Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Marathon Meetings

In the last week, I’ve had two meetings that each broke the four-hour mark. Both were productive, in different ways, but four-plus hours can be a bit taxing.

For the first hour, all is well. Everyone brings out their best material, bons mots fly, ideas are exchanged, the sun shines, the birds sing, and life is good.

In the second hour, we get serious. We look at possible unintended consequences, we discuss institutional history with similar initiatives, and we try to forecast likely issues with implementation. Not as much fun as the first hour, but still, time well spent.

In the third hour, though, attention starts to flag. Doodles become more interesting. Language gets franker, as accepted euphemisms are replaced with the ‘everybody knows’ directness of the exhausted. We start unpacking clichés (true quote: “Every year, we’re told it’s a bad budget year. I’ve been here twenty-five years, and we’ve never had a good budget year.”). Personal hobby horses are ridden hard. Sentences get shorter. We interrupt each other more.

By the fourth hour, we’re moving into what scholars of religion call a liminal state. We veer wildly between the absurdly long-term and the absurdly immediate. Daydreaming spins out of control, and anecdotes about people who worked here twenty years ago take on a weird immediacy. Frustration simmers. I have to look at my notes to remember what we decided two hours ago. The effect is not unlike drunkenness, even though none of us has had anything harder than a diet coke.

We haven’t actually cracked the five-hour barrier yet, though we came perilously close at one of them. I’m almost curious to see what would happen. Would we break into spontaneous musical numbers? Have collective, out-of-body experiences? Name ourselves after visions (“call me Runs Into Deer”)? Most unlikely of all, come up with new revenue sources?

Stay tuned…