This is the second of three posts reflecting on the experience I had at the Taylor University Lewis and Friends Colloquium which took place June 2-5, 2016.
An additional element of joy I experienced at the colloquium was attending as the Wade Center Archivist and seeing my professional life overlap with my personal interests (which, honestly, happens quite frequently since I’ve got my dream job). Upon first arriving and walking up to the registration table, I immediately saw scores of friendly faces who had come to visit the Wade Center at various times. It was a wonderful opportunity to see folks I’d helped on an individual basis in the Wade Center’s reading room over the years ALL IN ONE PLACE! I even had the pleasure of attending some presentations where the speaker had written me a reference question email a few days or weeks before. “Oh I see now why they needed that bit of information,” I said to myself as I listened to the talk and watched the glowing Powerpoint slides pass.
In essence, these experiences brought the work of research to life and let me see it walking around in the world outside of the Wade Center; applicable to others in real time. Diana Glyer said most notably: “It’s like my bookshelves have come to life!” Hearing authors’ voices explain what their books or topics are about, and the passion behind their research motivations, on such a broad scale was truly a memorable experience. Now every time I see these books on the reading room shelves I’ll not just have a face and name, but a voice speaking from the pages as well.
I’ve been to other Wade author-themed conferences before, but I don’t think I’ve ever had this many Wade visitors & researchers all together in once place at the same time. When public programming is hosted by the Wade Center (which will happen again at the end of June), the engagement I have in the proceedings and with the guests must, by necessity, be different. I’m in a fully “professional” role and often need to step aside from events and conversations to see that things run smoothly and/or assist guests in our reading room with accessing materials. It is the hosts & planners who create wonderful events, but they often don’t get to reap the full benefit of attending those events; a point worthy for us all to remember, and appreciate.
Balance with professional duties must also occur during normal Wade Center operations as I’m at my desk working on projects or answering emails while also assisting reading room patrons. No matter how smoothly one tries to navigate the balance, it can often feel like trying to do advanced calculus while playing classical music on the harmonica. The focus is, and always must be, on the person there in the flesh before you – but it is also necessary to have other points of focus during a working day. Even after 11 years in the saddle I can find navigating this balance difficult at times.
At the Colloquium, I was freed from both programming responsibilities as well as professional archival duties. To have the luxury of talking about topics, theories, shared areas of enjoyment, family news, and travel plans was just delightful. Sometimes I was called to put on my “archival” hat, or my “fan” hat, or my “scholar” hat, and sometimes just my “Laura” hat. The “hats” experience put me greatly in mind of Owen Barfield’s book This Ever Diverse Pair, which changed the way I viewed my personal and professional life upon reading it several years ago. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.
When Barfield wrote the book, he was a solicitor (British lawyer) dealing with the frustration of working a day job which stifled his creative side. He was eager for writing, philosophy, and other artistic venues, but there simply wasn’t sufficient time, money, or energy to be creative and earn a living. He personifies his “professional” legal side and his “creative” side as two partners in a law firm who are constantly bickering. The resultant humor, reflections, and realizations as the partners muddle through their work days are quite poignant and thought-provoking. (Also: Lewis is a character in one of the chapters in a fictionalized version of a real-life event between him and Barfield. The whole book is worth reading just for that part.)
Doesn’t every working person feel there is some kind of separation between professional self and personal self? The barrier between the two may be thinner for some than others, but presently it seems vocation is often used as the sole identification technique. “What do you do?” is a popular conversation ice-breaking topic. Many people spend their lives devoted to their work to the point where they may not have a full identity outside of that sphere; a terrifying thought when retirement comes on the horizon.
For me, after reading Barfield’s book I pondered my title “the Archivist” which often follows my name. Who is Laura without “the Archivist” attached? Who is “the Archivist” without Laura attached? How do they look, act, and feel when paired together? It’s an exercise that can be done with almost any profession, I’d imagine.
The beauty of vocation comes when the two selves are paired allowing both personalities to flourish. Dorothy L. Sayers goes after this ideal in her writings (see her essay “Why Work?” and her play The Zeal of Thy House) on work and vocation when she states that it is our God-given gift to be workers using the talents He provided to do creative and purposeful acts. As Christians work must be done, and done well, no matter where we find ourselves in the professional realm. That work becomes a joy when it is aligned with our true talents and heart desires which God has given us just for that purpose. And in the end the work speaks for itself, not bolstering the ego of the artisan who completed it, but providing the community with joy that the work was done, and done to God’s glory. It was the struggle to suppress these inherent creative desires that drove Barfield to write This Ever Diverse Pair. I am sure many people can relate to his story.
And so at the Colloquium I rejoiced in seeing researchers with their scholar hats on, fans with their enthusiasm overflowing, professionals speaking the languages of their trades, but I also delighted in the freedom to speak of families, hobbies and creative projects, and the way a good story can leave an imprint on your soul. I liked talking to people as friends as well as colleagues, and the respect that goes along with both categories. I delight in the safe havens that allow individuals to be fully themselves as both professionals and people, without marring or insulting either persona. We’re meant to be whole people despite our different roles. Let’s embrace the complexity of what that looks like when getting to know each other, rather than cutting it into digestible bits which fit our cultural definitions of sense-making. Life and personhood are too rich to dissect in such a manner.
Final blog post on the Taylor Colloquium is up next. The topic: where I see a gap in the scholarship of Lewis & Friends – a call to scholars.