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?