Were this year a normal year, I would be posting now about my experience at the International Congress on Medieval Studies on the campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ve done so once or twice before, I know, and I’ve commented about papers I’ve delivered there, such as this one. The Congress has its problems, as I think I’ve noted and as I know many others have written about far more eloquently and at greater length than I have it in me do do, but it also remains one of the few places where I can be part of a broader scholarly discourse, having sharply limited access to journals and the other paraphernalia of contemporary scholarly work.
This year, due to COVID-19, the Congress did not meet. I am fortunate in that I was able to get most of the money I’d laid out to attend back; the rest is bound up in other things, and I do not expect to see it again. I am fortunate that the business meeting I was to chair was able to move online and do what needed doing. I suppose that I am fortunate in that I ended up not needing to write the papers I was going to have to write for the event and that I had not started when I needed to get them going; my sloth will not out in quite the same way as would have been the case had I tried to talk once again. (Obviously, I am admitting to it here, but telling doesn’t have nearly the same impact as showing, right?) Too, I was home for my mother’s birthday and for Mothers’ Day for the first time in many years, which is the kind of thing that should be celebrated.
But–and it should have been clear that a “but” was coming–I do miss the opportunity to hear new ideas pushed forward by people who have not yet been so ground down by the drudgery of academe that they cannot see farther than a single step in front of them. I miss getting to see friends I’ve known for ten years and more, now, and to enjoying their company again. I do miss getting to get up and advance my own ideas and see them taken up for consideration by others, to hear them discussed and debated; I miss feeling like I still matter in some small way inside the ivory tower I so long sought to enter and from which I had to make an escape because I knew I would never be let out of its basement. And I miss the power I felt in pulling together ideas, in making new knowledge–even about so small a thing as a series of fantasy novels or a particular kind of bullshit in something Spenser wrote–and, in so doing, pushing back against the boundaries of human ignorance, clearing out just a little bit more room for what we know against what we still have to learn.
I still have the chance, of course. I can use this blog to that end, and it is expected that the Congress will happen in 2021–and that I might well be able to attend it. But that good things are still to come does not mean it is wrong to sorrow for such good as was lost.