I have four observations, two personal and two disciplinary.
1. I have basically forgiven myself for needing to spend time during the first part of the conference getting my presentation together, even though it violates my standards about preparedness. This has not been an easy semester, and while I would have liked to have the whole thing together by Monday, as I'd planned, I had the paper itself basically written, and the slides planned in my head. I just need to force myself to feel that pressure a little earlier, esp for MLA this year.
2. This was the first conference that I've been to in my academic career where I wasn't relying on caffeine to get me up in the morning. It was, needless to say, a struggle.
3. Especially hearing the plenaries this time around, I was struck how different my own local situation is from many of the people whose talks I heard. I have been critical lately of work that extrapolates from a small set of local phenomena to the discipline, and that will likely not change in the near future. There were several points during the conference where I wanted to interrupt and explain that not all of us reside in English departments anymore--I don't live in the same kind of neighborhood as many of my colleagues do, and that realization seems to be really slow to sink in.
4. And that brings me to a larger issue. Based on a number of conversations, and based upon some of the very stark differences among the plenaries, I am more and more convinced that the next major dispute in our field is going to be conducted between those of us who reside in English departments and think of RhetComp as a member of the English studies family, and those of us who have in mind something more like Writing studies, and who sometimes see English studies as an anchor that keeps us from doing more with our field. Heck, I've always been a fan of the idea that I first saw at U Baltimore, where literary study was considered a subset of communication design, rather than patriarch of the language clan.
And frankly, I found more provocative those talks where there weren't tacit assumptions about the English-iness of our field. And I know that I'm not alone in that regard. I think that we're going to see, increasingly, scholarship that takes some of our most deeply embedded conceptual disciplinary metaphors to task over the next decade. Some of that work happened at Watson, which was nice. But there's more on the horizon, I think. As I thought about how I would answer the question implied by "the new work of composing" over the last few days, I kept circling back to a set of issues and directions for inquiry that owe much more to the social and design sciences than to English studies. I think we're starting to see these developments in various locales, but I think too that it's on the verge of trickling up.
[Update: Laura's posted the thoughts that she promises in the comments...]