‘Safe Spaces’ has been bandied around quite a bit in one of my usual circles in the past few months. Which is great for the problem it is trying to address (in this particular context). But it still drove me into an irrational rage every time I saw it in that context, because it seemed in danger of inflating an issue to a degree where prospective participants of that space were frightened off. It took me quite some time to realise that my personal issue with it was the people and situation associated with the term instead of the term itself. Although recent usage may have put the value and perception of safe spaces in jeopardy as well. Some helpful articles on the use of ‘safe space’ (by no means meant to be exhaustive):
Green, E., & Singleton, C. (2006). Risky Bodies at Leisure: Young Women Negotiating Space and Place. Sociology, 40(5), 853-871. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0038038506067510
Peters, A. (2003). Isolation or Inclusion: Creating Safe Spaces for Lesbian and Gay Youth.Families In Society: The Journal Of Contemporary Social Services, 84(3), 331-337. http://dx.doi.org/10.1606/1044-3894.122
Whitzman, C. (2007). Stuck at the front door: gender, fear of crime and the challenge of creating safer space. Environ. Plann. A, 39(11), 2715-2732. http://dx.doi.org/10.1068/a38449
Now an aside which is completely relevant: I’m writing my doctoral thesis!! I am three weeks behind on the deadline I told my supervisor a few months behind the deadline my parents have been expecting, and importantly, what I had been expecting. And for a variety of personal reasons, I know there is nothing I could’ve done. Besides probably work harder…. But even that would not have prevented the things that happened or changed my approach to dealing with things.
Anyway, everyone is told that the last bit of a phd especially is lonelier than all of it. And that this can apply to any thesis or any research work. This is my third thesis (of course on a vastly different scale) an possibly the tenth important research endeavour. But this is the only one in the last few years for which I’m spending oodles (scientific term expressing a measure) of time by myself.
After talking with my parents today, I was contemplating where I would work today. Here I use the word ‘contemplate’ instead of ‘think’ because it gives that special feeling. I have a desk at the department. There is a good setup with two screens, my notes, paper, tea and coffee and occasionally food. I haven’t been able to work there properly for weeks now. Yesterday, the most writing I got done was at home, before lunch. Instead of heading over to the department after breakfast, I stayed at home and would break up writing with pacing and playing with my snake. Work at the department was a total wash. Then I watched the screening of the new PhD movie! So the things were alright for a while because Winston and Cecilia are awesome and Jorge Cham seems like a wonderful person.
But the thesis is a l w a y s there. A little twitchy reminder that any other thought or action is an utter waste of time.
But all of this is important in light of the safe spaces is because I was thinking of what spaces I consider safe for writing. Not working-on-thesis, but writing. Here are some of mine, which tend to change depending on what’s happening in my head:
1. The Department Desk has been a great place for me to work before. There was accountability and the silent (usually imagined) judgement by some of my office mates if I wasn’t there in the morning, or if they walked past and I was watching a show instead of working. The guilt of turning around and looking at everyone and knowing that everyone is working except you can be great if stress motivates you. It completely kills me, and then I’m having a panic attack at my desk, chewing on my headphones and slowly stewing about why THAT GUY won’t just hurry up and finish eating his peanuts,
2. The floor above the ground floor in the Radcliffe Science Library (it’s either level 5 or 6 on the maps), on the desks next to the large windows with the heated walls. Important so you can press your stressed and winer frozen hands on it every few minutes. Most uncomfortable chairs on the planet though and you might sit next to some speed-demon who types continuously with the intent of punching the keyboard keys through the table,
3. The desks in the American institute library, because of all the glass around it,
4. Java social. This is tricky, because they always have music on, and the free Internet is for 2 hours. So I can’t really go if I still have to sort things through about some writing. Also on some of the tables, the only way to fit your tray is to put it behind your laptop.
It’s always the little things.
5. St. Cross common room. I love my college. If I ever have enough money, I’d give it to them. The common room is absolutely brilliant. Better than the libraries in my opinion. But again, really good for writing stuff that’s already mostly taken shape. Because the sofas are comfortable and you might start chatting with someone. This is also my primary social space. 90% of my ‘most important people’ are people I met through college. I’d do anything for them. But this is why it’s not an ideal place right now. Because questions like ‘how are you?’ Are so much more complicated these days,
6. My room: very dangerous usually. Have a large monitor and a love for TV shows, movies and video games. And the desire to get up and make a cup of tea and take the snake out and pace is not controlled as it is at the department. It is very easy to go from writing a chapter about mobility and food to having a snake curled up in your lap and trying to save your colony from being blasted by meteors in Planetbase or endlessly pacing trying to spot precisely where you’ve been accidentally shedding hair on the carpet.
Even now, it seems far more comfortable to stay in bed, write this on my iPod and occasionally get up for tea, then actually get out and get stuff done. It’s also raining outside. I have to be in town in two hours for breakfast with one of my most favourite people on the planet, and it would be so nice if I went with a feeling of accomplishment instead of being that pathetic person who seems to project the impression that the thesis is the only thing happening in her life and nothing else matters.
Realistically, I have 4 hours to do things, before I know my focus goes south. And I need to work in a place where I can immediately get to work and not feel tempted to watch the new QI and catch up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Luckily, today is one day the Desk is safe to work at. There is only officemate who might show up, and he’s in the same boat as me, and for some reason, not scary to be around. His productivity doesn’t kill mine.
Plus, the department is lovely and comforting out of hours.