Marvelous alchemy takes place when large groups of people come together because of a specific focus they all share — be it a profession, an interest, or a hobby. I’ve felt it at writer’s conferences, publishing trade shows, service groups, even in organized tours. This week Tedrowe and I are attending the annual meeting and conference of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco, CA. Approximately thirty thousand people are all engaged with the deepest questions about life, the entanglements of individuals and groups and cultures, all the other strange and marvelous forces that touch us every day. As a result, this conference feels vastly different from anything else I have ever attended, even if it shares the same genesis of energy. The swirl of ideas, conversations, debates…all of this challenges me, makes the rusty cogs of my brain start to turn more freely. It’s not just because I’m participating in a conference of academics (and part of me feels the wonderment of finding myself playing with the big kids), of students and experts in their fields. It’s the novelty of being with people who,simply put, are trying to make things better for all of us. There is an excitement, a spark created by the sheer number of people gathered in one place for a common reason, but also one which hopefully benefits a much wider population than just those here. It is a rising energy, born of a seemingly prosaic purpose but feeding on individual enthusiasms and discussions between colleagues. It’s a palpable current of excitement and electricity.
I am a layperson — a stranger in a strange land, so to speak — who is largely observing and absorbing. But this event is cool!!!There are ideas to grapple with, to taste and digest, and this is something I really haven’t had the chance to do very often, if ever. It did not take too long before I realize I could not escape here without the marvelous consequence of being challenged about the way I think, of seeing a piece of the larger picture,and that is the most invigorating, unexpected gift of leaving the safe harbor of my other professional milieus and stepping into rougher–and yet infinitely more exhilarating– currents. I want more!