« Movement Politics | Main | Lieberman Helps Destabilize Iraq »

September 27, 2007

What I've Learned: Long Panels Edition

I'm really much better at absorbing information through reading rather than listening. This becomes truer as the event becomes larger. It becomes staggeringly true if the event is taking place in a wirelessly equipped conference hall.

"Let's make this Constructive" Update: In comments, Megan suggests knitting through long meetings. Keeping your hands busy with rote work focuses the mind. I've known others who employed that strategy and it always seemed to work for them. But I'm pathetically heteronormative and am not willing to start knitting my way through press conferences. I generally try to take notes by hand, as that helps, and I can't refresh Tapped during it. Any other ideas?

September 27, 2007 | Permalink


I've started bringing knitting with me to daylong meetings. Keeping the hands busy lets me concentrate on the speakers for hours longer. It looks disrespectful, but it is truly helpful.

(I think it is a form of stimming, and soothes the slight OCD tendencies in types like us. Don't I remember that you count steps in sidewalk squares too?)

Posted by: Megan | Sep 27, 2007 2:27:06 PM

Make a compromise on heteronormativity ... knit hiking socks or ski caps.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 27, 2007 2:37:07 PM

Game boy?

Posted by: SP | Sep 27, 2007 2:37:57 PM


Posted by: Glenn | Sep 27, 2007 2:39:03 PM

If you're okay with carrying a bunch of metal rings and pliers and seeming like an SCA geek, you can make chain mail instead.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 27, 2007 2:46:30 PM

Frankly I think knitting during a conference (unless it's specifically for knitters) is rude.

Not to mention that doing so only perpetrates the myth that women care more about domestic pursuits than about business, science, politics, etc.

Posted by: lux | Sep 27, 2007 2:54:10 PM

"Heteronormative." Has a nice ring to it. Why don't you find a heteronormative partner and toss a football around?

Posted by: bobbo | Sep 27, 2007 2:59:57 PM

Doodling geometric shapes in the margins of my note taking paper helps me focus on listening and tracking different lines of concern (e.g. depositions). If note taking by hand helps you, that sort of doodling might help too.

Posted by: Bob | Sep 27, 2007 3:08:42 PM

"Frankly I think knitting during a conference (unless it's specifically for knitters) is rude."

But, the point is that it seems to have positive effects on paying attention. The lovely and talented significant other of Electoral Math does seem to do a better job of not tuning out my political/policy rantings when she's crocheting.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 27, 2007 3:18:54 PM

A follow up: TL&TSOoEM says that crocheting lets her mind wonder. Your mileage may vary.

Ask the conference organizers to give you the text as prepared, or talking points, under embargo the night before.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 27, 2007 3:22:20 PM

Too bad folding laundry is probably out of the question--it's about as mindless an activity as there is, and unlike origami (to which I'm partial), its folded results can be used to forestall bouts of unwanted nudity.

Posted by: litbrit | Sep 27, 2007 3:35:11 PM

Take notes.

Posted by: ostap | Sep 27, 2007 3:41:13 PM

Are you or your loved ones regularly faced with bouts of unwanted nudity, litbrit? If so, I hope they are resolved in a satisfactory manner.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 27, 2007 3:42:31 PM

"I think it is a form of stimming, and soothes the slight OCD tendencies in types like us. Don't I remember that you count steps in sidewalk squares too"

Pfft, counting steps. I do that while making sure every nook and or cranny touched by one foot has to be touched by the other one as well. I look really ridiculous walking anywhere that's poorly paved.

Posted by: mad6798j | Sep 27, 2007 4:06:54 PM

Not to snark all over your conclusions above, Nicholas, but just because I'm not openly ignoring your policy rants doesn't mean that I'm not tuning them out anyway. (Menfolk, nota bene.)

Posted by: TL&TSOoEM | Sep 27, 2007 4:18:00 PM

Megan as Madame Defarge? Somehow I always knew it.

Posted by: Jay-Z | Sep 27, 2007 4:42:27 PM

Driving is also a good way to split attention, just enough other taskwork that you can listen really well. Also not helpful for panels.

Lux, I know it looks rude. That makes me hesitate. But then I think the benefits of extended listening make it worth it.

I think it would help a lot if the people who design conferences took human factors into account. Putting silly putty at desks looks childish again (or worse, like a dirty hippie technique), until you watch people's hands work and see their relaxed alert posture and realize that it works.

Portable boy versions - whittling. Tying flies for fly-fishing. Untangling a knot. Flipping a pencil over your fingers, like the Korean kids did in high school. Rolling cigarettes. I'm trying to think of other small, repetitive, tactile jobs.

Others - Worry beads. A rosary, although not for us so much.

Posted by: Megan | Sep 27, 2007 6:14:45 PM

Sorry, y'all.

Posted by: Megan | Sep 27, 2007 6:16:08 PM

People like Lux who insist that it is rude to have a brain other than their own are assholes.

Posted by: dan | Sep 27, 2007 8:33:24 PM

I think the fault lies with the organizers for fighting human nature.

People can take about 30 minutes of lecture but after that, they need to do something active.

Posted by: MarkT | Sep 27, 2007 9:43:27 PM


you are very skilled at origami!
i remember the photograph of the graceful, little origami bird you put on the edge of the joe klein poster at the convention!

Posted by: jacqueline | Sep 28, 2007 12:11:36 AM

Oh wow, my very own troll! How cute!

Posted by: lux | Sep 28, 2007 2:22:51 AM

Neil, it can happen to anyone when the weather is hot, the clothes keep getting grubby, and the usage rate of clean trousers etc. outpaces the lone trouser-washer's ability to supply them.

As to your comment about pliers, did you know that the artist Alexander Calder used to keep a pair in his pocket, along with copious amounts of wire, at all times? He was one of the most productive sculptors ever, and would use any given opportunity to create things, even small things like circus figurines, jewelry, and so forth. That sounds like something a guy could do and not raise hetero-whatever questions. Plus, if you used nice wire (copper, sterling silver), you could give away the results to interesting panel attendees.

Posted by: litbrit | Sep 28, 2007 2:48:58 AM

I've been knitting at conferences for years. I always sit near the back of the room, so that I am not a distraction for the speakers or other folks at the session. In small sessions, I try to ask the speaker if they find it objectionable, and in many years of conference going, only one speaker told me it was a problem. If I don't get a chance to ask first, I don't knit.

Knitting really does help me focus on what's being said: the repetitive motion seems to absorb all of my excess energy.

The most articulate person I've read about knitting in meetings is pediatrician/writer/knitter Perri Klass. Here's one of her best articles about it http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE2D7123EF93AA25757C0A964958260

Posted by: nj progressive | Sep 28, 2007 10:08:51 AM

My history professor Mr. McNeil kept up a furious pace, and was annoyed by the woman who sat in front and knitted instead of taking notes. He finally observed that Freud had described knitting as a suppressed form of masturbation.
She replied - "You do it your way, and I'll do it mine."

Posted by: Peter | Sep 28, 2007 10:15:57 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.