(waiting for the wrath to rain down on me)
I'm a PhD student. I'm supposed to like sitting in an overheated or over-cold room, listening to other students and post-docs and faculty at various institutions reading their papers and strutting their stuff. But I don't.
Some of it is an attention-span thing. I've been trained, from the start of my PhD studies, to 'talk to the paper' not read from it. There is a HUGE difference between the two. One is the author of the piece with his or her head down, reading a paper word for word, requiring you to keep up and know this theory and that theory, asking you to keep up with arguments being juggled like chainsaws and lit torches (carefully because one slip and...ouch!). And that's when my attention wanders. Like, wanders down the street and into the next town and can be found standing in line at the coffee shop.**
Talking to a paper, however, is a more of a performance. You might read bits of the paper, but basically you talk about your research, what you discovered, etc. You have more of a dialogue with the audience rather than a head-down monologue. The problem with academic conferences is that talking to a paper is RARE. It's nerve-wracking enough, having to stand up in from of an audience of your peers by showing this thing you studied and supporting your arguments with evidence that may be rather thin at best. So it's understandable that most of us end up just putting our head down to read, lest we lose track and miss an amazing quote from a long-dead theorist and expose ourselves to nit-picking analysis (talent #1 of an academic in the field of literature).
I'm a Creative Writing PhD student. This makes me--to some people--an outsider, an academic that isn't. They just don't quite know what to do with me. The first week of my studies, I went to a conference in Hamburg. While there, several other attendees asked me what I was studying, and when I explained they looked at me as if I were a purple zebra. I was an anomaly. Not a 'real' student. But they were there, studying texts written BY writers. Somewhere, the link was lost that there was someone, our there somewhere, creating what they were studying.
The other night, I said that I sometimes don't think I'm a very good writer because I'm more practical than creative (as if the two can't co-exist). But after attending another academic conference, I'm thinking that, perhaps, what I'm doing IS practical. Creating stories and novels seems much more practical to me than using theory to tear apart literature. Analysis, in this context, seems too creative for me. Too 'out there'. When I think about it that way, to me, they're the purple zebras.***
*This does not mean that they are not worth my time (or anyone's time) or that they're bad. It's just that they're not my bag, yanno?
**Again, this is about me, not about the levels of clever/brilliant that the paper authors are displaying at any given time.
***All about me, not them. I sort of envy the brilliance of 'straight-lit' PhD students/academics. They take the stuff on a page and tear it apart and lay theory over it and something amazing happens. I just...can't do that anymore.