‘Twas the night before Textualities when all thro’ the house
My family was cajoling me to speak louder than a mouse;
Rescue Remedy was suggested by mum with care,
In the hopes that anxiety wouldn’t ensnare;
The flashcards were nestled under my bed,
While visions of humiliation and failure danced in my head.
A mere snapshot of the atmosphere in my household twelve hours before my self envisaged demise. I always expected the apocalyptic moment to have a kind of dark glamour to it, but alas – no. It seems the fiction of Margaret Atwood set my expectations too high. I confess I did not stoically conceal my feelings of despair and dread, but turned to Facebook to vent them. May others laugh in the face of my misfortune, I thought.
My cheap shot at humour aside, I was indeed very anxious about speaking at Textualities 2017, the mini-conference at which three MA programmes, Irish Studies, Irish Writing and Film and Modernities would be presenting research proposals. For someone who finds the simple act of speaking in class difficult, I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of speaking not only in front of my highly intelligent, interesting and charismatic peers, but also members of the teaching staff, people who I greatly respect and least of all wanted to look like a simpleton in front of!
It was refreshing to discover that the crippling fear that comes before public speaking is not unique to me however. When two PhD students from the School of English came to speak to us about the Bookends conference, the articulate Patricia O Connor confessed that she too finds the experience challenging. She said that it becomes easier if you focus on channelling that nervous energy into presenting your work with enthusiasm, rather than letting it envelop you and giving you the urge to run from the podium – a good tip for the future! What prevented me from doing the latter on the day was the knowledge that I had put a lot of effort into all aspects of the conference, from working with the social media team to highlight the event, to consolidating my ideas and organising the presentation into what I hoped would be both visually and intellectually intriguing to the audience. Keep reading for an account of how I prepared and how I found my experience of Textualities 2017.
The working title of my MA thesis is, ‘”A Woman of rocks, carved out of the rocks around her”: Marina Carr – A Vehicle for New Modes of Representation.’ I am really interested in the way in which Carr’s plays subvert stereotypes, how she renegotiates limiting cultural notions of ‘woman’ as idealised mother figure. Three of the most interesting plays of Carr’s that I will be looking at are Low in the Dark, Portia Coughlan and Woman and Scarecrow. I decided that I wanted to highlight an aspect in each of these texts that I believe help reclaim female agency. Those are, the uses of hyperbole, the River Belmont and magic realism, respectively. I did a lot of reading before I began breaking down my ideas into the designated Pecha Kucha (20 slides x 20 seconds) format, many texts of which were recommended to me by Dr. Marie Kelly in a meeting I scheduled before the conference. Dwelling on that material in this post seems slightly redundant with the upcoming literature and IT review giving me the opportunity to do that, however I will mention one text that I found particularly interesting, Adrienne Rich’s, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Prior to reading this, I was oblivious to the fact that Rich wrote essays, having only been familiar with her work as a poet. I was particularly intruiged, as I highlighted in my presentation, by Rich’s concept of the dual meaning of motherhood. She distinguishes between ‘the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution which aims at ensuring that that potential – and all women- shall remain under male control’ (13).
Once I had sufficient reading done and my ideas consolidated – as much as possible for me at this stage of the research process, the visuals were enjoyable to assemble. This is the ultimate strength of Pecha Kucha in my opinion, it marries your information neatly and effectively. The audience are informed aurally as you make your points and your argument is underscored through visuals which match what you are saying. As Pecha Kucha is not a text heavy format, it eliminates people reading information off a screen, whilst simultaneously trying to listen – often an overwhelming and futile experience. I decided to use PowerPoint when putting my visuals together, simply because I am familiar with it. I didn’t want to run the risk of a new platform tripping me up on the day! Our amazing tech team, Annie and Rebecca were on hand on the day just in case any problems did arise, which was a great comfort – a big thank you to them . They ensured the day ran smoothly and delays did not occur by collecting everyone’s presentations in advance. Click the link to see my presentation visuals here: Textualities17
With my script made out, visuals done and flashcards at hand, it was practise, practise, practise before the big day. As well as rehearsing at home on my own, I also recruited some dedicated loved ones and spent some weekends being an imposter in the engineering building looking at my presentation on the big screen and going over and over my script – Westworld style!
Ancillary to this preparation, I also worked with four of my classmates, Ellen, Erin, James and Lena to create social media platforms for the event. We made a Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram and Snapchat to create an interest in our event and to generate conversation on the day with #textualities17. We had the idea to create a Snapchat geofilter, but unfortunately experienced difficulties when trying to upload it. Here is the filter I designed and the email I unfortunately didn’t receive a reply to. RIP Mr. Snapchat filter.
This aside, I think our social media team did a really good job in promoting the event and co-ordinating with the different groups to upload the poster that was designed by the graphics team etc.
On the day, I was the final speaker on the first panel to present. Having it over and done with early in the day was a God send! I was relatively happy with how my presentation went. I tried to make eye contact with people around the room and not rely too heavily on my flashcards, as Dr. Anne Etienne suggested to us. My time at the podium went surprisingly quickly and before long it was time for the Q&A session. As mentioned in one of my subsequent tweets, this was the aspect of the conference which I found most difficult. When you are put on the spot and don’t have a lot of time to think about your answer and articulate it necessarily the exact way you would like, it can be quite stressful. Whilst I could answer three of the four questions posed to me, I was thrown by a question about the nature of the carnivalesque, how it celebrates the counter-cultural, but then ultimately regresses to the norm. I hadn’t really ever considered Bakhtin’s theory in this light and felt like I couldn’t adequately address the question therefore. I tried to take solace from the fact that Dr. Etienne had stressed before the conference that it was okay not to have an answer to every question, tried to silence the worry after the conference by telling myself that it was a perspective to think of going forward in my research.
Although the conference was a very daunting prospect at first, I do feel it was a useful experience in focusing my ideas before I delve further into research and the writing process over the summer. I was so impressed, but not at all surprised at the calibre of work presented by my peers.
Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. W.W. Norton & Company, 1986.