being undone

Homeward bound …

There is something really satisfying about packing up my belongings to return home. I like the challenge and the possibilities entailed in laying out different outfits and such when I’m getting ready to go to a conference–it’s an act of creativity to account for possible social scenarios, weather, style, maybe getting to go to yoga … But coming home is simpler: everything that belongs to me that is not in the bag must now go in the bag.

Collect everything. Put it away. Leave a perfectly clean room behind.

This satisfies my perfectionist and absolutist tendencies, and gives me a great sense of control over my life, such as this life is represented by a suitcase, some blazers, a travel yoga mat, and a bunch of computer cables. Done or not done. I’m all the way here, or I’m all the way there. Knowable, verifiable, rectilinear, mobile!

Of course, this experience is the opposite of what usually happens to my inner life when I travel.

I head out of town with nice pens and blank paper and the batteries of my MacBook and my brain fully charged. I am open to possibility, ready for anything. I experience, in this case, three very full days of Congress (Canadian Society for Digital Humanities) followed by five even fuller days of DHSI (I taught a course on knowledge mobilization), and my mind and my subjective state and my body all go directly to hell.

I always start with an empty mental suitcase I wish to pack carefully full of ideas and interactions and experiences. I very often end up with a metaphorical blown zipper, lost wheel, “heavy baggage” sticker, or, like today, feeling the equivalent of dragging all my stuff home in an off-brand black garbage bag that will not survive the flight.

When the zombie apocalypse arrives, I will be dead within days. It turns out I’m perhaps not so resilient as I wish to be: disturb my routine and a couple of days later I’m a gibbering mess under all but the most felicitous circumstances. It turns out I’m really touchy about when and what I eat and how much sleep I need and how much alone time and under what circumstances and what freaks me out. Oh dear. I’m a delicate snowflake, I find to my dismay.

The exact details of my current state of total inner chaos don’t matter. I’m trying to meditate on this condition, breathe through it, ask how it is that I let this kind of work undo me totally.

Well, at least some of it I did right. I met Margrit, whom I’d otherwise never clapped eyes on! We had a drink at a great cocktail bar, with Erin! Then I had a nice lunch with Erin and got all caught up! I walked down to the ocean with Melissa, grabbed a coffee and contemplated the surf with her and Erin! I took a picture!

And! Yesterday I met Pantagruelle, a regular commenter who happens to be attending DHSI, too! Thanks so much, Pantagruelle, for introducing yourself!

Still. My bags look perfect. Everything is folded, everything is tucked away nicely. Inside my head, though, it’s a real mess. What are some of your strategies for maintaining equilibrium on research trips or conferences or workshops? Do you suffer the long dark midnight of the soul from being mentally overstimulated? I sometimes wonder if I’m just a big baby about these things: maybe other people can sit amongst 6000 or 500 academics sharing work and ideas at top speed and somehow keep up. I wonder if I’m doing it wrong?

5 thoughts on “Homeward bound …

  1. Aimée, it's definitely not just you. I feel much the same. And I've learned to (mostly) cope. Lots if the time, it means ensuring that the people I'm with know that I'd love to hang out with the whole lot of them, but that I'll do better one-on-one and that I'll sometimes just need to disappear for awhile. Getting over FOMO (fear of missing out) to practice some self-care is key. I've also tried to embrace the fact that the feelings of being overwhelmed and overstimulated while away tend to lead to some really productive perspective when I get home. And having a partner who totally understands and lets me be a bit of a baby about it while I'm gone helps a lot too.


  2. Oooh! I have FOMO, even when I'm Doing All The Things! Good point …

    Also, it's probably not helping that I have some really time-sensitve stuff that for reasons beyond my control need to get done IMMEDIATELY and I have meetings scheduled in Waterloo for the rest of the week, all day, and then Saturday, we're throwing a birthday party for my daughter for which ZERO preparations have been made. I would like to rest. I need a break. I'm not going to get one for AT LEAST another week. That's making me psychically itchy and a little desperate …

    It is a pretty nice photo, huh? 🙂


  3. I find that I am more and more of a delicate snowflake as time goes on – sleep, food, and that remarkably valuable downtime are all essential to my functioning. I get two days in and sort of feel like I've been doing amphetamines for a week. Returning home to a go-go schedule and little ones – sick or not – makes for a hard re-entry.

    I find myself desperate for the time to think and process these days. All of which doesn't help you – except perhaps in being there together. I'll go tend to the weeds for a while and hope that the brain and body settle down. If I'm lucky, I'll get some notes jotted down…


  4. Thanks for the shout-out, Aimée! It was great to meet you finally after many years of reading this blog, and I'm already looking forward to the next DHSI and your keynote which I'm sure will be superb!

    Everything you've said above sounds right on the mark to me, from the differences between packing to go and packing to return home to the delicate snowflake stuff. I don't think I'm delicate flower, but 11 straight mornings of cafeteria breakfasts (which I hadn't experienced in years) took their toll, and despite how wonderful UVic was in many ways there's still a lot to be said for coming home, feeling settled, not living out of a suitcase, and reintegrating one's normal routine, especially re food, sleep, and exercise. As an inbox-zero person, I find the first post-conference day is always devoted to dealing with the email that for whatever reason couldn't be dealt with while there, not to mention filing away conference programs and e-files tentatively clustered on the awesome DHSI USB key into their proper folders on the hard drive, and of course there are also receipts and expenses to sort out too–mental unpacking that takes a bit longer than emptying clothes out of a suitcase (or garbage bag as the case may be!). Perhaps we should all go easy on ourselves and budget a post-conference mental unpacking day into our conference schedules?


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