Between the Cracks: the Non-Session Sessions

By Luis Salvago-Toledo

Sure, you could learn how to deconstruct a Brazilian legal document. Or combine Windows and Linux on your computer. But what if you just had to play a game of Scrabble?

It isn’t easy to think of any place on earth that can, acre for acre, offer as much human variety, and its accompanying linguistic flair, as San Francisco. Still, at times The City finds a way to outdo itself—even if just for a few days. One such rare occasion was the ATA conference.

Educational and informational sessions and seminars, plus the opportunities of the job marketplace, were the main magnets pulling most attendees. A variety of other incentives, however, were also available. Some of them became the blinking lights directing my footsteps.

Although I didn’t participate, I made a point of watching part of the tennis tournament held at the San Francisco Tennis Club. I was glad to be present, and see our own Sharlee Merner Bradley, who—while waiting with scouting eyes and alert mind and limbs for her opponent’s serve—typified those who delight in the nectar of life and, when drinking it, never leave in the glass a single drop to waste.

Bob Croese, the tournament organizer from Michigan, was a fine representative of those without whom associations like ATA and ours couldn’t exist—the volunteer. How many hours did he devote to making the event possible? Suspecting his disinclination to track such figures, I didn’t ask. To make his involvement more poignant, at the last minute some unexpected player appeared. With sportive gallantry, Bob yielded his own slot to the newcomer. Way to go, Bob … maybe you’ll get to play next year.

When I stopped by to watch the Scrabble players in the evening, I noticed the similarities in the mental attitudes of these players and their tennis counterparts. There they were, the word warriors, misleadingly making us think that, by being seated, they were at rest. Hardly so. Scrabble may lack a physical component, but, like in tennis, the body assumes the effect of the mind’s continuous engagement. A winning move uplifts both mind and body; its lack is also felt in both realms. To be engaged is the common denominator joining both groups.

Of course, in addition to Scrabble and tennis, there were a multitude of other extracurricular activities, including separate dinners organized by the various language divisions of ATA (Japanese: spicy!; French: long!), an After Hours Café for literary readings, stretching sessions, and informal networking all over the place.

In addition, opportunities for engagement were always present within the confines of the conference. I had breakfast with members of the board on two occasions, including the first meeting of the new Board of Directors, where I, and other conference attendees, were warmly welcomed. My main motivation was to get a feeling of the “character” of the board at work, mainly the interaction of its members and how convincingly decisions were made.

Such curiosity stemmed from some previous negative experiences. Over the years, I have witnessed enough board decisions being made in an atmosphere that did nothing to dignify the process. One or two members were allowed to decide the direction of the event, while the rest felt comfortable with their expected rubberstamping. As far as the new board goes, Jiri Stejskal, our new ATA president, seemed to be aware of the difference between “presiding” and “directing.” The overall impression the meeting left on me was very positive. Issues were discussed back and forth until everyone felt ready to vote on the item in question. Willingness and readiness to get things done, in my opinion, were their guiding stars. Their unhurried adherence to time I saw as an additional plus.

As for obtaining feedback from the general membership, the gathering following the Closing Session was ideal. The event practically over, this was the time to listen. Comparisons between the San Francisco and New Orleans conferences popped up right away. Some felt that last year’s sessions offered more; others weren’t so sure. To many, the noise level in the vicinity of the lecture areas was a problem before, and still is. I fear that this issue can only be ameliorated, but never eliminated. On the other hand, some of us felt that one of the most striking improvements over last year’s conference was the registration area. Unlike at the prior event, at no time did I feel there was congestion. The larger space helped.

In closing, while the sessions were on the whole informative and interesting, it is fair to ask: How was everything else? Considering the demanding preparation for the event, its many-faceted implementation, and the huge numbers of attendees to accommodate, I feel ATA’s performance in delivering its extra-curricular events may be summed up in an eternal adage: Veni, vidi, vici.

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