There was a conference on British Women Writers at my hotel this past week.

On, not for. Most of the attendees were Women, but few, if any, were British. And while some of them may have been Writers, they primarily self-identified as Grad Students and Professors. Had some interesting conversations, for sure.

One in particular was delightful in how it marked one of the first times that someone assumed that I was at the foot of the Ivory Tower, going about my life in willful ignorance.

I delivered lunch to a woman who had the badge that the attendees all wore, and so I asked her how the conference was going.

"Fine," she says. "I'm working on my presentation."

"Oh?" says I. "And what is that on?"

She pauses here, giving a look that suggests she is trying to put it into words that she thinks I, her humble servent, will understand. The words she settles on, which she said with a certain trepidation that suggested she wasn't sure I would grasp them, were "Victorian literature."

"Any author in particular, or just a general survey?" I ask, clearly surprising her that I should want to continue the conversation.

"Dickens and Bronte," she says. "Are you a reader?"

Mentally, I prepare to ask if it is some sort of comparison, then, of the female writers to the male, but then I realize what she's said. My mind breaks slightly as I wonder what universe she lives in where one needs to be a "reader" in order to have heard of Charles Dickens. I then consider asking her which Bronte, exactly, as there were three, but I fear that might make her mind break, and that's never good for a tip. Instead I say to her: "I have a BA in English. This is what I do." I bow slightly and move toward the door.

"Oh, really? Well, I'm sure you'll put it to good use some day."

I pray it is as good a use as she's found for hers.