Friday, June 19, 2009

Lessons from the archive III: monkish life

When I told people I'd be coming to Research City, they said things like, "I live right near there! Let's get together" or "I want to take you out to lunch."

But I didn't contact them, partly because of basic inertia, partly because I didn't want to take hours out of research time (how selfish is that?), and partly because I didn't want to disturb this whole monkish life thing that is working in the archives.

There's a simplicity to this trip, after all the travel planning (which I hate) and arranging that goes into it. It's a combination of knowing what you're going to do and not knowing what you're going to find.

Knowing what you're going to do: Every day I get up, make the bed, go to the archive, work, eat something that's easy to find, read, and get some sleep. Except for a nightly phone call to my family, about all I say every day is "Yes, I'm finished with this box; can I have the next one?" and, at lunch, "Do you have iced tea?" I'm not here to fight with the phone company, or pay bills, or cook, teach, or do anything except work: read and think. (And write--I finished a long-promised and long-delayed article I had started and sent it off while I was here.)

Not knowing what you're going to find: I didn't find any smoking guns, anything that would tie together an entire line of reasoning, as I had done in a previous trip here. But reading through the materials was a kind of revelation, in that it made me see connections that I hadn't seen before, and that's a really good thing. I found enough to make me want to come back and live the monkish life a little more. It's not a contemplative life in a religious sense, but it's a contemplative life in an academic sense, and that's fine with me.

5 comments:

Ink said...

Sounds lovely, Undine! Am glad you had a peaceful journey!

(Kind of feels like a "Namaste" is in order after that sentence, somehow.)

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I love that life. I can't do it for more than about a month at a time, but I love those research retreats.

Anonymous said...

Love the way you write, leisurely and stylish.

Ah ... how I envy you in so many ways ... all of them good ones.

undine said...

Peaceful while I was there, Ink--I still hate the travel part, but that's less than 24 hours on each side of being there.

Dame Eleanor, you're heading out soon yourself, aren't you?

Thanks, Anonymous!

profacero said...

I *love* this kind of trip and people do not understand it. They also don't get that I like to go to cultural events in Research City by myself, so I can keep thinking about work.