Daily Archives: 16 July 2010

Tough Crowd

I am in the midst of writing a paper for a conference. As usual, there are good days and bad days of writing. On a good day of writing there are countless starts and stops, fits of frustration, and very rarely the seemingly shining moment of brilliance. On a bad day I usually just sit a lot, frustration mounting, typing very little. Even on a good day much of what comes out of me typically ends up on the cutting room floor after a second read through. As I imagine my audience and their reactions to my claims and ideas, I can’t help but think that there must be a better way of saying what I want to say, a more clever and creative way to argue — of course there is, but can I capture it? Because I already know a number of the people who will likely be in the audience for my presentation, it’s tough not to imagine them and their reactions, but it’s probably best to press on without them in mind. I’d write faster, I bet, and probably enjoy this process a lot more as well. But that’s another story for another day. For a number of years it’s been my standard practice to prepare for public talks aloud, preferably with someone to listen to me. Increasingly over the years, I’ve found that fewer and fewer people are available to sit with me while I read through initial drafts. It’s dull, I know, and it’s rather time consuming, and there’s not a lot to show for the effort put in. My dog, however, is always available. On any given day she’ll sit (and sleep) before me as I read. So this morning, when I needed an ear, I turned to her. Of course, she doesn’t usually give me reactions like a crowd of experts and know-it-alls (read: academics) invariably do. But this morning she did, and the pictures above bear them out. As I read her physiognomy, she was mildly intrigued by what I was saying at the start, then found the material around page two highly soporific and, by the conclusion, she was outraged by my findings. I have seen this response arc before in folks who’ve attended my talks. The Q & A is always a joy in such company. Should such a scenario unfold again, I’ll have to open with something light and non-confrontational (which is usually the last place I think to go in such situations), like “[ahem, ahem] Tough crowd.” Perhaps one of Peashoot’s dear readers could help me with this. When opening the floor to what is often, though not always, a critique of one’s own ideas, WWHYD?*

*What Would Henny Youngman Do?