Tale of Two Papers


I applied to a conference in November. I’ve presented before, and yes, I was actually still technically sick then. Just not on the level that I am now, and certainly not like the level I was when I applied, throwing hope to the sky and hoping acceptance and a burst of health would fall back down instead.

Yeah. Gravity doesn’t work like that. G = F/m.

Thankfully, hope doesn’t have mass. I got accepted to present at the conference! I got a little better, enough improved so that even if the statistical odds were not, I’ll admit, actually really good, they weren’t so bad a gambling addict wouldn’t have risked it. I started to work with the conference committee, the hotel, the venue and my session chair, to try to make sure I could actually do this when the day arrived. And then life happened, and I got sick, and sick again, and dumped my lovely hot beverage on the computer, and then for the fun of it, got sick again. That’s one of the joys of being chronically ill, I’m learning – sometimes you can’t predict either how often you’ll be sick, or how severely, or how the combination of the two is going to affect you. So there I was, plastered flat against my nice cool bathroom floor. F = G M1 M2/ R2.

There was one more chance. It was stupid, but I had wanted this so badly. Not so much for the oft-heard “line on the CV!” mantra of academia, no. I had wanted to travel to another town and see the sights and participate in solid scholarly conversation and deliver my research and field the questions, and show myself that even if I wasn’t the old “normal” I could still find a way to do this thing. Clearly, all of that was out, but maybe there was still some way to, if not do it all the way… or even get a foot in the door… at least jimmy the lock a teeny tiny bit. The chance rode on the benevolence and mutual desperation of the conference organizers. Would someone there be willing to read my paper for me? It had been done before at conferences, I knew, when at the last minute a presenter couldn’t make it.

They were willing. I needed to be available on Skype for questions after the session, relayed through IM since I’d lost my voice. But it would happen! These people had already gone above and beyond for this conference. There was a block of hotel rooms reserved at a local hotel that had shuttle services (rated by users as being disability friendly, something the university’s shuttle couldn’t claim). There were ADA rooms and they all had kitchens or kitchenettes. Food was being catered to the conference but they’d asked about special considerations. I had already learned that although I was able to balance and walk on my own two feet again, I couldn’t stand long enough to deliver a paper and answer questions, so they’d already had to look into solutions for me sitting and addressing an audience while still queuing up slides. Internet access, type of connections we’d need, it had all been handled. It was a new group and the path had been a little bumpy at times, but… it had all been handled. That is a ton of work. Not just effort, but the actual physics definition of work, when motion has been accomplished.

And now some poor volunteer was going to stand up in front of a room of peers and read my paper for me. It was astounding. The crux was, of course, I needed to refashion my old paper into something that wouldn’t require me to “go play fiddly bit on the piano.” I did it, with considerably less time to spare than either I or the presenters probably wanted, but I did. I got up and was ready to answer questions. Vescape =√2GM/R!

It was surreal. I sat on my Ikea Elvis blue couch, research strategically stacked out of view of accidental camera activation, and somewhere a world away, my research was presented.

It could have been different. There could have been a different paper that had never been presented at all, and I would have simply felt that once again, despite the many attempts on both my and the organizers’ parts to find work arounds, I had simply failed. This way was not what I had wished for in November, but what came down out of the sky was no less than what I had thrown up into it the first time around. Gravity does still work.

There is still hope.


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