A historical building of one’s own

Zora Neale Hurston once said, “You cannot know who you are without knowing where you are.” Most of the time, I know where I am. Most of the time, I’m in the library. Last week, as I was studying and writing, I kept getting distracted.  Friends saw me and came to visit. A YouTube video was being blasted by the kid next to me and the girl on the other side of the table was apparently having boyfriend issues, which she was discussing loudly with a girlfriend. I gathered my things to go and search for a quieter place. The weather was nice so I thought I’d go study outside. Then I saw the pioneer house.

 

While I’ve been walking past that small building outside of the student center parking lot for years, I’ve never ventured to read the plaque or peek inside. I still haven’t read the plaque. But to my surprise, the back window was slightly ajar. I opened it and climbed inside, looked around, put my things on the table and decided to study for a while. What happened for the next several hours was a rethinking of where I was geographically, historically and even existentially.

 

My laptop wasn’t with me. So as I read, and questions arose, I developed a deep sense of curiosity that is usually quenched instantly by a quick search on Google. It was actually kind of nice to wonder about things. When I came across words in my reading that I didn’t understand, I tried to think back to what its Latin root might be and then I reread it in the context of its sentence and then decided that a tentative definition was just fine. In fact, giving words definitions you want them to have is useful. As I was writing and needed a word to express a particular idea, I had to really think about the idea. The synonyms that came to me were surprisingly excellent in ways the free online thesaurus could not have been. After a few hours I began to get restless. At this point, I’ll usually check my email or see what Kanye tweeted or check the status of my Amazon shipments. None of these options were available. I couldn’t really do anything but stand up and walk around for a minute and feel my restlessness. This may sound strange but I felt it in ways that I hadn’t for a long time. It was okay to be restless. It’s okay sometimes, to be bored.

 

I began to wonder about the house itself. I wondered if some student, a hundred years ago, sat in my exact same place and read a book, or wrote one. I began to think about women writers a hundred and fifty years ago, who rubbed their hands together as it got chilly and scribbled with ink and quill under candlelight. How did Louisa May Alcott do this? Mary Shelly was 18 when she started writing Frankenstein. Without Wikipedia, without library databases, she wrote a book in two years that will never lose relevance or importance. These thoughts were juxtaposed with my view out the window of students walking back and forth from class, wearing their Reeboks, listening to their iPods, parking their cars. I started thinking about Einstein’s theory of relativity and the possibilities of time travel. My surety of place, of where I was, began to almost magically dissipate. I let myself examine the walls and imagine what pictures or shelves used to be there. I thought about where the stains on the hardwood floor might have come from. Children probably spilled things. History changes a lot, but children will always spill things.

 

I focused again on my work. it was cerebral and quiet and challenging in refreshing ways. Virginia Woolf has argued that all women really need is a modest income, a little bit of time and a room of one’s own to experience inspiration and freedom. She could not have been more correct. On a campus of 32,000 students, I’ve got an identification number and school records numbers and nothing to prove that I’m much different from anyone else. Except, having found a room of my own for one day, was a quiet and kind affirmation that none of us are quite like anyone else.

 

By Felicia Joy – Asst. Opinions Editor

One Response to "A historical building of one’s own"

  1. Susan Bailey   November 12, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Louisa May Alcott would have loved this! I do too. My sister and her husband have 2 cottages dating back to the beginning of the 1900s and they are still quite primitive. I’ve often thought about what it would be like to spend time there totally disconnected from the world . . . I’ll have to try that next summer.

    Reply

Leave a Reply