The annual conference at Kalamazoo, ably documented by Kisha for this blog, always involves a bit of a shock to the system. Part of it, undeniably, is physical: several days’ worth of sleeping in a dorm bed, eating somewhat less than healthy food (and perhaps just the slightest hint of drink), staying up late, and flying/driving from Boston to Detroit to Kalamazoo and back again takes a certain toll on a body.
There’s the exhilarating shock of hearing all the wonderful work that’s been done in the past year. This year that included hearing about Stephen C. Law’s extended experiment testing the differing theories regarding the “twice-brewed ale” of Anglo-Saxon medicinal fame, a discussion of the innovative ways in which people are teaching the Icelandic sagas at the undergraduate level in North America (about which a bit more information can be found here), Richard Dance’s fascinating recalibration of the evidence for the Danelaw’s influence on Old and Middle English, Jaimin Weets’ work in anthropology with dental evidence that will force a serious reconsideration of early Celtic migrations to Ireland (and whose paper’s concluding lines have already given rise to the term “Kalamazoo mic drop”), and of course an exciting conversation (which I had the privilege of moderating) on blogging as a medievalist. I come back from Kalamazoo every year fired up, with new projects, new ideas, and a much-needed intellectual energy boost. It’s a shame that all that scholarly foment is trapped in a body that is probably in the early stages of scurvy (see above paragraph), but such is the price paid for inspiration.
But probably the largest part is the culture shock–the aftermath of having spent days with some of my favorite people–brilliant friends from grad school who have gone on to successful careers of their own as well as friends old and new from the conference itself–talking about our projects, reading, students, institutions, and travels, all through the lens of unabashed passion for medieval studies. Since I began my job at Bridgewater State, the conference has been my best way to reconnect with my medieval friends, and to re-immerse myself in the work I love. This always comes with a bit of melancholia, as the conference’s end means a year before I can see all those same people in one place again. It also means a return to a world in which few people are terribly interested in a bad St. Swithun joke, an impromptu discussion of mead hall architecture, a comparison of Crispin-Glover-as-Grendel impressions, or an ex tempore lesson on the meaning of Onund Tree-Leg’s missing limb.
There’s no denying that coming home has its rewards–my colleagues and students at BSU (an institution I appreciate more with each passing year, especially after hearing others’ stories of life elsewhere), the comforts of home, the time for a bit of reflection, and (of course) my much-missed family. But somewhere in the back of my mind is that countdown to the next visit to Kalamazoo and to seeing my fellow medievalists en masse once more.