Documenting a Pandemic as an Independent Scholar

Iklim Goksel


The experience of documentation was a form of archival work that allowed me to record my feelings during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was an awakening in an odd way that allowed me to bring to the surface a lot of questions and issues I had regarding my academic work and academia in general. As an independent scholar, being away from a campus, students, and colleagues has its own ramifications. Even when we actively teach, we are still isolated most of the time and work in isolation when we write or grade student papers. However, an independent scholar is also away from the joyful student crowds, conversations, and campus activities. As a result, academic conferences are special places that make the void go away. Conferences are not just about academic work but are places where we gather to eat together, share jokes, visit local sites, and simply hang out. They are places where we are reminded of our humanity, the need to chill out, and connect with people who are passionate about rhetoric and writing. 

When the conference was canceled, I felt sad about all of these things that I was going to miss out on. Living in Alaska already entails physical distance from what we call the lower 48 here, and a conference cancellation due to a pandemic was disheartening. With so much opportunity for reflection, I also thought about what it means to present at a conference and what we expect of ourselves every time we share our work. Usually, I feel good about having presented because conferences offer valuable opportunities for feedback. And, on a deeper level, I do feel a sense of accomplishment, as if having completed a task that was expected of me as an academic. However, mostly I feel that time flies when I attend a conference and almost always feel exhausted running around trying to attend as many panels as I can within a short frame of time. So, the conference cancellation felt like a hard push on the brakes of a car that allowed me to think for the first time since earning my PhD. I reflected on why I had always been so enthusiastic about conferences and especially CCCC. 

For the first time in our lives, we are all prohibited from touching each other because of a virus that scientists do not know how to fight. We do not know how the virus behaves and spreads, so we are currently taking precautions that we think are useful. What is most striking about this is that we are always so certain and confident about what we do and why we do it. Yet, with the arrival of a virus we are not permitted to be like that anymore. We are not so certain and confident about a lot of stuff and I wonder how this will reflect upon the work we do. I am still thinking about this, with curiosity and some puzzlement. Documenting all of this will help me go back and look at the changes in my thought process. 

Archival work allows us to choose to document the things that we find most valuable or worth preserving. Hence, documentation for the CCCC was a similar experience allowing me to focus on the most memorable aspect of the cancellation and what it meant for me. Most certainly, my attitude at the next conference will be different and instead of running around trying to do it all, I will lean towards being more mindful. In addition to being an academic, I am also a Tai Chi instructor and actively teach the healing arts. As a member of the SJAC (Social Justice at the Convention) committee, I have offered Tai Chi sessions at the past conventions. With the emergence of the pandemic, I feel that my commitment to offering this meditation opportunity is even more meaningful. I will continue to think about all of these issues this summer and look forward to attending the convention in Spokane, Washington.