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APSA on Fire, or Why I’m Extra Weird at APSA

7 years ago, someone set several fires in the biggest hotel in Washington DC, causing a very difficult night for many political scientists, who had gathered for the annual meeting/end-of-summer-nerdfest of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  I have long suspected APSA was the worst-  a holiday weekend, right before school started in my neck of the woods, often overlapping with religious holidays for some folks- a terrible time to get away.  It was always extremely hot, always very expensive (and never enough funding), and the coffee shops were always too crowded.  Wars, hurricanes, and labor disputes have disrupted annual meetings before, and then someone started setting fires.  

The APSA fire was not fun, but it was actually not the worst part of my weekend.  When I finally made it home late the next day, I got the call that my dad died.  Totally unrelated to the fire, hundreds of miles away, and yet these two events are forever connected for me.  On the bright side, I had a full travel bag of summer season professional dark clothes already packed, so I was ready to hit the road again and do the whole “bury my dad thing” without any extra packing needed.  On the less bright side, everything else.  I can’t disassociate the two events. And since, as a tenure-track junior faculty member, I had to try to do APSA, I’ve been really weird at a bunch of them.  If we’ve met at APSA, trust me when I say I’m usually not that weird (I’m still very, very strange, just not quite that weird).  

In 2019, APSA returned to the scene of the crime, holding its meeting in DC again.  I booked a room at the hotel that did not go on fire, had a panic attack in the Wardman Park exhibition hall (the last time I ever talked to my dad was when I called to tell my parents that a publisher was interested in my book proposal, and he yelled hello from the other room while I talked to my mom), and decided that probably going forward, APSA was not for me.  I’d rather spend the money and time doing a writing retreat (okay, checking into a hotel with some awesome friends and writing during the day while taking breaks for fun, food, swimming in the pool, and hate-watching various HGTV-style shows- but what really is a writing retreat anyway?).  

Ironically, 2020 decided that in person conferences were not for anyone, at least for a while.  And APSA has finally moved the annual meeting later in the fall, so I won’t say I’ll never go again.  I do miss the chance to connect with scholars and friends, see interesting research, and get inspired by my fellow political science nerds.  But APSA is the reason I didn’t submit anything for this year; when I forced myself back to the exhibition hall before my last session in 2019 (to try to form new associations/work through my feelings) I chatted with a very nice lady from Fulbright about how they had a teaching-specific fellowship and had been trying to expand their outreach to scholars at community colleges.  I think my dad would be proud (though if he were alive, the idea that I’m taking his granddaughters to a different continent would probably not be his favorite thing). 

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