Monday, April 4, 2011

Trying not to Trip & Douches: Adventures at the National Undergraduate Literary Conference

Last time I presented at a national literary conference, I tripped in front of all the prominent Cormac McCarthy scholars on my long walk to the podium. Luckily, I managed to stay on my feet this weekend when I presented at the National Undergraduate Literature Conference.

The NULC is held at Weber State University. Random, right? I thought it was fake - by fake I mean that I thought they were just titling it a "national" conference when in actuality, the only participants were university students studying in Utah. After meeting people that traveled from Florida, Washington, California, Idaho, and Colorado I realized that it is legit. It's always nice to realize that you are presenting at a legit conference.

Another random thing about the conference was the re-occurring topic of douches. It began with my friend Amy, who presented a brilliant paper examining different levels of violence in a play by T.S. Elliot. In her analysis she examined this particular part of the play:

SWEENEY: I knew a man once did a girl in
Any man might do a girl in ...
Once in a lifetime, do a
girl in.
Well he kept there in a bath
With a gallon of lysol in a bath

Amy argued that this image of preserving a body in Lysol functions as a violent attack at the audience for their perversion of fertility rituals. She came to this conclusion because during this time Lysol was advertised as a douche and was believed to also function as a birth control. Don't worry, they soon discovered using Lysol this way could be fatal.
I'm not going to lie, I'm jealous that Amy got to use the word douche several times at an academic conference. It has always been a goal of mine to use unsettling words in such an erudite environment.

But the douche references did not end there! A guest poet, Sharon Olds read a poem entitled "Ode to a Douche." What are the odds? The poem began with how my peers use the term Douche bag without knowing that it symbolized the suppression of women. Suffice it to say that I became a fan of her work; she combines humor, poignant thoughts and speaks about female experiences without being cliche (i.e. being a mother). Apparently other people like her too. She was invited by President George W. Bush to the National Book Festival. She published a letter to the first lady declining the invitation, and ended with:

"So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds, and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives, and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it."

I wish that some day I will be able can write something this powerful to someone as powerful as the first lady.

This is the reason I love literary conferences: the stimulating conversations, hearing provocative ideas, using the word douche in an academic paper, being inspired, and experiencing the deep sense of camaraderie with people who love to study literature.


  1. Hilary, Congrats on making it to yet another conference!

    How fondly I recall the last one, especially the epic trip! And all this time Nick and I thought you had faked the whole thing as a ruse to 1) get the audience's attention and 2) sympathy. I also admire your goal to populate your future conference presentations with odd, obscure, and insulting words like "necrophilia," "douche," and "pants." (Remember the one guy at the conference who said he bet he was the only person to say "pants" in his presentation? My new mission in life is to say it in every presentation.) Best of luck to you in the English department; I'm going back for a 2-year MA in Comparative Studies, so we may run into each other again!

  2. Here are my unrelated responses to this post:

    1) This might be my favorite blog post ever.

    2) Hillary, after hearing my paper for the first time: "So many douches."

    3) Thank you for writing this post so now I don't have to haha! I'm just gonna link to this.

    4) Do you think I can write an entire master's thesis about douches??? Would it get approved? I just discovered my new academic goal...