I live a segmented life of places. At home, I painstakingly arranged my bedroom so that my desk would be as far away from my bed as possible. I wanted a space for work and sleep, but I much preferred working outside my room when I could. I sat at the same seat for my family’s dinner most nights. I liked to park my car in the same spot in my school’s parking lot whenever possible. I hated reading in a new chair at the library, instead preferring to have a dedicated spot.
Although the pandemic upset this segmentation, this semester, I have been able to create new relationships once again between places and mental states or activities. This has been a delight on a campus as small as Princeton’s. Things accrue meaning as we assign it to them. Here at Princeton, each time I visit a place, it gets a specific meaning related to what I use the space for.
Every morning, I get breakfast at the same dining hall and sit at the same place if I can. McCosh Hall, where I have the pleasure of taking a “Worlds Made with Words: Old English Poems that Perform” has become a place of linguistic contemplation, a lovely morass of caesuras and alliteration and translation problems.
As a humanities student, I rarely make it down to the math and science buildings. However, this semester, I have Semantics in the physics building called Jadwin Hall which has thus become a spot for challenging headaches as we seek to create a logical system to encapsulate the way English works. Robertson Hall, where I have an introductory African American Studies class, is the place I associate with the most captivating lectures.
I know the brisk nighttime walk to and from Prospect Avenue, where Princeton’s eating clubs are located. I have a favorite place to study in the basement of Gordon Wu Hall. My single dorm room in First College has become a space of relaxation and sleep, as often as I can manage it.
Princeton’s small campus allows my mental geography to map onto a real place. I walk everywhere I need to go, which helps me grow my map visually. The walk to each class or library primes my brain to do the work I need to do there. Of course, I try to explore the campus too and break out of my routine, even as I experience and re-experience places of familiarity. But the physicality of places here is something that I try to celebrate every day.