A Nook of One’s Own

I was putting away clean laundry, and unexpectedly found the kid draped across dad’s bed, reading a book. He looked up at my puzzled expression and explained that he was looking for someplace comfortable and quiet to study. The kid usually studies at his desk near the living room, but dad had been watching football. I nodded, “Good plan. It’s not a good idea to study in the bed where you sleep.”

Later on I found the giant mixing bowl, a hand towel, and damp spots on the bathroom floor. I swabbed up the spots, tossed the towel into the laundry basket, and returned the bowl to the kitchen for washing. Usually the kid remembers to put the equipment away, but he’d been especially absent-minded today, forgetting a variety of tasks halfway through. “Are your feet okay? Is your toe bothering you again?”

“No,” he replied, “I just wanted to soak my feet, and the bathroom is all quiet-like for reading.”

I chuckled, definitely understanding that. “Yeah, it’s a lot easier to focus when you’re all by yourself. I never could study with people around me. I can even tell you where all the quiet little nooks are at the university library,” I added, putting in a small plug for higher education.

“Oh, useful!”

I’m glad to see the kid settling down to developing better study habits, especially by way of determining what works best for him. Like many people, sometimes he works on the simplistic kinds of homework by way of multitasking: listening to music, IMing a friend, and fidgeting around with toys. But as he moves into the more mentally-demanding work, he’s having to develop different methods.

Some days it’s really hard to stay focused. Depending upon the task, some kinds of environments are more conducive than others. When I was in college dorms, I tried several times to sit out in the lounge area of our floor and study. But the constant traffic and hallway noises of people chatting with each other and talking on their phones and televisions and music players and everything else made it too difficult to focus. (That was even supposed to be the “quiet study floor”!) Some people are happiest with others around. Instead, I found the presence of others to be not only distracting, but in some ways unnerving.

Even big rooms, no matter how socially “quiet”, interfered with my concentration. The ground floor of the library, with the tables around the perimeter of the periodicals and reference stacks, was unsettling — there were too many people moving about, and I hated the feeling of someone coming up behind me. Having my “radar” on meant that much less mental energy, and lessened my ability to become absorbed in the materials.

The best sort of reading and thinking room is small, quiet, and isolated. It doesn’t have to be as spartan as a hermit’s cell, but it does need that sense of being apart, to allow one the mental space to think through things.

I’ve been painting walls in order to swap furniture between bedrooms, with the plan of making the smallest bedroom a sort of library, so we can finally get these endless boxes of books into some semblance of order. The library will also have a good reading chair, lamp, and small table for a teacup and snack. Best of all, it will be the room furthest away from the living room hub-a-bub, a quiet nook with a door. If the kid is needing such a place to study, then I’d best get this project finished sooner than later!

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