The first time I got punished at my Catholic elementary school i had turned around in church to see if my older sister had arrived. Not until after the Mass and we were safely filed behind our wooden desks, did Sister Sophie growl out my name to the front of the class. The nuns lined the windows of the church, their hands inside their sleeves, watching the behavior of their students and i had shamed the second grade by turning around, made us all look bad. I would be paddled and would have to kneel in the corner for half an hour.
Truth be told, i could never sit still in church, I was restless, disconnected. Singing grabbed my attention but i counted the endless minutes before it was time to march to communion, that was, at least, a walk, and if I didn't bite on the host and kill again the Body of Christ, well, Mass would almost be over. As years passed, I did not get more restless in church, instead I transformed into a heathen.
School was the same. Desks felt confining and the class, no matter how exciting the teacher was (as if) I had this pent up boredom that made me rock or wiggle my feet. Now you may be thinking ADD, just another kid who can't be attentive. Not true, I was bored. Reading a book kept me hypnotized, lying in the grass looking at the sky had all day potential, I can ride a bike for days. For years I was not interested in what anyone had to say. Go figure
Today, a thousand years later, I am going to do some research at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture for a class I'm teaching at Mills this semester, interested in the magazines, literary journals, reviews of the Harlem Renaissance period where the writers presented their new and exciting work, find some poets who never made it into the hardy anthologies, get an idea of what it was like building that community of writers.
I am not a researcher. i do not enjoy the mining of resources, the following of the trail, the reading through the abstracts, running my finger along fine print, columns, numbers and volumes. The studiousness of the environment always made me feel like I was seven and sitting in the church. If I transform it into a cinematic moment, track a person walking, imagine the story of a reader with several books piled high, it's mildly entertaining, but sitting there and actually reading, in a chair, that is not in my study, under the windows that fill with western light, I squirm, start, stop, write, lean my head on my hands, and wiggle my foot.
Irony: i love libraries. If I were a zillionaire, I would build thousands of them, like Carnegie did, peppering America with them. The sheer beauty of going some place to get a book for a week and then bring it back is just love, sitting in a booth listening to an ancient recording of Stravinsky, heartbreaking, twirling microfilm of the reports on the Spanish Civil War, titillating. Libraries excite me when I can use them like an interactive museum, each exhibit asking me to do something. Who was the lawyer who defended Sacco and Vanzetti? Boston Globe...1920... (Granted, the slightly trustworthy Wikipedia could also tell us, but seeing the actual story?...yum)
But researching, piling up books and resources, and reading through them and taking notes (without my yellow highlighter even) makes my shoulders drop very very low.
Now it's true, I have a PhD. While my dissertation was creative, it did take research as did a number of the longer papers in linguistics and rhetoric my other areas of focus. It was all about nickels. I piled up my books and periodicals and instead of using a carrel offered to doctoral students, i photocopied hundreds of pages and biked to my green living room with the view of the great plains and worked on the floor. Ultimately having been rushed, i usually copied pages and pages that i didn't need and missed some pages that i did.
I have one day to find what i need at the Schomberg. I'm heading back to Oakland tomorrow. In terms of being an interactive experience, if you know the institution, the offerings to the restless, wandering library type are endless. The Schomberg is constructed for impatient scholars (ha) like me. Digital archives, exhibitions...a dream come true http://www.nypl.org/research/sc/sc.html but i do have this nagging concern that i will circumnavigate each room, try different chairs and corners, and forget to chase down the information I need. I know exactly what I'm after (thanks to excellent research librarians who answer email and Evie Shockley) and where to get it and how to go about it, if I could just sit down, steady my shaking leg, and read.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports