It has long been my belief that the best way to get a piece of writing done is to go someplace where writing is the only option. Because of this, I am using a portion of my weekend in New York to come to the main branch of the New York Public Library, one of my favorite institutions in the world, to finish off a chapter of my book. I started coming here regularly when I was in graduate school at Potemkin University. One day in the reading room back in the 1980's, prior to the invention of laptop computers and a set of rules imposed by the Giuliani administration to prevent vagrants from coming to the library in the winter to thaw out, my friend Barbara pointed out a number of people sitting at one of the long tables and said: "Just try to guess which are the historians and which are the homeless." And indeed, each person at the table was wrapped in odd layers of grimy clothing and shuffling index cards and scraps of paper around. Upon closer inspection, some were scholars and others were -- well, just shuffling scraps of paper, trying to find a pattern.
It is snowing today, and rivers of gray slush are coursing down Fifth Avenue. Waiting outside the Metropolitan Museum (where I had stopped off to see the Jasper Johns Gray exhibit), I realized I have lost a lot of my New York skills since we sold the Lower East Side apartment almost two years ago. Focused on nothing in particular, I saw a huge tour bus filled with people from Scarsdale or Roslyn or wherever bearing down on me, and I had one of those slow motion thoughts that failed to fully form before, to my horror, the giant left wheels kicked up a tidal wave of grimy ice water that heaved toward me. I did have time to both turn and take one giant step backward, but got nailed below the knees all the same.
I do recommend the Johns exhibit if you are in or around New York any time soon: it's up until May 5. A little aimless wandering in the museum (which I honestly don't think I have visited since all my artist friends died of AIDS twenty years ago) also caused me to turn the corner and suddenly come up in front of Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein in her thirties, of which I had only seen reproductions until this moment.
OK. Now off to work. Lucky for my book-finishing ambitions, there are no electrical plugs in the Periodicals Room (where they have free WiFi) and there is no WiFi in the Reading Room (where they do have electrical plugs.)
I am Claire B. Potter, Professor of History and American Studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. My blogging ethic is neither to name or to accurately describe individuals unless I am writing about a public event, or commenting on information already published about that person in a reputable source. Unless I note otherwise, situations, pseudonymous people and professional dilemmas described here are fictional. Uncivil or mean-spirited comments toward me or anyone else will be deleted, as will advertisements for products or services disguising themselves as comments. The Radical can also be found at her Zenith faculty page and at Cliopatria; scholarly and public writing can also be found here. The banner photo was taken from this page.
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The Radical Publishing Company
Click here to get the website for "Since 1970: Histories of Contemporary America", a new monograph series edited by Claire Potter and Renee Romano (Oberlin University) for the University of Georgia Press. Interested in publishing with us? Click the email address on my profile and tell me about your project!