Jay De Man

a study in studying

A new semester brings opportunity to become reacquainted with something I've come to call the study nest. A study nest has a few defining traits. First, it must have everything needed for study within easy reach and support those materials with room to spare. Second, it must meet the aesthetic needs of the person using the space (we are visual creatures, after all). Finally, it must be an expression of personality.

I found a few of my friends' favorite study spots and interviewed them to discover what they need of a prime study nest.

First, a typical setup. If you come to live here, you'll see these in spades. This study nest clearly has near everything imaginable within reach: craft supplies, notebook tabs, markers, paperclips, spare pencils and paper round out the at-hand necessities. Also notable: Ethernet, a technology I thought surely outdated, here makes an appearance. Though I thought he was crazy to take the time he did to set up a hard connection to the internet, it has proved a valuable gift to him in times of WiFi sketchiness (a fairly frequent event, what with so much Netflix on the weekends). When I interviewed the owner of this particular set-up, he said that the brightness of the space helped him combat any sense of sleepiness, even when accomplishing the most demanding of assignments. The combination of fluorescent and halogen bulbs helps provide a rich, focus-creating color palette, sure to flatten out the most aggressive circadian rhythm.

Simple, utilitarian, clearly used frequently. Note the stuffed animals for emotional support.

Simple, utilitarian, clearly used frequently. Note the stuffed animals for emotional support.

To illustrate an extreme, I sourced the floor's resident stand-up study-nester. This unorthodox approach has some unique benefits. By standing, the body's metabolism rarely comes to full-rest, helping to stave off lethargy. Further, without the added thermal efficiency provided through sitting, the stander is more sensitive to ambient temperature: in the outer lobby, where this photo was taken, people traveling to-and-fro bring with them the cold of the outdoors, as well as the warmth of the inner lobby, creating variation suitable for staving off ever-lovely, ever-seductive sleep. Finally, her location near our (admittedly bedraggled) floor sign gives her an artistic reminder of the noble call she upholds: the intellectual wealth and vitality of our floor. With such a sense of floor-ism, who could be deterred from study?

The blazing lights overhead lend a sense of celestial presence – or I egregiously overexposed. Also, note the plant life reminding growth in the barren desert of formica, metal and wooden surfaces.

The blazing lights overhead lend a sense of celestial presence – or I egregiously overexposed. Also, note the plant life reminding growth in the barren desert of formica, metal and wooden surfaces.

Lighting, it seems, is a highly common theme from nest to nest. Nigh everyone I asked claimed some kind of special illumination for their space, something I found vaguely poetic as we study in order to illumine our minds. Commenting on this topic, one of my suitemates said without his Christmas lights, he would be lost. Their soft, ambient light and pointed individuality calms him as he goes about the troubling work of economics and business. At the mere suggestion of stress, he simply gazes upward to their (perhaps even twinkling?) majesty, to find himself soothed. The stringy constellation of dangling bulbs lofts the mind, excelsior. 

Over and underexposure were a theme for these shots. My iPhone strained at the night, came up dry, yet clearly seen: the lights on high. 

Over and underexposure were a theme for these shots. My iPhone strained at the night, came up dry, yet clearly seen: the lights on high. 

Finally, I want to talk of details. Details in an otherwise complex interrelation of cables, books, writing utensils, loose change, keys, hats, generic decongestants (cold season!) and sometimes laptops can save the day for the mind. With a thing here or there visually interesting enough to provide relief from the miasma of useless visual information, that very vital thing — a sense of importance, history and tradition — is restored. For this, I present objects from my own desk. Though these may seem to be clutter, I assure you, it's intentional. No, truly, I am not a messy person, I just can't bear to not see all of my things at every moment of every day.

Each object has a history, and as I reflect on how they came to be, I find the energy I need for whatever it may be that needs attention.

I do drink out of a beaker. I also can't bear to type with my watch on. I am fickle. 

I do drink out of a beaker. I also can't bear to type with my watch on. I am fickle. 

So what we've accomplished here is a brief depiction of the study-nesting habits of students at Calvin. As I excitedly move into a semester rife with translation, dissection, careful reading and numerous papers, I am finding the spaces in which I work even more important than before. Writing this helped me understand a little better what's what — hopefully it will do the same for you!