On Co-writing, Co-presenting & Getting Back to Things
Earlier this summer, my friend Amy and I took on a sort of experiment: we decided to co-write and co-present a paper together at the 5th Biennial SAMEMES conference on "Text-Image Relationships in Medieval and Modern Arthuriana." You see, Amy's a (proper) medievalist, I like to play with medievalisms, and we both have lots of ideas about things that happen on the internet (tumblr, gifsets, and general fan culture), so we thought: why not collaborate and see what happens? At the least, we thought we'd have fun and get to pursue something neither of us gets to do much with and ideally, we'd get a good conference talk and paper out of it.
In a way, I'm surprised I agreed to collaborate almost instantly. I hate, hate, hated group work in school. It was always a weak point in my primary school report cards, and that deep dislike has carried over through secondary, university, and even grad work. I still internally groan when professors tell us to chat with our neighbors in class (though that has admittedly gotten to be much better in grad school).
Yet, agreeing to work with Amy was a hesitation-free act. Amy and I bonded over our mutual interest in academia /and/ fandom culture when we first met, and I love talking to her about all the things we decided to present on. Amy's one of those people who is so genuinely enthusiastic about the things she cares about that you can't help but let out your own enthusiasm, too. Attempting to appear calm and collected is absolutely pointless, and honestly, befriending Amy has personally done wonders for my social happiness and self-confidence. What is the point of hiding the things that interest you? Of pretending you're not bursting to talk about some random phenomenon you've observed on the interwebs? Or what else have you?
Amy did a great job of talking about this in her own blog post, but collaborating was an overall great project. It was, as she put it, quite like talking to each other in Google doc. She explained some things to me through paragraphs, I responded through more, and then we filled in the blanks and edited as needed. Cowriting was a great exercise, and I'm glad I got to do it with a friend because there was little to zero guilt involved and shockingly few imposter syndrome-induced "oh my god this is utter crap" meltdowns. If Amy thought it was good material, then it was good material. I got to write in a safe environment, finally understood that deleting material is a necessary act and not a sign that you've written something bad, and overall, it was the perfect way for me to get back into the academic swing of things after my several month long break.
Co-presenting was similarly pain-free. I did get quite frustrated at the conference, worrying that my inability to follow some of the talks was a sign that I wasn't suited to the academic world anymore. Thankfully though, Amy, A, and Rory were all there to knock some sense into me and remind me that it was because I was literally attending a conference well-outside my area of specialization. I did genuinely enjoy half the talks I went to, and the few that I wasn't able to follow were just opportunities to learn. Once those little crises had past, all went smoothly. Amy was battling a rude cold that had her dealing with vertigo during our presentation itself, but we still managed to carry on rather smoothly.
I was honestly expecting to be met with blank or highly skeptical stares during our presentation – after all, we were talking about fandom gifsets to a room full of academics who did not necessarily know what gifsets were – but our audience was receptive, and our material actually flowed rather smoothly with the rest of our panel's.
I don't know what actually writing up our talk and turning it into an article is going to be like, but I'm thankful for the way things have gone so far and for the learning opportunities collaborating has given me. I've learned a lot, realized academic production doesn't define your entire self worth, and I've had lots of fun. Who knows, I might even change my views on group work after this!