You can’t reserve the gazebo. How often, when logging onto the University’s system to schedule a meeting room, have I paused to wonder why “library lawn” or “low wall by the fountain” is not a location for me to choose, as is “LTC Forum” or “KU 310”?
Granted, I can — without reservation — walk out the door of Albert Emanuel Hall, step up onto the sidewalk and shuffle through the grass to the gazebo on the library lawn. I can personally invite my colleagues who would have clicked their nails on Formica conference tables to instead settle in the metal park benches whose rails have supported more than a century of students.
But there are ants. And wind. Sometimes it’s too warm or too cool. Anyone carrying a snack is dead-eyed by a muscle-bound sparrow nicknamed “Knuckles.”
When the magazine staff does trek out as a group, we rarely find an empty park bench awaiting us. Instead, students inhabit the beautiful spaces on campus. It is a truly beautiful campus, be it spring with mountains of jewel-headed tulips or fall with raucous color clinging everywhere. Students always snag the best spots, sharing quiet conversation or an 11th-hour cram. It would be rude for us to interrupt with talk of the zombie apocalypse and hot cafeteria trays.
Often, I prefer to be the one sitting quietly while the students talk or study or walk. In our reader surveys, alumni tell us what they want most is to connect with the student experience today. You say you want to know how their dreams are the same as yours; how what they’re studying is different from what you found in your 20-pound paper textbooks; how the words used to describe their neighborhood have transformed or remained. It is only by observing, listening and asking that we uncover gems like our summer Collaboratory interns.
The outdoors have more to offer than a meeting or observing space. When I proofread these magazine pages, I prefer to read under natural light, the sun filtered through the linden leaves outside Albert Emanuel Hall. When I’m writing a complicated piece, it helps me to look up and trace the branches on a tree, my dendritic guide to the natural order of both growing and writing. Even the bickering squirrels instruct me in the value of mounting tension and conflict when telling a story.
I am a better editor when I see the world and am surrounded by all campus has to offer. If you can’t find me at my desk, look next to the gazebo. Who knows? While eating lunch in the sunlight, I just might get an idea for an editor’s column.