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(What) Can You Read and Write?
September 30, 2010 - 11:15pm

Istanbul, Turkey

As academics, we are expected to be doing two things on a regular basis: to read a lot and to write a lot on topics related to our profession. This expectation implies that an academic by default has to be comfortable with the idea that her time (other than teaching) will be devoted to reading and writing

One of the reasons why I became an academic was a love for reading and writing since my childhood. I believed that thanks to this love, not only would I be a good academic, but also that I would be miserable unless I chose a profession where I would read and write. Two childhood anecdotes demonstrate the extent of this love:

I was in 2nd grade when my family’s house caught on fire and almost completely burnt down. When the 7 year and a half year old version of me was told about the incident, my first question was “Did my books also burn down?” The question came naturally to me; I was the first student to have learnt to read in my class so I was given lots of books by members of the family to encourage me to read more. I lost all my books in the fire. I was so upset that during the weeks following the fire everyone in the extended family went into a second phase of buying me books to cheer up and to once more encourage this devoted little reader.

At age 9, I received a most exciting present: in a rapidly liberalizing Turkish economy of early 1980s, I was given an imported notebook with bright yellow pages. It was almost the same time that my school teacher asked us to write a story, an exercise through which I realized that it was as much fun to write your own stuff as reading what others have written, if not more. I took the homework assignment too far, turned it into a book, a sci-fi novel of 147 pages, which I wrote in the notebook with the bright yellow pages.

Ironically I had named my book “The Queen of Venus,” unaware of the fact that the future would make me an author at the University of Venus. Years of writing small pieces of literature (poems, essays, short stories, plays etc.) gained me the nickname “Queen of Words” by a few friends with whom I shared the things I wrote. I happily accepted and internalized it.

Seeing an academic not just as a teacher/researcher but also as an intellectual, I had thought reading and writing on topics unrelated to the field in which I am an academic would come naturally and that I would have plenty of time to do so. Yet 10 years into my teaching, in an academic atmosphere which encourages reading and writing mostly for publishing and with my recent promotion to the Vice Dean at my Faculty, I have a busy schedule in which reading and writing outside of my professional field is becoming more and more challenging. I find myself saying that I don’t read or write anymore, which is only partially true. I do read and write. It is just that I read and write mostly on topics which are directly related to my discipline and I feel as if I am becoming more and more a one-dimensional person whose sole scholarly interest is her narrowed down research area, a type of academic I would not want to be. I miss reading books outside my professional area; I miss writing unscholarly words.

I make a lot of effort to read books that are not related to my work. When it comes to writing, believe it or not the only place where I can feel at least a little bit like the Queen of Words and where I can sit on my throne of creativity and rule over my own words is this little column at the University of Venus.

How is it for you? (What) Can you read and write?

Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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