Thursday, September 02, 2010

Life of the zoned-out mind, or thoughts while copying

Notorious Ph.D. has an interesting post called "Life of the Mind" in which she notes that a lot of bloggers are setting up times for reflection (like Heu Mihi), doing yoga, or attempting to be positive in a sea of negativity. I like this post because it gave me a different way to think about spending time at the library getting materials, which I did for a couple of hours this week and last.

Now, not everything is online, as you may have heard a few thousand times, and having to get bound periodicals and other materials in the stacks is a mixed blessing. On one hand, you're spending a lot of time doing something that's taking you away from writing, but on the plus side, you get to browse the stacks, and I found a lot of potentially useful items to check out.

When I got to the copiers, though, I started to think that other faculty have research assistants or departmental work-study students or maybe personal assistants (yes, some faculty have these!) to do this work, because there was a notable dearth of faculty types around, although to be fair maybe I just go to the library at odd times. I put my stack of journals on the table and settled in to copying, which is a slower process with the new scan-and-copy copiers than with the best of the old copy-only ones. It was just me and a row of under-20-year-olds, copying away. *

You can't really do anything else when you're making a copy, because you're flipping pages and pushing buttons and checking to be sure that you got everything. You can't text or check email, and you have to keep track of what you're doing. You're in the copy zone. It's a little like knitting, maybe, but you're surrounded by snippets of words and pieces of paper, so you have to pay some, but not too much, attention.

It was while I was in the copy-mind zone, though, that I got a terrific idea for a new course and also figured out what I wanted to do with a piece of writing.

I'd been thinking of the copying as an inefficient process (which it is) and a distraction from writing time (which it also is) and something that other faculty don't seem to spend time doing (which may or may not be true). When I read Notorious Ph.D., though, I realized that I could think of it as a different kind of enforced thinking time. How's that for positivity?

Incidentally, am I the only person who still needs to get articles from bound journals once in a while?

*Edited to add: Now that I think of it, the 20-somethings were not actually using the copiers but just milling around a row of empty ones. I'm guessing that the bound journals don't hold a lot of attractions for them.


Nicole said...

Not bound periodicals, but superceded state statutes... After a day of that I am covered in century old dust and grime.

There's definitely something to be said for time spent doing nothing but thinking. Perhaps that's why my showers are so long...

Anonymous said...

I've always liked xeroxing for these reasons. And yes I use bound journals. And yes, apparently lots of faculty have assistants, but more than half of those I've had didn't make life easier, but harder.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Many years ago, I worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant for six months, and experienced the same thing you are talking about -- relatively mindless activity that tends to lead to contemplation. The body goes on autopilot, leaving the mind free to wander, but somehow this wandering can be productive.

What Now? said...

I've always enjoyed that type of photocopying -- where one's hands are occupied and the brain is oh-so-slightly occupied but has lots of room to roam as well. Although I don't know that my xerox meditations were ever as productive as yours seems to have been!

undine said...

Nicole, showers are the best place for thinking. I think someone even did a study about it.

profacero, I've usually just seen xeroxing as a waste of time and wished for an assistant, but maybe they would make things harder. If they couldn't look at the journals on the fly and decide what's worth copying, then maybe it's better to do the copying myself.

Notorious, that's the kind of activity I mean.

What Now, they usually aren't this productive! I usually just get frustrated because I used to be able to copy things so fast and now the machinery is slower. Maybe giving in to the slowness of the process is what allowed my mind to roam.