Friday, 29 March 2013

Sanctuary

Filling time has, for the first time in my life, become a real struggle. I set myself daily goals, but they are little and insignificant. They make my time feel episodic and bitty, when what I need is a narrative arc. That's what makes a story a story.

So I started to wonder how I could create a different, plan B narrative. One to fill the blank, Lyra-less years ahead. In the end I rejoined the Bodleian Library. 


The Bod has always struck me as a magical place.
When I first heard that there was a library which contained all the books (well, almost), stored in tunnels under the ground, I didn't really believe it. It sounded too much like something from a book itself.
I was delighted when I first gained admittance (if you are not an Oxford student you need special permission to join) and was made to swear an ancient oath, promising that I would not burn any of the books. Apparently, years ago, students set fire to volumes they deemed lesser in order to keep warm.  

Books have always been a sanctuary for me. When I was growing up in Devon, my parents had our attic converted into a much needed third bedroom for my sister. For a time the room of the attic was done, all wooden like being inside a box, the carpets yet to go in, but the stairs had not been installed. To get up there you had to climb a ladder which could be drawn up after you.
I used to go up there and sit half inside, half almost on the roof, my feet on the hot tiles, reading adventure story books - quests, dragons, spies, magic, happy endings. It was blissful. Safe and secure and just for me and my stories.

Academic reading isn't quite like that. But it still absorbs the mind. It stops the hurtful chatter that goes on there, the seething memories, the aches and pointless wishes, the hopes and the fears. If I can actually get PhD funding, I will be legitimately allowed to remain in this pursuit for three years, with money as well.
Hopefully I can research something that will be of some use. 

And it gives me pause, whenever I enter, to remember that Virginia Woolf - who seems so recent - was unable to use the library. Because she was a woman.

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