In my 20+ years as a student and practitioner of Germanistik (German Studies), I went to the same conference almost every single year. I got introduced to Women in
German (an MLA affiliated organization for feminist scholars in German Studies) in 1996 and only missed a couple of them over the next twenty years. Each of my daughters, both born in April, went to WiG as six-month olds and twice I left for WiG when it was time to wean my toddler babes.
The women and men I met at the WiG conference became my friends, mentors, and intellectual community. I was in awe of the elder stateswomen of the organization, those SWiGs (Senior Women in German) who had staked out a position for feminist literary scholarship in German literature in the US long before such a thing was “normal” in German universities. The annual October conference is a safe place to meet your mentors, try out your ideas, and listen to the breadth and depth of research in our field.
I didn’t go the last two years. I’m not an active German scholar any more and the expense of traveling across the continent without professional development money to support me and without a clear benefit to my CV for being there held me back. 2017 was the last of the current 3-year conference site cycle, so the final year in Banff. My (former) colleagues enjoyed each others’ company, visiting author Julia Franck, horse back riding, and the stunning sunrises and sunsets over the Alberta mountains. The pictures on Facebook almost made me weep.
My melancholy about missing out on a conference that has always, for me, been the prime example of collegiality and the fruitful mixture of business and pleasure comes from knowing that, even though I won’t see them every year, these are my peeps. Given the dispersal of an any given academic field over continents and time zones, having a group of people who congregate each year to learn from and support one another is nothing to sniff at.
When I was working with my coach on what to name my new business, we concentrated for a while on the qualities I wanted to invite into my life and my work. Autonomy was #1 for me in a list of values that I wanted to keep consistent, regardless of where or how I worked. But “energized” was not far down on the list. As we talked about moments in my life when I had felt “life doesn’t get much better than this,” I immediately thought of moments at the annual WiG conference when I had presented a paper or participated in a discussion and wound up more excited and energized by the conversation than I had been going into it. That sense of having the work of others spark my own ideas and literally electrify them is an academic and personal feeling I don’t ever want to let go of.
WiG is over for the year and if you, my (former) colleagues, are reading this and getting back to your business as usual, while experiencing post-conference let-down in your own unique way, I wanted you to know that Energized Academic is, literally, named for what you offered me over the years.