Into the wild of monkey carrels and books

I always used to be terrified of the bells in Sawyer that ring every night at 2:15 a.m. Nothing was more horrifying than to realize I only had a minute to pack my bag and get out of dodge . . . except to still be burning the midnight oil in the library when the bells rang. But now, I’ve come to love the bell. It symbolizes freedom for me, and more importantly sleep – a four and a half day sabbatical in Sawyer will do that to you.

Most students, from time to time, use the phrase “living in the library,” and after pondering the idea of what it would be like to actually live in the library, I decided to brave the wild jungles of bookshelves and monkey carrels. I had to figure out a game plan – one that was reasonable, but still a little ridiculous. I couldn’t imagine actually sleeping in Sawyer for fear of getting caught, and also for fear of not eating or showering. Finally I came up with a compromise I thought was decent: get to Sawyer at 8 a.m. and leave only after the bells ring to sleep and shower at Garfield, and only leave to pick up meals (which were to be eaten at my carrel), go to class, work and the Wednesday Record meeting.

Of course, these stipulations did not guarantee I would live like a true Sawyer inhabitant. I wanted to be really serious about this, so I decided I wouldn’t talk to people other than basic greetings and Record interviews, nor would I use my cell phone to call or text message people. Then I took it a few steps further: no celebrity gossip blogs, no AIM, no reading WSO and most importantly, no Facebook. I was a little scared, but I was still excited to start the Monday after Thanksgiving. I was anxious to see what this week would do to me. If my friend’s mom found herself at Curves, the women’s fitness chain, why couldn’t I find myself at Sawyer?

I went to Sawyer Sunday night to prepare – I officially switched my carrel in the basement to the only available carrel on the third floor and brought all my books there, made a voicemail for my cell phone stating I wouldn’t be able to answer until Friday and before I left for the library, I told all my friends not to contact me during the week. Much to my surprise, many of them did not seem to object. “They’ll miss me later,” I said to myself as I settled into my new home to finish up my paper. And then I saw, through my window, a couple at a carrel making out. Maybe this would be more interesting than I thought.

The next morning I reported to my new home at 8 a.m. sharp to begin my journey to self-discovery. I reviewed some Chinese characters until my class at 9 a.m., came back after my classes, ate at my carrel, went to my job at Chapin Library and came back to Sawyer again to do some homework. This was all fine and dandy, productive, even, until around midnight. I was getting very antsy, especially because I ran out of work to do for the day because I forgot to bring the key to my cubby, which contained a few of my books, and obviously couldn’t go back to my room for it. I got on a computer and wrote e-mails to my friends. “I miss you,” I wrote, “Get me out of here.” I felt like a middle school student in detention, and had all my things packed while waiting quietly with my hands folded until I heard the bell. I went home and took a miserable 2:30 a.m. shower, only to wake up again at 7:30 to return to my prison.

But things took a turn the next day, and I started to enjoy my surroundings more. I enjoyed the solitude of it, and even started sitting at my carrel in the lotus position. I felt peaceful and calm. I even enjoyed doing my work – it felt rhythmic and right, and I was getting more out of my readings. I didn’t even want to talk to people.

The next day was no different – for the most part at least. I really just wanted to do schoolwork. I even picked up a copy of Harper’s Bazaar and found myself utterly bored by Mary Kate Olsen talking about how she stomps around her house naked except for chunky Balenciaga shoes. “This isn’t Kierkegaard,” I muttered angrily to myself. I felt as though I didn’t miss human contact – until I went to the Record meeting. “You look different,” said one friend. “You seem mellow.” But another resorted to breaking my heart as a tactic to get me to talk. “I’m mad at you,” she said. “You’re being cold. And are you wearing muted colors so people won’t talk to you?” Unfortunately her tactic worked, and I found myself in a lapse of focus. I was re-addicted to human contact, and when I finally got out of Paresky and returned to Sawyer, I was overwhelmed with guilt.

Things were never the same after that. I started talking to people I ran into at the library and it seriously hindered my ability to work, but I was able to at least talk to other third floor library fanatics about Sawyer culture. Some of them revealed their secrets as to how to stay in the library for extended periods of time – it turns out many of them, like I, also have rules about spending time in the library as well. Lauren Finn ’09 not only does not use Facebook in the library, but also keeps herself from using her e-mail and Bonnie O’Keefe ’09 doesn’t even bring her phone to Sawyer. O’Keefe said she had spent about five to six hours a day in the library this past week, while Finn said she is often in the library from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight.

They’re not the only Sawyer-three regulars – one senior can often be spotted on a couch with her blanket, canoodling with her boyfriend, and another couple frequents their neighboring carrels. Perhaps the most infamous Sawyer-three resident of all is Walker Matthews ’08, who is notorious for the “fortress” of books on his desk and for supposedly always being at the library – a claim that I challenge, since I barely saw him this past week. Matthews said he was studying for his GREs this past week in his room, but he usually spends about eight to 10 hours a week in the library. This is the big, bad Walker Matthews? I chuckled to myself. Eight to 10 hours? That’s peanuts. I spend more hours than that here in a day! Certainly, it’s difficult not to make a comparison between Matthews and Shane Bobrycki ’07, a history thesis writer last year, who had two adjacent carrels in a similar area of Sawyer-three, one of which was covered in mounds of books. Matthews dismissed this – “No, no, I’m not trying to channel him,” he said.

But whether they come to write their theses or just to make out, the Sawyer-three people do have a community amongst themselves. “Sometimes I see the regulars and say hello,” Finn said. “You see people and give them a nod of acknowledgement, ‘Yeah, we’re still cool.’” Indeed, my week in Sawyer taught me there is nothing cooler than spending excessive amounts of time in the library, and I’m happy to now be part of this community. Even after regaining my freedom at 1 p.m. on Friday, I have found myself back in Sawyer every single day since. Come, be one of us.

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