Musings on the MAA

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I have to say, you know you’re in the right field of study when you feel lucky to be a part of it. This weekend, I returned to my beautiful alma mater, the University of Toronto, to spend the weekend at the Medieval Academy of America annual meeting/conference. I think that the people who are down on experts these days haven’t met a lot of medievalists. After all, no one goes into Medieval Studies for the money or the prestige. Everyone in the field is someone who fell in love with it and (hopefully) still feels that love. The atmosphere at the medieval conferences I have been to is open, congenial, and genuinely collaborative. Everyone wants to know more, so everyone wants to share more – sometimes share a lot!

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns (okay, someone usually is studying unicorns). There are always the raw nerves of presenters for whom public speaking doesn’t come naturally, or who are self-conscious about their proficiency in English. My heart also feels a painful squeeze every time I see the forced smiles of graduate students, desperately afraid they won’t get a job in the shrinking ivory tower. As someone outside of those walls, I always want to give them a hug and show them there is, indeed, a place for their passion and their work, either inside or outside academia.

Still, even though a medievalist may show up at a conference drained by the everyday, jet-lagged, or worried about the future, if you watch the audience in any panel session, you’ll see people deep in thought. They’ll be leaning forward, scribbling furiously, smiling to themselves, or furrowing eyebrows, but you can practically hear the hum of busy brains making new and exciting connections. There are always hands up in the air at the end with helpful suggestions, new avenues to explore, or new questions. I’m not sure if it’s like this in every field, but medievalists are definitely keeners, and it’s so much fun to witness.

This particular MAA meeting was uplifting in other ways, too. There were sessions on diversity (much needed: most scholars are still white and Eurocentric in their work), and on work outside of the tenure track. There were talks on refugees and sexual assault, topics which are timely and crucial to discuss. There were scholars young and old exchanging ideas, and women confidently speaking beside men without feeling the need to shrink themselves or appear unintimidating. There were calls to share our expertise with those in other fields, and those on the front lines of early education. More than this, there were people showing up, ready and able to meet these new challenges and spread the love and the expertise.

It’s hard to be down on experts when they wear their love for their subjects right out there on their sleeves. It’s a privilege to be among them, and to learn from them. On the outside of Victoria College, where much of the conference was spent, is an inscription: “The Truth Shall Make You Free” (behind me in the picture). For me, and many of the medievalists I had the pleasure of spending the weekend with, getting together and working to learn the truth about history sure does feel like freedom

Circle of Joy

The beginning of April is an exciting time for me, and not only because we’ve just come off the twin delights of International Hug a Medievalist Day (March 31) and Whan That Aprille Day (April 1). Last April, I hit “Submit” and suddenly went from being a contributing writer to a bona fide author, something I had nervously dreamed about for years. To my surprise and delight, the book found an audience with more than just my parents, and I had the tremendous honour of watching it reach #2 on the Kindle store, just above A Man Called Intrepid. I was thrilled.

Turning The Five-Minute Medievalist into a book was a joy for me, not just because it was a dream come true, but because each download and each paperback showed me that other people share my love for the Middle Ages, my delight in its quirks, and even my wry sense of humour. Sharing The Five-Minute Medievalist has felt like building community, and what a wonderful feeling that is.

Lately, I’ve taken up my yoga practice once again, and often find myself following a sequence called “Circle of Joy” – a stretch that really opens up your chest and feels like magic after spending too much time in front of a computer. As I took up my pen to outline what I wanted to say in this first blog post, it occurred to me that this year itself has been a circle of joy for me – one that has taught me much, opened up new possibilities, and pushed me into some new and exciting challenges.

This April, I’m working on a new project (it’s a second book! Shhhh!) and I’d like to invite you to come with me on my journey. I’ll be posting some of the new and interesting tidbits I dig up here on this blog, as well as linking to some of the other places my writing may pop up along the way.

Spring certainly is a great time for new growth. Thanks for reading; thanks for sharing. Thanks for being a part of my circle of joy.

P.S. Please feel free to participate in a contest for a signed copy of The Five-Minute Medievalist this week, hosted by my friends at Medievalists.net. Follow this link for more information: http://www.medievalists.net/2017/04/win-copy-five-minute-medievalist/