativity are what fuel classrooms, it seems to me, not rote knowledge and closed conversation. :)Of course, this is sort of an entirely different conversation than your blog post hehe, so I'll just hush now :)