Conference wrap-up posts are getting harder for me to write. I open my notes in Evernote, I open the Twitter feed in Tweetdeck, I open the conference website, and I sit there, looking for a theme, wondering what I’ll remember about this conference in five or fifteen years.

I think I’m going to follow the style of my presentation, then: bounce from here to there as memories come, expecting my audience to fill meaning into the gaps. Because, you know, that’s what audiences do anyway.

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The week before the conference, a few of participated in an “online conference,” a series of daily discussions on the conference site and Twitter about the issue of the day.

Wednesday, May 29’s topic was “Collaboration/Community/Pedagogy,” hosted by the inestimable Shelley Rodrigo and Christie Daniels. At first, we seemed to be talking mostly about collaboration and pedagogy, so I asked,

This led to an interesting conversation with Shelley and Merideth Garcia, giving me a lot to think about for the rest of the week:

An image of a twitter conversation

Smart people, right?

So I entered the conference itself wondering what community was and what it wasn’t, and when I “felt” like I was in community and how that applied to my teaching and scholarship.

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At dinner on Saturday night, Merideth and I talked aboutĀ Star TrekĀ films along with the other folks at our table. It didn’t take long to realize that we had a shared vocabulary, a sort of lingering underbelly of fannish community that we could rely on. It was nice.

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One of my favorite sessions was E2, “Resonance, Refinements, and Rip-offs.” A strangely large auditorium held 40+ people (my random guess) to hear Mary Hocks and Jody Shipka talk about sound and memory and everything in between. (Bump Halbritter couldn’t be there, but it obviously would have been even two notches cooler with him around.)

Partly, it was a favorite because of the content and delivery: Mary’s work on “sonic literacy” is in perfect harmony with my own work, and Jody’s video on “stealing sounds” was beautiful and enigmatic in just the way I like conference presentations/performances to be.

But it was also a favorite when I looked around and saw the community of people who were there–all my favorite people, gathered to hear and discuss my favorite ideas, right there in that room, our bodies connected by the noises that erupted from our mouths and resonated into the cavernous space (swirling quickly and nearly silently through the cavity of the piano in the corner as if someone had tossed a bouncy ball into it).

I mean, we’re a community, and we’re more of a community all the time. It’s fluid, in that it doesn’t have clear edges, and you can get in or out whenever you want. But we people who like sound and genre-bending presentations–we can look around and smile sly smiles, knowing that we fit together.

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At Karaoke on Friday night, the group coalesced the most, I think, when Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on. The strobe lights flashed, and I was suddenly in the community of my middle school dance, letting my 13-year-old awkwardness drift away as I head-banged and jumped around with the music, and I was also there at the Wild Things bar with my Computers and Writing community.

Jason Palmeri put it best:

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The following things happened in C8, “Performing Rhetoric: Embodying Rhetoric Through Screens and Space”:

  • Emi Bunner showed me that sound can sometimes look like this:
A photo from Emi's presentation, with a visualization of sound behind her

Sound is beautiful

  • Phil Sandick showed an evocative video of people practicing–of practicing practice, really.
  • Alex Funt showed an evocative video of images of teachers in movies.
  • Jason Loan sat behind a screen where we couldn’t see him, as we stared, spellbound, at a seizure-inducing repeating image that I swear changed or maybe I just imagined it. He kept repeating:
  • Oh, and I almost forgot, Dan Anderson also JUMPED ON A TABLE and RIPPED ALPHABETIC SCHOLARSHIP OFF OF A SCREEN and SANG “RISKY SCHOLAR” to the tune of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and HIT ALL THE HIGH NOTES and was LOUD and it was AWESOME. You know, just your everyday happening. Right there at C&W. And we freaking loved it:

Apparently, you could even hear it in the other rooms, which makes me happy even though I know that sort of thing can feel like an infringement of community (even though sharing sounds is also a way to establish community, right?):

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During that same session, a number of us got simultaneous spam on Twitter:

I’m not sure, but it was also around then that Quinn Warnick reported that our #cwcon hashtag was trending on Twitter, making me wonder if the trending and the spam were related, if the textual output of our community was so big that it was leaking into the outside world in a material way with such force that even the spammers couldn’t ignore us any more.

May we be so effectual in all our endeavors. Amen.

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A photo of the outside of May's restaurant.

3 out of 4 of us got the crab cakes. We were glad we did.

Kevin Brooks offered to give me a ride from BWI to Frostburg, giving me a chance to get to know him and two other scholars at North Dakota State University better (Matt Warner and Jessica Jorgenson).

At Kevin’s suggestion, we stopped to eat in Frederick, MD, where we found a lovely hole in the wall called May’s.

The people eating there were obsessed with crab, sitting around tables together and cracking it open, making a general mess, and loving the community that the space brought them, that their shared love of messy crab brought them, that I bet even came in part from the material necessities of eating crab: the bibs and hammers and tongs, all somewhat sinister and dangerous and fun. (Maybe the bibs aren’t really “dangerous.” But you know what I mean.)

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A different spin on community: I increasingly feel no guilt at choosing sessions that match my research and teaching interests over sessions where friends are presenting. I didn’t get to hear my good friend and collaborator from graduate school Quentin Vieregge because he was up against a panel on the rhetoric of sound, my main research area. I didn’t go hear my best conference buddy Jen Michaels because I’ve been wanting to learn more about accessibility issues and she was up against panel A9.

And yet, when the panel I presented in with Tekla Hawkins and Bill Wolff and Amanda Wall (On the Digital Rhetorics of Fans and Fan Communities) was about to begin, there at the very end of the day on Sunday, I was definitely feeling all glowy at seeing the faces of friends and admired scholars fill in the space. All my favorites, there in a room, one last time. We had a good crowd, and that changes things, right?

So community is built in spaces, both physical and digital. Except when it’s not.

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On the first day of the conference, I rode the crazy one-person “mountain coaster” at the Wisp Resort, careening through raindrops that exploded against my glasses like bugs, or like sounds.

Each individual rides solo and is separated from the people ahead and behind by a good amount of space. That’s why, I suppose, I didn’t hear Jen yelling something at me, in the next car back, which she told me about afterward. It was probably something funny, but I missed it. I was alone, climbing the mountain, strapped into my odd little rail car. I was looking at the trees, the grass. Listening to the clanks of the coaster. It’s an inherently lonely experience, but in a good way.

But of course, it’s not a lonely experience. Upon disembarking, everyone standing in the wet line wanted to know how it was, what happened, how to speed up and slow down. We gathered together immediately, naturally.

So we gathered, making a circle of wet, smiling heads, anticipating the future and describing the past, nervously clutching our bags and smushing ourselves under too few umbrellas.

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