Monday, January 06, 2020

on research and renaissance dog-girls

I have always been the sort of writer who is in love with research .  There is something incredibly exhilarating in starting a project and seeking out every single detail and nuance. In immersing yourself in the process.   Perhaps it's the librarian in me, but it started long before I started working in libraries. Through college and grad school, I would put off my paper writing exploits to the very last minute, but the research had always been started much earlier--usually manifested in a mess of notebook scribbles and ragged print-outs carried around in my backpack.  It speaks to certain obsessive tendencies that serve me both well and sometimes not so much, but when channeled toward creative things, it can actually be highly enjoyable. 

 Though the intervening years have made such research more accessible and my notetakings more digital than not., I still resort to paper, usually loose sheets grabbed and then folded into my project sketchbook, where they usually stay until I make something of them, or clean out the notebook and stash them elsewhere. It's actually resulted in a weirdly specific knowledge about certain things--the Slender Man stabbling (necessary violence).  HH. Holmes' murder castle ([licorice, laudanum]). urban legends (archer avenue) and taxidermy (unusual creatures.)  There are others that I delve into every once in a while--Hollywood ghost stories, roadside motels.

This morning, on the first functional day of 2020, I found myself scrambling through a collection of file folders in the bureau next to my desk looking for the bulk of my written notes on Antoinetta Gonzalez, the so called "dog-girl" of the Renaissance.  Given my love of "monstrosity" and women, and in particular how the female body is often seen as monstrous, it was natural that it would catch my interest a couple years back.  but only now do I have an open slot in terms of projects.  So this morning over breakfast, I scanned through my notes and opened a new file and drafted something that I'm really liking so far and hope to continue working on in the coming couple of months.

So much of the work we do in the library wit the A of R initiative is about turning research into artmaking, and this is perhaps where the difference lies.  My reluctance to pen essays through six years of higher ed (and then even more later when I got my MFA) probably was more that the end project did not particularly excite me.  I mostly wanted to be able to read books and talk endlessly about them, not write rote and formulaic essays.  (I did not then really know how to write them any other way.) Had I been given a creative project to distill all that information, I think my enthusiasm would have been much higher, and perhaps my learning more enriched.  Which is something good to think about when it comes to education in general.