Last Friday I went to the reading room in Special Collections at the university library. When I arrived, I was the only person there save for the librarian. I requested my little trolley of books, wheeled it over to the table near the window, and began to set up my things.
This doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it isn’t. Not really. What is significant for me is this: I went to special collections to do research work when I had a little over an hour of time.
I unpacked my laptop and charger, my notebook and pencil, and my dsayplanner. I set the timer on my phone (on vibrate, I’m not a monster). I felt a bit like a parody of that scene from Fleabag when a customer comes in, charges a laptop, a phone, an e-reader, and some headphones, then asks for an extension cord and continues to unfurl gadgets while refusing to purchase anything…except that I was in the library. This–unpacking and setting up to do my work–this was part of my job.
I have been putting off a trip to special collection for the better part of a semester. It isn’t that the library is an onerous trip from my office. In fact, it is across the street. Nope, my problem is that I have fallen back into the dangerous (for me) calculus in which writing productivity = time + space10
…which is great, except I don’t really have time + space. Who does, really? As for me, my schedule is I think fairly normal for a full-time professor. I’m doing the usual full load of teaching (which I will forever and always remind myself is 50% less than what I did as a contract worker). I’m on the usual service load of committee work at the departmental and university levels (hello, Senate). I’m supervising three Phd students at various stages of their work, as well as two undergraduate honours students. I’m in the final editorial phase of a collaboratively edited project. And, the I get home I have humans and a dog to whom I want to give my full attention. As it turns out, that’s enough stuff to fill a day (and the day after and the day after that). In short, the expanse of time I think I need to work simply doesn’t exist. So, what to do?
What I did was simple: I went to the library. I didn’t go for long, I didn’t get a great deal done, but there in special collections for one hour and seven minutes on Friday last week I worked in quiet and with full attention. I worked with no email. I worked, and took notes, and sometimes I looked out of the window to process what I had read, and what I was trying to write. Moving my body out of my office into a different space focussed my attention and left me feeling in my project, rather than my usual feeling of hovering above it in a kind of frothy anxiety.
I usually feel as though I need–or want–an expanse of time to really get into a research and writing project. But I am reminded that time rarely exists these days. And so, I will take the hour, or the forty minutes, or the half an hour and I will build them into a method. And that? That feels good.