There is a tiny little square of my computer screen, tinted light blue and gray, where I can see the silhouettes of people walking into my quiet level of the library. I don’t look at it often — usually, I’m too preoccupied with the blankness of my Google documents — but when I do, I can see so much. They’re just silhouettes — not people, really, not until they come into view — but without the face, you notice so much more. The way they walk, the urgency with which they go places. Sometimes they look around. Maybe they’re curious about the people inside, maybe they’re scanning for a free seat, a nicely secluded desk.
I sit in virtually the same seat every day, and in spite of the suspicious white dots melded into the dark blue of my cushion, I love it here — I can see everything, and I can also see nothing if I so choose. I can hide within the quiet three-walled desk with my mint green water bottle at the ready and sit here, staring into space or at my computer screen. Sometimes I’ll look around, because I like to think that when I’m searching for words, for something to write, I’ll find them around me, maybe in someone walking through the library or in the clock at one of the far ends that’s currently reading 12:45.
There isn’t anything particularly special about my corner of the library, or about this level at all, really. The bookshelves are gradually being emptied out, and if you really look around, you won’t see much — a pile of desks, chairs, people, painted white walls and light gray carpets. But only here, within the wooden confines of my work environment, can I begin to conquer the blank page.
The blank page is not quite my worst enemy, but it’s getting there.
I’m an aspiring Writing Seminars major, and prior to my first month at Hopkins, the blank page was a familiar concept, but just that, a concept. I was used to it, used to overcoming it in my bedroom back home, a place I coveted and rarely ever left. My bedroom was my B-level — a place of silence and virtual isolation where I could sit and close my eyes and write, no matter how awful each first draft might have been. I’d sit there and, with all the words I’d written, I’d be comforted that at least the blank page was gone, and then I’d go back and rewrite, but with the comfort of words and outlines and a general structure to hold it all up.
Here it’s different.
Piles of words — stories, essays, articles, reflections — are due every other week, every other day, and the mounting deadlines are breeding grounds for blank pages. They feed on distractions and Instagram and other assignments that have nothing to do with the blank page, and then there they are, one after the other, graced with just a headline and a prompt and nothing else. But they aren’t immune to stress, and they sure aren’t immune to the three-walled wooden enclosures at B-level.
I have not yet reached the point where I look forward to sitting in these small wooden spaces, listening to the gentle tapping sounds of other people typing, or hearing pencils scribble on notebook paper. It’s quiet and it’s peaceful and it’s almost comforting, too, but I’ll always associate it with blank pages, papers and that nagging sensation that I just don’t know what to write.
But the library’s an important place. I find inspiration, silence, and, most importantly, motivation to conquer the blank page through the wooden walls of B-level desks and the quiet diligence of everyone around me who might be struggling with the same thing. I’m learning, every day, not to just sit there and watch these pages but to close my eyes and write whatever comes to mind, so I’ll have something, if only a pile of words in a pale imitation of an Introduction to Fiction & Poetry I short story.
But hey. At least it’s not a blank page.
Lana Swindle is a freshman from Princeton, N.J. majoring in Writing Seminars. She is a Copy Editor for The News-Letter.