I took a part-time job at the university library. Two nights and one day a week, I answer softly-spoken queries about the location of collections and toilets. I unlock the printer cages, insert reams of paper, and re-fasten the padlocks behind me. Alone in forgotten corridors, I shelve books and take great satisfaction in the neat clicks made by their spines dropping into rows. I breathe in the smell of old paper and casually ponder my research as titles from every discipline wipe over my fingers.
Most of my time is spent alone, in one manner or another. I live in an ensuite room with an internet connection and a laptop. I share an office with two other PhD students--one of whom is endlessly gathering data in Athens. When the other is there, we still spend most of our time typing in solitude, each clad heavily in her own thoughts, her private worries, her academic obsessions.
There are lovely people here. I spend half an hour a day chatting with European colleagues who amaze me with the levels of their expertise and shock me with their affection for intellectual hen-pecking. My German flatmate and I have grown quite close; we cook dinner in tandem, and often frequent the college pub together, but when it comes down to it we eat our separate meals and drink our separate beers and conduct our separate lives. She's researching adaptive mathematical models of degrading shipments, and even her throw-away scribbles look like Good Will Hunting to me.
Speaking of movies. Do you remember that part in Legends of the Fall? "It was then that Tristan came into the quiet heart of his life. The bear inside him was sleeping." I wonder if this is just the quiet part of my life. Maybe writing a PhD means turning yourself inward for three years and bursting back open at the end, as a book. Or maybe I'm secretly depressed and lonely and this is why I care about keeping a diary instead of drinking every night of the week, like in Sydney. Oh, who knows anything about themselves, anyway!