Dispatch from Albuquerque: The 2008 ASA Conference

Experiencing homecoming in the abjection machine of an  academic conferenceproduces all kinds of interesting side effects. Some are physical: jeans become torture devices as you try and contain the bloating that comes with too many power bars, sandwiches, New-Mex gut bombs. Concealer edges out blush as the most important thing in the makeup bag. Or, contemplating the codes of lesbionic fashion like KT, the penultimate Sophie’s choice is between the  Mr. Rogers cardiganor “Well of Loneliness” sweater vest. (Mr. Rogers always wins). The liver is cranky for at least a week. Like CBB, we often long for water that doesn’t taste like the remnants of coffee at the bottom of its plastic dispenser. The larger tolls, however, weigh heavily on the mind and heart. Common symptoms are loneliness and melancholy after havingexposed yourself though your work, physicality, outfit choice. You might regret that you spent the money and time on such an experience especially when, upon return, you face the realization of how behind you are. You return to your home institution and wonder: where have my friends gone? Or, for the more Eeyore inclined among us: I have friends, right?

But we go. We go partly (primarily?) because conferences provide the occasion and the funding for Oh! Reunions. And (not unrelated), they remind us that  somewhere, out there, we do have intellectual communities. The after effects of conferences reach you just when you need them, especially in moments of feeling institutionally extraterrestrial. It is in this spirit that we offer our Oh!  ASA 2008  highlights.

First and foremost a special thanks to our respective panel organizers,  Wendy Cheng  and  Eric Weisbard  for inviting us to present on “Alternative Suburban Geographies” and “Crossroads and Crossover: The American Top-40 as Cultural Exchange,” respectively. We had a great time presenting in the hospitable and engaging environments you helped create. Crispy pata all around!

PRESENTATION HIGHLIGHT REEL:
What needs to be said:  Ann Pellegrini  is one of our great orators. Every Pellegrini talk consistently gives us a solid and bad-dass piece of writing. Her meditation on  The Kite Runner  skillfully modulated description and critique in such a way that schooled us all in that room how to put things together. What’s more, her delivery is always engaging, moving, hilarious. I just can’t get enough of those Pellegrini-patented puns. And, it’s crucial to mention her citational practices, which are some of the most ethical out there.  Lisa Duggan  and  Jose Esteban Muñoz  interwove beautifully in their “On Hope and Hopelessness: A performative dialogue.” They made us rethink the terms, feelings, and sounds of revolutionary consciousness. And just so you don’t think I’m still tugging at the batas-de-casa at NYU, permit me to mention other standouts such as  Josh Kun  who so gracefully and movingly flipped the North/South script in “We didn’t cross the charts, the Charts Crossed Us.” Aplauso is also (and always) well-deserved for the archival pleasures made possible by  Mimi Nguyen  and  Gayle Wald  on the “Beautiful Kitsch and Random Form” panel. (ATV)

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To invoke the immortal language of short-haired romance shared by PatrickSwayze and Demi Moore in  Ghost, I can only say “ditto” to ATV’s bullseye list of highlights and inspirations at the conference and add super loud “woot! woot!s” for  Sandy K. Soto’s “de-mastering” of the child  through musicality, my co-panelistGlen Mimura‘s always amazing work about Orange County, and of course, Lisa Duggan’s smashing new hair color. I can also only gesture, with regret, to all of the papers and panels I couldn’t make despite my best efforts to pinball (cribbing a phrase from an old grad school compatriot,  Drew Daniel) between all of the delectable offerings–especially my I.E. sistah,  Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman‘s “When Dusk Meets Dawn: Listening to DuBois at the Crossroads,”  Tavia Nyong’o‘s “Lipstick Traces,”  Karen Shimakawa‘s “Ugly Feelings at Home and Abroad,” the 8am  “Queering Children, Queering Family: Race, Labor and Economy”  panel,  Shane Vogel‘s paper on “Lena Horne’s Jamaica” among many others.

A special shout out has to go to  Jayna Brown  for grappling elegantly with every presenter’s AV nightmare during her paper “Go Wild! Annabella Lwin, Multicultural London, and the Post-Punk Era.” I actually  treasured her re-enactments of her musical archive, and enjoyed them more than if I would’ve struggled to hear the music through tiny speakers. Which brings me to a mini rant about ASA AV: so many folks at ASA work on aural and visual forms (music, cinema, television, etc.) that from here on out,”digital packages” in conference rooms should come standard with basic audio. It sucks to have to schlep your own speakers around. Time for an “ambient citizens uprising” (to invoke  Lauren Berlant’s public feelings paper), so everyone can bring in the noise, bring in the funk. And finally, I’d like to acknowledge all the work that happens beyond the fluorescent conference cubes, aka those iceboxes where our hearts used to be…like learning from my awesome new colleague,  Shana Redmond, about what “Quiet Storm” really means. (KT)

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Yes, kudos to the ‘quiet storm’ of tremendously smart and generous works and writers we heard this past ASA weekend. To Ann Pellegrini, for, once again, expanding the Oh! vocabulary with the notion of “oscillation” (a gentle turn from last year’s“blood-covered abortion girl,”  but still just as evocative). To Gayle Wald, for bringing back the  soul generation’s  televisual contraband and re-invigorating the possibilities of community action and dialogue. Having had the honor of seeing  Stevie Wonder perform live this past summer at the Hollywood Bowl, it was glorious to see just how long such an amazing individual has been rocking out. To Jose Munoz & Lisa Duggan, for philosophically toe-ing the line between (and within)  hope and hopelessness and for always keeping us on the edge of our seats with the possibility of death by ice cube. My special song shout-out (in the continued afterlife of the Olivia Newton-John lovefest):“Hopelessly Devoted to You.”

Last but not least, to Shane Vogel, who also continues to expand my mind with theknowledge and oratorical grace he carries. Despite the limits of ASA’s audio-visual set up, he was able to share with and guide us through the impenetrable star power ofLena Horne’s  vocal performances (while still sweetly inserting under the breath, sarcastic commentary about the lack of audio speakers in the room). Jamaica, Cuba, the Philippines…Shane inspired me in my work to reconsider the poetics of islands and archipelagos in the middle of the open seas.

Biggest regret of the conference was missing the stellar ladies panel,  “Subjugated Pasts and Histories of the Present,”  with the all-star crew of Lucy (“El Bee”) Burns, Adria Imada, and Priya Srinivasan. Word on the street is that it was a truly transformative panel, perhaps one of the best in the ASA’s recent past. (CBB)

CONFERENCE SOUNDTRACK:
In the wake of  Josh “Kunmora” Kun’s  long-limbed dance moves and CBB’s flawless sea-horsing around, we hunkered down with the laptop at our hotel room on Friday night inadvertently mashing up the legendary  Laura Branigan’s “Self Control”with a song that shares a similar “uh oh woah oh oh oh oh”shout chorus, but that we couldn’t immediately identify. After googling “uh oh woah 80s song + jungle,” we were finally able to touch bass with the long lost “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora, a dance jam with imperialist overtones that scored a Listerine ad in the late 80s. Re-live the glory here:

The chorus implores “gimme the other, gimme the other” ““ a sentiment demonstrated to great effect at the ASA on too many occasions. When we looked behind the music we learned that Baltimora was fronted by a Northern Irish dancer/singer, Jimmy McShane, who died of complications from AIDS in 1995. For me this felt like an emblematic Oh! moment. The same kind of sonic moment–a shared recognition across time and empires–that  begat “Oh! Industry” a year ago. A half-remembered echo of shallow pop about “Jungle life”¦far away from nowhere”¦native beat that carries on”¦” freighted by the deep history of the 80s””by Northern Ireland and the legacies of British Imperialism (Falkland follies  included); by AIDS and the souls who sing and dance no more. (KT)

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I really do desire more dance moves and possibilities to “get down” in the everyday. Not trying to be anthropological, but you can really learn a lot about a person by the way they dance. So  yes, extra-special kudos to Josh Kun for going the extra  Solid Gold  mile and breaking on through to the other side with his limber choreography, delicately crafted for those of us living in the valley of the tall.

In light of my wanting more  Dance Party ASA, my soundtrack selection comes by way of  Jason King’s  meditation on falsetto and Sylvester:  “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”  (check out link for some serious dance moves and short-shorts fashion). Sure, academic conferences cannot be equated with pre-AIDS, coke-charged, libidinally-fueled 1970s dance club magic, but the essence of the song’s emotion could definitely be felt when we spotted the Triple Threat alliance that is Karen Shimakawa,  Kandice Chuh, and  Diana Paulin. Kudos to them for carrying and sharing the special force (perhaps the power of  the Ring  itself) through their intelligence and presence.

For me, some of the most entertaining and intimate conference moments are the morning  preparations. Somewhere in between the workouts at sunrise (or perhaps just continental breakfast, depending on how much you drank the night before) and stepping out into the dry air of the Southwest, there is at least an hour of wardrobe selection, hair blow-outs, mumbling to one’s self while peering into one’s luggage, and hair or facial product application. Thanks to the wonders ofPandora Radio  and its powers as a sonic roulette wheel for bringing Anne Murray back into my life (by way of, once again, Olivia Newton-John radio station and its pre-Lilith Fair  ladies of  AM Goldline-up). A dedication to my Oh! sisters: Anne Murray’s rendition of The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer.” (CBB)

Daydream Believer – Anne Murray

POST-CONFERENCE SOUNDTRACK
My pick is a two-pronged indy sobfest that betray California homesickness. Not sinceJoni Mitchell’s “California”  have I felt so regionally adrift. Musically, conferences are educational because of the time spent alongside CBB and KT, rental car dittys, and those jukeboxes in dark bars. These songs offer reprieve from feeling deeply entrenched in the east.

The first,  “California Waiting” by the Kings of Leon. I only know this song because it’s on a mixtape my little sister gave me. Let’s just say, not being in the west will always make many of us long for it. In dreamlife, it becomes a mythical place where folks understand the work, eat good food, and get your jokes. The other is  “How Could I Know” by My Morning Jacket, another casualty caught in my Floridian time lag that I’ve just now been exposed to. Though they hail from Louiville, they offer a nice soundtrack for wanting to float into the somewhere else. Thanks to  Josh Chambers-Letson  for the education. (ATV)

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A special thank you, once again, to Kunmora for a Swede awakening to the NordicHapa Eurovision pop of  Maia Hirasawa  on the early morning plane ride back to eLAy. (KT)

LIFE LESSONS LEARNED @ ASA ’08:

“¢ Whiskey soda is a long lasting party drink best consumed from a plastic root beer mug.

“¢ Always have off-site parties at bars with $3 drinks and pizza delivery. (Megatons of thanks to the fine folks at the  Atomic Cantina–especially our bartender, Leonard–for letting our Motley Crue squat on the local roost for happy hour).

“¢ Moisturize, hydrate, then moisturize and hydrate again.

“¢ If you have tendencies, bring Nicorette.

“¢ Tequila will get you going and keep you going, in the words of Lionel Richie, all night long.

“¢ Always trust your friends when they try to talk and walk you down from the waves of (wanting) to mutilate passive aggressive individuals. This too shall pass.

Adios, ABQ.

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