Saturday, December 10, 2011

Last tango in Comillas


On Tuesday we fly to Spain to give a keynote and participate in a round table at a working conference funded by the Comillas Foundation. This will almost certainly be the last talk I give, and certainly the last keynote.

It seems like a long time – not least, because it is a (very) long time – since the day when I received my first invitation to do a keynote. For a young academic it felt very special indeed, like a milestone on an academic journey. It ranked up there with the first invitation to contribute a chapter to someone’s edited book.

Needless to say, the excitement and charm and rosy glow wore off somewhat – in reasonably short order. As anyone who has done several keynotes knows, after a few it feels more like very hard work than a source of excitement: something you do because you are grateful to get the invitation, but kinda could have done without it – sort of thing.

Anyway, for several years now I have anticipated pulling the plug. The thing I most wanted was to go out with a talk I would remember as being special for me. That was supposed to be the one Michele and I did in Aguascalientes, Mexico, more than a year ago. It was a fun talk with an excellent audience. That was supposed to be it.

However, in the audience was a Spanish academic, Daniel Cassany, and we got to talking. Next thing, and completely unknown to us, Daniel showed up as a very generous back cover endorser of the third (and final) edition of our New Literacies book.

And he had got funding from the Comillas Foundation. So, there was to be one last effort: a last tango in Comillas. And, of course, I wanted it to be something I would remember.

In the past, “something I would remember” tended to mean “a talk I thought went really well (by my standards) and was well-received”. But something happened that changed all that, and regardless of how this talk goes I will never ever forget it – on account of the conditions under which we did the writing. I was up in Newfoundland, without home internet access (as mentioned in previous posts), and dependent on the library. And worse than this, the only machine I had with a proper word processing program suffered a broken power supply cord. A 7 year old laptop is not the kind of thing you can drum up a replacement power supply for in a hurry in Western Newfoundland.

That left me with the Chromebook and its humble Scratchpad software, along with limited library hours. And snow. I could field the material coming in from Michele during library hours when I could get onto a library machine, open her attachments in Word, cut and paste them into google docs, and then copy and paste into Scratchpad to take back to the cottage. Getting copy back to her was much the same process in reverse.

But library hours weren’t enough. And my abiding memory of this last talk will be of sitting in the front passenger seat of a Hyundai accent, the engine running to power the heater and, at times, the Chromebook when I’d forgotten to charge the battery, with the snow coming down, and no winter tyres on the car, with a slippery uphill driveway to negotiate upon returning home. Not so bad during daylight hours, but rather more of a challenge at night. There was a certain degree of stress involved, but also a strong feeling at the time that in terms of its production this one will live on in my memory as unique.

My last tango in Comillas, via Bottle Cove and Lark Harbour. Enough already.

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